Friday, April 30, 2010

Seatbelt Laws

I heard on the radio that they recently passed a seatbelt law in my state that would require children in the backseat to be buckled up. Normally I don't pay much attention to idiocy like this because if you don't wear a seatbelt in a moving vehicle you are stupid (and as a parent if you don't require your kids to wear seatbelts regardless of where they are seated you are stupid and a bad parent to boot). That being said, when they came up with some statistic, my interest was piqued!

"According to Emergency Room doctors who see this stuff all the time, the leading cause of death for 13-19 year olds is automobile accidents." OK, there is something I can look at (I paraphrased what they said on the radio, it isn't word for word). Deaths from auto accidents is rather easy to determine, and the age range 13-19 is a definite.

My first problem with this is why quote a statistic of 13-19 year olds when the bill is about children wearing seat belts? Most likely because the bill defines anyone under the age of 18 or 21 or like Obamacare, 26 as a child. It helps the numbers more that way. But they are still pretty pathetic.

Over at the CDC is the WISQARS database. If you have read my blogs before, you know that I love it. Pure, unadulterated (for the most part) raw data for years on end. So I pulled up the leading cause of death for the year 2006. Suprisingly, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for people aged 13-19. Actually, they are the leading cause of death for people aged 1 to 34. Naturally, most people cringe at calling a 34 year old a child, so I can understand why they didn't include that end of it, but why not include the 1-12 year olds when quoting your statistic?

Because the numbers look better. Up to and including age 14 (which is below the legal driving age for almost everyplace in the US) there are around 1700 traffic fatalities a year. For 15-19 year olds there are about 4800. 20-34 year olds account for 14,000 traffic deaths, but the law thinks they are more responsible (sometimes), so we don't want to require them to wear seat belts.

Oh drats, I realized something, I was looking at the nation as a whole. Let me look at just Iowa. Turns out, motor vehicle accidents are the primary cause of death in 13-19 year olds (actually 15-19 year olds, but the numbers for 13 an 14 year olds are so small, that you can add them in and not change the numbers). That being said, from the ages of 0-19 there are about 55 traffic deaths (45 of which are in the 15-19 year bracket) each year in Iowa. I know that the death of a child is horrible, but is it worth having another unenforceable law?

Except it gets worse. WISQARS also breaks it out by cause (motorcycle, driver, passenger, pedestrian, etc.) Looking at these numbers of the 55 traffic deaths, only 14 are classified as car/truck passengers. Of course if we took out the deaths where a car was involved in a collision with a bus/truck (much larger vehicle), then the number decreases down to 8. Unfortunately, WISQARS doesn't say whether they were wearing their seatbelts or not, but I'll assume that 25% were.

So we have a law that is trying to pinpoint 6 deaths. Five of those deaths involve parents who are too stupid to buckle their kids up already, one is probably from a teenager riding with his friends and trying to show he is cool by not wearing a seatbelt. And a law is suppose to solve this? I doubt it.

The National Traffic Safety Board does an annual survey on seatbelt use. Iowa is at 91%. New Hampshire (which has no seatbelt enforcement laws) is at 69%. Comparing non-enforcement states to enforcement states as a whole, and you find that about 75-80% of people are not stupid (i.e. wear their seatbelts regardless of the law). In a nutshell, you shouldn't have to be told to wear a seatbelt. Of course, if you decide not to (or consequently decide not to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle) then don't come to me for money when your brain is plastered over the road.

Taiwan Day 1: Taipei

After getting to bed at around 11:30, I promptly woke up at 2 or 3 in the morning and could not get back to sleep. My wife was awake by 4 am. If I had have know this then I wouldn't have ordered tickets for the high speed rail at 7am. I would have ordered them for the first train at 6 am.

We started the morning with our first cab ride to the train station. $6 and it was a nice pleasant ride (no one is awake at 6 am). At the train station we picked up our tickets and then found something to eat. I think both my wife and I were determined not to eat at any “American” restaurants until the end of our trip. We picked MOS Burger. This is where I run into my first problem. I speak Chinese decently. I can even read about 1200 of the most common characters which gives me about a 60% comprehension of a newspaper. Unfortunately, menus are primarily made up of food terms which a lot of are among the next 1800 common words. So we ordered based on the pictures.

The high speed rail system in Taiwan is privately owned, privately operated train system that runs the length of the island. The trains travel up to 360 km/hr, although while we were riding it I never saw them post a speed above 295 km/hr (they post the current speed on the message board). To me though, the high speed rail is a trophy for capitalism. My friend had told me that two weeks before, an earthquake had struck Kaohsiung and the high speed rail was shut down for a week because of track damage. One week! Had this been a government operations, it would have been shut down for 6 months, the maximum speed reduced to 150 km/hr for “safety,” and the price of tickets would double. However, being a private corporation, they had every incentive (read profits) to get it back up and running (at normal speeds) as quickly as possible.

The hour and a half journey was a great view of the Taiwan countryside. Rice fields, fruit groves, interspersed among the temples, factories, and homes. We saw plains, hills, mountains, and forests all within the short trip. At Taipei, it was time to figure out how to ride the subway station. We could have just taken a cab, but that would start to get expensive. Fortunately, the subway was similar to every other subway I have ridden with regards to buying tickets and getting on board the correct line. We even got off at the right stop and walked up to the streets of Taipei.

Our first destination was the LDS Temple in Taipei. It was about a half mile walk down AiGuo Rd. from the subway station. This street is called wedding row in Taipei because the street is literally lined with wedding shops. We were later to learn that a wedding party/reception/extravaganza was a far bigger event than we had ever imagined. After wedding row, the street turned into small mom and pop fast food shops. Also, the motorscooters were out in force.

Motorscooters are the major mode of transportation in Taiwan. The rules of the road are a lot more flexible. Surprisingly, I never saw an accident (although I saw plenty of evidence of accidents from the scratched taxis and dented car doors). To put it in perspective, in the United States we rely on the rules of the road to keep us safe (most everyone uses their blinkers, the maintain distance and don't go weaving in and around traffic). In Taiwan, you rely on your driving skills and instincts to keep safe. You have to be aware of what a dozen vehicles around you are doing and be prepared to react in an instant as conditions change. Don't think about crossing the street except at the crosswalk when you have a green light, because you don't know what may be coming around the corner.

At the Taipei temple I learned something about clothes. For the worship service we change into all white clothes. I told the lady at the desk my pants size and she looked at me funny. They didn't have that exact size but she suggested something which to me was 5 sizes larger. I opted for the next closest size to what I thought was correct, which was only two sizes larger, I figured I could roll up the legs if I had too. In the dressing room I found out I was wrong. There was no way those pants would fit they were far too short. As I was taking them back to the desk it dawned on me that perhaps they measure the total length of the pants rather than just the inseam. Sure enough, that was the case in Taiwan. So I ended up with a pair of pants that I originally thought would be 6 sizes too long, but turned out to be just right.

Afterwards, we went across the street and ate at one of the Mom & Pop shops. The owner cajoled us with "Foreign Friends, come on eat here!" So we did. For around $2 we had a meal of soup and dumplings (my wife's favorite). We then walked across the street to the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial. Sort of the Lincoln Memorial for Taiwan, except that the size and grandeur of it far outdid every American memorial I have visited.

Next it was time for a subway ride up to the National Palace Museum. While many people would think that Beijing would be the place to go to see ancient Chinese art, they would be wrong. Taipei is the place to go. Back during the Chinese civil war, the Nationalists moved the vast majority of the art from the Palace Museum in Beijing to Taiwan. Probably for good reason since the Communists later purged the country during the cultural revolution. The museum boasts more than 600,000 pieces of which only about 60-70 thousand are on display at one time. The most disappointing part was not being able to take photographs. I understand the ban on photography back when there was only flash photography and preservationists were worried about the effect that the flash would have on old works. But the days of celluloid photography (i.e. film) are over. I can take hundreds of pictures with a digital camera (all without the flash) varying the setting each time until I get the perfect photo. And the effect on the work of art will be no different than if I had have just stood there looking at it.

Anyway, the people watching might actually have been more fun. Since Taiwan has the largest (and best) collection of Chinese art, a lot of mainland Chinese come to see it. Now there are some factors to bear in mind. China has a billion plus people. They have cities that make NY look small, the population density in the cities is extremely high. So people are used to being crowded, bumped into, and pushed out of the way. Additionally, the people from mainland China only have a limited time to visit the museum (talking with some tour groups, about one day) and may never get back to the museum again in their lifetime. Imagine trying to see everything in the Smithsonian in one day.

So, while my wife and I are relative ignoramouses when it comes to Chinese art, we were just there to see it, the people whose ancestors made this art were overbearing in some instances. While we may slowly walk along a display case, reading about each piece shown, a tour group would come up to look at one piece (which probably had a lot of significance to them). They had no problem pushing us out of the way, or just enveloping us (with no chance of excape). After about an hour, we decided what we would look at by going to things where there weren't tour groups.

Its interesting, whenever you see Hollywood depict people in a museum, they show people taking their time and enjoying each work of art. I wonder if Chinese films that depict people in a museum show a cacophony of tour groups running from one exhibit to another, pushing people out of the way for a better look. Pushing people out of the way isn't rude, it is just normal life for them.

After the museum closed at 5:00pm, we took some pictures outside and then walked over to the Silk Palace restaurant next to the museum. They had all you can eat Dim Sum. Dim Sum is a Cantonese cuisine, but I chose it so that my wife could try a multitude of new dishes (her Chinese food sampling in life had been somewhat limited). Then it was a cab ride back to the subway station and a subway ride back to the train station, and we made it to the train with about 10 minutes to spare. I slept on the train all the way back to Kaohsiung (too bad it was only 1 1/2 hours). We were in our hotel by midnight, and went to sleep.

Well, sort of again. The beds in Taiwan are hard, think of it as a board with a 1/4" foam pad on it. So my wife and I were piling pillows under our bodies to try and get a restful sleep. It works OK until you roll over. I was wide awake at 2 am.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Trip to Taiwan

On Tuesday night my wife and I found ourselves staying up all night to get ready for our trip the next day. We wanted to shock our systems into sleeping on Taiwan time, before we arrived. Round about 1am, I actually packed the bags (our flight was at 8am). Since it was an international flight to Asia, we could each take two bags free. As such, I had told my friend in Taiwan to let us know what all she wanted. The bags were chock full of presents and other items for her. I did read the customs rules in Taiwan to make sure that I wasn't bringing in anything illegal (after all, it wouldn't look good for a Mormon to be arrested at the Taiwan airport for bringing in too much alcohol).

I tried to order our high speed rail tickets in Taiwan, but the credit card kept on getting declined. I was about to give up and call my friend over there, when I decided to call the card company and tell them that we would be traveling to Japan and Taiwan. Sure enough, after getting off the phone with them, the sale went through. We were able to get a couple hours sleep before our flight.

As usual, the TSA airport security was a joke. But they figured we weren't terrorists and since we could have two checked bags for free, I didn't have to attempt to use any super secret methods (i.e. cargo pants pocket) to get prohibited items (i.e. 4 ounce bottle of lotion) on board. They didn't have the new millimeter scanners at our local airport or at Chicago.

The plane ride from Chicago was on a 777. I had flown these over to England several times when I worked in a previous job, and so I loved the personal entertainment system. This one had about a dozen movies (which started every half hour or so you didn't have to wait 2 hours to watch a movie from the beginning) and another dozen TV shows. The games were expanded to 15 (when I had flown the 777 before it was only 6) but the response time of the controller was still mind numbingly slow, I really want them to boost their system so that I can play something like Halo on international flights. One disappointment was that there were no power outlets in economy class (some airlines have them), so that meant that our personal entertainment would only last as long as the battery life of the DVD player and the laptop - about 4 hours combined.

So my wife and I started off with a movie "The Proposal" starring Sandra Bullock and Dane Cook. I like Sandra, Jesse James should be shot for cheating on her. The editing on planes sure has declined as the scene where Sandra and Dane are completely naked (with some well placed hands) was included. Yes, Sandra is almost as good looking as my wife. The movie was a humorous romantic comedy and it killed a couple of hours. The most annoying thing though was being interrupted by the various flight announcements. I really wish they would let whoever was flying on a plane for the first time (or wanted a refresher of the safety briefing) to sit up front, and then leave the rest of us alone.

Lunch (or dinner) arrived and I remembered the other reason why I like international flights - they actually feed you! Salad, roast beef, roll, sushi, etc. The tray was full and definitely filled me up. After switching between some things and trying to sleep some (I had only had two hours of sleep in the last 36 hours) I finally settled on another movie "Did you hear about the Morgans?" starring Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker. I don't really care for either one of them, but the movie was halfway descent for another romantic comedy.

Then my wife and I listened to a book by John Stossel on how everything we know is wrong. That lasted until the battery on the DVD player ran out, about two hours. We got a turkey and cheese sandwich for our next meal when we were over the Bering Sea.

I finally decided to go for another movie and watched "Avatar." Not even making it past the first half hour, I can say it is probably one of the dumbest movies that I have ever not watched completely. I was bored out of my eyes and finally turned it off and got an hour or so of sleep.

In Tokyo (never been there before), the first thing I noticed is that the EXIT signs were green. Turned out they were green in Taiwan as well. I found an ATM machine and pulled out 10,000 yen. The card worked. Then looking through the shops, I found what I thought was apple juice. I was correct, although it was probably made from a different kind of apple than what we turn into apple juice in the USA.

For the final leg of our journey, we boarded a Japan Airlines flight. The flight attendants were all 20 something and beautiful. Turns out, in Asia, flight attendants are the de facto sex symbol (as my friend described it, sort of like the UPS men in the US). As such, they are all 20 something, all beautiful, and most of them speak 2 or 3 or more languages.

Another great airline meal, pork cutlets with Miso sauce, shrimp tempura, salad, apple jello. Of course the entertainment selection was lacking (but I really just wanted to sleep at this point although was unable to). I have noticed this on other foreign airlines I have flown (Lufthansa and India Air). Maybe us Americans are just picky about being entertained.

Finally, we arrived in Taiwan. No problem with customs, all of our luggage made it. And the wedding gifts didn't get broken (basically about half of our luggage was wedding gifts). One snag though. When I tried to use the ATM machine at the airport, it didn't give me any money. I'll have to call the bank again (it worked in Tokyo). Our hotel room is nice, on the 59th floor. After a shower, my wife laid down and probably got three hours of sleep or more (she just woke up). Me on the other hand, I tossed for about two hours and got up to blog. So I am running on maybe 5 hours of sleep in the last 60 hours. I probably won't have a chance again until tonight. Jet lag is SOOOOOO much fun!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Start 'Em Young

Yesterday, my daughter helped me with the mail. When she got the stack inside she sorted through it and gladly gave me the bills and junk mail. Then she came to the SOG International catalog and promptly told me "Mine."

I tried to snatch it away from her but she was having nothing of it. So after chasing her for a while I asked "Do you even know what that is?"

With that, I had to let her have it. Eventually, after she took it apart piece by piece, I was able to to gather it up and put it back together so that I could look at it.

Start 'em young, and maybe you won't have to use that shotgun when she turns 16!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

My Household Census Form

Well, based on my last post, I sort of promised that I would put a copy of my census form online. So here it is. I have made an effort to transcribe my comments as best as possible in case you can't read the images. My comments are in italics, the normal text is the question it is in response to.
Page 1. Use blue or black pen. Okay that is black. Whatever happened to the #2 pencil?
Count all people, including babies, who live and sleep here most of the time. What about those who split their time 50/50?
Question 1 Number of people: VI This is in Roman numerals.
Question 2 This is stupid that you are asking since you just spent half of the column explaining who and who not to count.
Question 3 House with mortgage checked. But with the right lottery ticket it will be
Occupied without payment of rent Do people actually answer this?
Question 4 This is my work pager and I haven't replaced the battery in about two years but I probably don't want to talk to whoever calls anyway.
Question 5 Initials should be good enough.
Question 6 Although I do have one X chromosome so if you need to check both, feel free.
Question 7 Age: >30 Birthdate: This is according to the Hebrew Calendar.
Note: Please answer BOTH Question 8 about Hispanic origin and Question 9 about race. For this census, Hispanic origins are not races. That's ok, most of what is under "Race" isn't race either.
Question 9: See also Person #2, American Indian tribe: Don't know, but a G-G-G-G-G Grandmother was Native American. Japanese: Does this include Ainu? Other Asian: Turk, Indian (India kind) Some other race: I'm sure I missed something.
Question 10 Does Person 1 sometimes live or stay somewhere else? Duh!! College: Long time ago, Military: They wouldn't take me, Second Residence: I'd like too, Jail: I hope not, Nursing home: Eventually.

Person 2 Name: Again initials are fine, if not, contact the IRS, they have more info.
Question 2 How is this person related to Person 1? Mark ONE box. What happens if more than one is applicable?
Question 3: We do live in Iowa though!
Question 4: 29ish This date is the Islamic calendar.
Question 6 After coming out of Africa 2 million years ago, my ancestors have been all over the world.
Why are we stuck on Race? There is more space allocated to identify race than all other questions combined?
Question 7 Duh!!

Person 3
Question 4 Persian Calendar
Question 5 and 6 Everything that is in Person #1 and Person #2.
Question 7 Duh!!

Person 4
Question 4 Mayan long count
5, 6, 7 are the same as Person #3

Person 5
Question 4 Indian Civil Calendar
5, 6, 7 are the same as Person #3 and Person #4

Person #6
Question 1 Whoops I messed up.
Question 4 Julian Calendar *
5, 6, 7 are the same as Person #3, Person #4 and Person #5
* It took me a while to realize this but asking age and date of birth is redundant. You only need the date.

You guys really need to get on the internet and allow us to fill out these forms online. The IRS has figured it out and that involves actual money (not the fake "we won't be able to build hospitals without the census" crap that I hear on the commercials). Hopefully, by 2020 you will have this all figured out.

If more people live here, turn the page and continue: I sure hope there aren't anymore living here right now, I can barely keep up with the number. Good thing our family reunion wasn't on April 1st or I might have 10-12 forms to fill out.

To whoever opens this, I hope you get a good laugh. All answers are absolutely truthful. If the information is not in the format you want then include more precise instructions next time. If you want to give up now, just send someone to our house, we can always use a good babysitter. To reiterate the # of people at our home is 六 (Chinese) or ٦ (Arabic) or ς' (Greek) or षष् (Sanskrit).

...take about 10 minutes... I spent 20 minutes but I was always good at creative writing.

Well, that was fun. Good thing it only comes along once every 10 years. Besides, as we have seen on the commercials, the country is going to come to a screeching halt without the census because capitalism doesn't work (you know, that supply and demand thing we keep trying to pretend doesn't exist). Yes, I did actually mail this form in. No, I didn't tape the postage paid envelope to a tire or anything.