Dirty Cougar tricks

I have no personal beef with the University of Houston or any of its past or present faculty or students. In fact at one point I had considered attending UH as a student. However, deceptive and unethical tactics such as those uncovered by Texas Watchdog regarding UH’s purchase of the Rice University radio station KTRU have me questioning a lot about the university which most prominently bears the name of my hometown.

This quote from an e-mail by Erik Langer of Public Radio Capital, which represents UH in the purchase of KTRU from Rice, comes across as rather damning (note in particular the italicized sentence):

We recognize that Rice is going to have a hard time generating a complete list of assets without some of the station personnel’s input, and we agree that tipping off some of those individuals may not be advisable. … We request that Rice provide a cover story for an independent 3rd party engineering consultant, to be chosen by UH, to perform an inspection of the transmitter building, transmitter equipment, transmission line, tower and antennae. Rice should actually hire the consultant we specify, so there will be no question as to the source of the inspection, which of course will have to be coordinated with the station engineer somehow. Rice can use any reason it chooses, some of which can include change of insurance, inventory needs, or any other plausible explanation. UH will reimburse Rice for the cost of the inspection.

So, not only is UH asking Rice to do their dirty work for them, they are actually encouraging Rice to lie to its students and staff about the real reason these engineering consultants are poking around the KTRU building.

Not surprisingly, now that the cat is out of the bag, students and alumni at both UH and Rice are quite unhappy. And for good reason. The ethics and morality of  UH’s actions, either directly or through third parties, fall way short of what I would expect from an organization with “Houston” in its name. We as a community would be better off if both UH and Rice had been more open and actually listened to students, alumni, and faculty about the case for KTRU changing hands. Trying to “sneak it by” only breeds mistrust and resentment.

As it stands now, staff at many university or college radio stations across the country will likely be second-guessing the real reason engineering consultants are poking around their studio. They’ll be remembering the KTRU debacle and the dirty Cougar tricks that have now been exposed. On one hand, it is good that they will have learned from history, as those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. On the other, it’s a real shame that this is how we as a community learn who we can really trust, and who we cannot.

Unbelievable GOP shenanigans in a census year

I know I’m running a bit behind on this one, but this is an egregious enough example of political manipulation and misuse of the term “census” that I feel I need to say my piece about it.

Several blogs, including MOMocrats and PRWatch, covered a ruse by the Republican National Committee. The RNC made this survey and sent it out in the form of a fake yet vaguely official looking “census.” While the post does not reproduce this fake “census” in its entirety, what is there shows that it’s a clear attempt to deceive (for those that really want it, the whole thing as sent to someone in McKinney, TX, was posted to Scribd and other copies and stories abound by searching on phrases like “rnc fake census.”).

I’m all for political surveys and a political party trying to reach out to its members. If the Republicans want to grow their numbers, so be it. (I’m personally a somewhat moderate Democrat. “Somewhat moderate” means I frequently side with the Democrats, but most notably I’m pro-life and support the Second Amendment.)

But this is wrong. The RNC stops just short of misappropriating the official title and logo of the US Census Bureau. In fact, the official looking envelope and a reference to a $15 “processing fee” appear to be a heavily veiled attempt at deceiving the less thorough into contributing to the RNC without knowing it.

Perhaps most horrifying is the following (quoting the PRWatch entry):

A RNC spokeswoman defended the document, saying it was clearly marked as an RNC mailer and it was not an attempt to mislead voters.

I beg to differ. The notification that it’s not an official government document is rather easy to miss, especially to someone who’s forgotten what the real census looks like. An RNC spokeswoman actually defending this horrid tactic is, in all honesty, an embarrassment to the Republican party and makes me proud to be a Democrat.

A lesson in community and tolerance

This is one of the hardest entries for me to write. But it needs to be said, and I have a tie-in for the Houston locals out there reading this.

This story has been mentioned/written about in so many places that I’m going to just make a list for the links rather than stringing it together in prose:

  1. HRC Back Story blog
  2. Baby Rabies
  3. lezgetreal.com
  4. Candace Gingrich (huffingtonpost.com blog)
  5. rightpundits.com (older article)
  6. Libby Post (timesunion.com) (older article)

The summary: Constance McMillan challenges a school policy that prom dates must be of the opposite gender. Constance takes school to court. Court finds school district is wrong to deny Constance attendance, but does not actually order school district to run the prom. School district cancels prom. Parents and private citizens offer to run prom for the school instead, details of which are kept mysterious and Constance isn’t invited. School reinstates prom at country club, where it’s attended by a total of seven students, two of whom have learning difficulties, plus some teachers and the principal as chaperones.

Obviously, the rest of the students wouldn’t stay home from “the prom.” So “the good kids” had their prom elsewhere, and the school district just happened to be in on the setting up of a decoy prom for Constance, her date, and the outcasts.

The actions of those involved in this shell game are despicable and inexcusable. We’re talking about a school district here, an entity whose very reason for existence is teaching. And teach they did, whether they realize itor not. What has the school district taught the entire senior class, and possibly the entire population of the school, by their actions regarding the 2010 prom?

The lesson taught to these kids is that discrimination, ostracism, and cutting out a few from a community for arbitrary reasons is acceptable. Now, the kids will do this on their own without any help from the school district. In fact these kind of silly checkers games are exactly what students do on their own without any help.

The school district and the parents in the community are supposed to be better than that. The right thing for the principal to do is to address at least the senior class, if not the student population about tolerance, and turn this entire ordeal into a lesson about building community that will last for a lifetime. The lesson that setting personal discomfort aside is sometimes what it takes to build a community. A lesson that appears to be lost on a fair number of people.

I dread what these young adults will be doing some years from now, when it’s not the high school prom anymore, but the adult social scene.

In a few years time, it won’t be about the prom. It’ll be about the block parties, cocktail parties, bachelor/bachelorette auctions, Halloween and New Year’s Eve parties. The kind of events that make a community amazing.

I feel for Constance and the other students that were deceived by their own school board. The same school board they and their parents trusted to look out for their best interests. And they did the exact opposite.

It’s simple enough, isn’t it? So I’m sure some of you may be wondering why it was so hard for me to write this.

Something very similar to what happened to Constance has been happening to me for the past year. This “community” we have in Houston… I mean, the people came from all over. Some are lifelong locals, others came from cities like Denver, Miami, New York City, Los Angeles, others from smaller towns like Beaumont or Conroe. But many of them appear to have been taught the exact same lessons that the Itawamba County School District taught Constance and her classmates. And the sad thing is, some of these people I’m talking about went to private schools where the faculty should know better.

People in the arts have a reputation for being stuck-up and exclusive. I refused to believe that; I wanted to believe those people were just average people like me. Similiar things could be said for the tech and marketing/PR crowds, to a lesser extent, but my experience is the stereotype of those surrounding ballet, opera, dance, orchestra, and similar events is one of noses twenty feet in the air, and thus is probably the best example.

The good news is, a community is not like a piece of glass. It may be broken, but it can be fixed. And it should be fixed. Because cutting people out isn’t how you build a community. It’s how you destroy one.

No, I’m not perfect. Nobody is. I’ve made my mistakes. But I think we all would do well to learn from what happened to Constance McMillan. And since most of us are long since out of high school, I’d like to think we’re above the way high school kids act.

Windows 7 boot time shenanigans

According to a recent CNet article, it seems that Microsoft has been a bit deceptive with their claims that Windows 7 boots faster.

The claim is from a company called Iolo Technologies:

[Iolo’s] lab unit found that a brand-new machine running Windows 7 takes a minute and 34 seconds to become usable, as compared to a minute and 6 seconds for Windows Vista. Iolo notes that it measured not the time it takes for the desktop to appear–which can be as little as 40 seconds on a fresh installation of Windows 7–but rather the time it takes to become fully usable “with CPU cycles no longer significantly high and a true idle state achieved.”

I’m not the least bit surprised that Microsoft would take the deceptive, underhanded path here, and make Windows 7 look like it boots faster even while the rest of the “booting” is still going on in the background making the system relatively unresponsive. Much of the rest of the computer-using public, however, falls for this kind of thing hook, line, and sinker.

I have no access to a computer running anything more recent than Windows XP Media Center Edition, so I cannot unfortunately lend my personal insight there. (Some of that is by choice: I hopped off the Windows train at Windows 98, and my next new PC will come preloaded with a GNU/Linux distribution called Ubuntu which is an offshoot of Debian. I’m running Ubuntu on this rather geriatric PC (800 MHz Celeron, 256M RAM, 20G drive) that I am using to write this, and if I’m careful about what I run it’s not too bad. Certainly much better than the Windows 98 it left the factory with.)

What I can tell you, is that with just about any operating system and GUI released as free software, what you see is what you get. The desktop or login screen comes up, and that means the system is done booting. Microsoft would do well to adopt the same model of transparency, or drop their deceptive claim that Windows 7 boots faster when in fact it probably does not.

I am definitely curious as to how fast Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic Koala) and Debian
5.0 (lenny) would boot on the same hardware Iolo Technologies used for their
test. I have never actually timed the boot procedure on this PC, but I have
nothing to really compare it to so it may not be that relevant.

Taking down the weasels: Google sues the scam artists

Better late than never. Credit goes to ReadWriteWeb for being the first place where I read about this recent development.

It’s rare I find something a large corporation does that is worthy of praise, but this is one such situation. The official Google blog reveals that, finally, the corporate behemoth has decided it’s time to drag the weasels into court. Yes, weasels. Anyone remember those posts? (It’s a three-part series, in case you weren’t around in April when I first posted them.)

I lament that it took Google at least eight months to catch on to what was obviously dubious appropriation of their trademark. In fact, with the inclusion of “Google” in the dictionary, the company has already come dangerously close to losing its trademark.

At least, we hope, a few scam artists will be bankrupt shortly, and the sunlight from Google’s official blog will probably scare the rest of them into hiding for a while.