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    Thursday, June 14, 2007

    Blame The Foreign Looking Clerk Guy

    LITTLETON - The families of two young men killed in a drunk driving accident want the stiffest penalty for a store clerk who prosecutors say sold alcohol to one of their sons who used a fake ID.
    So, wait.  A liquor store clerk sold someone some alcohol and now the parents of the children who were killed by their drunk driving accident want the clerk to be penalized?
    Obviously there's more to the story.  Let's read on, shall we?
    The parents of Paul Ondrish and Brandon Nichols, who were both 20 years old, admit their sons made poor choices, but say the store clerk should have been more responsible.
    So, these kids weren't technically children after all, they were 20 years old
    Alarm bells are beginning to ring.
    The clerk, 25-year-old Loc Truong, pleaded guilty on Thursday to selling Ondrish the liquor on July 12, 2006.

    "There were a series of mistakes made that night, but it started when the store clerk sold alcohol to a minor," said Frank Ondrish, Paul's father.

    Early the next morning, Ondrish crashed, killing both him and Nichols. Neither was wearing a seatbelt.

    The other three passengers, all of whom were 20 years old, were also injured.

    Truong was working at Marina Pointe Liquors at Chatfield and Wadsworth in Littleton.

    Ondrish bought rum from him using his brother's expired Michigan driver's license as ID, according to the DA's office.
    A series of mistakes that started when the store clerk sold alcohol to a minor?
    Actually, no.  One of the first mistakes was for a kid to use his brother's expired ID to try to buy booze. 
    One might argue that the parents made the first mistake somewhere along the line, but why quibble.
    Let's move on.
    "Stores with a liquor license have a great responsibility to follow the law," said Patti Ondrish, Paul's mother.
    "People who walk into liquor stores to buy booze have a great responsibility to follow the law," said Clark, father of a daughter.
    The alarm bells have become a siren.
    A liquor store clerk making probably $8.50 an hour does have a responsibility to follow the law, but NO MORE SO than two 20 year olds that intentionally walk into a liquor store to buy rum using fraudulent identification.  Luc Truong is not the proximate cause of their accident; the proximate cause of the accident seems to be their deciding to purchase booze for their drive into the mountains, then doing it.  Luc Truong was unfortunate, but not a criminal.
    This man does not deserve to go to jail.
    However, these parents, as much as I feel for their loss as a parent myself (and I do mean that), do deserve a lesson on the effects of cognitive dissonance.
    Unless there is a significant amount more to this story than meets the eye, I would have to say that a reasonable person could not find that this 25 year old liquor store clerk deserves to lose his job, his liberty, and possibly his very future because two 20 year olds decided to defraud him and his employer and successfully buy alcohol.
    Free Luc Truong.
    Parents, dead children, jail, and lawsuits.
    This story stains the memory of the young and dead, and once again, personal responsibility surrenders.

    Monday, June 11, 2007

    Dear God In Heaven - The Wal-Mart Card

    Check our Walmart's awesomely evil deal: Cashing your check costs $3.00, but if you put the money on a Walmart MoneyCard, they'll waive the $4.64 "loading" fee. Neat! After that it's only $4.94 a month to keep your money on the card.

    Want to know how much is left? That'll be $0.70 to check your balance .This card, in essence, takes people who don't have access to the banking system in this country and makes Walmart their "bank." Except it's a "bank" where it costs $1.95 to get money from an ATM, but getting "cash back" from Walmart's POS is free! If you deposit more then $1,000, Walmart will generously waive the monthly maintenance fee on the card. Want to speak to a teller? That'll be $3.50. Your paper statement? $2.00.

    The Consumerist, of course.
    What's so notorious, so demonically clever, so gloriously evil about this idea is this:
    People WILL do it.  Why?
    Banking is expensive, and bank accounts become harder and harder to get.  Although I'm not a gambling man, I'd wager that in many ways, getting a credit card is easier.  The "unbanked" market will continue to grow, and as it does, you'll see more of this - because it's a cash cow that preys on that middle-lower-middle class market.  Just wait.
    Excuse me, my brain is hurting.

    Thursday, June 07, 2007

    Terrorism: A Tale of Two Mayors


    Michael Bloomberg, present mayor of New York, after the thwarted attempt to blow up John F. Kennedy Airport on Monday on how ordinary citizens can relate to possibility of terrorist post 9-11 (from the New York Times via WCBS tv:

    There are lots of threats to you in the world. There's the threat of a heart attack for genetic reasons. You can't sit there and worry about everything. Get a life.

    Contrast (and yes, this is in part a opinion piece, so tread wisely) with this story on yesterday's incident at a Giuliani gathering in Prison

    Matt Lepacek, the reporter who was kicked out of the CNN press room and arrested after asking Rudy Giuliani's staff a question, has now been released on bail. Criminal indictments are now being pursued against the police involved as well as Giuliani's staffers for their flagrant abuse of the First Amendment, assault and wrongful arrest.


    The female staffer was witnessed to be instrumental in alerting the police to the "crime" of Lepacek asking a question that the Giuliani camp weren't comfortable with.

    Rudkowski was assaulted and questioned on who he was working for despite the fact that he hadn't even asked a question and was standing separately from Lepacek.

    Lepacek was told that other eyewitnesses saw police stamp on one of the cameras as it lay on the floor.

    Another eyewitness said that the entire arrest was clearly being directed by Secret Service, who were ordering the police to threaten anyone who asked questions about the incident with arrest.

    I find the dichotomy interesting.

    Wednesday, June 06, 2007

    Freak On The Street

    On the Freakonomics Blog, our heroes spend some time with Stephen Chau, one of the wizards at Google Maps behind Google Street View - the application that allows you to see a street level view on Google Maps - which has caused a full Internet freak-out over at Boing Boing and several other websites.  Check out Street View.  It's... impressive.
    Here's Mr. Chau on privacy concerns:
    At Google we take privacy very seriously. Street View only features imagery taken on public property and is not in real time. This imagery is no different from what any person can readily capture or see walking down the street. Imagery of this kind is available in a wide variety of formats for cities all around the world. While the Street View feature enables people to easily find, discover, and plan activities relevant to a location, we respect the fact that people may not want imagery they feel is objectionable featured on the service. We provide easily accessible tools for flagging inappropriate or sensitive imagery for review and removal.

    Each Street View imagery bubble contains a link to "Street View Help" where users can report objectionable images. Objectionable imagery includes nudity, certain types of locations (for example, domestic violence shelters) and clearly identifiable individuals, if those individuals request takedown. We routinely review takedown requests and act quickly to remove objectionable imagery.

    Street View invokes mixed emotions from me; I admit a little bit of a freak out when I noticed that most of my neighborhood was mapped on Street View, then a little relief when I noticed that they didn't have MY streets mapped.  On the other hand, I'm awestruck.  The only problem that I see is when our friends in the government start using a souped up version of street view for surveillance.
    I'm quite sure that's next unless someone at Google commits to a smackdown of that idea with the quickness.  Money does talk, though.
    Do no evil.  Don't let me down, guys.


    Friday, June 01, 2007

    Do It Yourself Background Checks

    The real post is here, however, via the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

    These are the unspoken questions asked by employers, landlords, creditors, insurers and banks as you – the consumer – make your way through the normal affairs of adult life. To the company that may give you a job, write an insurance policy, or rent you an apartment, you represent a risk – the unknown – and companies feel a need to assess their "risk" in dealing with you. Of course, you won't be asked these questions outright, but those who want to rate your "risk level" are turning more than ever to specialized "consumer reports" to find out more about you.

    The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) covers reports about your overall financial health. Credit reports allow a lender to see whether you pay your bills on time, have filed for bankruptcy, have an outstanding judgment or collection action against you.

    However, despite its name, the Fair Credit Reporting Act covers a lot more than simply credit reports. Credit reports are just one of a broader category of consumer reports covered by the FCRA.

    To learn more about your credit reporting rights, see PRC Fact Sheet 6, How Private Is My Credit Report?, .

    Consumer reports can also include reports about you made to employers, insurance companies, banks, and landlords. In recent years, many new companies have sprouted, compiling reports specifically targeted at employers, insurers, and landlords. The companies that compile reports for targeted users are "consumer reporting agencies" under the FCRA, just like the three credit national credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

    Do yourself a favor.  Real both the Consumerist post and it's comments, and read the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse information.  It might be the smartest thing you'll do all month... and it's only June 1.


    Wine Tips

    Why is it only a list of nine wines under $10 instead of the usual ten under ten? Because I'm grumpy. It's increasingly difficult to find good wines with character under ten dollars. Blame part of it on the weak dollar (though my list here is heavy on eurozone wines), blame it on producer greed–they're all just excuses! Good wines, easy on the palate and on the wallet are what consumers want. Sure, there are lots of great wines for $12-$15 and many more from $15 - 20, but these are out of reach for a lot of people to have with dinner on a given Tuesday. Producers take note of this market opening, ready to be filled! Meanwhile, we can fill up our wine storage areas with this value vino.

    No one with a wine storage area should be grumpy.

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