Movie: Watership Down (1978)

Based on Richard Adams’ bestselling novel about a warren of wild rabbits in Southern England, this is a great animated movie, which will teach you much about the life of rabbits in the wild.

Movie: Larry Crowne (2011)

Tom Hanks is Larry Crowne, a middle aged department manager in a warehouse discount store who gets downsized, and has to go back to school – community college – to become employable.

Is Elizabeth Warren of Native American ancestry – and does it matter

Someone asked this question on Quora:

Q: Why is Elizabeth Warren being criticised, either you have or don’t have native American blood, she does?

I read somewhere that the average American has 0.18% Native American ancestry. That means 1/555 – in other words one ancestor 9 generations back. People with that amount are unlikely to have any stories passed down, or any awareness that they have any native American blood.

The report on EW’s ancestry notes that she has between 1/64th and 1/1024th Native American ancestry. At the highest part of the range, that is one ancestor 6 generations back. More than the average, but not a lot.

My daughter has about that much – all of it from her mother’s side, since I am pure Scandinavian – living in Denmark for at least 8 generations. Not culturally significant – most of my ex-wife’s family are more apt to note that they have three lines going back to two people on the Mayflower. One line that now mostly lives in the Texas panhandle came from South Carolina, via Arkansas and Oklahoma around the time of the “Trail of Tears”. No recorded proven Native American interbreeding. But of course we speculate that there was some Cherokee connection. The idea gave us an incentive to feel connected to the historic sufferings of the Cherokee and by extension other native tribes, as we read “The Little House on the Prairie” at bedtime over the years. But of course, we are not Indians.

Elizabeth Warren says her father’s family rejected her mother, because she “looked like an Indian with her high cheekbones”, so the idea of Native American ancestry – which at the time was unverifiable – was a personal story of having to fight racial discrimination. And about privileged white men not believing a woman.

So to this Dane, the premise of your question is so simplistic that “it is not even wrong”.

Movie: Blazing Saddles

I saw Blazing Saddles in Copenhagen around 1975. In the heart of the old city, a bar had managed to get a license to show movies, in a club setting, with wine, beer and cigar smoking. For the first three years, they showed Blazing Saddles every night, followed by a variety of new films as the second feature.
I think I had seen it once since then, so when I saw it was newly available on NetFlix, and I found out that Colleen had never seen it, it was time to put it on. It was even better than I remembered it.
Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder bounce off each other in myriad creative ways. When the racist redneck slave driving railway bosses want the negroes to sing while they work, and they eventually do “I get a kick out of you”, the rednecks explain that they want to hear something more appropriate like “Camptown Ladies”, and they end up singing that, showing their inferior culture. It plays with our stereotypes like that all the way through, until the movie breaks out of it box and escapes into Warner Brothers Studio lot in the present time.

Should the 2020 U.S. Census ask about your citizenship?

In a sane world, absolutely. It is valuable for all sorts of government planning to know as many dimensions as possible about the population you serve. But then, the USA is not exactly a sane place, when it comes to issues that relate in some way to immigration.

In a sane world, the population of “undocumented immigrants” – also known as “illegal aliens” would be miniscule. We would enforce our borders, and we would make it very hard for “undocumented” people to find work by imposing severe penalties on those who illegally employ them. But important industries like to employ “illegals”, because you do not have to pay them a normal or a living wage, and if they start to demand decent pay and working conditions, you can call the immigration police and have them deported. Problem solved. So these industries have influenced Federal and State legislatures to be lenient to illegal employers. And now we have 13 million “illegals” and if they were to leave (voluntarily or otherwise) farmers, slaughterhouses and several other industries would be in deep trouble.

In California, we have a large “undocumented” population. We need to count them and include them in our population statistics in order to fairly allocate things like school funding and the number of seats in the Federal House of Representatives. And that is precisely why Republicans do not want to count them. They want to citizenship question added to the Census because it will make the “undocumented” afraid to participate in the Census.

In theory, the rules for the Census should alleviate that fear. The Census data is confidential, and individual records are not to be shared with the public or other government branches. But when the head of the Census department is a Republican, how much do you trust that that confidentiality will hold?

So as a California Democrat, I have to agree with our state officals that this question should not be asked in the 2020 Census.

Immigration is a big tangle of interacting difficult problems made worse by bungling politicians over decades. Almost every suggestion you hear that sounds simple is counterproductive.

One of these days, I will write a long blog post about what I think could be done to start making things better, but not this week.

Can you request a specific phone number if it’s not in use?

You can always request. As to whether you can get it, that is another matter entirely.

For “toll-free” numbers (800, 877, 866, 855 “area codes”), there is an active market place for buying and selling.

For regular numbers, they are allocated/issued to local carriers as needed, generally in blocks of 10,000 – smaller blocks if the area code is almost full. If the current holder of the number gives it up (after possibly taking it with them through several moves to other phone companies), I believe it reverts back to the owner of the prefix. If you want that number, you have to talk to that carrier.

Usually, when you open a new service, they will give you a choice of 10–12 numbers. For years I had the number xxx-569–5277, which I spelled out as LOW-LARS. Most people found that easier to remember than 7 digits. When my daughter got her first cell phone, I picked xxx-xxx-KATP (for Katherine Poulsen) but she hated that. “I don’t want to be cat-pee! – Yuck”.

How do “Free Conference Calls” work?

“Free conference calling” is a scam to rip off the Universal Service Fund.

The telecommunications act of 1936 laid down the principle that having access to a telephone line is a basic civil right that must be priced so it is available to almost everyone, everywhere in the continental United States.

To make that happen, it was decided that the small cooperative rural telephone companies would receive various subsidies from the Universal Service Fund, which gets its money from a small tax on all telephone subscribers (you will find it on your phone bill as a separate line item).

In the restructuring of telephone companies after the breakup of AT&T, it was decided that the rural telephone companies could charge a higher rate for calls delivered to them from the long distance telephone companies. This created an incentive for them to attract high volumes of calls. Some enterprising people invented the “free conference call”.

The “free” call costs as much as 22 cents per minute. The calls typically do not even make it to the physical location of the rural exchange; they are picked off at a large switching center closer to the backbone of the network. The scammers rely on the obscurity of the accounting – that it is hard to explain how these specific calls are different from other calls. Most mobile telephone companies have started blocking these numbers.

The proposed rule says if the end users insists on calling these numbers, they can be billed for the cost of the call. Makes sense to me.

Someone is sending me email. It gets delivered on Gmail, but not on Hotmail. Why?

“Non-junk” is in the eye of the beholder. YOU may know that they are “non-junk” but a rules-based email filtering program may not.

The ordinary Internet user has no idea how much junk mail has to be screened out by your email service provider in order for you to see more good email than junk. Trust me, if your email address has existed more than a few weeks, you would not want to see the sewer that is an unfiltered mail feed.

The service providers each maintain their own filtering rules, and there are slight differences, due in large part to the fact that they see different profiles of bad mail.

I act as my own email service provider (i.e. I run a mailserver on the Linux box in my home office), and I have outsourced my mail filtering to a Danish friend in Switzerland, who does this as his business, catering to customers in Switzerland and Germany. (And I get it for free, because I helped him with beta testing when he started up.) The spam that I get is different from what his German customers get, so my feedback is helpful to him.

One of the layers of his filtering is this: For every email received, he looks up the combination of “From:” address, “To:” address and the IP address from which the connection comes in. If this combination is new, he rejects the mail with a return code that says “We can’t talk to you right now, come back later”, and then marks that he has seen this combination before. So when the sending “Post Office” tries again (usually 15–30 minutes later), it goes through. We had a correspondent in Brazil, whose email was never getting through. We had him send it to a different mailbox and then sent the evidence to my filtering provider, who checked their logs. It turned out, that the sending post office was a cluster of over 200 machines, and it might take days before the retries landed on a machine that had been used before. So he had to program an exception for this provider’s IP address range.

Why does he do this particular screening layer? Because it gets rid of over 90% of the mail, which comes from hijacked PC’s belonging to home internet users on cable modem connections which get a spam message and a list of 10,000 email addresses to deliver it to. They will not retry, because that is too much work, not worth it – just try the next address in your list.

I highly recommend SpamChek for this kind of service.


Is it justified to deny green cards to immigrants who have received government benefits?

There are different classes of immigrants, and there should be different rules for each class, because they are in very different circumstances.

1) Illegal immigrants, i.e. people who have entered without passing the immigration control at a port of entry. These are deportable, and so far as I know, have never been eligible for federal benefits. (Their young children may have qualified for WIC and other food assistance programs.) They may have qualified for state, local and/or private benefits.

2) Refugees / asylum seekers. These will in most cases need aid, and in my opinion should be given whatever help they need to settle in and become productive residents, workers and taxpayers. To deny them aid, or deny them permanent resident status if they get aid is counterproductive.

3) People that come here to marry US citizens – they should become eligible to aid as they will become permanent residents, almost immediately.

Immigration is a big tangle of interacting difficult problems made worse by bungling politicians over decades. Almost every suggestion you hear that sounds simple is counterproductive.

One of these days, I will write a long blog post about what I think could be done to start making things better, but not this week.