Friday, January 18, 2008

I agree with Pearl P. Baker!

From time to time, a topic or news story will send some of us in the office here looking through old editions of Land Line Magazine.

Besides enjoying old pictures of the Land Line editors and OOIDA leaders, you find stories about many of the same topics, albeit with a few slight changes.

Recently a hospital in New York made headlines after a lawsuit revealed that the hospital allegedly forced a man with a head injury to endure a digital rectal exam.

That’s right.

According to The New York Times, construction worker Brian Persaud, 38, from Brooklyn, NY, hurt his head at work in May 2003.

Hospital employees held Persaud down so a doctor could perform the rectal exam as Persaud said, “Please don’t do that,” the Times reported. Persaud hit the doctor and was sedated so the exam could be performed.

New York hasn’t begun photographing rear ends that we know of, but obviously Mr. Persaud felt his treatment was invasive.

Persaud’s story has a serious edge, as it may indicate a trend in how the general public is treated. Several states and cities have recently begun allowing law enforcement officers to forcibly remove blood samples from motorists.

The rectal exam story reminded Land Line Managing Editor Sandi Soendker of a letter to the editor that came in nearly 20 years ago.

In 1989, Land Line had reported on the planned use of retinal exams by state troopers for drug and DUI testing.

Senior Editor Jami Jones dug up the issue of Land Line that had a letter by Pearl P. Baker of Freeview, WI, who wrote about her objections to such invasive techniques in the December 1989 issue under the heading, “The Last Straw.”

I think the letter speaks for itself.

“In the past, the state and federal governments have come up with some wild ideas to keep a firm grip on the truck driver,” Pearl wrote. “Senator Danforth is now doing his best to see that we all ‘drop our drawers’ for any official who has the slightest reason for wanting us to take a drug test. But the most outrageous idea I have heard of so far is the rectinal scan!! Imagine having a picture of your rear-end on an identification card and having an officer compare it to the real thing to prove you are who you say you are???

Just think of the possible uses: check cashing, passports, IDs…one further observation – you won’t have to worry about your smile anymore, just proudly display your vertical one! The End”

Pearl P. Baker Freeview, WI

Land Line Publisher Todd Spencer responded in the 1989 magazine:

“Editor’s Note: Hold on, Pearl. That’s retinal imaging, not rectal. They’re both invasive to a part of your body, but different parts.”

We now know what Pearl knew 20 years ago: Sadly, we’ve truly entered the digital age.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

If the shoe doesn’t fit

The things you see in the road these days. It makes one think, as we travel the highways, what goes through a person’s mind to make them discard, at will, items they no longer wish to keep inside the vehicle.

Granted, it’s pretty obvious when you see a baseball cap on the roadside, it is because the previous owner had the window down too far. Or, perhaps they were riding in a convertible with the top down and a gust of wind took the chapeau into orbit. Or, even being just plain tired of giving that losing ball team free advertising, the litterbug gives the cap a toss.

Items of clothing litter the shoulders and grassy berms on many highways around the country and lately, I have noticed even more than usual amounts strewn along I-95. From New York to Florida, it could be a ragpicker’s dream and there are two explanations.

First, it’s Snowbird Season and those who hate the cold are armed with money, campers and motel reservations, heading for the sun. It happens every year, so there is a predictable amount of tourist traffic.

The second reason, which is tied into the first, is that many folks do not know how to secure cargo to the roofs of their vehicles. If you have been lucky enough to have dodged an airborne suitcase, a plastic ski rack (with skis) and even a bass boat that had gone airborne from its trailer as I have, you know what I mean.

We see it every day. People buy a pack of cheap bungee cords from a discount store and expect miracles at 70 mph.

But that’s not what really intrigues me. What I have never been able to figure out is the “One Shoe Theory.”

Ride down the road and all of a sudden there will be a shoe in the middle of the road. Why? Did the previous owner just look down and say, “Hey! I don’t want this shoe anymore” and kick it to the heavens and it wound up on the zipper? And what about the other shoe? Do they go through the rest of the day wearing only one shoe?

I have never seen a second shoe on the road, (and believe me, I have looked) so it must have gone somewhere. If you go home with only one shoe, you know you will be asked what happened to the other shoe.

This is a dilemma that has plagued mankind for ages and it is not restricted to any one area. The wilds of Wyoming on I-80, where you really need both shoes, to the mean streets of New York. The lone PF Flyer or the stray Florsheim, lying on the asphalt highway, sole to the sun, wondering where its mate has gone.

My guess would be Miami South Beach, where shoes are optional.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

So long, road scrapers?

It was flurrying this week in Nashville and, if you have ever driven through Nashville when it’s snowing, you know that panic grips the motoring public. This light flurry was enough to bring three interstates to a crawl, spawning multiple wrecks as amateurs tried to get their 4WD Humvees and SUVs home before the going got … tweachawous, as Frau Bl├╝cher from “Young Frankenstein” might put it.

As I watched the light twists of flakes dance across the highway, I recalled a story heard over the CB on a truly tweachawous, icy afternoon here. It seems there was a driver with a pretty hot load who hit snowy weather. It got worse and worse, so finally he pulled over and called dispatch to say he was gonna wait for it to blow over. “Unh-unh,” Dispatch said. “You find a snowplow and get behind it and go. That load has to get there.”

So the driver did as instructed. He spotted a plow and off he went. An hour or so later, the plow truck driver radioed to the big rigger: “I’m done here at the Wal-Mart. If you wanna keep following me, I’m going over to Target next.”

Well, maybe it was funnier while we were sitting on the ice.

Anyway, those days of following the plow trucks may soon be behind us. The Japanese, who are racing to build robots to take care of many needs as their population ages, have created a road-clearing ’bot that looks like a cross between a ladybug and a smiley face. The prototype Yuki-taro scoops up snow and compresses it into solid blocks, which it then stacks on its bed. (Click here to check it out.)

Presumably, the working versions of the bots would offload the blocks themselves and return to the job without the need of a human crew to fingerprint the ice cubes. I wonder if they could teach them to make igloos?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

You’ve got mail – and an overloaded muffler

I got a pedometer one time with my $5 salad from McDonald’s.

I know – it’s the ultimate contradiction – kind of like having a bachelor’s party at Showbiz Pizza.

Anyway, this pedometer would tick off daily footsteps no matter where you went, adding up to thousands of steps each day.

But there was a chink in the armor.

I found the pedometer would tick off footsteps if I tapped my foot, or turned in my office chair. Unless you reset the thing for a specific walk, it couldn’t be counted on for accuracy.

I was reminded of the pedometer while reading a recent magazine article about the future of emissions testing.

In the Nov. 26, 2007, edition of Fortune Magazine, Lisa Palmer wrote about a new wireless emissions data system recently developed by engineer Pradeep Tripathi.

According to Fortune, Tripathi has patented, tested and marketed a device as small as a sticky-pad that connects to a car’s ECM, collecting emission data from cars and transmitting that data to a wireless network.

Palmer compared the system to the E-ZPass toll system, because data is sent as cars drive past a remote onboard diagnostic access point.

“If a car is out of compliance, the owner receives a warning by mail, e-mail, or fax and typically has 45 days to fix the problem,” Palmer wrote.

Cars that keep emissions in check would get their inspection sticker mailed to them.

The system isn’t necessarily all bad, though it does remind one of the same 1984-like feelings our society has been faced with in recent years.

Because the remote onboard diagnostic access points will note a vehicle’s passing, you wonder whether the device will be used like E-ZPass has been used in divorces and other legal proceedings.

Also, what happens if your ECM acts up? I’ve had multiple cars with “check engine light” issues that needed only a button on the engine to be reset. Do we get four emails, a fax and two letters everyday before we’re forced to make a mechanic’s appointment?

On the plus side, most truckers want their truck’s running in good shape and don’t want to breathe in greenhouse gases or any gases, so a constant on-board diagnostic system might be appreciated by some.

Any trucker or even an automobile driver will tell you how annoying it is to make appointments for annual or bi-annual emission tests required by state governments.

Such a system could save money in the long run, and keep our air clean.

But no one wants an overpriced, ineffective measurement, whether it costs $5 or $5 million.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Where’s the beef?

I am sure all of you who grew up in the 1980s remember the “Where’s the beef” commercial.

For the past few weeks I have been covering a story regarding the theft of a refrigerated trailer in Fort Worth, TX, which was loaded with more than 14,000 pounds of ground beef product.

What’s the most disturbing in this case is that some of that product had tested positive for E.coli bacteria earlier on the day it was stolen from American Fresh Foods’ parking lot on Dec. 19.

Something as simple as a kingpin lock may have prevented the theft of the trailer and its contents. Now, a joint public health investigation is underway between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Dallas Environmental and Health Services Department to try and recover approximately 80 percent of the meat, which is still unaccounted for.

Scary, isn’t it?

Famed E.coli attorney Bill Marler of Marler Clark LLP and I talked after the trailer was found and most of the ground beef products were missing. Many of our questions regarding why potentially contaminated meat was being stored in a trailer have still gone unanswered.

American Fresh Spokeswoman Agi Schafer said a portion of the ground beef products in the trailer was “segregated” after low levels of E. coli contamination were detected in some of it. The other products in the trailer were close to their expiration date. She said she was unsure what the company’s plan was for the beef, which was being temporarily stored in the trailer.

Even though some of the product tested positive for E.coli, there is a USDA loophole that allows meat companies to “rework” the contaminated product. This means that the meat can be cooked to a certain temperature to supposedly “kill” the potentially deadly bacteria. The product can then be sold to consumers as what is known as a cooked product.

Investigators in Dallas, TX, where the trailer was found, are combing the area, interviewing residents and area restaurants because there have been reports that an individual is going door-to-door trying to unload the product.

Some of my co-workers tell me they just want to enjoy their food – they don’t want to hear about recalls or what’s potentially in it – they just want to eat it without worry.

I remember those days.