Archive for February, 2005

A Little Song, A Little Dance

Friday, February 18th, 2005

Thursday after work I was running out to the store, and I asked the wife if she wanted to come along. She replied, “No, I’m pretty tired. You kept me up too late last night listening to a guy who sings about masturbation.”

That may be true, but she’s the one who wanted to swing dance when he started singing about sex and beer.

My Mutant Redhead

Friday, February 18th, 2005

For Valentine’s Day I got a dozen roses for my wife — half red and half white. (The roses, not the wife.) I’ve never used this florist before, but I surely will again. These things are some of the most gorgeous roses I’ve ever seen. Over the last couple days they’ve been opening up, and now the open buds are quite huge.
img/roses1.jpg

As one of the buds opened up, I soon realized I’d got a bonus in my bouquet. One of the roses appears to be a double-budded mutant, as you can see here. Note that there are two centers to the swirls of petals.
img/roses2.jpg

That’s all. I thought it was kinda cool.

When Public Becomes Private

Wednesday, February 16th, 2005

Alternate Title: He never met a tax he didn’t like

It’s now official. Richard Daley will tax absolutely anything that moves. Or doesn’t move, as the case may be.

I lived in the city for roughly eight years. In that time, I saw city taxes and fees go through the roof — which is probably the biggest reason that I got the hell out and moved to the suburbs last year. In the time I was there:

  • I more than once heard complaints from property owners (I was a renter) complaining of their property taxes increasing by double-digit percentages in a single year.
  • Parking tickets tripled
  • City vehicle sticker fees tripled
  • “Guest Pass” Zone parking stickers quadrupled
  • Parking meter rates… what… tripled??? (In some areas it’s now 25 cents for five minutes — that’s 24 quarters for the max 2 hrs.)
  • They introduced a “litter tax” on any restaurant that serves takeout (on top of soon-to-be 9% sales tax), on the assumption that we all litter, so we should all pay for it.

In addition, I increasingly got nonsensical parking tickets for such things as “Meter Violation” when parked in a non-metered private parking lot. One day they came down my street, hung Street Cleaning (no parking) signs down the street, and then ticketed the cars already parked there! More recently when I visited a city friend after having moving to the ‘burbs, my town-stickered car got a ticket for not having a City sticker! It seems a reasonable guess that police are being pressured to issue as many citations as possible — anything to fill Daley’s coffers. (Let’s not even talk about traffic cameras!)

His newest tax (sorry *ahem* I meant to say “fee”) is on anyone who wants to take pictures in a certain massively overbudget public park. “Cloud Gate”, commonly known as “The Bean”, in Millennium Park, is copyrighted. The City wants you to buy a permit if you want to take a picture of it. According to park officials:

The copyrights for the enhancements in Millennium Park are owned by the artist who created them. As such, anyone reproducing the works, especially for commercial purposes, needs the permission of that artist.

The language there is a bit of feelgood subterfuge, though — the artists do not receive royalties from these permits, the City of Chicago keeps the whole fee.

In other words, you have to pay Daley to take a picture of public art in a public park. If you’re out on the lake, don’t try taking a picture of the skyline — undoubtedly Millennium Park will be smack dab in the middle of your shot.

Hey Dick: if you copyright air, I bet you can charge people for breathing!

(more info is available at the “New (sub)Urbanism” blog, namely here and here.)

Hat Tip: The Blogs of War

When Private Becomes Public

Friday, February 11th, 2005

Many people advocate socialist-style policies while arguing that they lead to better lives and more freedom. It is a very seductive idea — what could be more free, they suggest, than not having to spend time worrying about whether they can, for example, afford health care? Think how great it would be if not having (or finding) a job did not mean you had to give up your home? How wonderful it would be if every schlub in a minimum-wage job could afford a nice three bedroom house — not to mention the big-screen TV, DVD player, home computer, designer sneakers, SUV, etc. and so forth? There are many problems with the concept in reality, but one of the biggest is that when individual well-being becomes the business of “the people”, a.k.a. The State, your life becomes everyone else’s business.

There is a recent trend I’ve noticed in the news regarding various employers firing people for smoking. Now, I don’t mean negligence such as smoking around flammable chemicals or asthma patients. They weren’t even fired for smoking at work. They were fired for being smokers, period. In one case, Weyco Inc., a company in Michigan, fired four people for refusing to take tests to determine if they smoke. The company’s argues the rule “was designed to shield the firm from high health care costs. ‘I donâ??t want to pay for the results of smoking,’ [company founder Howard Weyers] said.” Meanwhile, in Tampa Bay Florida, the police department has decided that it will not hire anyone who uses any tobacco products, on duty or off. One of the reasons cited is that the policy “could lead to lower health insurance costs for the agency”

As reasonable as such an argument might seem to some, the assault on freedom should be obvious. Corporate paid health insurance has had a snowballing effect over the past century, to the point that it is practically a requirement for employers to provide it. This has also had the effect of making health care difficult to afford for anyone who does not have it provided to them though a job or somesuch. Now we have reached the point where employers are dictating what you may or may not do in your private life. If history is any indicator, this trend will surely grow.

Big Brother has arrived.

If such decisions are allowed to stand, it will be a tremendous blow to freedom in this country. As soon as smoking (a legal activity, mind you) is abolished, what’s next? Where does it end? Pardon me, but Ding Dongs aren’t good for you. Promiscuous sex spreads disease. Should your boss be able to fire you because you’ve had one-too-many sexual partners, or a few too many cupcakes?

News flash to the Florida Police department: whether your employees smoke in their spare time is none of your goddamned business.

Ultimately, the problem here is not that these organizations want to save money — any business wants to do that. The problem is that health care should never have become so socialized in the first place. This gross invasion of privacy is the natural extension of “collective” systems, which is another reason that such systems simply do not work. They are antithetical to freedom of choice, because the results of your choices, by definition become the responsibility of the caregiving body (be it government or the quasi-governmental Health Care monolith).

When we were children, we were provided for by adults. We were fed, and clothed, and entertained, all by the largess of our parents (or whomever raised us) — but we were never truly free in this time. If our parent’s didn’t like something we did, they could ground us, or cut our allowance, and we had nothing to say about it. They were the Authority, and we were the Ruled. As children, this was necessary, as children do not generally have the mental, emotional, or social capacity to make the major decisions that our parent were making that whole time. We were free of responsibility for ourselves, but only because they controlled us.

As adults, that reality has not changed. If we want to be “free” from responsibility, we can only achieve that by giving up our true freedoms and having someone else take care of us.

If this trend in the workplace is not reversed, and reversed quickly, there is literally no end to it. If an employer has the “right” (more accurately, “the power”) to forbid you from doing something perfectly legal on your own time, they have the “right” to forbid nearly anything. Your liberty is no longer your own.

Update: This discussion has been continued in a further post: De facto Socialism

I’ll take door #2

Thursday, February 3rd, 2005

In ancient times, scholars believed that the earth lay at the center of the universe (the “Ptolemaic System”), and that the stars were suspended from a black sphere that moved around us. Over the next several centuries, as astronomers observed the movement of the celestial bodies, they noticed abberations in the patterns of movement which did not match their belief. In order to resolve the differences they started altering the theory, adding new spheres nested within and without the main one (and changing them from black to crystal, to explain our ability to see stars on different spheres); over time the system they came up with to explain what they observed became extremely complex and unwieldy. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it was the only theory they had.

Finally, Copernicus came up with a new idea — it was the sun at the center, and the earth and the planets moved around the sun. The theory foundered for quite a while until being refined with a little help from Kepler and Galileo.

Despite opposition from the all-powerful Church, the idea finally started to take off. Why? Because it made sense. If you observed the night sky with the new model in mind, it suddenly all worked without relying on ridiculously complex models — you could even make accurate predictions based on the model alone. Occam’s Razor once again reared it head and struck down an outmoded model of thought.

This today from Brian Tiemann, over at Peeve Farm [emphasis is mine]:

Believing the worst about the [War in Iraq] all this time… means believing that the Idiot Supergenius Bush deluded America into fighting for the spread and germination of democracy, a concept he was himself patently opposed to, and in whose service he was willing to construct the most elaborate, audacious, and shameless lie in American history. It takes believing that Bush says he likes freedom, but is lying and secretly hates freedom — but he’s willing to subvert our entire governmental system to create freedom anyway, because it serves his nefarious goals….

Being on the side of the war means simply believing Bush meant what he said and said what he meant. That he believed the things he said, that he acted in good faith, that he never knowingly lied, and that the end result — democracy in Iraq — depends not on subterfuge but on honesty. Hard as it might be, one only has to believe that Bush and the pro-war faction of American politics has simply been sincere all along for the sight of grinning, finger-waving Iraqi voters to make sense.

After a while, it starts to also remind me of the Bill Clinton SexPerjury Scandal, in which we were asked to believe that either A) a known liar and philanderer was lying about philandering, or B) the entirety of the Republican party was united in a Vast but completely secret Right-Wing Conspiracy to convince the public that he was lying. Hmm. Let me ponder that one for a moment.

Then, as now, the Democrat party (not to mention the bulk of the MSM) ran with theory A. Can either of these institutions really be that far from a complete meltdown?

(Brian’s article is all good. RTWT.)

Why does this remind me of me?

Thursday, February 3rd, 2005

As I read this article I felt an odd feeling of familiarity stir within me:

I was recently handed the task… of replacing my grandmother’s ancient Macintosh with something she could use to connect to the Internet just to send email.� Some background:� My grandma Helen is 89 years old, is always smiling, has a touch of Alzheimer’s, and for the last decade or so, she has been running Macintosh System 7.5 on an old LC II….

[I]t came time to choose a window manager.� It’s easy to narrow the field of dozens down to just three – KDE, Gnome and XFce…. I installed all three so that Grandma could decide when she logs on which desktop environment she wants to use during her session.� Sometimes she might want more speed than eye candy, but sometimes she might want to do something in style even if it eats up extra clock cycles.

So that’s what Mom has been complaining about all these years.

In my defense, although Mom’s assertion that I “have three ways of explaining everything” is not only true, but an understatement, I usually only give her one or two of those explanations — the “basic” and the “efficient” way of doing something.

(Mind you, she’s a computer wiz when it comes time to figure out how to play video poker, but dragging a folder to a Zip disk to do a backup remains beyond her to this day.)

Also: While that article reminds me of me, this one reminds me of them.

Hat Tip to The Shape of Days for both articles.

It would be funny if it weren’t tragic.

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2005

So let’s see…

In the news recently, we have seen the following: A captured “suicide” bomber (he survived his own bomb) tells interrogators that he was told someone would take the explosives from him, and that he had not known his compatriots were going to trigger the explosion with him still in the van; terrorists use a mentally retarded “suicide” bomber; terrorists fake a kidnapping by releasing blurry photos of a GI Joe-like soldier action figure and threatening to cut its head off.

Is it just me or are the terrorists in Iraq getting desperate?

Note: I put quotes around the word “suicide” in both cases above because it seems clear in one case, and likely in the other, that the person in question did not intend to commit suicide. Also note that I did not say “Iraqi terrorists”, but “terrorists in Iraq” — there is a difference.

Making a Mark

Tuesday, February 1st, 2005

A couple weeks ago I posted about the ACLU having edited the First Amendment. I wrote them a letter regarding their misrepresentation of the Constitution on their site.

Well what do you know! I revisited the offending page yesterday, and they’ve changed it. Their original opening read:

It is probably no accident that freedom of speech is the first freedom mentioned in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The new page reads:

It is no accident that freedom of speech is protected in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

You would think that an organization as big and as “rights oriented” as the ACLU would know the Constitution without having to have obvious errors pointed out to them.

Or you could note the elipsis in the original quote, and realize that they did know, and deliberately changed it to serve their purpose.

Either way, I imagine that my one email to them was probably not the motivation for the change — but a whole bunch of emails, including mine, just might have been. I would call that a win.