Archive for November, 2006

The 5s are delicious

Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

Via Darleen comes an article about a recent judicial decision. It appears that U.S. District Judge James Robertson has decreed that the Federal Government is discriminating against the blind because blind people can not distinguish between different denominations of U.S. paper currency. Thus, the government has denied them “meaningful access” to money.

My problem with this kind of thing is twofold: first, it is not the responsibility of government to ensure that life is “fair”. We are “the land of opportunity”, but that doesn’t make us the “land of whatever I want whenever I want it”. Everyone has obstacles, and once upon a time success came by fighting to overcome those obstacles and excelling at what we can do well. I can’t shoot a basket to save my life. Is the NBA discriminating against me if I apply for a job and they don’t hire me as a player? Well, yes, they are; but it is a completely legitimate and appropriate form of discrimination. I discriminate against a hunk of cheese in my refrigerator by throwing it out if it turns fuzzy. Both my vision and physical strength mean I will never be a star basketball player — who’s discriminating against me? My own physical existence is discriminating against me. Huh. Guess I’d better go into computers instead.

My second issue is the slippery slope concept — if the law is broken every time somebody has lesser access to something because of the limits of their own physical being, where does it end?

Darleen asks when the government is going to give blind people “meaningful access” to the highway system; should they order car manufacturers to make cars the blind can drive? I don’t quite take that view, as the judgement is (in theory, anyway) based on the idea of “reasonable” accommodation. The judge has decided that it would be reasonable for the government to make money of differing sizes, or with raised ink, or with some other feature that the blind could distinguish. But — what happens when they blind guy with nerve damage comes along? He has no sense of touch — should the government flavor our money so he is accommodated? For that matter, what happens when the raised ink wears down?

The article quotes the judge as saying “every other issuer [of money — that is, other countries] includes at least some features that help the visually impaired” . That may be a true statement, except that it implicitly suggests that US currency has no features to help the visually impaired. If you’re in the USA, pull out your wallet right now and take a look at a recently redesigned bill. Flip it over. See that really big plain-font number with plain background in the lower right corner? Seems kind of a odd break in the design of the bill, doesn’t it? That is there for one reason and one reason only: to make the bills easier to distinguish for people with impaired vision.

Beyond that, the blind do have meaningful access to money. Take you cash, hand it to a bank teller. It’s okay, she won’t short you counting it (too many camera pointed her way). You can put that money into an account, and then the bank gives you this thing called a debit card. Voila! Reasonable and meaningful access to your money. Is it absolutely the same as being able to use cash freely? No. But this is about reasonable accommodation. This is about “meaningful access”. A cash card is certainly a reasonable way for the blind to use money. No need to reprint trillions of dollars worth of currency and remanufacture every single ATM, vending machine, and automated register (and wallet!) to handle differently sized bills.

What about a blind person who absolutely must use cash for some reason? Well, let’s take a look at another task that is difficult for the blind: crossing the street. Sighted people have signs that tell them when they should or should not cross a busy street; the blind cannot see those signs. The blind do have access to handheld devices that emit a tone telling them which signal is currently displayed, so that they can cross. Certainly we have the technological ability to make a small handheld scanner (similar to the one in the aforementioned vending machines) that can tell a blind person the denomination of a particular piece of currency? Probably some good money there for the person who designs such a thing.

The point is, there are ways for people to overcome their limitations, and it should not constantly be the responsibility of other people to bend over backwards doing it for them.

Can I hear you now? Good!

Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

Back in the early 80s we had an Apple ][ computer with the smallish green-and-black monitor (and a cassette tape drive, but I digress…). The monitor gave off a flat, high-pitched noise that was actually quite loud to me — not so loud that I didn’t use the computer 🙂 but loud enough to be a distinct sound among whatever else was going on in our basement family room.

The thing is, I _always knew when the monitor was on. I could be upstairs in our two-storey house, with my bedroom door and the door to the basement closed (old house = solid doors, not the wimpy hollow things they use these days) and hear it clearly. I would be in bed and my brother would come upstairs for the night, and I would look at him and say “You left the monitor on”.

“I did?”

It wasn’t too long before I realized that he couldn’t hear it. At all. I mean… how can he not hear that? Up the stairs, through a closed door, up another flight of stairs, and another closed door.

Computer monitors today are not nearly as noisy as they were in the days of black and white green, but I find that there are often other things that are similar. Can you hear the hard drive in an iPod when it’s not playing anything? Can you hear a PalmPilot while holding it normally in your hand? (Okay, that one takes a really quiet room, but I remember the first time I registered that that was what was making that sound!) A few years ago my wife bought one of those ultrasonic mosquito repellents. I can hear the danged thing when she turns it on! Sometimes I’m with my wife at some store, and I’ll say something about the music that is playing. She can’t hear it — it’s not actually playing in the room we’re in, it’s coming from the other end of the department store. I can clearly make out the melody.

My theory is that some people (such as myself) are simply more attuned to certain frequencies of sound.

The flipside of this is that I have in the last few years developed a notable difficulty distinguishing the sound of the human voice. If somebody is talking to me and there is any background noise, I frequently ask people to repeat themselves. It comes and goes, and because of this last detail, I am forced to alter my theory for this one….

Another thing that has been happening over time in the last few years is that my allergies have been changing. Where they used to hit me hardest in the upper front sinuses (causing sneezing, stuffed nose, and the like), they generally affect me further back and lower down in my head, resulting in post-nasal symptoms and fluid in my ears. Well, then. It’s not uncommon for me to yawn and suddenly have sound “snap into focus”. The odd bit about this is that while sound in general gets slightly muffled, it primarily affects my ability to hear the spoken voice. (An additional effect of this is that it’s not terribly unusual for me to get up in the morning and my balance to be all wonky for a few minutes.)

Short of a hearing aid, I suspect the best treatment is yet more (and better) antihistamines.

Dang it.

(As a side note, I am curious to track down the so-called “mosquito” sound that only teenagers are supposed to be able to hear. I bet I can hear it!) [Update: No, I can’t hear it.]

The Nature of the War

Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

Orson Scott Card has authored perhaps the best essay I’ve read in years. He talks a bit about American politics, and then goes shoulder-deep into the nature of the enemy we face in the War in Iraq War on Islamic Fascism War on Terror.

I haven’t seen analysis this good since Steven Den Beste decommissioned the USS Clueless.

As I read it, I kept finding paragraphs I wanted to quote here, but then further down I found something else, and further down…

It can’t be “nutshelled” with a brief quote. It encompasses the entirety of the new World War, and the futures we face if we follow the various paths available to us.

Well… let me try with this:

When there is no hope of deliverance, the people have no choice but to bow under the tyrant’s lash, pretending to be true believers while yearning for relief. In Russia it came … after more than seventy years. China and Cuba are still waiting — but then, they started later.

So it would be in the Muslim world — if Islamicism were ever able to come to seem inevitable and irresistible.

You know: If America withdrew from Iraq and Afghanistan and exposed everyone who had cooperated with us to reprisals.

As happened in South Vietnam. The negotiated peace was more or less holding after American withdrawal. But then a Democratic Congress refused to authorize any further support for the South Vietnamese government. No more armaments. No more budget.

In other words, we forcibly disarmed our allies, while their enemies continued to be supplied by the great Communist powers. The message was clear: Those who rely on America are fools. We didn’t even have the decency to arrange for the evacuation of the people who had trusted us and risked the most in supporting what they thought was our mutual cause.

We did it again, this time in the Muslim world, in 1991, when Bush Senior encouraged a revolt against Saddam. He meant for the senior military officers to get rid of him in a coup; instead, the common people in the Shiite south rose up against Saddam.

Bush Senior did nothing as Saddam moved in and slaughtered them. The tragedy is that all it would have taken is a show of force on our part in support of the rebels, and Saddam’s officers would have toppled him. Only when it became clear that we would do nothing did it become impossible for any high-ranking officials to take action. For the price of the relatively easy military action that would have made Saddam turn his troops around and leave the Shiite south, we could have gotten rid of him then — and had grateful friends, perhaps, in the Shiite south.

That is part of our track record: Two times we persuaded people to commit themselves to action against oppressive enemies, only to abandon them. Do you think that would-be rebels in Iran and Syria and North Korea don’t remember those lessons?

…and this:

[G]overnment power — even in democracies — depends absolutely on the will of the people to obey. And when you rule by tyranny and oppression, the obedience of the people comes from the credibility of the threat of violence from the government.

The obvious examples are Red Square in Moscow and Tiananmen Square in Beijing. In Moscow, when Yeltsin and the pro-democracy demonstrators defied the tanks, the Russian Army did not open fire. Why not? Either they refused to obey the order to shoot, or the order was not given — but if it was not given, it was almost certainly because the tyrants knew that it would not be obeyed.

In other words, the government had lost the ability to inflict deadly force on its own population.

In Tiananmen Square, however, the government gave the order and the troops did fire. As a result, the tyranny continued — and continues to this day.

Tyrannies only continue in power when they can give the order to kill their own people and be obeyed.

In Iran, there have been several incidents in the past months and years where troops refused to fire on demonstrators. This is huge news (virtually unreported in the West, of course), because of what it means: The ayatollahs’ days are numbered.

…but really: Go read the whole thing.

Remedial Lessons

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

They got his name wrong. His middle name is “F-ing”.