Never Trust 'Em

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Posted on : 12/15/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : ,

Yet another cautionary tale about the capricious winds of government devastating private business owners.  The short version appears to be that a couple asked their local township if they could use their residential driveway to access land they owned that was zoned for commercial purposes.  The township agreed.

After a few years of rapid grown, the couple's new neighbors complained.  The township reversed itself and decided to start enforcing zoning restrictions on the couple without compensating them for effectively taking their established businesses.


News Flash - West Point Still Stands...

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Posted on : 12/14/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

...even after a lesbian couple gets married there.  Congratulations to the newlyweds!

The U.S. Military Academy's Cadet Chapel at West Point hosted its first same-sex marriage Saturday
Penelope Gnesin and Brenda Sue Fulton, a West Point graduate, exchanged vows in the regal church in a ceremony conducted by a senior Army chaplain.

The ceremony comes a little more than a year after President Obama ended the military policy banning openly gay people from serving.

The two have been together for 17 years. They had a civil commitment ceremony that didn't carry any legal force in 1999 but had longed to formally tie the knot.

The couple live in New Jersey and would have preferred to have the wedding there, but the state doesn't allow gay marriage.

"We just couldn't wait any longer," Fulton said.

Paying The Bills

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Posted on : 12/13/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Having been following trends in education for some time, I was particularly surprised to find that the theoretic economic benefits of a college education that are sold to high school students fell so short.


We cannot continue subsidizing educations that do not make economic sense.  Students cannot continue to sign up for a lifetime of indebtedness.  Like every other economic bubble in the world, this one will break eventually.

Wouldn't we be better off by not having our government create them in the first place?

The obvious...to me....solution is to put colleges on the hook for the debt if students are not able to find fiscally rewarding employment within their field of study.  And to require colleges to advertise the benefits of what they are offering on a "by field of study" basis.

Most kids are smart enough to avoid a train wreck, if they can see it coming.

The Change Is A Comin'

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Posted on : 12/12/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In :

Or at least we will have it if Congress decides to the smart thing instead of the popular thing.  Recent history isn't encouraging on that perspective.

In any case, we really need to do away with the paper dollar and replace it with coins.  I'd even go so far as to suggest that we copy Canada and establish a $2 variant.

I know a lot of people don't like the current $1 coins due to size issues that make is slightly similar to the current quarter.  We have managed do deal with pennies and dimes that similar in size, so I'm not sure why this is such a big deal.

However, the government might consider making two-tone coins for easier visual recognition.  They might also consider using other features (scalloped edges, a hole in the middle, etc.) that will make it easier to tactilely differentiate the $1 coins from their $0.25 cousins.

The GAO's Lorelei St. James told the House Financial Services panel it would take several years for the benefits of switching from paper bills to dollar coins to catch up with the cost of making the change. Equipment would have to be bought or overhauled and more coins would have to be produced upfront to replace bills as they are taken out of circulation.

But over the years, the savings would begin to accrue, she said, largely because a $1 coin could stay in circulation for 30 years while paper bills have to be replaced every four or five years on average.
"We continue to believe that replacing the note with a coin is likely to provide a financial benefit to the government," said St. James, who added that such a change would work only if the note was completely eliminated and the public educated about the benefits of the switch.

Even the $1 coin's most ardent supporters recognize that they haven't been popular. Philip Diehl, former director of the Mint, said there was a huge demand for the Sacagawea dollar coin when production began in 2001, but as time wore on, people stayed with what they knew best.
 The sooner the better.

Just Piss On That!

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Posted on : 12/11/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

You may have heard about Glenn Beck's recent kerfuffle.  It seems that he took a figuring depicting Barack Obama as Jesus Christ and put in in a jar.  He then filled the jar with urine.  It turns out that the fluid was actually beer, which is pretty humourous for what should be obvious reasons.

Now I don't watch or listen to Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh.  Primarily because I find some of their attempts at sarcastic criticism to cross lines that I am unwilling to cross.

But this particular stunt is perfect.

A few years back, an artist by the name of  Andres Serrano created a bit of a kerfuffle with his "art" image of a plastic figurine of Jesus on the cross submerged in a yellow fluid that Mr. Serrano claimed to be his own urine.  The piece won an award that was funded in part by the National Endowment of the Arts and became yet another in a series of incidents that suggest that the NEA is wasting our tax dollars.

Fast foward to today, and we have folks that are supportive of Mr. Obama's agenda making favorable comparisons between Jesus and the President.

Mr. Beck then takes that near-religious fervor and criticizes it a way that mimics that of Mr. Serrano's artistic criticism of Christianity.

We end up with the folks that thought that Mr. Serrano and the NEA had done nothing wrong now being outraged when similar contempt is expressed towards one of their icons.  Apparently, do as they say, but not as they do?

It most certainly is not a step in the right direction with respect to comity and tolerance between different points of view.  But it a timely reminder that if one expects a certain amount of deference toward one's icons, then perhaps one should demonstrate a certain amount of deference towards the icons that are important to others.

Book Recommendation - Old Man's War

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Posted on : 12/10/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , ,

Courtesy of the Blogfather, I have been reading about John Scalzi for several years.  I just didn't have a chance to read any of his work due to the already sizable pile of my reading list.

As fortune would have it, I have been reading Mr. Scalzi's blog for longer than I have been reading his fiction.  He is overly enamored with sarcasm like so many others.  Regrettably.  His writing there is otherwise most enjoyable.

His first science fiction book is called "Old Man's War".  Many have favorably comparied Mr. Scalzi's style to that of the late Robert A. Heinlein.  The closest of Mr. Heinlein's books that is comparable with "Old Man's War" is "Starship Troopers".  As I have observed before, the movie is nothing like the book.

I was reading a review of "Old Man's War" that described the plot as a cheat when compared with the plot of "Starship Troopers".  I find the two plots to be reasonably similar.

In "Starship Troopers", the protagonist joins the military.  During basic, he he learns how to wear an operating powered armor.  The reason for the armor is to make the soldier stronger, faster, better than the alien hordes that humanity is fighting.

Mr. Scalzi takes a little different approach, but the result is the same.  Part of that approach is a personal computer that is integrated with the user.  It operates something like Apple's Siri.  Except most folks call it "Asshole".

I will leave that aspect of the book there so as to not ruin the book for you.

I was most impressed with Mr. Scalzi's ability to create very human characters.  Our protagonist is John Perry; a 75 year old retiree that has decided to enter the Colonial Defense Forces.  Earth is well protected from conflict with the aliens.  Earth colonies....not so much.  So people living on Earth, like John Perry, are recruited to leave the Earth and join the CDF.

One of the reasons why John Perry is willing to leave the planet is that he really has little left to live for on Earth.  His wife had died of a stroke a couple years prior.

He didn't want to live out his days as a man who lives for nothing more than his next visit to his wife's grave.  It is a portrait of a man who hurts so deeply.  I hope I never hurt like that.

I hate visiting here.  I hate that my wife of forty-two years is dead, that one minute one Saturday morning she was in the kitchen, mixing a bowl of waffle batter and talking to me about the dustup at the library board meeting the night before, and the next minute she was on the floor, twitching as the stroke tore through here brain.  I hate that her last words were "Where the hell did I put the vanilla."

I hate that I've become on of those old men who visits a cemetery to be with his dead wife.  When I was (much) younger I used to ask Kathy what the point would be.  A pile of rotting mean and bones that used to be a person isn't a person anymore; it's just a pile of rotting mean and bones.  The person is gone -- off to heaven or hell or where ever or nowhere.  You might as well visit a side of beef.  When you get older you realize this is still the case.  You just don't care.  It's what you have.

For as much as I hate the cemetery,  I've been grateful it's here, too.  I miss my wife.  It's easier to miss here at a cemetery, where she's never been anything but dead,  that to miss her in all the places where she was alive.

I didn't stay long; I never do.  Just long enough to feel the stab that's still fresh enough after most of eight years, the one that also serves to remind me that I've got other things to do than to stand around in a cemetery like an old, damned fool.  Once I felt it, I turned around and left and didn't bother looking around.  This was the last time I would ever visit the cemetery or my wife's grave, but I didn't wan to expend too much effort in trying to remember it.  As I said, this is the place where she's never been anything but dead.  There's not much value in remembering that.

Part of the process of joining the CDF requires tests and evaluations.  One of those evaluations is designed to evoke an emotional response.
A little later in the afternoon, I got pissed off.

I've been reading your file," said the Colonial, a thin young man who looked like a strong wind would sail him off like a kite.

"Okay," I said.

"It says you were married."

"I was."

"Did you like it? Being married."

"Sure.  It bests the alternative."

He smirked.  "So what happened?  Divorce?  Fuck around one time too many?"

Whatever obnoxiously amusing qualities this guy had were fading fast.  "She's dead," I said.

"Yeah?  How did that happen?"

"She had a stroke."

"Gotta love a stroke," he said.  "Bam, your brain's skull pudding, just like that.  Good that she didn't survive.  She'd be this fat, bedridden turnip, you know.  You'd just have to feed her through a straw or something."  He made slurping noises.
After missing his wife so terribly, he ends up having his memory of her terribly abused.  But all is not lost.  He gets to see her again....sort of.  It's complicated.

"Old Man's War" accurately expresses a military experience.  He nails the camaraderie and esprit de corps that is part of any successful military experience.

I particularly appreciated that he spelled "Marines" correctly; capitalized.  It was a back-handed reference to the earth bound USMC, but it was accurate nonetheless.  His use of the Corps' Rifleman's Creed also demonstrated a depth of knowledge on the subject of military relationships and practices.

Another example would be the military treatment of race.  Marine Drill Instructors teach that there is no such thing as white, or black, or brown, or anything other than "green".  The intent is to break down any sense of individuality and to build a common perspective.  Mr. Scalzi's CDF does something similar, but with a twist.

Given the many comparisons with "Starship Troopers", I think it is worthwhile to note the dissimilarities between the two works.

As I suggested in my review of "Revolt in 2100", Mr. Heinlein's characters never used coarse language outright.  But it was readily implied.  The That goes for sexual activity as well.

Mr. Scalzi is a bit more expressive in these two areas.

A deeper difference is the deeper sense of analysis and purpose within the plot.  At a deeper level "Starship Troopers" seeks to express a successful social framework for human progress and expansion.  It explores issues of individual rights and responsibilities.  It explores the unbreakable bond between authority and responsibility.  It also explores how all of those issues affect successful governance.

By contrast, "Old Man's War" is just a ride that takes the reader along.  It presents some very interesting technology.  It certainly presents an intriguing and engaging narrative.  But it only explores what exists.  It does not explore why those conditions exist.  It is the difference between a trip to the African savannah and taking a safari ride in a zoo.  Both can be entertaining and enjoyable experiences.  But only the former is enlightening.

As Mr. Scalzi acknowledges the influence of Mr. Heinlein's work on his own, I think it is fair to observe where he falls a bit short of that comparison.

"Old Man's War" was an enjoyable read.  It was also successful enough that I bought and read "The Ghost Brigades"; Mr. Scalzi's follow up to "Old Man's War".






Leash That Woman, Would Ya?

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Posted on : 12/09/2012 07:00:00 AM | By : Dann | In : , , ,

From that bastion of feminist thought that is Saudi Arabia comes news that the kingdom had created a policy where by the movements of the female chattel of that country...that would be all of them...are automatically reported to their male owners.  Anytime a woman crosses the Saudi border, a text is sent to "her man"; whether or not he requests such service.

The couple who alerted al-Sharif was travelling toegether (sic). As they did, the husband received a text message from immigration authorities informing him that his wife had left the international airport in Riyadh.

While details are sketchy, it sounds like the service is not opt-in. Since the husband in the couple above was surprised by the SMS, he didn't have to "sign up" to get the message.

It doesn't seem like the tracking is carried out using a tracking device on the person of the woman, at least. Instead, it seems that the immigration authorities simply text the "guardian male" on record when a woman leaves the country, manually.
In the article, someone sarcastically asks why they just don't install RFID chips in their women and be done with it.

Never give advice to oppressive regimes.  They don't understand sarcasm and just might do as you suggest.