Monday, April 30, 2007

the great humor man.

Just a little while ago, there was a little ice cream truck in our neighborhood, jaunty tune and all.

It reminded me of my old coworker Phil, the aging hippie. We used to joke around a lot at work, and one day Phil came up with an idea for his retirement. He was going to buy an ice cream truck, paint it in psychedelic colors, and sell drugs out of it. He was going to call himself "The Great Humor Man", and the tune drifting out of the overhead speakers would be Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb".

fatal accident at legoland.

Copenhagen's Legoland has seen its first fatal accident in thirty-nine years. Eyewitness reports state that "it was horrible...little colored plastic blocks everywhere."

Friday, April 27, 2007


It seems that "crimethink" is now an official offense in our nation's public school system.

To wit: a straight-A senior from Illinois was arrested for writing an essay that was "disturbing" to his English teacher. He was charged with Disorderly Conduct, and forced to attend classes elsewhere.

I repeat: the content of the essay (which, of course, has not been made public, and which was handed to the teacher in private) rated an arrest and a criminal charge.

With thought control and enforcement, with mollycoddling and book censoring, with "zero tolerance", with warrantless searches and see-through backpacks and surveillance cameras, what kind of adults is that kind of "public education" going to produce? We'll end up with a bunch of obedient conformists who are afraid to rock the boat, who are conditioned to yield to authority without question, and who look to that authority whenever any decision-making is involved.

Oh, and don't make the mistake of blaming the liberals for the travesty that is our national education half of the community wants zero tolerance on guns and violence, the other half polices the library shelves and has no problems with weekly drug dog visits. No, this particular mess is the result of pushy folks from both sides of the spectrum, the sort that knows best how to raise not only their own kids, but everyone else's as well.

I know one thing for sure: my kids will not see the inside of one of those mediocre, soul-destroying, mind-numbing glorified day care centers. Quinn's schooling has already begun, and I fear that the quickest way to extinguish his already apparent love for learning would be to throw him into a pen with twenty other kids and have some state-paid career educator administer a curriculum that's a One Size Fits All solution for the bright, the average, and the slow.

No, thank you, and keep your frakkin' property taxes.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

why computers are a bad investment.

Here's a group of vintage Macintosh Powerbooks.

These were state-of-the-art machines back in 1998. From left to right, they're a Powerbook 3400c, a Powerbook G3 "Wallstreet", and a Powerbook 2400c. I got them off eBay and Macintosh swap lists for $75, $125, and $150, respectively. Each came with accessories, extra disk drives, and (in the case of the 3400c) enough spare parts to build another machine. They're all fully functional and just as useful as the day they left the factory.

In 1998, the aggregate value of those three machines was almost $12,000.

The 3400 in that configuration retailed for $4,500. The G3 "Wallstreet" as pictured went for close to $4,000, and the little 2400 subnotebook would have set you back $3,000. I bought all three for a grand total of $350. That's amazing depreciation, isn't it?

I use those old 'books strictly as word processors, a task to which they're still well suited. In fact, they make better word processors than the new Apple portables, because the keyboards on the old machines are far superior to the ones on the new laptops. You don't need a whole lot of processing power to run Word. Those three "obsolete" rigs are even all hooked up to my home wireless network via Skyline WiFi cards.

I remember drooling over those laptops in the computer store on Storrow Drive in Boston back in 1998, so I guess part of my enjoyment of this little collection is undoubtedly some sense of delayed fulfillment. Still, they're only "obsolete" because there's newer and shinier stuff out there to be had, not because they can't get the job done anymore.

Plus, there's an undeniable retro chic aspect to using a decade-old Powerbook for productive work. Dragging one of those into your local coffee house and firing it up in the sea of state-of-the-art laptops is a little like showing up at Tactical Rifle Skul with an original Colt SP1 with triangular handguards, prong-style flash hider and no forward assist or shell deflector.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

empire falls, and other items.

So I decided to give James Russo's Empire Falls another shot, and I'm glad I did.

The first time I started it, my reaction was something along the lines of, "This book won a Pulitzer?" The prologue is a bit meandering, forty pages of gratuituous exposition and background of the little town's history, and it's a bit tough to chew through. I put the book aside ten pages out of that prologue, and didn't pick it up again for a few months.

The second time around, I was drawn into the story far more quickly, having trudged up the hill at the beginning already, so to speak. It's well-written, the characters are engaging, and while nobody gets killed with an Uzi, it's a good read all around if you don't mind reading about everyday small-town folk wrestling with their personal demons.

On the computer front, I seem to have exorcised the gremlins that had taken up residence. I formatted my hard drive and reinstalled XP, updated the system BIOS, and reset all BIOS values to conservative settings. Then I transplanted all the components into a new CoolerMaster case with much improved airflow, and now the whole rig runs fifty degrees cooler than before. So far, so good...three consecutive days without crashes or wonkiness. If it runs without burping until Friday, I'll pronounce it healed. (I may have sacrificed a chicken under the full moon to further that goal, but if anyone finds the black candles and the carcass in the trash outside, I'll disavow all knowledge and blame the dachshunds.)

We're currently getting the pad ready for munchkin #2, which is due to arrive any day now. Induction is scheduled for May 10th, but Robin thinks that #2 will beat her due date just like Quinn did. Bags are packed, at any rate..all that's left is a run to the liquor store for some anaesthetic and liquid stress reliever. (For daddy, of course.)

Sunday, April 22, 2007

just in case...

For those of you who aren't aware of it: here's the online graphic novel version of L. Neil Smith's "The Probability Broach".

linguistic confusion.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads as follows:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

I have no idea why so many people try to invalidate the Second Amendment by harping on the "militia" part.

The Bill of Rights, like the rest of the Constitution, is written in eighteenth-century English, which reads a bit archaic to modern speakers, but the rules of sentence composition have not changed much since then.

The first half of the Second Amendment ("A well-regulated militia...") is prefatory language and has no bearing on the meaning of the main statement ("...the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.") It makes no sense, logically or linguistically, to argue that only militias have the right to keep and bear arms. In more "modern" English, the sentence would begin:

"Because a well-regulated militia is necessary for the security of a free State..."

Another example on the structure of the sentence comes to us from the expanses of the Interwebs. (I don't know who came up with this, but it's 100% on the money.)

"A well-crafted pepperoni pizza, being necessary to the preservation of a diverse menu, the right of the people to keep and cook tomatoes, shall not be infringed."

This sentence has exactly the same structure as the Second Amendment. Try to argue from it that only pizzas have the right to keep and cook tomatoes, and only well-crafted pizzas at that.

Of course, the whole linguistic argument should not be necessary. The Bill of Rights is a restriction on the government, not on the citizens. It's not a list of things allowed to citizens, but a list of things most definitely not allowed to government. (The rest of the Constitution lists all the things the government may do, and that list is inclusive--meaning that if it's not in there, the government may not do it.)

Friday, April 20, 2007

on mespotamia, again.

There' something that has been bothering me about the whole Iraq affair for a while now.

My 'net buddies and real-life friends are a reflection of the country as a whole when it comes to the war in Iraq. Roughly half of them think it's a disaster (and we should leave that place ASAP), and roughly half think we need to be there (and leaving would be like surrendering to the enemy.) Our illustrious leader says that we won't leave before "victory is achieved", and a significant percentage of the country seems to agree with him.

Here's my problem with the whole thing.

How exactly do you define "victory" here?

If by "victory" you mean "until there are no more insurgents in Iraq", then we'll be there forever, because as long as we are there, Iraq is both a recruiting ground and a convenient regional training center for every I-Hate-America vest pocket jihadi in the Middle East. (That's the laughable aspect of the whole "we fight them there so we don't have to fight them here"'s much easier for a Syrian or Saudi extremist to get into Iraq than it is for him to get into the United States. The notion that Mr. Amateur Jihad--who wears the same soccer jersey every day and who can't afford footwear that covers the toes--would somehow "follow" us to the US if our troops pulled out is a bit simplistic, to say the least. The professional jihadis, their varsity team, will always be a threat to us no matter where we are.)

If by "victory" you mean "until the Iraqi government can control its own country", then we'll there forever as well. Iraq's government reminds me more and more of the South Vietnamese: they're reliant on our direct military muscle because their troops are disloyal and ineffective, because their government is widely ridiculed as a U.S. puppet government, and because our pullout would result in al-Maliki and his cabinet hanging from ropes within the month. The Iraqi army is still not self-sufficient after more than four years of training and recruitment, and even the "combat-ready" units and police forces tend to disperse or join the fighting along sectarian lines when the going gets tough.

The problem, of course, is that we can't afford to be there forever. I do not doubt the fighting spirit and quality of our troops (they're the best military in the world), but the force is severely strained by the continuous war zone deployment. Guard and Reserve troops do multiple year-long deployments, which is having an effect on Guard and Reserve recruitment. The active Army is missing training and upgrade cycles because they're constantly being rotated into the sandbox, and the equipment is going to pot because it wears out much faster than in peacetime. (Outgoing combat units leave the gear for the incoming units, and the tank and humvees and
helicopters are in use year-round.) In addition, we are not capable of fielding the troops to answer another crisis anywhere else in the world, because our main fighting force is tied up in the sandbox. The Army is not broken yet, but it's well on the way there, and another half decade of this grind is going to have a disastrous effect on readiness, morale, equipment, recruitment, and retention.

Where does that leave those of us who don't want to "cut and run" or "declare defeat", but who realize that victory in this situation is undefined (and by extension, unachievable?) I really don't want to see our Army broken, and I certainly don't want to see another five hundred of our
finest get killed there every year for the next decade or two (and ten times that number come home wounded, disfigured, or burdened with mental problems), if their sacrifices merely prolong the inevitable sectarian war between the region's Sunnis and Shiites. In addition, we spend a half trillion dollars on Iraq every year, and that's a lot of cash going down a bottomless barrel.

Understand that I am not a "defeatist", certainly not "anti-military", or "pro-terrorist". You don't have to be any of those things to take a look at where we are, and to question the sanity and wisdom of the people who want us to "stay the course", even if it breaks our nation's main fighting force.

So, how do we define victory? And how long are we going to slug it out over there to achieve that goal, knowing what kind of strain it puts on our military's personnel and equipment?

I know a lot of people who would consider a pullout "admitting defeat". But if pulling out is "defeat", the definition of "victory" is this elusive, and sticking with the current program will almost certainly cause irreparable harm to our Army and our national budget, how do we deal with the situation?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

ah, montana.

The state of Montana is first to pass a state law against enforcement of the Real ID act. Montana's governor signed the bill into law yesterday, prohibiting Montana state agencies from implementing the provisions of Real ID, and requiring all state agencies to report any attempts of Real ID enforcement by the Feds to the governor.

Good on ya, Montana.

Montana has now officially moved to the top of possible destinations for our move, sneaking its way right in between New Hampshire and Alaska. I hear it's quite pretty out there, the population density is low, and if this legislative update is any indication, the good folks of Montana seem to have their heads on somewhat straight.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

here we go.

The press is already taking the bloody ball and running with it. Major news outlet stories focus on the fact that Psycho Boy bought his Glock 19 legally, that it cost $570-ish dollars, and that the background check "took only a minute".

I have a feeling that the VT shootings are going to be to the United States what Port Arthur was to Australia, and Dunblane to the UK. There'll be a bill drafted within the month, and it will have a title that makes opposing it hazardous for political careers. (The other side of the aisle used precisely the same tactic with the "Patriot Act", so don't be surprised if the Friends of Sarah Brady in Congress take a book out of the conservative playbook.) It will contain a new version of the Assault Weapons Ban, a complete prohibition of gun purchases by non-citizen Resident Aliens, and anything else that Pelosi and friends can cram into it while the bodies are still warm.

I'd love to be proven wrong on this, but I'd be willing to wager a substantial amount of money on the likelihood that some congressional aides are already busy drafting the language. They'll introduce it at that critical time when the mass media has tilled the field with lots of reporting about how easy it was for Psycho Boy to get his gun, and before the public outrage about the crime has started to subside. (Of course, there won't be a word lost about how VT disallowed CCW on campus "to make students feel safe".)

Give it a month, tops.

laws are for thee, not for me, serf.

A few days ago, New Jersey governor Corzine was on his way to moderate the "reconciliation meeting" between Don Imus and the Rutgers basketball team, when his vehicle was involved in a crash. The governor sustained critical injuries in the accident.

Now it turns out that Corzine wasn't wearing a seatbelt, and that his State Police-piloted SUV was traveling at a speed of 90+ miles per hour on a stretch of NJ parkway restricted to 65 miles per hour.

Anyone who's ever traveled through New Jersey by car knows that the "Garden State" motto on the license plates ought to be changed to "Toll Booth State", and that NJ state troopers are quite thorough about enforcing speed limits and other traffic rules. Apparently, these rules only apply to the tax-paying serfs.

Then again, New Jersey's police agencies also get to load their firearms with hollowpoint ammunition (something that's a dreadful offense for a regular citizen, even if civilian carry permits in NJ are about as common as tee-totaling virgins in Cancun at spring break time), and they get to ride around with rifles in their trunk which are equally illegal for mere commoners. What's a speed limit and a seat belt law in comparison?

Monday, April 16, 2007

the events of the day.

Here are my two cents on the atrocity in Blacksburg, Virginia.

I am already dreading the sound bites coming from both the right and the left in response to what the press salaciously describes as "the worst mass shooting in United States history."

Yes, you read right...I know I won't care for the left's instant condemnation of our "loose weapons laws" (the Brady Crowd already put out a press release to that effect), but I'm also not totally in love with the gun crowd howling about how Virginia Tech has "blood on their hands" because they disallow otherwise legal VA CCW holders from toting on campus. This statement may ruffle some feathers, but every CCW holder on that campus who didn't carry a weapon did so by choice. There may have been some who did have a valid license to carry, but they weighed the risk of expulsion against the risk of being caught defenseless, and they made their choice. There's no malice or moral judgment in that statement. It doesn't assign blame to the victims or take it away from the killer--it's merely a statement of fact.

Here's one thing that both pro-and anti-gun folks can agree upon: making guns illegal in any given location does not stop shootings in that location. The notion that someone with murder on his mind will obey proscriptions against the carrying of firearms is ludicrous, whether you're talking about a college campus, a shopping mall, a city, or even an entire country. The only people obeying gun bans are the people you don't have to worry about--the law-abiding folks. If you declare a location a "gun-free zone", you basically hang out a gigantic invitation for anyone willing to disobey the decree. What you create is not a safe zone, but a safe work environment for criminals and killers, because they can now be assured of unarmed victims.

Now, the Dems and their assorted hoplophobic entourage will draw precisely the wrong conclusions from the shooting in Blacksburg. They'll say that the weapons ban on campus was a correct and necessary measure, but that the problem lies with gun laws in general. There are too many guns out there, they're too easy to obtain, and blah blah blah.

Assume for a moment that they are correct, and that there are far too many weapons out there in the wrong hands. The problem here is that you simply cannot stuff the genie back into the bottle, and you cannot un-invent technology. Places like New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago still have substantial gun crime despite their draconian local gun bans. The folks who support the gun bans in those locations will tell you that this is the fault of the loose gun laws of surrounding states, making it easy for criminals to get guns somewhere else and bring them into the gun-free utopias. Give us a strict nationwide ban on handguns, they say, and the problem will disappear. They completely disregard the fact that there are already a hundred million functioning firearms out there in private hands, and that confiscating all those weapons would be a logistical and technical impossibility even if the police measures necessary for the enforcement of a total gun prohibition wouldn't obliterate the Bill of Rights. Think of the Prohibition: all the might of the government at all levels couldn't suppress the smuggling and consumption of booze, and a case of whiskey is far more difficult to smuggle and hide than a handgun. Let them argue all they want, for or against more gun control, but the simple fact remains that the nation (and indeed the world) is awash in firearms, and that no amount of wishing or legislating can make those guns disappear.

There will be a heated and emotional discussion about the ramifications of the Virginia Tech massacre in the next weeks and months. It will take place in the media, in Congress, and on the expanses of the Internet, and in the end we may either get some sensible legislation that eliminates Victim Disarmament Zones, or a new and far-reaching federal gun law that aims to "stop the carnage" by disarming all the folks who didn't shoot anybody today. (My money is on the latter.)

However, in the end it will not matter one bit. The only thing that ought to matter to anyone, whether they love or hate guns, is the knowledge that in the end it's a matter of personal responsibility. The question you need to ask yourself is this:

Do I trust others to keep me safe, or do I shoulder that responsibility myself?

No law ever passed has ever had the power to put a gun into your belt, or to remove it from there. You alone choose to carry a weapon, or to not carry one. One day, some nutcase with murderous intent may come calling at your place of study or employment or recreation. Then you will be faced with the consequences of your decision, and all the laws and judges and police officers in the world will be inconsequential at that particular moment.

You alone have to make that call every day of your life, and you alone will face the consequences if that day ever comes. And regardless of your stance on guns or your personal decision in that matter, there will be consequences. Trust the law and the police to protect you, and you may find yourself cowering under a desk and waiting for your turn. Trust your skill with the gun on your hip to protect you, and you may find yourself expelled from school, charged with illegal carry, sued into bankruptcy, or dead anyway.

The choice is yours, and I won't belittle you regardless of the path you choose to tread. Just make sure you can accept the possible consequences of your choice with a clear conscience.

pea sea malaise.

Today I'll be trying to un-frak my Windows system by scratching the hard drive and reinstalling everything. This thing has been solid as an anvil for the last year and a half, and last week it started crashing several times a day...spontaneous reboots or hard freezes, very annoying. If it's a software problem, a reinstall will fix it...if it's a hardware problem, I'm essentially SOL.

I don't have the spare parts in the house to go hunting for defective components, unfortunately. The most likely culprits from my experience are usually mainboard, CPU, memory, power supply, or thermal breakdown. I think I can rule out the last two, as I have a well-ventilated case, temperature monitoring, and a nearly-new 550W Antec PSU. Replacing the other components piece by piece is the time I have everything replaced with new parts, I might as well buy a new system altogether. It's a Gigabyte board with a Socket 478 CPU and AGP card, both of which are near-obsolete standards now.

If a format and Windows reload don't fix the problem, I'll have to part this thing out and get a replacement box, which is an expense I'd rather not incur. We'll see how it goes.

Windoze boxes...arrgh. I use three Macintosh Powerbooks as word processors, and those things are still solid as rocks, even though the youngest of the bunch is approaching its ten-year manufacturing anniversary. If I had the loose coinage for a new Mac in my sofa cushions, I'd be fixing this son-of-a-bitch with a few rounds of .303 British at the TWRA range nearby, and then head over to the Apple store .

Anyway, more later.

Friday, April 13, 2007

my circle of minions expands.

Today's addition to the blogroll is Ambulance Driver.

I got to his blog via ColtCCO, and I just spent the last half hour reading through his archives. His tales from the EMT front are hilarious, poignant, touching, and packaged in competent prose. If I made a living as a literary agent, I'd strongly encourage him to collect his tales and submit them to me with one-inch margins and line-and-a-half spacing, serif font, so I could pimp them to every relevant publishing house listed in Writer's Market.

Plus, he thinks I'm "erudite". I'll have to check my Big Book of SAT Words, but I think that's a compliment, so he must be a fine and virtuous individual by definition.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

linguistic pet peeves, part deux.

Dear anonymous Netizen:

If you feel the urgent need to communicate on the series of tubes that is the Internets, you need to have at least some grasp of the English language. Here are some pointers for the proper use of English:

--"Irregardless" is not a word.
--Neither is "supposably."
--The apostrophe is not simply a device to alert the reader that the letter S is following.
--"It's" is a contraction of "it is". "Its" is a possessive pronoun meaning "that which belongs to it". An easy way to verify use of the proper form is to expand "it's" into "it is", and see if the sentence still makes sense. "It's raining outside" expands to "It is raining outside", so the use of the contractive form is correct. "The dog has lost it's collar" expands to "The dog has lost it is collar," which is a clue that the apostrophe needs to go.
--"There" is an adverb meaning "at or in that place". "Their" is an adjective, the possessive form of "they". "They're" is a contraction of "they are". These words may sound alike when spoken, but they are not interchangeable in written English.
--Every time you type an Internet post or email in ALL CAPS, God kills a kitten. Please, think of the kittens.
--The word "amendment" only has two occurrences of the letter M, and they do not appear next to each other.
--"Lay" requires an object. ("I will lay that book on the table.") "Lie" does not. ("I will lie down.")
--"e.g" stands for "exempli gratia", which means "for example". "i.e." stands for "id est", which means "that is". These two are not interchangeable. "i.e." is used in the context of "in other words".
--No, it's not a "damn spelling contest, LOLZ", but people gauge your credibility by your ability to use language. This holds especially true for online communications, where the written word is your only way of conveying your message.

That is all for now. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

the right to keep and bear arms?

Here's something that has been bothering me for a long time.

The Bill of Rights enumerates those rights that are inherent to us by virtue of being human. It does not "give" or "grant" us any rights, it merely lists those that our government most certainly may not infringe upon.

Now, why is it that gun owners largely support the denial of the right to keep and bear arms to felons?

Bring the point up on any online gun forum, and the assembly will tell you, by a margin of ten to one, that felons ought to lose the right to own a gun for life, yessiree, and if you don't want to lose that right, you have the option not to commit any felonies.

There are two major problems with that line of reasoning.

First, it plays right into the hands of those who would love to see the Second Amendment gone, and with it all ownership of private arms. It's exactly the argument they use: the Second Amendment is somehow more dangerous than the other ones, and the exercise of that particular right, out of all the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights, can and should be infringed upon by the government.

Once a felon has served his time, we don't deny him the right to free speech, or the right to exercise the religion of his choice. He doesn't lose the right to jury trial, nor the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. So why on earth should he lose the right to defend himself? Have the gun banners been right all along? Is the Second Amendment really a privilege, not a right? And if that's the case, what's to keep the Nine Bench-Wraiths from turning the rest of the Bill of Rights into privileges as well?

I fear that the majority of gun owners actively assists in the negation of the Bill of Rights when they use the arguments of their opponents just because it is emotionally convenient. I mean, who would want to live next to a convicted felon with a gun, right?

The problem, of course, is that no laws keep anyone from having a gun if they really want one. (Isn't that what we've been arguing when we complained about the onerous "assault weapons ban", and when we rail against state legislatures who deny their citizens the right to carry a gun in public?) Moreover, one man's gun is as much offense to some as another man's religion is to others, and if you make one part of the Bill of Rights a conditional "privilege", then the parchment is rendered worthless in its entirety.

The second major problem with the "no guns for felons" approach is that the definition of "felony" has been expanded to the point of ludicrousness. These days, nobody can live their lives anymore without committing several felonies a week, mostly without even knowing it. In some states, having the wrong piece of metal at the muzzle of your rifle is a felony. Taking a whiz by the side of the road can get you a felony sex offender conviction. The people in charge, conservatives and liberals alike, are fully aware of the fact that the only true power of the state is to crack down on lawbreakers, and they are sticking the label of "felony" on as many acts as possible.

If you support the abrogation of a released felon's right to keep and bear arms, the anti-gun movement doesn't need to have a President Hillary signing any sort of draconian universal gun ban like they have in the UK. The Second Amendment will simply die a quiet death while the folks in charge steadily expand the definition of "felon". Sooner or later, we'll be a nation of felons--disarmed by our own assent.

In fact, what keeps them from limiting the disqualifying factor to felony convictions? Why not make it misdemeanors, too...and maybe even consider convictions retroactively? If SCOTUS lets the government determine one particular misdemeanor as a disqualifying offense, the legal precedent is already set, and there's absolutely nothing except the court of public opinion to keep them from making any misdemeanor a disqualifying offense. Oh, sure, they'll start with really unpopular and abhorrent behavior first, like domestic violence or DUI, but let the camel's nose into the tent, and you lose your right to complain when you end up sleeping outside in the sandstorm.

And once they've eviscerated the right to bear arms in that fashion, think about what other inconvenient part of the Bill of Rights can be negated using the same precedent. After all, if even gun owners agree that the right to arms is a.) the linchpin of the Bill of Rights, and b.) can be denied completely in case of felony or even misdemeanor conviction, how can they argue against others doing the same to the other, "lesser" rights?

The Bill of Rights is not a menu; you can't pick and choose according to your emotional whims. You have to treat all the Amendments the same. If one is inviolable and irrevocable, they all are. If one is a revocable privilege that can be denied to felons and misdemeanor offenders, the same holds true for the rest of them.

Monday, April 9, 2007

an epidemic of meddling.

There's an interesting article on the implications of public health in May's Reason magazine.

In a nutshell, the author concludes that social medicine is a fantastic shortcut to a totalitarian nanny state. A system where all health care is "free" is a system where the state has the power to regulate virtually all aspects of citizens' lives. The most poignant quotes from the article:

People make mistakes--sometimes expensive, hard-to-correct mistakes--in many areas of life. If that fact is reason enough for the government to second-guess their decisions about dangerous activities such as smoking cigarettes and riding motorcycles, why on earth should the government let people make their own choices when it comes to such consequential matters as where to live, how much education to get, whom to marry, whether to have children, which job to take, or what religion to practice? These decisions are at least as important, and the government is at least as well equipped to make them as it is to decide which health risks are acceptable.


When it comes to how people feel about their lives, they may well prefer to make their own bad choices rather than have better ones imposed on them. [...] But even if certain habits do, on balance, increase taxpayer costs, the problem is not that some people do risky things; it's that the government forces other people to pay their medical bills.

The article is an excellent read. I don't always agree with the conclusions presented in Reason's featured articles, but they're always a thought-provoking read. We currently only have three subscriptions coming to our mailbox, but we routinely renew all three: Reason, Free Inquiry, and Writer's Digest.

In other (loosely health-related) news: my 86-year-old grandmother just finished another lengthy stay in the hospital. She's back on her feet now, and showing amazing acuity and resilience for a person of her advanced age, but she's at the point where she can no longer live on her own without taking a major risk. Her next-door neighbor and longtime friend just passed away a few weeks ago, and now grandma's apartment is the only occupied one in her semi-public, rent-controlled building. She'd be all alone in the house, and there's nobody around to help her with groceries or medical emergencies. Therefore, my mother and her husband decided to clean out their master bedroom in their house and give it to grandma. This combines three generations under one roof--four when my siblings and their kids come to visit. My youngest sister is a teenager and still lives at home, and my brother Sascha lives in the upstairs apartment directly above my mom's.

I've come to really like the idea of a multi-generational family under one roof. Since houses are so expensive (and durable) in Germany, parents often pass them down to their children. My brother's wife inherited the family house, for example, and her parents continue to live on the first floor of the house, while my brother and his wife and kids occupy the second floor. This way of living leads to stronger ties between generations: the grandparents see their kids and grandkids every day, they are glad to act as babysitters if needed, my brother is available for tasks that are beyond his 80+ year old in-laws, and everyone in the house can pool knowledge and resources.

Yeah, there are disadvantages to having the in-laws right downstairs. I know I'd get a little stressed if I had to share a house with my father-in-law, so maybe it doesn't work for every family. Overall, however, the system has undeniable advantages, and I feel much better knowing that my grandma will always be surrounded by loving family from now on, instead of hospital or retirement home staff..or worse, nobody.

Friday, April 6, 2007

oh goody.

As luck would have it, Overmedicated Playboy Bimbo left a bunch of diaries, so the world can now get a better glimpse into the sucking void that was between her ears.

"Dear diary: Today I was coked out of my mind."

Oh, I wish she had been that eloquent. The truth is about as painful to read as Britney Spears' junior high school essays.

Why did CNN spend an inordinate amount of time on the life, times, death, and legacy of this girl, whose IQ was severely eclipsed by her chest circumference? Did we as a culture sink so low as to be captivated by such inane tripe?

Thursday, April 5, 2007

britannia does not rule the waves any longer.

So the British seamen and marines are back home. President Acnefacejihad released them, gave them some Iranian candy and souvenirs on the way to demonstrate Iran's good will, and everyone in Blighty is happy to have the lads (and lass) back on home soil.

Something about the whole thing has bugged me ever since they showed the first televised pictures of the captives. (Something other than the obvious cheekiness of the Iranians, of course.) The captured group consisted at least partly of Royal Marines, supposedly some of the finest snake eaters on either side of the former Iron Curtain. The British captives apparently confessed on camera to intruding into Iranian waters, which may or may not be hogwash. The sole female captive even went so far as to say that they'd been "sacrificed" by their own outfit, and that the Iranians were a rather decent lot for being so nice about the whole thing.

Now, I spent some time in uniform, and while the German Fernspaehers are not quite on the same "oo-rah" level as UK Royal Marines (we were supposed to look and report, not stage commando raids and stuff), we were told a few things about "What To Do When Ivan Gets A Hold Of You". We were to give name, rank, and service number, and any inquiries beyond that were to be answered with a congenial, but insistent "go pound sand". Going on Russkie TV and singing like a parakeet was certainly out of the question, and denouncing our own country or armed forces was most definitely not an option.

I am typing this in the comfort of my own living room, of course, and we thankfully never had the opportunity to take advantage of Warsaw Pact hospitality, but I tend to think that our sense of honor and shame would have kept us from bad-mouthing our own military for propaganda reels even if we had car batteries clamped to certain sensitive parts of our anatomies. Hell, if John McCain can frak up a North Vietnamese propaganda reel by flipping birds and shouting expletives with full knowledge that a savage beating would ensue, I'd like to think that I'd have enough fortitude to tell a bunch of Iranian Gestapo clowns to go piss up a rope, especially considering that executing me would most likely spark a shooting war. (I don't like McCain one bit, but I have to admit that the man had balls when he was in the Hanoi Hilton.)

As things stand, they'll probably get medals. If I was their CINC, they'd be facing a court martial, or at least a serious demerit, for Failure to Grow A Pair. I mean, can you imagine U.S. Marines badmouthing the Corps for Iranian cameras? All of the Marines I've ever known would just as soon take a bullet to the head.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

deserve's got nothing to do with it.

Confession: Until yesterday, I'd never watched Unforgiven in its entirety.

Great movie about the moral complexity of violence...chock-full of memorable lines, too.

"It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he's got and all he's ever gonna have."

"Yeah, well, I guess he had it coming."

"We all got it coming, kid."

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

little parrot.

We're at the stage where we have to watch our mouths around Quinn. The other day, Robin dropped something on the floor and said "shit". A few minutes later, Quinn dropped one of his blocks, and used the word he heard from mommy in the correct context. Since then, we've been trying to eliminate expletives, or at least use German ones.

Today, I went to the park with Quinn. After an hour of play, I loaded him back into the van, which always happens under protest. When I had him strapped into the car seat, I responded to his complaints with "I know, daddy is so mean."

On the way back, he kept spamming "so mean" from his back seat, perfectly replicating the slight note of overdone sadness in my voice.

"So mean. So mean."

We go out to the park for a two-mile walk around the circuit every Tuesday and Thursday. Today, we played on the lawn as usual. The weather was nice, mild and overcast, and we were high up on a little hill overlooking the lake. It was a very serene experience--the lake reflecting the occasional ray of sun breaking through the clouds, a light breeze rustling the trees, and Quinn laughing like a maniac as I tossed him up into the air until my arms got tired. Then we sat down on a bench ("daddy, sit"), and he spelled out the letters on the dedication plaque for me.

Everything I've done in my life pales in significance to this--building the foundation for the rest of his life, equipping him with the tools he needs to become an informed, responsible, and well-rounded adult.

When we went to see the in-laws a few weeks back, my father-in-law asked me once again when I was going to get a "real" job. I told him that I already have one. I'm a teacher, a nurse, a bodyguard, a chauffeur, a tutor, and a security blanket, all rolled into one.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

a glimpse of perfection.

Here's my nomination for Greatest Athletic Performance of the 20th Century.

Now, I'm not a big sports fan, and unlike Robin I certainly don't know very much about horses, but Secretariat utterly destroying the competition by 31 lengths at the 1973 Belmont Stakes is probably the closest I'll ever come to witnessing perfection. It's one of the defining moments not just in horse racing, but in sports. On that day, Secretariat would have beaten any race horse in the history of the sport.

Secretariat still holds the world record for a mile and a half, after 33 years. In the 1973 Kentucky Derby, he did something no horse before or since has ever accomplished--he ran the race with negative splits, completing each quarter mile faster than the one before it.

Horse guy or not, that video never fails to put me in a state of awe.