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the dredwerkz

latest comments:

The blue skies are back, along with much warmer weather. Score! The wind has picked up a bit (50mph gusts are due later this afternoon) but otherwise, a fairly perfect day. That and I've got plenty of time to post. Time to make hay...

posted at: 2003-02-04 14:45:24 with 0 comments

From yesterday's White House press briefing:

Q The President has repeatedly said he wants to bring democracy to Iraq. But here in the District of Columbia, citizens have no elected representatives in Congress. On the license plate, there is a permanent protest. It says "taxation without representation." What is the President doing to bring democracy to the District of Columbia?

MR. FLEISCHER: Per the Constitution, the District of Columbia is a unique entity and the President has expressed no desire to change the representation that the District of Columbia was given by the framers. And I don't really think you can equate the District of Columbia being a democracy with Iraq's failure to be a democracy, and it's, in fact, of course, a totalitarian state.

In Iraq, an undemocratic leader is "elected" every so often...whereas in DC, we're simply held to divining the mindset of a few men from the late 18th century. Imagine if Saddam's son took power and altered the constitution so that although everyone outside Baghdad could vote, people inside the city limits had no representation. He could claim he was being just as democratic as America, only because over 4 million Iraqis live in Baghdad (out of a total population of 24 million), he'd be disenfranchising 1/6 of his entire country.

So where do we draw the line here? Does DC have to become even more populous to deserve attention? Kudos to the reporter with the guts to ask the tough question, and thumbs down to the prez. for hiding behind the framers. Does Bush see fit to question the wisdom of the 3/5 slave rule, as well?

posted at: 2003-02-04 14:13:43 with 0 comments

There's a great piece today on Bob Somerby's site about Senator Frist and his faux humility. (I tend to think that Frist is a good person, but calling the press after saving the people in Florida wasn't necessary. I'm sure someone would've tracked him down regardless and given him even more airtime had he not done so.) The piece is well worth reading. Here's a choice excerpt:

How humble is Frist? He's not unlike Christ-if you're listening to Frist's cued biographers. In the second paragraph of his Standard profile, Brooks relates stories from three Frist admirers. Somehow, the scribe managed to track down a Tennessee trio who had been floored by the sanctified sawbones:

BROOKS: Aware that Bill Frist spent some summers on Nantucket, a school principal wrote him a letter asking what he should see on his upcoming visit. Senator Frist wrote back a 40-page letter describing the history and ecology of the island, and the sights that should not be missed. A weary mom was trying to lug some papers on an airplane. Frist noticed her plight and not only carried them on for her, he waited while the plane was unloading so he could carry them off for her as well. On one memorable day during a tour of Israel, Senator Frist stood on the spot where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount and read the sermon to the tour group. He electrified them with his simple faith and devotion.

Did David Brooks find these people in passing? Or was he referred to these people by Frist's staff? His article provides no way of knowing. But would any pol except Bill Frist traffic in tales like that last jaw-dropper-a tale in which the humble Frist is compared to Jesus himself? (On the Mount!) You'd really have to be a kook to spread a story like that around-but it fits right into the standard Frist bio. (By the way, what other solon would even dream of reciting the Sermon to tourists?) But then, weirdo tales pop up with Frist all the time-although scribes like Brooks know not to notice. For example, who writes forty-page letters to total strangers about sights you just simply miss on Nantucket? Nice guys write forty-page letters to strangers, Brooks has agreed to pretend.

A great mid-day diversion, to be sure. And it covers some administration malfeasance as well. I highly recommend it.

posted at: 2003-02-04 13:06:34 with 0 comments

Some of us are too young to remember this cartoon. Well, thanks to Tom Tomorrow, there's a new spin in town. Here it is: bush cartoon Much better than Toles today.

posted at: 2003-02-04 12:55:38 with 0 comments

In a previous post I mentioned my frustration with a piece by Gregg Easterbrook that recently appeared in TIME. A far better piece by the same author can be found right here and actually echoes many of the thoughts I've had, namely, that the single greatest obstacle to proper space program goals has always been funding. When, in 1980, Easterbrook mentioned that NASA had come up with a list of ideas of where to go after the moon, the shuttle was dead last. The reason? The others, (Mars, a lunar base, the space station) were all too expensive. The solution? Implement the cheapest idea, the shuttle. Unfortunately, even with the cheapest idea the cost ballooned and budget cutters began to reduce the goals of even the cheapest idea. This is the central issue: you can't have a big idea, cut the funding in half, and say that things will be 50% just as good. With the shuttle (which was born of budget cuts to begin with) you had a somewhat decent idea that, as the budgetary axe began to swing, grew less palatable. By the time the military abandone the shuttle as a way to launch satellites, almost all of the original reasons for shuttle construction were gone.

The international space station faces a similar future. Paired with the shuttle, the ISS can actually perform many useful experiments on a day-to-day basis. But cut the costs to 50% and you're once again gutting the program so that it can't even peform up to 10%. Reduce the operational crew from 7 to 3, and you can't do as many experiments to even justify the cost. Yet cost is still the prevailing issue behind all the space program problems. Only with full funding for all of NASA's desires can the space program attempt to rebuild itself. Let's hope that the moment for change is now.

posted at: 2003-02-04 10:28:10 with 0 comments

I never thought I'd see the day when I enjoyed a Charles "Al Gore is a Psychopath" Krauthemmer piece more than the Toles cartooon on any particular date. The devils must be dying of hypothermia even as I write. Yet another reality that I was able to peruse early this morning...the 'werkz is now getting the Post every day instead of just on Sundays. Such a novel occurrence has even inspired me to consume breakfast, something that I haven't done in years. The breakfast table we purchased soon after moving to the city is now being used for its intended purpose instead of as a kipple-staging area. But back to the issue at question: yesterday I heard a co-worker loudly decrying the fact that EPA gets any money at all. He's a rapid Republican, and knowing their penchant for reducing government services, I asked what he thought about the space program. I was already prepared to rebut the typical charges of "it doesn't make money" and "it hasn't done anything good for us" but he surprised me by answering simply "I really haven't ever thought about it."


That's the most critical assesment of the space program I've ever heard. The fact that some people in our nation don't really care about the program (and probably still wouldn't if Columbia had made it back okay) is a searing indictment of our national priorities. We should be firing people up about space travel, about exploring distant stars and galaxies; about setting up bases on the Moon and Mars. We should, in short, be expanding NASA rather than merely trying to limp along. Instead of worrying about safety first, second and last, we should be worrying about going farther, faster and in new directions. Our nation deserves nothing less.

posted at: 2003-02-04 09:51:12 with 0 comments

There's something familiar about seeking out small comforts in the midst of large-scale problems. Like getting a calzone on a really bad day (I have yet to find a good calzone place near my new workplace...but the search continues) or some ice cream on a long road trip. My current small comfort against the inexorable riptide of a bad economy, looming war, the worst administration in recent history and the latest shuttle disaster? Try business cards.

That right: I get to have my new business cards made up this week and as an additional bonus, I think I'll get to choose my title. This stands out as a unique moment in my employment history, mainly because I don't think that this sort of situation often comes around. As long as I work for someone, the chance to choose my own title seems limited. So I better make the best of my good fortune and choose a title that reflects my skillset well, looks good for casual conversation and helps for the next job. (Although, to be honest, as much as I love working for people, it's always nice to get out on your own. Self-employment is definitely the end goal.)

So what title should I choose? I asked my fellow musketeers and, as usual, they disagreed. So I'm putting it out to John Q. Public, in case he has any ideas. Of course, it would help if I described what I did, right? Like most IT jobs, it's fairly amorphous, but I am the sole webmaster for the entire organization, which includes designing our sites, building the code and the databases, and keeping them fresh with content. In addition, I run the entire network over here, and I procure and assemble hardware. Plus, I troubleshoot any problems that come up, set standards for support, and determine future growth patterns. I built and currently maintain our firewall, and am responsible for promoting our site to others to build traffic. So this makes me a web/network/support/procurement person. I just need the right title to fit.

posted at: 2003-02-03 16:51:40 with 0 comments

As the post pointed out today, there are many other men and women who risk their lives on a daily basis. Yet, unlike the civilian workers at NASA, no one is threatening to shortchange these worker's paychecks. And the defense budget is being expanded at an untold rate in the FY2004 budget. So the airforce colonel on the shuttle will get a larger raise than the civilian mission specialist all things being equal. And we'll spend more money on bombs and bullets than on research in space. Don't these priorities seem misplaced? When we send people into harm's way, we should reward them. The current budget is a slap in the face to all the government workers who labor, unheralded each day, in the service of their country. They may not grab headlines, but they deserve much better.

posted at: 2003-02-03 15:04:17 with 0 comments

As some people have noted, the shuttle project was designed to have almost fifty launches a year. That's one a week. Instead, this year it has been reduced to 4 a year, with no restart point in sight until the Columbia disaster is fully reasearched.

That's why pieces like this get me steamed. The thought that echoes through the piece is simple: the shuttle is simply too costly, whether in terms of dollars or human life, to allow the program to continue. But isn't this the attitude that got us here in the first place? With a much-larger budget, the nation's full support and the prospect of Russian superiority, we were able to get to the moon. Yet three men died during the attempt. Should we have ratcheted back? I think not. Yet months after men landed on the moon, the budget was trimmed for the following fiscal year.

Why the disconnect? In some ways, I think because NASA, unlike every other agency, has a mission that is both inspiring and practical. It's tough to get fired up about diplomatic efforts at the State Department in comparison to seeing a shuttle launch. Yet millions could die from wars due to bad diplomacy, whereas the space program risks relatively little in human life. Likewise, although the economic team at the CBO may institute an economic model revision which attempts to predict the value of tax cuts by adding in future revenue growth (kind of like the argument that if I buy a big-screen tv, and spend money on a lavish super-bowl party, that networking with the people I invite might land me a cushier job one day which will allow me to afford the tv and the party), it's much easier to say that the bottled water the astronauts drink is exorbitantly expensive. Forget that this so-called 'dynamic scoring' could affect the budget by trillions. We've got to cut back on that damned water!

In many ways, the space-program is at it's worst when it attempts to defend costs. Much like the International Space Station, which has been lampooned for cost-overruns, the space agency must constantly justify research money by saying that it earns money in the long run. Yet, overall, the value of space research is immeasurable. Let's take a down-to-earth example: the Washington Metro system. The system is old, uses cars made from one manufacturer in Italy and experienced mechanical problems constantly. Like the space-program, people think the Metro is a good system. No one, for instance, argues that replacing the entire Metro system with a bus-rapid-transit system would be a good idea, even if the costs of maintaining the existing Metro system (let alone expansion) are far greater than constructing an entirely new fleet of rapid-transit buses. And like the shuttle, the initial expectations for the Metro system (8-car long trains, a stop in Georgetown, a line to Dulles) were too high for practicality. But here's where the comparisons diverge: both the Metro system and the shuttle would benefit from greater use. If the shuttle were actually flying once every week and the Metro had 8 car trains located throughout the system, they'd both be able to keep production costs down (more shuttles and metro cars mean less expense for each), to keep maintenance lower (more people trained on how to repair both systems would mean less time spend on each task) and to keep problems from occurring in future use (having a huge pool of experienced technical personnell who have dealt with the system would mean that new problems would be more quickly solved). The New York City subway system can't be shut down by a single subway car problem, yet the Washington Metro can. Why? Because the sheer number of cars and lines in the NYC system lowers the costs for replacing each one, or even shutting down a portion and allowing other cars to route around it. If NASA were to increase the number of flights and the number of shuttles in the fleet, much like NYC, we'd be able to get around problems much easier.

The final rub? Unlike the shuttle, no one expects every city in America to eventually install the Washington Metro system, or for Washington itself to expand the system much beyond the beltway. (The line that runs through Georgetown, for instance, may never arrive...) There are too many cheaper, more reliable alternatives to installing a new transit system from scratch with only one manufacturer. Space, on the other hand, will definitely be explored in the future. The knowledge learned now, on shuttle flights and the International Space Station, will never go out-of-date. So there's a good reason to continue having shuttle flights. Yes, the system might be expensive. Yes, there might be cheaper alternatives out there. Automation is a wonderful thing, and automating more controls is better. But what seems silly to me is the notion that abandoning manned spaceflight would either save lives or money. The cost to ferry humans into orbit is high right now, to be sure. But the landing procedure that resulted in Columbia's disintegration was FULLY AUTOMATED. So if human error isn't a factor, the only consideration is whether it's worth risking human lives to explore space.

And the answer to this question, in my mind, is simple: yes! I think every single person aboard Columbia would agree with me. One day, hopefully not too far in the future, people will look back on these early days of space exploration and think to themselves that it was risky, but worth it. One day space travel will be as easy as boarding an airplane. To think that we can somehow tie our feet to the ground is as defeatist as it is silly. And no matter how many satellites we launch into orbit from unmanned rockets, we still don't gain any knowledge of how to put more humans into space. That's what we should focus on: the pursuit of the future. And the future will have more men and women in space. Now is the time to keep moving forward, not back. If that means designing a better system to move people into space, so be it. But giving up the dream for cost reasons is a silly argument.

posted at: 2003-02-03 14:49:51 with 0 comments

You know those days when it's raining outside, but not hard enough to form droplets? It's just misty and cold, but not cold enough for snow? And your metro stop is closed because of flooding? And when you arrive at work you find that your computer is making a god-awful noise because the damn ball-bearings in your hard drive are out of alignment and the drive itself is a worthless hunk of junk? And when you then spend most of the day just trying to get things back to where they were the previous day when you left?

Is that the best you've got up there? Because, hubristic person that I am, I can take a lot worse. So bring it on. It's a Friday and I'm going to enjoy myself, regardless of the multiple spanners thrown into the works. So there!

posted at: 2003-01-31 18:07:21 with 0 comments
dear dredwerkz,

I am at a place where inaction is the easiest reaction, but it may be the wrong one. Please advise.

In the past two weeks, a past acquaintance has made contact with me. Now this guy was never more than an acquaintance. I was good friends with a couple who had gone to college with him, so for a six month period, we would find ourselves at the same engagements once a month or so. We never had any special bond and I don't even think we ever had a one-on-one conversation...We were just two people with mutual friends. He left my city about two years ago to take a job overseas and I hadn't heard from him since...until recently.

Two weeks ago, he called me at my office from Sri Lanka. We spoke briefly and he referred to a party we had both attended two years ago, saying it was fun. I concurred. He said he was planning to visit my city (he still has many actual friends still here) and I told him to drop me an email when he knew the dates. I mention the mutual friends, but he fails to bite on that as a conversation topic. Conversation ended, because, as he said, phone calls are expensive from Sri Lanka.

Several days later, he called me again, this time on my cell phone. My work voice mail has my cell phone on it so that people can reach me if they are on deadline (the message explicitly makes the distinction that you should leave a message unless it is urgent, in which case you should call the cell. This time he reiterates that he is coming to my city. I express less interest, but still tell him to let me know his plans. He again mentions party we both attended and says that he was high on E the whole time. I say oh, okay and we hang up.

Since the first call he has been sending me emails of articles and such...probably put me on some distribution list. I just delete them, no biggy. He also sent a schedule of his visit, but once again, it was to a large group. Then today he sent me a message just to me, talking about visiting the place he was born in Sri Lanka, blah, blah, and "did I mention that my father is a prince and so I guess I'm royalty," blah, blah, blah. He asks me to please not be reticent to write back.

So, what do I do? I'm not friends with the kid, and am not particularly interested in launching a friendship with him. He doesn't seem to be coming on to me, but at the same time mentioning his royal status might be trying to impress me? My own laziness and lack of interest would probably make me just ignore it all, but please tell me what you think.

Dodging the Strange Man in a Strange Land

Helena replies:


Edward replies:

Okay, Artful Dodger, you've definitely got a problem on your hands. (Well, that could depend on the kid's wealth/size/craziness, I suppose.) The real frustrating part is that, if you're being completely honest, you have almost nothing to do with the current situation. Hypothetically, this guy must have encountered a moment in his travels when he thought of you. Maybe he was lonely and high, maybe he was having some family issues, maybe he had a head injury. Regardless of what caused his conversion to your cult, anyone who strikes up a conversation after a two year absence is treading on thin ice. If you were old friends who just hadn't kept in touch, it'd be different. But if he knew you for only six months before he departed overseas, and you didn't hang out much, chances are he got some sort of serious crush on you and never acted upon it. A pity, really, because if you had shut him down two years ago your current woes wouldn't exist.

Oh, yeah, I'm supposed to be giving advice, right? Well, here goes. The kid's obviously nursed this crazy crutch around for some time, assuming he was infatuated with you over two years ago. When I think back to the privileged few in my past that I didn't hit on yet still found attractive (it's almost an oxymoronic statement, that!), I certainly can't imagine calling them up from a cell-phone half a world away years after the fact. Even if I were desperate to get back in touch with them, I might shoot them an e-mail saying that I had a good time at previous parties and since I was in town I'd like to hang out sometime. And then I'd keep my mouth (and fingers) silent until said return to town. Nothing say sketch quite like forcing yourself into someone else's life. And everyone knows this, including this supposed suitor. So your problem prince is either completely innocent of amorous intentions and just really annoying, or he's a love-starved lunatic looking for cross-world action. Either way, things don't look good.

But your egress routes are limited. Here's what I'd do: tolerate the bulk e-mails for now. Nothing you can do about that. As far as the personal phone-calls and letters are concerned: well, that's what voice-mail and e-mail shine at, right? The cell-phone bit is tougher, but as long as your callerid works, you can avoid his calls. And that's what you should do. Avoid talking to him at all costs. In e-mail, mention that you wouldn't mind hanging out with him and some friends.

And here's the rub: you do have to meet him. Simply blowing him off isn't appropriate. (Or a smart psych move, given his royal lineage. He might be quick-tempered.) Arrange to hang out at some affair with a group of other people. You didn't mention if you were seeing anyone guess is you aren't, in which case you'd still have to arrange for some guys to take charge of the 'situation'. You could either pretend to be going out with someone, or simply have them dominate the evening and act possesive towards you. Either woudl work. If, on the other hand, you are currently spoken for, simply invite your sig-o out with you, and let him do his male thing. Problem solved even more simply. The tough part is waiting until he's back in town to cut the cords: just pretend you're a famous celebrity with a stalker fan to take the edge off.

Brad replies:


posted at: 2003-01-30 16:06:08 with 1 comments

For the lazy, I've gone ahead and downloaded the lengthy, uncensored version of the Terry Tate original movie. It's right here and is a 15 megabyte file encoded with quicktime. It's not for young kids and it's actually amazingly funny. Regardless of if you saw the shortened super-version, you should check this one out. It's four minutes in length! In an ironic twist of fate, evidently some offices are seeing people browse out to the internet during work hours to get the movie, taking up a great deal of bandwidth. If only Tate wasn't fictional!

posted at: 2003-01-30 14:01:14 with 0 comments
Words of Wisdom: Over the next month, Reebok will role out three more four-minute films on its Web site featuring the Terry Tate character. In one of the films, Tate goes on vacation and proves that his skills aren't limited to the office when he notices inefficiency at the hotel and dramatically improves the workplace environment.

I found the above words up this morning, inspiring me to think back a few days. (Why ESPN managed to mispell "role" is beyond me.) Though a review and advice column are due, I thought I'd sneak in a little sugar first. After years of watching television reporters spin the annual super-bowl commercial wrap ups, I decided that they're all bad critics. For some reason reporters are drawn to commercials with

  • a) celebrities
  • b) lots of money
  • c) easy to understand jokes
. This results in buzz being generated about the latest Pepsi ad, or the Willie Nelson H&R Block ad, neither of which were actually laugh-out-loud funny. So it's been with some pleasure that I've noticed the rising star of the commercial world: Terry Tate. Like all good commercials, 'Terry Tate: Office Linebacker' had jack to do with the actual product being hawked. (In this case, Reebok.) This is a play straight from the Bud Light commercials (which are always pretty good, even if the fabled 'Bud Bowl' featuring miniature bottles (bud vs. bud light, of course!) throwing footballs around a tiny field has gone the way of the passenger pigeon.) which tend to minimize the consumption of beer in favor of simple funny formats.

Tate, in his commercial, proceeds to beat the stuffing out of whatever poor soul has been playing solitaire, failing to refill the coffee pot, or lowering productivity. The combination of stooge-like violence with genuinely annoying office habits created an amusing spectacle. (In my mind, both Terry Tate and the Sierra Mist Monkey commercials were clearly the best of the bunch.) In a sign that Reebok had wasted its money, more people remembered the name of the fictional office company, Felcher & Sons, than realized Terry was hawking Reebok products. (What products I can't The shirt from the spot is evidently being sold online now...but it's a novelty item, not something Reebok normally makes.

In a gesture towards the success of the spot (which I don't really care about, except that if people like it..) more commercials are being created now to show Mr. Tate on vacation or up against a rookie office linebacker. I say bring on the pain.

UPDATE: I added this in the the next post but some people are having a hard time finding it, so here it is: the full, un-edited version of the terry tate movie. It's un-censored, and in quicktime format. So don't let the kiddies see it, but laugh it up yourself! (Okay, some jokers can't even figure out that you're supposed to click where it say "terry tate movie". Some people need to stay away from technology, IMHO!)

posted at: 2003-01-30 13:25:12 with 0 comments

Okay, after watching the SOTU I had several thoughts. But let's get the highlights out there quickly. From the speech itself:

(...)Today, the gravest danger in the war on terror, the gravest danger facing America and the world, is outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. These regimes could use such weapons for blackmail, terror, and mass murder. They could also give or sell those weapons to terrorist allies, who would use them without the least hesitation.

This threat is new; America's duty is familiar. Throughout the 20th century, small groups of men seized control of great nations, built armies and arsenals, and set out to dominate the weak and intimidate the world. In each case, their ambitions of cruelty and murder had no limit. In each case, the ambitions of Hitlerism, militarism, and communism were defeated by the will of free peoples, by the strength of great alliances, and by the might of the United States of America. (Applause.)

Now, in this century, the ideology of power and domination has appeared again, and seeks to gain the ultimate weapons of terror. Once again, this nation and all our friends are all that stand between a world at peace, and a world of chaos and constant alarm. Once again, we are called to defend the safety of our people, and the hopes of all mankind. And we accept this responsibility. (Applause.)(...)

Hmm. Let's see. Isn't Pakistan a valuable ally who sold WMD to North Korea because they ran out of money? And is it just me, or is the line about the "small groups of men...set out to dominate the weak" oddly man-in-the-mirror-esque? And since when were people at war against "Hitlerism"? Is our President Don King? Does he coin new words instead of using traditional ones? He could have easily said "fascism, totalitarianism and communism" and omitted the "ambitions" part. But maybe he thinks the Great People of America don't understand complicated words like fascism or totalitarianism. Go figure. And finally, last time I checked, we lived in a world of chaos and constant alarm. We just didn't wake up until 9/11.

At the speech itself I thought of an idea for next year: if a powerful group got the speech, put it on a five-minute tape delay, and then broadcast it along with little pop-ups (ala VH1's pop-up video technique) to rebutt Bush's claims, I bet lots of people would watch it. You'd need a big staff and people who were fast on their feet, but you could put together a nice little show that hungry dems like myself would love to tune into. A sort of political MST3K, if you will.

For a text-version site that does just this (albeit mostly partisan rhetoric rather than good solid facts...which my show would rely upon without any additional commentary, much like when CNN ran little captions under the Representatives during the Enron hearings which showed the name of the Rep or Senator along with how much money they'd received from Enron over the years.) go to this website.

posted at: 2003-01-29 13:39:57 with 0 comments

There's a great piece in the post this morning about an initiative with momentum in Oregon to raise income taxes or cut the budget drastically. I'm excerpting a lot from the story, but it's necessary to the point I'm trying to make. (All you non-lazy people should go and read the article itself. Here we go:

"My husband and I will probably vote by the pocket instead of by our gut, but our gut says to vote no," said Sue Jeremiah, a school district purchasing officer who lives in the suburb of Milwaukie. Her district would close five days early, she said, a loss of income much bigger than the tax increase.

"I will support it just because kids are important and their education is important," said Jorine Rollins, a Republican and a nurse who said her own children are grown. "It's time to be honest and say there is a value to these government services."

Even if the referendum fails, the fact that recession-weary Oregonians came close to raising their own taxes is a barometer of a political storm tossing state governments amid their deepest fiscal crisis since World War II. A Washington Post-ABC News poll last week found that 70 percent of voters nationally believe their state has serious budget problems, and well over half of those blamed their governor and state legislature as well as the national economy. Forty percent also put significant blame on President Bush.

With revenue sinking, unemployment rising and demand for services increasing in almost every state -- all against the backdrop of a shaky world order -- the old rules hardly seem to apply.

"We live in cognitively dissonant times," observed Phil Keisling, a former Oregon Democratic state legislator and secretary of state, now a business executive.

While almost every state faces yawning budget gaps, Oregon's crisis is one of the more severe. A trophy state among anti-tax activists, Oregon used direct democracy and referendums in the last decade to reduce its state and local tax burden from 12th-highest in the country in 1992 to 41st in 2002, according to the Tax Foundation. By comparison, Virginia's rank moved from 41st to 40th; Maryland's fell from 21st to 37th.

Okay, let me get this straight: it took 10 years, during one of the largest economic booms in this nation's history, for anti-tax activists in Oregon to lower taxes to the point where they were finally able to overtake Virginia as the 10th least-taxed state in the nation? (Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he gets elected every few years to promise you the magic of repealing taxes without cutting services.) And only then, after drastically cutting taxes, did they come to the moment of truth where one of them could idiotically utter "my gut says no" to raising taxes, despite knowing that it would cost them several times more money to pay for the services they need themselves instead of raising their taxes. Where do these people come from? (The answer, of course, is Oregon! Virginia voters would never have stirred from their anti-tax slumber long enough to think long and hard about why their previous DMV stations were shuttered last month. Trust me, though they may have lost their spot in the top-ten, Virginia citizens are still more rabidly anti-tax-increasing than Oregon, or almost anyone else.)

The simple fact is that, much like shopping at Costco, the government is able to do things cheaper than the private sector because it can purchase services in bulk, streamline in bulk, and collect revenues in bulk. In addition, unlike private companies, most governmental functions are available for public perusal, preventing the sort of coporate larceny that has dominated headlines the past few years. The only real problem with government is that, should public officials do something unpopular, they can be voted out of office. Why is this a problem? Because any mention of tightening the budget belt (a good idea) results in dismissal. The incentive, then, is to lie to the voters about what is or is not fiscally possible.

Perhaps Virginia should take a cue from Oregon, then. Perhaps budgetary battles should be fought with a clear cut measure: either raise the income tax on all, or lose the precious services that everyone loves. You can't have it both ways. And it's about time that people's pocketbooks started making decisions instead of their gut.

posted at: 2003-01-28 09:34:25 with 0 comments

Yeah, another night, another sponge cd. Perhaps I'll break down and buy the one they came out with five years ago. Perhaps not. Work has started to get a little intense, with hours spent doing mindless activities while other similar don quixotic ventures lurk in the wings. And there's me, the hapless sancho panda stuck playing second fiddle to an idiot, whether it be the user who wants their silly instant messenger to work or help purchasing the latest computer. I wonder if used-car salesmen get hit up by co-workers for help buying a vehicle. For some reason I doubt it.

Fast forward through bad song. Anastasia's next. Damn, that's a good name. Those Russians may not have been great at achieving a marxist utopia, but they did have a fairly stable state monopoly on cool names. Ivan the Terrible? Catherine the Great? Sonja the duck? (Played by the oboe, perhaps?) Czar Nicholas? Rasputin? That and some wickedly messed up fairy tales, second only to those crazy Grimm brothers. No fairy tale can quite catch the allure of a princess trapped in a commoner's body. It's sort of the inverse joe-millionaire effect (yes, I watched tonight's episode and was surpringly pleased at the turn of events) whereby an ordinary person is actually royalty and yet has nothing to show for it. How many women would swoon over the prince of royal birth with not a penny to his name? Or the princess without the castle? There's something still intriguing there, as if the years of serfs and lords had ingrained in our heads that somehow those of noble birth were better than the rest of us, rather than being lucky or malevolent. Nothing's more eternal than the conflict between new and old power, European lineage verus American up-and-comers, east against west egg. But in the end, all money pools together in a melting pot of nepotism and conflicts-of-interest. Even the Russians weren't immune to the seduction of greed and influence. So why are we any different?

Perhaps because Americans want an even shake. It's not the pursuit of wealth that disgusts us so much as the manipulation needed to hold onto it. We'll root for the underdog at every chance, but nothing feels quite so heady as seeing the dynasties disrupted by an upstart, especially one without much on their side.

It's an early day tomorrow, so I better get started. The coldest night so far of the year is coming with lows approaching zero degrees. That's brisk.

posted at: 2003-01-27 23:12:22 with 0 comments

No, I'm not referencing any movie. I'm actually referring to the increasing ability of your low-level spambot. These automated guys scour the net for e-mail addresses that are unprotected (typically listed in webpages) and then add them to their lists. Point in case: I recently posted a piece which included an e-mail address on the website. Now normally, whenever I post an e-mail address, I make sure to do a little bit of trickeration to hide the actual address from spambots. It involves encoding the address into numerical html references, then splitting it up into a javascript array. The technique is quite simple and easy to paste into any blog entry.

But I was lazy this time.

Therefore, I just posted the regular address into the body of the blog. The result? Within a few hours, spam began to trickle into my mailbox, (because the address in question was redirected to my regular address) slowly at first and now starting to gush. Luckily, I can turn off the address at any point, letting the spambots eat a bunch of non-dels for their trouble. But imagine if I had posted one of my real addresses? The consequences could be deadly.

Computer stuff aside, today has been super-busy, so no review and no waxing philosophical. Just work work work. Jack may be a dull boy, but he's too busy to go insane right now.

posted at: 2003-01-27 16:48:23 with 0 comments

go back a week...

...go forward a week