Category Archives: commentary

public transit isn’t the answer

It may be a component, but it’s not the panacea many proclaim it to be.

Every means of transit I am aware of has good applications. They all get you from point A to point B – though some regulate where A & B must be.

Biking, for example, is a very cheap means of transportation: have a sandwich and some water, and you can go for miles. But it’s slow. For short distances, or where there is not much parking, biking is an ideal way to get around – as long as the weather’s ok.

One step up from the bicyle in terms of maneuverability and parkability (and speed) is the motorbike. Fast, light, and nimble, the motorcycle is another good choice for parking-limited areas and decent weather.

Unfortunately, the weather isn’t only bad when we don’t need to get some place. So we get an automobile. A roof, multiple seats, and cargo space make the auto a great transportation option. Add onto that a lack of a need to have a decent sense of balance. But, when parking is at a premium, cars, trucks, and vans can be a royal pain.

Buses start to alleviate parking issues, have somewhat more per-person space than a fully-passengered car, & travel at about car speed. But, they also follow specific road routes and times, meaning you have to want to go near where the bus does, or plan on a lot of walking.

Subways, trolleys, and other trains get a huge boost in efficiency for moving large numbers of people relatively quickly along very rigidly predefined paths. With about the same space per person as a bus, but not having to worry about traffic congestion due to separate, dedicated, train-only routes, trains are another efficient way to move a bunch of people between preselected A’s and B’s quite quickly. But rigid starts and stops don’t carry flexibility for the passengers.

Next on my list are boats. Personal boats are perhaps the most flexible in the ability to pick your route, but only work for getting around very wet areas.

Ferries and cruise ships are fundmentally no different from buses and trains in their capacity and flexibility, but do tend to be a bit slower. However, they also offer one of the few ways to get from one point of land to another separated by water.

Lastly, of course, are airplanes. Surpassing even a boat’s infinite 2-dimensional meanderings, aircraft get to meander in 3 dimensions. Small, personal planes carry the same flexibility of boats – but can traverse more-or-less over any terrain, with the caveat that there be some straight and flat stretch for them to return to ground safely.

Commercial flights, though, take the transportation benefits of buses and trains to new heights – literally. Traveling at hundreds of miles per hour in relatively straight lines, such craft can traverse the continent or the ocean in hours, not days or weeks. However, like boats and buses, they are subject to weather and traffic conditions not always stopping personal automobiles and bikes. In short, mass transit, of any type, is worth while when a large number of people need to get to roughly the same destination, and start in pre-congregated clusters. But what they gain in efficiency for the group, they lose (often badly) in flexibility for the individual. Commuter rail and bus services are a Good Thing ™ – but not when they preclude the individual’s desire or need for flexibility.

New York City is an example of a municipality that penalizes individuals. They charge for parking. They charge for bridges and tunnels. They act like they don’t want visitors – at least not if they won’t conform to their “ideal” of total reliance on the buses and subways in place.

It’s that herd mentality that frightens me. Mass transit does have an important place in modern society – as long as it’s a supplement & alternative to individual flexibility in travel and not its replacement.

stop trying to make me ‘safe’

Wired’s Autopia has a post this week on the new mandate that all vehicles come standard with a “brake-shift interlock system” to prevent deaths of children putting vehicles in gear accidentally (or on purpose) and then being stuck in a runaway car.

I can speak from personal experience that being in a vehicle with no brake-shift interlock system that gets stuck in gear and starts rolling is not pleasant. However, I can also speak from personal experience that it happened because I was given the keys to unlock our van when I was about 7. My parents rarely did things that were unsafe, as I was a relatively intelligent boy. However, the emergency brake wasn’t fully engaged, and I rolled out of our driveway, across 4 lanes of road in front of our house, jumped a curb, and across another three lanes of roadway. Fortunately, I didn’t jump the second curb, or I would have ended up 65 feet down an embankment crossways of a 55 mph highway.

But the lack of a brake-shift interlock system wasn’t to blame: I was. I’m the one that stuck it in gear even though I knew that I probably shouldn’t. And I’m the one who didn’t stick it back in gear after the fact.

Parents need to be aware of their kids. They don’t need their cars doing their jobs for them. As a driver now, I always start my car with my foot either on the brake, the clutch, or both just because it’s a good idea to make sure the car doesn’t start to roll while you’re starting it. But a brake-shift interlock system isn’t what makes me do it – it’s common sense, backed-up with a personal experience of what can happen if you don’t.

It really bugs me when the government jumps in and tries to do things for us that make it feel more like a nanny than a government. Mandating seatbelts for adults is stupid. Mandating cars have airbags is overkill. Mandating safety for underage passengers may be a good idea, though the parent/driver should be worried about the safety of their passengers anyway. Seatbelt use should be pushed onto insurance rates, not enforced by cops. Airbags are desired by most consumers, and insurance companies give discounts if you have them, so there is an incentive for them to exist even if they’re not legally required.

Treating citizens like children doesn’t make them safe, it makes them dependent. Dependents don’t do things for themselves, don’t take responsibility for their actions, and are generally not healthy for the nation as a whole. We expect children to be dependent on their parents, but our country keeps trying to make its adults dependent, too.

And it disgusts me.

airport security

This past weekend I had the, ahem, joy, to fly with firearms, and I was struck again by how stupid airport security really is. Of all the people you would think you would want to be onboard your flight, you’d think you would want someone who was competent in using a firearm – and who had one with him. But no, all firearms have to be in hard-sided lockable (and locked) cases – and must be checked.

Flying from RDU to EWR was straightforward, but the return flight was a bit more hectic. When checking my firearms in NC, the check-in lady verified I had a key for the case, then had me stuff the firearms declaration form into my case, and then happily put the case onto the conveyor belt to be checked. A simple process that only took an additional 30 seconds over the normal process of checking bags since a special form needs to be signed.

Checking in at Newark, however, was more of an ordeal than it should be. First, I told them I was flying with firearms, then they escorted me to an employees-only security area to open the case, and demonstrate to the agent that they were unloaded, then put the form inside, then seal the whole works back up. Ahh, I thought, that wasn’t too bad. Alas, that wasn’t all. Next I was escorted over to the Xray machines, and had to surrender my key to the Xray guy so he could open the case – again – and verify everything was fine, then he sealed it back up and returned my key to me.

Grrr. Ok, I understand opening the case once to demonstrate there are no bombs in it, but a second examination, and especially without my presence, did not make me feel very good about the state of affairs with ‘security’ at EWR. I was unable to verify that nothing was stolen until I got to RDU later that morning. It really would have been a simple thing for the Xray tech to take a magazine, or even one of the guns I had in the case, and I wouldn’t have known until it was far and away too late.

This really helps to exemplify the sorry state of so-called security in the US, and especially at airports. By definition, once I have passed through airport security into a ‘secure zone’, I am now no longer a security threat. But I also wasn’t a threat ahead of time, or they wouldn’t let me through (I hope at least). No, the real threat isn’t from somebody flying who wants to check their firearms. Or folks who just want to lock their bags to keep them safe. The real threat is from some jackass sitting a half-mile from the runway with a smuggled, shoulder-mount missile shooting at a plane in the pattern.

I could understand not allowing people to carry firearms in their carry-on bags if they didn’t also have a certification indicating they knew how to use them – such as a concealed carry permit. However, anyone who can demonstrate (via a government-issued certificate for example) that he/she is competent to not only own but also use a small weapon, should be allowed bring such a device with them onto the plane.

I would certainly feel more comfortable knowing that at least some of the flights I’m on would have people who knew how to handle a handgun onboard. I’d feel more comfortable knowing I was one of those people.

But most of all, I’d feel more comfortable if airport security reverted to its pre-9/11 status. The islamic wackos who hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon, and the final one that was re-hijacked and crashed into a field didn’t have to sneak any contraband through airport security. Everything they brought onboard was legit. Their crime was lying about their identities to obtain US documentation that indicated they should be here.

Outlawing pocket knives, nail clippers, knitting needles, baseball bats, and the like doesn’t improve security. Security is improved when everyone takes on personal responsibility and doesn’t let bad stuff happen. If even one person onboard any of the hijacked planes on September 11th had been carrying a weapon, or if anyone on the first three planes had grown some balls and stood up to those jackasses who hijacked the plane, we might not be now remembering 9/11 as the biggest act of terrorism in US history: we would be remembering the acts of a couple people who decided to act rather than sit idly by while their jet was flown into a skyscraper.

how do you negotiate a ceasefire with terorists?

This question has finally started dawning on the unwashed liberal masses. For the past almost 5 years, the United States has been directly confronting terrorism in several different global locations. And in the past several days, Hezbollah has finally reared its ugly head and given up on sporadic attacks against Israel and has instead launched an all-out war.

Every news network I have seen in the past several days has been asking this question, which is good – it means they’re starting to think, always a big plus.

Unfortunately, they haven’t yet gotten to the only possible answer: you can’t. They are not driven by a lust for land, power, resources, or people. Terrorists, especially of the muslim extraction, are driven by violence – seeing violence executed on those they disagree with, or just dislike this week.

There is only one way of negotiating with terrorists: you kill them. A ceasefire only occurs when they are shot – then they cease firing.

It may not be a popular response to the question, but it’s the only one that works.

what rights?

More proof the American Civil Liberties Union is on crack: they are supporting a lawsuit filed by inmates to revert a recent decision made by Indiana’s Department of Corrections to ban sexually explicit magazines, letters, etc (CNN story).

Fortunately Java Ahmed from the IDoC isn’t just bowing to the lawsuit: “We don’t have any current plans to make any changes. If throughout the process the court says it’s constitutionally inappropriate, we would do so, but we don’t think it’s unconstitutional.”

Criminals voluntarily give up lots of rights the rest of us have guaranteed to us by the very act of committing their crime. People in jail for murder, rape, theft, drug possession, or anything else, have no reasonable, definable need to have access to pornography. They’re supposed to be paying back society in some fashion for their crimes, not sitting in a health spa fantasizing about Miss November or Pet of the Year – at least not with those pictures in front of them.

I have a problem with prisons providing anything beyond basic living needs to inmates: they don’t need a gym, cable TV, special catering, or girlie magazines. They need to sit in their cell and think about what they’ve done. They should perhaps be put to work doing useful things in their area (North Carolina utilizes lower-risk inmates to clean up the highways). I also think they should be allowed to read novels, historical accounts, biographies, religious works, etc. Low-risk inmates could be encouraged to take distance education classes, hopefully to help them stay out the system in the future.

There is no reason to make life easy on inmates: they are convicted felons, and need to be punished – not rewarded. Chain gangs were great ways to get work done basically for free. Outside of a given warden’s abuse of his authority, there is no better way to utilize otherwise waste time of those criminals than by making them do real work.

Imbibing pornography is not punishment. Criminals who are focusing time and energy on porn are probably also fantasizing about doing something to those girls (or guys). Rapists, murderers, and other criminals don’t need extra fuel for their minds to work on while they’re in prison. They need to be punished.

oh vista, vista, whyfore art thou vista?

I’ve been playing with Windows Vista Beta 2 recently on my home computer, and my overall impression is pretty blah. I must agree with many other reviews I’ve read that it’s really XP SP3. The eye candy is nice (taken from Apple and the OSS world), but nothing worth upgrading over. The new Start menu is better laid out, but again – not worth upgrading for. User management is a bit better, and the side bar is a spiffy feature – but you can already get that for free with either Google Desktop or Konfabulator.

I kinda feel sorry for the engineers at Microsoft who’ve poured millions of man hours and years of effort individually into this new edition of Windows – there’s no compelling reason for anyone I know to buy it.

When you factor in the minimum system requirements (and you lose a lot of eye candy if you go with the minimums) – 1.5G CPU, 512M RAM, 64M video card, 16G free drive space – the system is hogging all the basic resources of any new computer. Budget-minded consumers who snag Dell’s latest weekend special won’t have enough oomph to run Vista. XP Pro runs fine on a system with 256M RAM and a 1G CPU (I should know – one of my home boxes is such a beast). I do not see any reason why this “upgrade” has to be such a resource hog.

Sure, power users, gamers, and businesses will buy machines that can run Vista well – but Vista is going to be sucking the life out of those systems so those self-same buyers will end up needing even beefier hardware to get the “most” from their computing experience.

It’s sad when I can install any other desktop OS (distros of Linux with heavy or light window managers, XP Pro, OS X, Zeta, etc) on a system with 256M or 512M of RAM and expect it to run acceptably – along with all the apps I need to use – but Microsoft has to push its customers into machines formerly relegated to true heavy users (gamers, developers, etc).

Maybe some miracle will happen in the next several months and Vista won’t demand so many resources – but I’m not holding out for one.

do not attack iran – and see what happens

The International Herald Tribune had an editorial recently on Iran and the current United States’ administration’s use of preemptive strikes. [original story]

In general, I would say that it is wrong to start wars. However, the IHT article seems to go along well with the post I wrote about nuclear proliferation and the dangers of totalitarian rulers. Or rather, it goes directly against what I said. All of the reasons to not execute a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear capability, and its alliance with terrorists, are old and tired.

The author is apparently unfamiliar with US law. Zbigniew Brzezinski writes, “if undertaken without formal Congressional declaration, it would be unconstitutional and merit the impeachment of the President.” It is an established fact that periods of armed conflict under a set number of days, or directly tied to iminent threats are not covered under US law regarding the declaration of War on the part of Congress. He also writes, “if undertaken without the sanction of the UN Security Council either alone by the United States or in complicity with Israel, it would stamp the perpetrator(s) as an international outlaw(s).” This is not relevant. The United States does not answer to the United Nations, it answers to its own laws and treaties it has signed. If the United Nations will not undertake to follow its own rules, member states may, can, should, and will.

The United States, along with many allied countries, invaded Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein. Whether or not they found any weapons of mass destruction is irrelevant for the time being – Saddam had consistently defied international bodies, and the US merely stood up for what the UN claimed to promote.

Those in power have a responsibility to do good for their people – and for those others whom they can. When a leader, whether it is Adolf Hitler, or Slobodan Milosovic, or Saddam Hussein, oppresses his own people to the point of killing them merely becase they displease him, he is no longer fit to rule.

The IHT article goes on to list volatility in the energy market, international dislike, increased terror acts, and increased muslim fundamentalism as potential problems to such an act. Iran’s potential to ‘hand over the bomb’ to a terrorist group is not in doubt. And that terrorist wouldn’t likely use it on them. They would be far more likely to use it on a prominent target in the west.

In an ideal scenario, Iran would capitulate to economic sanctions, and diplomatic avenues. But we live in a far from ideal world.

Is the United States perfect? By no means. Neither is any other country. However as a nation, we have been blessed with power, influence, and backbone. I don’t want it to come to the point of needing to make a strike against Iran to hold them accountable for atrocities they are and have been complicit with. But if no one else will take a stand, I pray we do.