Democratic Victory

Every conservative that I know makes a point of saying they are a fiscal conservative. They are, nearly to a man, worried most about the size and cost of government, and want to see it get smaller. Ask any American on the street prior to 9-11 what was most important for the government to focus on, and they would probably respond with some variation on reinstituting fiscal responsibility. Over the last 8 years, Bush and the Republican government he leads have passed one miniscule tax cut while jacking up the budget and the deficit to record levels.

At the pace that President Bush’s self-proclaimed progress is being made in the Middle East he will leave office with the U.S. still mired in Iraq, with the neighboring nations posturing militarily in an attempt to make us blink, putting us in the most volatile foreign policy situation since FDR died in the White House, leaving Truman to finish WWII.

…And Republicans across the nation are consumed with what? Passing Anti-abortion measures so that they can try to coerce the SCOTUS to overturn Roe V. Wade. This despite the fact that the average American, while perhaps not being favorable on abortion themselves, still favors a woman’s right to choose the procedure. I don’t know which political page they are working from, but this spells Democratic Victory in the next election in the book I’m reading from. I’m batting a thousand so far.

Which reminds me, I’m sticking to my previous assessment on the subject. The only thing I’m curious about is how the new members of SCOTUS will justify striking down the most recent ill-conceived fascist notions concerning abortion law. As if this hasn’t happened before.

So, in the end, the only thing Bush will have achieved in 8 years: handing Democrats control of the government for the first time since Reagan took office. Way to go, George.

Postscript

I wrote Democrats in the final paragraph, but I was thinking liberals at the time. Handing liberals the control of government. Otherwise what about Bill Clinton? He was a Democrat. Yes, but Bill Clinton was never a liberal. He advanced Reaganomics while he was president. He destroyed the welfare system and ramped up the incarceration machine while he was in office as well. A liberal would never have done these things. What would Hillary have been if she had been elected president? We’ll never know now.

Recommending Firefox

I knew I was recommending it for a reason. It’s just nice to have it backed up with statistics. Here’s a quote:

“Internet Explorer users are 21 times as likely to pick up spyware than Firefox users

I’ve been using Firefox for several years now, and installing it on systems that my boss (yeah, you, sweetheart) assigns me to fix, as well as recommending it to anyone who asks. All based on my own impression of it’s security, and nothing else.

…Until now.

Linux Distro Chooser Quiz

Reading back issues of Linux Pipeline tonight, came across a link for the Linux Distro Chooser Quiz. (There is a 2020 version here. –ed.) It suggested I use Suse; which is kind of funny, since I’m only looking at other distros because I’m tired of fixing the missing pieces in Suse.

I want to be able to play DVD’s on a linux system without having to stand on my head tracking down different parts of a software program. I just want to install a DVD player that actually plays DVDs and I haven’t found one that I don’t have to assemble each time I upgrade the OS software. Suse comes with DVD disabled, as well as a lot of other bits and pieces missing and broken.

…and if I find it frustrating, as a confirmed software geek (if not a bonafide programmer) I can only imagine what the average user thinks.

The quiz is actually pretty cool, I do recommend it. I tweaked the settings the second time around and came up with a pretty decent list of distros, two of which I already have on hand (Ubuntu, and LinSpire. I also noticed a Kubuntu in the list; A KDE version of Ubuntu, apparently) and will be installing and trying to break shortly.

I’m already impressed with Ubuntu. I was able to get online using the live CD in about 5 minutes. Pretty cool.

Liable for Compulsive Gambling?

A Pathologist is suing a drug manufacturer, and the casinos that he lost his 14 million dollar fortune to, because the drug that he was given causes compulsive gambling. I think that not only the drug manufacturer, but the casinos could loose that lawsuit, despite the objections about “where is the justice in this” that I’ve heard.

The lawsuit has nothing to do with justice, and everything to do with philosophy. In the dominant philosophy in the US right now (Kantian Altruism) it is accepted that “we are our brothers keeper” which means that the casinos have the responsibility to tell someone who is hurting himself by losing too much “you’ve had enough now brother, time to stop”. It doesn’t matter that this introduces a whole new mess of problems for the gambling industry. Just like the can o’ worms that bars now face (and that McDonald’s et al narrowly dodged by adding ‘healthy’ items to their menus) in having to be “brother’s keeper”, the casinos have a responsibility to do likewise.

The only way this can be corrected is to change the dominant philosophy in the world today; a daunting task. As a Capitalist/Objectivist, I’m not going to bother trying to defend the argument that the casinos should be liable; I’m just stating for the record, that based on Altruist values and reasoning, they are.

Postscript

Should companies be liable for externalities, even ones that they aren’t responsible for? If you are making money off of the behavior of other people, then I would say you have to be. Otherwise, what is to stop the business from say, pumping the casino full of drugs that will turn you into a compulsive gambler? They didn’t make you gamble, they are simply enhancing the atmosphere to make the gaming more entertaining. They are already engaging in many other questionable practices in the design of casinos, adding the right drugs to stimulate betting isn’t too far out from where they are now.

Curtailing these practices is not so much being your brother’s keeper as that we have to be constantly vigilant against attempts by businesses to privatize profits and externalize costs. The health costs of eating poorly are bourn by the public whether we want them to be or not. So too the costs of drunk driving. Making the companies worry about the externalities makes them spend the time and effort to make sure that they don’t simply do the equivalent of throwing drunks out in the street to be a hazard to everyone else, but will instead make sure they get home safely because it is a liability that they cannot afford. That they can at least get a salad instead of fries, even if they don’t.

This approach will cost the businesses more but it will save society a much larger cost. Someone will eventually have to pay, it might as well be the ones making the profit from the behavior.

Not Public School, Government School

If the schools were public, then the public (at large) would control them. This is clearly not the case with the schools we have now. They are government funded, with government mandated curriculum. They are run by quasi-governmental entities elected in the same fashion as government itself.

They are government schools.

As for what to do about it (at least here in Texas) see my earlier rant.

Postscript

What an asshole. A distinction without any real difference. Government can educate children just fine, thank you. Better than private industry can, since private industry isn’t tasked with educating people as a baseline for its survival. That is a job that has been left to the government to do.

Texas School Funding

This has been an issue for so long in Texas, it’s reached epic proportions. If it wasn’t so damned expensive, it might even be funny. I hear today that someone (who’s betting against it being the TEA funding this? Anyone?) ran a poll and discovered that a majority of people would be willing to spend more in taxes if it went to schools.

As if for the children hasn’t been the mantra that they’ve asked us to shed blood for time and again in the past. Once again, my name is firmly in the ‘nay’ category. Not just no, but, Hell No.

The government schools are twice as expensive to run as comparable private schools. Giving them more money will not improve the schools, because the increasing number of dollars that we’ve given them (that’s doubled and tripled over time) has not made the government schools function any better.

There is no way to earmark funds for a specific purpose, as should be painfully clear to anyone who remembers that the lottery money, the cigarette settlement money, virtually every new tax scheme proposed in the last 20 years has been “earmarked for education”, only to get dumped into the general fund.

School attendance is mandatory. This makes the government schools into something closer to prisons than they are to places where children learn. The curriculum is set at the state and/or federal level. This turns the schools into an ‘indoctrination center’, where the correct view of this or that event or behavior is sure to be the only one given. The buildings themselves are old and run down from years of neglect by administrators more interested in buying themselves nice lives than they are in seeing facilities modernized, or made less ‘oppressive’.

This leaves the teachers holding the bag, the thankless prison guard who isn’t even trusted with a gun to defend himself with, and is locked in with the inmates on a daily basis. No wonder they want more money.

Here’s a solution you won’t get from the powers that be. Remove the taxing authority from all the school districts. Fire every school district employee who isn’t actively teaching a class. Draft legislation creating vouchers equal to the current outlay per student, payable to each teacher that will be entrusted with the job to teach our children. Give them the authority to hire and fire administration that they choose to employ at their discretion, and out of their pockets.

Give parents the choice to either accept the vouchers, and have their children be tested at the end of the education process; or to do without the vouchers and the testing.

…And then see if the children end up learning more, or less. I’m betting on more.

Postscript

Having now put two children through school I can honestly say that the public schools do exceptionally well for what they have been tasked with doing. They do a far better job of educating all the children than most of the charter schools do with educating the children of parents interested enough in their children’s learning to take the time to put them in the charter instead of just sending them to the public school.

That is the big difference. If you have the time and the money you can find a school that produces a better education for less money. But the playing field is not level. Public schools have to educate all of the children, even the ones that don’t have parents that care and the ones that have learning disabilities. Charter schools fail in those categories because those are the groups that are hardest to educate and charters aren’t given enough money to educate those kinds of children. So they don’t try, and they aren’t required to do it anyway.

The problem with school remains the straightjacket that they have been confined to for too long. We would do much better if we made schooling something that can be done anywhere and any time. If we understood that children want to learn, they don’t have to be forced to learn.

Beyond the Da Vinci Code

I read the Da Vinci Code; I thought it was a good bit of fiction, a gripping who-done-it with a clever twist at the end, as good as any of the mystery writers that I’ve enjoyed over the years, with just that bit of ‘what if’ that stirs the mental soup even when you’ve finished reading it.

I’d like to stress the word fiction again, just for those jumpy christian types who keep thinking that it is possible to disprove something that is published as fiction.

Seriously, three hours, and counting, of material on the History Channel (which gets confounded sometimes as to whether it’s actually supposed to be the PTL or the militarism channel) attempting to prove that a work of fiction is in fact, fiction.

“Yeah, it’s says it right on the spine of the book, thanks for caring, though.”

Not that they didn’t have some interesting sources during the course of the three hours. Sources that lent more credence to the thought that the story was a bit more than fiction, than to the blatant attempt to discredit the book as, once again, fiction.

So, just for grins, here are the sources:

Dr. Deirdre Good – General Theological Seminary
Dr. Karen RallsThe Templars and the Grail
Richard Leigh – Holy Blood, Holy Grail
Timothy FrekeThe Jesus Mysteries
Margaret StarbirdThe Woman with the Alabaster Jar

A heartfelt encouragement of good reading I give to you all. May you find it as intriguing as I found the History channel programs frustrating, with the exception of the insights from the sources listed above.

People should question their most firmly held beliefs. Every day. If your beliefs cannot withstand your own questioning, then are they really your beliefs?

McMansions?

Only in Austin would they spit on revitalizing downtown residential districts, and call the resultant housing ‘McMansions’. Everywhere else this epithet is used (and rightly, in my opinion) it is applied to the overly large, over priced, housing that springs up in the suburbs. As an architect with a family to feed, I can share the blame for a good portion of that type of housing. Most of the families who moved into houses that I helped get built were quite thankful to have them. To each his own, I live in the central city because I like the convenience of being near downtown.

Based on the complaints of disgruntled neighbors, the Austin city council took action last week and suspended all pending permits for construction in established neighborhoods, subject to review and possible further restriction by ordinance. (how is this not Ex Post Facto, is what I’d like to know, but let’s not get off on a tangent here) Anyone who thinks this isn’t about the same ‘no-growth’ issues that Austin has always been preoccupied with needs to take a crash course in the history of Austin politics.

All you have to do is see which side the usual suspects line up on. The Austin American Statesman is foursquare against the ban, as can be seen from the multiple Op-Ed columns and letters on the subject. Too bad they don’t consistently side with those interested in preserving property rights. This time the property rights (and values) argument is what is being offered by the builders, so that’s the tack that is going to be taken by those who follow the chamber of commerce side of the argument.

On the other end of the spectrum is the champion of no-growth, the Austin Chronicle. At least they are consistent in lamenting the halcyon days of Austin in the 70’s, back when the city was a town, and it was empty when UT wasn’t in session. I wish these people would wake up and smell the coffee.

That Austin has been gone for so long that it was only a memory when I moved here in the late 80’s. The no-growthers got what they wanted way back then, except they found out they didn’t want it when they saw what it was. Property values crashed, jobs went away, projects were left rotting and half completed. They got it again when they passed SOS and successfully killed development in areas outside the city.

This problem is also of their own making. The traffic congestion which is a result of blocking most of the new freeway work that had been proposed 20 years ago, makes living in the suburbs an almost intolerable commute if you work downtown now. Many people who do so would (like me) like to live close enough to avoid a long commute. This (along with other factors) produces higher demand for housing in central Austin. The resultant rise in land prices (also an offshoot of the FACT that Austin isn’t a sleepy little town anymore; but a full fledged city of more than 500,000) has lead land owners to capitalize on property investments.

Now, horror of horrors, “the growth is happening right next door to me!”, not out in the suburbs. “Gotta call my councilman, and put a stop to this.” That’s how it always starts, and it never turns out like they planned it.

If you don’t own the property in question, you don’t have any right to dictate to the current owner what gets built on it. That won’t stop most people from trying, but what usually ends up happening is the development happens anyway, it just ends up costing more. This is what comes from relying on zoning and city officials to do a job that could more reliably be done with restrictive covenants and/or architectural planners who have a clue about what makes sense land use wise. But then the chamber of commerce types wouldn’t be able to ram through the developments they want when the tables are reversed.

Postscript

The real problem was gentrification, the eviction of poor minorities from their traditional locations in Austin so that developers could turn their previously unwanted property into something that could be sold for multiples of what it was bought for. If the minority owners were paid what their property was actually worth, then they at least got their value returned to them. Most of them cannot find somewhere else to live in a city that has become so expensive that few can afford to live here.

A Lemmings Tale

When I get to puzzling over the quandary of how to convince people that political change is necessary, I am reminded of a computer game I used to play. Lemmings was its name. (available through the Microsoft store. -ed.)

Lemmings. Ah, those were the days.

These cute little green headed characters would drop out of an entry point, and wander in a specific direction (Oddly enough, to the right. What is the significance of that?) until they met with certain doom. The player’s job was to save as many as possible from the doom they were marching towards, by converting the walkers to various other functions. In some of the later stages of the game, there just was no way to save all of them. In one specific instance, there is a cliff in front of a relentless stream of Lemmings, and you don’t have any way to stop them. You can stop enough of them to win the scenario, but only if you play it right. You, of course, would rather save them all, but it can’t be done. They walk over the cliff in spite of your best efforts.

That is where we are now, late in the game. Libertarians pointed out years ago that a 9-11 like attack was coming. It’s happened now.

The freedom ploy engaged in by the smugglers John Hancock & Samuel Adams was diverted. The empire that Lincoln was forced to create re-claiming the South for the Union reached its summit in the 50’s and now drops down into historical irrelevance again. FDR’s schemes are coming to their crisis points and must be reformed or scrapped. There is no evading the cliff in front of us, unless we take action. We have to convince enough people who can think for themselves that there is a problem, and that there is a workable solution. ‘Enough’ is a fluid number, based on what solution is used as a target. The rest will have to walk on over the cliff, in spite of us.

We all choose our own destiny, even if our choice is not to choose.

Postscript

I think the problem was the libertarian sales pitch. As in “give up all the benefits of society because freedom requires it.” Weirdly, very few people thought that was a good idea.

Charges in Fatal Dog Attack

When I wrote on this subject previously, this was the headline: Charges in fatal dog attack not likely, sheriff says Which was, as I said at the time, outrageous.

Apparently the Grand Jury in Milam County felt the same way:

The owner of six dogs that mauled a woman to death in November was indicted Thursday by a Milam County grand jury.
Jose Hernandez, 52, of Thorndale was arrested by Milam County authorities after being indicted for criminal negligent homicide as a result of the November 26, 2005, dog attack in which Lillian Lorraine Stiles was attacked and killed at her residence by dogs owned by Hernandez.
Authorities say the pit bull-Rottweiler mixed-breed dogs attacked and killed Lillian Stiles as she rode a lawn mower. Her husband, Jack, was inside the house watching a football game. He shot and killed one of the dogs. The other five were later euthanized.

Here’s hoping justice is done on the subject.

Postscript

Sadly, the jury was unwilling to convict the dog owner. I found a legal opinion on the subject here a portion of which follows. There is more information at the above link if you are interested.

Health & Safety Code §822.041 provides that a court may declare a dog “dangerous” basically if it causes injury in an unprovoked attack. It is a Class C misdemeanor if the owner violates the provisions of the dangerous dog law or the dog causes serious injury in an unprovoked attack. It is a Class A misdemeanor if the dangerous dog causes a death of a person in an unprovoked attack. A $10,000 penalty may also be imposed on the owner whose dangerous dog causes serious injury or kills someone. Texas Heath & Safety Code §§822.044, 822.045. (See generally Dangerous and Vicious Dogs for discussion of the legal meaning of “dangerous” and the issues pertaining to legal “dangerousness.”)

If a dog has not been previously declared “dangerous,” however, there is a “loophole” in the law, in that there is no law that addresses the situation. Given the savageness of this killing, prosecutors attempted to apply the general law. To make the punishment fit the crime, the grand jury indicted Jose Hernandez for criminally negligent homicide. His trial took place in March 2007.

The conviction of this dog owner depended upon overcoming the bane of dog bite victims, namely the one-bite rule. Under this ancient British legal doctrine, the owner of any domestic animal is not held responsible for the first bite, the first mauling, or the first killing by each and every one of his animals. (See The One Bite Rule.) Texas is in a minority of states that continues to salute the flag of Great Britain when it comes to dog bite laws. (For lists of states that follow or have abrogated the one bite rule, see Legal Rights of Dog Bite Victims in the USA.)

Hernandez testified that he had no idea his animals were capable of such brutality. He admitted none of his animals had ever been seen by a veterinarian and hadn’t been vaccinated. Several other witnesses for the defense testified that Hernandez’ dogs were not aggressive and were not trained to be aggressive.

The jury found Hernandez not guilty.

Kenneth M. Phillips, The Lillian Stiles case (Texas v. Hernandez)

I had never heard of the one bite rule before in my life. I’m actually horrified that this is defacto law in Texas. The legislature did update the laws after the verdict in this case, but the laws remain woefully lax when it comes to holding dog owners responsible for the behavior of their animals.

We had a trained pit fighting dog break into our yard and attack one of our dogs a few years back. Our dog (Corona) never recovered from that attack and died shortly afterwards. I wondered why the cops told us privately afterwards that if we wanted the attacking dog put down, we should have done it ourselves while we had the chance. These laws and the rulings in the above case prove the point. If you expect justice for injury from another person’s pet, be prepared to exact it yourself while the offending animal is on your property. There is nothing that the other person can do about it in Texas. It’s an animal trespassing on your property, so you can kill it. Weird, isn’t it?