A Clunky Idea

So both chambers of Congress have approved of a "Cash for Clunkers" program through which consumers receive subsidies for replacing their older fuel-guzzling vehicles with new fuel-efficient vehicles.

I think this idea, on the surface, sounds great. Get those exhaust-spewing dirty inefficient cars off the road! Everybody buy a LEV or Prius or something! And of course, you benefit the struggling auto industry! YAY!

Except...there's no guarantee that you're helping the environment here. Sure, the old vehicle has terrible fuel economy, but building new cars requires incredible amounts of energy as well. There's ore extraction, chemical treatments, electricity for all the machinery, etc. Does that balance against the pollution from extraction, refining, and combustion of more fuel? Was that even considered by the folks who sold this bill? I suspect this was pushed by the automotive industry to spur new car sales, but I haven't seen anything about a provision limiting the credit to purchases of American cars, so it may end up benefiting Toyota and Honda more than Ford and GM. Maybe it's all about saving money for the consumer? Perhaps, but for drivers that currently owe nothing on their cars, it's highly unlikely that the monthly gas savings will come close to a monthly payment.

Eh...I don't mean to sound so dismissive, but I feel like this is another band-aid idea that makes people think Congress and the White House are doing something helpful when it might only result in a further waste of money without helping that many people.

Following the Situation in Iran

The amount of real-time information on what's happening in Iran following the disputed presidential election from last Friday is encouraging if not a bit overwhelming. Who knows how an event like this would have played out ten years ago without the eyes of the world watching?

If you want to make some sense of what's going on, I recommend the New York Times Lede Blog, where you can refresh the page every so often for plenty of current information. If you want to partake in the deluge of information, unconfirmed and all, you could always take a look at Twitter as well, or at least while people inside Iran are still able to relay information about the situation on the ground.

My heart goes out to those people trying to voice their dissent. The rallies, by most accounts, started and remained largely peaceful until Ahmadinejad supporters around the country started interfering. And now all foreign press are getting shut out of direct reporting even while state-run media outlets sow lies and propaganda in an attempt to paint the opposition as the real problem.

Let's see what happens after this apparent re-count...

On Photography And Seething With Rage

This is one of the biggest myths with the law of taking photographs,” explains Bert Krages, a Portland, OR-based copyright attorney who has written books on photographers' rights and techniques. “There is no general prohibition against photographing federal buildings. There are statutes that prohibit photographing areas of military and nuclear facilities. But there are no laws against photographing other federal facilities, other than the right of all property owners to restrict activities that take place on their property. A federal office building manager cannot restrict photography when the photographer is situated outside the federal property boundary.

from "The War on Photographers" found on PopPhoto.com (published July 19th, 2006)

On Sunday evening Jake and I went downtown to take some night photographs (as evidenced by my previous post) and had a little run-in with a Federal Reserve police officer. We were standing on a public sidewalk at the river-bank side of the footbridge to Brown's Island, and I set down my tripod with my camera pointing up 7th street. Within a minute or so, a Federal Reserve police car came out of the gate, circled the fountain, and stopped with his lights on.

He stepped out of the car and asked us (politely) what we were doing. We indicated, essentially, that we were amateur photographers just taking pictures. My reminder that we were on public property was met by a stone wall, and we were told that we couldn't take pictures that included the building. You know, the building that's visible around the entire city of Richmond. Jake offered to show the officer what he'd already photographed, and I did the same. When Jake asked for a reason why we couldn't take pictures, the officer (still polite) said, simply, "Ben Bernanke." Wow.

I tried to calm Jake and myself down after leaving the scene because I thought there might be some justification in what the officer said. After all, the Richmond branch of the Fed is pretty important, and you never know whether the chairman of the Federal Reserve of the United States might be on site. But this has been nagging at me since that night.

Now I feel feeble and ashamed at giving in so easily. Jake and I were basically intimidated into taking our cameras elsewhere. Our Constitutional rights were violated by an overeager security staff that didn't understand the law. Part of me wants to go back there and take pictures directly of the building from the public sidewalk, just to make a point. Maybe I can even get pictures of the officer who comes out to politely harass and terrorize me.

And the other part of me doesn't want to cause Valerie the trouble and risk losing/damaging our new camera. But the truth is that I'm sitting here in my cubicle wanting nothing more than to go to some place where I can scream in anger at the top of my lungs.

It seems a Flickr user recently wrote to the Fed and received a vindicating response.

Smoke Out

WOOHOO!!! The smoking bill now heads to Governor Kaine's desk for his signature! And the dopey exclusion for times when minors weren't present has been removed. The original exclusions for private clubs and physically separate smoking areas with independent ventilation have remained, but those are fine by me.

After it's signed, the law will take effect December 1st of this year!


Holy Smokes, the ban on smoking in restaurants in Virginia passed today.

I'm getting mixed signals from the news, though - the Times Dispatch article to which I linked says there's more voting to be done. NBC 12, on the other hand, reported on the 6:00 news that the bill "now heads to Gov. Tim Kaine for approval, where it is expected to be signed into law." I'm guessing NBC is a little further ahead than the Times Dispatch (I hope so), but either way there's sure to be more detail as time passes. The main thing I'm trying to hear now is when the measure is to take effect. Some sources say October 1st while others say January 1, 2010. I'm hoping for the former :-)

UPDATE: Okay, so NBC 12 updated their story and removed the portion stating that it's moving to Kaine's desk. Regardless, it seems that at the latest VA restaurants could be smoke-free by the end of this year. I'm pumped!

UPDATE 2: Final word for now...so some of the bill's teeth were pulled. The delay is indeed 'till January 1, 2010. So it won't take effect this year. At least it will sometime, though. Additionally, the Times Dispatch reports that another more craptaculous exception was included to "allow smoking whenever minors are not allowed." Oh well. It's a start. It's a good thing that our state government was able to do anything here in the land of tobacco.

Virginia Restaurants May Go Smoke Free

Today is a glorious day in Virginia. Smoking looks like it could be completely banned from Virginia restaurants soon. Some private clubs are exempt, and so are restaurants with physically separated smoking rooms with independent ventilation, but over all this is fantastic! The will of the people will finally be represented on this issue!

Okay, so it's not law yet, it's just a bill, but it's apparently the strongest one yet crafted on the issue. There's support from both sides, and it's on it's way to the House Laws Committee. It sure would be nice if this was all settled in the next month or so...
(via RVANews)

I Voted.

Valerie and I arrived at our polling place (the Richmond Police Academy) this morning around 6:30 AM and cast our ballots an hour-and-a-half later. I voted in every open race except school board and congressman, since those two positions in my district are unopposed.

Now I'm going to enjoy my day off (and my birthday).

Flanders vs. Wallonia

Check out the BBC's article about the Belgian political situation. I never would have guessed that a modern Western European nation would have such divisions with the real (though not likely) chance of a split. The article was a fascinating read (since I knew very little of the small country), and packed quite a bit of information into the short space. I'm reminded of my need to pay attention to the world outside of United States borders, even (if not especially) during our intense election cycle.

Down the Tubes

Looks like Ted "Bridge-to-Nowhere" or "The-Internet-is-a-series-of-tubes" Stevens won't be in the Senate much longer.

The NY Times reports that investigations have led to an indictment and corruption charges for the senior senator from Alaska. Even if he survives the legal proceedings, I have a feeling there will be calls to step down to prevent further tarnishing of an already abysmal scene for Congressional Republicans over the past couple of years.

This certainly shouldn't help the impression of Congress on the whole for Americans who apparently approve of the legislature by less than 10%.

Closer than it really is...

Michael Grunwald's Time article about McCain spends most of its time discussing the long odds against the Arizona senator in the 2008 presidential election. His last paragraph really resonated with me, however:

That doesn't mean that anything's probable. The media will try to preserve the illusion of a toss-up; you'll keep seeing "Obama Leads, But Voters Have Concerns" headlines. But when Democrats are winning blood-red congressional districts in Mississippi and Louisiana, when the Republican president is down to 28 percent, when the economy is tanking and world affairs keep breaking Obama's way, it shouldn't be heresy to recognize that McCain needs an improbable series of breaks. Analysts get paid to analyze, and cable news has airtime to fill, so pundits have an incentive to make politics seem complicated. In the end, though, it's usually pretty simple. Everyone seems to agree that 2008 is a change election. Which of these guys looks like change?

This explains almost exactly (though not entirely) how I feel about the media's approach to this election cycle. Could it really be a close race? Maybe. But if it wasn't you'd hardly know. Remember when it was practically fact that Obama had knocked Clinton out of the primary race, but the media still clung to every last vote as if there was some chance Hillary would find a way?

I think Grunwald's right - unless there's some dramatic mistake or world event or who knows what else, this election looks pretty locked up for the junior senator from Illinois. But a done-deal doesn't make for good ratings or page views or sales of those dreadfully partisan books (from both sides) you see in the center tables at Barnes and Noble during election season.
(via Gruber)

Slippery Italian Slope

Many folks close to me know my obsession with many things Italian. While I'm only one quarter Sicilian, the prominence of my full-blood grandmother in my upbringing and the associated happy memories have fostered a deep love for the food, language, culture, and country of Italy.

But lately, I'm kinda pissed at the Italian government.

You see, it seems that they're performing a fingerprint census of all Roma (or Gypsy) people in their country - including the 90% which claim Italian citizenship - in an effort to "crack down on crime." This fingerprinting includes Roma children, but doesn't include any non-Roma Italians (sounds confusing, but this doesn't refer to residents of Rome).

I hope this sounds as obviously horrific to readers as it did to me and many in Italy's population. This is terribly similar in concept to how Germany treated Jews leading up to WWII; blame a minority ethnic group for societal woes (in Italy's case, theft and such) and set them apart, treating them differently than the rest of the population. That certainly snowballed into one of the greatest human tragedies in history.

Thankfully this isn't the 1930's, and the European Union took notice early on, so I don't foresee any larger-scale escalation without the intervention of the international community. There are currently political efforts within Italy and without to stop this practice, and I hope it picks up steam.

Seeing Green

According to CNN Money, the DC Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the US Dollar violates the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 because it's unfair to the blind. I think this decision is pretty cool, and I sure hope it spurs a change - however glacially slow a government change would be - in our currency to come in different sizes by denomination.

Maybe we could do something about the visual design of our currency while we're at it...