First, review this fine cautionary tale available here, courtesy of the ACLU:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNJl9EEcsoE

Now, I am no great fan of the ACLU, but credit where credit is due, this piece sums up the dangers of all those clever national IDs, government administered programs, linked databases, and GPS-enabled devices nicely. In fact, just two short years later, much of what is portrayed already exists:

  • businesses use caller-ID to recognize phones and link to customer information
  • even if the government didn’t give it out, businesses would certainly use a national ID number as a key—just as they use the SSN currently
  • your home address, birthday, name, etc. are all already keyed to the current equivalent of a national ID—your SSN
  • where you work is almost certainly on file—didn’t they ask the last time you applied for credit or a loan?
  • cell phones with GPS currently do broadcast your location to services that request that information—unless you configure them not to
  • businesses already assign delivery areas or prices by risk of the neighborhood—as those living near shady areas know—and as crime stats become more instantly available, this can only increase
  • as businesses partner to offer shared customer incentives, exchanging information about recent purchases and coupon offers is becoming commonplace
  • certainly whether your cards are maxed out is easy—a quick query to each card could do that

And some things, which have not yet come to pass (as it were) are terrifyingly likely:

  • currently legislation protects your health care information, but either government-run healthcare or single-payer schemes would require releasing it to the government at the least
  • legislation to allow the government to regulate food and lifestyle choices for health is already proposed—once the government’s actually paying for health-care, what will happen
  • currently the health-care industry and insurance industry would love to be notified about people’s purchases and force them to sign waivers—unlike them, government can actually enforce such desires
  • in our climate of constant fear of terror attacks, does opening travel itineraries to public scrutiny seem farfetched?

Horrifyingly, the only thing which seemed utterly ridiculous was libraries ever voluntarily making your reading choices public. But amazon.com on the other hand…

Clearly some of what is portrayed is fine, even useful, but some is frighteningly Orwellian.

So where should the line be drawn? Where does the scenario presented cross the line from convenience to surveillance? As technology advances it seems increasingly impossible to effectively compartmentalize information, so should we assume that whatever the government knows about us will find its way into private hands? And just how much should the government know about us, anyway?

Discuss amongst yourselves!

On January 22nd, 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down their decision in the case of Roe vs. Wade. Thirty-five years later, we’re down to about 1.2 million abortions in the US per year (down from 1.5 million at the high point) and abortion is legal in all 50 states for almost any reason. This leaves me with but one conclusion: the pro-life movement has been a complete and utter failure.

After 35 years of voting for “pro-life” candidates (a code word often meaning “Republican”), the political arm of the pro-life movement has little to show for their efforts beside parental notification laws in 34 states and a partial birth abortion ban that Justice Kennedy practically begged someone to challenge. All, in all, the pro-life movement has had marginally more success than American Medical Marijuana Association despite the “support” over the years of many prominent politicians. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me for 35 years running, and I’m a pro-life activist.

To the credit of the pro-life movement, more and more people are realizing that doing the same thing over and over again will not yield different results. Germain Grisez admitted as much a few years back, but he never had the audience to make enough of a difference. On January 20th, in a move guaranteed to generate a firestorm of letters from irate EWTN fans, Fr. Benedict Groeschel invited a man to his show by the name of Msgr. Phillip Reilly, who was willing to speak the truth and unmask the pro-life movement’s work for what it is: a failure. Msgr. Reilly realized this a few years back and decided to try a radically different approach: no more shouting and yelling, no more making young mothers feel like they were evil incarnate because they were contemplating abortion. Msgr. Reilly founded the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants. The weapons he chose were not sound bites, placards or the ballot box, but rather prayer and love… for the baby, the doctor and most especially, the mother, regardless of what choice she made inside the clinic. The approach is not particularly new — prayer & sidewalk counseling has been around for a long time — but his willingness propose it as a model opposed to the traditional shout and vote approach was quite impressive.

Whether folks will listen to Msgr. Reilly or not is anyone’s guess. But perhaps come January 22nd, next year, there will be be a little less failure… and a little more hope thanks to Msgr. Reilly. There are a lot of moms out there who could use it.

One thing you notice about the English is that they have a strange desire for discomfort. From their clunky phones to their clunky faucets, they seem to revel in being slightly “behind the times.” But, to their credit, they don’t generally carry this viewpoint over into actual legislation. You may be expected to be miserable, but you aren’t really required to be.

If only the French would learn to do the same.

Their latest assault on the finer things in life comes in the form of repeated assaults on Internet businesses for, among other things, free shipping for books. Yes, it turns out that offering free shipping is considered a discount on the “publisher’s recommended price” of the books involved. And, in France, the publisher’s price is considered more sacred than, well, sacred writ itself. You can disregard the Holy Bible if you like, but never the Holy BIEF.

Of course the obvious, and intended, effect of this nonsense is to give local booksellers a clear advantage over remote ones. After all, the local bookseller certainly doesn’t pay the “publisher’s recommended price” for the book, so the shipping he has to pay for is carefully hidden from the customer within his profit margin. Amazon used to do the same with the final costs to cover shipment to the buyer, but, as the French High Court has ruled that shipping is a discount and not to be allowed.

Lest you think this is some odd byproduct of a particular French love of books and booksellers, such price controls and draconian regulation is commonplace throughout the French economy. Consider the mess eBay stepped in when it expanded to France. As a site offering goods for sale, matching buyers with sellers, and providing extensive support for, well, auctions, eBay would seem to be guilty of the French charge of being an auctioneer. And, therefore, of offering an online auction without a permit. There is no news yet whether the French will also try to close down physical auctions in the United States. After all, what’s to stop some unscrupulous American auctioneer from allowing proxy phone votes from France?

Ah, the French. All the hubris of an actual world power, if none of the actual power.

And before someone responds that these are clearly just holdovers from an older, more genteel age, and need to adapt to the Wired Century, consider that the auction authority which is attacking eBay was formed in 2000. Far from adapting to the modern age, the French are deliberately and systematically targeting it for destruction. Their hatred of competition and free trade is so great that they’re actively expanding government power to put a stop to it.

So, let’s give them the win. Since they want to be insulated from the vile freedom of the Internet, let’s acknowledge their right to do so and simply prevent any and all traffic in or out of France to any e-commerce site located in the United States (or in any nation that wishes to join our virtual embargo). If the French fear having to compete on a global stage so greatly, let’s remove not only their need to do so, but their ability.

In short, it’s time to wall France off…at least virtually.

The current restaurant trend is tapas. For those of you who don’t dine out much at “nice” places, American-style tapas involves a bunch of small dishes of mostly quasi-Mediterranean “fusion” food ordered a la carte, which are sampled by everyone at the table “family style.”

Pah.

I don’t pay good money to have to pass a bunch of stupid little dishes filled with pretentious food I don’t understand around a table. Tapas can return to whatever culinary fad hole it crawled out of as far as I am concerned.

This rant is inspired by two recent events, my reading of this Dec. 5, New York Times article and my going to a Japanese “japas” restaurant with some relatives on roughly the same day. (I name no names to protect the innocent and guilty both.) I’d been to the restaurant a few years ago and liked it quite a bit, but the menu had changed from being more traditional Japanese restaurant, which always had a fair bit of a la carte on the sushi menu, of course, to “japas.” There were no entrees at all, just a long list of small dishes mostly priced between $3 and $8, with a few over that. No clue as to what they were, no clue as to what goes with what, how big anything is, and so on. The waiter was a useless ‘tard (both kinds). Now I’m not especially fond of Japanese food but can usually find something decent on the menu, for instance one of the Japanese adaptations to please the Western palate, shrimp tempura. There was a shrimp dish (“sweet shrimp”) which I ordered hoping that it was shrimp tempura… when the plate showed up with small shrimp in the shell with heads still on I realized the answer was a resounding no. Sure they were breaded and fried but definitely not shrimp tempura and definitely not satisfying either. I ended up ordering something else which was OK… but of course added to the bill, which added to my dissatisfaction. More on that below.

Basically, the whole phenomenon is just an upscale reinvention of an old American classic: the buffet. The big difference is that at a buffet, all your choices (as incoherent they may be) are laid out in front of you and are usually pretty simple stuff like mac ‘n’ cheese, steamed vegetables, overcooked roast beef, etc. With tapas, you’re sitting down at your table facing a menu with a blizzard of dishes. Some are straightforward, such as mixed olives or bread and olive oil, but most suffer with vague, pretentious fusion cuisine titles like:

  • “Roasted beets with goat cheese vinaigrette”
  • “Hazelnut-crusted wilted arugula with maple goat cheese vinaigrette”
  • “Rabbit with wilted arugula, goat cheese and nuts”
  • “Watermelon goat cheese salad with citrus vinagrette”
  • “Wild bighorn sheep sausage with blueberry mustard goat cheese vinaigrette.”

Goat cheese and vinagrette for EVERYONE! The standard tapas menu is the culinary equivalent of “feature vomit.” Given the questionable edibility of most fusion cuisine, it’s none too far from being the actual, honest-to-goodness kind, too, especially after one’s third Grey Goose appletini in two hours, coupled with those cigarettes “smoked only on weekends.” Unsurprisingly, the Spanish—inventors of tapas—practice it more sensibly. Basically, it’s bar food, something Americans aren’t exactly ignorant of. That’s right, tapas is just the Spanish version of buffalo wings, peanuts, fries, etc., except it’s olives, bread with toppings, etc., which restaurateurs in the US have convinced the public should cost a bundle. And who ever thought bar food was a good deal? 😉

Diners are, as the New York Times article linked above, supposed to like this because of Americans’ desire for more choice, whether we need it or not. As far as I’m concerned, tapas is just another way to fleece me out of my hard-earned money while making me agonize over picking a meal, but I’m one of those seemingly relatively rare people who hates shopping, and tapas brings all the joy of accessorizing to the dinner table. Behavioral economics tells us that, from the standpoint of the retailer, tapas makes sense: Many small transactions are more easily overlooked than larger ones and it’s easier to get diners to spend more thereby. Of course my discontent is also understandable—too many choices and too many transactions can be disconcerting. If you want a nice short introduction, look at Swarthmore psychologist Barry Schwartz‘s little book The Paradox of Choice, which explains quite nicely why more choice isn’t always better for our own well-being. (Read this review for a short course.) In a nutshell, each choice we have to make involves cognitive effort on our part, and a comparison with all the other choices we could have made but ended up rejecting. All this comparison is tiring and opportunity cost is a stone-cold bee-otch, if you’re aware of it. Schwartz characterizes two basic ideal-type cognitive styles: maximizers and satisficers. Maximizers carefully compare their options. Satisficers, by constrast, are willing to settle for “good enough” and move on. Evidently I am a “maximizer” when it comes to meals at good restaurants… and, at least according to Schwartz, maximizers are unlikely to be happy about what they get because they spend more time comparing their options, paying attention to opportunity costs, and so on. Tapas is, therefore, pretty much guaranteed to piss me off. (I’m better at satisficing in other choices, fortunately.) I admit a lot of this is my descent to fogey-ism. I don’t like the “mix tape on steroids” that is the modern Ipod playlist and I never play albums on shuffle either. I hate surprise parties. I have a decidedly unfashionable desire for a coherent whole, be it an album or a meal, and tapas (of whatever variety) doesn’t deliver it for me. The fact that it’s a way to run up the tab just nails it.

The only good tapas experience I’ve ever had was a few years back in Minneapolis. The restaurant was not my choice, but I was with friends…. The waitress had the sense to suggest that we “course” the meal and let the kitchen take over. She asked us for a basic list of our preferences and went back to the kitchen. So “choice”—if you want to have a good experience, anyway—is an illusion, too.

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Aside: You may notice the “fascism” tag. I have decided—out of deference to Angry Midwesterner—to tag all my rants with “fascism” from here on out. I give it a fig leaf of justification with Spain’s experience under the dictator Generalissimo Francisco Franco, the man about whom Adolf Hitler said “I would rather spend two hours in the dentist’s chair than have another meeting with him.” Franco would have enjoyed tapas. So there. 😛

Occasionally on The 12 Angry Men, we will post rants from invited guests. In lieu of our normally scheduled segment, today we feature an invited rant, from an Angry Guest Woman. You may remember our current guest from her previous appearence when she ranted about poor service, and tipping. – The Staff of The 12 Angry Men

My company, like many others, decided a few years ago to outsource all IT-related work in an effort to “save money” and have more “effective” business practices by limiting the people who worked on our IT systems to “specialists.” Of course, in reality, we ended up with the opposite situation.

Sure, there were the comical incidents associated with initial setup. Like the time I ordered my first Linux box through the new IT contract. It arrived, carried by a teen-aged-looking guy with slicked-back hair, wearing chains, presumably required to keep his pants covering the bottom half of his boxer shorts, whose cologne I started to smell about 10 minutes before he entered my building. He had a set of Linux CD’s in his hands and absolutely no clue how to use them. I ended up giving him a lesson on how to install Linux. (He had never done this before whereas I had trouble remembering how many Linux boxes I had installed.) He insisted on driving the entire time because he was the “specialist” and I was not. Incidentally, upon completion of my setup, several key settings needed to be fixed. Yet I was not allowed to have the root password or su power on my box so I had to keep calling the teenager and his associates to do things like set the correct date on my box. Each time he had to call me to ask how to do this; or just give me the password and then change it again when I was done. Apparently setting the date and time is not intuitive to some IT professionals.

Since then, I have taken the company’s system administration certification exam, applied to administer my own box, and have had relatively few problems, except having to re-negotiate my status every time someone new sees I’m defying the system. But, my boxes have consistently worked, no thanks to our IT contractors.

Well — until the *only* thing of mine over which IT has control, my email, stopped working yesterday. I kept getting weird server errors whenever my email program attempted to connect to the server to send/receive messages. After we went through the normal process of me calling; getting someone who has never heard of email but promises to have someone else call me back; and 5 different people calling me back with different reasons why it didn’t work AFTER insisting that clearly their server errors must be caused by the fact that I’m running Linux and my telling them they’re full of it because server errors occur *on* the server, we have the problem solved. Despite the fact that I was told that IT did not know they were going to start expiring passwords, apparently my email password had expired. But they couldn’t tell this had happened and they couldn’t notify me of the status of my email account because… get this… (this is my favorite IT excuse EVER) they didn’t have my email address!!!!! I should win an Oscar for making it through two phone calls this morning without bursting into laughter while two different men explained to me in very serious voices that my email address was not in their system (the system of the people who CREATED and ASSIGNED my email address and who RUN the email servers!) and that they needed to enter it. The first guy called to inform me of this epiphany. The second one called to check that they had entered my email address correctly. I presume both of them found my phone number in our company directory. (Incidentally, my copy of the company directory also lists email addresses.)

My sides hurt now.

When I stopped laughing, I was still unable to change my password because the web interface, which is the only way to do this from Linux, was broken. In response, IT has just released a statement saying that all of their problems are being caused by people running non-standard desktops and has issued a ruling that everyone must now use the same standard Windows desktop, with a few exceptions for Mac. I have been ordered to give up all of my boxes and replace them with one Windows box, which will have exactly the same installation as every other box at the company, including the machines running specialized equipment in the research labs and the box they give to our secretary. Did I mention that my job is to do research? I write experimental software for a living. On a machine with no compilers (because why does the secretary across the hall need a compiler?), this should be very interesting. Then there’s the issue that a lot of the software is written for operating systems that are not Windows… I complained to the decision-making head of IT about this change and he didn’t see a problem. Why am I not surprised? Probably because the person I spoke to didn’t know what a compiler was.

I’m off to fight again for the right to have a computer I can use to do work on. Please, if you’re a manager out there, think long and hard before outsourcing your IT department to another company. Each year or three we change IT contract companies, but they’re all the same: they charge you too much; pay their employees so little that none of them stay to complete the “training” process; and waste your employees time while contributing to your IT problems instead of solving them. Then they fill out their own “customer reviews” instead of sending them to the employees, like they’re supposed to, so they insure they will keep the contract. I’ll hold out as long as I can in an effort to be able to effectively do my job. Each time our entire building is taken down by a computer virus and my Linux box is one of the few machines left standing, I’ll take the time to smile and feel vindicated.

– Angry East Coast Guest Woman

As we approach Christmas (or as the quaint locals here call it: “Parking Lot Season”), I thought it would be helpful to present to the world a list of things that don’t make me angry. Many many things fail to deliver on their promises, and so few live up to them that I feel it’s valuable to offer to you, fair reader, a few gems that in my own personal experience, don’t suck.

Item 1
Situations High-Back Microsuede Manager’s Chair, Black

Having done heavy computer use for years being only supported by my friends, family, and a folding chair, my lumbar was in need of some lumber. Bringing about much relief was this chair. It’s cheap (by chair standards), easy to assemble, and — most importantly — it doesn’t suck. There’s a headrest if you feel like using it, and enough controls to get you comfortable( up/down, tilt/no tilt, and tilt-tension ) without the ridiculous Aeron problems of 1) needing a chair technician and 2) always having that sneaking suspiscion that your chair adjustment could be more optimal.

Unfortuntely for you, fair reader, this chair seems to be discontinued. If you can find it anywhere (ebay?), it doesn’t suck.

Cost: $70.
Savings: back spasms.
Overall Rating: Doesn’t suck.

Item 2
Best Wheel Products Folding Hand Truck

Mrs. Angry Immigrant and I are moving to a new apartment, so I popped out to the atrocity that is the local mega-strip mall and picked up one of these folding hand carts. While compared to a real hand truck this is a glorified luggage cart, you don’t need anything more for moving boxes of books.

It holds ~200 lbs of boxes without breaking (it wobbles, but doesn’t fall down). It has big wheels for a small unit, it folds up very flat, and it’s light enough that it’s easier to carry it than roll it when it’s empty.

Cost: $40.
Savings: taking 3 boxes to the car per trip instead of one (and the aforementioned back spasms)
Overall Rating: Doesn’t suck.

Item 3
Forearm Forklift

These (admittedly hideously colored) straps help transfer the weight of bulky objects so that you can maintain good lifting posture and use larger muscles when trading your valuable weekend time for pizza & beer while helping people move.

Especially helpful for mattresses where there are no good handholds, these let you concentrate on steering through doorways rather than just maintaining your grip. When my parents moved a few years ago, Dad stumbled on these, and it really made the whole thing a lot smoother. Yes they’re “as seen on TV”, but that doesn’t mean it’s a 100% cheap plastic kitchen gadget.

Cost: $25
Savings: Helps get a grip on bulky objects, saves back strain (notice a theme?)
Overall Rating: Doesn’t suck.

Item 4
Firefox keywords

Hopefully everyone visiting this site already uses Firefox. If not, please stop reading and go install it. Unless you’re reading from work. Then send an email to your sysadmin (copy your PHB) insisting that he install this on all company workstations. Then continue reading.

They’re quick, they’re easy, and they help you quickly navigate to common places you have to get to. To set it up, right-click over any search input box, and select “Add a Keyword for this Search”. Next time you want to ask the Internet a question, just use the keyword.

The company I work for uses web-based source code navigation tools, so I use these to quickly move through the code and the versioning system databases rather than starting at the search page each time.

Cost: One right-click
Savings: Repetitive Typing Time
Overall Rating: Doesn’t suck

Item 5
Heat-reflective Window film

Given that the local pagan populace here is so amazingly adept at appeasing their sun god with burnt offerings of Malibu canyon homes and other low-lying shrubbery, it’s important for those of us with south-facing patio windows to take steps to repel the major effects of the day star.

Although this is a little annoying to install, (and looks terrible if you do it wrong) the effect is immediate and significant. After applying the film to one patio door, you could feel the difference between the heat still coming through that one relative to the heat coming through the empty door. It’s basically like sunglasses for your house.

It made my living room much more bearable as the outside temperatures got over 110F in the summer. Plus the shininess adds to the privacy for a window that’s a bit too close to a sidewalk for my taste.

Cost: $50
Savings: gallons of sweat, and $$ on A/C bill.
Overall Rating: Doesn’t suck

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s a start. Your mileage may vary.

Merry Parking Lot Season!

Fellow blogger Pascal has an interesting story running today about how WordPress is using Google Adsense to display advertisements, without annoying its users. From the article:

If you’re a regular reader (let alone poster) on WordPress.com, cookies will prevent you from seeing ads. Regular readers don’t click ads anyway, they’re there for the content. Ads would be off-putting and keep readers from becoming contributors.

But it turns out it is far more clever than just keeping ads out of view of regular users. WordPress also pays attention to how you found out about a specific blog:

Chances are you never visited Kris Hoet’s blog* – Kris is EMEA Marcom man for Msn/Windows Live. Although he has it mapped on his own domain crossthebreeze.com, the blog is hosted by wordpress.com. Yet if I refer you to his holiday report, you won’t see any ads either, even as a first time visitor, even if you delete your crossthebreeze.wordpress.com or crossthebreeze.com cookies (this cookie-killing Firefox extension will save you time).

However, if you land there by accident after a Google search, things are different. You’re quite likely not to be interested by his blog, but more by bars in Kota Kinabalu… The served ads (fitting your search terms even more than the content of the post) offer a convenient click away.

It’s quite an interesting model, and an incredibly smart way to show advertisements, make a little money, and yet still be a good net citizen. Read more at Pascal’s Blog, and from the WordPress Staff on this interesting and innovative idea.

-Angry Midwesterner


The first time I saw you
Oh, you looked so fine
And I had a feeling
One day you’d be mine
Penny lover, don’t you walk on by
Penny lover, don’t you make me cry

–Lionel Richie, “Penny Lover

Back in 1976, my five year old self—doubtless dressed in a velour shirt with a big zipper ring and a collar, Toughskin jeans and tennis shoes, all from the Sears catalog—was given a giant cookie tin of pennies by some relative (about $3 worth) and it was love at first sight, just like the song. It seemed like a fortune to me and I concocted grandiose “kid mind” plans for what I planned to do with it, which of course went nowhere. I have no idea what I spent it on, but it was probably Legos (this was pre-Star Wars). In today’s dollars it is about $11. Roughly speaking every fifteen years, inflation makes a dollar worth about half as much in terms of buying power. 1976 was thirty-one years ago so now my cookie tin of pennies would buy about 25% of what it did back then.

Penny and I have long since fallen out of love. It’s really very simple: Due to inflation, pennies really don’t buy anything anymore and are more of a nuisance than anything else. The last thing I recall them buying was Tootsie Rolls and other “penny candy”, an item many small grocery stores used to have on their counters by the register to tempt Junior into whinging until Mom gave in and Junior got a Tootsie Roll. At least the horribly sticky things kept Junior’s mouth shut until the groceries were stowed in the station wagon, though they did make for higher dental bills down the line. Still, the tradeoff was worth it. These seemed to have disappeared sometime in the mid ’80s, but I admit to having ceased looking around then. I’m sure it’s nickel candy now.

Now pennies are almost completely worthless. One of my favorite op-ed writers, Sebastian Mallaby, currently of the Washington Post and formerly of The Economist, in The Penny Stops Here provides a nice analysis of why pennies aren’t worth it and that, in fact, getting rid of nickels makes good economic sense too. Dimes are on the edge. Let me go down the reasons:

  • They cost the government more to produce then they are worth. Pennies ceased being made of copper in the early 80s when copper ended up being worth markedly more becoming wire rather than being pocket change. Copper-coated zinc was substituted and all the copper pennies were melted down. While this leads to a cool DIY chemistry experiment, it also lead to much less pennies-on-railroad-tracks copper jewelry. Now the zinc in a penny has become more expensive. This means that pennies cost us more money since we pay for the currency in circulation through taxes. To understand just what this means, here’s a story about the rampant smuggling of rupees from India to Bangladesh to turn them into razor blades, which sell for way more than the rupee coin’s face value. That’s right, you could be shaving with former rupees….
  • The main advantage of coins is the fact that they last a long time, something you can see easily by looking at the dates on the coins in your pocket. So even if a coin costs somewhat more than its face value (so long as it’s not too much more), it might be a net gain. Unfortunately pennies are frequently out of circulation sitting in garbage dumps, penny jars, on the floor of the car, in furniture, etc., so there’s little hope to recoup the cost via savings over the lifespan of the coin.
  • Transaction costs due to handling pennies are not huge but certainly not chump change. For instance, stores pay about $.60 for a roll of 50 pennies due to rolling costs and just guess who this cost gets passed on to? Due to inane managerial policies, many stores won’t allow the nearly ubiquitous penny jar. This leads to pointless fumbling during transactions, which takes up yet more time.
  • In addition to making small change, the big advantage of coins is the fact that they work in vending machines, parking meters, etc. These machines will happily take nickels, dimes and quarters… but no pennies. Why? Because pennies would take up too much room in the coin collection hopper. Vending machine operators would love to see the dollar coin gain acceptance and I bet would be happy with a two dollar coin like they have in Canada, too (which, by the way, are a fantastic idea, but that is for another day), because bill changers are notorious for breaking.
  • Removing the penny would also make room for a dollar coin, which would save the Treasury, well, a mint. Dollar bills get the absolute crap kicked out of them in circulation and are replaced constantly.
  • Pennies are even more worthless these days because so many transactions are electronic, in which case the rounding necessary in a system without them—which averages out to not cost us anything anyway—doesn’t matter at all. There are some worries, of course: I worry about prices and sales taxes getting futzed with, but honestly, so long as that doesn’t happen much, it should be fine.

There’s predictable opposition from the zinc industry, of course, but screw them deep and hard. They can find corporate welfare elsewhere or, better yet, not at all—the price of their commodity is going up after all. There’s opposition from the State of Illinois because Lincoln is on the penny and as we are constantly reminded, Illinois is… Land of Lincoln. Now I admire Abraham Lincoln probably way more than the next guy ever since I spent a lot of time reading about the Civil War several years back, but he’s safe on the five dollar bill. (Take the time to read American history as an adult. It’s worth it.) It would take some serious inflation indeed to nuke the five spot. I worry more about George Washington—someone I also admire a lot more than the next guy—on the quarter and dollar bill, but at historic rates of inflation which has a halving of current money value for every fifteen years, give or take, quarters won’t be worth essentially nothing for a few decades yet. The Mint has shown that they can strike coins of different types, for instance the “states” quarters and the “dead presidents” dollar coins, which will give luminaries like Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge their sole opportunity to be on money. So they can make sure to put plenty of dead politicians on our money, or maybe they could go back to the old days before politicians’—no matter how worthy—were on the money entirely. The first presidential head on coins was in 1909… Lincoln, on the penny. It was controversial.

Penny lover, walk on by….

Mildly Piqued Academician

(First in a series about the currency of the USA.)

In a move of extreme brilliance, US Officials removed the ban on lighters for commercial flights. When asked why this move was made, Kip Hawley, the Assistant Secretary for the Transportation Security Administration said,

Taking lighters away is security theater. It trivializes the security process… The No. 1 threat for us is someone trying to bring bomb components through the security check point. We don’t want anything that distracts concentration from searching for that.

While I applaud the general idea of getting rid of the obscene clutter of useless security theatrics, I have to question the logic of someone who thinks that passengers should be allowed to bring pressurized explosives on a flight, but not toothpaste, mouth wash, or Diet Coke. Furthermore, unlike common toiletries, there is absolutely no need for someone to bring tiny frangible containers of butane on a flight, given that all flights have been non-smoking since 1989.

I applaud the savings this move will bring to US tax payers (an alleged $4 million annually), I think we would all be safer and more secure if the US Gov’t would cut the entire $6 billion waste it is currently funneling into the Theatre of Security Administration every year. I mean, it isn’t as if our bags weren’t x-rayed prior to the creation of TSA, after 9/11, and I can think of plenty of safety features which could be purchased for $6 billion a year that would be far more productive than the current stage production.

-Angry Midwesterner


As I was walking my dog this morning, I walked past a day care center. Every morning I have to dodge cars making rapid blind turns into this establishment. It is located across a field from a local fire station. This morning, as I walked past, the fire alarm went off. Now this is a loud abrasive buzzing accompanied by several bright xenon strobes flashing. Day care operators dutifully herded their charges out the west doors onto the playground and across the field you could watch the firemen don their heavy rubberized coats and climb into their trucks. Let’s stipulate that there was a large amount of ‘optical and aural input’ available.

Yet as I watched (after dodging their turns), several moms exited the cars and led their children INTO the building. Into the loud buzzing, strobe flashing, entrance, which was in plain view of the playground where most of the children were gathered. Into a probable burning building. And not just one parent, either, but several—one after another, as I watched.

I was contemplating the stupidity and total recklessness of this behavior as the fire trucks arrived. One mom even walked her child around the fire truck and into the building. Now it was true that there were no visible flames, and no smoke that I could see, however, a prudent person usually allows the fire inspector/fire chief to make the determination that the building is, in fact, not on fire. Fires are tricky things.

Bursting through my consideration of the intellectual capacity of people who apparently try to set the record for the minimum time to detatch a young child from their busy and highly scheduled life, came the glint of an understanding. Americans are addicted to convenience , and investigating the possibility that your child might not be safe in a potentially burning building would be —well, inconvenient. Moms, after all, have to get to work on time, and bosses are so inconsiderate about leeway for tardiness for such things as making sure your children are safe. Best get the child to the caregiver where she can handle the situation.

Americans tolerate high gas prices. We are a mobile society. Good public transportation is available at a fractional ( and subsidized) cost of owning a car. But, you know, it’s so … inconvenient. The bus only comes around every 20 minutes, and the trips are at least 40 minutes long with those inconvenient stops to pick up other people.

Most supermarkets have a fresh food section. Raw broccoli stacked on iced shelves has given way to microwavable bags of cut broccoli. Fresh fruit and vegetables, and raw ingredients such as flour, and fresh meat comprise perhaps 15% of the store’s floor area. The rest is given over to bagged food, frozen prepared meals, sliced and prepared meats (even the fresh meat section has pre-marinated chickens, stuffed fish, peppered filets), and cans and cans of highly processed food. All very convenient.

Internet sex sites? Very convenient — avoids the problems of building a relationship. Everything you dated to find out is strewn out in explicit detail.

Americans are the most productive people in the world. The gross state product of even a medium state exceeds that of say Russia. Americans can do this because they are absolved of the inconveniences of preparing foods, riding transportation to work, having romantic relationships with people in the real world, or even exhibiting concern about the safety of their children.

The 9/11 attack in New York irritated people because it was highly inconvenient —for Mayor Guillani, — disrupting the nicely flowing pattern of lives with inconvenient items such as falling concrete, flames, choking dust and mounds of debris, not to mention having to consider that “someone doesn’t like America’ which doesn’t fit in to the convenient conceptual framework established by the media, Madison Avenue and the barrage of stimuli that directs your drinking, buying, selling, eating and sleeping habits.

Fortunately, we had a convenient resource available—the US Military, which we could send out to tidy up all of this nasty inconvenience in the form of radical Taliban governments and genocidal Baathist dictators. But sadly we had forgotten how inconvenient some of these things—like obtaining democracy—could be. We actually have to make sacrifices.

Fortunately, for most of us, this war on inconvenience, is not itself a source of inconvenience. Aside from the annoying increases in the cost of gasoline, and the continual barrage of combat KIA statistics in the media, our lives haven’t changed much. The sacrifices made are limited — scarcely a fraction of those who are killed by our use of the convenient automobile.

In World War II, we fought another war on inconvenience. In the 1940’s however, we weren’t so productive, and as a result, fighting that war required us to substantially alter our lifestyles. We allowed, even pushed, women into the work force; voluntarily limited our consumption of meat, sugar, rope, and a plethora of other materials, all rationed in the effort to support the military; and accepted a significant curtailment of our rights. And as a result of this, everyone was affected by the war. Everyone had a stake in the outcome.

With our productivity level today, in order to subject the population to the 1940’s level of sacrifice and commitment, we would have to broaden the war on inconvenience to significantly stress our economy. To ensure that every child toting mom at the daycare understood that the United States was making a committment to democracy and freedom, one that would curtail her addiction to convenience, we would have to simultaneously declare war on Iran, Syria, Russia, Nigeria, Venezuela and Somalia while rendering assistance to Darfur, Kosovo, the rest of the Balkans, with the occasional side trip to Sumatra to provide earthquake and tsunami relief.

Hmmmm.