Thursday, February 03, 2005

Ayn Rand's 100th Birthday

No book influenced my thinking more than Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. It was first recommended to me by a girlfriend's mother when I was 18. I couldn't bring myself to wade through 1100 pages in the summer before college. I picked it up again when I was 26, and I was transformed from a liberal Democrat to a Libertarian. My premises were largely the same, but for the first time I began to see economic issues in terms of individual rights in the same way I had seen issues affecting other areas of life. My premise was and is the right to self-determination. I had missed that economic issues should be applied in the same way.

There are many fine tributes out there, and I will not duplicate them. Reason Magazine dedicated the cover of the current issue to Rand's 100th, and columnist Cathy Young's tribute is the feature article. Fellow Hoosier Libertarian Al Barger penned a tribute. The Ayn Rand Institute is hosting Rand Centenary Conferences, that are a bit pricey, but interesting. There is even a Rand fan dating service. It surprises me that the male-female ratio is only 3:1.

As for my own more personal tribute, I will stay at my desk until I fall asleep working.
Nutshell State of the Union Review

I'm not so big on Federal issues as some. Obviously, they greatly affect our lives and matter enormously. Yet, the state and local issues are the ones dearest to me.

That said, it was impossible to avoid watching the SOTU speech, and the opposition response, following an election. The campaigning is over, and the question for me is, 'Lame duck or hard-charging policy maker/legacy builder'? Clearly, Bush is going for the latter.

Here's my idealism showing: I expect a SOTU speech to say, 'this is where we were, this is where we are, and this is where we are going'. I found the speech to be long on emotion and rhetoric, and short on the boardroom report. New Indiana governor Mitch Daniels gave me more of what I expect of these kinds of missives.

Alas, the State of the Union Address is a President's hour on the bully pulpit. He is free to talk about whatever he wishes, and for as long as I can remember, these speeches have sounded more like ongoing campaigning than the boardroom report.

I was amused by Nancy Pelosi's part of the Democratic response. I was quickly interested as she also noted the emphasis of rhetoric in her complaint, but then my enthusiasm vanished as she offered her own rhetoric as the Democratic solution.

The honoring of the parents of the slain Marine was the touching high point. The embrace of the mother with the Iraqi woman fresh off her first vote was a most effective use of props. I'm a pretty tough critic, but I was very moved by the scene, especially as the mother held her son's dog tag, and the chain tangled in the Iraqi's dress. That's the kind of symbolism the speechwriting team wishes it could have staged.

Since Iraq and foreign policy is where the President will eternally hang his hat, the bulk of the speech revolved around these issues. Again, this is a disappointment to me, due to my deeper interest in domestic policy. When will we get out of Iraq? The President was as vague as possible. Will this War on Terrorism become an eternal campaign? The door is certainly open for it, but no obvious plan was set forth.

On the domestic side, Social Security was discussed in more detail than anything was, and made for me the clear distinction between Republicans, Libertarians, and Democrats on the issue.

Democrats have been posturing towards leaving the system alone to run as is, despite the obvious train wreck awaiting this Ponzi scheme, as more people enter the receiving side then enter the contributing side. Libertarians prefer anything from a complete elimination of the program (it's your money, take it all home and spend or invest it as you see fit) to a complete privatization. Bush is proposing middle ground to these, with a very gradual shift in the allocation of a small fraction of the contributions into private accounts. Bush and the Republicans clearly continue to agree with Democrats that government is correct to mandate that a percentage of one's income must be set aside into retirement accounts.

Notable: The budget will continue to have a structural deficit that builds upon the existing deficit. It's amazing that this Administration can make Democrats look fiscally responsible. Freezes in spending in some areas is nice, but cuts across the board would have been more than refreshing- it is the right thing to do.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Campaign Photos

Big thanks to Bob & Cindy Kirkpatrick for their work on my campaign photos. Bob shot the pics, while Cindy helped me with poses and in keeping the mood light.
The Glorious Acts of Our Legislature, II

If you are a legislator, why deal with the budget and other things that really matter when you can seem suitably busy writing laws that appear to make our streets safer?

First it was House Bill 1508, that would ban the use of cell phones. Now, it's Senate Bill 570, that would install the eye in the sky cameras designed to catch those who run a red light.

Once again, on the surface, this seems laudable enough. Nab those who blow through red lights automatically. The camera captures the image of the offender, the license plate number is observed, and the offender gets the fine in the mail.

Think a little deeper, though. If I have a legitimate emergency with my son, and I'm not willing to wait for the ambulance, I'll blow through every red light in town to get to the hospital, and I'm going to have a thousand dollars in fines to deal with. I'll do this every time in order to get my son the treatement he needs in an emergency situation.

When in a rough part of town at 2am at a deserted intersection, and there are menacing young men approach the vehicle waiting at the red light, it's not uncommon to see drivers blow through the red light without endangering anyone, and in fact, taking themselves out of danger.

Then, of course, there are the considerations of the costs of the cameras, and of Big Brother. Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson has chimed in, so that we'll all understand. From the Star:
"What's the difference between having a police officer sit there at an
intersection versus having a camera do it?" Peterson asked. "Red-light cameras
will significantly reduce the number of people running red lights."

The difference is discretion. A human being on patrol upon seeing an infraction can quickly deduce the danger created by running a red light. The officer pulls over the driver and learns whether the driver is drunk, impatient, or has a legitimate emergency. The camera takes none of this into account. It doesn't care whether running the light created any danger or not. Pass too late, pay a price.

This proposal is just as unnecessary as the proposed cell phone law. If you get in a wreck because you used a cell phone or ran a red light, you are at fault, and you get the citation. If you do either and nobody is harmed, should you be penalized for the harm that wasn't caused?

There are studies out there on this topic. The wind-up is that longer yellow lights help give drivers more time to make the stop before red.

There is poetic justice out there, too. In several locations, the owners of vehicles were getting scads of violation notices with fines for running red lights. These owners were the cities that installed the cameras. After all, nobody runs red lights more than police, fire, and other municipal emergency vehicles.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Glorious Acts of Our Indiana Legislature

I always have to remember to take a deep breath when examining the laws being proposed by our grand Legislature. I detest most of the new legislation on the table, but have to forgive our representatives in the House and Senate for it. After all, writing laws is what a Legislature does, and if they don’t write enough laws, it can begin to look like they’ve been loafing.

Call me strange, but I rather prefer a Legislature that goofs off and under produces new laws. I’m convinced we have enough of them already, and agree with Mark Twain, who famously said that no man’s life, liberty, or property is safe while the Legislature is in session.

Mainly, that is because no lawmaker wants to look like a slacker, especially so soon after an election. It’s bad form. As a result, we get some hideous proposals that I would chalk up as an effort to hide behind some broad good intention while looking meaningful, or at least busy.

House Bill 1508 is a textbook case as one such proposal.

Representative Vanessa Summers, an Indianapolis Democrat, has introduced legislation that would prohibit the use of cell phones, making exceptions for hands-free devices and for emergency use. The proposed fine for violations of the law would be up to $25. Indy Star story.

The intent is to make our streets a little less hazardous. We have all groused at the idiot guilty of driving while in conversation that cut us off or made us miss a light, and we have cursed the driver and his cell phone. Summers’ proposal takes its cue from similar laws passed in New York and the District of Columbia. As everyone knows, these cities now have the safest streets in the world.

This law is rife with problems, from practical application to the higher concerns of individual liberty.

I know four friends, right off the top of my head, who would gladly pay up to $25 per call, as a cost of doing business. They think this highly of each and every one of their calls. $25 is no kind of deterrent for these people.

What is emergency use? I define emergency use of a cell phone as a frantic call to a friend because I suddenly had two tickets offered to me for a Colts’ playoff game, and I have to accept within five minutes, or the tickets will be passed on to a co-worker. My wife defines it as having found a deal on furniture, and she’s on her way home so I can look at fabric swatches. I’m betting that this is not what the Representative had in mind. Some revisions will be in order.

But why just cell phones? If the real intent of the law is to eliminate distractions from our roadways, why not ban them all? Summers could justifiably expand the proposal to include a ban on smoking in the car, adjusting the radio or inserting a Britney Spears CD, eating fast food, scolding the rug rats in the backseat, talking with your spouse, shaving or applying makeup, doing the crossword puzzle, using a laptop computer, using on-screen directions to Starbucks, and rehearsing your excuse that explains your tardiness to the boss.

Could we really ban Britney Spears CDs? I digress.

Before the law is done with revisions, no common person will be able to read and understand it, and mainly, drivers will just continue to take their chances.

This begs the significant philosophical question: Why bother?

Isn’t it sufficient that citations can already be issued if the use of a cell phone is the cause of an accident? Why pile on? No harm, no foul: If the use of a cell phone isn’t endangering anyone in the moment, why penalize for the harm that was not caused?

Ah, the law is to be a deterrent, to eliminate the possibility of harm. But won’t it also become more than that? How much of a stretch is it to envision police pulling over drivers who endanger nobody on a deserted road at 11pm, but who are guilty of making a cell call, just so the officer can meet his monthly quota? Isn’t that a harm all its own?

Say, if the police pull a driver over to the side of the road, isn’t that the sort of distraction that could cause an accident? It should be banned!

Let’s hope this Bill dies in committee. If it passes, Summers will run for re-election in 2006 on the basis of having produced this wonderful law… and of having been suitably busy.