Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

Month: January 2008 Page 1 of 3

Thursday Night Music

If this were a world with reincarnation, I’d happily return as any of the leads in these:



New Arlington Decal: Is This A Joke?

“Obedience to lawful authority is the foundation of manly character.”

– (Confederate) General Robert E. Lee

Is this a joke? If it isn’t, Arlington County apparently expects me to prominently display a sticker on my car featuring that quote. Serving as the background to this quote is a waving American flag, with the Pentagon superimposed. Are you )(*&@#ing kidding me?

Now, a bit of background for the 99.5% of my readers not living in Arlington. Arlington County residents pay a property tax on their cars every year, and a decal is issued as evidence of payment of this tax. These decals are placed in the center of the windshield of the car. The Arlington County Treasurer, some number of years ago, decided to hold a competition for the yearly design change. Local high school students submit proposed designs, and then (I believe) Arlington residents who bother to send in a ballot from the Arlington Sun-Gazette or go to the Treasurer’s website vote on it. Some years this yields a rather ugly result, other years it’s fine. This is the current sticker, featuring the new Air Force Memorial. Nice enough.

I find this new design unbelievable on a number of levels, including the fact that it actually garnered the most votes from Arlington residents. I’m going to choose to believe that those voting for it simply couldn’t read the quote, and just liked the American flag and Pentagon (which is located in Arlington). That’s ugly, but fine. But what in the world made Arlington Treasurer Frank O’Leary think that a design featuring a Confederate general’s quote about submitting to authority with the flag and Pentagon in the background is appropriate for Arlington? Sure, the final designs were voted on by Arlington residents, but the pool of finalists was selected by his office in the first place.

That quote – which, by the way, comes from here – is something you’ll never see on my car. I – and I hope you, if you live in Arlington – will be in touch with Mr. O’Leary soon.

Note: as soon as I can find a graphic of the decal, I’ll post it here. Until then, the first link to the Sun Gazette story is the best place to find a picture. Also, while I find this an unacceptably inappropriate design for a public application, I don’t mean to criticize, in any way, the student that came up with it.

Update: I just got off the phone with Mr. O’Leary (you can’t fault Arlington government for being inaccessible). The short version: There are no plans for an alternative design, but Arlington residents are free to cut out the picture/quote from the center of the sticker. So long as the number is displayed, he views it as a valid sticker and isn’t aware of any ordinance to the contrary. Is that enough? Or should Arlington be reconsidering whether this is what we want to pay to have manufactured and displayed on every car in the county? We’ll see.

Update II: This is the sticker (thank you to MJ) –

Arlington County Tax Sticker

Going Once, Twice . . .

Bill Stewart auctions off a Dremo's tap

Bill Stewart auctions off one of the old Dremo’s beer taps. The final semi-public night for the place had Bill and Andrew auctioning off most anything in sight. It was a curious mix, with the majority of attendees apparent onlookers, a few serious buyers (at least a couple of people were clearly buying for other bars), and a number of folks interested in specific low-value items (that would be me).

The first sale of the evening was a new Camel-branded metal ashtray for 25 cents. Notable sales included $250 for the metal silo (known as the Sin Bin, for those of us recalling the Bardo days), $15 for the (ex) parrot, and $100 (plus an unknown amount in transport costs) for the Dremo’s totem.* Ridiculous little items went, too, including a $1 paper Spaten flag, menus, etc. Surprisingly, none of the pool tables sold (if you’re willing to spend between $500-800, I suspect you could get them to part with one between now and Thursday). Much to my annoyance, a Dremo’s employee beat me out on the sole item I was interested in, but I did end up with a bit of classic Bardo art (I’ll have to take a picture and post, sometime).

Greg Kitsock (WaPo beer critic, among many other things) was there and taking notes (as well as winning a Foggy Bottom poster for the princely sum of $3), so I’m sure you’ll soon be able to read more about it.

(The last night actually open and serving was a brief affair, for me. Saturday turned out to be a long sad day after a great but long Friday night, and it was all I could do to haul us into Bardo’s for one last drink. The final round consisted of Dremo’s James Brown Ale and Dogfish 60 Minute IPA (they were out of Racer 5). After I noticed the fifth girl with glitter on her face, I realized that there were probably more people in the bar that had never been than not. This bittersweet fact turned to a bit of pleasure when we exited to find a long line of Clarendon Ballroom refugee tourists shivering on the sidewalk, waiting to be let in.)

*The Dremo’s totem was rescued by a long time customer who “just didn’t want to see it in the dump”, and will soon be making its appearance in his backyard (as soon as he figures out how to get it there). He told me that if they want it back when (if?) they reopen, they can have it.

We Now Return To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Well.  Erm.  Hmm.  Sorry about that.  Wasn’t planned.

I do not expect, however, to have anything to say about tonight’s State of the Union (because really . . . why?).  However, if you’d like to hear my take on a SotU address, check out this post from 10 years ago.  Not exactly the most insightful analysis, but it does remind me that I’ve rethought and shifted my policy positions over the years.


My only trip to Korea involved less time on the ground than it took me to get there (and yes, Korea was my destination). I shot B&W film, which was quite appropriate, as I only remember Seoul in shades of grey.

Hype or Not? Rawstory’s Universal Internet Surveillance Claim

You might have already been sent this Rawstory advance preview of Lawrence Wright’s article on a purported US government plan to “giv[e] the government the authority to examine the content of any e-mail, file transfer or Web search.” The article is slated to appear in this week’s New Yorker (but not online). Within a few minutes of posting to Slashdot, the Rawstory preview showed up on a couple of listservs I’m on and has generally spread far and wide at a rapid clip. I suspect we’ll see a lot more about this in the next few days.

Frankly, I’m skeptical about the central claim. But I’m also curious enough that I just went to a bookstore, a coupe of magazine stands, and a library trying to find the latest New Yorker. No dice, unfortunately. Rawstory has failed to deliver the goods on hyped stories before, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was a bit of pot stirring here. On the other hand, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell isn’t a fan of the Fourth Amendment, and we’ve got a fair bit of evidence that NSA has (or has attempted to) engage in “dragnet” surveillance of Internet traffic before. I suppose I really shouldn’t be surprised if they really are planning to expand the infrastructure required for wholesale surveillance. You can be sure to read more about it here when I can put my hands on the article.

A Primer in the US-China Relationship

This James Fallows article, The $1.4 Trillion Question, should be read by every American. Why?

Through the quarter-century in which China has been opening to world trade, Chinese leaders have deliberately held down living standards for their own people and propped them up in the United States. This is the real meaning of the vast trade surplus—$1.4 trillion and counting, going up by about $1 billion per day—that the Chinese government has mostly parked in U.S. Treasury notes. In effect, every person in the (rich) United States has over the past 10 years or so borrowed about $4,000 from someone in the (poor) People’s Republic of China. Like so many imbalances in economics, this one can’t go on indefinitely, and therefore won’t. But the way it ends—suddenly versus gradually, for predictable reasons versus during a panic—will make an enormous difference to the U.S. and Chinese economies over the next few years, to say nothing of bystanders in Europe and elsewhere.

It’s incredibly hard not to quote the whole thing. In short, China affects the daily lives of Americans, and America affects the daily lives of the Chinese.  The Chinese are beginning to understand this, but Americans seem blissfully ignorant (if not of the relationship, then definitely the possibly consequences).  Seriously, take 15 minutes and give this a read. And then send the link to your friends.

Photo:  The (decidedly privileged) Bund, Shanghai, 2004

REAL ID: A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Idea

Today brings us  new Federal guidelines related the REAL ID Act.  Passed in 2005, the Act purports to “prevent terrorism, reduce fraud, and improve the reliability and accuracy of identification documents that State governments issue.” Well, that’s how the Department of Homeland Security puts it, anyway. And how is it going to accomplish that? Well, by essentially turning your state-issued driver’s license into a Federal national ID card. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m rather opposed to national ID cards, for a number of reasons:

  • It’s a completely unnecessary invasion of my privacy. The REAL ID Act requires that my driver’s license contain machine readable biometric details, residential address, and hi-res picture of me. While my local DMV has a perfectly legitimate interest in having my details and address, the doorman to the Federal Trade Commission most certainly does not. And today’s rules make it clear that in order to enter any Federal building in 2014, the doorman will get those details.  Further, before a REAL ID can be issued, the DMV will need to verify your birth certificate with the original issuing authority.  Not so hard to do for me, perhaps, but my father?  Not likely.  And if someone else has used your Social Security number?  Be prepared for a thorough government investigation into your identity.
  • It creates one stop shopping for identity theft. Think not? Ask 25 million Britons how they feel about that.  Sure, you can suffer from identity theft now, but there is no single repository that contains as much information about citizens as there would be in a post-REAL ID world.
  • This is yet another industry-generated “security problem” in search of an industry-generated solution in the form of massive government contracts. Like so many other ineffective and pointless schemes to “keep us safe”, much of the impetus behind the REAL ID Act can be traced to the companies that would provide the technology and services to implement it. Digimarc (reaching beyond the DRM mines it has mastered) has latched onto the REAL ID Act, spending $350k to lobby for implementation of the REAL ID Act. And that was just in the first half of 2007.  Further, the cost to state governments to implement the Act is massive.  Oh, and remember that rule about showing REAL ID to get into a Federal building in 2014?  Well, that’s only if you’re 50 or younger.   Clearly a system focused on safety, eh?
  • Once this universal identity system is in place, it is ripe for expansion and abuse. This, by far, is my biggest problem with a national ID. I think we’ve got some pretty awful historical lessons in the abuses governments are capable of when they can clearly identify members of a given minority or collect and store information on individual citizens. Further, looking forward, I think there’s a real risk of limiting your access to communications and travel, depending on your identity. Don’t believe me? As far as DHS is concerned right now, unless you get one of these IDs, you’ll not be able to board a plane in 2014. And just wait until the MPAA/RIAA start convincing Congress that the way to cut down on piracy (and keep our children safe!) is requiring that everyone use their REAL IDs to log in when using the Internet.

So, what can you do?

  • Well, you can learn more about the REAL ID Act and its impact. I hope I’ve given a good summary of the risks here, but many organizations have put a lot of work into summarizing and analyzing the impact. I recommend checking out EPIC’s and the ACLU’s REAL ID sites.
  • You can urge your Senators and Representative to repeal the act. EFF makes that very easy, with this tool.
  • You can urge your state to reject the REAL ID Act. In doing so, it would be joining 17 other states that have passed anti-REAL ID legislation. The results range from simply urging the Federal gov’t to repeal the act, to outright declarations that a state will not comply with the act. What’s happening in your state? Find out here. If you live in Virginia, you can urge your delegate to work with Del. Chris Peace (R-97) to improve HJ42.

Abusive Driver Fees: Now on Bikes!

A Mr. Kajuan Cornish appears to have pulled off the very impressive feat of drawing a $1000+ abusive drivers fee for “recklessly operating” his 18 Speed Huffy on Warwick Boulevard in Newport News, VA. What did he do? Well, it seems Officer George Evans had to slow down, or he would have hit Mr. Cornish. Thus a $1050 fine. Yep, that’s right. The cyclist may well have done something stupid, but . . . even if the stupid started with his riding, it certainly didn’t end there.

Details here.

Travel Music: Bermuda

Hamilton Princess Hotel grounds, Bermuda

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