June 2007

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Starting July 1, Virginia will have “traffic tickets that come with assessments of up to $3000 in addition to an annual point tax that tops out at $700 a year for as long as the points remain.”

Driving as little as 15 MPH over the limit on an interstate highway now brings six license demerit points, a fine of up to $2500, up to one year in jail, and a new mandatory $1050 tax…Although the amount of the tax can add up quickly, the law forbids judges from reducing or suspending it in any way.

Can you imagine getting a $3000 fine for a traffic violation? That would be painful for me, and my income is pretty decent. For a poor person, this would be a devastating financial setback. It’s pretty clear this is all about raising revenue and has nothing to do with safety.

It also has nothing to do with justice. Everybody breaks traffic laws all the time, and the cops and the prosecutors have broad discretion over who to charge. If every cop can essentially impose a $3000 fine on any driver who pisses them off, it’s just one more nail in the coffin of rule of law.

Read the whole ugly story.

These women on motorcycles were the coolest part of the show at the Chicago Gay Pride Parade. They’d stop and hang back for a while to open up some room in front of them, then they’d punch it and come surging forward, engines growling obnoxiously as they roared past the crowd.

It was really cool.

Hmm. Did I call them “women on motorcycles”? That’s kind of an unwieldy phrase, isn’t it?

I sure hope they thought up something catchy to call themselves…

Pride Banner
Larger ImagePride Banner

Here are a few more pictures from the big party in the street.

Notice the woman in black? She was in front of me on the sidelines and I got a piece of her in many of my photos. My whole collection of photos is pretty much a documentary of her visit to the Pride Parade, so I might as well throw in a clear shot of her.

Also, despite the number of times the Midas sign appears in these photos, they didn’t have a float at the parade. What would make this collection perfect is a photo of the woman in black with the Midas sign behind her…hmm, that’s probably her head at the bottom of the next one…

Police Superintendent Phil Cline
Larger ImagePolice Superintendent Phil Cline

The guy sitting in back on the driver’s side and wearing a white shirt is Police Superintendent Phil Cline, who’s retiring soon—probably a little sooner than he planned, due to the Abbate mess. Given the long history of police harrassment of gays, transvestites and, well, almost every other group represented at the parade, it is kind of nice to see police brass showing some respect.

But check out that cool car he’s riding in. Many of the nice new cars in the parade are provided by car dealers doing a favor for a local politician, but those aren’t dealer plates. Where do you suppose Superintendent Cline got a classic old muscle car like that?

According to the sign on the back, he stole it.

Seized Car
Larger ImageSeized Car

Well, the department seized it from a drug dealer, and maybe you can’t get too worked up about some gangster losing his sweet ride. The truth is, neither can I. Part of the reason I oppose the War On Drugs is because I don’t want recreational drugs to be distributed by hardened criminals.

That said, it’s important to remember two things: First, catching real drug dealers is hard work, so to accomodate lazy police forces, the law defines drug dealer much more broadly than many people realize. If you hand a friend a joint or a pill at a party, you are dealing drugs, and if you simply have more than some legally defined “personal use” quantity of drugs, the law defines you to be a dealer.

Second, the forfeiture laws allow police departments to seize vehicles and other property without actually convicting anyone of a crime. Through some bizarrely twisted legal logic, the police can take your stuff merely by accusing you of a crime, and then they can make you prove your innocence in court before they’ll give it back.

So while I don’t know this car’s history, it’s entirely possible that this car was taken from someone who was never caught dealing drugs and was never convicted even of possessing drugs.

So be proud of who and what you are, unless drugs are involved.

Former sex crime prosecutor Sarena Straus posts a moving account of some of the unpleasant psychological aftereffects of years of seeing the world through the eyes of its child victims.

I start to get the shakes. My eyes well up with tears. I want to tell my parents not to take the kids – there are too many kids and too few of them, it’s crowded at Coney Island. I suppress this urge to a degree. I know I’m damaged, that all those years of prosecuting child abusers has made my tolerance for taking children to normal, fun places, like beaches and playgrounds, very low.

Read the whole thing.

I don’t know much about Cook Country Treasurer Maria Pappas, but I’ve always assumed she was evil because she keeps sending me bills for large amounts of money.

Cook County Tresaurer Maria Pappas
Larger ImageCook County Tresaurer Maria Pappas

I may have to change my mind after seeing her at the parade, walking the parade route and twirling her baton. There’s something I admire about that sort of gesture. She wasn’t just putting in an appearance, she was putting on a show.

But I still hate getting the bills.

We libertarians are often regarded as part of the Republican party, or at least as part of the conservative movement. I understand how libertarianism can be seen as an extension of small-government conservatism, but I have a lot of trouble thinking of myself as a conservative. They talk a good libertarian game, but they don’t have the moves.

For one thing, give them some power, and they spend money like a bunch of drunken sailors on liberty after a 12-month cruise…except that drunken sailors spend their own money, whereas the Bush administration and the Republican congress have been spending our money.

But if you really want to see an ugly side of conservatism, you don’t need to elect them to office. You just have to throw a Gay Pride parade:

For most of us, the parade’s spectacles are nauseating and disturbing — just TMI. Nauseating because the setting is festive and fun. Disturbing because the parade allows the movement to mock itself, and self-deprecating humor invokes sympathy and endearment to fellow humans.

The annual Gay Pride parade has become a powerful and insidious weapon used to turn our community and nation against its own foundation — the traditional family.

And all we could do is stand by and watch.

(Watch? Heck, I took pictures! I’ll be posting them later.)

I guess I’m not in the Illinois Review‘s definition of “most of us,” because the parade doesn’t leave me nauseated and disturbed.

I’m not going to claim to be so cosmopolitan (or so politically correct) that nothing and nobody at the parade made me uncomfortable—I’m an introvert, everybody makes me a little uncomfortable—but so what? When people have fun in ways I don’t understand and wouldn’t enjoy myself, I try not to take it personally, and I certainly try to avoid writing pointless incoherent rants about it. Instead, I get over it. You know why? Because It’s Not All About Me.

I don’t understand what the issue is when people talk about making English the official language.

It was one of the questions at the presidential debates of both parties. Closer to home, Fran Eaton at Illinois Review links approvingly to an article by Phyllis Schlafly and to a report that Carpentersville has passed a symbolic resolution to make English its official language, commenting that “it should also be the state and nation’s policy, as well.”

What the heck does that mean? Talk about making English the official language is pointless without discussing the details of what exactly it means to have an official language. Do supporters of English as the official language really want the United States Congress to pass a symbolic resolution? That would be pretty shallow.

I assume supporters have something more specific in mind, as must opponents, but neither side ever spells out the details. Do the supporters just want to make sure that English is considered necessary and sufficient for legal purposes? Do they object to non-English signs in government offices? At airports? In supermarkets? What about “E Pluribus Unum” on the back of our money? Is that just caving in to the Latin Lobby?

Is it just me? Am I the only one who doesn’t know what “official language” means? Or is it just feel-good legislation for the anti-immigrant crowd.

I’ve just picked up The Cult of the Amateur: How today’s Internet is killing our culture by Andrew Keen. I spotted the book at Borders and read the jacket copy, which surprised me in its ability to make me seethe with anger:

in a hard-hitting and provocative polemic…Andrew Keen exposes the grave consequences of today’s new participatory Web 2.0 and reveals how it threatens our values, economy, and ultimately the very innovation and creativity that form the fabric of American achievement.

In today’s self-broadcasting culture, where amateurism is celebrated and anyone with an opinion, however ill-informed, can publish a blog, post a video on YouTube, or change an entry on Wikipedia, the distinction between trained expert and uninformed amateur becomes dangerously blurred. When anonymous bloggers and videographers, unconstrained by professional standards or editorial filters, can alter the public debate and manipulate public opinion, truth becomes a commodity to be bought, sold, packaged, and reinvented.

The just strikes me as so, so…wrong. I figured this book will either piss me off or teach me something important, so I bought it.

(I also bought it just so I can blog about it. Windypundit is earning more than enough ad revenue to cover my hosting fees, so I’m going to use some of the income to buy stuff for me to blog about, like this book. That’s right, here at Windypundit we take the profits and plow them right back in to improve our product!)

What I Expect From This Book: Elitism. More to the point, unwarranted elitism. It’s one thing to be elitist when the subject is, say, one of the hard sciences where there are known facts and right answers. We listen to scientists and engineers because doing so produces useful results.

Elitism is not so easy to justify when the subject is something softer, such as art criticism or cultural commentary. I’ve never read a movie critic or book reviewer who I agreed with all the time. I suppose that could be because I’m an amateur, but not only don’t I agree with them, other critics don’t agree with them either. I rarely have this problem with astronomers or biologists.

Elitism is nearly useless when the subject is political and we can’t distinguish the elite commentator’s authority from his service to an agenda: George Bush and Barack Obama both are in a position to know more about the war in Iraq than I do, but that doesn’t mean I should believe either of them.

What I Hope Is In This Book: Something better than what I expect.

I have real reservations about things on the web. Forums and blog comment areas that become popular are too often overrun with trolls, spammers, and social cliques, and I have doubts about the ability of Wikipedia to stay useful as ever more people arrive who have reason to ruin it. (Of course, I thought that years ago, and so far I’ve been wrong.)

Web 2.0 proponents talk a lot about the advantages of self-organizing systems, but I’m not convinced that the web is built on good self-organizing principles.

I hope the book will surpass my prejudices and say something important and useful about the web.