That Government Is Best That Governs–Aw, Screw It, We Need Better Rates

St. Louis County government mandates its residents to partake of a private service so it can negotiate better rates for the service:

The county’s Waste Management Code, approved last year by the St. Louis County Council, provides for the county to establish “trash districts” throughout the unincorporated areas.

The code establishes a minimum level of service that must include once-a-week trash pick up, once-a-week recycling pick up and at least twice-a-year bulk waste pick up. The minimum level of service requirement applies to both unincorporated area and municipalities in the county.

However, recycling pick ups will not be required for municipalities that operate a drop-off recycling center.

Creating the trash districts would mean St. Louis County would negotiate a contract — hopefully at a price lower than what residents pay now — with a single waste hauling company.

It’s one thing to mandate some sort of minimum accummulation of detritus around one’s domicile for public health reasons, but it’s another to mandate a monopoly and to make all residents customers of the monopoly at the risk of breaking the law.

Conceptually, there’s no reason this is any different from the county council making cellular phones required and then ordering citizens to use Cingular because the county council members will get a better rate.

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Let The Nationalization of Industry Continue!

Illinois legislator channels Hugo Chavez:

Illinois government should get into the electricity business with a state-run, non-profit power agency, the leader of the Illinois House proposed Tuesday, in legislation that denounces Ameren and ComEd for recent rate hikes and service failures.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, one of the state’s most powerful Democrats, filed a bill Tuesday afternoon to create a publicly owned power authority that would use Illinois coal to generate and sell electricity to state residents at cost.

“Excessive costs of electricity (in Illinois) pose a serious threat to the economic well-being, health and safety” of residents, says the 47-page bill, which would establish the Illinois Power Authority Act.

Is there anything that government officials don’t think they can do better than private industry?

I didn’t think so.

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Fifth Floor Eyes

A compatriot and I at work often stand at the window and look down at Washington Avenue, five stories below, to take a break from our work. Once, when I was a young man, I wrote the following sonnet about a similar situation, watching the kids (women to me then, but we were all kids) walking along the college malls:

Fifth Floor Eyes

With bouncy strides of legs just lightly tanned,
you walk below my watching third floor eyes.
A gentle wind moves silently and dies;
you brush some wayward hair with careless hand.
Your lips, marooned with hasty morning care,
are framing hinted teeth in sudden joy
and move in greeting of some passing boy,
the words sweet notes unheard in summer air.
Your dark sunglasses never flash my way,
and you continue on toward a class,
or maybe to your dorm–I’ll never know.
For sixty stairs is much too far away,
so silently I let you swiftly pass,
invisibly about my way I go.

Whoa, we’ve got subtle allusions to Shelley and Blake in there, don’t we? I am a far distance away from reading those authors in my Romantic Poets classes and whatnot. I published that poem in my 1995 chapbook Deep Blue Shadows. My second chapbook came a year after the first (Unrequited, 1994), and altough I started mocking one up in the late 1990s (Flipside Id), I have yet to finish it.

Flipping through the chapbook, I note that it’s a hastily-composed bit designed when I was restless and worried that I wasn’t going anywhere as a poet. With its contents, I can see why, although in the period of 1996-1997 I would write some of my best work, yet unpublished.

Also, regardless of my merit in structured poetry, much of my free verse is crap. Which is par for that form.

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Rhetorical Legal Questions

  • Is it felony animal cruelty to pierce your cat’s ears?
  • Is it felony child abuse to make a set of eyes that light up when a remote control triggers them, place that set of eyes in the cold air return, and trip them when your newly-mobile baby crawls to the cold air return and starts tugging at the grate?

I ask not so much because I’m contemplating either action, but because I want to be the number one Internet resource for knowledge about both (or at least, a high search result for either question).

I mean, I need the traffic.

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Good Book Hunting: March 24, 2007

Even though we’ve gone to a couple smaller book fairs this year, yesterday really marked the beginning of the book fair season for us, as we hit three smaller fairs around the metro area.

We started bright and early with the Immaculate Conception Church in Arnold. It was a bright, sunny day and our trip to the hinterlands (some would have said the hindquarterlands) of St. Louis County was uneventful, but that’s only because the brakes on a pickup truck traveling on state highway 141 smoked but held when the minivan in front of it stopped for the red light at Arnold Church Road. The area around Arnold and that formerly unpopulated space between Arnold and Fenton is filling in with lush housing developments. Across the street from Immaculate Conception, they’re building a new VFW; fortunately for that organization, the WWII and Korean War vets have a great potential of new member infusion these days.

We parked in the lot between the church and the parish center, avoiding politely the spaces marked Reserved for Funeral Parking. The book sale itself was on the lower level of the Parish Hall, through the byzantine and curious corridors of another church. The hardbacks were a dollar unless marked differently, and the paperbacks were fifty cents. I found a couple books, including an Evan Hunter novel from 1972, a volume of selected John Donne (to read to the boy in between Rod McKuen and the complete works of Emily Dickinson), the complete works of Keats and Shelley (ditto), and the autobiography of Golda Meir (because she was from Milwaukee). Cumulatively, my wife and I spent $9.50. As we left, I politely avoided the mourners standing in the parking lot as I drove aimlessly, or at least poorly-aimedly, looking for the parking lot exit.

We then shot up 141 to Chesterfield, an enclave of the better-to-do residents of St. Louis County. Our destination was St. John’s United Church of Christ, one of the few churches in the St. Louis area that I’ve actually gone into. A former girlfriend and her family attended church there, and although I never worshipped with them, I’d gone there some decade ago to pick something up with the ex. So I looked furtively about as we entered and throughout my shopping, watching for the mother or the ex, because nothing ruins a morning of book shopping like getting shot dead.

The selection was good, and the prices good, too; the same dollar for hardbacks and fifty cents for paperbacks. As we browsed, though, the workers for the group holding the book fair (Neighborhood Houses) added books to the tables or moved them around. One thing that peeves me off at these things is workers moving or adding books while I’m browsing; I’m always afraid that they’re adding just the thing I am looking for after I’ve looked or that they’re putting the books from the tables I’ve already browsed onto the tables that I’ve yet to see so that I’m looking through the same books twice.

I found a number of books here as well: a Classics Club entry to go into my collection, the only such book on the tables (although Heather told me later there was a whole box of them on the floor; at a buck each, I could easily have bought the lot and passed out the ones I already owned) and a couple of Time-Life books about repairing Major Appliances and Home Electronics (the cover depicts a turntable), among others. Together, we spent $10. I would have picked up Around the World in 99 Beds, a self-published book written by the wife of a seminary student or professor detailing their year on a sabbatical, travelling the world and visiting missions and former students. I would have paid fifty cents for it, but the book had been autographed on the title page by the author, and someone cut the autograph out, leaving only a couple whorls of an inscription. I mean, who cuts the autograph of an unknown local author from a book? Except a local forger, I mean?

This sale also featured a collectible book table at the front, where really old books had a price tag justified a listing from an Internet book sale site. Most of the books were just old, listed on the Internet for $10-20 and for sale for half that. Two browsers brought their own research to the sale; one had a book price reference guide and another used his cellular phone to check prices on the Web. This strikes me as gauche; I mean, spend the dollar and take a chance on it not being worth more than a dollar, you twits. That’s what I did when I was an amateur eBay book dealer, but that’s also why I ended up with a closet full of unsalable books for years.

Our final stop of the day was the Knights of Columbus Ladies Auxiliary book fair at the St. Catherine Laboure Parish Hall in South County. The ladies polled us on how we heard about the sale (Heather is a fan of The selection inside was so-so, but we hit the jackpot on the prices again: still one dollar for hardback unless marked and fifty cent paperbacks. The sale also included a silent auction of various and sundry materials whose starting bid was justified by computer print-outs of the items listed at the same Internet book sale site that the previous book fair used. One might expect this site is the most expensive of all Internet book sites.

The people were friendly, offering to get me boxes to help me carry my pickings (No thanks, I replied; the more painful they are to carry, the fewer I will buy–this is what passes for self-discipline in my book fair shopping). Regardless, I bought: a picture book for Detroit’s resurgence, ca 1985 (Heather couldn’t believe I picked this up and might have thought the people behind the table were slipping random unsalable books into purchasers stacks, but I picked it up to provide a compare and contrast with the inspirational prose in the official line in Detroit 1985 and the panting about the resurgent St. Louis in 2007); a couple of movie tie-in paperbacks (Back to the Future and Rooster Cogburn) even though I passed up Outland at St. John’s–because it was the last book sale of the day, the justification for buying lowered measurably; Quality Management, a collection of columns from the magazine Quality published in 1980; a collection of Khalil Gibran poetry because someone quoted that poet to me in an IM conversation last week; and so on. Total spent: $13.50.

So by 11:30, we’d spent $32.00 and probably fifty miles of gasoline. Here’s our body count for the day:

Book Fair Acquisitions, March 24 2007

That looks to be 20 for me (left stack) and 18 for Heather (right stack), or a total of 38 for Ajax (who thinks they’re all for him, much like he thinks everything is for him). Heather’s stack includes 3 hymnals she’ll present as gifts and one book on cultivating tomatoes that has already shown up on my desk. 21 books, then, or 1 fewer than my total reading so far this year. One can easily understand how I continue to lose ground in my library building habits.

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Book Report: Winter Prey by John Sandford (1993)

All it took as one mention in a Kim du Toit post to help me determine what to read next. Heather, knowing I’ve spoken fondly of John Sandford before (here, here, here, here, and here), gave me a number of Sandford’s books for Christmas, so I cracked into another one. Simply because I saw the author’s name in a blog post. Sometimes, I pick books for the slightest of reasons.

This one dials the clock back to 1993, early in the series, before Lucas Davenport was where he is today both in his personal and professional life (in Mortal Prey, for example, he’s getting married to the woman he meets in this novel; in between, they went steady, broke up, and then came together again). However, Sandford’s books are written so the current plot is central and the ongoing story of Lucas Davenport and crew are secondary, much like Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series. You can read them in any order and enjoy them independently.

Unlike the 87th Precinct, though, Davenport is an investigator with a team, so some of the action is executive in nature. Somehow, that works.

In this book, Davenport is at his cabin in Wisconsin when the local sheriff needs help with a brutal triple murder. It’s northern Wisconsin in winter, with heavy snowfall choking the roads a snowmobile and snow shoes in every garage. Man, it made me homesick. Before it’s done, there are a number of brutal killings of innocents but Davenport gets his person.

A good page turner, and I’ve already segued a decade and a half almost into Davenport’s future with my current reading, which you’ll read about in a couple days.

Also, like Mortal Prey, which took place in St. Louis, this book features talk and visits to Milwaukee, my home town, so I got to play spot-the-inaccuracies. Just one obvious gaffe.

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Book Report: Ernest Hemingway by Philip Young (1959, 1961)

This 1959 booklet (third printing in 1961) discusses Hemingway’s work from a time when he was very contemporary and explores how Hemingway’s prototypical hero evolved from the 1920s to the 1950s as Hemingway’s life progressed. Weighing in at 40 pages total, it’s a nice short refresher on Papa and almost makes me want to read The Sun Also Rises again. But that’s already on my read shelves, and I have hundreds of unread books to read first.

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I Can’t Wait For Joe Williams’ Review

I watched 300 on Tuesday night. Before the movie, in the 25 minutes of previews/commercials preceding the movie, the trailer for an upcoming film called Pathfinder played.

Remember, friends, Joe Williams of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and others widely panned 300 as a jingoistic propoganda piece, and it was a stylized depiction of historical events.

Pathfinder, on the other hand, is the story of Viking raiders in historically inaccurate headgear who come to North America to pillage the native American villiages. They leave behind a child whom the natives spare and raise. When the Vikings return some years later, the child has grown up a killing machine, and he takes the Vikings on and looks like (according to the trailer) he beats the snot out of them.

So, thematically, we have a white man raised by savages–sorry, living-in-tune-with harmony oppressed victims–who goes onto slaughter his own kind for their imperialism. Based on actual events? No, a remake of a a 1987 movie. Except that the 1987 movie had different tribes of Scandinavia as the victims. They were changed to native Americans because that’s one more easy button to push, no doubt. Fortunately, though, the new filmakers left the raiders as Vikings and didn’t go whole hog and make them time-travelling Nazis or greedy businessmen. Subtlety.

I can’t wait for the big media reviews to call this a bit of jingoism in favor of rebeling against one’s forefathers’ beliefs, violently. Since it’s not an apostate being marked for death, it’s rebellion against white bread America (well, Scandinavia, but white bread), I expect its potentially propogandaish themes will be overlooked.

Me, I probably won’t see the film to judge its individual merits, but it doesn’t look interesting enough for me. That’s a matter of individual taste, though. Throw in a couple of mutants and maybe Adam Sandler, and I’d be there.

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Book Report: Ringworld’s Children by Larry Niven (2004)

As many of you know, I am something of a Larry Niven fan (other reports: N Space, Rainbow Mars). I read Ringworld in high school, and I was awed. I like the stories that start out with a sense of wonder (see also Alan Dean Foster’s The Dig).

But this book is ultimately not that satisfying. Perhaps it’s been too long since I’ve read The Ringworld Throne, but that’s only fair, since it came out 16 years after the first sequel (The Ringworld Engineers, 1980). But this book isn’t the best of the lot. The first parts of the story are paced okay as more exploration and learning goes on, but the pacing of the end is too rapid and jump cut to really hold my interest. It’s a collage, nay, a kaleidoscope of scenes that end in a rapid denouement whose meaning is clear only when Louis Wu explains it and the magic of hastily conceived and underexplained science fix everything.

I can see why. The first part, Niven’s introduction, explains how classes and scientists have been working the Ringworld over for almost 40 years and have prompted him to write the sequels to explain the inaccuracies plausibly. But that drive to explain everything is what eventually diminishes the impact of the original and why he rushes through this book and takes care of the Ringworld in such a fashion as he’ll never have to write about it in Known Space again.

The book didn’t end as badly as the Rama series did, though, so it’s not dead to me.

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Scenes from the Front Line in Homeland Security (II)

So I walked down to the Old Trees Recreational Complex to get a residency card so I can save $1 on ice skating sessions at the rink and save $10 on continuing education programs if I ever needed to learn how to line dance with the elderly. But that $1 per session, over the course of a year where I will go once, will save me a total of $1.

So I arrived with my new driver’s license because it has my new address and I thought that would be enough.

“Do you have a piece of mail with your current address on it?” the woman behind the counter said. “A utility bill?”

I looked through my wallet for anything else. I took out my Old Trees Library card.

“They don’t make you show anything with your address on it,” she said.

I don’t normally carry with me my current outstanding personal invoices for commodity consumption, so I had to walk away empty-handed.

But rest assured, America; even though I had to prove my current address to get this driver’s license with my Old Trees address upon it, that in and of itself was not enough to satisfy the demands of the vigilant public servant. We can all sleep easier knowing that it’s harder to get an Old Trees ID than a driver’s license, and that our ice arena and architecture tours are safe from terrorists who refuse to pay full price.

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Charlie Brooker Sends Coded Message

In this column, he subtly hints at how he feels about competing computer technologies:

I hate Macs. I have always hated Macs. I hate people who use Macs. I even hate people who don’t use Macs but sometimes wish they did. Macs are glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults; computers for scaredy cats too nervous to learn how proper computers work; computers for people who earnestly believe in feng shui.

No word on how many Linux adherents lost lunch money on the playground to Brooker immediately after publication of said article.

(Link seen on Outside the Beltway.)

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Book Report: Stormy Weather by Carl Hiaasen (1995)

Written in 1995, this book takes a recent current event as a starting point and reimagines it humorously, much like Lucky You. In this case, it’s a devastating hurricane (unnamed) that ravages southern Florida and brings together a motley bunch of characters around a crime or two.

The subplots: A woman on her honeymoon begins to doubt the wisdom of her marriage when her husband decides to drive from Disney World to the Miami area so he can take video of the damage and heartbreak; a crazy ex-governor gone native kidnaps him; a pair of unlikely conspirators decide to pose as a homeowning couple to participate in an insurance scam; the son of a woman killed in the storm seeks revenge upon those who sold her a shoddy mobile home; and a crooked former home inspector makes sacrifices to a voodoo god and tries to get some of his grift on.

So there’s a crime involved, but it doesn’t really carry the story. Hiaasen jump cuts the subplots and the characters interact, but the inevitable climax on a key comes too early, the denouement runs a bit long, and the book lacks some of the rush that his others bring.

So it’s somewhere between Lucky You and Nature Girl (which I didn’t like so much). Still, it’s a readable and enjoyable book, just not one of Hiaasen’s best.

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Book Report: Come to Me in Silence by Rod McKuen (1973)

With each one of these books, his About the Author section gets longer and more full of world-beating achievements. Too bad I’m the only one bothering to read him 35 years later.

But this book is better than Fields of Wonder, probably because it deals with burying people under those fields instead of burying bits of McKuen in women he’s known.

Would I recommend it? No.

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