Archive for Politics & Religion

A Day Early, a Dollar Short

I took the kids out trick-or-treating tonight.

That’s right, on a Saturday. Our community catered to a few whiners who didn’t want kids to dress up as monsters on a Sunday, so we’re one of two towns in the area going out a night early. These are the same people who didn’t want kids to dress up as monsters at the elementary school, thus killing the Halloween parade there. The ordinance was only passed a couple of years ago, so I believe this may be the first time the town switched days.

In addition to it being just plain stupid, it put a damper on Halloween. The kids all knew about the switch, because of course the trick-or-treaters are paying attention. The problem is the word didn’t get out to the rest of the town, so several houses who have welcomed the kids every year were dark. While the kids did get plenty of loot, we were home a half hour earlier than usual, despite walking the same route we use every year.

Trick or Treat

The witch, the punk zombie, and Jason

On the plus side, the kids chose scary costumes this year! As a horror-writin’ dad, I get tired of seeing kids walking around as Power Rangers, Stormtroopers, Transformers, princesses, and ballerinas. This year we even saw someone dressed as a Twister game. When the Rugrats told me they wanted to be a vampire, a punk zombie, and Jason, respectively, I was thrilled. Little Bird decided she liked the witch costume better, so she went that route instead. We intended to search Goodwill for punk clothes to slather with blood and makeup, but happened to find a full punk zombie costume and saved time. Jason, of course, was a piece of cake.

The night change didn’t stop the kids from having a good time. They did a lot more walking between participating houses, but they ran into some of their friends along the way. They also got a kick out of it when one woman saw Squirt in the dark and thought his costume had something to do with the Statue of Liberty, and another dude at one house thought he was a chicken.

There's Always One

There's always at least one.

And of course we found that house. You know, the one giving out healthy treats. In this case it was raisins and granola bars, and all three kids walked away from the house grousing about it. They sounded like Charlie Brown getting his rock every year: “Aww, man, I got raisins.” I made a mental note to skip that house next year.

Looks like next year Halloween falls on a Monday, so we should be back to normal. For now the question is, do we hit another community tomorrow?

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Riding Season & Religion

The weather around here really went to crap in May. Those of us who ride motorcycles were able to get out early thanks to some warmer weather in April, but most of this month has been dreary, cold, and rainy with the occasional storm. We could have toughed it out (and I spotted a few guys who did), but after being spoiled by the early warmth most of us just sat around and stared out the window.

It’s easy to spot riding season in Illinois because you start seeing motorcycles everywhere. In the central and southern parts of the state, there are a lot of wide, open roads to cruise, and you’ll see riders of all ages and genders riding just about every style of bike there is from cruisers and sportbikes to trikes and touring bikes. The yellow ABATE “Start Seeing Motorcycles” banners start showing up along the busier roads, and the local dealerships start running out of stock on their less expensive models.

This is also when you start seeing “blessing of the bikes” ceremonies. This is like a small rally where the group will get a priest or a minister to say a prayer and put a blessing on everyone’s bike.

Blessing isn’t really my thing, but I do think it’s an interesting part of riding culture. It reminds me a bit of the way Shinto priests bless electronic gadgets like cell phones so they don’t get lost, damaged, stolen, or suffer some other misfortune. If they feel safer or more comfortable on their bike, then more power to ’em. (Provided, of course, they don’t go overboard and think they’re invincible.) I only learned about them a year or so ago when I found a riding club in Bloomington, IL, held them frequently, and it turns out they’re a very common practice.

In fact, somebody put one together the next town over. I thought about checking it out and taking some pictures but I had to be out of town that day. Too bad, as it might have been fun to see. I would have rolled through the line if only to talk about it, though again it’s not something I put much stock in (my own superstition is naming my bike).

Maybe next year.

Though I guess I better take that Flying Spaghetti Monster sticker off my bike first…

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Your Modern World: Slutquake!

According to an Iranian religious leader, promiscuous women cause earthquakes. Too many girls tramp it up and hit the town? God puts His foot down.

Uh huh. Guess I better start speaking to some people about that Illinois earthquake a couple months back, and tell the school board they better set up a burkha budget before the next quake hits. Oh, and we’ll have to watch for California to slide into the ocean on Monday when the Boobquake hits!

Really, Iran? These are the people you want ruling your country? Nothing like keeping a nation under your thumb with fear and superstition.

Oh, right. I forgot some people want that for us, too.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Now I Feel Gullible AND Guilty

I just watched the following video called The Story of Bottled Water, discovered at Boing Boing:

I try to limit my bottled water consumption anyway. With rare exceptions, I only buy cases because I can get 24 bottles for less than $3.00 versus the $1.00-$1.50 gas stations and supermarkets charge for single bottles. We filter our tap water at home, but it’s more convenient to have bottles handy at work and at the karate dojo. Furthermore, I recycle every one of those bottles by taking the empties to the town recycling bin. I tried to refill a bigger bottle for a while, but it broke after three days.

Time to start rethinking my plan. If the video’s recycling comments are correct, recycling isn’t yet having near the impact we’re led to believe it is. And while I keep my bottle consumption to a minimum, I’m still going through many more bottles than I should be. I didn’t sweat it so much when I lived back up north and our town’s water was horrible with radon and the occasional bacteria spike, but my new home’s tap water is just fine, especially after it’s run through the filter we put on the faucet.

I’m not usually a big environmental nut, but it’s hard to argue that I’ve been sucked in by corporate marketing. Even if I’m not completely buying into the “I need bottled water!” message, I’ve at least become lazy about carrying my own water around.

I need to do some shopping after karate tonight. I think it’s time to look for a good, sturdy, refillable bottle. The little metal ones we bought our kids to carry to school are a good start, I’ll just need to look for something bigger. I’ll probably update this post with what I find, if anything.

UPDATE:

Some friends recommended the following bottles:

Klean Kanteen
WaterWeek

I may check those out. In the meantime I bought a simple, BPA-free, 32-ounce plastic bottle with a carrying loop. 32 ounces should get me through most karate classes, and worst case I just fill up from the dojo’s tap. I did see a nice metal bottle with a plastic screw top and a carabiner, but it only came in a nasty orange color. I can afford to be vain until I spot one in black or blue, right?

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Rubik's Politics

This is the planned layout of a new US Embassy building in London:

Lego brick? Jenga cube?

Lego brick? Jenga cube?

Writer Warren Ellis has some good thoughts about what this layout and design is actually saying about US post-9/11 policy, but in looking at the architecture itself, I’m wondering where the engineers pulled their inspiration from.

Could it be:

The banner goes on during the unveiling

The banner goes on during the unveiling

Or maybe they’re Star Trek geeks:

You will be democratized!

You will be democratized!

Either way, it’s definitely a cold, boring structure. They may as well have modeled it after a balled-up porcupine and surrounded it with concertina wire. It’s the sort of place I’d expect to go to die in Soylent Green, or to get waterboarded by Dick Cheney.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Let Dinosaurs Die

The Postal Service is in big trouble. The quantity of mail they push through is dropping like a rock, and they’re bleeding cash. They now owe the government over $10 billion dollars and it’s only going to get worse.

It’s not hard to figure out why: they’re facing the double whammy of the Internet (email replacing letters) and private shipping companies (UPS, FedEx) taking away their freight business. That’s called progress and capitalism. I have to wonder if this mean their time is over. Like some of the larger corporations receiving bailout funds, shouldn’t we be thinking about whether it’s time to let them die? Or at least face a reduction in services?

Yes, I realize there are a lot of people out there who still rely on the Postal Service. I have two thoughts on that:

1) The Postal Service should not be obligated to provide the same level of service. The article discusses cutting Saturday delivery, but why stop there? Cut certain areas to three days a week. I can’t imagine receiving anything so time-sensitive that a couple of days would make a difference, and in those instances, the recipient should probably think about using UPS, FedEx, or paying the USPS to rush it anyway. If the USPS is bleeding cash and can’t support the existing services, it’s time to slash those services.

2) Instead of giving a dying institution $10.2 billion dollars when it’s only going to delay the inevitable, spend that $10.2 billion on investing in ways to get the people still relying on the service a new way to receive their communication. Broadband penetration in the United States sucks. If the bulk of the mail going through the USPS is catalogs/junkmail and credit card bills, then why bother? Every one of those services can deliver their communications electronically, and in fact, most actively encourage it so they can save money themselves. Sink that $10.2 million into expanding broadband offerings to these hole-in-the-wall areas and you can replace most, if not all, of the USPS services.

What a waste. The government calls it a loan, but the taxpayers will never see a penny of that money coming back without drastic changes. What’s more, we’re going to face costs beyond just another penny or two on the cost of stamps.

Consider the junkmail companies. Like spammers, they have to flood the mail system with their catalogs because the return rate is very small. When the shipping costs go up for all that bulk, they have two choices: reduce the quantity or raise their product costs. They’re not going to reduce quantity because that reduces volume. Yet in either case, they’re looking at a hit on their margins (less sales or more postage), so they raise the prices of their goods. A five-dollar tchotchke now becomes a seven-dollar tchotchke. Not much on a single item, but when folks start doing their Christmas shopping for friends & family, they’re suddenly wondering why they spent so much more than the previous year.

Now look at the credit card companies. Right now, my banks are begging me to go to electronic billing. I get notices with my bills, I get special offers via email, and they push it on me every time I log on to check balances or pay the bill. This is huge for them because it saves them a bundle of cash. However, there will be a limit. They’re going to get to the point it’s cost-prohibitive for them to keep sending out all that mail, and with sign-ups for electronic billing leveling off, they’re going to need a way to recover that cost (because let’s face it, they’re not swell guys willing to take a hit for the big company). How do they make their money? Interest rates. Even if they just start at two or three percent, that’s going to add up across the months and years most Americans are carrying balances for. But when’s the last time one of your banks stopped at 2 or 3 percent?

The same goes for utilities. I can pay all of my bills online, and I’m sure they’d be happy to email me my bills. They may not be able to hit us with interest, but they have lots of fun little surcharges like “delivery charges” they can pad out as needed.

I can already hear people whining: “But Mike, my 88-year-old grandma lives out in the middle of Alaska isolated from civilization and she has no idea how to use a computer!” Okay, so we should spend $10.2 billion dollars to make sure she still gets her Victoria’s Secret catalogs? I don’t think so. Assuming Granny can’t adapt to using a computer, I’m sure she’ll adapt just fine to getting her mail just a couple of days a week instead of Monday through Saturday.

I’m not going to get into the economics and politics of bailing out the banks and the car companies being “too big to fail,” but it doesn’t take a genius to see the Postal Service is on life support. It’s time to beef up alternatives before we’re forced to pull the plug.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

View of the Future

Wind Farm
Originally uploaded by MikeOliveri

I drive past this wind farm when I visit my folks in Indiana, and every time I see it I get just a little jealous.

There are three separate wind farms in the works around here, but every one of them is under fire from locals who don’t want anything to do with them. I’ve ranted about these people several times in the past so I won’t get into all that, but something I wish they would do is drive out to a wind farm and actually take a look.

Are you seeing a ruined view? I’m not seeing much of a view to ruin, to be honest. Seems to me the turbines are creating a view. One local calls them “monuments to stupidity,” but to me they’re a sign of the future, of an effort to increase our energy capacity and cut costs as well as put less garbage into the atmosphere. Not to mention they bring bucks to the local economy.

Indiana can’t put them up fast enough, and counties around us are also putting them in. Ours has been in limbo for about three years. I just don’t get it.

They can’t hold out forever, though. The farmers are willing to sign over the land, the schools want the money, the county needs the money, and if the utility company doesn’t get it installed now, they’ll come back in a few years when there’s a new county board in place. It’s not like the wind’s going anywhere.

Until then I’ll just have to be patient.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Crummy Sequel of Your Modern World

In today’s entry, I learned that a Saudi family is suing a genie that has been harassing them.

I honestly don’t know where to begin. It’s in a Sharia court, so that tells us why the case even made it that far.

My next question is how do they prove the genie is there, much less get it to show up? Even better, how would you like to be the guy who gets to deliver the summons? Then, supposing the court even finds in the family’s favor, what are they supposed to do about it? Wave a restraining order at it? If it is an all-powerful entity straight out of the Quran, why would it care what a bunch of humans had to say?

Best case scenario.

Best case scenario.

Please, please, please follow up on this story, CNN, because I would love to see where it goes from here.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Pakistan Has Doomed Us All

An alien showed up in Pakistan, and what do they do? Kill it.

“Look, an alien! Let’s kill it, cook it up, and show it off on a dinner plate so his friends get really pissed!”

Thanks, Pakistan! Guess we best start preparing for the invasion.

At least they’re tiny and likely have tiny ships. Maybe we can shoot them all out of the sky with Predator drones.

(Disclaimer: No, I’m not convinced this is the real deal. It’s probably a misunderstanding, a hoax, or part of a movie. It just amuses me that some third world pinheads could conceivably doom the entire planet.)

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Planet Backward with the NIMBYs

I watched Planet Forward this evening, and it only made me more pissed at the NIMBYs stalling a local wind farm at every turn.

Planet Forward featured some great conversations on the future of energy in the United States, from generation to electric cars. They discussed the pros and cons of nuclear power, the pitfalls of clean coal and its advantages as a transitionary fuel, and the costs associated with renewable energy. They also featured several homebrew videos submitted by users on the Planet Forward website. Great stuff.

One of those videos included a college student who was against wind power until he made a video tracking a Rhode Island wind farm project. A wind farm project, by the way, started for the sole purpose of economic development, not for environmental purposes.

Out here, the NIMBYs are going to the county zoning board to try to shoot down the project. Quick review: Navitas developed the farm, got final approvals and permits, then sold the project to Iberdrola. Iberdrola says “we want bigger towers” and they’re sent back to square one. The NIMBYs decide the Navitas success was only the first battle lost, so they rearm.

Right now, the law says the setback for wind towers is 750′ from homes. Iberdrola, by policy, says they’ll build towers at a setback three times the height of the towers, or just over 1200′ from homes. The NIMBYs say it’s not good enough and demand 1800′. Not just from homes, either; they want towers 1800′ from homes and roads. This will force Iberdrola to resurvey, probably set up new land agreements, lay more construction and access roads, and lay more copper.

In other words, they NIMBYs are trying to jack the costs of the project so high that it’s not viable. Insult to injury, someone else has submitted a proposal asking Iberdrola to assure the property values of area residents. If property values drop as a result of the wind farm, the power company pays the difference.

I love it. They’ll bitch and complain about the costs of gasoline and they demanded the state government do something when our natural gas and electrical prices went sky high, but when they have an opportunity to do something that could both help the power situation and bring some economic development to the community, they decide it’s more important that they don’t have to see the towers on their skyline. Indiana and Iowa are putting up wind farms all over the place, and existing Illinois wind farms seem to be doing just fine, but since they can’t find anything that shows otherwise, they just quote statements from other naysayers.

This video from Planet Forward sums them up best:

What scares me even more is the consequences of their actions against the wind farm should they succeed. I think it’s going to make other developers in other industries afraid to come around. If these new zoning ordinances and this property values plan go through, it could affect other kinds of construction. Our county could feasibly become a developmental dead zone, and our property taxes will suffer as a result when costs to run the schools and maintain county services increase over time.

Hell, the newspaper made that problem clear already. Above the fold in last week’s paper were two stories about the wind farm and the zoning board. Below the fold? The continuing problem of the cash-strapped county government, and wehether or not they should cut a half hour or an hour out of the courthouse hours every day in an effort to save on payroll to the county clerk and staff. This is a Band-Aid on a severed limb: assessed property values have dropped so the tax base is shrinking, which means the budget will be even tighter going forward.

The water’s about to boil, but we’re fortunate enough to have someone asking us to jump. We best do it before it’s too late.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Shai Agassi at TED

This video of Shai Agassi, founder and CEO of Better Place, is about 18 minutes long but is well worth watching:

The video explains how Better Place came to be, the plan for the cars, and the economics behind the Better Place plan versus oil over the next ten years.

Whether you think his plan will work or not, I’m glad to see he’s out there doing it rather than just letting Congress or panels of “experts” debate it until it’s too late. He makes some very compelling points and if I lived in one of the areas these cars were available, I’d be happy to look into owning one.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.

Government Greed

Taxes don’t bother me.

Really, they don’t. Taxes pay for our roads, our schools, and several other services. I often disagree with the way some of the funds are spent, but that’s to be expected.

The part I can’t abide is the greedy manner in which the system works. The politicians only see projects they need more money for, so they pile on more tax codes to squeeze out more money, and that’s why we now have this bloated system powered by evil and greed.

Founder of the IRS

Founder of the IRS

The height of this evil? The fact there are tax codes concerning whether or not you can claim your child if the child is kidnapped. It’s bad enough that someone even thought that far, but can you imagine how you’d feel if you’re scrambling to find your kid, only to have an auditor knock on your door because you never thought about taking the child off your tax paperwork? No wonder people want to have IRS agents killed.

We’ve had stimulus checks, overhauls of the tax tables, many adjustments and exemptions, but when do we finally consider a complete overhaul to the system? Is it not obvious the system is broken when we’re taxed on the same money over and over, and nobody fully understands the system as it stands?

Last year I inherited some money when my aunt died. She had saved up money in a few different funds, plus she had a life insurance policy. We were advised by a lawyer and a tax professional to set aside a chunk of the money for the savings funds, but that we shouldn’t be taxed on the insurance payoff. Come tax time this year, and we still came up well short.

Okay, fine. I really wasn’t surprised. Then I started looking into the numbers a little deeper. I wondered if my aunt had put the money into the savings post-taxes; in other words, had she already paid her income taxes on what was invested? Turns out it doesn’t matter. The government hits the inheritor for a chunk of the entire payout, not just on what may or may not have been taxed or even just the interest that the account had accrued. As far as the government is concerned, it’s income and they want a chunk of it, just as if your employer had written you the check.

Kind of a swell guy, in comparison.

Kind of a swell guy, in comparison.

As for the insurance policy, we were “misinformed,” according to two different tax preparers. Fork over that shit, too.

But wait! The government’s not done yet! Because it’s income, they bumped us into a higher tax bracket! Nevermind that my aunt’s only going to die once. Nevermind that we’re not going to see a windfall like that again. We made more money (but not enough to enjoy the tax breaks of the mega-rich, of course), so now we owe more money, resulting in an increased percentage of their take from my paycheck.

Meanwhile, Illinois didn’t seem to care. I still got a modest refund from a state which now has a bigger reputation for corruption than the New York mafia. Our state was broke before the feds got in on the action, and our budget’s been out of whack for as long as I can remember, yet here they are, handing me my refund.

But hey, it’s nice to know that my money’s being used for something. I’d hate to see those AIG execs go hungry.

About Mike Oliveri

Mike Oliveri is a writer, martial artist, cigar aficionado, motorcyclist, and family man, but not necessarily in that order. He is currently hard at work on the werewolf noir series The Pack for Evileye Books.