"That you may ruminate"

Archive for July, 2008

…On Who “Rollins” Is

Posted by Steve on July 31, 2008

CNN.com’s frontpage has a link to an article identifying it as commentary from “Rollins”. So, I clicked it since commentary from Rollins, whether I agree with it or not, is always entertaining to read. Except this was by some guy named Ed Rollins who I’d never heard of. I’d thought it was going to be Henry Rollins giving the commentary!

And now, I go to work.

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…On the Perversity of “Running with the Land”.

Posted by Steve on July 29, 2008

It has become a common practice for housing developers to enter into “bulk-billing” agreements telecom contracts. Common enough, at least, for this article about them to come to my attention. In these, the developer enters into a contract with a telecom provider, whereby a specified combination of phone, TV, and internet is provided to every house in the development for a specified cost, locked in for a time frame up to and including multiple decades, and no other telecom provider will be permitted to gain right-of-way or easements within the development. These contracts are then incorporated into the covenants on all the houses sold.

So, a company writes a contract with another company, granting them a monopoly over an area of land, then writes the contract into the sale contract in such a way that no matter how many times the property is bought and sold, buyers must assume the obligations of the contract and can’t quit the service – whether they want that service, or can afford that service, or not.

Now, there’s a group on the web working to get the FCC to ban the practice, and I support their efforts. Thing is, I think they’re targeting a specific symptom of a much larger core problem: the very existence of deed restrictions and covenants.

Ordinarily, contracts only bind the parties to the contract. It’s called the rule of privity, and it’s a pretty good thing for what I should think are obvious reasons: it’s the reason that if Joe enters a contract with Bob specifying that Shelly will perform some action for Bob, in exchange for which Bob will give Joe money, Shelly doesn’t have to do squat. It’s an excellent rule, the rule of privity.

So, under privity, a covenant or a deed restriction shouldn’t be binding on subsequent owners. After all, you buy a house, you aren’t who entered into the contract putting that restriction on the homeowner, so you shouldn’t be bound. Right?

Oh, nope! See, that covenant/deed restriction, it includes a nifty little dodge around privity: it’s written as a term in the initial property sale contract, along with a term that specifies it must be offered and agreed to in all future sales. In other words, it gets made a perpetual, perpetually non-escapable, and perpetually non-severable contract of adhesion. Not to mention, this adhesive contract with no privity – to either buyer or seller, once the property is resold – has been grafted into a contract based on extensive offer & counter offer, a property sale, to create a truly dreadful Moreauean hybrid. When you buy or sell property, the buyer and seller can negotiate every term of the contract – except the covenants and conditions and deed restrictions the Homeowner’s Association adopted in 1962, or the developer tacked into the deed when they subdivided it before building the house and selling it to the first resident three owners ago, or that the now-dead old man who lived there ten years ago negotiated with his also-now-dead neighbor.

Seems to me a good goal to work for would be getting deed restrictions and property covenants declared voided and henceforth banned as per se unconscionable.

Posted in Developer Abuse, From the News, The Law | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

…On Deitic Strife

Posted by Steve on July 26, 2008

No doubt you have heard of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He was not, though, the first Prometheus to oppose his tyrannic brethren and reveal himself to humanity in order to help free us from their yokes. In 1990, the Invisible Pink Unicorn did so as well. She is thus, though much less well-known, the older god by a good fifteen years.

Unfortunately, the two don’t appear to get along all that well. Hence, the hilarity of two gods in combat. Seriously, watch it. I think you’ll laugh, and laughter is happiness.

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…On Mixed Drinks.

Posted by Steve on July 26, 2008

Last night, I had blue balls. Or, actually, maybe it was blue balls that I had… no, I think I just had blue balls… Ok, regardless, I had blue balls last night.

I think you’re getting my points. 1) So many mixed drinks have delightfully raunchy names. 2) So many seem to be a delightfully raunchy name with no standard definition attached to it. In point of fact, I believe the drink I had consisted of blueberry vodka, blue curacao, peach schnapps, soda, and a dash of lemon. Similar to, but not exactly the same as, one of the linked-to-recipes.

Point #1’s just a fun tidbit. Point #2, well… on the one hand, it should be profoundly satisfying since it can be explained as an application of the mutability of a living vernacular. Not that precise definition of the term “blue balls” is the sort of thing that an Academy of the English Language would likely concern itself with, but still. If some bartender out in Kansas starts serving Jack Daniels, creme de menthe, gin, and Red Bull when customers order “blue balls”, then in the unlikely event people keep ordering that there, bam, the word’s acquired a new meaning. A trivial application of a vital grand concept: language through time is like life through time, subject to natural evolution and to evolution through selective breeding (biologists be damned, chihuahuas are not canis lupus anymore. More like rattus chihuahuacus.) Yes, it sucks in that it decreases the precision of language – there is definitely something to be said for the idea of a language in which every word has exactly one and only one denotation and connotation so that infinite gradations of meaning can be communicated with inerrant precision due to words serving as quanta of meaning (essentially, a vocabulary that’s the exact opposite of Newspeak). But, hey, you want that, just make a deliberate effort to speak and write that way and work towards breeding the language you want. It’ll take the cooperation of others and may be the work of generations, but it can be done.

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…On Being Asked for Support

Posted by Steve on July 24, 2008

This may be something peculiar about me (though I hope not, as it’s a good way to be and thus should be common), but when someone asks me to support something, I like them to answer some questions for me:

  1. What, specifically, do you want me to support?
  2. How, exactly, do you want me to support it?
  3. And this deserves supporting why?

Just recently was I led to the website of these people. Now, I’ve clicked every link on their website, and read everything there, but I couldn’t find answers to something it seems fairly obvious to ask about: what is their proposed text for this “National Service Act of 2009” they intend to see passed, as stated in their “Strategy” and “Timeline” tabs? It seems odd that they ask for support and don’t specify this. It seems extremely peculiar that they don’t provide their proposed legislation’s text especially since they have that big notice on their front page about how they don’t support mandatory programs. After all, the text of the “Universal National Service Act of 2007” that Representative Rangel proposed very clearly was setting up a mandatory program, and you’d think they’d want to make the distinction between that proposal and their own as clear as possible – which would entail spelling out the differences. A lot harder to not distinguish things properly when their differences aren’t detailed. Not to mention, a lot harder to succeed in deliberately misrepresenting someone’s ideas when they’ve clearly stated those ideas in explicit detail.

Furthermore, you’d think they’d want to do as much as possible to clarify how their affiliation to these folks doesn’t include agreement with whichever one’s responsible for including vested enfranchisement in their “Lexicon of Service” glossary and “Choose Your Own National Service Act” poll. I mean, “do this if you want to be allowed to vote” doesn’t meet any definition of “voluntary” that I’ve ever heard of. For that matter, “You’ve been drafted into the military, like it or not, but if you don’t like it, we’ll make you do civilian work instead” also doesn’t leave that civilian labor meeting any definition worthy of the word “voluntary”.

Also, opprobrium unto to who wrote the poll on the second site, as it’s heavily laden with leading questions. The first site just has an abysmally short “poll”.

Oh, another thing: Rangel’s bill there? Way too much delegation of decision-making to the executive branch. The executive is there to do just that: execute. As in, “implement policies determined by others, carry out instructions given by others, and implement the will of others.” Not form policies with legal force or promulgate regulations for the citizenry-at-large. President of the U.S. shouldn’t be a policy-making office, it should just be the world’s most glorified Assistant Manager job. To allude to sci-fi I don’t like, you know how on Star Trek Patrick Stewart always said “Make it so” to people? Yeah, the President isn’t Patrick Stewart. The President’s the guy Patrick Stewart’s telling to make it so.

Posted in English according to me, Here be Politics! | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

…On the National Guardsman I know.

Posted by Steve on July 23, 2008

Tonight, after work, we had a little farewell-send-off shindig for one of the project managers, who’s also an Army National Guard officer. His last day with us is tomorrow, after which he takes a week or two of vacation and then is on leave for a deployment to Afghanistan.

I honestly don’t know how much his mission is really one that’s specifically “This is part of the War on Terror”, except in that it’s being performed by National Guard, and how much “This is just what the U.S. Army does”. What he’s doing is being part of a 16-man team (plus translators/interpreters – and when he was describing what he’s going to do, he corrected himself after using one. I don’t remember which, and I don’t know why he did it) being assigned to an Afghan Army battalion to train it. So, he’ll have a few hundred Afghan soldiers to train on doing things the U.S. Army way. And when he comes back, he says he’ll be swearing around the office in Dari and Pashto.

He just doesn’t know when he’s coming back. His active duty call-up and deployment orders apparently just said “Up to 400 days”. I don’t know if that’s normal, although I’d just figured that when people got called up it was for a pre-specified time period since that’s how I’d do things.

That’s got to be tough for his family. He’s married, has three kids. Actually, that’s where I had Thanksgiving last year, at his place. I really appreciated that, a lot. He’s a good guy.

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…On punctuation.

Posted by Steve on July 20, 2008

This blog entry made me laugh quite a bit.

On the topic of punctuation that made me laugh, the other day (Friday) I was reading a paper that was a literature review and best-practices summary of a specific style of transit services. Thrilling, indeed – not to mention thoroughly unenlightening. It did, however, include a hilariously extraneous comma that changed a sentence from being about “Non-drivers and people who use alternative modes” to being about “Non-drivers and people”. Well, I thought it was funny, but when I pointed it out to someone else at work, he didn’t laugh.

Posted in English according to me, Other people's blogging | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

…On the Desecration of Burgers

Posted by Steve on July 20, 2008

This is outrageous. It’s also ridiculous. Let’s be clear, people: hamburger meat is basically little more than unseasoned sausage. You don’t waste expensive beef on a hamburger. Expensive beef is expensive because of the marbling, which gets ruined when you grind. So when you make a burger, just take the cheapest cut of meat you can find, and it doesn’t matter, because the grinding process makes it all the same. As for toppings… mayo, mustard, ketchup, onions, lettuce, pickles, grilled mushrooms, swiss cheese, American cheese, cheddar cheese, pepper jack cheese, Memphis or Kansas City barbecue sauce, those sorts of things: all fine. Foie grois, caviar, truffles? Desecration of the burger – and an intrusion of wealth-based snobbery where it has no business. Burgers aren’t to be hoity-toity.

Anyway, the best burger in America costs $4.25 (last I was there) including tax, and is served on the southwest corner of 35th Street and Cedar Avenue in south Minneapolis. It’s the Jucy Lucy at Matt’s Bar, and it has a core of molten American cheese. End of fanciness.

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…On Buying Local

Posted by Steve on July 20, 2008

I mentioned that I prefer, when possible, to buy local. Yes, in part that’s because I prefer to support my local economy to economies elsewhere. There’s an element of self-interest to that: my job depends on the economic health of where I am. Of course, me deciding to order a pizza from Harold’s instead of Papa John’s isn’t necessarily going to do a whole lot to bolster the local economy.

It will do a ton, though, to bolster the quality of the pizza I get.

That’s the key. Yes, there’s an emotional satisfaction from buying local, but there’s also a clear material benefit: I can get things that are unique (why I prefer local restaurants), or I can get things that are hard to find/delivered with better service (why I’ll go to local stores).

The restaurant thing’s really what gets to me. You can get pizza anywhere. You can even go to Papa John’s (or Pizza Hut, or Domino’s, or etc.) anywhere, ordering online even, and get the exact same pizza in Minneapolis as in Atlanta as in Nashville as in Denver as in Richmond as in New York City as in Chicago. Or you can go to a regional chain, and get an excellent Mellow Mushroom pizza in Atlanta or Nashville, but not in Denver, Minneapolis, Richmond, Chicago, or New York City, while you can get Beau Jo’s amazing pizza across Colorado – but not in any other state. Or you can go to a totally unique joint – a pizza from Fat Lorenzo’s is available only at one location in one city, and while it’s got some similarities to a pizza from Bottoms Up in Richmond, the two aren’t at all alike. And I like that. And, of course, this extends to all sorts of foods besides pizza.

Then there’s stores that are local. I don’t do this as often, because the main motivation is “getting the product I want”, which is often available elsewhere for lower (or much lower) price. Why buy my jeans somewhere they cost $30 when I can get them for $20 at K-Mart… and I can walk to that K-Mart? On the other hand… about 2 or 3 months ago, my laptop finally died for good, being five years old and the service plan having ended after 3 (during which time many parts got replaced). So, I had to go get a new computer (good thing I’d been saving up, huh?). I went to Circuit City: “Do you sell custom configurations, and can I still get an XP system?” Ok, so I went to Best Buy: “Do you sell custom configurations, and can I still get an XP system?” Ok, so I… yeah. I checked some online retailers: CDW, Lenovo, etc. Ok, I could get it, but the price was iffy, and… ok, two local joints. Boom: exactly what I wanted, plus I was able to buy a lot better hardware than I’d have gotten for the same price off the internet, plus I got some nice peripherals and good warranty. Not to mention, good customer service. Which I like. Or, well, bookstores. Local bookstores: if you have one, for crying out loud, GO THERE! Unless, you know, you don’t like going to stores that have a broad selection to choose from. Take science-fiction and fantasy, my genres of choice. In my experience a typical Border’s has about two to three shelves combined of them. A typical Barnes & Noble will have about 4 or 5, or possibly just 2 if they’re really big. Uncle Hugo’s sells nothing else. So you want in-print books that the stores aren’t carrying? No problem. You want something hard to find because it’s been out-of-print since the mid-80s? Walls covered in shelves jamed full of used books, with boxes of more stacked against them. Granted, not every local bookstore’s so great: I’ve been to some that didn’t even have the selection of a large airport bookstore. But when they’re good, they can be great.

And that’s why I like shopping there.

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…On the Difficulties of Apartment Crop-growing.

Posted by Steve on July 20, 2008

I should be asleep this time of night, but as I only woke up around 12 or 13 hours ago…

By this time tomorrow it’s possible Cristobal will have brushed my apartment slightly. The latest projections I saw showed him skirting South Carolina and curving away from the coast around mid-North Carolina, but he could still be close enough to send rainbands and squalls towards Hampton Roads. If this happens, it’ll probably have the same effect on me every sizeable storm has this spring and summer: it’ll knock over one of the Plants-for-Eating I have on my balcony.

That’s the biggest disadvantage of living in a second-story apartment: you have no dirt of your own to grow things in. And given the prices of certain vegetables at the supermarkets – assuming you can even get them, which after they pulled tomatoes this year, spinach last year, and green onions two years ago, isn’t something I’d say is guaranteed – it’s considerably cheaper to grow your own. But when you’ve got to grow in pots on a balcony, it gets a little trickier. For instance, on a hot day I can water the plants in the morning but by the time I’m home from work, the soil in a pot is almost dessicated and leaves are wilting. Or, as mentioned, wind knocks a pot over, which not only does bad things to the leaves, but spills potting soil. Also, since the balcony is screened-in (which was actually something I’d asked for, not having self-farming in mind when I picked the place), I get very few pollinating insects. Not a problem for tomatoes, which are wind-pollinated, but I’m fairly certain peppers aren’t wind pollinated. And I like peppers. Not to mention, they’re quite expensive at the grocery stores.

Herbs, of course, don’t need pollination. However, I’ve noticed they don’t necessarily take well to getting planted in pots on the balcony. I’ve had 3 of them, of 3 varieties (cilantro, rosemary, and basil), die within days of getting planted. Granted, the replacement rosemary’s done great, as have the other 3 basils, and the second cilantro bunch is… well, it’s stagnant which is something better than dead. I suppose.

Anyway… I know some people who participate in community-supported agriculture programs. I like buying local, but frankly I don’t eat enough vegetables for me subscribing to the local CSA farm to result in anything other than a lot of stuff rotting in my fridge. But putting one or two tomato bushes and peper plants, plus a few spices, on my balcony to grow my own, that I’m fine with.

I’d just prefer for them to grow well.

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