Monthly Archives: August 2009

Cash for clunkers, RIP

Goodbye, good luck and good riddance.

The much-ballyhooed “cash-for-clunkers” program ended yesterday. The industry is triumphantly proclaiming a 13% increase in car sales… and yet, I am glad to see the back of it.

What is it good for? When the law was announced, the first question that I asked is “what problem is this law intended to solve?“.

It doesn’t help the beleaguered American Carmakers: This rising tide lifts all boats, and Toyota has been a bigger winner than GM, Ford or Chrysler.

It doesn’t help the environment: The old cars have to be destroyed, not recycled, it doesn’t get people into alternative forms of transport. Studies have shown that the environmental impact will be minimal (think about it – switching 600,000 people from old gas-guzzlers to new gas-sippers in a nation of 62-to-247 million vehicles (depending on which figures you use) is a change of less than one percent at best, and less than a quarter of one percent at worst.

It doesn’t help everyone: I have two vehicles – a ten-year-old Camry and a seventeen year-old Saturn. Neither qualify. Had I been stupid enough to buy an SUV, the government would have been happy to bail out my stupidity.

The second and more pressing question is “who pays”? The program cost $3Billion. That’s $3,000,000,000. There are about dividing that up among the hundred million taxpayers means that my share of the cost is $30 per taxpayer. Don’t thank me though. I don’t get a choice.

I am sure that there are a lot of people who benefited from this program – but that does not make it an inherently a good program. For those who did not pay outright for their cars, hope you enjoy making those payments. Me, I’m debt-free and loving it.

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I’m with Nick

It’s not often that I come out in support of a French President. In fact, this is a first.

Recently, President Sarkozy spoke out in favor of banning the Burka in public. More on the story here, here, here, here and here. It is an incredibly gutsy move, and one that President Obama seems to be unwilling or unable to make.

France is the biggest Muslim enclave in the Western world, and the muslims in that country are particularly prone to going on the rampage when they don’t get the special treatment that they feel that they deserve – (they did it in 2005, and now they are at it again).

The burka is not a part of Islam. There is nowhere in the Koran (correct me if I am wrong), that states that a woman has to be covered from head to foot with only her eyes showing. Both the Bible and the Koran state that a woman should dress “modestly”, but that is a subjective term, relative to cultural norms.

The burka is a cultural symbol. In point of fact, the Burka comes from that bastion of Freedom and Democracy, Saudi Arabia (where they really know how to treat their women), a nation that provided the majority of those nice people who flew their planes into our buildings one fateful Tuesday…

Some might say that many women choose the Burka (would you prove it?), while others argue that it is a tool of subjugation in the name of religion. I favor the latter, for one simple reason: while Muslim women have to go around wearing tents, their lords and masters can dress as they please. If that isn’t a prime example of religious sexism, what is?

I do not have a problem with the headscarves that are worn by many muslim women. As long as the person’s face is visible, I am ok with that. It is the burka and the niqab that I have a problem with. See here for a good summary of flavors flavors of headscarves and veils.

This piece, written by Saira Khan – a British Muslim woman – states the case better than I can. Here is another piece that makes some excellent points.

In our culture, hiding your face in public is generally regarded as suspicious or threatening – the burka reminds me of the Imperial guards in Return of the Jedi. Wearing what is essentially a tent makes it appear that you have something to hide. What’s under there – lingerie? a machine-gun, twenty pounds of Semtex? Try wearing a balaclava next time you go shopping and see how that works out for you.

Royal_Guard

It's a religious thing. Honest.

We shouldn’t need to have an explicit ban, but some people will not take “no” for an answer. There is, however, a precedent: The Governments of Tunisia and Turkey have both banned the wearing of headscarves and burkas in public – and these are both muslim states. Do they know something that we don’t?

Supposing my religion required me to prominently carry a weapon such as a gun or a knife in public? Would that make other people feel safer? An extreme example, but it makes a valid point. Here is another example: If my faith required me to “share Jesus with everyone I meet” whether they liked it or not, I would soon find myself the target of legal restraining actions – and rightly so. Bottom line: My faith does not give me the right to upset, annoy, disturb or irritate everybody else.

No. Just… no.

The burka is a cultural symbol, but one that causes discomfort to others. To me, it says “I live here, but I don’t want to have anything to do with your culture“, which leads to the obvious question: So why are you here then?

If you insist on wearing a burka, feel free to live in a country where that is a norm – like Saudi, where they know how to treat women.

Here in the western world, it simply isn’t.

Blame the recession

In our household it is both a running joke and a long-standing tradition that “Friday night is sushi night”. For many years. we have picked up a takeout from the best sushi place in town (according to a Japanese friend of ours), and enjoyed some really great food.

It is definitely an acquired taste; in spite of the “ewwww-raw-fish!” apellation that is oft applied to sushi by Americans (whose chief food exports are, ironically enough, Hamburgers and Hot Dogs), I have enjoyed the stuff ever since I worked in a Japanese bank back in 1987-9. I find that sushi is surprisingly filling and digests quicker than anything else. There’s also the fact that the Japanese live longer than Americans, whose life expectancy is actually shrinking, thanks, I suspect, to the aforementioned mystery meats… but we won’t go there, will we?

Milady and I showed up at the sushi place at about 6:30pm. Milady noted that the parking lot was empty, but I said that it was early in the evening. This was curious, as I had never seen the parking lot this empty. We picked up our order and headed home.

The food was ok, with one notable exception: the “spider roll”, a concoction of rice, vegetables and soft-shell crab. The crab was overcooked to the point where it was burnt and tasted bitter. More to the point, someone had stuffed some “krab stix” into the roll. I am not averse to “krab stix”, but this is by far the cheapest alleged seafood that you can buy; which is why it is served up in all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets. I do not expect to see it in $10+ speciality sushi rolls. We have had dozens of spider rolls over the past five years or so, and this was the first time that “krab stix” had showed up.

I called up the restaurant to ask about it; this might have been a big mistake, as I suspect that there was some misunderstanding; I was told that they had always been made this way – an outright lie according to three witnesses. I hung up annoyed.

It looks like Friday night is no longer sushi night; this was the only sushi place within ten minutes’ drive of our house, and I will not going back. The empty parking lot was perhaps an omen. My assumption is that they have fallen into the trap that kills so many restaurants – rather than raise their prices, they lowered the quality of the food by cheaping out on the ingredients.

I forecast – and it pains me to say this – is that they will be out of business within the next six months. And the unkindest cut of all is that they will blame the recession.

Now Reading: Flat Tax Revolution, by Steve Forbes

Purgatory

I was in court today. No, I was not the defendant; I was there to support a teenaged member of my extended family who did something stupid.

Courtrooms everywhere seem to have one thing in common; they are designed to instill awe and fear in those who draw near to the seat of justice. For me, though, the end result was annoyance.

For starters, there was the usual airport-like metal-detector screening. One of the machines was so sensitive that it complained about my belt buckle and I was commanded to remove my belt. Unlike the airport, however, these checkpoints were manned by real Policemen and not TSA rent-a-cops. Also unlike the airport, no devices with cameras were allowed. This effectively meant no cellphones… unless you were a staffer or lawyer who had a pass that allowed you to bypass security.

That, however, was a minor inconvenience compared to the courtroom itself. No electronics of any kind were allowed in court. No iPod, no PDA, no cellphone. Since I carry an iPod, a PDA and a Cellphone on my belt, this meant returning to the car to leave them there and pray that nobody stole them.

No reading matter of any kind was allowed either – if you were there for a case that was running late, there was absolutely no cure for boredom; all you could do was to watch the endless parade of cases, lawyers and defendants.

I understand the need for silence in the courtroom, but this is ridiculous. Next to this, spending half the day in line a my local INS office was a pleasant experience.

And this was all as an innocent bystander (are there ever such things as “guilty bystanders”?). I pray that neither I nor anyone I care for ever falls victim to the machine that we call Justice.

Now Reading: Vulcan 607 By Rowland White

Also-ran

Mini-review of this German restaurant in Glendale Heights, Chicago, which we visited today.

  • Air conditioning was out, but lots of ceiling fans almost made up for it.
  • Atmosphere was excellent. Two old dudes played live music of various nationalities.
  • Decor was great. As usual, Milady wanted to stroll off with some of the clocks (she has a thing about clocks).
  • Schnitzel was thicker than it should be and greasy enough that we didn’t eat all of it.
  • Service was ok.
  • Dessert was excellent.

Cost: $55 + tip for 2½ people.

Verdict: An excellent experience was let down by less-than-stellar food.

Bottom Line: Close, but no cigar. This place still holds the #1 spot.