Taxing, Texting and the Cost of Freedom


 

sign about prohibiting texting while driving

Sign about texting ban in the City of Huntsville

 

I was, it turns out, wrong to have been annoyed about the billboards.

To begin with, the texting-and-driving ban in Huntsville and Madison annoys me. It’s a bad law. But we’ll come back to that. It’s also my government taking away my freedoms and that annoys me more.

So when I saw the big red billboards that went up around town, I was initially doubly annoyed. My government was taking away my freedoms, and then spending my money to tell me about it? Thanks, but, really, I’d just as soon keep my money. And my freedom, for that matter.

It turned out, however, that the city wasn’t paying for the billboards, they were donated by, I believe, the billboard company. Well, that’s something at least.

But then the city signs started going up all over town. And, I would love to be corrected, but I’m assuming that those are paid for by the city, which means, rather, the city is making residents pay for them.

Making it slightly more interesting, while I’m annoyed at the expenditure of government funds for the signs, they will, presumably, eventually pay for themselves, or, at least, the law they are enforcing will pay for them. The traffic fines from the law should eventually pay for the signs the city put up.

And that’s the trick, isn’t it?

There’s no financial benefit to freedom.

The city can make money by limiting the things its citizens can do. Make something illegal, and you turn it into a revenue source.

The text ban is a bad law. It’s arbitrary. I can’t use my GPS to give me directions while I’m driving around town, but I can pull out a folding map of Huntsville and read it while driving. If my phone is visible and I see the screen light up, that’s legal if it’s lighting up because of a phone call but not if it’s lighting up because of a text message. I can’t set up my iPhone to play music while I’m driving, but I can dig through a CD holder, find a CD, put it in and find a particular song.

It’s supposedly done for safety, but the reality is it’s a broad-stroke swipe at an easy target in order to pretend to be doing something constructive.

Sure, texting causes accidents. But so does changing a radio or CD player. So why not make those illegal? Talking to a passenger is another leading cause of accidents. Why not ban that? Or go after the big factors. Rubbernecking — checking out an accident while driving past — is one of the leading causes of accidents. I’ve seen people do it all the time. I’ve never seen anyone arrested for it, and there’s law enforcement right there on the scene. Fatigued driving is another of the leading causes of accidents. So make driving at night illegal.

But those things would be impractical, inconvenient, unpopular or require effort. A texting ban is very contemporary and very easy. It’s not about safety, or the city would be doing more unpopular things to make people more safe. They would craft a law that’s consistent, rather than one where it’s perfectly legal to read the news as you’re driving, as long as it’s in the newspaper and not a phone. It’s not about safety; it’s about politics. It’s about paying lip service to the things that would actually require time and effort to address.

And as a result, we lose the right to use a GPS or listen to an iPod or anything number of other things that are completely practical, largely safe, and no more dangerous than their common non-electronic-device-based equivalents.

But something doesn’t have to be wrong, or even a bad thing to do, for a city to make money off of banning it. As long as the voters aren’t willing to vote someone out of office purely over the text ban, there’s no incentive to overturn it, not when there’s revenue to be made from new laws and no return on investment for freedom.

It’s an interesting quandary for someone Libertarian-leaning like myself — I’d almost be willing to pay higher taxes to offset the fine revenue in order to maintain my freedoms. The idea of “at what cost, freedom” is an old cliché. Sad how relevant it is to government today.

Lorraine


It was sort of early Christmas present, but one that I have to wait two months to fully receive.

For a moment there last week, I was prematurely excited. I saw a tweet about Amazon in Europe listing Lori McKenna’s new album, Lorraine,and went to see whether it was also listed in the U.S. version. And, indeed, the Amazon app on my iPhone showed me that the mp3 download version of the album was available for $8.99. I rushed to a computer as quickly as I could, only to discover that while the downloads are listed, they aren’t, technically, available until January 25.

But it was exciting seeing the track listing. I’ve been a little “worried” about it for a while. If you’re not familiar with my long-standing love of Lori McKenna, here’s an old post I wrote that sort of summarizes things.

Lori’s last album, the brilliant Unglamorous,came out just over three years ago, and since then, I’ve collected a good number of unreleased tracks that have leaked out in a variety of places, and I was beginning to worry that I was going to basically have Lorraine before it was ever released.

Looking at the track list, however, there are only three songs that I already have — The Luxury of Knowing, If He Tried and Sweet Disposition. (I was curious as to whether Luxury of Knowing would be included after it was included on the new Keith Urban album as a Target exclusive track.) Which means that there are 10 new Lori McKenna songs on the album that I’ve never heard before. This makes me a happy man.

In a weird way, seeing which songs weren’t on the album made me happy as well — I’m glad knowing that paying attention over the last three years means that I’m not missing out on some incredible songs that aren’t included. At one point way back when, Lori said that “Make Every Word Hurt” might be the title track for the album; and it would have merited it. As it is, it’s not included. And it amazes me that Lori has such a great notebook that something like “Like No One’s Ever Hurt You At All” could be a lost gem.

For now, though, there’s that two month wait. I read somewhere that she’s planning a local release of the album in December before the nationwide January release, so now it’s just a matter of figuring out how to track down a copy.

After all, there clearly could be no purpose other than teasing me personally to announce that there’s a Lori McKenna song I haven’t heard named named Rocket Science.

Another Sunday — Building Church I


This entry is part of my series on my on-going “church journey” that I’ll be documenting as it takes place. You can read about other visits with the “journey” tag.

worship team area at Building Church in Huntsville

I don’t remember what movie it was I was skipping church to go see.

This was back pretty early on in this whole process; I was still attending Whitesburg Baptist Church regularly, but had also started attending a house-based congregation in addition. This was back in the “what’s a real church” era, and was part of the transition to the idea that something other than what I was used to could still be real church. I had met with the house-based congregation the night before, and was skipping church to see the movie partially as a way of communicating to myself, “Hey, it’s OK, that last night really was church, and you’ve already been to church this weekend.” What can I say, I was young and naive and legalistic back then.

Point being, it was interesting to me that when I went to the movie theater that morning, there was a church meeting there. My thought process was probably something like, “Huh, interesting.” Given what was going on with me, I probably took it as evidence that church could be more diverse than I had thought, but that it wasn’t anything I was interested in doing personally.

It’s been a long road since then before I finally visited that church this past weekend, and this post is probably going to be unfair to the Building Church as a result, for which I’m sorry.

In fact, I’ll start by saying, they were awesome. That’ll make up a bit for what’s to come.

The church has been meeting at the Rave Theater in Jones Valley in Huntsville for years, though my timing was rather fortuitous; they’re going to be moving to the Monaco Theater at Bridge Street the first weekend in December, so I almost missed visiting where I had first seen them.

It was almost certainly the most friendly and welcoming church I’ve been to; I was met at the front door, and escorted directly to the “sanctuary” theater, being introduced to several people along the way. They were very much set up to make sure that guests felt very welcome, and welcomed, at the service. Plus, there was free coffee and hot chocolate, though I didn’t partake, so can’t speak to quality.

The music was lively and energetic, the set-up was nice, the guest sermon was interesting and accessible.

All in all, I was very impressed.

OK, there’s my nutshell review. Here’s the personal part, since this series is really more about my journey than about the churches I visit.

They’re all the same.

The first year of my journey was about learning about how very different churches can be, how much diversity there is. Now, however, it seems to be about how they’re all the same, how little diversity there is.

Once you get past the myriad superficial differences, it’s all the same. The format or volume of the music is a little different. There are differences in theology and doctrine, but not so that you would necessarily notice on a week-to-week basis. The people sitting around you are different, but if you barely interact with them, you don’t notice so much. Go to any given church long enough, and maybe the music will be a little different one week, or a guest preacher will talk about something a little different, or you’ll sit by different people. Ignore the decorations, and that’s what it’s like visiting different churches at some point.

When I visited Southside the second time, I noted that I wondered what the take-away was from the fact that my second visit was so different from the first, if it was a lesson in the fact that I should be more careful not to judge a church just based on one visit. Looking back, those two visits to that one church were as different as a lot of weeks going to entirely different churches.

It’s all the same.

I want something different. I want something more like the house church I was involved in.

I desperately want community, and that made me realize that it’s been over two years since I’ve really been to some sort of Sunday School equivalent.

I like my Wednesday night group, but I don’t necessarily believe everything they do, and at times it’s frustrating. I want people whom I can explore things with, not who want to make sure everyone understands proper doctrine. When we read and discuss scripture, or when we focus on sharing our journeys through life, I love the group. When we’re supposed to be learning about John Piper or Food Inc., not so much.

I’m tired, I’m frustrated, and I’m disheartened.

I read Revolutionby George Barna, and it really didn’t help. It’s a little more open to the idea of just walking from organized church completely than I want to be. But there are times like last week when it sounds freeing.

I want my church to be freeing, too.

Happy Thanksgiving!


The First Thanksgiving, painted by Jean Leon G...

Image via Wikipedia

I had planned to write a great post for today about all the things I’m thankful for in life, all the things I’m thankful for in the past year.

But, you know what? It’s Thanksgiving. I don’t need to be spending time on the computer today writing that any more than you need to be sitting around on Thanksgiving reading it.

In fact, if you’re reading this on Thanksgiving Day, just stop, right now, and tell someone thank you. If there’s someone around you, tell them something about them or that they’ve done that you’re grateful for. Or just that you’re grateful for them. If there’s not, send an e-mail. Send a text. Make a phone call. Right now.

You done? Good. Happy Thanksgiving! Now, go enjoy it!

Childhood’s End


Image from Deathly Hallows shows Harry Potter outdoors

I wasn’t a big fan of the last Harry Potter movie.

It struck me as a collection of scenes, focused too much on hitting the high points of plot without a smooth narrative through-line. This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened. The problem culminated at the end of the movie, when the identity of the titular Half-Blood Prince is revealed in a complete anticlimax, utterly lacking in impact because the fragmented movie had failed to develop any suspense or even interest in said prince.

The new “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” on the other hand, struck me as the antithesis of its predecessor, and extremely agreeably so.

If “Half-Blood Prince” was plagued by too many plot points and not enough cohesiveness; “Deathly Hallows” was all cohesiveness with nothing happening, but beautifully so.

The movie is all about tone. It captures the themes of friendship and hope in an oppressive world of adversity and hopelessness. Every seen contributes to the incredibly textured emotional tapestry. Sure, things happen, but they seem less important as plot points than as contributions to the overall feeling.

Most impressive in the film is the nuance. “Deathly Hallows” communicates volumes without saying much at all. They characters say more with a quiet word than with speeches, or even when they say nothing at all. Having grown up on screen, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint now own their characters and have more talent than most actors three times their age to be incredibly expressive with just a slight gesture, a small change in facial expression.

One of the more notable accomplishments of the Harry Potter book series is that the books grew up as the characters did, and with “Deathly Hallows,” there’s no question than the movie series has done the same. All along, the content has been become less childish, but now, the film, like the actors, has truly matured.

Bad Hair Days


Screenshot of wordpress.com showing my post featured in the freshly pressed section

My promo box on the WordPress.com homepage

Excuse me for a moment while I put this lampshade back where it goes, and clean this chips off the couch.

OK. Exhale. Hey! How are you? Looks like pretty much everybody’s gone. I think it’s just us here again.

So regular readers may have noticed something was up the past few days. Even if you didn’t happen to notice how much traffic the blog’s been getting, you might have caught that there were a ridiculous number of comments being posted.

Here, then, is the story of my 15 minutes of bad-hair fame.

I got up Friday morning, and had an e-mail with the latest writing prompt from Plinky.com — “Show a picture of your worst-ever haircut.” I’ve written answers to a small handful of Plinky prompts, and even though this one wasn’t technically a writing prompt, it did relate to a story I’d told recently, so I figured I would write it up.

I got out my senior-year high school yearbook, snapped a quick picture of my senior portrait, and wrote up the story, and then posted it on my blog. No big deal. A bit later, I started working on my “real” post I planned for the day, following up on my trip to Disney World.

Heather and I both noticed that something was unusual around the same time. I noticed that I was getting a high number of comments about the post. and she noticed that my traffic counter was shooting up ridiculously quickly. I went into my stats page to try to figure out what was going on — A lot of the traffic was coming from WordPress.com. Was I getting visitors because of one of the tags on the post? Were that many people checking out the “mullet” tag?

And then we saw — I was “Freshly Pressed.” Of a half-million new blog posts, mine had been chosen to be featured on the front page of WordPress.com. There, for the viewing pleasure of thousands, was my embarrassing high-school senior portrait.

On Friday, I received 3,515 visits to my blog. For point of reference, my previous one-day record was 159. The bar graph showing my daily visits became useless, because every other day for the last month essentially became too small to measure.

On Saturday, it kept going, with 3,482 visits that day. On Sunday, 3,434. On Monday, I logged over 1,200 visits before they finally replaced my post on the front page of WordPress.

To put that in perspective, about half of the traffic my blog as received since I launched it in January 2009, almost two years ago, came in that 72-hour period.

And then there’s the post itself. We watched as the post surpassed my other top posts. There was a moment, not knowing how long it would stay on Freshly Pressed, where we wondered whether it would surpass the previous most-popular single post, One More Bite of the Apple. In a bit of understatement, it did. The previous most-viewed record, for that post, was 540 visitors. My haircut post has received almost 8,000. More people have viewed it than have viewed my blog homepage in the entire time my blog has been up.

So, thoughts about it …

It’s cool. It’s a huge honor. A lot of the comments I received were congratulating me on being Freshly Pressed. It generated a lot of traffic, not just for that one post, but for the site as a whole. About a third of the page views during those 72 hours were for things other than that one post. So there’s that part of it.

It feels a little random. There are posts I like, posts I feel good about. That post was just a diversion I was writing to answer a prompt for the fun of it. I didn’t give it a second thought. I had no idea that it would be paid any attention at all. Also, I never had any goal to be Freshly Pressed. It’s a big honor, but not one that I sought.

It’s a little weird that that’s what has been the defining characteristic of my blog. One third of my blog traffic has been that one post. Half of my blog traffic has been caused by that one post. My blog is now basically, historically, “David’s Bad Hair and Other Stories.” It’s like the band that has a huge hit with their quirky one-off song that’s utterly unlike their sound. If I could have picked a post to get that sort of response, it wouldn’t have been that one. I hoped someday to write a post that would get better response than my previous one-day high. I’m pretty sure I’ll never top this level.

I’m annoyed with myself that, yeah, on Saturday and Sunday, I actually spent time thinking, OK, what do I write next? If I get any residual traffic, what would I want them to read next? It may have even had a small effect.

A lot of people commended me for being brave enough to share the old photo. A lot of people saying they were jealous of the response, but wouldn’t have been brave enough to share a photo like that. Me, I’m an improv actor. I get paid to make a fool of myself publicly all the time. I didn’t give it a second thought. Nice that it “paid” this time, too.

That said, I wasn’t sure what I thought about the reaction. A lot of the early comments were basically laughing at my hair, if deservedly so? Was that the only reason I was picked, was because I had a funny picture? It was nice when an increasing number of comments talked positively about the humor and storytelling. Hopefully there’s more to me than just bad hair, and the feedback was very very very nice.

The big question I have is, what happens next? Is there any long-term benefit to this, or was it just a funny thing that happened one weekend? Will any of those people come back? Will my Google reach increase because of the increased traffic? Are there other areas of impact that I’m not anticipating?

So, all in all, it was kind of weird. And, yeah, I was totally taken in, constantly checking my stats during the weekend to old records be beaten and then new milestones be reached.

But I’m very grateful. Grateful for being picked, grateful for the traffic, grateful for the comments, very grateful for the compliments. Grateful for the people who read other things and said it spoke to them, grateful for the opportunity to share those things. To WordPress, a huge thank you, and thank you as well to everyone who stopped by.

And if any of the weekend guests are still here, feel free to stick around and have fun with us.

Galaxy of Lights


Heather, the boys and I went through the walking tour of the Galaxy of Lights display at the Huntsville Botanical Gardens Saturday night.

I had done both the walking tour and driving tour before, and while the latter, “normal” way of seeing it is nice, too, I really think the walking tour is a lot more fun; it gives you more time to really experience and enjoy the lights, and is an enjoyable outing. (All four of us took our own cameras, and that made it a little more fun as well; though, looking at the gallery above, it seems I was a bit biased in what I shot. It’s not really half about space, I assure you.)

You can still do the walking tour tonight and tomorrow, and then the drive through nights run from Thursday until New Year’s Day. (Full information is on the Botanical Gardens website.)