Saturday, June 27, 2009

Ah, Toledo, How I Miss Thee

Living in the Chicago area has been a non-stop barrage of government so bad you sometimes can't tell the difference between corruption and incompetence. You have former governors in prison or awaiting trial. You have multiple suburbs voting overwhelmingly to leave Cook County and form our own, followed by the board president calling us uneducated ingrates who just don't understand how much they do for us (so far the list of things I've come up with is "collecting our taxes" and "????").

Recently the fun story has been Chicago leasing control of all the parking meters to a private company, a deal that was rammed through with less than two days of debate and before anyone really knew what it entailed (there's been a lot of that going in lately, it seems). They had a budget deficit of roundabouts $150 million, so they sold off control of the parking meters for a payment of $1.2 billion. Sound great, right? Sure, until you find out that the lease is for 75 years, or an average of $16 million per year. With approximately 36,000 meters in Chicago (so I hear - haven't been able to find an official count), that works out to $444 per meter per year, or just over a dollar per meter per day. Lemme put it this way: before this deal, a lot of the meters downtown were already at $3 per hour (other parts of the city were obviously less), and they were continually packed. Even without maintenance costs, they're taking way, way less than they would've made by holding on. The inspector general released a report saying as much, estimating that the market value for this lease was at least double what was settled on. So one of the aldermen responsible went on the radio to defend the lease (audio I would love to have right about now), and he made two very salient points. It doesn't matter how much money we're giving up long-term because we gots billz to pay now. And we really shouldn't matter how this will affect the city long-term, because none of us will be around by the end of the lease. Well, thanks for clearing that up! Oh, and did we mention that the mayor's nephew just happens to work for the company that bought the lease and stands to make millions in bonuses? Just a coincidence, no doubt.

So just when I start to think it can't get any more ridiculous, it's always good to see my former home Toledo make the national news. Because nobody, I mean nobody, can top the combo of incompetent, corrupt, and just plain crazy that is mayor Carty Finkbeiner. Just watch, and pray your mayor doesn't get any similar stupid ideas. (Which is worse - using garbage men to write illegal tickets, or using workers for a voter fraud and extortion organization to conduct a census?)

One more that isn't so much about bad Toledo government, but it did make the national news, so here you go. So a house is on fire, and the firement can't get into it because of a pitbull guarding it. The good news is it only took a few minutes to get past, but any delay if there was someone inside is too much. If it's me, I'm letting the pit bull drink from the fire hose, and be done with it (bonus vids: here and here). But that would no doubt upset the PETA folks (not the good ones from People for Eating Tasty Animals (keep being awesome), the insane ones), and pointing out that they could've used the axe instead or just shot the dog wouldn't satisfy them. But then again, I'm the crazy type that values human life, so what do I know?

Monday, June 22, 2009

More evidence that we're doomed

Today my drive home took a bit over an hour. I kept checking to a local news/talk radio station to see which stories they'd be discussing. So many interesting topics to choose from, what would it be?

Would they talk about the major upheaval in Iran, where the masses are possibly a step away from undoing Carter's folly, and kicking out the suicidal/genocidal mullahs? Where violent oppression has come to the fore, and new media has allowed the story to get out despite government censorship? Would they talk about how the mullahs grossly erred in rigging the 'election' (with 125% voter turnout, and 40 million votes counted in an hour by hand!) for Ahmadinejad, when all of the candidates were their puppets anyway, and the 'reformer' Mousavi is every bit as genocidally anti-Semitic as Ahmadinejad and only a hair's breadth away from him on most other issues? How the mullahs overplayed their hand in a pointless show of power for only marginal gain? How the Supreme Leader has issued edicts that are being blatantly disobeyed for the first time in decades? Or perhaps discussing what, if any, role the US should play in this uprising that could drastically alter the face of the Middle East?

Or maybe a little something about North Korea. You know, the ones that recently test-fired an ICBM over Japan, and our response was to cry to the UN, who warned Kim Jong Il to stop, or else. Or else what? Or else we will be very angry with you, and we will write you a nasty letter saying just how angry we are! Predictably, several weeks later they did an atomic test, detonating a nuke roughly the size of the ones that Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oh, and then they threatened to obliterate Seoul. Then they threatened to nuke Hawaii on July 4th, which they apparently have the capability to do now. And then Kim Jong Il appointed a son as his successor, as if he's ready to go out in a blaze of glory. Then they quite possibly loaded a ship full of nuclear material and missile parts and are planning to send it to destination unknown, a move that actually got the US to publicly respond, and may lead to a serious escalation any moment. Perhaps they would talk about something along those lines.

Or maybe they'd go economic, seeing as how we're still in a world-wide recession (which, as much as people try to blame it on us, actually hit Europe several months earlier and much harder, but I digress). Maybe something on the recklessly high deficits Bush and the Republicans (and Democrats the last two years) ran up, leading to their ouster, and how the Democrats led by Obama have about quadrupled that already. Or the insane amount of nationalization that has taken place already, so much so that Hugo Chavez is joking to Fidel Castro that Obama is making them look conservative by comparison. (Let that one sink in for a minute. Ready? OK.) And now in the midst of this, despite claiming that we're already out of money, he wants to spend another hundred billion or so to provide health insurance (NOTE: not health care. There is a huge difference between health insurance and health care. Much of the debate on this issue is clouded by people confusing/blending the two, which is almost certainly intentional.) for less than half of the uninsured (even when you remove illegals from the 'uninsured' totals), at a cost more than double what it would be to just buy a health insurance plan for them from a current provider. And a massive debate is raging over which proposed reforms to enact, most of which will almost certainly lead to the eventual nationalization of over 1/6th of the economy. Or perhaps they'd talk about the media's role in this, since one of the four largest 'independent' networks is planning to devote Wednesday to a day-long infomercial promoting the President's health insurance reform agenda, complete with refusal to acknowledge any dissenting viewpoints. (Note the contrast with Iran, where people are risking their lives to get the word out about what their state-run media isn't telling.) Surely there's something interesting there to talk about?

Or maybe they'd go for more local news. Like how the mayor of Chicago had for years refused to commit to a financial guarantee for the Olympics, then last week changed his mind and offered the completely non-corrupt IOC a blank check signed by the taxpayer. Or how yet another Alderman was arrested on corruption charges. Or how our new governor is furiously campaigning to raise taxes, because when you've got a budget deficit, the only thing you can do is raise revenue. (Oh wait, there is another option, but... nah, that would never work.) Or perhaps something more about our lovely Senator Burris, who somehow will not be charged with perjury for lying under oath and changing his story, let's see, I think he's on story number eight now. Or Senator Durbin, who was in a meeting last year before the horrible, awful bailouts were enacted, where they were being discussed. Immediately after leaving the meeting wherein specific troubled firms were discussed as being on the verge of failure despite public news to the contrary, the honorable senator sold all his stock in these firms, saving himself six-figure losses based on insider information. You may think that sounds like insider trading, but you'd only be right if you were a textbook trying to provide a clear example of insider trading, or maybe a dictionary trying to define it. But not if you were, say, a Senator, or perhaps the justice department of the same party's administration who would be tasked with investigating such a thing.

So with all this potential news to choose from - Iran, North Korea, the economy, the nationalization of ABC, the health insurance debate, local issues and corruption on a scale that makes New Orleans jealous, plus many other local and interesting stories - it could be really hard to choose what to talk about. There's just so much rich stuff there, what to choose, what to choose. So what did they talk about the entire hour?

Apparently some guy named Perez Hilton, who is famous for something or other, got into a fight with someone from the Black Eyed Peas, who were last heard from every twelve seconds during the 2004 NBA playoffs.

We're doomed.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Huh. I still have a blog. How 'bout that?

It's been a while since I've written anything, and this will be somewhat short. Oh well, life happens.

A few weeks ago I was reading a new book by John Piper called Finally Alive, about what it means to be born again. It was awesome. Then I flew somewhere for work, and left it on the plane. Curses and drat. It's available free online, but something about that just isn't the same, so I'll probably finish it once I get another copy. Anyway, one of the first things that really stood out to me was an observation I don't recall ever making before. Piper asks a really basic question - why must we be born again? Why is that the only way?

Part of the answer he gives is based on this analogy - the severity of the cure is proportional to the severity of the disease. Nobody would undergo radiation therapy for a tummyache, or get your leg amputated for a sore toe. For measures that extreme to even be considered, the disease has to be incredibly dangerous. Bad enough that if these last-resort measures aren't taken, you will die.

So consider what that means with regards to regeneration. No other remedy will suffice - we must be born again. We must be completely made new. There is no other way. We cannot just be made better. We can't work really hard and improve. We can't be reformed. The command originally was given to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, in the top percentile of righteous men among the most righteous nation on earth (for what that's worth). Yet even he could not just do better, so that he could stand on account of his own righteousness. No, the only way we can ever be brought into right standing with God, and see the kingdom, is to be born again.

What does that say about how we are before Christ makes us alive? How desperately sinful are we if no reformation could ever be enough, if we must be made completely new? That simple command - "You must be born again" - is about as strong a statement of total depravity as you'll find in scripture (and that's saying something!). If the only possible solution is to be born again, there is truly nothing commendable in us. Truly, salvation is completely of the Lord.