Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Butch Fun Cars II

Land Rover Freelander SE3.  2004.

Rutland Red.  Last night.

More later…

Added links on March 14, 2011

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Conflicted about the Conflict: We Would Have Invaded Anyway

This week, the Butler Review was released in the United Kingdom, reiterating what has been coming out in the United States recently: that the intelligence agencies had reservations about weapon stockpiles, that Saddam Hussein was not an immediate threat, and that Blair (and Bush) pushed forward regardless.  On BBC Radio’s “World Service” program yesterday was an interview on the subject with Foreign Office minister Baroness Symons.

The original airing of the program doesn’t appear to be available any more.  It was 4:24 minutes long; the important part started at 3:30 and covered the last minute of the interview.  Fortunately, I transcribed some of that part…
(Symons) The crunch issue is, “If we knew then what we know now, would the decision over what we did in Iraq be the same?” and the answer to that is “Yes.”  Because as the Butler Report makes clear, Saddam had had chemical and biological weapons, he had had a nuclear weapons program, he had concealed them, he had used these weapons in the past.

(BBC Interviewer) If we’d known that there were no stockpiles, no weapons of mass destruction, we’d have invaded anyway?

(Symons) I think that the threat that was posed to us at the time was a threat that we could not have simply passed by.  Because the fact is that at the time, we were getting all these reports, not only about the belief that Saddam could be building up these stockpiles, but of course, as well, it was the coming together, as the Prime Minister made very clear in his statement, of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the terrorist threat.
[Online program ends here.]

In other words, “Yes.”  If we had known at the time that there were no weapons of mass destruction, we (or at least the United Kingdom, and I think it’s safe to say the United States by extension, since the UK wouldn’t have done it without us) would have invaded Iraq anyway.

In short, the war was about deposing Saddam.  And nothing else.

Updated on March 10, 2011

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Conflicted about the Conflict: Big Deal

There has been a big hoopla over the fact that the Philippines has decided to pull its Coalition forces out of Iraq in order to secure the release of one of their people held hostage.

According to this site (currently with information from February 2007), that’s going to be a total of 43 people removed (down already from 51).  Forty-three!  Big fucking deal!  (In fact, the only Coalition members with fewer personnel in Iraq are Norway, Kazakhstan, Macedonia, and Moldova.  Tonga has about the same number as the Philippines; they only just arrived on July 4.  Oh, and of course Spain has pulled theirs out already, and Honduras, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua are listed with none present.)

On the other hand, that one hostage equates to some 2% of the Philippine forces there.  If the United States had 2000 or more of our forces held hostage — I’m not sure just what the current number of troops in Iraq is, but it’s somewhere above 100,000 as I recall — then maybe we would do the same.  (Or maybe just when we reach that number of deaths.  We’re only at some 881 today.  Whoops, wait, that was last Friday.  The number is probably higher by now.)

Updated on July 15, 2004

Updated on March 9, 2011

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Gay Marriage: Rotten to the Core

In his July 10 radio broadcast (transcription no longer available), President Bush referred to courts defining marriage as a “mere legal contract.”

From a legal, governmental, secular standpoint, that is exactly what marriage is.  The United States government does not and may not recognize a religious aspect of marriage and instead wraps contract law around and through marriage, pointedly ignoring (but allowing) any religious aspects.

Or at least that’s how law sees it, from an agnostic point of view.  (Note: not atheistic, which would be “There is no God,” but agnostic, “God isn’t required.”  There is a difference.)  Religionists like Bush, however, (claim to) look from the inside out: they see marriage as a religious rite, and the legal contracts as stuff wrapped around the outside.

This is then the crux of the issue: is marriage the religious rite in the center, and the other stuff is just fluff?  Or is marriage the legal contracts, and the religious stuff is an optional piece?  (Picture a toy car given as a birthday present, perhaps: the toy won’t run without the batteries, but the batteries aren’t much fun without the toy.  Of course, the toy car can probably be pushed around and played with to some degree sans batteries.)

As observed on this site, outside of Christian terms, marriage is merely such a contract, a means of establishing whose woman (and children, and associated property) is whose.  Out of that has grown all the other legal incidents involving inheritance and taxes and “in sickness and in health”.

I’m not going to say who is right and who is wrong — that’s a question unanswerable by anyone but God, and He ain’t talking.  But clearly if you don’t accept the religious rite as a required core, then marriage is probably the other stuff.

But if the religionists do manage to push through the Federal Marriage Amendment, or something similar to it, it’s worth considering whether this is merely the first step on a proverbial “slippery slope”.  Once they have had one success in codifying their religious beliefs (note: not religious beliefs in general, since some religions are not opposed to same-sex marriage, even as a religious rite; with the toy example above, you can buy whatever brand of batteries you want) into law this way, the next step becomes easier: tying marriage to the religious right (er, to the religious rite).  Not requiring people to be married, but restricting the benefits and legal incidents of marriage to those who are married.  And then defining “married” as requiring the religious rite.  And then defining just what that religious rite is.

In other words, once they can define marriage as being one man and one woman, they can start to work at it having other limits (in order to make it conform to tradition, of course; to their tradition).  They can disallow marriages done in non-approved (non-religious) ways, including Justice of the Peace, Common Law, shipboard, and of course by mayors and other political persons.  And from there, it’s a simple hop to stripping rights from existing marriages of those sorts.

The FMA isn’t about protecting marriage.  It’s about restricting it, reserving it to only those who the religionists deem worthy.  Disallowing same-sex couples is only the first step.  (Make that the third step: they already kicked out groups other than couples, and they used to have limits regarding race, but lost ground on that.  Perhaps only temporarily, in their view.)

Updated on March 10, 2011

Monday, July 12, 2004

Best Deal for Travel

I don’t want to get in the habit of touting one business over another, but…

When I need to get airplane tickets (and this is fairly often, as I’ve been in, let’s see… Palm Springs, Long Beach, Seattle, Houston, Nashville, Paducah, Vancouver, Kansas City, New Orleans, Chicago, Las Vegas, Columbus… at least 11 metro areas this year, with at least three more to come before the year is over), I go to a variety of websites looking for the best price.  Most of my cross-country flying is on American (for the miles), and my West Coast trips are usually on Alaska (again, for the miles), but I also check Orbitz, Travelocity, and Expedia as well.  You never know which might have a Web Deal or even just a fare a few bucks lower.

Twice in the past year, poking around for best fares — both times going to Texas, oddly enough, and gasping at the prices — I’ve found my best deal to be through Travelocity, with their “Search Flights + Hotels” option.  They partner with area hotels — anything from a 2-star Comfort Suites to a 4-star Crowne Plaza — and get you a package deal which is below the cost for the items separately.  This has proven true even when I was staying at the host hotel for an event at what should be a cut price off the standard rate.  For my upcoming trip to Dallas, the net savings will be about $80 off the separate pieces, a bit more than one night free at the hotel.

(Of course, I have to be a good consumer of the event as well, and call the hotel to confirm the reservation and make sure they record it as being in conjunction with the event.  Events and conventions need room nights at the host hotel to ensure that they get ballroom and exhibition space at as low a price as possible.)

Updated August 11, 2004
I need to downgrade the above recommendation somewhat after my trip to Dallas this past weekend.  I realized as well that I used Travelocity for my hotel on a trip to Las Vegas back in June, and I’ve used them now and again in the past just for airfare, and that helped establish a pattern.

Both of my airplane seats on this last trip were “E” seats — middle of the right side — and my memory says that this is a pattern.  That is, as a bulk seller of airline seats, they put you in the less desirable middle seats (or perhaps those are the ones made readily available to them; can’t put all the blame on them without knowing all the details).  On both legs of my Dallas trip, the plane was packed to the gills (even on a mid-afternoon flight out of the hub on a Monday!) and there was no availability to change seats.

Worse, though, is that they do the same thing (perhaps) with hotel space.  When I got to the Sheraton in Dallas, I was greeted by “I see you’ve requested a Smoking Room.”  I most certainly did not: with my asthma, it’s bad enough going to bars and dating a smoker, I sure don’t want to breathe leftover smoke all weekend while I sleep.  I had the same situation with the hotel in Vegas; I don’t recall about Houston last October.  Fortunately, I’ve been able to change to a non-smoking room each time, but it was no sure thing in Vegas.

Again, it’s impossible to say whether this is an intentional thing, that the hotel partners offer up smoking rooms because they are less able to fill them, or if it’s just a bad web interface which doesn’t ask about smoking preference and the lack of info gets pushed through to the hotel as a default preference for Smoking.

Whatever the intent, caveat emptor: you can get a better deal this way, but there may be hidden bits of undesirability.
Updated on March 4, 2011
I no longer use this mechanism when I’m going to events where I plan to stay at the host hotel.  The hotel sometimes isn’t able to retroactively apply your externally done reservation to the room block, and getting those rooms sold is often vital to the host club.  (They are on the hook for unsold rooms if they don’t meet a certain percentage.  It is really bad form for you to save $60 over the course of three nights but cost the organizing group 3 x $129 in the process.)

My current recommendation for travel is Kayak, for their combination of aggregating from multiple airlines along with their decent UI experience.  But I do still go to other sites before making the purchase, just to be sure I’m seeing all the options (often I’m not).

Friday, July 9, 2004

Gay Marriage: Change Begins at Work (Conclusion)

Back in March, I wrote (in “Gay Marriage: Change Begins at Work”) about our company’s gay and lesbian employee group’s effort to get our Domestic Partner Benefits requirements changed, updating them to account for today’s domestic partner registrations, civil unions, and legal same-sex civil marriages.

This had been the text from our benefits book:
Domestic Partner Coverage

Adobe extends coverage under Personal Selections (PS) to qualified domestic partners, same and opposite sex, and their eligible dependent child(ren).  Domestic partner coverage applies to the coverages—medical, dental, vision, dependent life insurance and long-term care—in which spouses and children may be enrolled.

To be eligible for domestic partner coverage:
  • You and your partner must be at least 18 years of age.
  • You must be in a committed, exclusive relationship.
  • You must have lived together for at least 12 months.
  • You must be jointly responsible for living expenses.
  • Your domestic partner’s child(ren) must satisfy the same criteria applied to an employee’s child(ren).  (See “Who Is Eligible” earlier in this section.)
Roommates and relatives are not considered domestic partners.  You must also wait 12 months before re-enrolling a different domestic partner.  If you are in a domestic partnership and your 12-month anniversary falls at a time outside of the Open Enrollment period, this will be treated as a qualified change in status, and you may apply for domestic partner coverage at that time.
I’m pleased to say that, after diligent research, Human Resources has agreed to the bulk of our requests on the subject.  (Aside: There was an article in The Advocate in March (online archives only go back to 2008 currently, so no link to the article) indicating that some companies were making changes like this, but without naming any of them.  Well, here’s one to be named!)

Here is the text (effective July 1, 2004 ) to be incorporated into the next printing:
Domestic Partner Coverage

Throughout the year, Adobe periodically reviews our benefit plans and policies.  Due to our review and recent legislation, the following changes have been made to our Domestic Partner policy:
  • Official government registration of an employee’s domestic partnership can be submitted in lieu of Adobe’s Domestic Partner Declaration (Affidavit).
Domestic partner eligibility requirements

An employee and their domestic partner must be:
  • At least 18 years of age
  • In a committed, exclusive relationship AND
  • Jointly responsible for living expenses.
  • A domestic partner’s child(ren) must satisfy the same eligibility criteria applied to the child(ren) of an employee.
A domestic partner relationship must:
  • Exist for at least 12 consecutive months AND during this time, maintain the same principal residence with the intent to do so indefinitely.
  • The domestic partner relationship must be recorded, certified, and/or registered by a national, state, city or regional U.S. government authority.
That is, whether or not they have lived together for 12 months, the presence of a government-recognized and registered relationship is sufficient for Adobe Systems to accept that it is a genuine domestic partnership.

There are two things which they did not approve:
  • Payment for the benefits of the domestic partner come out of post-tax dollars, while that for married opposite-sex spouses come from pre-tax dollars and may cost less.  This is not something Adobe Systems has control over; it is dictated by the Federal Government and insurers.
  • This policy change only affects United States employees whose partnerships are registered in the United States.  Adobe has other policies for its employees in Canada, the Netherlands, and other countries where same-sex marriage laws are different.  In particular, though, U.S. employees who marry in Canada but do not otherwise have a registered partnership in the United States are not covered.
There is also one impact that I note for which we didn’t request a change:
  • Same-sex partners must share living expenses, which implies the earlier requirement to live together as well.  It is unclear how this would affect a couple for which one partner had to live in another city for an extended period due to his or her job (or military service) and was unable to contribute to the living expenses, for example.  For opposite-sex married couples, there is no requirement for shared living expenses or cohabitation; technically, the two never have to see one another again after marrying.
I suppose someone may request an examination of that requirement at some point, although I am personally not too worried about it.  I believe that Adobe would do the right thing by a couple separated for job or related reasons.  There are few couples (same or opposite sex) who would fall into the last class above, and I would be more apt to fight to prevent opposite-sex couples from receiving benefits in such a case than to secure them for same-sex couples.

In all, a very favorable resolution to this issue that I spearheaded.

What’s that?  Will it actually affect any employees?  You bet it will.  One of the female employees has already spoken up to say that it will.  But even more, my partner Rusty currently has no health insurance.  We are still waiting for his divorce from his ex-wife to finalize (it’s been in process since before we met!), but once that happens, we will register our partnership with King County and be able to have him (and his daughter Sarah, who also lives with us during the school year) covered, hopefully by Labor Day, several months before the old policy would have enabled such coverage to start.

Thursday, July 8, 2004

What Were They Thinking?
    — Where All the Lights are Bright…

“What Were They Thinking?” highlights products and presentations which just don’t make sense.

This ad came out of the July 2004 issue of American Way Magazine.

So where is “The Loft 2” located?  Downtown where?  What city, what state, what country?  (Lest we forget, American Way Magazine is in the seat pocket of thousands of seats on hundreds of planes traveling all over the country, maybe the world.  In my case, I was traveling from Seattle to St. Louis to Columbus, all of which have downtown areas.)  The ad gives no place information.  There is no mailing address, no telephone number, no e-mail address, and no web site listed.  (Of course, if I was the sort of person who wanted to live in “The Loft 2,” perhaps I would already know about “The Loft Downtown” and wouldn’t need to wonder about this.)

For the dedicated person, though, there are two clues in the ad:

Florida is a big place.  Tallahassee?  Jacksonville?  Tampa/St. Petersburg?  Ocala?  Orlando?  Ft. Lauderdale?  Miami?

A web search on “Loft Downtown” and on “Related Cervera Realty Services” (mentioned in the ad copy) finally reveals that the original building, and thus presumably the new one as well, is in Miami.  But even then, there is no direct website for either the building or the agency revealed in the top listings on Google, only references on other Miami-based sites.

[Weblog title reference: From the Petula Clark song “Downtown”.]

Updated on March 1, 2011
Things have changed over the years.  A link to a realty site featuring The Loft Downtown is now easily available.

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Letter of Comment
    — “Same Sex Experiments”

This letter was printed in the June 30 issue of the Seattle Weekly, in response to an article in the previous week’s annual Gay Pride issue (with their edits):
In Nina Shapiro’s article, she glosses over the higher divorce rate amongst same-sex couples versus heterosexual couples in some studies from Europe, positing a couple answers (lack of kids, lack of obstacles to leaving relationships).

Let me put forward another reason: Marriage (and marriagelike options) may genuinely
not be the right answer for some couples at some times.  Same-sex civil marriage (and such) is new for us, and we don’t have the benefit of centuries of learning about how it should be done.  As a result, a lot of same-sex couples may think it’s the right thing and later find out otherwise.  Give it a couple decades, and the rates of divorce should fall close to heterosexual levels.

This is one of the strengths that today’s society is reluctant to embrace just yet: the idea that “one size fits all” doesn’t.  Career dad, stay-at-home mom, 2.4 kids, and a golden retriever is a scenario that we can’t all force ourselves into, but a lot of people try.  Civil unions, same-sex civil marriage, communal living, wife swapping, poly­gamy, open relationships, and just plain shacking up are all variations on a theme enabling us all to find the relationship model that works right for
us, rather than trying (and failing) to wedge ourselves into the same one as everyone else.

Updated on February 25, 2011

Selection 2004: Ho Hum 2

Kerry/Edwards as the Democratic ticket.  Completely predictable.  Boring.  I continue with the same feeling of impending void: I will vote for Kerry/Edwards, not because I’m enthused by them (nor because I’m a registered Democrat and always vote the party line, since I’m not and I don’t), but because I can’t vote for Bush/Cheney and because I (we) can’t afford to not vote.

On the flip side, Edwards probably truly is the best choice.  Not because he gives a North/South balance to the ticket, or because his “humble beginnings” offset Kerry’s “privilege”, but because he minimizes exposure.  The only thing that the Republicans seem to have to throw at Edwards right now is a relative lack of experience, which is exactly what Bush himself ran on four years ago, as a candidate who had held only one elected office before running for President.  Edwards is no less experienced than Bush was, and in fact has private successes prior to office, which the current President cannot claim.

Updated on July 8, 2004