PAC Insanity

School boards and parent organizations should be really boring stuff, but it’s been pretty heated in Williamson County, TN in the past year. A local parent organization called Williamson Strong was fined $5,000 dollars recently when it was decided that they were operating as an unregistered Political Action Committee (PAC). They are appealing the decision and, in fact have a federal case against Tennessee’s PAC laws. The following is a from a Tennessean article on the lawsuit:

State law defines a “political campaign committee,” commonly known as a PAC, as “a combination of two (2) or more individuals, including any political party governing body, whether state or local, making expenditures, to support or oppose any candidate for public office or measure, but does not include a voter registration program.”

State law defines “expenditure” in pertinent part as a “purchase, payment, distribution, loan, advance, deposit or gift of money or anything of value made for the purpose of influencing a measure or the nomination for election or election of any person to public office.”

In case the absurdity of how much that limits free speech that isn’t immediately ridiculous, let me ask this:

If my kid & I borrow some poster board and paint to make a sign to support our neighbor who wants to run for school board, should we first register as a PAC in Tennessee?

The Registry of Election Finance, who issued the fine, indicated that the amount of money spent wasn’t at issue. Basically, if any two people spend any amount of money, they could be fined thousands of dollars with no way to give their side of the issue? And school board member Susan Curlee1 has shown that she is nothing if not tenacious and vindictive, so who would risk that sort of thing? It absolutely is the sort of thing to put a hold on political free speech.

I cannot believe it, but I’m actually glad of the Citizens United case ruling and hope this Williamson Strong case is overturned and the law is found to be a violation of the First Amendment. I believe in campaign finance reform and limit the insane amounts of money spent on influencing elections, but that’s no where near the sort of thing we’re discussing here. Some e-mail lists and a website domain registration aren’t likely anyone’s definition of large campaign expenditures, even in a local school board race.

  1. But just to CMA, this site and its contents are completely paid for by myself and I’m not yet currently making any public recomendations for school board members.

On Marriage Equality

I haven’t written much on my blog in the past few years, let along anything about politics. But this has been some week, hasn’t it? Today’s US Supreme Court 5-4 ruling striking down anti-same-sex-marriage laws —such as those we have had! here in Tennessee— feels like a once-in-a-lifetime kind of change. That so many Americans are suddenly free to marry whom they choose is amazing and I felt moved enough to remark on it.

Rethinking My Youth, Part II

I wrote about marriage laws over ten years ago on this site. That was inspired by Virginia’s (where my wife and I lived at the time) state Supreme Court struck down an old law that forbid adults having sex outside of marriage. It was crazy that it was still on the books in 2005, but as I noted, Virginia also banned interracial marriage up until the landmark Loving vs. Virginia 48 years ago this month1. I concluded with the following paragraph:

This sounds like all the same rational for banning homosexual marriages: that because God obviously doesn’t want them, than neither should we. I’m not so sure that there’s a whole lot of evidence that suggests God doesn’t want two loving people to have a formal commitment. Further, I think that at some point in my lifetime, we’ll look back at today’s anti-gay-marriage laws and feel the same way about banning interracial marriage and unmarried sex: why did we ever have laws institutionalizing hate and criminalizing love?

Well, at that time I truly didn’t think it would happen so fast. And in the context of such a huge change in both public opinion and dumb, anti-gay laws, a decade seems fast. However, I am sure that a decade seemed far too long for those men and women in long-term relationships who were forbid from marrying the man or woman they loved. To them, it must have seemed like forever and the struggles they faced were tremendous.

Angela and I have been happily married now for over thirteen years. I love her more now than ever and it would be inconceivable that our marriage would have been considered anything less than something shouting for joy over, let alone likely illegal at one time in the state where we lived. Our marriage is as strong as we are able to make it. No one outside of us —not straight or gay— can change that. The only two people who could make our marriage mean less are ourselves. Today’s SCOTUS ruling doesn’t change that at all. It just gives many more Americans the chance to have that same opportunity and the legal benefits (of which there are many) that go along with it.

To My Fellow Christians…

To my fellow Christians —especially those of you who feel this ruling somehow hurts you— please emulate the compassion and love of Christ. He never once spoke on the subject of same-sex relationships or marriage. Those passages many of you so often feel the need to throw around from the bible? Consider the following perspective from a Presbyterian Church USA (my denomination) news article from March of this year, just after the PC(USA) allowed for same-sex marriages (emphasis mine):

“Some will say that we have turned our back on the ‘clear teaching of Scripture,’ ” says Todd Freeman, pastor of College Hill Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “It appears that many Presbyterians now consider that this is not the case. We recognize that our cultural biases and prejudices were woven throughout the biblical witness. This recognition has helped lead the Presbyterian Church to change its traditional stance on a number of issues, including slavery, racial equality, and the right of women to be ordained into positions of church leadership. Many of us also recognize that the biblical passages that condemn same-gender sexual acts are not in reference to couples in a loving mutual relationship, but rather address relationships that are controlling, abusive, and exploitative.

Please read here and here for some detailed explanations on that final sentence. And even if you do choose to interpret those very same passages as condemning homosexuality in any form, what about all the other biblical laws that you (and I) break daily? The mixing of fabrics (Deuteronomy 22:11 and Leviticus 19:19), the eating of pork and shellfish (Leviticus 11), or even shaving our beards (Leviticus 19:27)? There are countless biblical laws that most of us Christians break on a daily basis without so much as a second thought2. I don’t say this to condemn you or myself. And even though I hope it’s obvious that those who so often claim we can’t just cherry-pick from the bible are likely doing just that themselves, that’s also not the point I want to stress. As a Christian, I want to focus on loving others rather than forbidding them from being who they feel they are and loving who they choose to love (likely because it just really makes you feel icky and you’d like to back that up with a bible verse or two). It’s beyond me how anyone would claim to be a Christian (or any moral or ethical person, regardless of faith or lack thereof) and think that’s OK.

Two People

None of this may convince you, of course. But be aware that there are many different interpretations of scripture and we, as a nation founded on religious liberties, simply cannot deny others basic rights such as the freedom to marry —and yes, Justice Scalia, it’s a right!— based on a narrow reading of scripture. That is what today’s ruling is about. Not a redefinition of marriage —as that was always so much messier than conservatives have led us to believe— but rather an acceptance that we each get to define our own marriages. The only requirement is two people willing to make that commitment to one another.

Lastly, to all the wonderful couples who go married today, in places like Nashville or Franklin, TN, I hope that ten years from now I can write another post. One that will look back and place the shear ridiculousness of how you were treated in the same frame as other laws governing who and how we could love one another.

For now, congratulations.

  1. This is a bit of a personal aside: Justice Clarence Thomas, likely to be the most conservative member of the current US Supreme Court, is African-American and is married to a caucasian woman (coincidentally, named Virginia). It took a US Supreme Court ruling to allow his marriage to be recognized in all states, including Virginia. So I cannot help but find it particularly egregious that he has some ridiculously narrow interpretation as to the meaning of “liberty” in the due process clause. He seems to limit to basically our ability to go about the country as we choose and no more. As such, he argues that petitioners were not deprived of their liberty, nor was there dignity diminished. Given that a law also had to be found unconstitutional for him to have the liberty to marry his wife, I can’t begin to see how he reconciles this. The petitioners have not “been left alone to order their lives as they see fit” as he states. They have been denied visitation, death benefits, sharing of health insurance, adoptive rights, and so much more.
  2. I can’t say what Mike Huckabee had for breakfast or what his nice suit is made of, but he clearly shaves his beard without much remorse.

10,000 EV Miles

I reached 10,000 miles on my Nissan LEAF this past Sunday evening. It’s probably a lot less than normal driving for about 22 months, but just goes to show that an ev is a perfect fit for me. I just don’t really drive that far.

10,000 EV Miles

Hit 10,000 miles in my LEAF while driving to pick up Chipotle, which was a highly likely circumstance knowing our family.

Remembering Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy passed away earlier today. If you asked many people, they might tell you that they hear Morgan Freeman’s voice in their head when they imagine the voice of God. To me, it will always be Leonard Nimoy. That placid, chain-smoking-induced growl that, in part, made Spock such a wonderful character of his fills me with awe.

Hipster Spock

As a child, in addition to Star Trek reruns (both the original series and the animated series), I grew up watching Nimoy host Nickelodean’s Standby: Lights, Camera, Action!. That show was a wonderful look at how movies are made. Nimoy was a wonderful host, engaging in demonstrations of special effects and occasional gags. His love of movies was evident. In a time before the internet, Wikipedia, and movie blogs, it was a source for me to learn about movies, actors, and directors. In fact, it was there that I first learned1 that the original Star Wars were the middle piece of a larger trilogy, and someday there would be prequels (before the word prequel existed, even, I think) and sequels2. I also learned about Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and the Klingon language from the same show. Of course, that film was directed by Nimoy, who’s involvement in movies and television grew beyond acting.

It’s said to never meet your heroes, as they will only disappoint you. However, I do truly regret never having had to the chance to meet Leonard Nimoy in person. He truly seemed like a beautiful person in most every way and Gene Roddenberry once called him “the conscious of ‘Star Trek'”. A wonderful quote from Nimoy:

Whatever I have given, I have gained.

It’s very sad to have lost Nimoy but I’m so glad that he was able to continue to appear in popular television and films, even up until very recently. His character of Spock is a cornerstone of pop-culture and it’s due almost entirely to Nimoy’s acting. In a show that is remembered for some cheesy plots and hammy acting, as well as some rather uneven movies, Nimoy was a gem in Star Trek. Honestly, if you can watch the scene of Kirk and Spock in the radiation chamber at the end of Wrath of Kahn and not get choked up, you are possibly more Vulcan than human:

It’s hard to think of a better way to remember Nimoy that with a performance like that. Live long and prosper.

  1. Well, either there or my Mom, who perhaps also learned it on the same show!
  2. More recently, JJ Abrams &emdash;who cast Nimoy in his series Fringe as well as bring Nimoy back as Spock in the re-envisioned Star Trek films&emdash; has taken over those sequel films. In fact, in no small part does the willingness of Abrams to continue to use Nimoy as an actor gives me appreciate of Abrams’ taste and ability to pull off such a daunting role.

The End of RadioShack

RadioShack announced today that they have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. They will close about 2,400 of their stores with many of the remaining locations being purchased by Sprint. This is more-or-less fitting, given that the brand has basically gone from the go-to supply store for electronics parts to a cell phone reseller. I honestly can’t say that they no longer carried any electronics parts, but I seriously doubt it’s something most of their locations carried at all.

Ball's TV

Ball’s TV by Mathew Warner on Flickr. These guys look like they could legitimately fix your old tube television, though.

It’s disappointing news for some. Wired has as a story on how influential RadioShack was in building Silicon Valley1. Steve Wozniak (Apple co-founder) recounts how some original telephony hacking got he and Steve Jobs to go on to build computers:

He used [a Touch Tone dialer purchased at RadioShack] for the now-infamous Blue Box, which he and Steve Jobs used to make their own free calls without interference from Ma Bell. Without RadioShack, there’s no Blue Box. And as Woz tells it, without the Blue Box there’s no Apple.

While it’s good to understand RadioShack’s importance in the hacker / maker / DIY culture that helped to spur innovators like Woz, it’s important to note that the RadioShack we all knew and loved died many years ago. They either didn’t see the rise of makers or simply ignored it, in lieu of chasing mobile phone buyers. Admittedly, that was chasing the money at the time. Of course, it’s not served them well in the long run. And they company that brought IBM Compatible PCs to many homes across the country (including my friend, TJ’s, when we were kids) got out of the computer manufacturing business early on.

Jason Soldering

The time my older brother & I fixed my washing machine with a kit I ordered off the internet.

Even so, I think there’s never been a better time to be a maker or a tinkerer. With a nearly endless supply of free how-to videos on YouTube, countless DIY and repair sites catering to anyone with a screwdriver and some time, and amazing online shops like Adafruit, someone today has far more access to get started building whatever they can dream up. So, for that, I can be ok saying good bye to RadioShack. Frankly, I wrote them off a long time ago.

  1. Also, they get it wrong about fixing modern tech & gadgets. I’ve repaired iPods and iPhones myself, with parts I ordered off the internet and by watching YouTube videos.

    iPod Battery Replacement

    Replacing the battery in an iPod Classic.

Coke Life

I happened to see a six pack of Coca-Cola Life1 at the grocery store the other day. I don’t recall ever even hearing about the beverage before, but it’s sort of a ‘natural’2 version of the discontinued C2, which was a half-calorie soda. Life uses both cane sugar and Stevia as sweeteners.

I personally liked the flavor of C2 and I like Life. It seems to use the original Coke formula, similar to Coke Zero — as opposed to the New Coke formula, which of course we are most familiar with in Diet Coke. It’s definitely not the same as a ‘regular’ Coke, or even a ‘Mexican’ Coke (that is, a cane-sugar Coke) but I find Stevia to be one of the most acceptable sugar-free sweeteners. At 60 calories (per 8oz), it’s meant to be a light alternative to a ‘regular’ Coke and appeal to people who might purchase Mexican Coke.

I think Life is a bit hard to find, so far. Further, it’s in an 8oz glass bottle, so it’s sold at a premium over it’s more common siblings. And in case you were wondering, it is a caffeinated drink (thankfully).

Coke Life

Coca-Cola Life

On a related note, starting a year ago, I simply stopped buying sodas to have a home except on occasion (like when I see an entirely new drink on the shelf!). However, when we do bring them home, we have shifted to the smaller 7.5oz/222ml cans, which ends up being a nice amount to have with a lunch. Those are 100 calories for a ‘regular’ Coke, so I’d probably have to drink a lot more sodas than I am now in order to justify hunting down & paying more per drink for Coke Life.

  1. I couldn’t find any reviews on Bev Reviews about this drink, but a post from a year ago indicates it was first released in 2013 in Argentina.
  2. In as much as a soda can ever be natural.

Needle in a Haystack

I just finished what was one of the longest days of my career so-far at Bentley. And everything that was bad about today was entirely my own damn fault and could have been easily avoided if I’d just been a bit more careful.

In addition to pushing some publishing updates to our documentation CCMS last night, I also decided to roll out my new Troubleshooting DITA specialization. It’s based on the specialization that is expected to ship with the DITA 1.3 specification sometime next year, but uses our specialized domains and works with DITA 1.2. That’s mostly tech comm nerd talk for I decided to give the writers a new template geared toward writing troubleshooting tips.

Unfortunately, even after thoroughly testing it on our development server, I managed to mess things up by added a comment to a couple of DTD catalog files after all of my testing but before making a backup of the production environment. That is, I didn’t really have a backup of the functioning production server. Rather, I had a copy of some files I had just made a minor edit to, one of which included a critical error. An error I ended up spending all day today trying to locate and correct.

Eventually, I realized I had left a single “>” character in an XML comment copied over to a text catalog file (the text catalogs aren’t XML and have the angle brackets stripped out – something I will now do with XSL instead of manually!). This one particular catalog file is used to locate the DTDs for our desktop DITA editor and no one was able to check out or create new content in our CCMS as a result of that one errant character. It took me about ten hours to figure this out (well, maybe nine hours of panic attack and one hour of actual clear-headed work). Thus leaving half-a-dozen writers with no good way to edit some of their files today as well as me feeling like a jerk for not being more cautious.

I just wrapped up my fixes —both tested thoroughly in their final form and put into place after backups of the working production environment were made. I’m going to check in with my colleagues in India shortly to ensure they can now edit and create content once again.

Lesson learned; and I am humbled.