Herman I. May

Herman I. May


29 September 2005

Chief Justice Roberts

The full Senate has confirmed John G. Roberts, Jr., as the 17th Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. On a final vote of 78 to 22, Roberts takes the mantle as leader of the nation's high court with, in theory, the backing of three-fourths of the US population.

Roberts' confirmation hearings revealed him to be what would appear to be the ideal candidate for this position. Despite his somewhat conservative, personal political leanings and affiliation with the Republican Party, he has maintained judicial objectivity as both practitioner and adjudicator. Assuming he can be taken at his word — and that is really all that one can do under such circumstances — he seems to represent a departure from the sort of individual everyone feared/hoped W would appoint. Instead of a knee-jerk, right-wing ideologue, one comes away with the impression that he will be an impartial judge of the law as passed down by state and federal legislative action. Unlike Scalia and Thomas on the right, Ginsburg on the left and Kennedy on the fence, Roberts appears to be interested first and foremost in the impartial application of the "Rule of Law" and holding law-makers to task with respect to the competent creation of statute.

Time will be the only real gauge of the benefit or detriment Roberts represents. With one vacancy still left to fill, the nation still has the omen of a balance tipping ideologue on the horizon. Nevertheless, the ascension of John G. Roberts to the seat of Chief Justice is a pleasant surprise when one considers the type of candidate Bush could have nominated.

28 September 2005

Good Day, DeLay

Awww, poor little Tommy... Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle has indicted Tom "The Hammer" DeLay on charges of conspiring to violate Texas campaign finance laws. This comes as no surprise. Earle has been after that slimy, cocky bastard for years. Obviously, some compelling revelation or witness has come to the fore, which provides indisputable evidence against DeLay.

It has been no secret that DeLay had a hand in forcing an arguably illegal, off-year redistricting plan which effectively led to the forced removal of several State and Federal officeholders. In fact, he has openly bragged of the move; speciously justifying it on the basis of similar action by Democrats in the past. The terms of the indictment suggest that he financed this unethical activity by laundering corporate political donations through his state political action committee, TRM-PAC — an activity which is illegal in the State of Texas.

Not surprisingly, DeLay and his apologists were immediately on the defensive claiming Earle to be on an politically motivated tear to defame the Senator by unfounded, erroneous accusations. Of course, this bombast ignores the fact Earle has made the prosecution of unethical politicians a hallmark of his career. Irrespective of political affiliation, he has prosecuted dozens of candidates and officials from both of the major American political parties. True, he has been after DeLay for years. However, that is more a reflection of the latter's slippery and crafty demeanor; not confirmation of Earle's motivation.

Of course, motivation does not even hold a candle to the hypocrisy of DeLay's venomous response. As mentioned above, a staple of DeLay's political career has been unethical, specious and, sometimes, fallacious mudslinging against opponents in the Democratic Party. To now ignore that past activity and cry foul with the accusation of political motivation is extreme sanctimony.

Whether Earle is able to make these charges stick remains to be seen. It is satisfaction enough that "The Hammer" has now been smelted into a nail and is taking a pounding in the Press. He has lost his position as Majority Leader of the House and stands to lose even more — regardless of whether he is ultimately convicted.

23 September 2005


Enough! The government, on all levels, screwed up. They dropped the ball with respect to proactively gauging the seriousness of the storm known as Hurricane Katrina and a goodly portion of the Gulf Coast has paid the price. Now, with another storm set to make landfall within the next twenty-four hours, they have swung clear across to the other side and are in danger of fostering irrational fears.

W has been attempting to calm concerns by making an unprecedented number of post-disaster visits to the hardest hit region between Baton Rouge and Mobile. All too little; all too late. The damage is done — to both reputation, infrastructure and lives. Get over it; move on. Wait! Oh yeah, they are.

A new storm is predicted to hit the Texas coast tomorrow morning. W has indicated that he will be going to Texas this afternoon to review preparations. You know...to make sure they are doing it correctly. Meanwhile, the Hurricane Rita continues to lose intensity. It has steadily lost power over the last thirty-six hours and is now just below Class 4. Even so, it has already claimed its first victims.

The news was lousy with reports this morning of a bus full of elderly evacuees, which caught fire just south of Wiley. Around half of the passengers were engulfed in the conflagration, while a quarter have been hospitalized and the remaining dozen or so escaped all harm — well, at least physical harm. It may have been a senseless loss of life given that they were headed north from Houston, which may be well to the west of landfall.

21 September

Circus Minimus

Today marked the first time in twenty-one months that the Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Task Force has met. During the interim two years, the roadways have become more congested, our vice-chair has died and the region has continued along its course of pollution non-attainment as mandated by the EPA. Yet only vague and confusing excuses pertaining to reorganization were offered as justification for the extended hiatus. Nevertheless, the meetings have resumes and one can only hope they will continue with some degree of regularity.

A rather lively discussion erupted at one point near the end of the meeting. One infrequent attendee of the semi-regular gatherings expressed three items he felt the task force should address as a body; two of which I disagreed with and, as a consequence, let to the debate.

In the first instance, a warning of potential concern was directed toward the chair, staff representation and the body as a whole regarding the concerns of motorists in the Austin area with respect to the use of rural routes by recreational cyclists. The other dealt with this individual's perception that the task force deals with a disproportionately greater number of pedestrian issues than it does issues related to bicycles. On both subjects, this individual exhibited the hubris of one who, though listed as a regular attendee, is ill-informed of the business of the committee due to frequent absences.

The issue of motorist intolerance in the Travis County region has little bearing upon the road-use practices of North Central Texas. There is a long-standing issue of bicyclist prejudice around the state capitol. During the 2001 Legislative session, State Senator Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) attempted to introduce legislation that would have banned cycling groups of three or more from Farm-to-Market and other rural roads. Thankfully, it died in committee. Nevertheless, the precedent for civic and legislative harassment has been established. Though concerns of safety were offered as the primary initiative, the true impetus was the perception of motorist inconvenience. Wealthy farm and ranch constituents did not want to be bothered with having to pass slower moving weekend, recreational cyclists on their trip to shop or church.

Having said that, there is some small degree of legitimacy to their complaints. Not in a general sense, but specifically related to weekend group rides. Recreational cyclists such as these are notorious for their belligerent attitude toward motorists. In my book, they are just a small step above Critical Mass cretins. They flaunt state laws regarding the limits of riding two abreast and frequently blow through stop signs and traffic signals arguing that they should be treated, collectively, as a single entity. However, the solution to the issue is not legislation; it is enforcement. If the police and sheriff were more active in ensuring these groups adhere to established law, specious arguments from disgruntled motorists would have little merit. Large groups of cyclists — touring or riding for recreational camaraderie — traveling two-up and stopping at signals and other control devices, as they are intended, would have a more legitimate claim to their right to the roadways. However, when these individuals engage in marginally legal activity and adopt sanctimonious demeanors toward other roadway users, they invite this sort of animus.

The second contentious argument seems to originate from left field somewhere. I have often argues that it is my perception that the BPTTF is too heavily skewed toward pedestrian and recreational issues than cycling and, more importantly, transportational issues. Most of the studies, presentations, and progress reports we consider deal with the creation of off-street facilities. Among thee are primarily multi-use paths (MUP). The Council of Governments and various regional municipalities seem preoccupied with extension and promotion of the grossly overrated "Veloweb" (a network of interconnected, off-street MUPs), than with advocacy of the bicycle as an alternative means of transportation. The series of rotating images presented at the NCTCOG site are almost exclusively of off-street facilities. The lone exception (at the time of this writing) is a token slide of a cyclist at a DART station. In fact, there are not even any cyclists represented in the balance of the images. Where any humans are shown, they are all pedestrians. True, they is half of the focus of the committee, but only half! As noble as the Veloweb may be, it represents a primarily recreational facility. My earlier review of The Katy Trail illustrated quite nicely that such facilities such as this are of only limited utility to the average commuter. As a commuting resource, they only benefit a small proportion of the potential bicycle commuting population. A more effective means of behavioral change is education and direct recruitment of those who live within five to seven miles of their employer and already have an affinity for the bicycle as a means of tranport.

Returning to the discussion during the meeting for a moment, it is obvious that individual voicing these complaints has little real appreciation for past discussions. The points brought to the table lacked any real merit and appeared more designed to steer the future course of consideration toward irrational topics than to offer meaningful table meaningful contributions. The presiding staff representative seem inclined to agree more with my sentiment than that of the occasional participant, though not without some conciliation to the merit of the other member.

The recent, prolonged hiatus of the task force gave me pause to think that perhaps it was primarily a token effort. Now that we have reconvened, one can only hope that focus will return to that manifest in the group title: transportation.

12 September 2005

Pavlov's driver

As one who commutes by bicycle on a daily basis, it is often the case that I have occasion to experience incompetency on the part of my fellow roadway users. Of course, this behavior is not limited to motorists. There are ample examples of untrained cyclists who think nothing of blowing stop signs and treating traffic signals like former. Nevertheless, it is the motorists I most ofetn encounter.

Ignoring the scofflaws and irate sociopaths who believe their time is more valuable than that of any other, I am constantly amazed at the number of motorists who are willing to surrender their right of way in an effort to extend an unwelcome and, technically, illegal favor to me...a cyclist.

During driver training, all students are taught that the first vehicle to arrive at a three or four-way stop has the prevailing right of way. Though required to stop, look all ways while waiting for a minimum of three seconds and then proceeding, many drivers I encounter seem intent upon ensuring that I cross the intersection first. This action is technically illegal, because to surrender one's right of way effectively disrupts the fluid flow of traffic — which is a mandated condition. It is unclear to me wherein this behavior originates, though I can hazard a guess. Most likely, the rationale is two-fold.

In the first case, it is probably fear. Not necessarily fear of me; rather fear that I will not observe the legal right-of-way of them and that, if they should adhere to their right, they will hit me. Their follow-on concern is less likely to be my welfare as their inconvenience at having to wait around to complete a police report and, secondarily, the risk of litigation.

An alternative theory is that some of these drivers are themselves cyclists — albethey occasional, recreational cyclists; bicyclists, nonetheless. In theory, they believe they are doing me a favor as a fellow cyclist and would expect the same in return by other motorists.

In either case and even if there is another reason, they are quite mistaken in their action. Not only do I not take advantage of their "courtesy", I usually become quite miffed at their action. It is often the case that I can manage a track stand for up to ten seconds without losing my balance and needing to unclip. When these morons sit there, waving their ill-intended hands for me to proceed, the duration often exceeds my ability to hover, poised to proceed once they have cleared the intersection. In variably, I am forced to unclip and put a foot down. In the vast majority of cases, this is sufficient to make the point that I am not going to accept their invitation. They snap out of their ill-conceived altruism, reassert their righ-of-way and proceed through the intersection. Occasionally, though, these motorists continue their emphatic motions indicationg their desire to relinquish their right-of-way.

One of two things occurs at this point. It is often sufficient for me to simply look in the opposite direction of the offending motorist; refusing to make eye contact with them and feigning a demeanor oblivious to their existence. Sometimes, though, this does not work. They begin motioning in an even more exaggerated manner and even honking to get my attention. These cretins then force me to resort to my last action: verbal abuse of their ignorant behavior.

In the end, this come down to behavior modification. These misguided individuals feel they are doing me a favor by surrendering their right-of-way. In fact, they are violating the law and contributing to the delay of other travelers. I could throw my hand up in the air and simply take advantage of their flawed altruism. Instead, I choose to engage in driver retraining. Whether resorting to the simple act of waiting them out or pretending to daydream at their expense, passive reeducation is quite often sufficient. There are times, though, where my only recourse is overt admonishment.

There is another side to this coin. A few times eevery few weeks, I happen across another cyclist on the roadway who is traveling in the opposite direction. If I am stopped at a traffic control device and witness a blatant violation of the UVC, I will deliver a verbal admonishment to the offending vehicle operator. Few are the exceptions to this practice. The response is usually a look of utter flabbergastedness. Occasionally, they respond with equally verbal fortitude. In either instance the point has been made: Anyone who rides a bicycle on the road is a vehicle. They are afforded the same rights and have the same responsibilities as any other vehicle. Woe be to them if they fail to recognize that fact in my presence.

12 September 2005

Where Art Thou, Google?!?

It is now mid-aftternoon (1500CDT) and GMail has been unreachable since early this morning. After having come to rely upon this otherwise excellent service, it is a significant inconvenience to be unable to access my mailbox for the better part of a day. There is no indication at any other Google node of what may be causing the disruption of service. It is obvious that it is a Google-side issue given the server response. I can only hope that access returns soon.

10 September 2005

myView: "Cold Mountain"

This film is an example of an effort with the potential for greatness, but incompetence and a desire for mass appeal result in a sub-standard film. Cold Mountain is an epic treatment of the perils faced by rural Southern families during the waning six months of the War of Northern Aggression. The problems for me are largely related to historical accuracy and pedantic symbolism.

The live action of the film takes place during a period from late-July through late December 1864 with numerous flashbacks to the early spring of 1861. For me, it is these opening scenes and their lack of historic accuracy which spoilt the remainder of the film. As the screen lifts, the viewer is transported to Petersburg, Virginia, on 30 July 1864. The Union tunnelers have just set the fuse for their massive underground mine, while the unsuspecting Confederate troops wait for action in the breastworks above. Four major flaws are immediately apparent to the historian.

  • It is daylight. Either just after dawn or a few hours thereafter. The explosion which ripped through the Confederate trenches took place around 0445 — at least ninety minutes prior to any sunlight. In fact, there were actually two attempts. The first took place at 0315 and failed when a splice separated. After a prolonged period to no effect, two volunteers were solicited to enter the tunnel, troubleshoot and relight the fuse. Add to that the fact that the day, itself, was blazing and hot. The film gives the impression of being overcast and. Perhaps, a bit on the chilly side.
  • Inman (one of the main protagonists, portrayed by Jude Law) hales from sleepy Cold Mountain, North Carolina. The troops positioned directly above the location which bore the brunt of the explosive power of the mine were from South Carolina. Though it is accurate that over 280 of 300 troops from this outfit were killed in the explosion.
  • The breastworks at Petersburg were constructed in front of a fortified embankment — Elliott's Salient and the mine ended in a "T" under the external wall. It is difficult to tell in the film, but it does not appear that the wall is compromised after the explosion; only the trenches.
  • The "turkey shoot" resulting from the foolish and delayed onslaught by the union troops, did not take place until around 1000. Though the initial wave of attackers were from Ledlie's Division...and white, the vast majority of those who ultimately died were primarily from the black regiment of Edward Ferrero. In the film, one can discern fewer than a dozen blacks among the faces of the combatants.

Another confounding issue concerns Inman's manacle wounds. At one point, he is shackled together with half a dozen or so deserters for return to the lines. This experience results in rather nasty wounds to his wrists. Throughout the film, the viewer sees a gradual healing of the neck wound which removes our hero from the battle lines. A wound inflected by no less than a .50 caliber musket ball. Nasty. Yet his manacle wounds appear as fresh as the day they were inflicted at the time the closing credits roll. Perhaps it is a misplaced attempt at stigmatic symbolism, but it comes across more as an inattention to detail.

The soundtrack is fabulous, nevertheless. A collaboration writing exercise between T. Bone Burnett and Elvis Costello, the folk songs employed qo quite a ways in establishing the scene — at least musically. Any fan of early American folk music will certainly want to consider adding this collection of tunes to their library.

Overall, the basic portrayal of rural Southern life is accurate, as are the philosophical and emotional dilemmas confronting the major characters. It is for these reasons, primarily, that I tend to recommend the film for anyone interested in that sort of insight. However, many of the other historical inaccuracies, combined with several addditional situational implausibilites, leave me with a tendency toward proposing avoidance.

08 September 2005

iTunes 5 and mt-daapd

Apple released a major update to iTunes yesterday afternoon and, unfortunately, it broke the stable release of mt-daapd. Already the forums at the project site are alight with posts indicating that users can "see" the DAAP shares, but cannot access the published content. Ron has explained the situation and is hard at work on a fix for the stable release. The anomaly does not affect the nightlies for those that are using the current, pre-release versions.

03 September 2005

myView: "The Terminal"

Truth is oftentimes stranger than fiction. This paraphrase of the famous Mark Twain quote is no truer than when considered within the context of "The Terminal. This tale, which takes as its thinly veiled Muse from the true tale of Merhan Karimi Nasseri, places a wayward citizen of the fictional state of Krakosia in the terminal of JFK after a coup at home leaves his status in limbo. As usual, Tom hanks delivers as admirable portrayal of the main protagonist. Supporting cast include Stanley Tucci and Catherine Zeta-Jones who also offer good performances.

Staying true to form, Spielberg pushes the limits of credibility to a point of strain. However implausible the situations in which Victor finds himself, the overall entertainment value is high enough to provide escape from close scrutiny. This is a great film to cuddle with a loved one and watch on a Saturday evening with nothing better to do.

02 September 2005

SkyQuest XT-10

Twenty-four years. Almost a quarter of a Century. This is a long period of time in anyone's existence. It is over half of my life to date. Yet, this is the period of time during which I have settled for mediocrity with respect to one of my greatest passions: astronoomy.

It was around twenty-four years ago that my mother bought me a Jason SpaceMaster model 325 as a gift during my twelfth year. This is the device which I have used, of and on, over the course of the past two dozen decades to satisfy my curiosity of the heavens. Capable would be an accurate descriptor, but only barely so. With this device, I have studied the solar disk, explored the surface of Luna, peeked at distant planets in our own solar system and traced the more common constellations.

However, I have long since reached the end of the road with respect to the capabilities of this viewing aid. A common, 60mm refractor, this scope is incapable of gathering enough light to make an effective tool for Deep Sky and other more precision observations. After much research and a not insignificant bit of soul searching, about three weeks ago I made the decision to upgrade to a effectual "light bucket".

The device upon which I have settled is the Orion SkyQuest XT-10. It is a quarter meter Dobsonian reflector with a 1200mm focal length and represents an increase of 348 percent in light gathering capability. Having just arrived this afternoon, I have not had a great deal of time to enjoy the increased resolution and clarity. However, having just come inside from a short thirty minute introduction, I can say that it represents a difference between the proverbial night and day. Stars I have never seen before have come rushing into focus. The definition of each discrete point of light is much sharper and brilliant. This is truly the dawn of a new experience.

Though it has served me well for a quarter Century, the SpaceMaster has be entirely eclipsed and rendered obsolete by the SkyQuest. I have no doubt that the use of this telescope will reveal celestial objects of which I have heretofore only been able to dream.

01 September 2005

Mixed Mode

For the first time in over a decade of commuting by bicycle, the need presented itself today wherein I took advantage of the public transit system to expedite the trip to work. This is highly unusual for me. As a rule, I either ride the entire way — regardless or weather — of I take the Jetta to a closer "Park & Ride" and continue from their. However, fuel prices having reached unprecedented highs, require one to rethink that strategy.

The cost of a Day Pass for the DART system is $2.50. Since petrol prices have reached a point where the average gallon costs around $3.00, it is no longer cheaper to drive one's own vehicle to a mid-route rail station (or closer) and bike from there. Therefore, I chose to try the mixed mode route, today.

Leaving the house at 0650, I headed to the Spring Valley rail station. This leg took approximately twenty minutes. This is an elevated station, so I had to take the lift up one level to reach the platform.

As The Fates would have it, the train pulled into the station precisely as the doors to the lift were opening. Hurriedly, I headed to the last car and boarded. My intended location of deboarding was Mockingbird Station. That is the last stop prior to the train going underground for the trip to downtown and it is just about the same distance from there to work as it is from home to the Spring Valley station.

The train pulled into Mockingbird only fifteen minutes after I boarded her. This is usually a busy stop and today illustrated that fact. There were severl people waiting at the platform to board. So, it was necessary for me to exit quickly and efficiently. Doing so, I headed for the lift. (In contrast to the Spring Valley station, Mocckingbird Station resides two levels below ground. For a cyclist it is necessary to take the lift to the surface as the escalator or stairs would take too long.)

Once at the surface level, I remounted my bike and headed to work. As anticipated, it took just about twenty minutes to complete this last leg of my trip.

Total trip time: right at sixty minutes door-to-door.

It should be noted that not everything I did was according to the rules as DART has laid them out. According to their Basic Information for Bicycle Commuters, I am guilty of violating the prohibition of boarded a train during "peak" hours (0600 to 0900 and 1500 to 1800) with a bike. This rule has always struck me as being ridiculous. Most bicycle commuters are going to be traveling to and from work during peak usage...just like everyone else. They work the same hours as most of the population. Given their relative rarity, a cyclist is not going to be a regular, recurring burden upon the system. There will likely be fewer than a handful of us making use of the dozens of rush hour trains in service during the average peak period each day. It will be an insignificant inconvenience to the less than one dozen patrons — though I am sure they will beg to differ — immediately affected by a cyclist on the train. These people can get a life and DART can be a bit more accommodating to a segment of the population who is arguably doing more than their share to help mitigate the ozone issues of the region. I do not foresee this being a regular action on my part — mixing transit modes. However, I will avail myself of that convenience when the need presents itself.

Overall, it was a convenient and pleasurable experience. I received no grief from any or the other pasengers and I actually arrived at work nearly ten minutes sooner than I would have when mixing cycling and driving, since I did not have to unload and load the bike on the car at both ends. I would encourage my fellow commuters to consider a similar means of getting to and from work, but am painfully aware that the vast majority are spineless whiners suffering from cyclist inferiority complex. As such, they would be too worried about getting run over than realizing any benefit a mixed mode means of transit devoid of the use of an automobile could rpovide. Therefore, I derive some degree of satisfaction in knowing I am one of the few; the responsible; the bicycle commuter.


continue to the August 2005 archive

HIM envelope
last BBEdited: 2005.10.07