Friday, October 21, 2011

Signs of the times

I've started writing for a local newspaper, The Washington County Observer. Here's a recent column:

It's about 5 in the morning and I can't sleep.

So online I start reading the Standard Highway Signs and Markings (SHSM) Book -- Interim Releases for New and Revised Signs of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices of the
Federal Highway Administration of the U. S. Department of Trnsportation.

That title alone should be enough to send me back to bed.

But there's somewhat interesting stuff here, at least to me, an individual who collects useless information (and who put it to good use by becoming a college professor). For highway engineers there are valuable instuctions that most of us don't think about. The online book has PDF files containing samples of what highway signs should look like and the entire effort is to make signs uniform in color, shape, reflectivity, and size. That way a driver anywhere in the country can readily understand road characteristics and hazards.

Of course. Makes sense.

But there is one area in which the Department of Transportation completely lost it and came up with sign regulations that were absurd, expensive, and, quite frankly, none of their business.

It was in the area of what we commonly call "street signs," the signs that tell us the names of streets. And the federal government decided that by 2018 municipalities, townships, and counties needed to have street signs that were uniform in size, color, type, style, and reflectivity. That meant taking down their current street signs and replacing them with the "new and improved" ones.

Faced with the $100 cost for each sign, local governments, the ones who have to pay the bills (with our tax money), let out such a howl that in August Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood backed off and said "common sense" (words rarely heard among big-government types) dictated that the street sign replacement requirement be scrapped.

There is a lesson here, something the Founding Fathers incorporated into the Constitution: some things are better left to the states; other things are naturally the sphere of the federal government.

Aristotle spelled it out in detail: basic human needs, he said, should be met by the most basic human unit, the family. What the family can't handle should be done by the local community, what the local community can't handle should be done by the next biggest entity, in our case the county, then on up the scale to the state and federal governments.

So the family decides its basic needs on health care, retirement, educating children, etc. At the other end of the scale, the federal government deals with things like defense. And local governments decided mundane things about potholes and sewage systems.

As as a result, families shouldn't preside over traffic court, counties shouldn't buy aircraft carriers, and the federal government shouldn't regulate street signs.

Despite Secretary LaHood's criticism of the street sign regulations, somehow I think they'll be back. It is, after all, about federal incursion into just about everything.

That, sad to say, is a sign of the times.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Creek of Consciousness

First the lemonade stands, now the treehouses. Did an interview on the radio a few weeks back with lawyer Dave Roland of the Missouri Freedom Center about how he's fighting cities outlawing children's lemonade stands (Thanks, Dave, for decriminalizing all the lemonade stands in Greeley, Colorado). Now Washington's WTOP Radio reports a Fall Church, Virginia, man has run afoul of zoning law for building his kids a treehouse. My question to lawyer Roland: why are cities doing this? His response: "Because they can"...The Cutest Community Organizer to Whom I Am Married received an e-mail from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) calling upon her to support the Occupy Wall Street movement. Is it that when there is well orchestrated, well-funded ongoing disruption, we should look for the union label?...Wall Street Journal says GE getting concerned about Tea Party flack for GE's close ties to Obama administration. CEO Jeffrey Immelt is even catching it from Mom -- his parents are big conservative media consumers and she told him not to join President's jobs council. Journal says GE claims crony capitalism charges are overblown..Joplin, Missouri's big need is for cash, according to my latest check of the post-tornado situation ...What do five of the last six presidents have in common? Except for George W. Bush, every president since Gerald Ford was left-handed. Before that, you have to go back to Harry Truman. And prior to World War II we had no left-handed presidents (except maybe James Garfield, who was so ambidexterous that he could write a sentence in Latin with one hand while writing the same sentence in Greek with the other!). Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt wrote a few years back that the reason we have all these latter-day lefties-in-chief might be because of abandonment of the old practice of imposing right-handness on all children... Danger -- old jokes ahead: Hold up your left hand. If you hold up left hand, your right hand is left, right? -- How many people would give their right arm to be ambidexterous? -- Do left-handers fight for their rights? And, yes, I am left-handed (Left on, brother!)...Lions and Tigers and winners, oh my! Some of the best news writing shows up on the sports page. Regarding the turnaround of the 4-0 Detroit Lions, Wall Street Journal's Jason Gay says: "Your average sentient human chooses to endure only one Lions game per year, on Thanksgiving." And that, he says, is just "an escape hatch from family dysfunction."

Friday, October 7, 2011

Oh, To Be A Reporter in Arkansas

In my reckless youth I committed random acts of journalism. There were stints in television, radio, and newspapers in Michigan, Colorado, and Missouri.

And while I've started writing a column for a local newspaper, I've never been a reporter in Arkansas.

It's a pity.

What an easy life -- somewhat like being a fisherman where the fish jump into the boat. In Arkansas, the news stories write themselves.

Like this one: seems a local small town mayor and a woman were fooling around with a BB gun. She shot him in the leg. In response, hizzoner da mare shot her in the abdomen.

She was treated and released at a nearby hospital. And did not file charges.

Only in Arkansas (for another jewel, see the last story I posted).

Perhaps the state should adopt a new motto, crediting Dave Barry, of course: "Arkansas. Where we don't make this stuff up."

I love this place.

Where the fish just jump into the boat...