to whom I paid tolls

Mounted to the windshield of my car is an I-Pass toll transponder, which is Illinois’s version of the E-ZPass toll transponder used to collect tolls throughout much of the eastern half of the country. I find it both fascinating and creepy that using a toll transponder creates an electronic record of your whereabouts:

Some observations:

  • Both the transponder in my car and the transponder in my wife’s car are in her name. (This report shows only tolls incurred by the transponder in my car.)
  • It costs more to cross the George Washington Bridge ($7.50) than it does to drive the entire 156-mile length of the Indiana Toll Road ($4.18). (Although, to be fair, the trip across the George Washington Bridge is much nicer than the trip across northern Indiana.)
  • In contrast to the George Washington Bridge, the Delaware Water Gap Toll Bridge is a bargain at $1.
  • Both the Indiana Toll Road and Ohio Turnpike use a ticket system, where you take a ticket when you enter the toll road, and then pay tolls when you leave the toll road, based on how far you’ve travelled. (Since I have the I-Pass, I don’t need to take a ticket—it’s handled electronically.) That’s why you see only one tool recorded for each trip.
  •  On the Illinois Tollway, by contrast, you simply pay a toll every so many miles along the highway (as well as at certain on- and off-ramps). The last two tolls, for example, represent my cost for using I-355.

socialized booze

The word “socialism” has been frequently misused recently, mostly in hyperbole about the recent health care reforms. However, socialism is alive and well in another sector of the economy, in a number states in which the government has a monopoly on retail sales of spirits. The New York Times describes the liquor control system in the state of Washington, a system which will be eliminated on Friday:

State control, in turn, made generations of civil servants tastemaking critics — their decisions on what to stock dictating what people could order in bars or buy in the stores.

In 2010, for example, a tiny distiller here in Cashmere, called It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere, made a grape brandy that the owner, Colin Levi, was quite proud of. Liquor Control Board officials came by for a tasting and did not much care for it, Mr. Levi said, and that was that — it never went into distribution.

Until 2009, I lived in Oregon, another state with a government monopoly on the sale of liquor. In 2002, Oregonians rejected a ballot measure that would have created a single-payer health care system in that state. At the time, I remarked that people in Oregon were afraid of “socialized medicine” but had no problem with “socialized booze”.

Visit to the 9/11 Memorial

Today, Sarah and I visited the National September 11 Memorial, which sits on Ground Zero.

Visiting the memorial requires a visitor pass. The passes are free, but have to be reserved ahead of time on their web site. (I reserved our passes in late April, and there were already no slots available on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.)  There was about a 15 minute wait to enter the memorial, which included passing through metal detectors.

The memorial consists of a plaza full of trees, and two recessed pools in the footprints of the twin towers. Water flows down the sides of the pools, and the names of 9/11 victims line the rims of the pools.

9/11 Memorial (#1)
9/11 Memorial (#2)
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Looking forward to the 14th b’ak’tun

The media has been discussing the recent discovery of Mayan astronomical calculations of events well past 2012. They are saying that this debunks the notion that the Maya predicted the end of the world on 21 December. Here’s a video news summary from Slate:

While this is really cool as an archaeological find, it doesn’t debunk anything that hasn’t been debunked a many, many times before. Indeed, the notion that the Maya ascribed any eschatological meaning to the end of the 13th b’ak’tun has been throughly discredited. For example, here’s an expert on the ancient Maya quoted in 2009:

“For the ancient Maya, it was a huge celebration to make it to the end of a whole cycle,” says Sandra Noble, executive director of the Foundation for the Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies in Crystal River, Fla. To render Dec. 21, 2012, as a doomsday or moment of cosmic shifting, she says, is “a complete fabrication and a chance for a lot of people to cash in.”

And here’s a Mayan elder quoted by the Associated Press in 2009:

Apolinario Chile Pixtun is tired of being bombarded with frantic questions about the Mayan calendar supposedly “running out” on Dec. 21, 2012. After all, it’s not the end of the world.

Or is it?

Definitely not, the Mayan elder insists. “I came back from England last year and, man, they had me fed up with this stuff.”

Let me tell you why I find the 2012 hype obnoxious: One of the key tenets of this 2012 stuff is that the ancient Mayan civilization had important insights that are now being ignored by modern Western society. Its believers hold themselves as more “enlightened” for recognizing the value of this native culture. Except, in reality, the hype is based on ignoring what the Maya said and misappropriating their voice to push silly new-age ideas.

Hopefully, these latest archaeological finds will tamp down this 2012 nonsense.