Lessons: Letters to "-Ed."    rev.10.09.2007 Back to Lessons
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I live in Raleigh, NC, and I've written several letters to the "People's Forum" on the editorial page of our local newspaper, the Raleigh News & Observer.

I've been writing for about a year and a half, now and to date, about one or two letters have been published. One letter a year may not be too bad of a batting average, but I've been getting discouraged and disappointed recently because after I've written on a given subject near and dear to my heart or mind, my letter isn't published, but within a week or two, someone else's letter with the same topic and position is.

No, I don't think they're "out to get me" or even "out to annoy me." I just crave some acknowledgment for having raised what I believe are important subjects so that they see the light of day and maybe get some discussion going in "my new town."

Well, of course, having my own bully pulpit on the Internet, I do have the right, privilege and power to state my views here for all to see [maybe a dozen of you per month, on average,] and I can hope that some of the things I say here may motivate you to think or act. Maybe even to agree with me and let me know you agree with me.

So, I will be putting some of the letters I have sent to the N&O editors, and for their convenience, I'll probably just send the URL of this page to them as a hypertext link so that they can copy and publish any parts of this page they want, so long as they please acknowledge me as the author, "Alan Falk, Raleigh, NC." Thanks.

03.21.2007: Point of View: Our houses are way too big (and our cars are way too fast)... by Anthony Hatcher

While I think it's incredibly stupid and hypocritical for both Gore and Edwards to proselytize "green" and "lower CO2" and all that while driving some of the largest homes in the East with huge energy consumption, I have to wonder why Anthony Hatcher, "associate professor of communications at Elon University" who "live[s] in a 1,600-square-foot house in Durham" chooses to criticize me and my wife, too, who also live in a home "much larger than needed."

While I would be less surprised if his byline included "People's Republic of Berkeley, CA" or "People's Republic of Santa Monica, CA" or "People's Republic of China," I must say that I find his recommendations offensive. If there ever were the right things to say to push all the buttons of a free-market/capitalist/libertarian like myself, he's found nearly all of them.

Why pick on a $110,000 Audi S8 that does 0-60 in "just over five seconds"? Fortune Magazine's recent issue described a $1.2Million car that goes 0-60 in 2.5 seconds.

"How many rooms can you physically be in at one time?" he asks. The answer to that, I'm pretty sure, is "one." If you have a spouse or partner and maybe children, is "one" still the right number, since rooms can be shared? Why does any home need more than one room? One per person? Not really vital or life-threatening if unavailable or unaffordable. Many families have shared single rooms in times of scarcity.

But for him to get on his pedestal and proclaim that he or anyone else of his alleged thinking can make or should make a decision as to how many rooms I may or should buy or occupy is patently repulsive.

In matter of fact, my wife and I did downsize when we moved to Raleigh. We moved from an $800,000+ house to a $400,000+ house. It just so happens that the new home has 7 times the land and about 2.1 times the internal square footage. It's our dream-house. Probably the first and last time we'll be able to own a house which has features we've only dreamed about for five or six decades of living in smaller, less "well-appointed" houses.

If my house [or Gore's or Edwards'] "[are] big enough to suck up the power it would take to light an African village," please tell me how the African village will get that power if I cut back? I don't know how to implement that. I don't think my power consumption is taking it away from them. I think that the religious warfare in Africa and the policies of governments in Africa and the lack of homeowner's rights and title rights to their land are doing much more to keep the incandescent lamps from lighting up those African villages.

You're entitled to your point of vies, Mr. Hatcher, as am I. But I'll oppose people with your beliefs down to my last breath who think they know what's best for me or my next-door neighbor, or the family three states away, whether they're living hand-to-mouth or in a McMansion. What may be right for you may be completely wrong for the next guy.

My other true sadness is that your students at Elon may be exposed to your thoughts, speech, writing, preaching and ideas on a regular basis, while they don't have as great an opportunity to hear mine.

02.17.2007: On Year-Round Schools:

More junk every week. "Outraged parents picket and fill the chambers of the committees..." Baloney. Most of the time the cameras show the audience and not the committees, the attendance is sparse at best. This seems to be another example of a small group of vocal people standing up and trying to get all of us to believe that they represent the majority. Somehow, this doesn't seem to reflect reality.

If anyone says we should not have year-round classes, they must, and I emphasize must provide concrete estimates for why it is less expensive to run all schools on a "summer-vacation" schedule versus running them all on a year-round schedule.

If all of those people allegedly representing all of us were asked, "If you knew that you'd be moving into an area with a year-round-school system, would you have chosen to not move to the area?," they'd better all respond that none of them would have moved here or their position is very, very weak.

With that response in mind, the answer is: buck up, adapt, cope, and live with it. If you've got several children of various ages in various schools, beat up on the school boards and planning committees to design enough flexibility into their systems so that all of your children can be on whatever rotation you want.

But if you can't prove that it's cheaper to close schools for several months of the year than run them virtually all the time, you're asking me and everyone else to pay higher education costs and overhead costs so that you can take a vacation when you want. Sorry. I'm not willing to support your selfishness.

Look at the following comparison: If you owned three identical cars and there were three licensed drivers in your household, raise your hand if you thought it would be a good idea to put one up on blocks for two or three months of the year and not start the motor or take it out on the road for any errands or use.

02.17.2007: On the Death Penalty:

Enough of this bull about doctors and lethal injections and state executions.

As I've stated before, imnsho, the capital punishment is an angry gesture to "stick it to" the perpetrator of some nasty offense [no pun intended...], and it's barbaric. There's no evidence that it's a deterrent, and arguments to that effect assume that the person being deterred by the fear of capital punishment is rational, and that's self-contradictory on brief examination.

So let's look at some more "logical" suggestions:

02.14.2007: On the Debate about Roundabouts:

To The N&O Forum: Rather than parrot the same tripe about the arguments for and against roundabouts in Downtown, why don’t you offer a write-in “poll” from readers, to suggest places where roundabouts might work well and be cheaper to install?

Here’s my list to start:

At the Leesville/Oneal intersection, the traffic signal could be removed and the roundabout’s central circle could be made available for each graduating class to paint, thus keeping paint off of the street. And it would be a good place for people to start practicing “roundabout etiquette” too. There's already a right-turn lane in place for school-bound traffic on the southbound side!

02.12.2007: On the pretty consistent lack of willingness for anyone in the local governments to make any tough decisions.

....The most common train of thought I've seen since I moved here in the summer of '05. This is, of course, not at all different from my opinions of the Federal agencies, Senators and Representatives, too.

Legislators talk endlessly about cleaning up the legislative process or bringing more accountability to the process or better ethical practices, and "at the end of the day," they write laws with built-in loopholes that they can squirm through. It's a sham and they should all resign in embarrassment.

02.08.2007: More On Gasohol Forwarding an email [part copied here]:

Dear Rude Awakening reader,

Those of you who may have missed Byron King's enlightening, and somewhat controversial, columns in the February 1st and February 2nd editions of the Rude Awakening might want to check them out now:

A Corny Idea www.agorafinancial.com/RudeAwakening/RAissues/2007/JanFeb/RA020107.html

A Corny Idea, Part II www.agorafinancial.com/RudeAwakening/RAissues/2007/JanFeb/RA020207.html

02.04.2007: Beware of Global Warming Zealots!

If you never read anything else on the subject, read http://www.oism.org/pproject/s33p36.htm from the Petition Project.

Let me quote:

“The United States is very close to adopting an international agreement that would ration the use of energy and of technologies that depend upon coal, oil, and natural gas and some other organic compounds. This treaty is, in our opinion, based upon flawed ideas. Research data on climate change do not show that human use of hydrocarbons is harmful. To the contrary, there is good evidence that increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is environmentally helpful.”

02.03.2007: On Gasohol: http://www.plusaf.com/Lessons/gasohol.htm

It’s interesting, though… you don’t publish my letters, but within a week or so, publish similar views submitted by others, or editorials and letters to Ed opposing my views. So, help me understand what I’m doing “wrong.” Ah, to heck with it, so long as my ideas get published, even if it's got someone else's name under them.

01.26.2007: On reports that the NC Lotto isn't bringing in enough revenue...

Frankly, I’m puzzled. There are so many people who have moved to this area from other parts of the country where Lottos have been thriving and successful, yet North Carolina doesn’t seem to want to learn from the other states’ experiences.

The other night, we watched TV news reporting that “less money than expected would be available for schools from the lotto,” my wife and I both commented that we used to buy quite a few lotto tickets when we lived in California. We’d never won much, but I always considered it a fun, voluntary way to give money to the State.

What was the difference since we moved here? Easy, we agreed: in California, a nearby supermarket, Safeway, sold tickets at the customer service counter. Just around the corner from there, in the same shopping center, was a liquor store that sold tickets. In fact, the liquor store won big some years back when they’d sold a million-dollar-plus winning ticket to one of their patrons. They got tens of thousands of dollars. Later, they began to carry more premium selections of wines, ports and liquors. Could there have been a connection???

We realized that here, we didn’t even know where the closest lotto sales counter was!

Are there lessons here? I think so.

Is there anyone studying history to learn the lessons? Evidently not, either.

12.14.2006: On the B.S. being slung at paperless voting, from a reply to a friend...

Ginni, nobody has taken any kind of engineering approach to voting, so this kind of crap will continue ad nauseum. The problem's not with the machines, it's with the complete infrastructure.

When I first voted, we used the machines with the big levers that opened and closed the curtain behind you as well as tallied the votes. My votes weren't counted the first time I voted because nobody even explained to me that you should LEAVE THE VOTING LEVERS DOWN until you pull the big red handle.....

Great system, eh? And some of those purely-mechanical systems broke or didn't get counted right, either. And that was in the high-tech world of New Jersey in the 50s. [1950s, that is... :) ]

There is no foolproof system, but looking at the entire system can weed out lots of potential problems.

For example: morons in California wanted to make it mandatory to have a printer in each voting booth to print out a copy of your votes, both as a hardcopy record and to let you verify that your votes were registered correctly. And that was the start and end of their thinking.

A few problems: the DATA would be still transported by the little removable plastic chip-containing cards to a central location, where they could be manipulated, erased or miscounted, despite you holding the little piece of paper in your sweaty little voting hand.

A better solution? So easy I could come up with it: have ONE printer at each polling place [plus spares in case that one broke!]. Take the plastic card to the printer and let it print out your votes THERE. At least, then, you know the card still had your vote on it because it had to print it out for you and you could check the votes. If you didn't like the printout, you'd go back and vote again, overwriting the old data and take another shot at the printer.

When satisfied, a second printed copy of your votes could be put into a locked box [easy to steal, burn, water-damage, etc, of course...], for later recounts, if needed. The plastic chips would then go into another box for central counting. The paper printouts could even print electronically coded stripes for machine readability, but you'd then have to have a reader at the polling place to make sure that the encoding didn't change your votes....

But all of this is possible. It's just that the media, as well as moveon.org, etc, don't want to think of it this way.

See if any newspaper's editors or letters columns would accept these concepts.

I'll put money on a "no" answer.

[I was right. Nobody published it.]

10.13.2005: On Roundabouts [traffic circles]:

From a letter from Don in California:

Don had once told me there was a guy in Florida who'd written about roundabouts [traffic circles], and he claimed that the guy said he could design a traffic circle which would handle absolutely any quantity of traffic. Of course, more traffic would require a bigger circle, but he said there was no limit to the amount of traffic which could be handled, assuming you had enough land to build it on.... :)

His name is Dan Burden and I think his company is called "Walkable Communities".

It looks to be out of print, but what if the City Leaders of Raleigh looked for a book like this one:

Book Description

Based on the same British source documents which guided the design of all the high-capacity modern roundabouts in North America, the manual is published by permission of the Controller of Her Majesty's Stationery Office.It is the only North American design manual to illustrate how to design: high-capacity roundabouts, with flared entries up to four lanes wide; modern roundabout interchanges; mini-roundabouts; and double roundabouts.

Tell me more about how roundabouts can't work..... Link to Amazon.com here for the book.

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First rev: 01.17.2007; © Copyright 2007 by plusaf. All Rights Reserved