Learn from my mistake — Chicago now just trying to trick you for money

I got a ticket in the mail the other day for expired plates. “Are our plates expired?” Sara asked me. I literally had to go outside and check. Yup, sure enough, they were. I guess maybe the city’s vast network of surveillance cameras just scans for expired plates and sends tickets? I don’t know.

“So, did we like, just ignore their warnings? How did this happen?” Well, it turns out that the city decided to stop sending notifications last November as a “cost saving measure”. More like a revenue generating measure, amiright?

I guess this $60 ticket was our notification.

I have no problem paying for my registration. Happy to do it. Only the government can get away with not asking you for money, then fining you for not paying the money that they didn’t ask you for.

Of course, there was also a $20 fee for late registration as well as “convenience fees” both for paying the ticket AND paying the registration.

If someone is not paying, or ignoring your notices or something, fine, send them a ticket. But if you penalize people on a technicality, people who are actively trying to do the right thing, then don’t pretend you’re all above board.

Only the government can get away with b.s. like this. I mean, if the stamp to send the notification is just costing you sooo much money, tack the $0.49 on to the registration fee.

Governments should not be shady.

In regards to Syrian refugees, and modern day pharisees

I normally steer far, far away from politics on this blog. However, I am just so very upset about this Syrian refugee thing, and I just can’t keep my mouth shut.

In the past few days I have seen so many so called “christians”, including every single GOP presidential candidate, say that we should disallow Syrian refugees from entering our country.

Let me be blunt about this: if you think we should turn away refugees, you are not a follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Here’s the thing: I have seen the bible twisted around to support just about every conceivable position. It’s a big book, and there’s a lot of scare quotes in there. By selectively applying it, we can make it sound as if it says just about anything. But the New Testament is VERY, VERY clear on one point: Jesus is about love. Love they neighbor as thyself, do unto others, the meek shall inherit, turn the other cheek, the Good Samaritan, love, love, love.

The book is *very* explicit on this point. What should we do with the tired, the poor, the downtrodden? Do we help them? Jeez, I wish it said somewhere.

I mean, for all the quoting of the bible and quoting of the quran these biblical scholars do, I’m not sure they’ve ever really read the thing. If you read the New Testament and you got anything out of it other than, “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself” then you missed the entire point.

I mean, literally, every time the dude had a chance to speak, he reiterated. “For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me;” Very explicit.

“But wait!” you say. “If we let in these refugees, we’re at risk! They could be terrorists!” Yes, they could be. And I’m sure Jesus would say, “Oh goodness no, I didn’t mean for you to follow my teachings when it caused you risk! I certainly don’t reward anybody who is hurt or killed while following my teachings!”

No, of course that’s not what he’d say. He’d say, “Hmm, oh really? Well, I do remember VERY EXPLICITLY telling you what you should do when you encounter someone who needs help. Like OVER AND OVER AND OVER again. But remind me where I said you can ignore all that when it might be risky? Did I say that while I was working with the lepers? Or was it when I was refusing to fight against my enemies, instead allowing them to kill me in the most painful and humiliating way possible?”

Do you know who let a guy in, even though he *knew* the guy was going to betray and kill him? JESUS %^&$ CHRIST, that’s who! (You guys really should read this book; helluva plot twist, this Judas guy.)

I saw this meme going around the other day, and it went something like this:

Find someone who doesn’t believe we should kill Muslims and ask him why not. When he says, “Because killing is wrong and we should strive to be better,” punch him in the face. If he tries to retaliate, explain how violence is wrong. When he agrees, punch him in the face again. Keep doing this until he finally understands he is wrong.”

That is LITERALLY EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE OF THE TEACHINGS OF CHRIST. If you know even the first thing about Jesus, it’s that he’d be the one advocating for peace, and getting punched repeatedly in the face, turning the other cheek and getting right back up.

Why would you spread that meme, unless you absolutely reject the teachings of christ? Why would you want to proclaim that you want to punch Jesus???

“But wait!” you say. “If we let in these refugees, they’ll bankrupt us! They’ll all live off the dole for the rest of their lives and never contribute anything to society.” Yes, they might. And I’m sure Jesus would say, “Store up your wealth and never give it to anybody! I certainly don’t reward anybody who gives away all their Earthly goods to the poor!”

Think of every religious person you’ve ever admired. Mother Teresa, every saint, every nun, anybody even a little bit holy. Why are they revered? Because they gave of themselves tirelessly in the face of insurmountable odds, regardless of their own personal risk? Or because they were really good at pre-emptive strikes?

“But wait!” you say. “These people are *different* than us! They dress different, believe different, have a different skin color. They’re inherently violent, and they’re not even Christian!” All of that is true (I don’t believe the inherently violent part, but for the sake of argument let’s say that one’s true too). And I’m sure Jesus would say, “Ew, yuck, they’re different? Keep them out, I only love certain kinds of people. Make sure you don’t lead a good example; I don’t want any of the wrong kinds of converts.”

Like, you know at one time Jesus as literally the only Christian, right? I mean, even after he got his disciples and everything, 99.999% of the world was not-Christian. If Jesus had said, “Hey, we only help Christians over here” he really wouldn’t have had many hungry people to feed, or homeless people to shelter. Are you not glad that he opened it up a little bit from that original handful of people?

Look, there were a bunch of guys in the bible who were more concerned about money, politics, power, and displaying the trappings of religion, all the while doing the exact opposite. They were called the Pharisees. Spoiler alert: they are the bad guys in the story. These are not the guys you want to be aligned with. One could argue the ENTIRE POINT of the New Testament is a rejection of these guys; Jesus basically exists as a counter-example to people who pretend to piety, while turning away the tired, the poor, the displaced.

Evelyn’s doing this Christmas play, right? So the whole Christmas story has kind of been on my mind lately. So you have Mary and Joseph, poor and displaced, ready to give birth, and nobody will take them in, give them a place to stay, so they end up having a baby in a barn. I don’t need to spell this out for you, here…

To recap: Christ is VERY, VERY explicit on whether or not you should help those who need help, regardless of any personal danger it might put you in. Leaves no room for doubt.

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:2

School is putting advertising in front of my children, and I am not okay with it

My daughter told me a very interesting story the other day. The children were given iPads so they could use them as thesauruses to look up synonyms during writer’s workshop. The problem was that there was a video that played in the sidebar of the thesaurus webpage, and it was distracting her. The students were all laughing about the ad, because it just kept playing over and over again, and they found that really funny. Finally, Evelyn got curious about what the ad was for and watched it until it said, “Toyota: Let’s Go Places”, and then she paused it so it would stop looping.

She told me this as she would tell me any anecdote from her day, but it made me profoundly uncomfortable. The teacher, in her position of authority, put advertising in front of the kids. Okay, okay, so Evelyn is not likely to buy a Toyota, but who is vetting these commercials? Nobody, obviously. I mean, I’m not worried that the thesaurus page is going to start showing porn or “Miley Cyrus twerks the hits” ads or something; I’m not really comfortable with school giving my children *any* advertising. I don’t want school endorsing-by-proxy that you should buy legos, or eat at McDonalds, or watch “Murder McGunshot tonight on NBC!” Even aside from any specific product, I don’t like my children to have someone whispering “BUY BUY BUY BUY” in their ear while they are supposed to be learning.

Quite frankly, I’m starting to think these advertisers don’t have my child’s best interest at heart.

I wish my children didn’t have to see advertisements anywhere, but I’m not COMPLETELY naive. Still, I thought school was at least an ad-free zone. But again, it’s not necessarily about the advertisement (I highly doubt the Toyota commercial was objectionable), but it is about the advertising itself. It’s about the TECHNOLOGY itself.

Evelyn told me that one of her friends lost iPad privileges because she just plays with emoji. OF COURSE she just plays with emoji! These kids are 7 and 8 years old. I’m a 35 year old man, and when I sit down to check the weather, 10 minutes later I’m on Facebook and Twitter and 5 tabs deep on a wikipedia article about robotic jockeys racing camels. The computer is a distraction machine. We’re in the middle of an ADHD epidemic, and you want kids to pay attention to the thesaurus while a video ad plays in the sidebar? That would be like trying to teach the kids math while I stood in the corner waving my hands and shouting “HEY HEY LOOK AT ME HEY”. You can’t give the kids the Internet and then blame them for watching the ad. You can’t give an 8 year old the Internet at all, if you want them to pay attention. It’s like dropping them off by themselves in downtown Las Vegas and making them promise to go straight to the library.

Look, ya’ll, we’ve been on the Internet. It’s generally a terrible place. I’m not just talking about all the porn and racial slurs, I’m talking about everything. I’m talking about the average comment thread at the bottom of the average news article. I’m talking about body shaming, and cyberbullying and consumerism. I’m talking about knowing the difference between Buzzfeed and a legitimate news site (or for that matter, the difference between The Onion and a legitimate news site, something that a few adults I know haven’t mastered yet). I’m talking about not knowing that advertising in the sidebar is not part of the article, and should be ignored. I’m talking about them not being an adult.

Despite that fact that there is practically nobody sorting the apps that are actually educational from those that actually hinder your intellectual growth, there doesn’t seem to be any thought whatsoever given to how to use technology in the classroom. Technology seems to be the end goal in and of itself.

School: “We’re excited to announce that every classroom is going to have iPads this year!!”
Me: “Why?”
School: “Did you not hear us? iPads! Why do you not look excited right now?”

The time the kids skyped with the biologist about butterfly lifecycles? Awesome. The time the kids talked to their pen pal class in India? Awesome. Watching cute baby animal videos? Okay, maybe of some use? Somehow? But if you want me to accept the fact that the thesaurus is going to distract my kid with ads in the sidebar, then explain to me the big advantage of using a thesaurus on the Internet versus in an ad-free book. You can’t. There isn’t one. If anything, learning to use an actual thesaurus teaches you things that using the iPad cannot (how to spell without auto-correct for starters). So I’m being asked to let you distract my kids with ads so that they can *also* not learn how to spell?

I don’t think this is being done maliciously, I think people just don’t think about it. I think adults don’t notice ads anymore, and know how to navigate the Internet to avoid the things they want to avoid, and how to focus on the right thing and ignore the rest. I think they expect 8 year olds to be able to do the same (while also complaining that kids grow up too fast these days). I think that‘s not fair to our kids.

Might be time to donate a bunch of thesauruses to school.

The car-free lifestyle

I have been getting about 10,000 times more exercise than usual, lately.

It starts with the commute, of course. Instead of sitting in a car for two hours a day, I am walking, walking, walking. It’s really not all that much walking, maybe 3 miles a day, but that just highlights how little I was walking before. Also, a thing I noticed about taking the train: I’m always running to catch it. It’s not that I’m always late; quite the opposite, in fact, which is what gets me in trouble. See, there’s always one earlier train.

If there is a train that doesn’t arrive for 15 minutes, I could say, “Nice! Plenty of time to get to the train.” OR, I could say, “Hmm, if I can get there in 5 minutes, I can catch the earlier one.” When I see a train pulling into the station, I could say, “Oh well, I guess I’ll catch the one, arriving in 10 minutes.” OR, I could say, “I bet if I sprint and take the stairs 2 at a time, I can catch that train.”

But what I’ve really noticed lately is just a shift in mindset. In just 2 months, I’ve already switched away from thinking car-first.

Since the kids are often riding their bikes, we can go a lot faster if I ride my bike too, instead of walking. Sometimes I have to go somewhere after work, but it seems stupid to take the train all the way home, and then turn around and go back the other way in the car. Instead I have sometimes been leaving my bike close to a train stop and then grabbing it on the way home. I’ve ridden my bike around the neighborhood more in the past 2 months than the rest of the time we’ve lived in Chicago, combined. The other day, I even walked to get groceries, then took them home on the train.

Around the same time, we also replaced one of our house locks with a key-free entry (to avoid being locked out again). OMG this is the most psychologically amazing thing on the planet. Between that and not using the car, I don’t even take my keys with me anymore when I leave the house. It’s really just kind of…freeing, to just walk out of the house and go on your way. I don’t know how to describe it. I wouldn’t have thought it would make a difference, but it really, really does.

The less I use the car, the less I *want* to use the car. It’s not a conscious decision, but it’s more like I just don’t think of using it. The car has started to seem like more of a hassle, rather than the other way around. And the more I use the train, or ride my bike, the more I realize how convenient it is. In the last two weeks I’ve ridden my bike home after 10 pm. It sounded cold, awful, potentially even dangerous. But it wasn’t! It was actually pretty easy, and, dare I say, even refreshing.

And it has to be better for me, of course. I mean, I haven’t really noticed a difference, but it has to be healthier, right? Two months ago, I certainly didn’t think I could have run a 5k, and now I did. So.

It really feels good. Freeing. Healthier. Good for my psychological well-being. I wonder how much of the general, unclassified “yuck” of our lives (stress, I guess?) really just comes down to not getting enough of the things our bodies really need: fresh air, exercise, healthy food.

You guys: every day that goes by, I turn into more of a hippy.

For only the price of a coffee…

I am just so tired of this argument.

These days, everything is Kickstarter or Indigogo, pledge drives or pleas for donations. “Oh, for only the price of a coffee, you could support this, or donate to that!”

Well first off, Mr. Rockefeller, I don’t know who you pal around with, but I don’t know anybody that drops $5 on coffee and doesn’t think twice about it. Maybe on a special occasion to splurge or something, but I guess if you have the kind of money where you spend $5 a day on coffee without blinking, maybe you should be donating some of it.

Coffee club at work cost $0.20 a cup. Twenty cents. So you’re not asking me to give up one cup of coffee, you’re asking me to give up 25 cups of coffee. Twenty five. You’re basically asking me to give up drinking coffee altogether.

That better be a hell of a magazine.

And that’s just your fundraiser. What about the 15 other people who want me to donate to them, “just the price of a coffee”? I can’t bankroll everybody, and I don’t want to. Donations are no way to run a business. Maybe there isn’t a market for some things. Maybe the market is already over-saturated. Maybe you’re just not that good at running a business. I don’t know.

The fact of the matter is, I don’t mind buying a product to support something that I want to support. I even donate on occasion. Just don’t make it seem so trivial. “Oh, just the price of a coffee! So simple!”

It’s not so simple. It’s money. If it were so simple, you wouldn’t be asking me for it.