Thursday, February 25, 2010

DC Clarifies Bag Tax, Saves Planet

In response to confusion about the bag tax, DC has posted this "notice of proposed rulemaking."

It is 9 pages of single-spaced type which supposedly clarifies exactly who is subject to the bag tax. I couldn't make head or tails of it. And beyond that, I am completely unclear on what this thing even is. Didn't we already pass a law?

Yes, we did. Apparently, though, nobody could understand it, so we need to pass another law to clarify the orignal law. This "notice of proposed rulemaking" is open for comments until March 5, 2010. Comments can be emailed to Marylynn Wilhere. I plan to do so, if I can figure out what exactly is being proposed.

So now that we have the bag tax, has the apocalypse come?

Where the hell have you been? Yes, it has! Obviously the bag tax is responsible for the two weeks of hell we've endured under the yoke of endless snow. The nation's first plastic bag tax just happens to coincide with the worst snowstorm in DC history. Coincidence? I think not.

Okay, well, maybe it is just a coincidence. But the bag tax has certainly generated a lot of attention. Not just in DC, but from outside. Attention from other cities who are wondering if this is an easy, politically correct way for them to make some cash. Attention from economists who are marveling at the social experiment that this tax represents. In many ways, even though I oppose the tax, I think I've actually been enjoying it from this perspective. How will the reality of its effects match my predictions? How much will people cut of their own noses to spite their face over this tax?

wapo-bag-pollThe Post did an online poll last month asking people how they felt about the tax. There were three choices: strongly oppose, strongly favor, or mostly indifferent. Only one percent of the 2,200 respondents chose the "indifferent" option. And everyone else was pretty much evenly split among loving and hating it.

This is really remarkable. I can think of very few social issues which generate such strong opinions. I mean, this is like abortion or gay rights as far as the conviction with which people choose a side. And over a freakin' 5 cent tax on plastic bags! How could this possibly inspire people to drive miles out of their way to avoid it? This interesting article discusses some of these quite unexpected effects and describes the tax as a "behavioral economist's dream."

The other thing that I think is worth noting about the very unscientific Washington Post poll is that it more or less proves that the tax is unpopular. That is - even though the poll respondents were evenly split, the demographics of someone who reads the Post online and responds to a poll like this is very different than the demographics of DC overall. The average online WaPo reader is almost certainly more tech-savvy and "green" than the average DC resident overall. Poorer people are much less likely to have internet access or to participate in this sort of online community. I think it's safe to say that the strongest support for this tax is among young, progressive, people -- a demographic that is almost certainly overrerpresented by an online poll.

With Every Challenge Comes An Opportunity

As soon as my foot is better, I plan to take advantage of the obvious loophole afforded by this law. While it prevents stores from giving away bags at checkout, obviously, you can't make it illegal to sell bags. You will see me, or one of my army of minions, selling "go-packs" of 10 plastic bags outside Giant for 25 cents.

I'm only half kidding. I'm kind of surprised that the supermarket chains don't just give DC the finger by offering for sale 10 or 20 packs of bags at the checkout. It would be perfectly legal, and any effort to prevent such sales would be pretty tough to legislate, unless you were planning to ban plastic bags from being sold, period. Good luck with that.

But what's interesting is that, actually, five cents for a plastic bag is not a terrible deal. In quantities of 1,000, these bags are around 3.5 cents each. Biodegradable plastic bags are 7 cents each! While I am sure someone like Giant who buys millions of these things is getting a better deal, at the end of the day, 5 cents is actually a pretty reasonable retail price for a supermarket bag. In order to have any kind of decent profit margin selling these things on the street to undercut the tax, you'd have to buy them in vast quantities. I must admit that I assumed they would be a lot less expensive, like on the order of a penny each.

Okay, so maybe I'm not quite ready to put the folding table up and fight for space with the shady guys selling incense and handheld-video copies of "Avatar 3D." But I really, honestly do use these bags all the time for picking up trash. The tax has already created a serious dearth of these things in my household.

But luckily, I have someone looking out for me. Someone who the architects of the law will despise, because barely six weeks into the law, she has reacted to it in the most obivous, yet despicable way.

For Valentine's Day, N. gave me a 1,000 pack of disposable supermarket bags.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Obligatory Self Pity Post

In a stunningly badly timed turn of events, just as it was becoming possible to leave one's house again as the snow has slowly melted, I broke my foot.

Even worse, it had nothing to do with the snow and ice, so I can't sue anyone.

I'm just kidding. I'm really not the litigous type.

But the end result is the same: I am stuck on my couch, AGAIN. As if I already wasn't developing bedsores from being trapped in my house for an eternity due to the apocalyptic weather conditions.

Ca n'est pas un pied.
The long and short of it is, I broke a heel spur. Actually, that is the short of it. Here is the long. A heel spur is something that you ideally don't have at all. It is little bit of junk that grows off the inside of your heel as a result of your plantar fascia being messed up, also known as plantar fasciitis (PF). It's a fairly common yet confounding foot condition that can affects anyone, though more commonly atheletes.

As I am a rugged marathon runner, who has trained in sweltering heat and sub-zero arctic-like temperatures, at high altitude and in extreme terrain conditions, I have put my feet through hell over the years. I've had PF a few times, most recently for about the last four or five months. While it is not usually debilitating, it's annoying as hell. It typically manifests itself with your foot hurting like a byatch under the arch near the heel when you first get out of bed in the morning, but then generally feels better pretty quickly as it stretches out. It is treated through a variety of exercises and other techniques, but suffice it to say, I have not been very good about that this time around, and so it hasn't really gone away.

Apparently one of the consequences of not dealing with PF is getting heel spurs. One of the ways your foot tries to fix itself when it has PF is to build these little things so that the tendon has more to grab on to as it tries to repair itself. The spurs usually don't cause problems, except, of course, when you break them.

A couple days ago I missed a step going downstairs and landed hard on my heel. After that I could no longer so much as stand on my left foot without excruciating pain. That was my first clue that something had gone horribly wrong.

My usual response to injuries such as these is to drink a great deal of liquor and see if it's better in the morning. This strategy has generally proved quite effective, and I estimate I've avoided about 90% of the emergency room visits that most people would have made by using this technique. I still end up in the ER about once a year or so, so obviously I am fairly accident prone, but that's neither here nor there.

This time, unfortunately, I found it was actually worse the next day. I really couldn't walk at all. Through some miracle I was able to see a foot doctor the same day and so avoided a nine-hour sojourn at the emergency room. The doc at first thought I had just taken the first step (metaphorically) in converting chronic PF to acute PF. This means, no longer would it just be something that annoyed me every day. It would be something that screamed and thrashed at me, demanding I stop ignoring it. I would have to deal.

I get to wear one of these.
It looks like a ski boot, and costs about
five times as much. No, you cannot
play tennis while wearing it.
Well, it could be worse, I thought. (As it turns out, of course, it was.) The doctor ordered x-rays just to make sure I didn't break anything. (As it turns out, of course, I did). The pictures came back and he immediately saw the fracture that you don't see in the picture above, which is not my foot. That little heel spur that is circled is completely broken off in my picture. The doctor was actually quite surprised. Apparently, breaking a heel spur is very uncommon. While he sees hundreds and hundreds of PF cases every year, he might see a broken heel spur once or twice. So I'm a rare case, and that's always nice.

Anyway, I am disappointed, not just because I will LOSE MY F?!*ING MIND if I don't leave this house sometime soon, but because I was looking forward to continuing my Snowvelations series. But unfortunatley, since I've barely been outside since Tuesday, I have not seen firsthand what's going on in the world. N. tells me that my worst fears are coming true: mountains of uncollected trash are filling the streets, rats are growing large enough to challenge cats for the rule of the nighttime hours, and C.H.U.D. sightings are even reported. It was only a matter of time.

It's probably just as well that I'm stuck inside.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Roving packs of dogs now rule Columbia Heights

Somehow, despite being trapped in my house for days, I have not found time to blog yet. Honestly, I'm not even sure what day it is most of the time. It's just another day. I no longer wonder whether the office will technically be open or not, since there is no way for me to get there until the metro runs above ground again.

This is actually an improvement.
A snowplow did come by this morning. The result was interesting. While 11th Street might technically be passable now, it is impossible to turn onto any side street, since they are all now walled off by snowbanks about 4 feet high.

Most people's cars are hermetically sealed in the wall of ice and snow. That has not stopped a handful or eternal optimists from digging out their cars every day, though so far I have not seen anyone sucessfully leave their parking spot in two days.

Where we are at this point is full-on cabin fever. If I watch another NCIS rerun I will kill myself. Or, more likely, N. will kill me. Walking the dogs must be accomplished in the slim sidewalk area where they can actually walk. And that's only going to get worse when people start throwing salt down, which hurts the dog's feet. Last week, we put ziploc bags on Sully's feet once to protect him from the salt. It was pretty hilarious actually.

Worst of all, I have not been to Home Depot in more than a week. They'll probably be out of business by the time I make it back there.

At the same time, business has obviously been good for the local watering holes. We've been to The Red Derby, er, more than I'd care to admit, mostly because it's about the only place we can get to. It has been packed every time.

So we perservere. This is officially more disastrous than the Great Marion Barry Disaster of 1996. That is, my office has been closed for more consecutive days than that event, which seems like a good yardstick. Luckily (yes, really) the Internet means that I've been able to work most of the time, unlike last time around, when everyone in the entire city was clearly bonkers after about five days of being cooped up. I am trying to remember what we did for a week with no internet.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

New Hobby: MPD Mailing List

I signed up for the 3D MPD mailing list yesterday. You may be asking yourself, "Self, really? He just signed up for it?"

Yes, it is shocking, that even after years of griping about DC government, MPD included, I have only now decided to read the daily arrests and so on. I just never really thought about it too much, since all the big stuff gets repeated in many other outlets, but this is pretty good reading. Besides, since one of my biggest pet peeves is lack of transparency in government, I feel obligated to read everything that we actually can see.

The downside, as I have discovered this morning, is that I get to see the startling number of arrests made each week in my neighborhood.

The upside is that some of these are awesome. I am not going to publish the names here - not because it's not public information, but just because I don't want this to be the only place that googling some thug's name will return.

Here are a few selections from yesterday's arrest roll call:

ARREST# : 031000666
DT-TM: 02-FEB-10 - 1625

This actually makes me very happy. I didn't realize that with all the other crap going on around here that the police really dealt with nuisance crimes like this.

ARREST# : 031000656
DT-TM: 02-FEB-10 - 0108

"Unlicensed hacker?" First of all, I didn't realize we had a cyber-crime unit in DC. But beyond that, is there a process in which one can become licensed to be a hacker?

Okay, bad joke. But irresistible nonetheless.

The last one, however, is very disturbing. Very disturbing indeed.

ARREST# : 031000660
DT-TM: 02-FEB-10 - 0600

I remember reading that, some time ago, they arrested a handful of people for skipping on juty duty. To make an example. In DC, since we have basically a 1-to-1 ratio of non-felons to felons, you get called for jury duty pretty much every two years on the dot. Apparently, a lot of people had gotten over it and the no-show rate was getting pretty high. Apart from it being illegal to do this, there was a juror shortage.

I skipped out on jury duty last time. I didn't do it on purpose. And I've showed up for every single one of the other 8 or 9 times I've been called since I've lived here. There was something complicated involving a move, mail being forwarded to the wrong place, and maybe a jade idol. Or was that a hangover? I don't remember the details. But I didn't realize I was supposed to be there until it was too late, so when I realized I'd skipped it, I just said "oh well."

Is officer J. Brennan going to show up at my door, haul my ass downtown, and throw me in the "jury duty evader" tank?

Is there a warrant out for my arrest? Should I present myself to the 3D substation and let the law have its way with me? Will this prevent me from ever voting again, receiving a security clearance, or getting a $200 economic stimulus check from a future Republican president?

When finally I saw the then-overdue jury duty notice, I figured they would send another one with a new date. Call me again. Like everything else that you get from the government and accidentally ignore, such as a parking ticket, notice of tax audit, or focus group invitation. But no. I never heard from them again. How long has it been now? More than a year. Has it been two years?

I can't live like this. I am going to turn myself in after I pick up a copy of The Secret. I will see you in 20 years.

Monday, February 1, 2010

iPad Saves World, But What's Next?

Last week heralded the unveiling of Apple's latest wonder-child, the iPad. As everyone with access to the Internet, a newspaper, or pictures of The Rosetta Stone knows, the iPad will revolutionize the world in much the same way the automobile, antibiotics, and the vacuum bottle have.

Since everyone has drunk the Apple cool aid, there is no question that any new product released by the company will be met the sort of rejoicing and world peace that can only be compared to the second coming of Christ. This is despite such obvious attempts at money-grubbing which include batteries that can't be replaced, and the inability to sell any software for one of their products without giving Apple a substantial cut. But making Steve Jobs rich is a small price for world peace, isn't it?

But never mind all that. This post is not about cool-aid, or even the glorious future that awaits us in a new world, filled with throngs of happy hipsters who have been led down the path of righteousness, converting all unbelievers with the touch of their touch-screen. That world will obviously be free of hunger, disease, poverty, and even hiccups. Especially hiccups. Instead, this post is about what's in the "Apple Core," that primordeal soup where future unstoppable products are conceived and gestated. Even though starting next week, the iPad will solve global warming at the same time as providing for all the world's energy needs, there will still be many opportunities for future miracles from the Apple Computer corporation.

So what's in the pipeline? Take a gander at these:

iQ: The world's "smart cue," it will change your drunken 2-hour 8-ball game into something Minnesota Fats would envy. With a precise GPS satellite uplink, it will automatically analyze your shot and tell you when you're perfectly positioned. It will even let you know when you're being hustled by accessing a datatabase of known bar scammers. You will only be charged for shots you make.

iRan: A device so small it can be hidden, er, anywhere on your body, this gadget is designed specifically to assist Middle Eastern political dissidents in escaping from dictatorial regimes. Essentially a tiny GPS receiver that comes with a a pair of running shoes, it was test marketed in the U.S. as the "Nike + iPod Sport Kit."

iCaramba: iPad rebranding for the Latino market.

iSore: A new product that will revolutionize, nay, eliminate the plastic surgery industry, the initial iSore is anticipated to be released in January 2011 for $999. This amazing device will project a holographic image of it's owner, making them appear to look like Jessica Simpson or Hugh Jackman. The iSore 2.0, which will be released three months later for $499, will expand its audience to the trashy market and include Khloe Kardashian and "The Situation" as options, among others. Initial iSore purchasers can upgrade to the iSore 2.0 for $199.

iDeal: Will revolutionize casino gambling by replacing table dealers with a machine that never misdeals and automatically shuffles whenever card-counting is detected. The perfect dealer, it will even make casual banter and tell players how disappointed it is when they lose.

iCon: Apple made "icon" a household word in 1984 when the immensely popular Macintosh changed computers from an intimidating machine with a screen full of baffling information, into something where you point at things and clicked them. Much like how a toddler interacts with you by pointing at your dinner, while he dumps his mac 'n cheese on the floor. This new product once again owns the word "icon" by offering an all-in-one espionage tool to would-be spies and con-artists. By enabling you to read your victim's minds, the unkowns are effectively eliminated from any scam.

iLand: Tsunami sunk your ship? Lost at sea? No longer a problem. The sunburned ragamuffin clinging to broken boards, dying of thirst, will be a thing of the past, as the new all-weather iLand will automatically direct you to the nearest dry land. Once stuck on your desert island, the iLand will let you download music and video via satellite connection at the castaway discount price of $0.69 per song or $1.49 per video. Internet connectivity is limited to the Apple Store. In adhering to Apple's "captive audience" market strategy, no outgoing email is permitted.

iDo: Apple will change the way the world thinks about nuptials by inventing the "Wedding 2.0" courtesy of the iDo. This amazing gadget will guide couples through every step of the process from planning with the iKnow add-on, to the wedding day itself with the add-on iVow Writer and the iRing, availabile in iRing "Tones" of gold, white gold and platinum. Many other add-ons are available. The base iDo application includes one free iPreNup download, as well as a 30-day trial of their marriage counseling app, dubbed "imSorry," and as well as "iSplit," the separation and divorce app.