My Take on Politics

As this voting season heats up I have taken the time to think about what it is about the political process which so badly sticks in my craw. Here are some random, unordered thoughts.

-I do not believe that any politicians who make it to the national level have any interest in anything but maintaining or increasing their own power.

-I don’t believe anyone gets into politics in the first place without having a healthy dose of self-interest.

-I believe that the more power one accrues in politics, the less enlightened that self-interest becomes.

-I don’t believe our representatives genuinely represent anything any more.

Watching the republican and democratic primaries over the past couple of months, along with the political ads, only enforces my dim view of the people who want to be president. Look at all the attack ads. Look at the mud-slinging. Look at the waffling and character assassinations and not-so-cleverly hidden past transgressions.

Look at the dishonesty and spin.

If the candidates are directly responsible for these vile, pathetic, evil bits of media feces, then I want none of them in my country, much less running it.

If they are NOT directly responsible for the attack ads, then their supporters – those who they represent – are. What does that say about someone, if he or she represents the kind of people who take joy in committing vicious character assassinations?

If the people creating the attack ads and propaganda are soldiers-for-hire, then I have this to say: You are very talented. Please do something more constructive with your time.

In the spectrum between “Would sell my soul to save my mother,” and “would sell my mother to save my soul.” I believe that the higher in the national power structure a politician rises, the farther toward the second pole he or she moves.

This might simply be the only kind of person who can accrue any political power. We can only hope that those people have a sense of enlightened self-interest once they get to that level. I have my doubts.

I have believed, since the Clinton re-election campaign, that all presidents (and pretty much everyone else at or near that level) are sociopaths to some degree or another. It may be that, in order to sleep at night, having made the decisions people with vast amounts of power have to make, a person must have little or no conscience.

So where does all of this leave us? Are we in possession of a political system which can only elect the most vicious dogs in the pack? Looking at the media from the past few weeks, I am beginning to be afraid that that is the case. If so, and if we are unwilling to completely revise the political process in this country, then at least let us be honest about the character of the people we are choosing. None of them are “Average Joes”. All of them – by virtue of extraordinary character, extraordinary connections, extraordinary viciousness, or extraordinary resourcefulness – have amassed more money than most of us will see in several lifetimes. And they are using it all on advertising.

Let us see, then, if whoever wins is able to accomplish as much while in office as he (or she) was able to accomplish on the way there.

And let us hope not too many of their mothers are sold in the process.

Crime Map Interface Update

I just made a small update to the UI of the Grand Rapids Crime Map. There is now a tally of the incidents displayed, based on the selections from the filters.

Some stats, as of February 21, 2008, mid-afternoon:

Total incidents: 209
Homicides: 44
Armed Robberies: 88
Armed Assaults: 55

..and so forth. Some interesting pattern arise as you poke around in the map. I found this one, which makes me want to stay away from the 44th Street/Kalamazoo Ave area in the month of May:

Armed robberies, in the month of May, in Zip Code 49508

I am thinking of adding the ability to filter by street name, too. I don’t know how useful that would be, but it would be interesting to be able to call out, say, Plainfield, and watch the armed robberies march north from Leonard Street to Northland Drive.

Makes me not want to go there, either.

Good Deeds

My good friend and cow-orker Marie-Claire has recently launched a new blog called For Grand Rapids. MC is at the beginning stages of a project to get municipal wireless internet available to everyone in Grand Rapids, and ForGR is where she stores her noted and ideas, and invites everyone who reads to contribute their thoughts.

Her most recent post is a good place to start, as it contains a summary of everything she has done thus far.

…and how appropriate that she should launch this website during Random Acts of Kindness week.

Why 2008 Will Be Exciting


In the 1700s, politics was all about the ideas. But Jefferson came up with all the good ideas. In the 1800s, it was all about character. But no one will ever have as much character as Lincoln and Lee. For much of the 1900s it was about charisma. But we no longer trust charisma because Hitler used it to kill Jews and JFK used it to get laid and send us to Vietnam.

Today, we are in the Age of Scrutiny. A public figure must withstand the scrutiny of the media. The President is the ultimate public figure and must stand up under ultimate scrutiny; he is like a man stretched out on a rack in the public square in some medieval shithole of a town, undergoing the rigors of the Inquisition. Like the medieval trial by ordeal, the Age of Scrutiny sneers at rational inquiry and debate, and presumes that mere oaths and protestations are deceptions and lies. The only way to discover the real truth is by the rite of the ordeal, which exposes the subject to such inhuman strain that any defect in his character will cause him to crack wide open, like a flawed diamond.

-Neal Stephenson and J. Frederick George, Interface


Same Thing Only Different, Again

Grand River, 6 February 2008, 9:00am by John Winkelman, on Flickr
Wednesday morning at 9:00am

Grand River, 6 February 2008, 9:00am by John Winkelman, on Flickr
Wednesday morning at 9:00am

Grand River, 6 February 2008, 5:00pm by John Winkelman, on Flickr
Wednesday afternoon at 5:15pm

Rafts of slush going over the dam by John Winkelman, on Flickr
Wednesday afternoon at 5:15pm

During the day the river level dropped about six inches, which made the surface more turbulent. The snowfall yesterday was manifested as rafts of slush traveling down the river. I would guess that this will add to the mass of the ice jam, which will therefore start growing back up the river. We may yet have our very own glacier this winter.

Click on any of the photos to see the whole set of them.

Ice Jam, part 2

Proving that not only can you never step in the same river twice, you also cannot take the same photo of a river twice, here are some updates to the ice jam and flooding at the Sixth Street Bridge dam,

Grand River, February 3 2008 by John Winkelman, on Flickr
Sunday, 3 February

Grand River, February 4 2008 by John Winkelman, on Flickr
Monday, 4 February

Grand River, February 4 2008 by John Winkelman, on Flickr
Monday, 4 February

Grand River, February 4 2008 by John Winkelman, on Flickr
Monday, 4 February

Grand River, February 5 2008 by John Winkelman, on Flickr
Tuesday, 5 February

Grand River, February 4 2008 by John Winkelman, on Flickr
Tuesday, 5 February

Grand River, February 5 2008 by John Winkelman, on Flickr
Tuesday, 5 February

Photos 1, 4, 5 and 6 are all pretty much the same shot. On Sunday the river was placid, ice above and below the dam, but some water flowing through. On Monday the water level had dropped a bit, and there was a small drop between the upper and lower levels. On Tuesday all of the up-river ice had let go and jammed up just below the dam, causing the water to rise to the point that, other than a few odd swirls, there was no sign of the dam at all. I have never seen the water this high. The ice was jammed higher than this three years ago, but that was everything on top of the water. Since we are supposed to get between six and nine inches of snow in the next 24 hours, plus some sleet and freezing rain, I expect the water will rise even higher, and then everything will begin to freeze. Unless something breaks the entire ice jam loose I expect we will see some city streets under water in the next few days.

I have lived in Michigan my whole life. I have seen colder winters than this one. I have seen snowier winters than this one. But I don’t remember ever feeling as beaten down by the weather as I have since the beginning of this year.