December 2005


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Archive for December, 2005

Where have you been lately?

Posted in Politics on December 7th, 2005

There’s been alot of action lately on the topic of disappearing fuel-tax dollars as fuel-efficient vehicles become more prevalent, and what the government is going to do about it. Here’s the recap:

The State governments tax fuel sales, and put this money toward road maintenance. A sensible plan, since you can easily derive the average fuel-efficiency of the automobile, and tax per gallon accordingly. Sure, some cars are better than others, but all-in-all, every driver will pay their fair share for the public roads. But what happens when all the cars start getting better fuel economy? Fuel-tax dollars shrink, and soon there isn’t enough money to pave the roads. So what do you do?

Well, the obvious answer is to either monitor each vehicle’s mileage and charge individually or enact toll roads. Each have their problems.

Toll roads I have talked about before, but only as a method of reducing traffic. In this instance, every driver would be charged for crossing a certain stretch of road. These fees may even be based on a sliding scale, with rush-hour fees higher than off-hour fees. I can see the potential for alot of user uproar with this idea, as well as an infra-structural nightmare: cars being forced to stop at several points on their route, dragging traffic to a standstill. Rush-hour traffic is already a nightmare, and I can’t see this helping it any.

On the plus side of things, though, it maximizes privacy, especially if the toll can be paid with cash.

Monitoring mileage is a simple idea at first, until you remember that you can only charge for the miles driven in the state of residence. In a city like Portland, where Washington is only a few miles away, a significant portion of your driving may be done across state lines, and it would be illegal to tax you for them at the State level. The most-pushed solution idea at this time is to install a GPS tracking device into each vehicle, and monitor their mileage that way. Simple idea, yes?

Here’s why: privacy. If the GPS monitors your driving at all times, that means a detailed map of your travels can be put together to show where you’ve been – and all the talkers to this point have neglected any sort of plan to make those records private in any way.

Now, legally there is precedent that you can have no expectation of privacy while driving, and any eyewitness testimony or camera footage is admissable in a court of law without a warrant. By and large this isn’t an issue, since most folks don’t care where I’ve been. But what if I have some personal and perfectly legal reason to want to remain anonymous? Should any Tom, Dick or Harry have the ability to point a scanner at my car and get my car’s exact whereabouts for the past week? Should advertising executives be able to pull my car’s records to find out where I have been shopping?

A loud and resounding NO! fills the air.

So, we’re back to where we started – tax revenues will eventually dry up, leaving our roads in disrepair. I can’t see toll roads doing anything other than slowing traffic down, and I certainly don’t want anyone knowing exactly where I am or have been at any given moment. So what do we do?

Variation on a theme. Install the GPS units, but tie them to the odometer in such a fashion that they only count the miles while inside the State borders. It is very easy to define those borders into the software, and then the state gets to tax for the actual miles driven while I retain the fiction of privacy.

Another option is to simply move the taxes into the Federal realm, and have the money distributed on the basis of registered vehicles per state. To make it easier on the taxpayer, you still install an odometer monitor in each vehicle, but you license filling stations to read the meter. The driver merely has to stop in at the pumps once a month for their reading. The taxpayer would still pay the same taxes as now, just more formally.

As always, write your Rep and let them know how you feel.

An Eve with the Orchestra

Posted in Reviews on December 5th, 2005

I’ve been a little remiss in not posting this sooner, but I’ve been a trifle busy.

Last Wednesday, the WBGF once again proved her greatness by getting us tickets to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra show for the third year running.

In previous years, we have been seated both stage-left and -right, but this year she decided we needed to see the show from down in the floor seats, which was tremendously cool. It’s actually the closest I have ever been to the stage at a large show. I didn’t think it would really make all that much of a difference, since there isn’t a difference in the sound really, but it was great to actually be able to see their faces for once.

As always, the show rocked mightily. How could it not? Where else are you going to hear Bethoven, Liszt and other greats performed not only by a truly good orchestra, but by a heavy-metal band, with fireballs blasting away like a war zone?

The show may be the same album every year, but they keep adding other elements to keep the folks coming back. Take Anna Phoebe, the string maestro for example: the first year I saw the show, she was not your mild-mannered violinist, often roaming around the stage as she got into particular bits. The second year, she took a more dominant stance, seeming more a member of the rock band than the symphony. This year, she was a full-on rock goddess, with all the attitude of an axe-slinging metal-head – never mind that her ‘axe’ is a vibrant pink electric violin.

They ended the show with both Angus and Anna running through the crowd and onto a cherry-picker, where they were hoisted 20 feet into the air during “Christmas Eve in Sarejevo” – neither one of them missed a note.

Speaking of axe-work, Angus Clark has been taking pages from Al Pitrelli’s style by incorporating more elements of other great players into the live show. Now I’m not talking about lifting sections of work from other players; I mean they have learned to play the style of guys like Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page, and I think even a little Satriani. This is hard to do, folks. Any good technical guitarist can play another man’s work, but to play an original piece as if the other man’s fingers were on the frets takes talent. What I would love to hear them do next time is expand John Lee Middleton’s bass part – the show only has a few places where his work stands out from the rest.

I really can go on and on about these artists, but I’ll try and move along here.

Vocals: I don’t have the words, so I’ll use the words of Tommy Farese (a damn good singer himself): “Michael Lanning is the most Soulful White man on the planet.” Guy LeMonnier is a joy to the ears, and I wish he had a larger part in the show. Jill Gioia has the largest voice ever packed into so small a person, and Kristin Gorman can hit notes so perfectly it’s amazing – all while bouncing around the stage the same way Angus and Anna do.

TSO also has the blessing of having not one, but TWO of the best keyboard players in the world: Jane Mangini and Carmine Giglio. The dueling they do before “Christmas Liszt” is phenomenal. It’s truly a shame that touring is too hard on pianos; I’d love to hear them on a couple of full Grands. Since the piano is really a percussion instrument, I’ll segue here into John O. Reilly’s drum work – outstanding. As one man, he does what takes most orchestras 4 individual musicians.

Okay, I think I’ve praised them all enough, now for the bitching: When do we get another tour?!? Yes, we love the Christmas show – but we all know you guys have more than one album. Get it out on the road already!!