Friday, April 18, 2008

More on Roscoe Pet Ordinance

I thought it might be interesting to post the correspondence I had with one of the Roscoe Village Trustees regarding the proposed pet ordinance.

Here is the first response from Trustee Scott Richardson.
Our current ordinance limits the number of pets to 4 unless you have a kennel or multi pet license. The new ordinance was made to take care of people that don't take care of the animals they have. The ordinance address cats more then any other animal. We have made allowances for people that have ferral cats. People that live next to other people with numerous animals have a rights also and we have to take into account their feelings also and they don't want these animals in there yards going to the bathroom. We have had several meetings about this subject and have fashioned the ordinance to deal with the problem we are having.

Here is the response I sent back to Mr. Richardson.
Your response doesn't address any concerns and just reiterates to me the arbitrariness of this ordinance. The fact that some individuals don't take care of their animals is no basis for denying responsible individuals their liberty. If that is the concern, the ordinance should directly address that. A homeowner with one pet that is not taking care of responsibly raises all these same concerns. That is why the ordinance is arbitrary.

You wrote: "People that live next to other people with numerous animals have a rights also and we have to take into account their feelings" Well, no, we don't. That one feels a certain way about how many pets I might have is their problem; not mine or the villages. I might live next door to someone who has a motorcycle and I might not like that, but that doesn't give the village the authority to prevent my neighbor from having a motorcycle. Or maybe I don't like kids running around, and my neighbor has 5 kids. Should the village legislate no more than 4 kids? Or maybe I don't like Asian people, should we take account of my feelings then? According to the principle you have stated, the village would have that authority. Unless my pets are doing harm or posing a threat to my neighbor, his feelings don't count. Nor I should say, do mine. What should be the concern of the village government is the safety and protection of the residents; not their feelings.

Each resident certainly has rights--this is precisely my concern. The village is violating the rights of the residents by prohibiting, with no reasonable basis in the safety and protection of residents, an otherwise lawful action. That another doesn't like that lawful action is not a reasonable basis: such is the seed of tyranny.

Having rights means that others cannot interfere with one activities and property unless those activities or property are damaging another's activities or property. How does one owning five indoor, spayed cats effect anyone else? If I have dog that goes to the bathroom in some one else's yard, I should clean it up. Now if I don't, then that is a problem. I have interfered in their property and should be accountable for that. That is entirely reasonable, and I would have assumed that the village required that already.

My problem is not that the village wants to make sure that animals are being responsibly cared for and that residents aren't being unduly affected by the pets that others own. My problem is that village is going about this in an overly broad and arbitrary manner. Broad because the ordinance makes it illegal for anyone to have more than 4 pets, instead of focusing on the problem: those that have pets they don't take care of. And it is arbitrary because there is no connection between the number of pets and how responsible the owners are. Why 4? Why not 3 (as it was at first) Why not 5? There is no objective basis for making the choice.

It would be nice if the times, locations, and topics for the meetings were readily available, say on website or in a monthly or quarterly mailing to residents. The only reason I knew anything about this was the newspaper story.

I still urge the board to rewrite the ordinance in a more direct manner that deals directly with the problem of feral cats and irresponsible pet owners instead of enacting an ordinance that limits everyone.

Mr. Richardson sent me a copy of the proposed ordinance. And here is the response I sent after I read the ordinance.
My objection to 90.003(b) still stands. [The section regarding the limitation of the number of pets]

The purpose of the ordinance as stated is for the control and prevention of stray or feral animals and for the control and regulation of those breeding and selling/trading domestic animals. I don't necessarily agree that the village needs to do these things, but I am not here objecting to that. If there is a real health or safety issue, the village should be able to deal with that.

However, I strongly disagree with the implied assumption that a household with more than 4 pets is a household that is keeping animals to breed, sell, or trade. If that assumption is not being made than what is the basis for 90.003(b)?

Furthermore, the way the ordinance is written the total number includes not just cats and dogs but other pets, such as guinea pigs and birds. The Register Star reported that the ordinance cap would only apply to cats and dogs. If the cap includes all pets, than the number of 4 will be quite easy to go over. It is easy to imagine a home with two dogs and two cats, and then one of the children having a guinea pig (and these often are kept in pairs). Certainly this is not an example of a household intending to breed, sell, or trade.

So I still see no rational or objective basis for the number to be at 4.

Thanks to Mr. Richardson for, one, corresponding with me (no other trustee contacted me), and, two, for not objecting to my plan for posting this exchange.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Letter published

The Rockford Register Star published online my letter, an abbreviated version of my letter to the Village Board. I'll be checking the paper on Tuesday to see if it will be in the print edition as well.

Update 4/15/08: The letter was published in today's print edition as well. Yay me!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Roscoe Pet Ownership

The village of Roscoe is in the process of trying to pass an ordinance that would limit the number of pets a household could own. The following is a letter I sent the Village Trustees (A shorter version was submitted to the local paper).
As a resident of Roscoe, I write with great dismay and some anger at the ordinance regarding pet ownership. This ordinance is arbitrary, unreasonably broad in its scope, and ambiguous in its content.

The limit of four pets per household is arbitrary. There is no general link between the number of pets one has in one’s household to the health and safety of Roscoe residents. Merely adding a dog to home that has four pets already does not suddenly create a health hazard or safety risk to other residents.

There is, moreover, no connection between having more than four pets and one failing to take responsibility regarding that pet. A family could have two pets and fail to care for those pets responsibly and thus possibly create a health or safety risk for residents. While another family might have two dogs and three cats and take wonderful and loving care of these pets. On what reasonable basis does the Village take upon itself the authority to deprive these individuals of property that is posing no harm or danger to residents?

Residents who are responsible should not be punished for the irresponsibility of others. The board should craft an ordinance that empowers the village to deal appropriately with residents who create a nuisance by failing to take responsibility for their pets--regardless of how many they own. Such an ordinance should not interfere in the peaceful lives and homes of responsible residents.

I urge you to vote against this arbitrary, ambiguous, and unreasonable ordinance. It violates the liberty of law-abiding and responsible individuals.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Philosophy majors increasing

This New York Times article is making the rounds among those in the philosophy profession. Nationally, enrollments in philosophy are increasing. This is good news for the profession. I hope it translates into increased enrollments at Rockford as well.

The article speculates that the increase is in large part due to students' increasing awareness and curiosity with the ethics involved in things like the Iraq war, political scandals, technological advances, and the environment. No doubt that's a factor, but I am skeptical if this is what it is really about. Maybe these things get the students initial attention, but I think there are other important factors. Of course this is purely anecdotal and speculation.

Some of this might just be a pendulum swing from more trendy and career-focused majors to the broader, more traditional majors in humanities. Students wanted very specific majors that tied directly to a job/career upon graduating. Possibly, now they are looking for majors that teach broad-based, more universal intellectual skills: critical thinking and writing, effective communication, and the ability to understand and deal with ideas in general. These skills give one wider opportunities in the future; as opposed to the training in a specific skill that may become obsolete or outsourced.

One factor in this might be the realization that what is needed in the student's search for a career is adaptability and flexibility. This requires a more broad-based ability to think and reason; not just some particular job skills. Philosophy teaches one how to critically and analytically read a text; how to pick out the important ideas; how to understand the ways these ideas connect; and how to communicate this. These skills are effective if you are reading Aristotle or the CEO's annual corporate plan.

Philosophy, of course, is not the only major to teach these skills. Ideally, all BA majors do this, but specifically humanities majors are good at this. I think philosophy does this the best because it is often primarily focused on doing just this. You don't read Descartes to find out about how the mind actually works. You read it to understand what Descartes is doing; how does he get from point A and to point B. As such, philosophy is focused on the process; not so much the results. (This is not to say the results aren't important: they are the goal, the point of all the work, but philosophy as a discipline is focused on the question and the how of answering it. The answer is left for the philosopher himself to figure out.)

In my experience, the students who become philosophy majors fall into three groups (these are not mutually exclusive nor jointly exhaustive). The first group are the geeks--like myself--who just love to discuss ideas no matter the context. They will gravitate to a philosophy major because in philosophy there are really no restrictions about what can be talked about. (The restrictions are in the manner--reason and logic, not in the content.).

The second group are those that see philosophy as great training for law school. Philosophy majors, as a group, are almost always near the top of the listing of majors that do the best on the LSAT (and other standardized tests).

The third group are late-comers to philosophy. They've tried other majors--this might even be there second BA--and are dissatisfied. The other majors were filled with classes that involved just memorization or the uncritical employment of formulas. These courses usually just required them to return back to the professor what was said in class or the text. Now this might have been just bad teaching and not the disciplines themselves, but for these students, philosophy was like a breathe of fresh air. It challenged them, for the first time, to think about the world, about themselves, and about their ideas. It is as if they have been using a computer for years just as a word processor, but suddenly discover that it can connect to the internet.

I think it is the latter group that might be a large factor in the swelling of philosophy enrollments. Most students come out of 12 years of school that is more and more just about standardized exams. There are force-fed all kinds of content, with little in the way of integration or explanation of the importance of the content. They are largely not taught to think as such, just to absorb the content and then provide that content on the exams. This in reinforced by a wide-spread cultural relativism that views anything other than brute facts as one's opinion and not subject to evaluation or criticism.

Then they take a philosophy course. The teacher, annoyingly I'm sure, keeps asking them "Why do you believe that?" or "Why do you think that is the case?" Their usual responses of "That's just my opinion" or "That's the way I was brought up to believe" are no longer enough. Many don't care. Others suddenly start to wonder, why do I believe that? And a philosopher is born.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

What if......?

I am reading an alternative history trilogy by Kirk Mitchell called The Germanicus Trilogy. The series is based on two counterfactuals: Pontius Pilate pardons Jesus and the Romans beat the Germans at Tuetoburg Forest in 9 C.E. With these two changed events, the Roman Empire does not fall. It Romanizes the German tribes, who get incorporated into and revitalize the legions over the centuries. And without the martydom of Jesus, there is no Christianity and so the intellectual culture of the empire doesn't become intolerant and dogmatic. This prevents the social breakdown that contributed to the fall of the empire.

The stories take place in, as far as I can tell, the 20th century. The Romans have some modern technology, but they are far behind us. They have trains, guns and just recently mastered electricity.They have only just started to settle in the Novo Provinces (North America). The Aztecs have a formidable empire in Central America. There is some mention of a Chinese Empire as well. It has it's flaws, but it is quite interesting and entertaining. I've just started the second book. The Romans are about to go to war with the Aztecs.

I am fascinated by alternative history -- though I think it is hard to pull off in fiction. After all, you need a good story line, not just a gimmick. Nonetheless, it is endlessly interesting to imagine how the world would be different if one particular moment in time was changed. (What if Reagan died after the assassination attempt? What if JFK, MLK, RFK didn't die? What if Churchill had been in power instead of Chamberlain? )

Sometimes important world events hinge on the most coincidental or accidental events, so it's not hard to see how the outcomes might have been different. During World War I, Hitler had one of the most dangerous positions as a messenger on the front. He would have been under enemy fire often. And he was seriously wounded twice, once in a mustard gas attack. What if Hitler had been killed instead of injured? The last 70 years are completely different. Might WW2 never have happened? Would that have meant no cold war? No nuclear weapons? No Holocaust? What kind of impact would the hundreds of millions of lives that would have had an opportunity to grow and flourish instead of being extinguished have had on the world?

Or would someone worse than Hitler arise and precipiate these events, maybe even on a larger scale? Might a different leader have guided the Germans to victory?

It is imponderable, which makes it so intriguing!

I have my own pet alternative history. Indulge my fantasy. It centers around James J. Hill's Great Northern Railway (the only wholly privately funded transcontinental railroad--and also the only one not to go bankrupt). Hill with his Great Northern Railway and Pacific steamships facilitated a growing trade between China and Japan and the various states (New England textiles, southern cotton, Pennsylvania steel). After the (unjustified) trustbusting of Hill and federal requirements in rate-setting (and other market interferences), the trade with the Orient dropped off considerably. So here's the what if: the government doesn't interfere. China and Japan would have had significant economic ties to the US in the early part of the 20th century and forward. This might have also meant stronger cultural ties, with China and Japan developing more liberal economies and possibly more liberal politics. This might have prevented a communist China (and Korea and Vietnam?) and an imperialist Japan. There likely would have been a more robust economy, and so the great depression is only a minor and brief recession. No depression, no FDR, no new deal. Without a Pearl Harbor, the US might not have gotten involved in WWII; but if it had, its entire focus would have been in Europe and so the war there might have been over sooner. Imagine the lives saved! Imagine the fortunes made! The increased standard of living for millions upon millions of Asians and Americans. It boggles the mind...and really makes the damage of government intervention in the economy concrete.

One will never know how history would have played out, but boy is it fun to let the imagination run amok.

Full Circle

My blogging has slowed quite a bit in the last month. Mostly, I am too busy. But, also I just haven't been inspired by anything. Here's some random snippets of what's been on my mind lately.

Why would a CBS affiliate preempt the first new Criminal Minds post-strike with a local Salvation Army Telethon?! I would have thought they couldn't do this. At least they had CSI:NY.

I love CSI:NY, but it does take some effort to suspend my disbelief that crime scene investigators are the first ones through the door on a police raid.

Why is it that Obama hasn't been hurt by his long-time association with (and refusal to distance himself from) the racist, anti-semitic, and anti-American Rev. Wright? One major reason is, I think, that most of the media portrayed his speech as a repudiation of Wright (even though it actually wasn't), so voters have given him a pass.

I had originally thought that Obama poised the bigger challenge to McCain in the general election. Mostly this was because I thought Hilary would bring the conservatives flooding to the polls to vote against her. But the more Obama's positions are set out, the less distinctive he appears from Hilary. He's for the same large, intrusive, unwise government programs (both live by the philosophy that there's no problem the government can't throw money at). He's foreign policy seems foolish and uninformed. About the only difference, is that Obama just seems nice and Hilary seems mean and bitter. Hell, that maybe enough.

By the general election, the conservatives will have unified behind McCain. The Democrats will be divided after a long primary battle between virtually the same person. If Iraq continues to stabilize and the economy is improving by November (which I think it will be as the housing market recovers), then I think McCain wins.

I should be emphatic here: I don't support McCain. He's not motivated by principles of individual liberty and limited government. But I tend to think he's far less damaging than Obama or Hilary. Especially with a Democratic Congress. Gridlock is Good.

Speaking of elections, I am constantly reminded of Cheers's Fraiser Crane's refrain when a politician came stumping to the bar: "But he didn't say anything!"

Speaking of Cheers, I've been watching a lot of the reruns over lunch lately. They are showing most of the later years. I think Fraiser and Lilith really carried that show through the last few seasons. They are consistently the funniest and have the more interesting plot lines. Most of the other characters where reduced to one-liners and silly shtick. (still funny, but not what it was in the days of Coach)

And we come full circle back to TV.