Thursday, March 25, 2010

I've Been Robbed!

I got my notification today from the City, and the nice lady who's officially a neutral examiner has upheld my citation.

Et tu, Bruté?

That means the City keeps my $55, and I can fight it in court if I so choose.

The only reason I can think of (well, two reasons) is that the examiner thinks I failed to present a "preponderance of evidence" in support of my position. The other possibility is that the City's official records have been tampered with (or filed falsely from the start) to show an installation date for the sign that pre-dated my parking ticket.

If I go to court, it's a $25 filing fee, and I have no idea how it all works and whether I'll need an attorney and all the rest. I haven't exactly been living my life in and out of court.

But I did stop at the neighbors' house on the corner where the sign is. They speak Spanish, but we managed to communicate well enough for them to tell me that they went on vacation in January. When they left, there was no sign. When they got back, the sign was there. Enero. No doubt about it.

Next, I'll try to find out what the City has on record as their sign-installation date, and then I'll go from there.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Random Act of Kindness

Tonight I went to Target to find some Triscuits. I had tried at Wal-Mart, but they only had the little bitty boxes for too much money, and I was hoping for a big box of flavored Triscuits for cheaper than the grocery store.

I got a shopping cart and headed for Target's food section, and on the way there, a woman was approaching me, her arms loaded down with about a dozen items. So I asked her if she needed a cart. She looked at me as though she wasn't quite sure what I was asking.

"I'm just here for Triscuits. You look like you could use a cart more than I can."

She hesitated, and then she started putting her stuff in the cart and thanked me, and I kept on going toward the food. Smiling. Because it felt good.

The Triscuits were regular flavor, but they had the big box for the little box price, so I grabbed one and went to the checkout, where the lady with my cart was. I got in line behind her and put my one box on the belt.

"Looks like you really did need that cart more than I did," I said.

She thanked me some more. And then she grabbed my box of Triscuits and put it with her items and said, "I'm buying this because you were so nice."

"You don't have to do that," I told her, and she said she wanted to.

I thanked her while the cashier scanned the box and put it in a separate bag and handed it to the lady, who gave it to me.

"Oh, wow!" I said.

And there was nothing left to do but leave the store. Smiling. Because it felt good.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health Care Timetable

The Health Care Monstrosity has passed, and President Obama is expected to sign it Tuesday. Even this survey reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, showing that a third to half of all physicians will leave the medical profession if health care "reform" passed, wasn't enough to prevent passage.

The Wall Street Journal has a list today of when the main parts of the bill take effect. Here are the first few years:



■Subsidies begin for small businesses to provide coverage to employees.
■Insurance companies barred from denying coverage to children with pre-existing illness.
■Children permitted to stay on their parents' insurance policies until their 26th birthday.



■Set up long-term care program under which people pay premiums into system for at least five years and become eligible for support payments if they need assistance in daily living.

Taxes and fees

■Drug makers face annual fee of $2.5 billion (rises in subsequent years).


Taxes and fees

■New Medicare taxes on individuals earning more than $200,000 a year and couples filing jointly earning more than $250,000 a year.
■Tax on wages rises to 2.35% from 1.45%.
■New 3.8% tax on unearned income such as dividends and interest.
■Excise tax of 2.3% imposed on sale of medical devices.

Cost control

■Medicare pilot program begins to test bundled payments for care, in a bid to pay for quality rather than quantity of services.

There's more that follows. It is not a pretty picture. Hold onto your wallets, especially next year, and buy the drugs you'll need NOW, before that $2.5 billion fee on the drug makers kicks in. You know who's going to end up paying it, don't you? The customer will, and that would be you.

In response to the passage of this abomination, it's time to start working for a repeal. There's no way around it but to hand control of at least the House back to the GOP, as distasteful as that may be to some of us. But party matters, as evidenced by the way the Republicans--yes, even the hard-core lefty RINOs--hung together to try to stop this bill. At the very least, a Republican-controlled House can starve this thing of funding and prevent it from taking effect.

Hugh Hewitt has a list of questions for those of you with incumbent Democrats running for re-election:

1. Did the incumbent vote for Nancy Pelosi for House speaker?

2. Did the incumbent vote for the "stimulus" package?

3. Did the incumbent vote for "cap-and-tax"?

4. Did the incumbent vote for Obamacare?

5. Did the incumbent vote to protect the assault on the Constitution known as the "deem scheme" or "Slaughter Solution" when it was first challenged March 18 by Rep. Parker Griffith?

Let these questions help you decide if your incumbent is worth returning to office.

And Hugh's producer Duane Patterson has this three-year pledge that you might want to consider, if you're incensed about the jam-down of health care reform.

Meanwhile, the Democrat-controlled Congress isn't stopping for a minute to bask in the glory of their legislative victory. The Los Angeles Times reported today that the Senate has moved on to a major overhaul of America's banking system. The "fun" never ends...

Fighting City Hall

While the rest of the country was watching such inconsequential things as health care reform, I was preparing for my Major Legal Battle, which occurred this morning.

Last October, on the 1st to be exact, shortly after I moved in with my friend the cardiac nurse, I heard a strange sound as I was getting ready for work. When I peeked out the front window, I saw a City pickup truck that trailed the street sweeper, and the guy was writing a ticket and putting it under the windshield wiper of my car, which just happened to be the only one parked on the street at the time.

After I got dressed, I went outside and grabbed the ticket to see what it said.


Under "Remarks," it said: "SIGN POSTED AT BEGINNING OF BLOCK."

So I looked. To be honest, I hadn't noticed any street signs, but that didn't mean they weren't there. After all, I've been known to not see what was plainly in front of my face on other occasions.

There wasn't a sign at the beginning of the block. Or on any part of the block leading up to where I was parked.

In fact, the only sign on the entire block on either side was a dual-posting on a lamppost on the other side of the cul-de-sac, with the Neighborhood Watch sign on top.

I walked closer until I could read the sign, and it said, "No Parking Both Sides 6A.M. - 10A.M. 1st & 3rd Thursday, Street Sweeping."

That's just underhanded and wrong!

Mid-October I sent in a statement disputing the veracity of the ticket, since there was most definitely NOT a sign at the beginning of the street. I embedded the two photos above in my statement at the appropriate parts of my narrative, pointing out that no reasonable person could be expected to know about Street Sweeping Day with the way the signs were posted. And then I waited.

Three months later I received the decision from the city:

"Subject: Review Status- Review Outcome Liable... The appeal received for [your citation] was upheld for the following reason: STREET SWEEPING DATES AND TIMES POSTED ON STREET."

Not good! Apparently the City was saying that the posting of a sign across the street and at an unreadable distance is adequate notification that you can't park somewhere. The next step after that is Parking Tyranny: "You can't park here because I say you can't park here, so I'm writing you a ticket, and too bad for you!"

Not long after that, as I was heading for church, I saw that the City had put up a sign at the beginning of the block.

I felt cheated. If the signs were adequate on the day I got my ticket, to the point that they said I was liable for the fine, then why did the City feel the need to spend taxpayer money to put up a second but unnecessary sign? And if the sign on the cul-de-sac was not adequate, then why did they say I still owed the money? It just wasn't right.

I wasn't ready to give up the fight, so I filled out the form enclosed with my Review Status which was a "Request for Neutral Examination of Parking Citation," and I selected Personal Conference rather than a Written Declaration, since my previous written declaration didn't do me any good at all. About a month ago they sent me a notification that my Neutral Examination of Citation would be this morning at 10:00.

When I arrived as instructed, I was given a form that explained the process. It said I would have to make a plea, either (A) Admit with explanation or (B) Deny. But I wasn't sure what I was admitting or denying. Yes, my car was parked there, but no, I didn't think I should have to pay because the ticket had a falsehood on it about where the sign was.

I was taken into a conference room, and the reviewer said she was a neutral third party, not working for the City. She had a better explanation of what Admit and Deny meant, but I still couldn't decide which one applied to my case. While she was explaining how it would all work (it would be audio-recorded, parking is not a criminal offense, any evidence I presented would be considered as to how it supports my plea, and I would not be able to present more evidence once our conference ended), she showed me the City's evidence in support of their position against me.

The first was a photo of the new sign, like mine just above, only landscape mode and with some of the street showing to the left. The second was a hand-drawn layout of the street showing our house as being on the cul-de-sac directly facing the old sign.

One look at the City's photo told me what my plea would be. When the reviewer started recording and got to the part where I enter my plea, I said, "Deny liability."

She finished the preliminaries and then asked me to present my evidence. My opening statement was a passionate one. I pointed my finger at the City's photo and said, "THAT sign was not there when I got my ticket." And then I redrew the City's street layout to more accurately reflect where the house is situated relative to the old sign.

I had brought my original dispute statement with me, but she already had the one I mailed in, so I didn't need to show her those pictures. I also brought a couple others, including this cropped portion of the first picture. It shows a little better how there was no sign at the beginning of the street.

She seemed interested in this direction the evidence was taking, and it made me wish I had brought this picture with me as well (a better view of no sign when I got the ticket), but I didn't.

Then I showed her the photo I took this past Saturday, so she could see how the new sign is visible from roughly the same angle.

She marked the pictures as evidence item #1 and #2, while explaining to the cassette recorder which number represented which date. Then she said she'd look into the date when the City erected the new sign, and she should have a decision reached within a couple days. So by the end of the week, I ought to know if I get my $55 back (you have to pay the fine before they let you have a conference).

The minute she said she'd look into the timing of the new sign, I was filled with hope. Justice may yet prevail in this case.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Just Saying...

Ants make bad housepets.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


The brain is an amazing thing, especially the way it learns. Pavlov discovered the hard way that creatures can learn through conditioning, when his test subjects threw his dog-drool experiments awry by slobbering before the food was even presented to them. Their brains associated the sound of the lab technicians' approach with the food, and the drooling would begin early.

Human brains often work the same way. When my kids were teenagers, they learned to associate the sound of a slamming door with a fate worse than a slasher movie. A co-worker had told me that when one of his kids slammed the door, he took the door off the hinges for 24 hours. No yelling or threats were necessary, just swift, silent action and much consternation on the part of the door slammer. I brought that idea home, explained to the kids what would happen if they slammed, and watched as their eyes glazed over from tuned-out-edness.

I expected my daughter, the Primary Slammer, to be the first to feel the pain, but it was my son who flung a door shut first. I went over to his door and pulled the pins out of the hinges while he stood there saying, "What are you doing?!?"

"I told you both that if you slam a door, you lose yours for a day. You'll get it back tomorrow night."

"You never said that!"

"Yes, I did."

He hung a blanket over the open doorway and got his door back the next night.

Each of my kids slammed doors twice before they learned the lesson. After that, conditioning kicked in. If I had the windows open to let the breeze blow through the house and a door slammed itself shut, one of the kids would shout from another room, "That wasn't me!"

As a mom, this was one of the most beautifully satisfying things. As a psychology major, this was an excellent case of classical conditioning.

(Warning: Questionable taste follows.)

A very early example of conditioning occurs with potty training. Our brains learn to associate the bathroom, specifically the toilet, with getting to go. We see the toilet and our brains say, "Oh good! We can go now."

So here's my question: If our brain can condition itself to the sight of the toilet as the signal to "let go," why can't it ever learn to wait until our pants are down (or unzipped, if that's the case) and we're actually ready?

The Potty Dance is never going to end, is it?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

True Confessions

Friday night my daughter came over to get my help finishing a knitted Gryffindor scarf which would be her friend's birthday present. While she was here, she showed me a new-to-me computer game where you shoot bubbles, and I started playing it after she left.

Normally I play games on, and those games make you watch a commercial every several minutes between levels. My latest favorite is Majongg Dimensions, which gives you 6 minutes to match and remove tiles from a 3-D cube in ever-increasing difficulty levels.

I can handle a finite 6 minutes of play time, with the requisite commercial between games. What I wasn't ready for was the new bubble game. It has no ads, and it has no time limit. It just goes on until you lose or win (mostly you lose), and either way it can take a long time. And then it's really easy to start another game.

I noticed the time at 4:30 am. Holy cow!

I went to bed and slept until 11:30. I don't like sleeping that late, but I needed it.

Saturday night I played it again, because it really is fun. And addicting.

At 4:30 in the morning (Daylight Savings Time, which is only 3:30 am Real Time), I again noticed the time. I decided to skip Sunday School class and just go to the 10:00 service, so I set my alarm for 8:30 and made it to church on time.

But before I left for church, I admitted I was powerless over my addiction to this game, and I closed the browser and deleted its memory from my pull-down internet history list. I cannot be trusted with the bubble game. Ever.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Baby Step Two

I've been attending Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University on Monday nights for the past six weeks. I figured it was a good time to start learning how to live within my means, now that I have some means to live within.

Dave's approach is based on seven Baby Steps. Baby Step 1 is to have $1000 in an emergency fund, so when unexpected expenses happen, you don't have to run to the credit card to bail you out and load you down with more debt at the same time.

Baby Step 2, which is where I am, is the Debt Snowball. That's where you pay off your credit cards one at a time, starting with the smallest balance and working your way up to the biggest balance. You keep adding what you were paying on the smaller ones to the bigger ones, so you're paying them off faster and faster until they're all gone.

Last week a guy who has been attending for about 18 months (they keep repeating the class, and once you've paid you get to keep coming back without having to pay again), just announced that he's debt-free except for his house. Pretty cool!

This week, after I paid off my Home Depot card, which I got when I moved here so I could get a discount on the shed I bought, I called up Home Depot and closed that account. They told me I could reopen the account anytime I wanted to, but I won't be doing that. Debt is a Bad Thing.

One of the things they do in class is keep a really big pair of scissors for when people bring in their credit cards to be cut up. It's a great thing to watch as someone's now-closed account is chopped in two. I had planned to bring my Home Depot card to class so it could have a contest with the scissors to see who would win. But when I found the card in the old checkbook box, lo and behold, there were other now-expired or closed cards in there with it. I put all the cards I found (except for the two I'm still paying) into a sandwich bag and brought them to class.

At card-cutting time, I went up front, and they had me count all the cards. There were 13. Lucky for me to be rid of them all. I started with the Home Depot card, and the scissors won. Two pieces of orange plastic flew sideways a little, then fell to the floor. After that, they had me announce what the card was that I was sacrificing. Discover Platinum. Visa Gold. Macy's. Robinsons-May, which doesn't exist anymore. One of the cards expired back in 1997.

When I had finished, the scissors-wielding leader said he'd leave them on the floor for symbolic purposes, and after class, he cleaned up all the pieces and added them to his bucket of chopped-up cards.

All in all, it was a beautiful evening. One card down, two to go...