"By day we tow, we boot, we write tickets / By night we pop softballs 'cause you know we wicked" raps Sean, the supervisor of the Philadelphia Parking Authority in a promo video for A&E's new reality series "Parking Wars" (Tuesdays at 10pm EST). The show offers the average citizen, frustrated with $10 parking tickets and vehicles towed-at-the-owner's-expense, a voyeuristic look at the intrigues of their enemy: the strict enforcers who dole out parking violations like Halloween candy. Viewers also encounter the Booting crew, the Tow Squad, and the Impound Lot staffers.
The episodes are filled with run-ins between PPA employees and Philadelphian parkers incensed with being fined, booted or towed as a result of their own irresponsibility. The result is a cross between "Candid Camera" and "Punk'd"--the antics of the people on "Parking Wars" are as amusing as in the former, but, as much as I don't want Ashton Kutcher popping up in my living room, it's hard to believe this writers' strike-spawned nonsense actually made it onto television.
If Philadelphia has parking problems resulting in on-camera hilarity, imagine a Nor' Easterner scuffling with a meter maid on Wickenden. (A spin-off perhaps? That first "P" in PPA could easily be changed to Providence.) Rapping meter men toting yellow car boots aside, in Providence--a city with an inexplicable ban on overnight street parking--residents may already feel put-upon when it comes to their cars.
Those who are careless in driving but confrontational in matters of traffic fines in Rhode Island face not only an all-mighty Traffic Tribunal, but also the pending power of the state's Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. Williams.
Last Tuesday, a bill passed the Rhode Island Senate that is set to curb democracy by taking non-criminal traffic omnipotence away from the elected District Court Chief Judge and giving it to the appointed Williams. If Governor Carcieri signs the bill, the Justice will have the power to appoint the magistrates that sit on the Traffic Tribunal. The consequences? No more redress for citizens who have fallen victim to speed traps. No lobbying from the anti-impound interest. No electoral process abating the sting of parking tickets. Even without A&E's producers nudging along the action, these developments in Rhode Island's traffic and parking justice system could provide fodder for hysterical, or at least comparably entertaining, television.
Sean finishes with a reminder of the gravity of traffic law enforcement: "This ain't little league T-ball this stuff is real / And when we step up to the plate you know the deal / You feel the power, the pain, the thrust / You're eating dust with the PPA enforcers /You can't mess with us." — SJL
LIBERT√â, √âGALIT√â, HILARIT√â
In an unprecedented round of navel-gazing, Great Britain is embarking on a quest to establish what it means to be British. Prime Minister Gordon Brown's new government introduced several pride-boosting measures during the summer of 2007, sparking intense debate about the attempt to codify British-ness.
The initiatives seek to define citizenship, outline a bill of rights and duties for citizens and even write down an official constitution. Other plans include creating a "British Day," opening a museum of British-ness and changing the national anthem, "God Save the Queen," due to its anti-Scotland origins. "It's surprising that it's taken them 250 years to realize that it's not inclusive," said Scottish Parliament member Brian Adam last month.
But the proposal drawing the most fire (and ridicule) is the push for a "statement of values" that defines the essence of being British, much as the Declaration of Independence sums up the lofty ideals of the United States. Detractors of the idea deride it as merely the Prime Minister's desire for a snappy slogan to plaster onto buildings and souvenir mugs.
Still, the measure appeals to more than a few Britons, drawing no less than the House of Lords into the debate. Although Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, a Ministry of Justice official, told The New York Times that there were no plans to adopt a motto, other officials happily brainstormed ideas. The Earl of Mar and Kellie suggested that the British adopt the Scottish motto, "Nemo me impune lacessit," which he rendered from Latin as "Do not sit upon a thistle." (Really, it means "No one attacks me with impunity.")
Others in the House of Lords offered up snippets of their favorite poems or the slogans of English football clubs.
But the general public's objection to the idea of a national motto is perhaps the truest indication of the overarching characteristic of British-ness: that it is beyond definition.
In a farcical response to the idea of a British slogan, The Times of London sponsored a motto-writing competition; the winner, favored by 20 percent of readers, was "No Motto Please, We're British." Says the slogan-writer, David Bishop: "This idea of a statement of British-ness--I cannot think of anything less British than that." — ALvM
CAN'T SEE THE FOREST FOR THE TREES
In a case of environmentalism gone very wrong, a Sunnydale, California couple is appealing a conviction for refusing to chop down the grove of redwood trees in their backyard. Mark Vargas, the couple's next-door neighbor, filed a complaint that the redwoods cast too much shade on his rooftop solar panels--and a California law agrees with him.
California's 1978 Solar Shade Control Act was intended to guarantee that solar power users wouldn't lose money on their environmentally conscious investments due to the proximity of overly shady trees. Richard Treanor and Carolynn Bissett, the first California citizens to ever be convicted of a crime for growing redwoods, must pay a fine of $1,000 per day if they do not cut down the trees within 30 days.
Vargas, who has used his 10-kilowatt system since 2001 and drives an electric car, complains that the trees reduce the amount of electricity he can generate. He currently pays about $60 per year in electric bills.
Treanor and Bissett consider themselves environmentalists as well. They drive a Prius and began planting redwoods along their property line in 1997 as a means of erecting a nature-friendly privacy screen. Since then, the eight trees have grown to heights ranging from 20 to 40 feet tall.
The couple is appealing because they are worried about the precedent their conviction would set. "We could be done with this and walk away," Bissett told the San Jose Mercury News. "But then this could start happening in every city in the state."
Although Ken Rosenblatt, the Santa Clara county deputy district attorney for environmental protection, insists that the case is not about whether "trees are more or less important than solar collectors," other environmental advocates have sided against the redwoods. "It's actually better for the environment to put solar [panels] on your roof than to plant a tree," says Kurt Newick, the chairman of the global warming committee of the Loma Prieta Sierra Club and a solar panel salesman. Clearly, no conflict of interest shapes Newick's environmentalism.
Meanwhile, Treanor and Bissett hope that the preservation of the redwoods will outweigh the importance of manmade stopgap measure environmentalism. "We support solar power," says Bissett, "but we thought common sense would prevail." — ALvM
INDIA GOES ORGAN-IC
Remember when you were a kid and your uncle Bill would come babysit for you? After he'd primed the pump with a few Colt 45 tallboys and you'd both finished watching Fire Down Below on VHS for the twelfth time, he would start in on the "scary" stories. Like the story about that friend of his he'd worked with down on the rigs, who was driving home from the "needy" part of town one night when he saw a car driving along with its headlights switched off, but when he signaled for them to turn their headlights on, they followed him home and slaughtered him in some esoteric ritual of gang initiation? Or the one about the guy who was sneaking hash across the border from Morocco and got caught with a handgun in his glove compartment and was taken under arrest and found guilty and then his hand was chopped off by the police, and then something else happened that he can't quite remember, but it was kind of important, and then while someone was driving away there was a hook hanging from the window? Or the guy ("let's call him... Phil") who went down to Mexico and then came back six months later driving a black BMW with Colombian license plates?
It turns out that one of his stories actually ended up being true. (Well, two, if you count the one about the BMW.) One of your uncle's favorites was about why you shouldn't sleep with prostitutes. Invariably, he claimed, one of those "whoo-ores" would slip a drug into your drink, and you would wake up, naked, in a bathtub full of ice, missing one of your kidneys. As far as we know, this has never happened in the US. However, it has happened in India. In fact, according to the Guardian, it has happened over five hundred times. Five people, four from Greece and one from Britain, have been arrested for allegedly luring in poor rural workers to Delhi with false promises of job opportunities. Once the workers arrived in the big city, they were informed that there was no work but that they would be paid handsomely to give up one of their kidneys. Those who did not consent were forcibly restrained, drugged, and then robbed of their nephritic organs anyway.
The kidney racket is apparently big money down in India, where selling one's kidney can earn you up to $2500. In a cruel but predictable twist of economics, the same kidney earns the middleman almost 50 times that much on the black market. Organ dealing has been illegal in India for more than a decade, but critics argued that the law has simply driven the practice underground. Which, once again, just proves why more prophetic minds like your uncle Bill's are needed in these troubling times. And more ponytails like Steven Seagal's. — RAM