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Guest Commentary

May 10, 2012
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Camera shy

By Kent Carlson

Eric Blair lived a wild life. Born in India in 1903, he was a cop in Burma, a tramp in England, a soldier in Spain, a journalist in Paris and a teacher in London, among a host of other things. At age 42, his novel “Animal Farm” was published under the pen name George Orwell. Four years later, in 1949, “Nineteen Eighty-Four” was published. By January of 1950, he was dead of tuberculosis.

From “Among the seminal texts of the 20th century, ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is a rare work that grows more haunting as its futuristic purgatory becomes more real. Published in 1949, the book offers political satirist George Orwell’s nightmare vision of a totalitarian, bureaucratic world and one poor stiff’s attempt to find individuality.”

Maurice Gatsonides was born on Valentine’s Day 1911 in Java. At the time it was the Dutch East Indies. He built charcoal gas generators during WWII while helping the Dutch resistance; he tried manufacturing automobiles; he raced cars in Monte Carlo and LeMans; and he invented the Gasto Speed Camera in the 1950s. He died in 1998.

From the UK Daily Mail: “50 people who’ve wrecked Britain.” No. 42, “British officialdom is seldom happier than when issued with a new gadget with which to make the citizenry’s lives more miserable. The daddy of them all, in the ‘gotcha’ gadget world, is surely the roadside speed camera. And the daddy of the speed camera? A Dutch rally driver, of all things, named Maurice Gatsonides.”

Unlike Gatsonides, Orwell never lived to see the impact of his contribution to humanity. But their impact on society is a constant source of controversy and discussion.

There is nothing new about traffic cameras and the controversy that inevitably follows wherever they are used. But the cameras are relatively new to central Iowa. When government discovers a new method of separating money from the people they serve, they can usually find an excuse for doing so. Remember pull-tab machines? Moral relativism is much easier for politicians to explain away when huge revenue streams are the end result.

Now we have the latest, greatest technological advancement that not only generates revenue on every street corner, but potentially every mile in between. There’s no limit to the revenue that can be generated from the expanded use of traffic cameras, especially when companies like Gatso do all the work while skimming half the take. Our finest can relax at Krispy Kreme while a company on the other side of the Atlantic deposits a suburban soccer mom’s $65 check for allegedly going 11 mph over the posted limit. Ching-ching.

Windsor Heights is one of those places the unfortunate have to pass through to get to someplace worthwhile. They are notorious for their speed traps, so it was no surprise when they announced they were installing speed cameras through their little stretch of the cash cow known as the McVicar Freeway. But when Polk County Sheriff Bill McCarthy decided to cash in at the same time the Iowa Legislature decided to duck out, the expanding presence of Big Brother became very apparent. McCarthy has plans for what has been described as a countywide consortium that would park cameras on high-traveled roads and loan them to smaller municipalities. When it comes to revenue producing cameras, more is more.

Ironically his son, Iowa House of Representatives Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, supports a law to ban cameras. He is one of the few Democrats favoring the ban. Other strange bedfellows include the Iowa ACLU. They argue that 15 other states have already banned use of the cameras.

The “I don’t smoke, I don’t speed, and I don’t gamble” crowd sanctimoniously declare they are fine with government’s growing intrusions. I haven’t had a speeding ticket in 15 years. The first and last nickel I put in a slot machine was 17 years ago. But the incremental erosion of our liberties isn’t something I consider some other poor slob’s problem.

Eventually, even the most sanctimonious will get the picture. CV

Kent Carlson is a native Iowa artist interested in the preserving Iowa’s architectural heritage and the common sense of its leaders. And he writes a few columns for Cityview, too.

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