June 27, 2012

Accountability to Those Who Pay the Buck-O'-Five

Ken at Popehat has a perfectly concise take-down of LZ Granderson's ridiculous CNN essay arguing against seeking too much information from our government about "Fast and Furious". I won't be able to say it better than Ken, so here are his words. (And if you're not reading Popehat, correct that in your RSS reader.)

But to go much beyond the criticism of these men runs the risk of learning that this great nation of ours is heavily involved in doing some things that are not so great.

It would be nice to see this as a wry comment on American willingness to overlook lawbreaking by the government when it is committed (at least nominally) in service of goals of which we approve.

But the straight-faced reading is too similar to what I have come to expect from the media to be certain of my hoped-for satirical reading. Right now scandals over both Fast and Furious and the government response to it are being spun in many places as a cynical partisan obsession. I have not the shadow of the doubt that many of the loudest critics of the government have partisan motives. But if we dismiss criticism of government misbehavior because of partisan motivations, we'll never entertain significant criticism of the government. We'll always have partisanship. We can't let it be an excuse to abandon our obligations as citizens to monitor and criticize the government.

Like Granderson, I know that "freedom isn't entirely free". It's not "squeaky clean". Unlike Granderson, and like Ken, I expect America to strive to be as squeaky clean as possible. Where we (allegedly) can't be, I want to know why. I want to know what my government is doing in my name. I do not want elected dictators.


LZ Granderson has exhibited questionable critical thinking skills in the past. A year ago he wrote an essay against the San Francisco ballot initiative that aimed to prohibit non-therapeutic male child circumcision. It was awful in nearly every paragraph. His arguments were either incomplete or idiotic in every case.

May 19, 2012

Government Preparation for Adulthood

This story is almost two weeks old, but it still has value.

A two-page oral sex encounter by an awkward teen at boarding school in the coming-of-age novel Looking for Alaska was deemed too racy by Sumner County schools last week.

The district banned the book from its assigned classroom reading list, becoming at least the second in the state, after Knox County in March, to keep students from reading it together in class.

The teen novel is the first in several years to be stripped from Sumner classrooms. Wilson, Rutherford and Williamson county schools say they haven’t banned the book or any titles in recent years. Metro schools didn’t have information on the book as of Monday.

In this case, he said, the value didn’t outweigh the controversy. The book was not pulled from any district library shelves, [Sumner County schools spokesman Jeremy Johnson] said.

I oppose censorship. This is clearly a form of censorship, although not quite as bad as removing the book from the school system entirely. A public school board prohibiting a book from the classroom curriculum is insulting to both teachers and students. It also provides excellent support for a libertarian rant against public provision of education. The argument against home-schooling seems centered around the willingness of some parents to avoid facts. This is no better, since the government engages in the same behavior. It's also unnecessary. In high school, I had to seek parental permission to read The Catcher in the Rye for an essay because it featured adult language and themes. That's an imperfect, reasonable solution which leaves discretion to parents and provides a learning opportunity for all students.

The school board's decision is awful, and especially so because the book is part of a high school curriculum in which students are presumably being taught to think critically. Still, this strikes me as worse:

“Kids at this age are impressionable. Sometimes it’s a monkey see, monkey do,” said parent Kathy Clough, who has a freshman and a senior at White House High School, where the book had been assigned reading. “I’m going to trust that my school board made the right choice. … If they feel like this book is a little too graphic, I’m all for it.”

Or she could read the book and decide for herself. Just an idea.

I don't understand that kind of parental abdication. Of course her concern is probably quite appropriate, given how willing she seems to turn over the raising of her children (who are nearly adults) to a government body. But this is infuriating because she assumes all parents are as incapable of teaching the idiocy of "monkey see, monkey do" as she implies she is, and therefore, no parents should have the choice for such books to be a part of their teen's education. If she thinks a "child" 14 or older isn't aware that oral sex is a thing, she's mistaken. If a child teen between 14 and 18 hasn't learned enough to distinguish literature from a directive, the school system is worse than just a censoring band of thugs. It's an incompetent, censoring band of thugs. All parents should be vehemently opposed to ceding more control to that school system, as Ms. Clough is happy to do.

Here's the author, John Green, explaining this scenario when it occurred elsewhere in 2008:

Via John Green on Twitter.

Update: Post updated because I found evidence that I had to ask permission to read The Catcher in the Rye.

January 22, 2012

This May or May Not Be How the Drug War Ends

Many people are talking about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's high-level proposal from his 2012 State of the State address to shift the governmental approach to drug use/abuse among the citizens of New Jersey.

The transcript (video excerpt in bold):

At the same time, let us reclaim the lives of those drug offenders who have not committed a violent crime. By investing time and money in drug treatment – in an in-house, secure facility – rather than putting them in prison.

Experience has shown that treating non-violent drug offenders is two-thirds less expensive than housing them in prison. And more importantly – as long as they have not violently victimized society – everyone deserves a second chance, because no life is disposable.

I am not satisfied to have this as merely a pilot project; I am calling for a transformation of the way we deal with drug abuse and incarceration in every corner of New Jersey.

So today I ask this Legislature and the Chief Justice to join me in this commitment that no life is disposable.

I propose mandatory treatment for every non-violent offender with a drug abuse problem in New Jersey, not just a select few. It will send a clear message to those who have fallen victim to the disease of drug abuse – we want to help you, not throw you away. We will require you to get treatment. Your life has value. Every one of God’s creations can be redeemed. Everyone deserves a second chance.

It's being applauded. In an important way, it should be. He's proposing a shift from prison to treatment. We're long past the point at which society can pretend the War on Drugs has been or can be successful. Experience has consistently shown it will not work. Now, the War on Drugs is just an excuse to provide ever-increasing power to the government. Good riddance to any part of that we can dismantle.

But therein lies the problem with Gov. Christie's proposal. While a move in the right direction, he's not proposing the removal of the state's police power from the discussion. He proposed mandatory treatment for every non-violent offender with a drug abuse problem. That leaves the state police power involved. His speech was too high-level to establish that this will be terrible or that it can't be good if the details are specified. But who defines "offender"? Would buying drugs still be an offense? And who defines "problem"? Would mere use of a drug be considered evidence of abuse? That's a considerable amount of discretion when discussing mandatory (i.e. compelled with force) treatment.

There is a flaw in the term "non-violent offender". And he said "...God’s creatures can be redeemed" rather than something about having freedom to ingest whatever one wants or the irrational economics of putting a "non-violent offender" in jail. Gov. Christie needs to elaborate before I'll assume this is a push for liberty rather than the 2012 version of compassionate conservatism.

Via Elias Isquith at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen and Andrew Sullivan.

I know the video doesn't fit. At some point I'll update my blog theme to something newer than 2005.

November 27, 2011

Money Is a Tool, Not an Inverse Proof of Personal Value

A mindset exists around money and choices involved in acquiring it that I don't understand. I comprehend that this exists, but I'm not sure why or how it develops and persists. Lauren McLaughlin writes about a New York Times article on Wall Street layoffs:

According to this New York Times article, young wannabe bankers are the first to go in the most recent round of financial sector lay-offs.

I know. Boo hoo, right?

I won’t ask anyone to shed a tear for these youngsters who still have plenty of time to rethink the trajectory of their professional lives. Besides, looked at one way, the recession is the best thing to happen to this generation of young, ambitious college grads. Without easy access to the lucrative field of magical fairy dust mortgage derivatives, they might actually do something meaningful with their lives.

Having two degrees in finance and multiple friends who entered the field in the mid-'90s, I'd take issue with the idea of "easy" access to the financial industry. But that quibble aside, I'd ask why Ms. McLaughlin should spend her time in the (potentially) lucrative field of magical fairy dust novel writing. If she couldn't do that, she might actually do something meaningful with her life, to be determined by me for her.

I only offer that in jest. Novel writing is a respectable, useful profession, and I admire anyone who can a) do it and b) make a living at it. It doesn't matter if the author writes books I would read or not. I'm not silly enough to demand that my tastes, preferences, and needs be the only criteria by which everyone must decide what is worthwhile in the world.

The same applies to the world of finance. I think the impulse to condemn finance in total rests on the same misguided notion that all bankers from 2008 were criminals who should be arrested for causing a financial crisis. It's a simplistic approach to a complicated topic. The industry doesn't have to be perfect to be useful.

This is not to say I admire the banker lifestyle described in the article or in Ms. McLaughlin's post. I don't, but again, that's because it doesn't appeal to me, not because it's inherently flawed or bad. And there are real people suffering in that story. Should we only have empathy for someone until they make a certain income?

Which brings me to a great post by Jason Kuznicki:

The economist Justin Wolfers tweeted an interesting poll result yesterday, from Kaiser (though I’m having trouble finding it at the moment):

As far as you are concerned, do we have too many rich people in this country (31%), too few (21%), or about the right amount? (42%)

As far as I am concerned, 73% of the country appears to have lost its mind. I’d like everyone to be rich, which means, obviously, that we have too few rich people.

He's right. If we're going to focus on artificial, ever-shifting definitions of class in America, we should be working to help everyone move up, not knock the "right" people down for being "wrong" in some way.

November 20, 2011

All Government Is Force. Even Regulation.

Back to the Occupy movement...

I have some sympathy for Occupy Wall Street and its offspring around the country. There is enough broken in the way our economy works that only a fool would advise inaction. Where I quickly part ways is with the obvious implication that our government can fix crony capitalism (i.e. corporatism). Our government is complicit in this problem. It serves the needs of politicians. Where power exists to grab, it will be grabbed. If this involves buying access to or the use of that power, it will happen. The solution is to limit power, not to pretend that human nature can be changed.

This interesting post from writer Lauren McLaughlin addresses an approach for going forward. She's right that the movement needs to stop protesting and Do Something. I don't think she's right on what should be done.

For example, she suggests:

Early complaints about the movement’s lack of specific demands is also falling away as an increasingly focused platform centering on economic justice comes into focus. Poll the former residents of Zuccotti Park or any of the other occupation sites and you’ll hear a variety of ideas, but the most common seem to be the following:

- Regulate banks in a way that disincentivizes the reckless gambling that puts all of us at risk.

- Tax investment returns at the same rate as income.

- Reform campaign finance laws so that we’re no longer being governed by Goldman Sachs.

On the first item, banks were regulated before the financial crisis hit. That we still had a financial crisis may indicate that crimes took place, although I'm doubtful the evidence is strong. But it also demonstrates how difficult it is to get the correct regulation. Unintended consequences will occur. If we radically alter and/or increase regulation, what happens?

It's also worth noting that capitalists, rather than corporatists, advocate letting banks fail. The fear of failing, including bankruptcy, is a motivator. It's unlikely to be the exclusive answer, but we haven't tried it in conjunction with anything yet.

I'd flip the second to suggest taxing income at the same rate as investment returns. Power is the problem, not inadequate revenue. The point of reducing the government is not mere animosity to government (or worse insinuations). As long as power exists, it will be abused.

On the third, I'm not clear enough on the implication of the item to comment extensively. If it's a response to Citizens United, then I disagree. Corporations are not people in the literal sense, but in the legal sense they are, and for good reason. Corporations (and other forms of organization) are made up of people. Those people do not lose rights because they've chosen to work together. If they do, it's not a large leap to discredit democracy. But, again, reduce the scope and amount of power available within government and the incentive to buy it will reduce.

Ms. McLaughlin's next paragraph is revealing from my perspective:

Of course, there are other ideas, like making banks finance their own future bailouts through a financial transaction tax, but I think it’s fairly easy to see the big idea at the heart of the movement: American capitalism and democracy are broken. The big difference between Occupy Wall Street and The Tea Party is that the latter sees the government as the big evil, whereas the former fingers a reckless and under-regulated banking industry that has captured our government and bent it to its will.

I'm not a Tea Party guy, so I'm not so concerned about the difference. But the two have similarities and should recognize that the root causes are very similar. Why does the Tea Party see the government as evil? I think there's some truth to the assertion, but I don't know the answer. I also know many Tea Party members have taken the initial, singular focus on government spending and turned to other causes in which they want more government, not less. I'm not sure the analysis that it thinks government is evil is accurate.

Either way, if that's true, the only way "a reckless and under-regulated" - both subjective terms, with the latter being much less defensible - banking industry could capture our government and bend it to its will is with the full participation of our government. Corporatism is a sinister cooperative effort, not a sinister takeover. Trusting the same government that's been captured so readily and thoroughly to provide a solution is bizarre. As long as there is power to abuse, this will continue, even if it takes a different form. Any action that is to be a solution rather than a perpetuation of chasing new problems must account for this. I haven't seen evidence that the Occupy movement understands this. It may yet win, but I fear the outcome if it does.

In related news, the government that will somehow help is the same government that sees no problem with pepper-spraying peaceful, if disruptive, protesters with a callous disregard for the necessity or safety of the force. This is the state in action. This is what Occupy requests when it calls for more government regulation. All government is force. Why is it wrong to use against you, but okay to use against me?

November 04, 2011

The Explanation May Not Fit on a Placard

Continuing with the Occupy Wall Street theme, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee released an "Open Letter of Support for the Occupy Movement". It's predictably full of pointless nonsense which I think underlies the larger problem with the Occupy protests. To be clear I do not assume that UUSC speaks for the movement. I'm only aiming at it because it states ideas that appear to be generally applicable to Occupy Wall Street.

From the beginning:

I stand with people around the country and the world who are calling for economic justice.

"Economic justice" doesn't say anything. What's meant by the term? Equality of process? Equality of outcome? There are different possible meanings. Some are legitimate and principled. Others are naive. Which is it here?

My values affirm that each person has inherent worth and dignity; that justice, equity, and compassion should be the guiding principles for human relationships; and that all people deserve access to the democratic process.

More ideals without evidence to demonstrate we do not have them in some form. In the abstract, sure, these are great. But what does it mean in reality? Who doesn't have access to the democratic process? What are the intended consequences? What might be the unintended consequences? Can "the democratic process" create valid outcomes that you don't like?

My recognition of the inherent worth of every person compels me to speak out against policies that privilege the demands of corporations over the human rights of people. I support the Occupy movement in its affirmation that protecting workers’ rights and ensuring that basic human needs are met must take precedence. All people have a fundamental right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of themselves and their families.

Please provide examples of where the demands of corporations are privileged over the human rights of people. Government requires a balancing of rights. It's primary task is protecting the rights of individuals. Corporations are individuals, which is to say a collection of individuals. If individuals have a human right to free association, the form of that association shouldn't matter, right? Is the Occupy movement free association? Are the human rights of people the rights of individuals or the abstract of a right, like "free speech"? Are "workers' rights" a subset of human rights or separate and applicable to everyone?

If someone believes my last paragraph, how does free association and an individual's inherent worth and dignity matter only to the extent that their "fundamental right" to a standard of living is met? If the solution is to tax the rich (more), and that seems to be the Occupy movement's demand, then there's an implied point at which an individual becomes a valid target for the rest of society. Justice and equity require both a floor and a ceiling?

I also join the Occupy movement in decrying the wealth disparity that leaves millions struggling for economic security. Policies and legislation that promote economic marginalization are morally unacceptable. Everyone is entitled to a government that recognizes and promotes basic economic rights. Justice, equity, and compassion should be foremost in our government’s decision making.

Is this alleged wealth disparity the cause, or merely a coincidental fact? Wealth and prosperity is only fixed in the moment. But we don't live in a moment. There is tomorrow, and if we create and produce, there will be more tomorrow. Some will get rich, some will not. This isn't necessarily problematic or unfair. Stating that everyone should have some minimum is not the same argument as assuming that no one should have above some maximum. Is Occupy interested in creating and producing, and is it interested in consent in achieving economic security, which is not well-defined here?

I agree that policies and legislation that promote economic marginalization are morally unacceptable. However, the solution includes limiting government power, not relying on the right mix of benevolent politicians. The latter don't exist in sufficient numbers to make a technocratic democracy work without horrible, rights-violating offenses.

Economic oppression is not only a violation of fundamental human rights, it is also a blow to democracy. When economic power is concentrated in the hands of a few and when corporations are awarded the same status as actual human beings, the democratic process is fundamentally compromised. Basic fairness requires that all people have equal opportunity to participate in political debate and to be represented in government.

Define "economic oppression". Provide examples. Explain how the Occupy movement's undefined solution resolves the problem. What are the intended economic consequences of democracy? What might be the unintended consequences? Can "the democratic process" create valid outcomes that you don't like?

Economic power is concentrated for many reasons, including cooperation from politicians. Politicians will be involved in democracy. Democratic tyranny is possible. This is why equality of process is superior to equality of outcome. Democracy does not guarantee equality of process. How would the Occupy movement address this?

Have corporations been awarded the same status as actual human beings? Who will Apple vote for next week? In 2012? What about Starbucks? Again, corporations are a collection of people exercising their natural right to free association. Do they lose certain rights because they join collectively rather than act alone? What would be the consequences - good and bad - of altering the current corporate structures?

I envision a powerful and radically inclusive movement for economic justice. I recognize economic justice as a right that is due to all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, immigration status, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status or distinction.

Is economic justice a right due to "rich" people who are to be taxed? What does this right look like for anyone classified as rich?

I sign this letter as an expression of gratitude to all who are working for economic justice in the United States and around the world, as an affirmation of my hope for fair and compassionate economic reforms, and as a renewal of my commitment to help make it so.

Are we listening to those working for economic justice who know nothing more than the slogans and solutions, those who haven't attempted an understanding of the complex problem?

Link via Ethics Alarms.

November 01, 2011

Krugman says, "I'm Rubber, You're Glue..."

It's been a decent chunk of time since I last posted, but I have things to say again. (And Google removed shared items from Google Reader.) We'll see how long it lasts.

What better (i.e. easier) way to jump back in than to comment on Paul Krugman saying something stupid and lacking in self-awareness. As always it's "you shouldn't do that, but ignore that I'm doing it." Consider this, from last week:

Over the last couple of days, I’ve been getting mail accusing me of consorting with Nazis. My immediate reaction was, what the heck? Then it clicked: the right wing is mounting a full-court press to portray Occupy Wall Street as an anti-Semitic movement, based, as far as I can tell, on one guy with a sign.

I have a lot of sympathy for this complaint, given one of my major interests. It's a pathetic generalization and an embarrassing reflection on the person willing to dabble in stereotypes without individual evidence. It's a dishonest tactic, which suggests fear dominates rather than confidence. Any large-ish movement is going to attract its share of crazies who value conspiracy theories over logic. Unless the movement is based on the conspiracy theory itself or a plainly evil belief, the extreme views are probably not widely held within the group and many group members are likely fighting the nonsense out of public view. Generalizing in this way is flawed and stupid, as any case of being uninterested or unwilling to think is.

So, one paragraph in, Krugman has my sympathy. If this had been the issue Krugman intended to pursue, fine. He didn't.

My first thought was that OWS must have the right really rattled. And there’s probably something to that. But actually, this is the way the right goes after everyone who stands in their way: accuse them of everything, no matter how implausible or contradictory the accusations are. Progressives are atheistic socialists who want to impose Sharia law. Class warfare is evil; also, John Kerry is too rich. And so on.

Krugman makes no distinction between those making accusations and those who share (some) similar, conservative views. It's "the right", without specificity. That stroke is too broad.

The key to understanding this, I’d suggest, is that movement conservatism has become a closed, inward-looking universe in which you get points not by sounding reasonable to uncommitted outsiders — although there are a few designated pundits who play that role professionally — but by outdoing your fellow movement members in zeal.

He's closer here, since it's clear that "movement conservatism" implies "professional". But his aside is not enough to excuse what he's doing. Most people see the distinction between Rush Limbaugh and a neighbor, perhaps even when the neighbor praises Limbaugh. I hope the same is true of anyone tempted to make a professional pundit like Bill Maher the spokesperson for every liberal progressive everywhere. It's a silly, immature way to view the world (and a key reason I hate partisanship).

Krugman continues:

It’s sort of reminiscent of Stalinists going after Trotskyites in the old days: the Trotskyites were left deviationists, and also saboteurs working for the Nazis. Didn’t propagandists feel silly saying all that? Not at all: in their universe, extremism in defense of the larger truth was no vice, and you literally couldn’t go too far.

Many members of the commentariat don’t want to face up to the fact that this is what American politics has become; they cling to the notion that there are gentlemanly elder statesmen on the right who would come to the fore if only Obama said the right words. But the fact is that nobody on that side of the political spectrum wants to or can make deals with the Islamic atheist anti-military warmonger in the White House.

The last line says it all. (It's not the last line in the post; just the last important line.) Is it only "that side" engaging in heated, sweeping accusations? "That side." Krugman is in pot-meet-kettle territory. Everyone who believes anything and shares that belief is a propagandist, literally. In the pejorative, as Krugman implies here, he's claiming that only the right propagandizes. It wouldn't take long to find instances of the left engaging in the same tactics against the right, considering I read Krugman's post.

June 01, 2011

Some Debates Don't Have Two Sides

Yesterday in the Los Angeles Times Op-Ed section, Cato policy analyst David Rittgers wrote about the renewed discussion of waterboarding and whether or not it's torture.

The successful raid on Osama bin Laden's safe house in Pakistan has reinvigorated debate over the role that "enhanced interrogation techniques" have played in fighting Al Qaeda. No one is switching sides, which has turned the argument into a theological one between two sets of true believers. Each views the other as heretics.

Get over it. The whole of the debate is pointless posturing. There is no way to prove or disprove the real worth of America's experiment with waterboarding and coercive techniques. More important, enhanced interrogation isn't coming back.

I agree that what is now happening is posturing. I disagree that it's pointless. In the same way I wanted to know in the middle of the Bush Administration, I want to know now who supports the use of torture. Those people should be exposed as quickly and as completely as possible so that they're removed or kept away from public office. If they wish to expose themselves, so much better.

Link via Cato @ Liberty.

January 09, 2011

Gun Violence: Method versus Reason

The murders and attempted murders in Arizona yesterday at Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' constituent gathering doesn't need any specific comment from me. Nor am I much interested in the partisan nonsense that predictably followed. My only response was to wield a clumsy, permanent "Unfollow" hammer on Twitter on anyone who blamed someone other than the (alleged) murderer for his crimes. Productive for nothing other than my sanity, but that's something for me.

I am, however, interested in one inevitable angle of the aftermath that I think is worth discussing. Two comments that crossed my Twitter feed. First:

It is unacceptable to defend the legality of firearms. It is both irresponsible and horrifically misinformed. Guns kill. Fuck guns. End of.


"England, where no one has guns: 14 deaths. United States...23,000 deaths from handguns. But--there's no connection..." ~Bill Hicks

To be fair to both persons, they are Brits, so an American perspective has a way of slanting away from their understandable sentiments. But, both are still flawed, regardless of the cultural difference.

The obvious reason is the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. As long as that is still valid, guns will be legal in the United States. Simply pretending that it's not would fight chaos and lawlessness with chaos and lawlessness. Neither of the comments above implies that America should ignore the Second Amendment. We still need to explicitly accept its existence.

Details on why the murderer felt this was justifiable are still unclear. (Mostly, but I'm not going to speculate.) Lost on too many is the idea that guns aren't the only way to kill people. Sure, it's a simple process, but plowing a car through a crowd would have similar results. We recognize how stupid it would be to outlaw cars, so it's reasonable to me to expect that level of thinking applied to guns, as well. Whatever the underlying motivation, the cliche is true: guns don't kill people. People kill people.

The second Tweet above is slightly off, since the U.S. has approximately five times the population of the U.K. The difference between 14 and 70 is trivial when compared to 23,000, but it raises the question of adequately comparing countries. (I'm ignoring the context of the 23,000 figure and its validity because it's tangential to my point.) Too many cultural differences exist to compare directly. What are the underlying issues? Why do people shoot/kill other people? And so on.

For example, whatever the percentage, I'm sure much of that number is related to the drug war in the U.S. Other countries are fighting the same war, but the consequences are influenced by culture. The U.S. tried the same war with alcohol prohibition in the early 20th century. We're now recreating the same results. To mangle another cliche, you can't legislate for the country you wish you had. You must legislate with the country you have. The human response to prohibition is predictable. But the U.K. and its gun prohibition isn't the U.S. and its Constitution. What to do isn't as simple as the seductive "no guns, no murder" mantra.


I have a final point, which I'm separating to hopefully avoid the perception that I'm engaging in a logical fallacy. Understand that this informs nothing other than my personal experience and is not meant to prove me any more an authority or voice in the discussion.

My father died of a gunshot wound when I was three-years-old. He and a friend were playing a game of quick-draw in the front seat of his friend's car. My father's friend apparently didn't realize his gun was loaded. Upon pulling it out, it discharged a fatal blast into my father's chest.

If guns were illegal, it's unlikely they would've been playing quick-draw knife throw. But there's also no way to know that they wouldn't have been playing quick-draw with guns. Life happens. There are legitimate reasons to detest guns and legitimate reasons to value them. There's a large measure of subjectivity in each of these. It adds nothing to simplify the discussion into a belief that 300,000,000 Americans should fit one mold of thinking, or that an opinion in favor of gun ownership implies a desire, preference or acceptance of gun violence.

January 09, 2010

Our Security Makes Me Afraid


The man who is believed to have slipped into a secured area of Newark Liberty International Airport and to have caused a six-hour shutdown of a major terminal on Sunday has been arrested, Port Authority officials said on Friday night.

Mr. [Haisong] Jiang’s arrest [on a charge of defiant trespass] came a day after a video showing security footage of the incident was released by Mr. Lautenberg. It shows a man in a light-colored jacket standing near where arriving passengers exit a secured part of the airport. When a security guard leaves his post, the man embraces a woman and slips across the rope into the secured part of the terminal. The two then walk away together.

I don't have much to say on the facts of the case. I haven't seen the video, so I can't decide whether or not the Mr. Jiang's alleged actions were intentional. Instead, I want to comment on this:

The security guard has been on administrative leave since Tuesday, and he faces disciplinary action, according to the Transportation Security Administration. Derrick F. Thomas, a national vice president with union representing the guard, told The A.P. that the guard has “been rated a model employee.”

While in high school, I worked at a drug store. One day, the assistant manager in charge of the store during my shift left for approximately 30 minutes to run personal errands. She left a senior clerk in charge. If my memory is correct, that clerk was a high school student like me. Nothing occurred at the store during her absence. The next time I reported to work, I learned the manager had fired the assistant manager for her action.

If secure restricted areas of an airport demands attention and scrutiny to each individual entering, as we're told it does, what's less severe here than what occurred at a drug store twenty years ago that makes administrative leave appropriate rather than immediate dismissal?

My initial conclusion is to accept the obvious distinction. The drug store was a private enterprise. The TSA is a government entity. The former requires accountability. The latter can't. I'm inclined to be skeptical of this conclusion, since I don't wish to be an ideologue. Then I read this (via KipEsquire):

A bystander waiting for an arriving passenger noticed the breach and told the guard. TSA officials then discovered that surveillance cameras at the security checkpoint had not recorded the breach and were forced to consult backup security cameras operated by Continental Airlines.

There could be any number of issues why such a lapse might occur, technical or otherwise. None of them are acceptable. This is security theater, not security. And we're doubling down on our stupidity with every new, predictable incident.

April 22, 2009

Circling All Multiple-Choice Answers

I do not discount the possibility that a beauty pageant contestant can be informed on any given topic. I discount the possibility that a beauty pageant is a forum capable of generating an interesting discussion of any particular topic. What Miss California has to say about same-sex marriage is rather irrelevant to the debate.

That said, I find the outcry amusing. From FOX News:

Miss California Carrie Prejean, blasted by a Miss USA contest judge because she opposes gay marriage, may have grounds for a discrimination lawsuit herself — against the Miss USA pageant, a legal analyst says.

"If she really feels some tremendous stress as a result of losing — and I'm certain she's probably devastated from what happened to her — she can articulate a viable claim for monetary compensation for psychic injury," said FOX News legal analyst Mercedes Colwin.

I'm not an attorney, but I'm certain this is preposterous reasoning. Rule number one: Never take legal advice from a cable television news program. Even if I didn't understand this rule, reading the article tells me enough. Nowhere does the (unnamed) reporter quote Miss Prejean's response to Perez Hilton's question. If you haven't heard it, she said:

PEREZ: Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same-sex marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit? Why or why not?

CARRIE: I think it's great that Americans are able to choose one or the other. We live in a land that you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite marriage and, you know what, in my country and my family I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anyone out there but that's how I was raised and that's how I think it should be between a man and a woman.

Perez Hilton gave her a zero for her answer. If I thought a judge's vote on an answer to a question in the Miss USA pageant could justify a lawsuit, this still isn't that. She didn't answer the question because she said it's great that we can choose to marry a partner of either gender but we shouldn't be able to choose any marriage other than one man and one woman. The possibly-accidental inclusion of great generated her predicament, not her dismissal of a civil right because she was raised to believe her opinion is as valid as logic.

Link via Timothy Lee's Twitter feed.


Now for a snarky answer: She can't articulate a viable claim because she couldn't articulate a viable answer.

March 21, 2009

On Widespread Gender-Based Double Standards

One more story for today that draws a parallel to the gender-bias in child genital cutting in America. (Note: The names of the minors should be redacted, but they're obviously known, so I'm leaving them in the excerpt.)

Alan Jepsen was playing videogames at his home in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, when the cops came knocking on his door. He was handcuffed in front of his sister and thrown in jail. In the words of his attorney, Jeffrey Purnell, “This child, this 17-year-old high-school kid, had to spend a week in jail—they locked him up and they put him in jail with grown-ups.”

His crime: Having sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend. And, perhaps, being a boy.

The day after Alan's arrest, Sheboygan authorities arrested Norma Guthrie, also 17, for having sex with her 14-year-old boyfriend. Norma, however, did not have to spend a single day in jail. She was released immediately, on signature bond, while Alan was held on a $1,000 cash bond, which his family could not afford. Sheboygan County Assistant District Attorney Jim Haasch is handling both cases.

The disparity in the punishment of these 17-year-olds, both accused of having sex with the 14-year-olds they were dating, goes much deeper. Haasch charged Alan with a Class C felony, which, according to court records obtained by The Daily Beast, carries a maximum prison sentence of 40 years. Norma, on the other hand, was charged only with a misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of nine months in jail.

If the facts are as they appear, this is despicable. And entirely predictable. Males are viewed as possessing endless sexual appetities. Females are viewed as sexual victims. The typical defense of the non-existent ethical distinction between genital cutting on male and female minors rests solely on the mistaken notion that female genital cutting is strictly designed to limit the female's sexuality, if not destroy it completely. (And imposed by women, even when it isn't.) For males, we pretend that potential medical benefits dismiss the same ethical issues involved in female genital cutting because parents say their intentions are good. Anyway, we're told, males enjoy sex more than enough, and genital cutting doesn't affect male sexual experience. And if it does, although it doesn't, that's exclusively a good thing, except removing nerve endings couldn't possibly alter sexual experience, so why are you worried?

Here's an example:

Between 2002 and 2003, Turkish scientists studied how circumcision influences male sexual functions. They only studied men who were circumcised for aesthetic or religious reasons. The average age of those surveyed was 22.3 years old, and their sexual functions were equal before and after circumcision. After the survey was carried out, scientists concluded that circumcising grown men does not negatively effect their sexual functions. On the contrary, the fact that it causes a delay in ejaculation is more of an advantage than a complication.

Circumcision affects sexual function. It delays orgasm, which is an objective claim. Whether or not that is positive or negative is subjective to the individual, yet it's treated as an objective finding. It's not stated here, but most commonly the argument relies on some defense that women prefer this outcome, so it is good. (Check virtually any propaganda by Brian Morris or Edgar Schoen.)

If a man likes large breasts, he does not have the right to impose breast augmentation on his daughter to achieve this positive outcome. We understand that, of course, because it involves controlling a female's sexuality. But we embrace a double standard when the roles are reversed, even though the ethical issue is the same. We must not deviate from the belief that men are predators and women are delicate flowers. So, no, I'm not surprised that there is a double standard involving prosecution of these two Wisconsin teens.

Original link via Radley Balko.

February 23, 2009

Put on Your Editor's Cap

Imagine you work for Reuters and this study crosses your desk.

Conclusion.The key factor associated with acquisition of HPV was lifetime number of sex partners, whereas circumcision was the most significant determinant for clearance of any HPV infection and oncogenic HPV infection.

You deem that worthy of a write-up. How do you write that up? If you highlighted the greatest risk factor the study identified, you'd be thinking like a responsible journalist. You'd also be unqualified to work at Reuters, apparently, as the story (run by Fox News) shows:

Men who are circumcised may be more protected against persistent infection with the virus that causes genital warts, a new study suggests.

The study, which followed 285 men ages 18 to 44, found that among those who became infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV), circumcised men were more likely to have their immune systems "clear" the virus by the end of the 18-month study.

When it came to the risk of acquiring the virus in the first place, the biggest risk factor was having a large number of lifetime sex partners, the researchers report in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.

The story waits until the third paragraph to present the largest finding, and then it's only as an afterthought. The key lesson we're supposed to take is that circumcision appeared to protect men. That's bias, a conclusion seeking support.

Yet, notice how the article must clarify. The risk is identified "among those who became infected". Isn't that a useful key? We know how men (and women) can protect themselves. Don't sleep with lots of people. Wear a condom. Actions have consequences.

If adult men want to use this study to justify circumcising themselves, I don't care. I think it's unnecessary because there are better ways to protect themselves. Someone else might think differently. But that's not the point of headlines like this. It seeks to push infant circumcision. "See, it has medical benefits," proponents claim. It's propaganda wrapped in the appearance of good intentions.

February 11, 2009

John Harvey Kellogg's Legacy

The "OMG Michael Phelps smoked marijuana" story is still a hot topic, with the general tone thankfully being that this is hardly worth wasting the effort of any brain cells. I concur, but that won't stop the usual idiots from moralizing. The extends a little further to at least the appearance of moralizing, as evidenced by Kellogg dropping its endorsement deal with Mr. Phelps. I regard this as nothing more than a business decision. It's weak and cowardly, but nothing in my support for capitalism suggests that individuals can't be stupid.

Still, this provides a reminder that the company's co-founder, John Harvey Kellogg, endorsed and promoted a radical, not-uncommon opinion for the late 19th century. From Kellogg's book, Plain Facts for Old and Young, here is Kellogg's "cure" for masturbation in children:

In younger children, with whom moral considerations will have no particular weight, other devices may be used. Bandaging the parts has been practiced with success. Tying the hands is also successful in some cases; but this will not always succeed, for they will often contrive to continue the habit in other ways, as by working the limbs, or lying upon the abdomen. Covering the organs with a cage has been practiced with entire success. A remedy which is almost always successful in small boys is circumcision, especially when there is any degree of phimosis. The operation should be performed by a surgeon without administering an anæsthetic, as the brief pain attending the operation will have a salutary effect upon the mind, especially if it be connected with the idea of punishment, as it may well be in some cases. The soreness which continues for several weeks interrupts the practice, and if it had not previously become too firmly fixed, it may be forgotten and not resumed. If any attempt is made to watch the child, he should be so carefully surrounded by vigilance that he cannot possibly transgress without detection. If he is only partially watched, he soon learns to elude observation, and thus the effect is only to make him cunning in his vice.

This is one of the contributing arguments that encouraged the establishment of routine, medically unnecessary male circumcision in America. Anyone who denies this origin is misinformed when seeking a gender-based exception to the objective claim that medically unnecessary genital cutting on a non-consenting individual is unethical, whether the mutilated is female or male.

To demonstrate further, this is from Kellogg's writing:

In females, the author has found the application of pure carbolic acid to the clitoris an excellent means of allaying the abnormal excitement, and preventing the recurrence of the practice in those whose will power has become so weakened that the patient is unable to exercise entire self-control.

Victorian-era Americans embraced circumcision because they replaced priests with doctors. They did not replace superstition with science. American medical knowledge of the foreskin accepted a religious foundation for any research, just as American medical knowledge today is ignorant of the foreskin because the circumcised penis is viewed as normal rather than common.

While I think boycotting Kellogg in 2009 because John Harvey Kellogg was despicable in 1888 is melodramatic, the history is worth repeating independent of the company. Boycotting Kellogg in 2009 because of it's business decision regarding Mr. Phelps is a different matter. I support that.

February 10, 2009

Could government stimulus buy everyone a pony?

When media outlets publish scientific findings, do they behave responsibly or do they adhere to sensationalism? From CNN, this headline:

Could smoking pot raise testicular cancer risk?

As the article states in the lede, the study's researchers have not moved beyond describing this as a "hypothesis". How many people will read the just the headline and conclude that smoking marijuana leads to testicular cancer? The last few years of reporting on HIV and male circumcision has shown that people get carried away with fear despite the clear contradictions to the worst case scenario that rational thought provides. A responsible headline would say something like, "Researchers theorize marijuana-testicular cancer link". That's weak, I think, but it's closer to the truth.

Notice, too, how the headline states "testicular cancer risk" rather than "risk of testicular cancer". People who react with fear rather than reason will stop reading after "cancer". Like HIV and male circumcision in America, few bother to examine the risk.

Testicular cancer is not common; a man's lifetime chance of developing testicular cancer is about 1 in 300. Because treatment is so successful, the risk of dying from this cancer is very low: about 1 in 5,000.

But, CANCER! Now the prohibitionists will use another tactic, despite an obvious argument:

For patients using cannabis for medicinal purposes, the improvement in quality of life may outweigh any potential risk of testicular cancer, said [UCLA professor Steve] Shoptaw.

I'd shorten that to state that anyone who smokes marijuana might judge the improvement in quality of life may outweigh any potential risk of testicular cancer. All tastes and preferences are subjective. Individual liberty requires that we set aside our moral disfavor when making laws for any activity that does not intrude on the liberty of another individual. If you smoke pot, you are not harming me in a tangible way. Even if you increase your risk of testicular cancer. Contrary to the prohibitionists, the risk of being offended is irrelevant.

October 10, 2008

No conspiracy. I think the media is lazy.

Here are three stories to demonstrate that media reporting on male circumcision borders on propaganda. First, from Aidsmap:

A meta-analysis of studies of circumcision in gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM) has not found sufficient evidence to show that being circumcised reduced their risk of acquiring HIV. Although it finds a small reduction in the risk of HIV infection in circumcised men, this is not statistically significant - in other words it could just be a chance finding. Furthermore, the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that although circumcised men who were exclusively insertive for anal sex had a lower risk of infection with HIV, the difference with uncircumcised men was still not statistically significant and could have been chance.

Fair enough, and there are further possibly-relevant nuances in the article. Those aren't my focus here (nor do they overcome my principled objection to forced circumcision). Rather, consider how the editor titled this news:

Jury still out on whether circumcision protects gay men against HIV

What would it take for the jury to finally be in? We see how quickly it's in on unstudied results assumed from a study that appears to give the results the researcher wants. (The answer? Six days.) When the jury gives an answer you don't like? Deliberate further. I don't wonder why.

Note: We can debate the semantics of scientific investigation of the hypothesis and findings, but pro-circumcision researchers use only a very loose application of either.

Second, from Time (emphasis added):

Circumcision is believed to lower H.I.V. transmission in several ways. The inner surface of the foreskin is rich with cells that are more vulnerable to H.I.V. than cells on other parts of the penis; because they are also closer to the epithelial surface and at higher risk for tears during intercourse, they increase susceptibility to infection. Removal of the foreskin further lowers men's odds of developing genital ulcers (from diseases such as syphilis), which in turn lowers their vulnerability to H.I.V. during intercourse. In theory, circumcision should be protective for all men who participate in insertive sex, including heterosexual men and men who have sex with men.

Believed to lower is accurate, because all studies involving (voluntary, adult!) male circumcision and HIV risk reduction look at results. None of them have shown what generates the results researchers claim. There are theories, but nothing concrete. It could be nothing more than flawed methodology, right? Yet, Time reported male circumcision's claimed role in reducing HIV risk as its 2007 medical breakthrough of the year. Has the magazine changed its opinion to one of logically-defensible caution?

Third, from the Jerusalem Post:

Almost a third of male immigrants from the former Soviet Union are uncircumcised, according to a survey by the Geocartography Institute commissioned by the Jerusalem AIDS Project.

The survey also found that 2.2% of women who immigrated from the FSU "didn't know" whether their partner was circumcised, and 72.8% of female partners of uncircumcised new immigrants would prefer that they don't undergo ritual circumcision.

That 72.8% figure is interesting. It's subjective, a point I actively make, even when it benefits me. But this is the type of irrelevant statistic pro-circumcision propagandists like Dr. Brian Morris love to spew when their carefully-chosen studies suggest that women prefer circumcised partners. We mark anyone who would argue in favor of compulsory breast implants for teen girls because their male partners prefer large breasts as intellectually ridiculous. The same applies here. What women prefer only matters if the male choosing circumcision for himself wants it to influence his decision. For the anti-intellectuals who don't get this, the propaganda can work against them. They'll never notice, of course.

Continuing, with emphasis added:

Research carried out abroad shows incontrovertibly that circumcision reduces by 60% the risk of a man being infected with HIV by a female carrier. In many African countries with high HIV rates, men are lining up for circumcision, and Israel's experience in circumcising thousands of adult males has aroused interest in the UN and among African governments.

How does incontrovertibly reconcile with believed to lower? In the same way that "six in 10 circumcised men are immune to HIV infection"?

August 24, 2008

If you lie down with communists, you wake up without rights.

Now this is an issue, as we reach the closing ceremonies?

Ambassador Clark T. Randt Jr. pressed the Chinese government on Saturday to immediately release the Americans, the statement said. U.S. officials would continue to raise concerns about the detentions with senior Chinese officials, it said.

"We are disappointed that China has not used the occasion of the Olympics to demonstrate greater tolerance and openness," the statement said.

It urged China to show respect for human rights, freedom of speech and religion.

It is a savage view that believes the best individuals should hope for is to be tolerated by a government.

The blunt criticism came just hours before the end of the Games, which have largely followed the plan of China's leaders for a smooth-running event that would increase the country's international prestige.

And the world played the willing dupe, despite the Communist government's well-known lack of respect for human rights. Somehow, participating in the games would convince the rights-abridging propagandists to not be rights-abridging propagandists?

Under pressure to address human rights and free speech concerns, China said it would allow protests during the Games in three designated areas. But none of the more than 70 applications to demonstrate was approved, and some people were arrested as they sought the permits, rights groups and relatives said.

"We found it unusual that none of these applications have come through," [IOC president Jacques] Rogge said at a news conference Sunday.

Unusual? What part of rights-abridging propagandist makes arresting people seeking permits to protest - an infringement on at least two rights - in any way unusual or unpredictable?

Similar thoughts at A Stitch in Haste.

June 25, 2008

There is no do-over in surgery.

I'm still catching up on some of the circumcision-related news items form the last few weeks. Sometimes, I step away from the topic for short periods to recharge my tolerance for the inevitable frustration that arises when considering the various ways the rights of the circumcised are ignored, and the manner in which every breathless proclamation seems to instill even more determination that every male will just love being surgically altered shortly after birth. Stepping away eliminates reduces the number of verbal tirades I feel compelled to unleash. I always come back, though.

This story, forwarded to me by a loyal reader who forwards me useful material that I too often fail to translate into entries, is worth mentioning. Now that I'm looking, I can find a few references to it, but most media seems to have ignored it. Probably because it directly challenges the cheerleading for infant circumcision in the recent past. Anyway, the gist:

A quarter of a century after the outbreak of Aids, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has accepted that the threat of a global heterosexual pandemic has disappeared.

In the first official admission that the universal prevention strategy promoted by the major Aids organisations may have been misdirected, Kevin de Cock, the head of the WHO's department of HIV/Aids said there will be no generalised epidemic of Aids in the heterosexual population outside Africa.

This is the appropriate point to remind everyone - the unethical scientists at WHO specifically - that the recent research we've been bombarded with repeatedly for the last two years suggests that voluntary, adult male circumcision reduces the risk of HIV transmission from female-to-male through heterosexual intercourse. Those infants who've been circumcised in the mad rush to embrace fear unsupported by at least the anecdotal evidence any mildly observant individual in a Western society could pick up? Ooops. But, hey, women will dig it, so there's that.

In case you think this might cause the media to apply any critical thinking to the way they've reported on circumcision, fret not, they're fully prepared to let you down if you get optimistic. In the same article, this:

Critics of the global Aids strategy complain that vast sums are being spent educating people about the disease who are not at risk, when a far bigger impact could be achieved by targeting high-risk groups and focusing on interventions known to work, such as circumcision, which cuts the risk of infection by 60 per cent, and reducing the number of sexual partners.

Interventions known to work. Process that for a moment. It's known to work¹ at reducing the risk of HIV transmission from female-to-male through heterosexual intercourse! Isn't the point of this story to report on the possible exaggeration of an epidemic among heterosexuals? I can imagine the editorial review of this article. "Everyone, shake your pom poms with me. Give me a "C"! Give me an "I"! Give me an "R"! Give me a "C"!

I won't put it in print, but I'm swearing right now.

¹ There is room to debate this, primarily on methodology. Another time, perhaps.

June 23, 2008

Are we angry about the assaulter or the assault?

I only know the facts to the extent that the article states:

School board members voted 5-0 to fire Mount Vernon Middle School science teacher John Freshwater. Board attorney David Millstone said Freshwater is entitled to a hearing to challenge the dismissal.

Freshwater denies wrongdoing and will request such a hearing, the teacher's attorney, Kelly Hamilton, told the Mount Vernon News.

Freshwater used a science tool known as a high-frequency generator to burn images of a cross on students' arms in December, the report said. Freshwater told investigators he simply was trying to demonstrate the device on several students and described the images as an "X," not a cross. But pictures show a cross, the report said.

I stand firm on innocent until proven guilty. Until he has a hearing, I'm not interested in saying much more than anyone who would teach religion in a science classroom is not qualified to teach science. I hope it's obvious that anyone who would burn an image on a child's arm, be it an "X" or a cross, is fit only to wear a prison jump suit.

That said, is this about violating the First Amendment rights of the children or violating their human rights? Change the scenario: would we allow parents to burn an image of a cross on their child's body? Many will reflexively offer some variation of "of course not". But that's not accurate. We already allow parents to "burn" a (permanent) religious mark on their (male) child's body through genital mutilation. And that doesn't disappear in three or four weeks, as the burned image of the cross/"X" disappeared. Why is the less damaging, less permanent assault reprehensible and the more damaging, more permanent assault considered a reasonable parental choice?

June 10, 2008

Beware: The vegetables are out to kill you!

How many times do we have to go through foodborne illnesses, with vegetables blamed as the cause rather than carrier, before someone with a national forum finally speaks the truth and tells people to stop being stupid? Once again a vegetable is tainted with harmful bacteria - this time, tomatoes and salmonella, respectively - and the reaction is to blame the vegetable and act stupid. For example:

Restaurants are removing tomato slices from sandwiches and grocery stores are plucking red plum tomatoes from their produce aisles following a nationwide alert that raw tomatoes may have infected scores of people with a rare form of salmonella.

Of course that's a reasonable response because tomato slices are served raw, which allows the bacteria to survive. But how does that then lead to this?

Salmonella is more frequently associated with poultry, which carry the bacteria. But produce is increasingly a vehicle for salmonella infection as well. Scientists and public-health experts don't completely understand how pathogens contaminate produce. ...

Don't completely understand? Fine, but are they aware of the link? Let's see how the paragraph continues:

... The bacteria can be found in animal feces, which can spread through contaminated water, manure or improper handling. It can enter tomatoes through the roots or flowers, or through cracks in the skin of the fruit or the stem scar. Once inside, the microbe is hard to kill without cooking. Tomatoes have been linked to 13 outbreaks of salmonella since 1990, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington advocacy group.

Holy smokes! Who would've guessed that? Too bad we don't have any prior evidence to suggest that animal agriculture is the cause. Blame the vegetables! Except, that's irrational. We have prior evidence of salmonella contamination, as well as evidence involving E. coli that suggests this exact link:

The likely source of an E. coli outbreak in spinach that killed three people and sickened more than 200 was a small cattle ranch about 50 kilometres from California's central coastline, state and federal officials said Friday as they concluded their investigation.

They found E. coli "indistinguishable from the outbreak strain" in river water, cattle feces, and wild pig feces on the ranch about a kilometre from the spinach fields, the California Department of Health Services and U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a joint report.

Let's continue burying that in the story, though. Meat is fine because it should be cooked. I, dirty hippie that I am, with my "natural" foods, I need to be careful because that will kill me. And, anyway, I'm not getting enough protein, so who am I to tell anyone else what is and is not the cause of anything to do with food?

Thankfully, with our main course of ignorance, we'll get a heaping side dish consisting of rent-seeking regulation:

Consumer advocates and produce trade groups say fresh produce needs mandatory safety standards. Currently, growers follow voluntary guidelines issued by the FDA.

Lovely. Our existing animal agriculture safety regulations are followed so closely that vegetables regularly become contaminated. But, if we just regulate the vegetables enough, we'll all be safe. That's a brilliant line of thinking.

Or I could just mutter "barriers to entry" and end this entry.

May 02, 2008

Is this a parental right?

Via Boing Boing, I thought baby dropping had to be a hoax.

Muslims in western India have been observing a bizarre ritual - they've been throwing their young children off a tall building to improve their health.

The faithful have been observing the ritual at a shrine in Solapur, in western India's Maharastra, for more than five hundred years.

They believe it will make their children strong and say no accidents have ever happened.

The video accompanying the article suggests it is not a hoax, although I remain skeptical. But it does raise an obvious question. Is this a parental right similar to the claimed right to circumcise male - and only - male children? The child doesn't need to be tossed from a building. There is an objectively identifiable, if hard to quantify, risk of injury, both minor and severe. There are benefits stated by parents that are subjectively identifiable, objectively unprovable for the child being tossed, and hardly guaranteed to be preferred by the child as an adult. Would he or she choose, as an adult, to be dropped from a building into a sheet below? (Note: The one child whose face we see closely in the video appears to be rather not enjoying the process.)

Compared to infant (male) circumcision, should baby dropping be treated ethically and legally different?

April 06, 2008

How far do parental "rights" extend? What is the basis for limitation?

Passed to me by a friend, let's draw the natural comparison on this story:

Thailand's Health Ministry ordered hospitals and medical clinics to temporarily stop performing castrations for non-medical reasons, saying Wednesday that the procedure performed on transsexuals needs stricter monitoring.

"As of today, doctors can perform the surgery if there is a medical reason to do so — not for any other reason," ministry spokesman Suphan Srithamma said.

The move came after a leading gay activist, Natee Teerarojjanapongs, called on the Medical Council to take action against clinics that perform castrations on underage boys.

I don't have any knowledge of this topic beyond what this story offers. I assume it's true that some number of males undergo castration to achieve "feminine qualities". Like medically unnecessary circumcision, neither parental proxy nor choice by a legally incompetent individual should factor. Unlike medically unnecessary circumcision, this appears to be at the male's request. But this is important to remember:

"It's a totally wrong perception that castration will make boys more feminine," Natee told The Bangkok Post last week. "These youngsters should wait until they are mature enough to thoroughly consider the pros and cons of such an operation."

Unfortunately the real problem appears to be doctors overlooking the existing rule requiring parental consent for boys until they reach age 18. I don't think there's contention that enforcing this is reasonable.

So, instead, a thought experiment. I would like to assume that parents are rational enough not to sign off on this type of stupidity. I don't assume that, of course, because the evidence proving otherwise is too strong. But apart from the distinction¹ on future reproductive capability from the two procedures, how is it any more reasonable to permit parents to impose circumcision than to permit them to impose castration? We can discuss degrees of violation, but that's a distraction from the truth that they're the same kind of violation. We don't debate the depth to which it's acceptable to stick a knife into someone, even though differences exist in probable outcome from the depth of the assault.

When considering surgery on minors, any intellectual journey towards acceptance after establishing medically unnecessary is unethical and illegitimate. There is no objective justification, so any legal permission granted to parents by society is subjective reasoning devoid of reason. It doesn't matter if the topic is castration, genital cutting, breast augmentation or any other unnecessary intervention a second-party prefers. The individual isn't just supreme, he is all that matters.

¹ Reproduction is not necessary for the individual to live, so its foundation is subjective, exactly like medically unnecessary circumcision.

March 07, 2008

Poorly¹ chosen words assist big government.

Congress is always looking out for us:

The Senate yesterday approved the most far-reaching changes to the nation's product safety system in a generation, responding to recalls of millions of lead-laced toys that rattled consumers last year.

Lawmakers still have to resolve key differences between the Senate bill and a similar measure that passed the House in December. While the Senate version is considered by consumer advocates to be tougher, both contain provisions that would require retailers and manufacturers to be more vigilant about product safety.

The biggest change is likely to be a better-staffed Consumer Product Safety Commission, with more enforcement power. Both bills would boost funding for the agency, which had a budget of $63 million in fiscal 2007 and just less than 400 employees, fewer than half the number it had in 1980. The Senate bill, which passed by a vote of 79 to 13, would increase the budget to $106 million by 2011. The House's version would increase it to $100 million.

This strikes me as more of the same in Washington. Government sets the rules. The rules fail. The government blames the failure on the market and insufficient government size. It's self-fulfilling and people fall for it. Beyond that, I don't have much to say on the specifics.

Rather, I want to focus on how we get to these situations. Consider the Washington Post's headline of the article discussing this legislation:

Senate Votes For Safer Products

I know headlines need a hook in a small space. That doesn't matter. This is pathetic. This is how government programs begin and perpetuate and grow. Who could possibly argue against this bill to those who will make up their mind on this superficial information? I might as well argue for the routine kicking of puppies.

When discussing policy solutions, we need to identify the narrow problem(s) we wish to address because the law of unintended consequences loves broad solutions. Instead of the title offered, the Post should've used something like this:

Senate Votes for Further Product Safety Regulation

That's still unacceptably imperfect. I'm not a professional. But at least it's closer to the truth than the simpleton's solution the Post offered.

¹ I'm assuming the words are chosen poorly. That's an assumption. I leave wide-open the possibility that such words are chosen deliberately for their propensity to encourage bigger government. Hence the propaganda tag on this entry.

March 06, 2008

The investigation is just underway, but let's speculate politically.

This is obviously news worth investigating to the clearest conclusion possible:

An explosive device caused minor damage to an empty military recruiting station in Times Square early Thursday, shaking guests in hotel rooms high above "the crossroads of the world."

Police blocked off the area to investigate the explosion, which occurred at about 3:45 a.m., shattering the station's glass entryway. No one was injured.

"If it is something that's directed toward American troops than [sic] it's something that's taken very seriously and is pretty unfortunate," said Army Capt. Charlie Jaquillard, who is the commander of Army recruiting in Manhattan.

If it's not something that's directed toward American troops, then it's something that's not taken very seriously and is not pretty unfortunate?

We can all read the obvious intent into this bombing. Most of us are smart enough to reserve judgment until we know more from the investigation. The truth might turn out to be random or not obvious. (What if the device was set by a spurned lover who mistimed the explosion? Unlikely, but can we rule it out immediately?) But it's idiotic to jump straight to questions of patriotism. At least leave that idiocy to the post-conclusion press conference.

February 15, 2008

We can't question because it's for the children.

Speaking about the need for critical thinking in media, here's another scare story [emphasis mine]:

At least 82 children have died in recent years as a result of playing the “choking” game, a bizarre but increasingly common practice, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The game, which involves intentionally trying to choke oneself to create a brief high, has been around for years, but it appears to be spreading. ...

The deaths identified by the C.D.C. are based on media reports of the game over the past decade, but more than 60 of the deaths have occurred since 2005. The agency says the number of deaths is probably understated, and other experts agree, noting that choking game deaths, which involve accidental strangulation with a rope or belt, often look like suicides.

Anecdotes do not necessarily equal statistics. Did this data comes from a C.D.C. press release? And it's also plausible that deaths ruled a choking game accident are actually suicides.

I'm not suggesting that kids engaging in this type of activity isn't serious or that there isn't a cause for concern. I never heard of this as a kid, but I know others who did. I'm also smart enough to realize that kids are incredibly short-sighted and possess under-developed skills at considering consequences. But going into speculative hysteria will not protect kids.

From the C.D.C. press release the journalist clearly used as the source, two teen deaths linked to the choking game:

Case 1. In February 2006, an adolescent boy aged 13 years came home from school in a good mood and had dinner with his family. He then went to his bedroom to do his homework. Approximately 1 hour later, his mother went to check on him and discovered him slumped in a corner with a belt around his neck. His face was blue. The mother began cardiopulmonary resuscitation while one of the other children called an ambulance. The boy died at a local hospital 1 hour later. No suicide note was found. The county medical examiner ruled that the death resulted from accidental asphyxiation by hanging. In the weeks following his death, multiple teens told the director of a local counseling agency that the choking game had been played at local parties.

Case 2. In April 2005, an adolescent girl aged 13 years was found dead, hanging from a belt and shoelace made into a noose on the door of her bedroom closet, after her brother went to her room to see why she had not come down for breakfast. No suicide note was found. The medical examiner determined that the teen had died at 9:30 p.m. the previous night. After the teen's death, the family learned that the girl had confided in a cousin that she recently had played the choking game in the locker room at school and that a group of girls at her school had been suspended for playing the choking game.

Both deaths involve speculation. I'm comfortable that the conclusion from case 2 is an educated guess with a high probability of accuracy. I'm not so sure about case 1. It has signals that may be reasonably interpreted as the choking game, but are those signals enough to merit inclusion as a statistic? Even the more solid case 2 raises that question.

Reporting with journalistic caution seems the most appropriate choice here. Reading through the press release and the article suggests only that the latter is a regurgitation of the former. The ability to organize an argument into a concise package is not journalism.

February 05, 2008

Mirrors create pornographic images. Ban mirrors!

Police in Virginia Beach, after pursuing obscenity charges against the manager of an Abercrombie & Fitch store for two in-store displays, have reacted to public ridicule come to their senses:

Deputy City Attorney Mark Stiles said that, while the images might be technically in breach of the nudity section of the city's local code, they were in line with the other standards upheld by the law. For prosecution the images would have to appeal to "prurient interests", lack any redeeming artistic merit and be offensive to "prevailing community standards".

First, allow me to remind you that the First Amendment states that Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press. (There are limited exceptions that do not apply here, as Kip explains in his analysis of the case before today's announcement.) But within Stiles' convoluted excuse for the city's nudity clause, consider the actual images:


Like, OMG! The bottom of a female breast! The top of a male butt! My eyes, my eyes! And OMG! The Children!

Rather than admit that the officer(s) screwed up, Stiles crouched:

"So Abercrombie and Fitch, part of their marketing plans is to get as close to the line as they can get and then make it a judgement call for the officer on the street. I think that's what's happened here," he said.

IF Abercrombie & Fitch planned this, it still requires an idiot with a badge and a gun to ignore the law. It's probably safe to assume that one would arrive on the scene somewhere, but the officer's central role as the deciding factor in the success of this (allegedly) orchestrated marketing campaign is key. Without that public servant's lack of judgment, the whole idea is a waste of money. Thanks to the officer's incompetence, this campaign is money well spent.

Abercrombie & Fitch doesn't need any more discretion, because it's nowhere close to the limited exceptions to the First Amendment that require conflicting rights. There is no conflicting right to press charges because you're offended.

January 31, 2008

What's the 411 976?

Something doesn't add up here:

Takahiro Fujinuma - who is 37, single and unemployed - reportedly would whisper "darling" as he tried to start a conversation and then pleaded with female operators not to hang up.

He was arrested yesterday in Tokyo on charges of obstructing the business of service operator NTT Solco, part of telecom giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone.

He placed 2,600 calls to directory help - reached in Japan by dialling 104 - between early June and mid-November, a police spokesman said.

Single and unemployed, I get. I could've guessed that without the added confirmation. But how does an unemployed man afford that many calls to directory assistance? Is the Japanese system unlike directory assistance offered by American telecom companies?

Assuming the price charged by American companies earns a profit, it would make sense to answer his calls and inform him when he made any inappropriate advance that the call would terminate. The company gets his money, which should discourage excessive calling. If he verged from annoying the company by purchasing its services into lecherous harassment, charge him with that. But I can't see how calling 200 times per night could disrupt a national business unless the service is free.

Again, I'm not condoning his apparently pervish advances. This just seems an odd conclusion to an odd situation.

Via Boing Boing.

January 15, 2008

Insert your own cheap Romney joke.

Via Jason Pye at The Liberty Papers, Mike Huckabee has a frightening understanding of how a secular, liberty-minded nation should use its government:

Using his selective reading and logic skills, I'll suggest the 29th Amendment:

The Right of the Firstborn

15 If a man has two wives, and he loves one but not the other, and both bear him sons but the firstborn is the son of the wife he does not love, 16 when he wills his property to his sons, he must not give the rights of the firstborn to the son of the wife he loves in preference to his actual firstborn, the son of the wife he does not love. 17 He must acknowledge the son of his unloved wife as the firstborn by giving him a double share of all he has. That son is the first sign of his father's strength. The right of the firstborn belongs to him.

Polygamy. Yeah, those'll look good on us when viewed in hindsight by more heathen enlightened generations in the future. But, no worries. God's law. Who are we to challenge that?

Mr. Pye makes the same argument I've made, that the United States people "are electing a President, not a pastor." There is no place for this in our political landscape. He has the right to say it, of course, but the only valid response to him should be dismissive shunning of his earthly ambitions by every voter.

January 09, 2008

Analysis reveals more than snark reveals.

From the Los Angeles Times article referenced by Wonkette, this:

Kenya's violence is on one level political, reflecting the rivalry for control between President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, and opposition candidate Raila Odinga, a Luo. In the election campaign, the fact that Odinga was uncircumcised became an issue: He was seen by some Kikuyus as a "child" unfit to rule because he had not passed through circumcision and initiation.

"They say that those who are circumcised are wiser than the uncircumcised ones," said John Lallo, 62, of Kibera. "They do it [forcibly circumcise] to teach us to be circumcised so that we can be wise like them."

The extreme difference in how this discussion is carried out in the United States versus how it's being carried out by some in Kenya is undeniable.

It is also undeniable that many Americans perpetuate the same type of myth that circumcised males are better than intact males by virtue of nothing more than a stolen foreskin. Circumcised males, parents, doctors, medical organizations, and political organizations all believe this nonsense because it conforms to their subjective preference. They peddle their nonsense in visible contradiction to both evidence and reason, through force, to males who will probably never need or want circumcision.

"Women won't sleep with him." "He'll get HIV." "He'll have to deal with smegma¹." "He'll be less wise." The anti-intellectual nature of using such subjective claims to force genital cutting onto a healthy individual should be obvious to a society that views itself as an advanced world leader. Instead, we embrace superstitions. We violate our most basic principles in the process.

We are mistaken in our thinking and actions, despite our high opinion of our collective intelligence. No amount of wishful dreaming can make intention significant in the presence of outcome.

¹ Female genitals produce smegma, too. We don't cut them as a solution.

Two News Items


The number of such assaults so far appears small. The hospital here in Limuru, 30 miles west of Nairobi, confirmed that two cases of forced circumcision were admitted after Sunday's violence that saw members of the larger Kikuyu tribe evict hundreds of Luos from their homes. One case involved an adult, the other a 4-month-old.

The attack on the 4-month-old baby in Limuru occurred as his 14-year-old cousin was carrying him on her back through the forest, according to a hospital spokeswoman. The teen was raped and the child circumcised. His wound later became infected.

One attack involved sexual violence, and the other involved sexual violence.


WILLY Mafabi, a paraffin vendor in Malaba town, ran out of luck on January 3, when his tribesmen forcefully circumcised him.

According to his kinsmen, Mafabi, who hails from Bubulo county in Manafwa district, had been fleeing to Malaba whenever the circumcision season approached.

On the fateful day, his tribesmen rounded him up at Malaba Taxi Park, tied him and quickly sprinkled cassava flour allover his body. They forced him to carry two heavy stones as they marched him on the streets of Malaba, singing traditional Kigisu circumcision songs.

He was later circumcised at Akolodongo ward in the outskirts of Malaba town.

Does cultural expectation excuse the forced violation of the individual's inherent rights? Should his age or blood relationship to his circumcisers affect the answer?

January 08, 2008

Proxy consent is a valid concept, in the proper context.

I'll leave the libertarian angle of this story to others, Radley Balko among them because that's where I found it first. I have a different analysis to make.

An armed law enforcement team broke down the door of a family home with a battering ram and took an 11-year-old to a hospital after authorities feared he was not getting proper medical care for what turned out to be a minor head injury.

Jon's father, Tom Shiflett, 62, told paramedics he didn't want them to treat Jon and asked them to leave. He told them he had served as a medic in Vietnam and he had the skill to treat his son.

Following the raid, a doctor recommended Jon be given fluids, Tylenol and ice to treat the bruises, according to a copy of the child's patient aftercare instructions.

This is an example of where proxy consent for parents is appropriate. This is the determination of medical need, based on actual evidence to suggest that injury might exist. It is logical to determine whether or not intervention is necessary. Contrary to other decisions we incorrectly permit.

January 03, 2008

How should we define sexual violence?

I'm still organizing my thoughts on the political chaos in Kenya, so I don't have much coherent to say on it right now. I'm not sure when or if I'll write anything more specific to the topic of this entry, but there is a larger issue here that has been ignored for too long. The current situation makes it worth discussing, though. For now, this story will suffice:

Sexual violence has also been reported against men, with the Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi on 2 January saying several men had been admitted after they were assaulted during the violence.

"There are several men admitted in various wards after they were subjected to forced circumcision," a source at the hospital said.

[Challenger Raila] Odinga's core supporters come from the Luo ethnic group that does not practise circumcision, while [incumbent President Mwai] Kibaki draws most of his following from the Kikuyu group, one of several tribes in which male circumcision is an essential rite of passage from adolescence to manhood.

Like I said, I'm still working on a macro-level analysis of what the current unrest means. I don't have enough information right now, so I won't speculate. But the micro-level question is undeniable. How is the forced circumcision of infant males any different from the forced circumcision of these adult males?

The answer offered will surely rest on intent. This is a valid discussion point in many instances, but intent can't be relevant in unnecessary, forced circumcision. These adult men clearly have not sought circumcision before, and they didn't seek it now. They are now the victims of (sexual) violence.

In contrast, the parents of infant males do not seek to impose violence on their son when they have him circumcised. That does not negate the imposition of violence that occurs when they have him circumcised. If left alone, he would not likely choose (or need) circumcision in his lifetime. Any decision to the contrary fails to meet any standard of reasonable. The mere presence of good intentions is a subjective attempt to validate what is at its core a violent, unnecessary intervention on the body of a healthy individual.

The answer will probably also include an incorrectly-nuanced nod to a difference in rights between children and adults. That can't withstand scrutiny, either. The reason the violence inflicted upon these Kenyan men is problematic is because it is a human rights violation. Too often advocates of circumcision ignore human. Children are humans, too. Their rights do not magically appear at the age of majority. They exist from the child's birth. Each child possesses the very same basic right that was violated in these Kenyan adult males.

Given that I don't think I'll find anyone to defend what was done to these men¹, I'm left to conclude that there are four categories of sexual violence, with one subtle difference.

  • Sexual violence against women is bad.
  • Sexual violence against men is bad.
  • Sexual violence against girls is bad.
  • Sexual violence against boys is usually bad.

No potential benefit or belief in good intentions or deference to parental rights superseding a child's human rights can validate the inclusion of usually in the last category. Sexual violence is sexual violence, regardless of gender or age.

¹ I'm sure I can find someone who will say these men will now be better off, a subjective speculation. Pro-circumcision advocacy knows some very strange boundaries. I've seen strange boundaries among those opposed to infant circumcision, although I do not believe I appproach them. Yes, I know I'm insulated from a completely unbiased, critical analysis of my own thinking.

December 20, 2007

Switch the gender. Would we accept this journalism?

Via Kevin, M.D., a doctor snapped a picture of his patient's penis during surgery:

A Mayo Clinic Hospital surgeon in training used a cellphone to photograph a patient's genitals during surgery and now may face disciplinary action and a patient's attorney.

The doctor took the picture while installing a catheter in preparation of gallbladder surgery on the patient because the patient has "Hot Rod" tattooed on his penis. Obviously this is unprofessional conduct by the doctor and, in my opinion, deserves termination. But that's just more "people are stupid" fodder. I'm more annoyed by a lack of maturity in the "journalism" surrounding the story:

After Hansen showed the photo to other members of the surgical staff, one phoned a Republic reporter on Monday and left an anonymous message about the incident.

Compare that to this sentence, also from the article:

Hansen told Dubowik that when he attached a catheter to the patient's member, he had shot a picture.

Is it so complicated to use the accurate anatomical name for the body part? Is that low standard of maturity really too much to expect from a journalist and/or editor? Yes, member is a common euphemism for penis, but journalism should be above stupidity better suited to making a schoolboy snicker. Otherwise, I might believe that "members of the surgical staff" is meant to be hilarious.

December 14, 2007

Steroids can't make a pitch curve.

I don't have much to say about the newly-released Mitchell Report. It's an illegitimate waste of government time in pursuit of a political quest for ever-expanding power. Not interested. As I wrote when Rep. Tom Davis first brought this nonsense into the federal sphere:

When Rep. Davis called the inquiry into steroids in Major League Baseball, how was that not a conspiracy to seize power? It may have involved one sport industry, but Rep. Davis seemed to enjoy threatening MLB with greater congressional control if it didn't implement a policy banning a drug that's already illegal. I don't think any major sport in America explicitly bans its players from money laundering, drunk driving, murder or income tax evasion, yet we never have hearings about those, even though players have been involved in all of those offenses.

My stance is unchanged. And my basic understanding of liberty requires that steroids be decriminalized.

As for the situation at hand, Major League Baseball would ban steroids in my ideal world. As a group of consenting individuals, it would be free to do so. It would level the playing field to talent alone, which is what I want to see as a fan.

Of course, it would be free to ignore my preference, too, which it clearly did throughout the latter part of the '90s. John Cole expresses my sentiments on the shock at the report's finding:

Imagine if, in ten years, the GOP and the media decide to get outraged about intelligence being finessed before the Iraq war, they launch an investigation, and then get shocked when they see what they find. That is the level of stupid this baseball steroid report is right now.

Naturally that doesn't preclude politicians from going to the for the children defense of our collective outrage:

Recalling that he had raised the steroids issue in a State of the Union speech a couple of years ago, Bush said he did so "because I understand the impact that professional athletes can have on our nation's youth." He urged athletes "to understand that when they violate their bodies, they're sending a terrible signal to America's young."

When we force our subjective opinions onto the actions of others, it sends a terrible signal to America's young that it's okay to be meddlesome moralists opposed to the liberty of the individual. For the mental development of our youth, I'd say what we're teaching is far worse than what a handful of athletes are (allegedly) teaching.

Post Script: Russ Roberts sums up the best way to read the names on the list and how detrimental these allegations are (not) to my opinion of the players.

December 05, 2007

Thankfully, the Bread-O-Meter is on a different network.

I've never enjoyed local news because of its propensity for a brainless lack of questioning and reflexive embrace of feel-good sentimentality incompatible with common sense. Watching the local news last night only because someone wanted possible new indications of a snow day, I suffered through this story on new food allergies in children. The important bits:

Margaret has eosinophilic esophagitis, a severe food allergy in which white blood cells build up in the esophagus, causing swelling and narrowing, making it difficult to swallow....

To control the disease, Margaret must stick to a strict diet -- a tough task because she can only eat very few foods. Staples include pork, potatoes, rice and most vegetables. She has to avoid most other foods, like those with wheat, gluten and dairy.

How does being able to eat most vegetables equate to being able to eat very few foods? Is it too hard to comprehend that something beyond macaroni-and-cheese will provide sustenance to a child?

"It's hard to feed a 2-year-old, anyway, but take away Cheerios, take away cake, take away milk, take away cheese, take away so many foods that normal toddlers eat and it makes it more difficult," Julia Schifflian said.

Possibly, it appears. This indicates a lack of imagination, which, to be fair, is widespread in America. I see no reason to believe that wouldn't be rectified rather quickly as these parents seek what's best for their daughter as they deal with her illness. But when cake is the second item mentioned as how this disease hampers your efforts to fill out your child's diet, that's an unreasonably low starting point.

P.S. Listening to the radio this morning, Howard Stern mentioned that he doesn't eat meat, only chicken and fish. Okay.

November 28, 2007

Random Bits

First, courtesy of John Cole, Virginia Republicans have a novel idea:

The State Board of Elections on Monday approved a state Republican Party request to require all who apply for a GOP primary ballot first vow in writing that they'll vote for the party's presidential nominee next fall.

There's no practical way to enforce the oath. Virginia doesn't require voters to register by party, and for years the state's Republicans have fretted that Democrats might meddle in their open primaries.

I've voted in both Democratic and Republican primaries in the past. I planned to vote in one or the other next year to vote for the least objectionable candidate, a stance I don't expect to carry out next November. Now I'm certain I'll vote in the Republican primary. If they're not compelled to keep their promises or act ethically, why should I grant them as much in my vote?

Next, grow up:

The Democratic National Committee, finding itself in the middle of labor disputes between television writers and CBS, announced this evening that it was canceling the debate among Democratic presidential candidates that had been scheduled to be broadcast on some of the network’s stations on Dec. 10.

The last thing we need is another of these press conferences, but seriously, grow up. This is why Democrats are no better than Republicans and why, in the face of colossal mistakes by Republicans, Democrats haven't dominated. Stop worrying about meaningless appearances and act like a leader. It's tough and ugly to do so, but it's all that's effective in the end. And it's the only thing that will ever earn my vote again.

Last, Quote of the Day:

There's a disturbing tendency to think that every problem is the result of inadequate regulation.

The quote is from Megan McArdle regarding sub-prime lending and what some think Alan Greenspan should have done to prevent it, but that line is more than serviceable in so many areas.

September 15, 2007

Parents decide what is reality-based education.

Evesham Township in New Jersey is under fire for including a video in its third-grade classes - as part of the state-manadated curriculum - that shows a child with two dads.

The issue first arose in December after a class of third graders at the J. Harold Van Zant School here was shown “That’s a Family!,” a documentary created by an Academy Award-winning filmmaker intended to show students the different forms that families can take, as part of the curriculum required in New Jersey. But the district temporarily stopped showing the video after some parents complained that they should be able to decide whether their third-grade children should learn about same-sex couples in the classroom.

My stance is that the only valid discussion in this context is third-grade, as opposed to children. Of course it's possible to cherry-pick whatever quote you need to make whatever point you want to make. The article has exactly what you'd expect, but I'm sure the sentiment is moderately common:

“I don’t think it was appropriate,” said Jennifer Monteleone, 35, who is a parent of two children at the Robert B. Jaggard Elementary School. “If it was maybe in fifth grade, but in third grade they’re a little too young.”

It's reasonable to debate this, as I said. But it can't stop there.

Yet Ms. Monteleone also questioned whether the video should be shown at all because of the presence of the same-sex couples.

“It’s something to be discussed within families,” she said. “I think it’s the parents’ responsibility to teach the kids about that stuff.”

I don't have a problem with this statement. But prohibiting this discussion in school addresses the symptom. When government is in charge of education, you have considerably less freedom to limit facts, or even decide what should be facts. But education is provided by the government. As a blunt instrument it can work against any agenda as much as it can work for one. Don't be surprised when it happens.

In this case, parents do not have a right to make up their own facts. Same-sex marriage civil (in-)equality is the law. In acknowledging same-sex relationships, the state of New Jersey is dealing strictly in fact. Again, question the third-grade aspect and the debate is useful. (I think third-grade is fine, but I won't pretend to base that on anything other than my instinct.) But you don't get to impose this on everyone:

Delores Stepnowski, a parent of another Jaggard student, said parents should have been given more notice that the video would be shown.

“Something that controversial should have been discussed,” Ms. Stepnowski said. The children “shouldn’t learn questionable things in school that they’re not ready for and don’t understand.”

The evaluation of fact is open to subjective opinion. The existence of fact is not. The word questionable has nothing to do with this.

September 05, 2007

California bans force. Mostly?

California is addressing the possibility of forced RFID implantation:

California's senate passed a bill last week that would protect people from having RFID tags forcibly implanted beneath their skin. All that's left is for Governor Schwarzenegger to sign it, and then the state will become the third to pass such legislation (after Wisconsin and North Dakota).

The motivations for the bill were to prevent people from being forcibly tracked and to protect them from identity theft should someone electronically sniff data stored on the tag.

Kip already debunked the flaw in this plan:

It's quite simple really: Only the government (or an armed thug) can "force" anyone to do anything. No employer can ever "force" an employee to accept any rule, policy or prerequisite.

I have nothing to add to that, but in light of what I wrote last week, there is another component. First, a word from the bill's sponsor, Senator Joe Simitian:

"At the very least, we should be able to agree that the forced implanting of under-the-skin technology into human beings is just plain wrong," he says.

I've read through the bill (pdf), and it clearly addresses what to do in the event a minor (or dependent adult) suffers a forced RFID chip implantation, but I can only find this for the possibility that it's the parent forcing the child rather than an outside party:

This section shall not in any way modify existing statutory or case law regarding the rights of parents or guardians, the rights of children or minors, or the rights of dependent adults.

I'm not an attorney, so it's possible, probable even, that I'm missing something in my analysis. But I doubt it. I have a strong suspicion that no one in the California legislature is much interested in the ethical issues posed by parents implanting an RFID chip into their children. Obviously it's better to address a nearly impossible scenario with a new law, while leaving the entirely plausible scenario unprotected in order to guarantee parental "rights".

August 02, 2007

Michael Vick and Justice

As everyone knows by now, a grand jury indicted Michael Vick on various charges stemming from an alleged dogfighting operation. This story is old news, although it will be hanging around for awhile. I've avoided it for several reasons, but not the obvious ones.

I make it abundantly clear that I'm a Hokie. I can't imagine loving any other school the way I love Virginia Tech, or being so invested in the larger sense of community. Of course, in the last eight years, Michael Vick has been a huge part of that. His arrival on the football field in 1999 propelled us to our first national championship game. We lost that game, but our place in the national discussion of college football jumped infinitely as a result. The money poured in, the recruits got better, and the winning feels like tradition now. Where athletic success was a pleasant surprise when I arrived at Tech in 1991, there are now expectations. Thank you, Michael Vick.

That does not mean I'm willing to support and defend Michael Vick without reservation. Anyone who could commit the acts he is charged with is vile scum. If Vick is indeed guilty of the allegations against him, I hope he rots in a fiery pit filled with the rotting carcasses of every dog he and/or his friends executed. That would be too good, but it's a start.

However, he is innocent until proven guilty. I'm not naive in understanding the allegations. I suspect he is guilty. But I believe in our justice system more. I will withhold judgment until such faith is no longer warranted. I refuse to embrace hysteria.

July 11, 2007

The wheels of injustice turn quickly in China.

Kip has a running series titled "China is Still a Dictatorship". See if you think this news fits that:

Moving to address mounting concerns about the safety of its exports, China announced Tuesday that it had executed the former head of its food and drug safety agency for accepting bribes in exchange for approving substandard medicines.

At a news conference, State Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman Yan Jianyang said officials like Zheng Xiaoyu -- who was sentenced to death in May after he was found guilty of accepting cash and gifts worth more than $800,000 -- had brought "shame" to the agency and caused serious problems.

There are arguments here about the death penalty, as well as whether or not bribery should result in a death sentence. (The substandard medicines Zheng approved caused deaths, if I'm not mistaken, but I understand the charges to be bribery rather than something related to those deaths.) But Zheng was sentenced in May. Roughly two months from conviction to execution. I have a hard time believing that China is capable of quality appeals in two months.

I'm not confident China is capable - or interested - in quality appeals, which is ultimately the larger issue. Commenting on reforms to food safety standards, this:

The reforms show that "the Chinese government is a responsible government and has placed a great deal of importance on the quality and safety of its exports," said Lin Wei, the deputy director general of the Import and Export Food Safety Bureau.

The Chinese government is not responsible. It is a dictatorship and it behaves like all dictatorships. Forgive me if I fail to admire it for its economic "miracle" and foray into what can not even loosely be defined as capitalism.

June 12, 2007

Freedom for $1.05 or drugs for $2?

The words leading to the coordinating conjunction in this story's lede sentence gives the reader more than enough information to know how this will affect drug enforcement policy.

A cheap, highly addictive drug known as "cheese heroin" has killed 21 teenagers in the Dallas area over the past two years, and authorities say they are hoping they can stop the fad before it spreads across the nation.

"Cheese heroin" is a blend of so-called black tar Mexican heroin and crushed over-the-counter medications that contain the antihistamine diphenhydramine, found in products such as Tylenol PM, police say. The sedative effects of the heroin and the nighttime sleep aids make for a deadly brew.

We're going to get fear to justify more brutal attempts to enforce prohibition. It's stupid, but typical. And being so obvious, it's not what warrants the most attention. Better to start here:

"Cheese" is not only dangerous. It's cheap. About $2 for a single hit and as little as $10 per gram. The drug can be snorted with a straw or through a ballpoint pen, authorities say. It causes drowsiness and lethargy, as well as euphoria, excessive thirst and disorientation. That is, if the user survives.

I expected a multimedia presentation with the requisite pause and ominous drumbeat after that last sentence.

It makes no sense to pretend that something like "cheese heroin" is bad. I'm sure it is. But what evidence do we get to excuse "if the user survives"? After all, we're told that 21 teens have died in 24 months. That's an awful statistic, but outside of some other context, it doesn't tell us anything meaningful.

Authorities say the number of arrests involving possession of "cheese" in the Dallas area this school year was 146, up from about 90 the year before. School is out for the summer, and authorities fear that the students, with more time on their hands, could turn to the drug.

The first statistic we get is an approximation that 236 people were arrested for possessing this drug in the two years in which 21 students have died. I'm left wondering whether these arrests involved teens or not since the article doesn't say. It does use the academic calendar to measure arrests. That's a quaint device.

But looking at the numbers, are we to assume that almost 10% of users die? Highly unlikely, for no rational person would believe that Dallas police have arrested every possessor of "cheese". (I'm sure they've tried, mightily.) I'm still left trying to triangulate a rational context for this hyper-fear.

Drug treatment centers in Dallas say teen "cheese" addicts are now as common as those seeking help for a marijuana addiction. "It is the first drug to have even come close in my experience here," says Michelle Hemm, director of Phoenix House in Dallas.

Without hard numbers¹ it's difficult to draw concrete conclusions, but I'm guessing the number of marijuana users addicts is high enough that a comparison implying a 10% death rate among "cheese" users is flawed. So the death rate is lower, as a percentage. What percentage are we looking at? Is the level of fear and panic implied in this story justified?

I don't have the answer, unfortunately. Again, I'm sure "cheese heroin" is nasty, dangerous stuff. But I'm left wondering if there isn't a message in this story about prohibition?

[Dallas police detective Monty] Moncibais then asked how many students knew a "cheese" user. Just about everyone in the auditorium raised a hand. At one point, when he mentioned that the United States has the highest rate of drug users in the world, the middle schoolers cheered.²

"You know, I know being No. 1 is important, but being the No. 1 dopeheads in the world, I don't know whether [that] bears applause," Moncibais shot back.

Decades of prohibition and we're the best at having people use drugs. A sane policy would not continue pursuing prohibition at all costs. It would acknowledge that people will use drugs, despite a general consensus among fans of prohibition that drug use is bad. Reasonable officials would seek to minimize the damage from that drug use instead of trying to win an unwinnable "war", even if it meant decriminalization.

But that doesn't win elections or justify larger budgets. Fear does that.

¹ The next paragraph in the article:

From September 2005 to September 2006, Phoenix House received 69 "cheese" referral calls from parents. Hemm says that in the last eight months alone, that number has nearly doubled to 136. The message from the parents is always, "My kid is using 'cheese,' " she says.

That provides more numbers, but I don't think they help or hurt my argument.

² At this point in the story, CNN has a video link titled "Watch middle schoolers raise hands, admit they know drug users". I laughed at the stupid absurdity.

June 11, 2007

"Congress shall make no law..."

The NCAA kicked a reporter out of the press box for liveblogging a game at the baseball super-regional yesterday. I find that absurd, but the NCAA can set whatever restrictions it wants. What's amusing is the inevitable reaction from the reporter's newspaper:

Courier-Journal executive editor Bennie L. Ivory challenged the NCAA's action last night and said the newspaper would consider an official response.

"It's clearly a First Amendment issue," Ivory said. "This is part of the evolution of how we present the news to our readers. It's what we did during the Orange Bowl. It's what we did during the NCAA basketball tournament. It's what we do."

It's clearly not a First Amendment issue. The government has played no part in this. This is a dispute between two private parties who agreed to a set of rules. Obviously one party is either misunderstanding or ignoring the rules. But the government didn't violate any free speech right.

Convoluted hat tip required. Link found at Instapundit, via KnoxNews, which linked from Poynter Online.

June 09, 2007

Semantic lunacy demonstrates intellectual lunacy.

Via Hit & Run, I see that Nebraska has an interesting understanding of the Constitution and legislating.

A member of the Kansas group that has drawn criticism for protesting at soldiers' funerals has been arrested for letting her 10-year-old son stomp on a U.S. flag during a demonstration. She promised Wednesday to challenge the state's flag desecration law in court.

Shirley Phelps-Roper, 49, will be charged with flag mutilation, disturbing the peace and contributing to the delinquency of a minor, Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said Wednesday.

Nebraska's flag law says: "A person commits the offense of mutilating a flag if such person intentionally casts contempt or ridicule upon a flag by mutilating, defacing, defiling, burning, or trampling upon such flag."

Let me understand this. In Nebraska, it's illegal to "mutilate" a flag, but it's legal to mutilate a boy's penis. <sarcasm>That seems reasonable.</sarcasm>

HIV Conferences are dangerous to genital integrity.

Following up on my previous post, some typical and not-so-typical arguments appeared at the Third South African AIDS Conference earlier this week. First, the typical in describing the apparent risk-reduction from the recent HIV studies:

“The effect was long-lasting, there wasn’t disinhibition [increased sexual risk-taking], they didn’t screw around more, they didn’t use condoms less,” said Neil Martinson¹.

Remember that both circumcised and intact groups in the studies saw a more significant drop in their rate of HIV infection over their national HIV infection rate than the effect presumably provided by circumcision. But it's easier to keep focusing on circumcision, because that (allegedly) removes the human factor from HIV prevention. Sure.


“There’s no question that we need a male circumcision programme, but a mass programme is more debateable. Operationalising it is going to be complicated,” said Professor Alan Whiteside of the University of KwaZulu Natal.

He advocated routine opt-out male circumcision at birth. “Thirty years from now we’ll be so glad we did it.” He believes that “if we’d started 25 years ago we wouldn’t be in this godawful mess.”

An audience member suggested that op-out circumcision should also become standard practice for adult males who attend sexually transmitted infection clinics.

...routine opt-out male circumcision at birth. When talking about saving for retirement, opt-out programs make sense. It involves only the person whose money will be siphoned off into a separate, presently untouchable account. There is a (mostly) objective rationale behind the requirement. It's a form of "we know better what you should do". But he can easily reject this. He can also reverse his decision later.

Routine opt-out male circumcision at birth requires a specific action from one group (parents) to avoid violating another's (their male child) right to not have part of his genitals cut off without medical need. There is an entirely subjective reasoning behind the requirement. Parents could reject this, although they'd likely receive information with overblown, fear-based hysteria. The experts are counting on the well-intentioned parental desire to protect children, with a bit of residual goodwill toward the procedure if the father's chosen it for himself. But the male child can never reverse this decision. This is little more than social engineering with children and their genitals as pawns for the public health nannys.

If African nations had started routine infant male circumcision 25 years ago, they might not be in this "godawful mess, but they'd also have a generation of cut males to demonstrate that HIV infection is still possible and that more effective, less invasive methods of prevention already exist. But don't bother to learn from the United States the lessons that are inconvenient to learning what you want to learn from the United States.

Now, for a moment of respite from insanity, something non-typical:

However Professor Timothy Quinlan of the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division at the University of KwaZulu Natal was sceptical about the need for a mass programme, arguing that the evidence doesn’t justify it.

... he said, prevention needs to focus on the two factors known to have the biggest effect on HIV transmission rates: concurrent partnerships and high viral load during primary infection.

There’s a need for clearer messages to communicate these facts,” he said. “We need to promote serial monogamy.”

I know, that's unworkable because it assumes some sense of personal responsibility and ability to learn among African men.

And now a return to the typical:

Audience members raised some of the practical issues that are likely to arise in the implementation of any sort of circumcision programme. Traditional healers in particular will need to be brought on board, said numerous speakers.

“Don’t talk about circumcision in isolation from the initiation processes going on in all the different cultures in South Africa,” said one male audience member.

But there was general agreement that traditional healers who carried out circumcision during the initiation of young males into adulthood had a captive audience for passing on important prevention messages, and that this potential wasn’t being exploited.

Yes, what about those traditional healers? Ahem:

A 22-year-old unregistered traditional surgeon was arrested for illegally circumcising two boys in Libode, the Eastern Cape health department said on Saturday.

Meanwhile, police were searching for another unregistered traditional surgeon who allegedly circumcised 24 under age boys in Mthombe.

Kupelo said three of the boys were taken to hospital with serious complications.


2006 Eastern Cape summer-season circumcision deaths have declined markedly compared to 2005, Eastern Cape provincial health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said, adding that only four would-be initiates had died so far this season, compared with 24 in 2005.

Of those four, only two were the result of complications of the circumcision operation. ...

And. And. And.

This reliance on traditional healers is an acceptance that, among several challenges, the public health community doesn't have the resources to provide full, clinical circumcision in Africa. Yet it pushes the notion that it must be done both "mass" and "soon". Why is it so difficult to see how this will end? How many deaths are acceptable? Are we really ready to rely solely on the utilitarian argument that more lives will (probably) be saved with mass circumcision than will be taken through mass circumcision? I'm not, since I'm capable of understanding individual rights.

¹ To another point by Dr. Neil Martinson:

“It’s all about cold steel – it’s more akin to sterilisation, it’s not like giving people clean water, it’s not like breastfeeding that we can all get warm and fuzzy about.”

Promoting mass circumcision is primarily about giving advocates warm and fuzzy feelings that they're doing something monumental. Otherwise, why the rush to circumcise infants based on three studies of voluntarily circumcised adult males? It also reassures parents with a warm and fuzzy feeling that they've "protected" their sons from HIV rather than violated his rights.


There was confusion about who would be targeted with messages about circumcision. Would it be young men, or would it be their parents? Or must their future sexual partners be targeted, “so that they say `I won’t sleep with you unless you’re cut’,” asked Neil Martinson?

"I won't sleep with you unless you're cut." Let's promote such non-thinking. Maybe, if we work at it enough, we can convince African women that they prefer, and should prefer, the aesthetic look of the circumcised penis. It's okay if that implies that men should change themselves to meet a woman's expectation. The reverse is sexist and unacceptable, of course, but we all know that's okay.

June 03, 2007

We can't stop access to weapons, if we understand the term "weapon".

This appears to be an unfortunate vindication of what I argued in this recent post:

A vehicle hurtled through a crowded street festival in the District last night, knocking people down, throwing some in the air and pinning others beneath its wheels, according to accounts from police and witnesses. Authorities said 35 people were taken to hospitals, seven with severe injuries.

The chaotic scene occurred about 8 p.m. at Unifest, an annual street festival sponsored by a prominent Anacostia church. Witness accounts indicated that a gray station wagon, with a woman driving, plowed through swarms of festival-goers on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and W Street SE, among other thoroughfares.

The driver of the station wagon "was purposeful," said a man who saw some of the incident from his porch. "She was going purposefully. She was not going to stop."

If this was intentional, can I expect to soon hear a call for a ban on cars?

No? Why not?

June 02, 2007

"Actually, gingervitus is the medical term."

This story requires the obligatory link to "Ginger Kids", the greatest episode of South Park:

A shaken family told how they have been hounded out of three homes — for having ginger hair.

Kevin and Barbara Chapman and their four children have been targeted by thugs for three terrifying years.

The youngsters have been verbally abused and beaten up, while vandals have regularly smashed the family’s windows and sprayed hate-filled graffiti on the walls of their council homes.

Only this week, the slogan “Gingers are gay” was daubed across one wall.

I find it hard to believe something like this could happen, so my crap detector is going off. It just seems too ridiculous. But small-minded people will find anything to taunt someone different. That's not going away.

Wondering whether there's a disconnect to the typical sort of nonsense directed at redheads in America and a taunt that includes "gingers are gay", I researched the ramifications of the British slang for ginger. I found this dictionary:

  1. Homosexual. Rhyming slang, from Ginger beer - 'queer'.
  2. A ginger or red haired person. Pronounced with hard g's as in goggles.
  3. Carbonated drink, such as cola. [Scottish use]

Who knew? And I didn't realize that it's pronounced with a hard "g". Overall a banged-up mental process to arrive at such a derogatory term, but still fascinating.

For an example, consider this story from December in the UK:

The BBC has upheld a complaint against Jeremy Clarkson, the Top Gear presenter, after he described a car as a "bit gay".

He provoked the ire of the gay community when he asked a member of the show's audience if he would buy a two-seater Daihatsu Copen, retailing at £13,495. The man said, "No, it's a bit gay", to which Clarkson added: "A bit gay, yes, very ginger beer."

Story link via Fark. "Ginger beer" link via Citizen Crain, where you'll find good commentary on the free speech implications of this example. Daihatsu Copen here. A better image here.

May 21, 2007

People will continue to commit evil acts.

This letter to the editor of Time, in response to the Virginia Tech shootings, is curious. The letter writer is from Toronto, so his perspective on our Constitution is probably a little bit different. Yet, what he says is similar to what we hear from many gun-control proponents in the United States. Here's an excerpt:

If there are protections in the Constitution, drag that document kicking and screaming into the 21st century by amending it. Let the military and the police have their weapons, and let legitimate hunters and farmers have their long guns. But everyone else? Just let them try to club or stab 32 people to death in one go.

Marc Kramer, TORONTO

Clearly he misses the point that gun ownership among the citizenry is meant as a deterrent to tyrannical government, the kind where "the military and the police have their weapons". To be fair, Mr. Kramer does not expect all citizens to be disarmed. I am left wondering who will decide who qualifies as a "legitimate" hunter? A farmer? So in the process of disarming citizens, we're also to give the government the power to decide who meets a narrow definition of acceptable (long gun) gun owners. This argument is far too deferential to state power.

Still, Mr. Kramer's argument disintegrates in the end because he implies that banning guns will end mass murder. I'm sure someone would have a difficult time stabbing 32 people to death in one go. But what about driving their car into a crowded area? Although these accidents weren't intentional, is it crazy to believe that someone with murderous intentions could try the same? Should we now ban cars, except for those few who "need" them?

Guns and cars are different. I get that. But we're not discussing them in the everyday, intended use context. We're discussing what can be a weapon? Cars can easily be made a weapon, as can many different otherwise innocent objects. When put together, they can become a bomb.

The discussion must move beyond the simplistic "guns are icky and the Constitution is outdated for allowing them".

May 16, 2007

I guess I'm now jumping into the 2008 discussion.

I'm not a die-hard fan of Ron Paul. His position on immigration is offensive and his support for returning to the gold standard is ludicrous. But he's consistently voted against expanding the size of the federal government. So, he's not a great choice for president, except he's a better choice than all of the other announced candidates.

Last night, the Republicans held their second primary debate. I didn't watch, but this clip from Congressman Paul is worth watching.

Rep. Paul doesn't fully explain what he's trying to say, but anyone with a shred of sense can figure out the gist. We should probably demand more from a president, of course, but consider Guiliani's performance in that clip. Would we rather have a president who stumbles on his words (hey...) or a president who's an unquestioning, deceitful prick?

Video link via Andrew Sullivan.

May 12, 2007

Did the editor punt this assignment?

Here's a fascinating story:

Miracles do happen. That's what doctors said about 30-year-old Shannon Malloy.

A car crash in Nebraska on Jan. 25 threw Malloy up against the vehicle's dashboard. In the process, her skull became separated from her spine. The clinical term for her condition is called internal decapitation.

I can't imagine what that must feel like or how I'd respond in the moments after that happened. I'm impressed that she lived.

I can't add more to that. Instead, allow me to present this horrendous writing in the story.

Five screws were drilled into Malloy's neck. Four more were drilled into her head to keep it stabilized. Then a thing called a halo -- rods and a circular metal bar -- was attached for added support. It's not exactly a pain-free procedure.

Then a thing called a halo? I'm flabbergasted. I predict that will be the worst piece of writing I'll read this month. At what level of schooling does a writer learn to replace Then a thing called a halo with Then a halo?

I also noted was attached, but I make that mistake, too. Avoiding the passive voice is every writer's struggle. Every writer struggles with the passive voice.

Story link via Fark.

May 09, 2007

The Right to Say "No" Versus Restrictions on Saying "Yes"


The owner of an upscale steakhouse said he asked O.J. Simpson to leave his restaurant the night before the Kentucky Derby because he is sickened by the attention Simpson still attracts.

I don't care about O.J. Simpson from the voyeuristic value of this story, which is similar to his criminal trial. I do, however, like the correlation to such recent public policies as smoking bans. If we're to use the logic presented by politicians and advocates of such bans, that a private place of business is actually "public"¹, this restaurant owner, Jeff Ruby, had no right to ask Simpson to leave. Who thinks that makes any sense? I hope no one, so then why are smoking bans reasonable? Private property means the right to set the rules within the bounds of consent.

From a humorous standpoint:

[O.J. Simpson’s attorney, Yale] Galanter said that the incident was about race, and he intended to pursue the matter and possibly go after the restaurant’s liquor license.

“He screwed with the wrong guy, he really did,” Galanter told The Associated Press by telephone last night.

Playing the race card here is mere grandstanding, obviously, but I'm sure the (unintentional?) threat that can be read into Galanter's statement, given Simpson's civil conviction, is the reason Mr. Ruby ejected Simpson. Should we congratulate him on proving his opposition's point?

Second link via Fark

¹ Presumably because a patron uses public streets to get to the private establishment? I can't think of anything else, although that means your home is also "public" and subject to smoking regulations. Hey, wait a minute...

May 04, 2007

Is a balanced diet unnecessary if you eat meat?

There is no need to be specific in placing blame when it's possible to place guilt by association for those who are unacceptably different.

A Superior Court jury in Atlanta convicted a vegan (VEE-gun) couple of murder and cruelty to children today in the death of their six-week old, who was fed a diet largely consisting of soy milk and apple juice.

Defense lawyers said the first-time parents did the best they could while adhering to the lifestyle of vegans, who typically use no animal products. ...

I can accept that veganism is relevant to this story as it pertains to the parents' approach to feeding their child since the child died of malnutrition. But this child did not die because his parents are vegans. Without a varied diet full of nutrients, a human will die on any diet. Feed a child nothing but shrimp and eggs and he will become malnourished. This is not complicated. These parents were stupid and incompetent. Their son died as a result.

To the reporting, it's helpful that the reporter included a simple definition¹ of veganism for readers, with a handy-dandy pronunciation guide to go along with it, but veganism expects more than soy milk and apple juice. Anyone capable of stringing two words together should be able to figure this out. Implying that vegans condone such nonsense is irrational.

This story is tragic, of course. A boy is dead who should and could be alive. But the reporting on this story amounts to little more than intellectually lazy voyeurism. "Hey, look at the freaks. This is what happens if you're a freak. Don't be a freak." Please. Try harder or don't bother.

¹ The word typically makes this definition wrong. Strike it from the sentence.

May 02, 2007

Fearing to Leave the Past Behind

From Malaysia:

Malaysian doctors have declared neckties a health hazard and called on the heath ministry to stop insisting that physicians wear them.

Amen. I hate ties. They serve no reasonable purpose other than to serve as an upside-down noose. I can't wait for the day when they're relegated to the past.

That said, this is fascinating:

But the Star quoted a ministry official as saying it needed more proof that neckties were a danger before it relaxed the dress code for doctors in hospitals.

I find it bizarre that anyone would submit to such authoritarianism that allows the government to impose a dress code for professionals. I wonder if we can expect something like that with nationalized health care in America. I doubt it, but we should never underestimate the power of bureaucrats to embrace stupidity and abuse of power.

Via Fark.

April 14, 2007

It's sad and something I don't cheer.

Now that the title cleared away any notion that I'm happy when someone gets hurt, Scott Adams nailed the analysis of New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine's car accident from the perspective of who is to blame. (The accident occurred while he was en route to the Governor's Mansion to host a meeting between Don Imus and the Rutgers Women's Basketball team.)

Post Removed

I removed today's post so that my governor would not have a car accident.

I wish I'd written that. I rarely laugh out loud at the written word, but that brought on a full sixty seconds of out loud laughter.

Post Script: Just to be extra clear, I wish Gov. Corzine a complete recovery. That recovery will be difficult, apparently. Now that I've ruined the humor...

April 13, 2007

Bigotry can be defensible?

From Andrew Sullivan, a comparison of bigotry:

As for Sharpton, surely Imus hs a minor, but valid point. Sharpton deploys the vilest form of racist assumptions against whites in general, and gets away with it. He got away with it while accusing specific people of rape - people who turned out to be innocent. Again, since whites still enjoy vastly more cultural power than blacks, Sharpton's bigotry is more defensible than Imus's. But it's still bigotry. (And, to give Sharpton his due, he has spoken out against the rhetorical depravity of much hip-hop.)

Surely Mr. Sullivan left something out of that paragraph? Bigotry is not defensible. When we start laying out levels of defensibility, we start laying out levels of acceptable responses to the same type of statements. A standard with degrees based on victimization will never end well, as we should be able to see from the current Don Imus mess.

April 10, 2007

[Insert Witty, Accurate Title]

I'm not an attorney, but I'm fairly certain the relevant CNN editor botched attached to this story:

A judge violated a juvenile's free-speech rights when he placed her on probation for posting an expletive-laden entry on MySpace criticizing a school principal, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

The three-judge panel on Monday ordered the Putnam Circuit Court to set aside its penalty against the girl, referred to only as A.B. in court records.

"While we have little regard for A.B.'s use of vulgar epithets, we conclude that her overall message constitutes political speech," Judge Patricia Riley wrote in the 10-page opinion.

The state filed a delinquency petition in March alleging that A.B.'s acts would have been harassment, identity deception and identity theft if committed by an adult. The juvenile court dropped most of the charges but in June found A.B. to be a delinquent child and placed her on nine months of probation. The judge ruled the comments were obscene.

The title of the article?

First Amendment extends to MySpace, court says

I doubt that was up for consideration. The meat of the story seems to be whether the school's punishment of the girl's speech was constitutional. It doesn't seem to matter that she posted her rant on MySpace, any more than if she'd written it on her arm and walked sleeveless around her local mall.

I know how hard it is to come up with effective, catchy titles from blogging for 3½ years. If I can't be witty, I aim for accurate. Anything else is just a punt. I'm not charging for my product and I adhere to that. CNN should, as well.

For what it's worth, I don't think the judges had any business inserting the court's opinion that it has little regard for her vulgar epithets. So what? If it has no bearing on how the case should be interpreted under the law, keep the subjective disdain out of the ruling. I might accept "While the court recognizes that A.B.'s use of vulgar epithets is unpopular, ..." or some such pandering to community morals. I doubt it, but even then, speech is speech.

April 09, 2007

The apology machine is in gear.

Don Imus said something stupid and offensive¹. Normally I wouldn't care because I don't listen to him. There is no need to decide whether or not I will listen to him. I just don't. I trust others to do the same, if they're so compelled. But the fallout is absurd:

Imus said he hoped to meet the players and their parents and coaches, and he said he was grateful that he was scheduled to appear later Monday on a radio show hosted by the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has called for Imus to be fired over the remarks.

"It's not going to be easy, but I'm not looking for it to be easy," Imus said.

Sharpton has said he wants Imus fired and that he intends to complain to the Federal Communications Commission about the matter.

"Somewhere we must draw the line in what is tolerable in mainstream media," Sharpton said Sunday. "We cannot keep going through offending us and then apologizing and then acting like it never happened. Somewhere we've got to stop this."

I agree. Such nonsense as this has no place in our society. Yet, people have the right to believe and say such racist ideas. If someone wants to put this on the airwaves, don't listen. It'll stop eventually. Easy enough?

Going to the FCC, though, is ridiculous. What is the FCC supposed to do? Even in the context of the unconstitutional mission of the FCC in monitoring "indecency", Imus' words were merely objectionable. How strong are our ideas of modernity if the truth of equality can't withstand one deejay? How strong will they become if "respect" for those ideas is imposed by the government? Sheer lunacy.

¹ The article includes what he said. Read it there, if you're interested.

April 06, 2007

Mob rule is anti-American.

David Broder is right to raise questions about a new, foolish attempt to circumvent the Electoral College process for electing presidents. The heart of the proposed approach:

The National Popular Vote Plan, as it is known, has passed both houses of the Maryland legislature and is headed for signing by Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The scheme, invented by John R. Koza, a Stanford professor, relies on the provision of the Constitution giving legislatures the power to "appoint" their presidential electors. If legislatures in enough states to make up a majority of the electoral college -- 270 electoral votes -- pledge to commit those votes to the candidate winning the national popular vote, no constitutional amendment is needed. [Former Senator Birch] Bayh and other high-minded individuals, such as former Illinois Republican representative John B. Anderson, a one-time independent presidential candidate, support the plan, arguing that it is a perfect expression of 21st-century democracy, while the electoral college is a relic of 18th-century thought.

There are many issues arguing against going to a national popular vote, whether directly or indirectly as put forth here. I'm not going to address them, but I'll point you in the smart direction. Read Kip's analysis of the District Method. (Thread here.) He explains it perfectly.

To the plan under consideration, what state would be so stupid as to give its votes away like this? Aside from Maryland, of course. Is it so hard to believe that Maryland could vote for one candidate while the rest of the nation could vote for another? This may count as some perverted form of solidarity, but it's not an American principle.

The founders devised the Electoral College to avoid such lunacy. We should not be running towards such lunacy.

March 23, 2007

Thoughts on Internet Debate

When I came across this quote a few days ago, I liked it. As a blogger, it's worth remembering when the battle of ideas gets heated.

"If I were to demand that everyone live up to my moral standards, I would be a lonely, cranky and judgmental person. And I'd be less effective. People respond better when you invite them to take a stand on behalf of what they love, than when you insist they conform to your beliefs." - John Robbins¹

The importance of that sentiment makes more sense to me, based on an entry I never wrote precisely because I didn't think I could be polite. The subject of that never written entry would've been this quote from Cathy Seipp:

"If you know a circumcised man who would like to experience some of the sensitivity nature intended for him, I would be happy to send you some Your-Skin Cones," writes a guy who apparently sells these things, and for some reason assumes I would be eager to help him spread the pro-foreskin oh-what-a-feeling agenda. Less amusing, though, is when these nutcases add, as they often do, that male circumcision is the equivalent of female genital mutilation, an idiotic and misogynist argument if there ever was one.

This comment made me angrier than almost every other comment I've read or heard regarding circumcision, for reasons I've indirectly explained many times. Arguments that distinguish male and female genital cutting into "good" and "bad" categories, respectively, are flawed to begin with. But labeling any attempt to compare the two as misogynistic ignores the issue as if it's already settled, with two ad hominem attacks for kicks. We're talking about genital modification, not whether you should give your kid Crest or Tom's of Maine.

Time has cooled my anger. Still, I never posted that, even when the opportunity arose. I didn't think I could be dispassionate enough. And I only post it today in the context of the quote from John Robbins. My non-response to Ms. Seipp's claim was a time when I exercised good judgment. I don't say that to congratulate myself because I've failed at this more times than not. But my rare success struck me as important now because Cathy Seipp died Wednesday after a long battle with lung cancer.

I'm not going to get sentimental about her death. I didn't know her. To my fallible memory, I don't recall posting any comments on her blog. I'm certain we never had an exchange of ideas on any topic through her blog. Her death is sad, but it doesn't hit me personally. Nor do I think it's uncouth to challenge the opinions of those who have died, although the timing would be rude, if that's what I was after here.

However, reading the news of her death made an impression on me. No matter how offensive or frustrating I found her views, there was still a human being there. That's vital. I want to be treated with respect, even when someone disagrees with my views. That's how I want to interact with others, regardless of whether it's extended to me. Behaving with a touch of humanity is crucial because my opinion is in the minority. I want to end infant circumcision. Countering the all-too-common opinion that it's "really nothing", as Ms. Seipp also once said, is part of that process. But treating people who believe that with respect is the right thing to do. I don't succeed as often as I'd like, of course, so news like this reminds me that kindness matters.

¹ "Reader Letters - 2006 Veggie Awards", VegNews, April 2007: 21.

February 26, 2007

The law must protect the outliers.

I missed this last week, but the Virginia General Assembly passed what should be a thought-provoking bill:

Virginia lawmakers passed a bill called "Abraham's Law" yesterday after agreeing that 14 is the appropriate age for a teenager with a life-threatening condition to have a hand in making medical decisions.

The bill is named after Starchild Abraham Cherrix, 16, who won a court battle last summer to forgo chemotherapy and instead treat his lymphatic cancer with alternative medicine.

A judge had threatened to force Abraham to take conventional treatments and to take him away from his parents, who faced jail for allowing him to end chemotherapy and use alternative treatments. A compromise allowed Abraham to give up chemotherapy as long as he was treated by an oncologist who is board-certified in radiation therapy and interested in alternative treatment.

A 14-year-old is legally allowed to reject conventional medical treatment for a life-threatening illness. This is wholly appropriate, in my opinion, when viewed with the reality that minors are not automatically incompetent and the perspective of Mr. Cherrix's battle last year. I'm glad to see the General Assembly acknowledging such rights.

Looking forward, if a 14-year-old can reject treatment in a life-threatening situation, how can we continue to assume that infants not facing a life threatening illness, or any illness at all to be more specific, should not be protected by default from circumcision? Essentially, the General Assembly seems to be saying that neither parents nor the state own the body of a minor. So what gives? Clearly parental "rights" have limits. Why is there a limit when there is a life-threatening illness but not when there is no illness?

Supporters of routine infant circumcision, or rather supporters of permitting parents to make their son's decision for him, believe this issue rests on the child's willingness and ability to consent. If the child is unable to consent, as would apparently be the case for a 13-year-old under this new legislation, the parents may make his decision they believe is in his best interest. But the standard focus should be on what a reasonable person would choose, if he could choose for himself. If nothing else, the existence of someone like Mr. Cherrix proves that common opinion does not mean universal. We could assume what he wants, but we'd be wrong. If individual liberty is to mean anything where the body is involved, it must be protected in all permanent medical decisions. This is particularly essential when the intervention is in no way medically indicated.

We can assume what an infant male would choose based on society, but there's a significant chance we'd be wrong. The low incidence of adults choosing circumcision if they were spared as children should demonstrate that. Society was 100% wrong in my case. The law was wrong to allow it then. It is wrong to allow it today. It will be wrong to allow it tomorrow.

Source: Below the Beltway, via Kip

February 25, 2007

"The effects were temporary and the students recovered..."

The negative symptoms of those affected aren't enough incentive, so those who aren't affected must be denied:

A high school banned a caffeine-packed energy drink after students complained that it made them sick and shaky and caused their hearts to race.

About a half-dozen students reported symptoms including shortness of breath, heart palpitations and nausea, school officials said.

The energy drink is SPIKE Shooter. Based on my personal preference, I'd never drink the stuff, but I don't drink coffee or soda, either. My reason? Caffeine makes me sick and shaky and causes my heart to race. Beets do the same thing to me. Should we ban beets? Perhaps some other standard makes sense.

In the CNN article, this:

The drink Web site says an 8.4-ounce can has 300 milligrams of caffeine. By comparison, the average 5-ounce cup of coffee has 80 to 115 milligrams of caffeine, according to the London-based International Coffee Organization.

Ounce for ounce would be a better comparison. In that scenario, the average cup of coffee contains 134.4 to 193.2 milligrams of caffeine. That's a slightly different story. To its credit, the drink's maker, Biotest Laboratories, puts a warning on the can to "begin use with one-half can to determine tolerance." If that warning is insufficient, then what's the point of mandatory labels?

For what it's worth, it would take 31.85 cans of SPIKE Shooter to kill me.

February 08, 2007

Thought Experiment

In the past I would probably apologize for this week's plethora of circumcision posts, but a wise friend reassured me that I shouldn't be concerned with posting too much on any one topic. The message I took was that I should write what's relevant and what I'm passionate about. Still, I try to keep the pace slower than "All Circumcision, All the Time." I won't pass up discussing the topic, though, when I can illustrate some useful facet or put some context on a point by making a comparison with another story. For instance:

A man who police said entered into a sex pact with his girlfriend and her 15-year-old daughter pleaded no contest to felony sex charges.

Authorities say Fitzgibbon's girlfriend was afraid of losing him while she recuperated from gastric bypass surgery, so she arranged for him to have sex with her daughter for two months.

All three of them allegedly signed a contract that allowed the girl privileges such as piercings and hair dye in exchange for the sex acts. She testified earlier that she and Fitzgibbon had sex two to three times each week for two months last summer.

The girlfriend, whose name is not being made public to protect her daughter's identity, is scheduled to stand trial in February on three counts of criminal sexual conduct.

Nothing needs to be said on this case specifically because the disgusting nature of both adults' (alleged) actions is readily apparent. While everyone is focused on the behavior of the man involved, the mother's behavior is equally appalling. But if her action didn't involving pimping her daughter, would we be outraged? Since her (alleged) action did involve pimping, should we be outraged?

The answer to at least the latter question is simple for most people. It is for me. The distance between what would be allowed with the former versus the latter is not as great as it might appear. With infant circumcision, our societal desire to preserve a non-existent parental right pushes us close to the idea that children are property. I've heard parents make that claim to me, that they have the right to circumcise their children because the child's body belongs to them as they see fit. Most people don't circumcise from this extreme stance. Unfortunately, the outcome is the same for children boys.

I'm stuck, though, because circumcision is not medically indicated in the overwhelming majority of cases. With respect to surgical need, there isn't one. Preventive intent is worthless because the protection can't be known. The surgery is purely cosmetic in its effect. We disregard that and leave this non-essential decision to parents. Because it is non-essential, it should be unacceptable. It's not viewed as such. Whether we intend it or accept it, boys are treated as property. What other actions would be logical extenstions with that realization? If children are property, why should sex be any less acceptable than circumcision or ear-piercing?

Does the answer change because the story is about a parent pimping a daughter? Would we have the same reaction if a father pimped his daughter to his (the father's) girlfriend? The answer should be yes, so the question is mostly rhetorical, but can I expect that reactions to my scenario would resemble the distinctions provided when comparing male and female circumcision?

February 02, 2007

Promoting Ignorance

I seldom watch the evening news because everything it presents can be found in shorter, more productive (i.e., less sensational) formats on The Internets. Last night I stumbled on a segment on NBC where Brian Williams introduced the news that Exxon Mobil produced a record profit of $39.5 billion for 2006. Rather than taking the standard "windfall" profits route, Williams hit a different bit of stupidity. He set up the reporter to address this popular "outrage" by asking what incentive Exxon Mobil now has to find alternate energy sources. Ehhhhhhhhh.

I didn't listen to the answer because, as he asked it, his implication lacked any notion of understanding or belief that Exxon Mobil might not drive its business into the ground seeking ever greater profits from oil. In the larger context of the economy, Exxon Mobil doesn't have to perceive any incentive to find alternate energy. Perhaps Exxon Mobil doesn't want to be in that business and believes that oil (and natural gas) will be around long enough that it can keep generating profits without alternate energy sources. I doubt its executives believe that, but it doesn't owe anyone beyond its shareholders an obligation to adjust its business to market pressures. If alternate energy is potentially profitable, someone will pursue it. That someone will most likely include Exxon Mobil. This is not complicated.

Of course, the $20 billion or so that Exxon Mobil invested in exploration and research last year suggests that they're at least working to find more oil, oil that we currently can't reach or find. While not an alternate energy source, finding more oil delays the need for finding an alternate energy source. The scarcity and political ramifications that Williams probably thought he was asking about are a bit more complicated than one company generating a large¹ profit through its activities. If Williams wanted to make that point, he should've offered a monologue on how a $39.5 billion profit is socially irresponsible or some other pontification. He probably figured that Al Gore already has that covered, which left him free to continue his economically simple misunderstanding.

¹ I've made this point before, but it probably needs to be said again. In absolute dollars, $39.5 billion is impressive and mind-boggling. In the context of the expenses (and taxes) needed to create such a figure, a great deal of the luster wears off. As a percentage of total revenue, the net profit is only 10.45% (39,500/377,635). Many companies with a smaller absolute dollar profit have significantly higher profit ratios. To illustrate this point relative to Exxon Mobil, its revenue for the fourth quarter of 2006 decreased (pdf link) by more than $9 billion from the same quarter in 2005. Yet, it managed to keep net income mostly stable by lowering its costs. There's obviously more thorough analysis needed to give that weight, but only politicians with a populist axe to grind would hammer its conservative results. Maybe I should hammer away at the "revenue" brought in by the U.S. government.

February 01, 2007

Does the classification matter?

The latest issue of Wired includes an article on the threat to soldiers wounded in Iraq from acinetobacter, "an opportunistic pathogen" they're picking up along the evacuation chain from the battlefield. While reading the article, I stopped on an interesting question not related to the subject. First, the facts:

A homemade bomb exploded under a Humvee in Anbar province, Iraq, on August 21, 2004. The blast flipped the vehicle into the air, killing two US marines and wounding another - a soft-spoken 20-year-old named Jonathan Gadsden who was near the end of his second tour of duty. In previous wars, he would have died within hours. His skull and ribs were fractured, his neck was broken, his back was badly burned, and his stomach had been perforated by shrapnel and debris.

Unfortunately, Mr. Gadsden died from the undiagnosed infection that resulted from his wounds. It's tragic, and the implication of uncontrollable infections is scary. The article is worth reading to get the full understanding. But this is what got me thinking:

[Gadsden's mother Zeada] discovered that an autopsy was performed shortly after her son's death. The coroner recorded the "manner of death" as "homicide (explosion during war operation)" but determined the actual cause of death to be a bacterial infection. The organism that killed Gadsden, called Nocardia, had clogged the blood vessels leading to his brain. But the acinetobacter had been steadily draining his vital resources when he could least afford it. For weeks, it had been flourishing in his body, undetected by the doctors at Haley, resisting a constant assault by the most potent antibiotics in the medical arsenal.

I stopped at "homicide (explosion during war operation)" because I'd never thought of how a military death would be classified. Thinking in these terms could open a can of worms that I'm not trying to open. I'm intellectually curious about this designation and uninterested in the political implications. I don't imagine we'd find too many who would challenge "homicide (explosion during war operation" for a situation like the one that led to Mr. Gadsden's death, but both sides think they're the "good guys". How would another army's autopsy rule on the death of its soldiers? Would we question if it ruled the same manner of death, because that would imply that we're murderers?

I don't have any answers on what our response should be. I haven't thought of it before, and I suspect most simply wouldn't care. I don't know that the distinction even matters for either side, but I found the question interesting.

A government takeover can't be far behind.

This is only peripherally about the Major League Baseball Extra Innings package, although I will discuss that angle again. But I can't let it pass when a politician so bravely steps in to assist in a way that highlights his previous hypocrisy. Consider:

A proposal to make Major League Baseball's "Extra Innings" exclusive to DirecTV has drawn the ire of Sen. John Kerry.

The Massachusetts Democrat said he plans to raise the matter with the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission at a hearing Thursday.

"I am opposed to anything that deprives people of reasonable choices," Kerry said in a statement. "In this day and age, consumers should have more choices _ not fewer. I'd like to know how this serves the public _ a deal that will force fans to subscribe to DirecTV in order to tune in to their favorite players. A Red Sox fan ought to be able to watch their team without having to switch to DirecTV."

So many issues pop up, but it'll probably make the most sense to first address the MLB decision in the context of Sen. Kerry's remarks. MLB is stupid if it proceeds with this asinine marketing strategy, but it is free to hurt its business if it so chooses. It is not obligated to "serve the public" any more than Whole Foods is obligated to cater to vegans. That, of course, brings up the notion that consumers should have more choices. I view keeping cable as an Extra Innings choice as desirable because it specifically impacts me. But MLB should have the same range of choice to run its business in whatever way it believes will maximize its profits and its brand, even if that means running both into the ground. Sen. Kerry's rhetoric will serve well the economic populism that pervades our public discussion, but it's misguided.

With his statements, Sen. Kerry also managed to make a mockery of his stances on most economic issues and many personal choice issues. If Senator Kerry is in favor of people having reasonable choices, why isn't he promoting Social Security reform, for example? I contribute, even though I'd prefer to put my money in personal investments controlled by me and backed up by actual assets. But I don't have that choice. How does that serve the public? I'm sure I could walk through a point-by-point list of Sen. Kerry's campaign issues and find many more examples where he's been less than a champion for allowing people to have choices. (I have little doubt I can find multiple examples where Sen. Kerry believes that businesses should be limited, so I won't challenge him there.)

Greater than all of this, though, is the simple fact that Chairman Kevin Martin and the FCC have no regulatory control over cable that would enable it to take action against Major League Baseball. Sen. Kerry should know this. I assume he does, but that doesn't sell because then the government¹ isn't there to come to the rescue.

¹ Major League Baseball should not have anti-trust exemption. There shouldn't be anti-trust prosecution against MLB if it didn't have the exemption, but that's getting further into that issue than I'm interested. Since these are the rules we're operating under, and MLB is happy to benefit from them, I won't feel bad if/when Congress goes after the owners for this exclusive deal with DirecTV. Feed the snake enough and you will get bitten.

January 30, 2007

Throwing a Hail Mary in the First Quarter

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst knows a lot and is proposing a plan clearly designed "for the children". Evidence (and rights) be damned, of course.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican, is proposing a sweeping mandatory random testing program in public schools for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

"It will save lives. That's the whole purpose," Dewhurst said. "I'm convinced steroid use in high schools is greater than people want to admit."

"You can't put a price tag on a young person's life," Dewhurst said.

Thankfully Lt. Gov. Dewhurst is willing to admit it. And he has a plan. And money to solve this "problem," thanks to Texas' $14.3 billion budget surplus. It's there, and the kids are "at risk". That's enough, with logic like this:

Dewhurst said schools should be willing to go along if the state pays the bill.

Oh, that solves it. The state will pay, not the schools or the taxpayers in the school districts who send the money to Austin. And it's for the kids, so no sensible person could possibly oppose the expense.

That could be brilliant logic, if it weren't so obviously stupid. The rest of the article is worth a read, just to comprehend the scare quotes and the "we're not violating their rights" guarantees. There's an argument there, I guess, because participating in school sports is voluntary, but the motivations expressed by those quoted are discouraging because they so resemble every other well-intentioned boondoggle that only gets more severe and expensive as it proves ineffective to the extent originally promised.

January 15, 2007

Catching up on events

I've been busy over the last week or so, which meant that I didn't have enough time to give blogging enough mental energy. That's over, so it's time to catch up on a few interesting stories before moving to new stuff. Without further delay:

Kudos to Sen. John Sununu for challenging the unhealthy, anti-consumer partnership between content owners and the FCC known as the Broadcast Flag. (Source)

Senator John Sununu (R-NH) has just announced that his office is working on legislation that would prevent the FCC from creating specific technology mandates that have to be followed by consumer electronics manufacturers. What's his target? The broadcast flag.

Television and movie studios have wanted a broadcast flag for years. The flag is a short analog or digital signal embedded into broadcasts that specifies what users can do with the content. It would most often be used to prevent any copying of broadcast material, but there's an obvious problem with the plan: it requires recording devices to pay attention to the flag. Because no consumers wander the aisles at Best Buy thinking, "You know, I would definitely buy this DVD recorder, but only if it supported broadcast flag technology," the industry has asked the federal government to step in and simply require manufacturers to respect the flag.

Exactly the right analysis. The FCC should not be restricting innovation before any potentially illegal action can even occur. The onus should be on the businesses to engineer solutions that meet their needs, not regulation. That's dinosaur thinking and should not be reward.

Next, just ponder this photograph's implications. It's posted in London, so there's no concern for the United States, except there is concern. We move closer to this mentality with every newly brushed aside civil liberty. (Source)

Next, sometimes a cheap shot is easier than analysis. From Glenn Reynolds:

A CITIZEN'S ARREST BY PAUL HACKETT: A pro-gun anti-crime Democrat -- I'm surprised the party didn't get behind him.

Just like claiming that there's a war on crime, this requires little thinking and says more about the writer than the facts. Who honestly believes that Democrats are not "anti-crime"? Not tough enough crime, we could argue. But it's posts like these that prove Glenn Reynolds is little more than a Republican with some libertarian leanings. That's not surprising, but this is an unflattering proof.

Next, North Korea has a hunger problem. Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of economics understands that this has as much to do with the country's political structure as anything. Socialism doesn't work, and can never provide for everyone's needs. When the failure extends to famine, this moves from oppression to murder. But the North Koreans have a solution, courtesy of a German breeder (Source):

An east German pensioner who breeds rabbits the size of dogs has been asked by North Korea to help set up a big bunny farm to alleviate food shortages in the communist country. Now journalists and rabbit gourmets from around the world are thumping at his door.

It all started when Karl Szmolinsky won a prize for breeding Germany's largest rabbit, a friendly-looking 10.5 kilogram "German Gray Giant" called Robert, in February 2006.

Images of the chubby monster went around the world and reached the reclusive communist state of North Korea, a country of 23 million which according to the United Nations Food Programme suffers widespread food shortages and where many people "struggle to feed themselves on a diet critically deficient in protein, fats and micronutrients."

Any reasonable analysis would point out an obvious point of why this will fail to alleviate suffering.

"I'm not increasing production and I'm not taking any more orders after this. They cost a lot to feed," he said.

The rabbits apparently feed eight. How much food will be used to feed the rabbits until they're ready to become that one-time meal that feeds eight? How much land that could be better used to grow crops for North Koreans will be used to grow feed for these rabbits, as well as house them while they grow? This is a central-planning solution at its ugliest.

Next, religion will continue getting a free pass for unnecessary medical procedures under a socialist health system.

The NHS should provide more faith-based care for Muslims, an expert says.

Muslims are about twice as likely to report poor health and disability than the general population, says Edinburgh University's Professor Aziz Sheikh.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, he called for male circumcision on the NHS and more details over alcohol derived drugs.

Leaving aside the obvious questions of whether or not routine/ritual circumcision of children should be allowed, it's an unnecessary medical procedure that drains resources. As an ethically-questionable procedure, it's also unacceptable to force taxpayers to fund such surgeries. This is why current U.S. funding under our relatively free market system is objectionable. This call from Britain just seeks to double the mistake. It's absurd.

Because the system isn't bureaucratic and dysfunctional enough already, Democrats want to allow unionization by TSA employees. That won't end well.

January 08, 2007

We haven't prohibited crime enough.

I know it's the New York Daily News, but is nothing safe from hyperbole?

The city's all-out push to boost the number of cops patrolling the streets has been crippled by the NYPD's appallingly low starting salary for recruits.

Instead of adding 800 cops to the war on crime, as Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly had hoped, the department failed to increase its numbers by a single officer over the past year, the Daily News has learned.

There's a perfectly good free-market, libertarian argument in there, although it's low-hanging fruit. The problem here is that this is being framed as "the war on crime." Shouldn't that be capitalized? Sloppy journalism, sloppy talking points, or both?

Via Fark.

December 05, 2006

Thank you, Jesus, for being born.

The commentary writes itself, unfortunately:

A mother convinced Rock Hill police to arrest her 12-year-old son after he unwrapped a Christmas present early.

The boy's great-grandmother had specifically told him not to open his Nintendo Game Boy Advance, which she had wrapped and placed beneath the Christmas tree, according to a police report.

But on Sunday morning, she found the box of the popular handheld game console unwrapped and opened. When the boy's 27-year-old mother heard about the opened gift, she called police.

She hoped the arrest would be a wake-up call for him. She dreads getting a phone call someday reporting he's been killed.

The great-grandmother is 63. That doesn't automatically lead to the conclusion that essential parenting skills are missing, but I'm willing to offer an educated guess. Of course, one must wonder how much of a wake-up call the arrest will be.

Two Rock Hill police officers responded to the home and charged the boy with petty larceny. He was charged as a juvenile and released the same day, said police spokesman Lt. Jerry Waldrop, who added the boy was never held at the jail.

"We wouldn't hold a 12-year-old," he said.

What's the lesson, other than do something you're told not to do and you get a slap on the wrist? Brilliant. Police should not parent your children. If you've reached that point, you've failed. Maybe your kid is truly a bad kid, but you've still failed. Regardless, the biggest lesson is don't put the presents under the tree until Christmas.


November 29, 2006

I need to go to law school.

Being a non-lawyer, I'm sure I'm missing something fundamental in law with this story. But I don't know what it is.

A Virginia appellate court sidestepped the issue of civil unions Tuesday in ruling that, because two former lesbian partners filed for their union in Vermont, that state's courts have jurisdiction in a custody battle.

The women were Virginia residents in 2000 when they traveled to Vermont to join in a civil union. Lisa Miller-Jenkins conceived a child through artificial insemination in 2001 while the couple were together, and a child, Isabella, was born the following April. They eventually moved to Vermont in August 2002.

In the fall of 2003, the women separated. After moving back to Virginia, Lisa Miller-Jenkins filed for a dissolution of their civil union, an action akin to a divorce, and sought custody of Isabella.

In June 2004, a Vermont family court granted Janet Miller-Jenkins visitation rights; that October, a Frederick County court issued a contradicting decision.

I'm stumped. In my only experience dealing with child custody and family law, my brother's hearings concerning his son took place in the state's courts where my nephew lives with his mother, not where he was born. Is Vermont law really that different, considering that Virginia is involved in both this case and my brother's situation? Is there something different about sole versus joint custody that may be in play in this case, even if the child lives in Virginia? Did Virginia courts rule in order to punt the civil union question?

Again, I'm sure I'm missing something. I don't need to assign animosity to gays, or at least avoidance, as a cause since Vermont also ruled that it should have jurisdiction. But it seems as likely as any other explanation. I can't figure out what the answer might be given the facts I know. That's probably the largest factor, but I'm baffled.

October 27, 2006

Marriage is a fundamental right for individuals

I haven't bothered catching up on what same-sex marriage amendment supporters have said about the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in everything but name because I don't care what they think. Those in Virginia who are worked up because of it, like Sen. Allen, were already going to vote for the amendment here. Why should I care, beyond pointing out their obvious stupidity? They'll drive 5 miles per hour faster to the polls on November 7th because they can't wait to stick it to the gays protect marriage. Big deal. Instead, I'm focused on what intelligent people are saying.

I've noticed two dominant themes regarding the decision: declaring victory and cautious agreement. I agree with the first viewpoint, as it's clear that state-sponsored bigotry will eventually be set aside. I think it should occur faster. Rights are rights, regardless of who exercises them. We shouldn't need a silly period of adjustment so that the majority can catch up. If they don't like it, they're capable of remaining in their own marriage anyway. But it is what it is.

The second viewpoint, while I'm happy that it exists, as opposed to opposition until the majority catches up, lacks what I think is fundamental about our Constitution and courts. Our rights are not provided by legislatures, at the will and whim of whatever majority exists at the moment. That's a recipe for oppression, not liberty.

Instead, we must always remember that the Constitution guarantees rights we possess through the simple process of being alive. Courts exist to protect that fact, and enforce it on the other branches of government. It's fine to believe that legislative action is a superior way to have rights protected, but legislatures are full of politicians. Rights, or the denial of rights, can and will be sold. That leaves the courts as a viable option that should not be dismissed as too challenging to the values and beliefs of Americans. If Americans can't grasp that, our civics education has failed, not our political process.

I like what Jason Kuznicki wrote Wednesday at Positive Liberty:

Ultimately, I don’t care so much about process. I care about equality before the law, and I think that there are multiple legitimate ways to attain it. If equality happens one way, great. If it happens another way, that’s great too.

That's the heart of it, I believe. The fight for marriage equality has been misrepresented by those more invested in maintaining some illusory sense of control over values. Marriage, as I understand it, is not a dual right, existing only for pairs. Every individual has the right to marriage, or whatever civil contract structure the government offers to promote efficiency in bundling certain incentives and benefits. The concept of individual rights requires this governmental offering be made to individuals who are interested in pairing, not to pairs who meet a notion of acceptability pre-conceived outside of the civil framework. Who a person chooses to marry is solely his or her business.

Our government's role is merely to provide that benefit to everyone. Or no one, if it can't play fair. Follow that common sense approach, and same-sex marriage opponents might finally understand the proper role of government. The rights of the individual trump the will of the majority.

September 27, 2006

Using correct assumptions is crucial

From an editorial in today's Opinion Journal:

A study released this week by the Intercollegiate Studies that the answers to both questions are no. The study concludes that "America's colleges and universities fail to increase knowledge about America's history and institutions." In a 60-question multiple-choice quiz ,"college seniors failed the civic literacy exam, with an average score of 53.2 percent, or F, on a traditional grading scale." And at many schools "seniors know less than freshmen about America's history, government, foreign affairs, and economy."

Among college seniors, less than half--47.9%--correctly concluded that "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal" was from the Declaration of Independence. More than half did not know that the Bill of Rights prohibits the governmental establishment of an official religion, and "55.4 percent could not recognize Yorktown as the battle that brought the American Revolution to an end" (more than one quarter believing that it was the Civil War battle of Gettysburg that had ended the Revolution).

The blame should not be on colleges and universities. I suspect they're not increasing knowledge about America's history and institutions because the assumption is that students should already know those facts. History and civics are taught at the middle and high school levels. If the kids lack the basics, blame the schools tasked with teaching them.

August 10, 2006

No, no, no, a million times no

I've cited Andrew Sullivan's entries on male circumcision in the past as support for my arguments to protect infant males from surgical alteration of their genitals. Today, I'm at a loss for words because of this:

As long-time readers know, I'm a big opponent of male genital mutilation, aka circumcision. But the data are clear on HIV infection, and under those circumstances, as I've said before, I'm prepared to make an exception.

I'm not one of the multitudes of routine infant circumcision opponents who denies the results because they somehow don't fit my argument. Maybe there are methodological flaws in the studies, maybe not. I don't know, and it doesn't matter. The studies offer evidence, not recommendations. It takes reasoning to filter the research into a coherent approach to preventing HIV. Circumcising (male) infants to prevent HIV is neither reasonable nor coherent.

Children do not engage in sex until well beyond the period in which they can be taught responsible behavior and an understanding of consequences. Their intact genitals do not expose them to HIV. They do not need to fret over whether or not condoms will provide them adequate protection. For each boy, HIV will not jump onto his penis, crawl in between his glans and foreskin, and burrow through the susceptible cells. His intact foreskin will not create a public health crisis.

That's what makes Mr. Sullivan's statement so frustrating. He does not say if his exception is limited to adult circumcision or includes infant circumcision. Perhaps his limit is adult circumcision, but reading the linked article, I suspect he's willing to concede on infant circumcision. If it is the former, he should note that distinction to avoid confusion (I noted an example here). If it is the latter, he is wrong.


Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said research revealing the protective effect of circumcision against HIV was set to change parental expectations and medical practice across the world. Instead of viewing the operation as an assault on the male sex, it was increasingly being seen as a lifesaving procedure which every parent would want for their sons.

Show me how routine infant circumcision is considered an assault on the male sex, outside of opponents such as myself. Unfortunately, I must concede that I am in the minority. So, again, show me how public opinion will now reverse to make the procedure so desirable.¹ One caveat: you must use science instead of fear. Will circumcision alone be enough? Are there better, less invasive methods of prevention? Does circumcision in conjunction with other methods of prevention add a significant increase in protection? Is this solution targeting those most at risk?

Removing the foreskin is thought to harden the glans (head) of the penis, making it less permeable to viruses. Research conducted in 2005 showed the transmission of HIV from women to men during sex was reduced by 60 per cent if the men were circumcised.

Hardening (thickening, really, through keratinization - explicit warning: NSFW) of the glans used to be understood and accepted as an outcome of circumcision. Punishing masturbation is much easier when the penis loses sensitivity. Then it became a lie propagated by circumcision opponents, presumably because knowledge of the foreskin as mucous membrane disappeared among physicians. Also, selling surgery is easier if the supporter pretends that there will be no harm from removing the "useless" flap of skin. Now keratinization is a feature again? Using reduced sensitivity to sell routine infant circumcision is like pretending that the Ford Pinto had a secondary heating system. At least they're honest now.

And what about female-to-male transmissions?

CONCLUSION.--The odds of male-to-female transmission were significantly greater than female-to-male transmission. The one case [from 379 couples] of female-to-male transmission was unique in that the couple reported numerous unprotected sexual contacts and noted several instances of vaginal and penile bleeding during intercourse.

How about another study? This back-and-forth could go on.

Dr Feachem said: "We know the factors that cause HIV to spread rapidly in a country - the number of concurrent sexual partners, the use of condoms, the presence of other sexually transmitted diseases and male circumcision. Other things being equal, in a circumcised population you have a low and slowly developing epidemic and in an uncircumcised [sic] population you have a high and fast developing epidemic."

Beware conclusions drawn from poorly phrased assumptions and questions. All other things are not equal. The other three factors listed are not consistent. Two of them can be taught. The other is also a function of individual responsibility. But not included here is why there is a disparity in the populations. The studies include only Africa, which is not particularly analogous to Europe and the United States. The U.S., for instance, has the highest HIV infection rate among industrialized nation. We're primarily circumcised. European nations have lower incidences of HIV infection. Those nations are predominantly intact. The researchers should explain the difference before so quickly assuming that boys must lose healthy tissue.

He added: "Circumcision is growing strongly in popularity in South Africa and in North America. We see males seeking circumcision very commonly in South Africa. The news of its protective effect caused a substantial increase in demand for adult male circumcision.

I reiterate my point from earlier. North America (i.e., the United States) has had a love affair with circumcision for more than a century, so growing strongly in popularity is absurd. Facts matter, no? But what's important is the key word in Dr. Feachem's statement, adult. Adults can consent; infants can not. There is also a significant difference in the penile development of infants and adults. Adults do not require tearing of the foreskin from the glans to remove the foreskin, as is necessary with infants. Making the leap from what's appropriate for adults into what's appropriate for infants without considering intellectual and anatomical differences is absurd.

"Circumcision fell out of favour in North America and the UK as an unnecessary operation. Following this research, I think it extremely probable that parental demand for infant male circumcision will grow as a consequence."

Repeating the notion that circumcision is out of favor in the United States (specifically) does not make it true. It's falling, but the majority of newborn males still have their healthy foreskins surgically removed.

Returning to the impact of a male's sexuality as he grows from infancy into young adulthood, when he reaches an age where he may become sexually active, the presence of his foreskin could potentially cause him problems. Responding to that calls for parenting. Parenting might include a discussion of sexual promiscuity and HIV. It might also include consideration of circumcision. What's important is that the boy will have input. If he is against it as a preventive measure, it should not be forced upon him. Short of medical necessity, the decision should remain his alone. When he reaches adulthood, he can make the decision based on his understanding of his HIV-risk.

If that scenario had occurred for me, I'd be intact today. I understand my sexual history and risk enough to make informed decisions. I have never put myself in a position where HIV was a significant risk worthy of pre-emptive amputation. I do not intend to do so. How has genital surgery helped me? How can parents know which scenario their child son will live? Permanent medical decisions should not be made for infants/children based on fear of the unknown. That is not science, that is superstition and ignorance.

Instead of writing what I've said enough times already, consider this counter-balance:

Deborah Jack, chief executive of the UK-based National Aids Trust, said the research findings were encouraging.

"It is clear the promotion of voluntary circumcision can play an important role in reducing the risk of HIV transmission," she said. But she warned: "People who are circumcised can still be infected with HIV and any awareness campaign would have to be extremely careful not to suggest that it protects against HIV or is an alternative to using condoms."

I didn't volunteer for circumcision any more than the one million infant males circumcised in America every year volunteer. Or the millions of infant males around the world who will now be circumcised as a result of this research. Parental demand for prophylactic surgical amputation was never sane, is not sane, and will never be sane, regardless of the various wonderful explanations we can create to justify it. In America we do not allow female circumcision (calling it female genital mutilation) for any reason other than specific medical indication. Boys, however, are subject to parental whim. Parental whim is subject to scientific discovery open to expansive interpretation. Radical surgical amputation should not be the first response to imagined future risks involving infants.

Post Script: More on this topic here.

¹ The article is from a British newspaper. Noted. However, it will be apparent in a moment that the target audience for routine infant (male) circumcision as a preventive measure against HIV includes the United States.

August 02, 2006

Lust for power isn't a virtue

Inept responses to emergencies are unacceptable but understandable because humans are involved. Mistakes happen. But covering up an inept response is unforgivable. The threat of new attacks means that an honest accounting of our past responses and how we can improve them must take precedence over any concern for public shame or bureaucratic humiliation. As such, this is infuriating if true:

Some staff members and commissioners of the Sept. 11 panel concluded that the Pentagon's initial story of how it reacted to the 2001 terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead the commission and the public rather than a reflection of the fog of events on that day, according to sources involved in the debate.

Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold and Col. Alan Scott told the commission that NORAD had begun tracking United 93 at 9:16 a.m., but the commission determined that the airliner was not hijacked until 12 minutes later. The military was not aware of the flight until after it had crashed in Pennsylvania.

Tell me why we should grant ever-expanding powers to government over more areas of our lives when government can't be honest about not accomplishing one of its few legitimate tasks.

July 31, 2006

Mom needs more nuance

I think I could've saved money on conducting this study:

How many M&MS are enough?

It depends on how big the candy scoop is.

At least that's a key factor, says a study that offers new evidence that people take cues from their surroundings in deciding how much to eat.

It explains why, for example, people who used to be satisfied by a 12-ounce can of soda may now feel that a 20-ounce bottle is just right.

It's "unit bias," the tendency to think that a single unit of food -- a bottle, a can, a plateful, or some more subtle measure -- is the right amount to eat or drink, researchers propose.

Hello, duh. How many of us heard "clean your plate" from our parents as kids? I'd put the answer somewhere between everyone and all of us. It's nice to have some sort of scientific confirmation, and some of the specific examples provide useful insight, but now what?

So can all this help dieters?

Some food companies are introducing products in 100-calorie packages, and [the University of Pennsylvania's Andrew] Geier thinks that could help hold down a person's consumption. He also suspects companies could help by displaying the number of servings per container more prominently on their packaging.

I don't mean to imply any policy suggestions to Mr. Geier from that statement, but how long before some hack politician uses research like this to suggest that companies should help, thus mandating new regulations? I'm guessing next week.

Cleaning out the aggregator

My server died last Tuesday, locking me out of my site. My hosting company finally resurrected it late Wednesday, but by then my vacation interfered. Rare access to the Internets, as well as general mental decompression, stood in the way of regular posting. So I disappeared for almost a week. In no particular order, here are a few items filling my news inbox while I was away.


From Reason's Hit and Run, I think I might be the only person in America who answers Yes and No instead of some other combo.

..., New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer fielded two questions on marijuana. One: Would he legalize medical marijuana? Two: Had he ever smoked marijuana? The answers: No and yes. The terror of Wall Street has picked up and run with the old Clintonite maxim: Do as I say, not as I did.

Spitzer should've been discredited as a candidate for any number of actions he's taken, but this is just further proof that the people of New York need to see more than (D) when they get in the voting booth. I suppose it should be comforting to know that Virginia isn't the only state with hack politicians.


Is anyone shocked by this:

The federal government will need to either cut spending or raise taxes down the road to pay for extending President Bush's recent tax cuts, the Treasury Department said in a report released [last Monday], dismissing the idea popular with many Republicans that such sacrifices can be avoided.

My question should be rhetorical, but there are many people in this town who will probably be genuinely shocked. Okay, actually, the shocked people will be voters. Those who are not shocked, but are bitter that the Treasury Department could be so treasonous as to impugn the American economy this way, will complain among themselves that their secret is revealed.


Maybe I can start a network and force Comcast to air it:

After more than a year of inaction, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin J. Martin yesterday addressed a dispute that has kept Washington Nationals games off the region's biggest cable network.

The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), which carries most of the team's games, asked the FCC in June 2005 to order Comcast Corp. to begin carrying the games immediately, but the agency took no action.

MASN now has the right to seek a resolution to its complaint through the FCC process or take the path of arbitration.

Shouldn't customers decide whether or not MASN is important to them? Of course, lack of competition due to regulatory monopolies prohibits customers from having a sufficient voice, say to cancel and switch to a cable provider that carries MASN, but I'm certain the answer is not to push the regulatory hand deeper into the industry.


Tomorrow MTV turns 25. Being old enough to remember the early days of MTV, and young enough to enjoy them, the present-day celebration is good for reliving fond memories. But this explanation of why MTV evolved (devolved?) into what it is broke the spell:

"I think we started as an idea with very little content; it was more like a radio station with songs and cheesy, hair-metal videos," says Van Toffler, president of MTV Networks' music/film/Logo group. "But we quickly realized the novelty of music videos wore off and was not repeatable with thousands of viewings. So we evolved into being more about TV production — yet still sloppy, live and organic."

Forget that my musical tastes are stuck more in early MTV than current MTV, which means I don't watch most new videos. The video has not gotten old. Look at iTunes and its music video sales. There is a market, meaning the novelty didn't die. MTV killed it with its repetition of the same tiny number of videos.

Early on this was necessary due to the newness of the form. But by the late '80s, that didn't hold. MTV abandoned it. Today, when I watch music television, I watch the extra music video channels like VH1 Classic. Even when I'm watching country music videos, I'll flip to the all video channels rather than the regular channels. When original programming appears on any regular music channel, I almost always pick up the remote. I understand that I'm not MTV's target audience, but I didn't age out of that audience. MTV decided my viewership didn't matter. But that makes sense, because my money is not green, it's plastic.

July 21, 2006

I guess they haven't over-reacted enough

I've witnessed the disturbing manner in which many Phillies phans have rushed to convict pitcher Brett Myers. I haven't changed my mind about how to process his situation as a phan. His reputation is in shambles, most likely due to his own actions, but he does not deserve the rush to judgment. There will be time to condemn Mr. Myers later, should a conviction or guilty plea come. I think that's still the reasonable view, which is why this story about his scheduled start tomorrow is bizarre to me:

Local groups dedicated to ending domestic violence have no plans to protest tomorrow's Phillies game. Brett Myers is scheduled to make his first appearance at Citizens Bank Park since being charged with domestic assault and battery on his wife in Boston during the early morning of June 23.

"We are not planning a protest and I'm not aware of anyone who is," Heather Keafer of Women Against Abuse said yesterday. "I think the fans have had great response in the past, and I'm hopeful they'll continue their pressure to make sure that he's held accountable for his actions."

If they were planning to protest a man who is innocent until proven guilty, I'd be among those (maybe a party of one) protesting the protest. But to the point raised in this initial excerpt, that last sentence doesn't bode well. I shouldn't have to stop momentarily to point out that Mr. Myers's actions are still alleged. Ms. Keafer's call for the continued abandonment of American legal principles by the public is disturbing. Is she so unsure of the public's acceptance that she's on the correct side that she must encourage the mob's mentality?


Keafer said the Phillies met last week with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence in an effort to develop a domestic violence policy. Women Against Abuse and three other domestic violence agencies in the city are members of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

"They've had one meeting so far, and part of that proposal is also to help support the Philadelphia domestic violence hotline, which is run by Women Against Abuse and three other domestic violence providers in Philadelphia," Keafer said. "What we're trying to do now is work with our state coalition to help the Phillies come up with a domestic violence policy and possible inclusion in their code of conduct.

It's not a stretch to say that domestic violence is unacceptable. I doubt the Phillies disagreed before the alleged incident involving Brett Myers and his wife. Given their actions since his arrest, however belated (and over-reactionary) they may have been, it's reasonable to assume the team understands the seriousness of this issue. They get the message, like everyone else. No surprise there. So why is this (alleged) incident by a player sufficient to encourage what appears to be nothing more than a shakedown of the Phillies?

July 17, 2006

No society looks good in this debate


Writing in the British Medical Journal, Ronan Conroy, senior lecturer at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, says the growing acceptance in Britain and elsewhere of so-called "designer vaginas" was exposing Western double standards.

"The practice of female genital mutilation is on the increase nowhere in the world except in our so-called developed societies," he writes. "Designer laser vaginoplasty" and "laser vaginal rejuvenation" are growth areas in plastic surgery, representing the latest chapter in the surgical victimisation of women in our culture."

I think women choosing to have their genitalia surgically altered is strange, at best, but defining this as female genital mutilation is absurd. As I've mentioned before with male circumcision, which is worth expanding to include women, I don't care what adults choose to do to their bodies. If women want to succumb to bizarre societal norms that may or may not be real, they should be able to choose that for themselves. Research it or not, have a good time. I hope it works out for them. But in that context, it's cosmetic surgery. This is not that:

Mr Conroy writes: "It is Western medicine which, by a process of disease mongering, is driving the advance of female genital mutilation by promoting the fear in women that what is natural biological variation is a defect."

There was an assumption by Western critics that in the developing world the practice was forced on young girls. In fact, it was often welcomed as the mark of entry into adulthood and they were proud of it, he said. "The high moral tone with which those in richer countries criticise female genital mutilation would be more credible if we in the North had not practised and did not continue to practise it," he added.

We in the West are barbarians for allowing adult cosmetic surgery, and that's somehow analogous to girls having genital surgery forced on them? No. Where is Mr. Conroy's attack on adult male circumcision as male genital mutilation, since society perpetuates the myth that men are defective without surgery? Would he then defend infant male circumcision because most men in the West grow to think that their circumcision is wonderful? The whole idea is preposterous.

Men and women should be allowed to choose any body-modifying surgery they wish for themselves. But only for themselves. Genital mutilation¹ of children is wrong, whether it's done on girls or boys. Adults can consent. Children can't. That is the travesty, not the way some adults choose to disfigure themselves.

¹ Some will challenge the use of mutilation to describe male circumcision. Consider the World Health Organization's definition of female circumcision, which is most often called female genital mutilation:

"All procedures involving partial or total removal of the external female genitalia or other injury to the female genital organs whether for cultural, religious or other non-therapeutic reasons."

What makes female genitalia more worthy of protection than male genitalia? Male circumcision involves partial removal and injury to the genital organs, so the conclusion is the same. Circumcision for non-therapuetic reasons is mutilation.

June 27, 2006

Just vote on it, already

Sen. Arlen Specter is a genius. How else to describe such brilliant words defending our nation's immediate need to alter the Constitution in word and spirit to protect the flag:

"I think it's important to focus on the basic fact that the text of the First Amendment, the text of the Constitution, the text of the Bill of Rights is not involved," Specter argued.

I don't understand that, so I can only assume he knows more than me. Thank God he's a United States Senator. Mere mortals who can't understand what he said shouldn't be allowed to disagree. Imagine the damage that could cause.

Of course, I am also thankful for Sen. Orrin Hatch.

"They say that flag burning is a rare occurrence; it is not that rare," he told the chamber. An aide hoisted a large blue poster detailing 17 incidents of flag desecration over three years. Hatch, citing "an ongoing offense against common decency," read them all. "That's just mentioning some that we know of; there's a lot more than that, I'm sure," he said.

That is 5.67 flag burnings per year, or 0.0000000189 for every man, woman, and child in America. Don't worry, I'm doing my part being pissed off. And holy crap, am I ever offended by flag burnings that nobody knows about. Sweet Hell, I won't be able to sleep tonight.

June 26, 2006

Reckless disregard of our history

Like many people, I saw the scare tactics masquerading as news this weekend surrounding the New York Times. Fox News ran a story with "Is the New York Times risking American lives," or some such nonsense. I don't know enough to go in-depth, but I'm always inclined to side with the First Amendment as a default position. That's why I found this essay particularly interesting. Instapundit found this section particularly useful, in a bit of "gotcha" mentality to the New York Times, I think. I disagree.

Why does the Times print stories that put America more at risk of attack? They say that these surveillance programs are subject to abuse, but give no reason to believe that this concern is anything but theoretical.

I don't believe these stories put America more at risk, for the simple reason that I believe anyone who would attack America is (unfortunately) smart enough to assume all of the top secret programs the New York Times writes about. I think that's a reasonable assumption for anyone interested in winning against the threat we face, rather than winning against the threat we face, as long as the right team does the ass-kicking. I have no time for partisanship in this war. So, I don't think the New York Times is putting America at more risk of attack. On the contrary, I suspect it will lead to increased preparedness when intelligent people understand that our enemies must be taken seriously. The anti-bigotry of soft expectations, as the case may be.

As such, I find the second sentence in that excerpt more informative. Every bit of the Constitution protects against theoretical future abuses. That civilization had thousands of years to grasp how dangerous government can be when given power, our Constitution is designed to safeguard us from such future excesses. The founders knew that waiting to protect the people from abuses until after the abuse will only encourage abuse. Hence, the Constitution. And the First Amendment.

More thoughts at A Stitch in Haste.

June 07, 2006

Save us from the family-hating smut peddlers

Some of my favorite topics don't currently inspire much motivation in me. Although I'll continue to write about them, and enthusiasm will return, it's hard to pump up the cheerleading squad when an issue's outcome is mostly pre-ordained.

The next raunchy expression or inappropriate show of skin could cost a radio or television broadcaster up to $325,000 in fines under a bill heading toward congressional passage.

The House is to vote Wednesday on the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act, which would increase maximum fines the Federal Communications Commission can levy for indecent material on the airwaves tenfold from the current top punishment of $32,500.

The Senate approved the legislation last month and the president is expected to sign it into law.

I suppose showing a same-sex marriage on television will soon constitute obscenity. Until we get politicians who care more about the Constitution and liberty, and less about ideology and pandering to specific constituents, the fight seems almost worthless. I can mention the First Amendment 500 times, but this lack of logic is all the passes for justification today:

"By raising the fines to $325,000, I am confident that broadcasters will think twice about pushing the envelope, and our kids will be better for it," said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.

How will our kids be better for it? By not learning about boundaries because they're never experienced? By learning that boundaries are to be artificially placed by authority rather than self-monitored by the logical consequences of an action in the framework of a free society? I'm sure those are the best lessons to teach our children to preserve the Union.

Not to mention:

Tougher penalties for broadcast indecency violations have been a high priority of conservative groups such as the Family Research Council, which said the bill would go "a long way in raising that cost for the networks that violate decency standards in a quest for higher ratings."

Or it'll go a short way in pushing "indecent" material to pay services. While I'm comfortable with paying for entertainment as a business model, it should be within a Constitutional boundary. Buying Howard Stern on Sirius is excellent as a delivery channel, since I can listen when I want, but it's a bastardized interpretation of the Constitution that's gotten us to this point. That needs to stop, but I don't know when we'll replace our politicians with leaders. Until then, bastardized is better than ignored.

Bastardized only applies to the Congress. The Executive branch is beyond the "ignored" stage. That is desecration at its worst. Congressional inaction on the administration's activities borders on the same. As only splitting hairs allows me to separate the two.

May 22, 2006

Finally, something for the children

Following up on this post from December, here's a minor victory out of Canada:

Circumcisions will no longer be performed on newborn boys at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, hospital officials announced Friday.

The move comes in response to the investigation into the case of a boy who was mistakenly circumcised at the hospital last November.

There's a reason this victory for common sense requires a qualifier.

Since receiving the review, the chief medical officer at St. Boniface has decided not to reinstate the program, which was suspended after the incident.

Dr. Bruce Roe, the hospital's chief medical officer, said it was "more appropriate" for circumcisions to take place in outpatient clinics after the family has been released from the hospital.

It's more appropriate for circumcisions to take place for medically-necessary reasons only. If that requires an outpatient clinic or a hospital, so be it. Is it any more inappropriate to carry out a circumcision on a newborn (male) whose parents have consented than it is to carry it out on a newborn (male) whose parents have not consented? As we implement the law today, the answer is "yes". But when we stop ignoring the elephant in the room, we understand that the answer is clearly "no". Regardless of the reason given by the child's parents, he has not given his consent to the cosmetic surgery. That should be enough to stop the hideous practice of routine infant circumcision.

This decision is a victory for the rights of infant males in Canada, but for too many children born at St. Boniface, it will be only a temporary reprieve. That makes it minor.

Banning the two "F" words

This morning, like every morning, I woke up to Howard Stern. Usually it's a good way to ease into the day. A few laughs, a little banter, and pop culture references. It's worth $12.95 per month. Usually.

This morning, I awoke to Stern discussing an article in yesterday's New York Times by Nicholas Kristof. It's titled "Killer Girl Scouts". Lovely, huh? I couldn't read the article because I don't waste my money on Times Select, but the one sentence synopsis, "Beware of cute little girls bearing trans fats", is enough to know I disagree.

Stern offered a summary, with commentary, on the article, and that's what got me fired up today. From what he said, it's the same argument that we're getting fatter, the evil corporations don't care, our government-financed health care is going bankrupt, and something needs to be done now. The article (apparently) includes an example from Denmark in which the government requires that trans fat be no greater than 2% of a food item. McDonald's chicken nuggets in Denmark have .33 grams of trans fat, while the same chicken nuggets have 10+ grams of trans fat in America. Outrageous.

So maybe they are trying to kill us, right? The solution, according to Stern? You know what's coming, don't you? That's right. Pass a law. Force companies to limit the trans fat in the food products they sell to us, the unwitting dolts who can't make conscious, responsible decisions for ourselves. We shouldn't stop financing health care with public funds to prevent the system from going bankrupt, that would be too obvious. We should outlaw bad food, instead. For a brief moment, I wanted to cancel my subscription.

Again, since it's not clear, the free market can take care of this "problem". If a person is responsible for his own health care costs, isn't he more likely to take care of himself, by his own actions? And if not, why should we care? He'll pay the higher costs. He can make that rational decision of which is more important, dollars or Thin Mints.

Stern's next topic made this morning's discussion especially frustrating. He launched into his commentary about the Senate voting to increase fines for "indecency" on public airwaves. His current stance is motivated by business interests, and I think, a little hope at exposing Congressional hypocrisy. He applauded the Senate's action, even though he acknowledged that it's an affront to the Constitution. The increased fines will only help satellite radio, of course.

I see the humor in that, but can't stand the double standard for freedom that Stern's dual positions represent. He accepts that the Constitution protects free speech from the whims of Congress, noting that the free market can handle what the public wants and needs. Satellite radio is sufficient proof, although that's not an excuse to allow Congress to continue its election-year crusade to protect us all. Which is what it comes down to, isn't it? Protecting us from ourselves.

We're too sensitive to hear swearing on the radio, so Congress should protect us. We're too irresponsible to eat our vegetables, so Congress should protect us. Both are symptoms of the same disease. Politicians take their direction from the few who are vocal enough to make their preferences known, regardless of the damage to liberty. Paternalism arrives marketed as leadership. And most of us decide where we stand on each individual issue by determining which we prefer. In Stern's case, he hates healthy food and loves freedom of speech, regardless of the underlying principles.

Me, I think we should all be vegans, but I love liberty more.

May 16, 2006

Gladys Kravitz would love this debate

I don't have much more to add to the immigration debate right now. I didn't watch President Bush's speech last night because my grass needed to be cut. From what I know of it, I'm not optimistic that's it will end up being more than pandering to xenophobes. I hope I'm wrong. This essay at TCS Daily offers hope for learning how economic reality works, even if it implies we'll learn the hard way. Consider:

Recently, Georgia has passed what has been called the nation's toughest laws against the hiring of illegal immigrants. But if Georgia was unwilling or unable to enforce a law that applied to the relatively few window tinting shops in its state, what prospect is there that it will be willing or able to enforce a law that applies to the vast multitude of small businesses that hire illegals: restaurants, construction firms, landscaping companies, just to name a few? Yes, examples can be made of a few big companies, but it defies credibility to suppose that the law will be rigorously applied to the thousand smaller businesses that hire illegal aliens -- and these businesses are perfectly aware of this fact. Their very smallness protects them.

Herein lies the drawback to laws that are passed by legislative bodies solely to prove to their constituents that they, the legislators, are really doing something. "See," the legislators can tell the voters back home, "we are really cracking down on illegal immigrants by making tougher laws." ...

I agree, it defies credibility that the law will be rigorously applied to all. Unfortunately, this is a significantly more inflammatory issue than window-tinting. While no government could ever fully enforce such a law as our enforcement strategies exist today, I suspect they'll try. Hello larger, more intrusive government.

National IDs? We need to keep them out, which means we need to know who should be here, so check. National employment database? We need "real-time" access to employment eligibility, so check that one, too. How long before we require business customers to become non-deputized snitches enforce the laws through "voluntary" reporting to the government? Remember, these same "do something" legislators will need to do something to appease the constituency when Joe Citizen still sees brown people doing the jobs Americans won't do.

Again, I agree it defies credible logic. I remain pessimistic that we'll learn our lesson before we see harm to our economy and/or an increase in government.

May 15, 2006

I'm sure Jesus would've blamed gays, too.

The Homosexual Agenda™ is coming for your religion, but the American Family Association is fighting back [no emphasis added]:

On June 6th the U.S. Senate will vote on the constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

Time is short! It is critical that you contact your senators and ask them to vote for the Marriage Protection Amendment (MPA).

Once homosexual marriage is legal, our religious liberties will be stripped away. Even pro-homosexual marriage advocates agree with that statement. To understand how this will happen, please take time read Dr. Maggie Gallaghers rather long and accurate article by clicking here. Print it out and give a copy to your pastor!

Wow. I guess in today's anti-intellectual environment, in which science can be ignored, I shouldn't be surprised at how easy it is for some to make blanket statements with no factual support. Mr. Wildmon is so confident in his understanding of what "pro-homosexual marriage advocates" believe. I wonder how he might know that? Anyway, it's good to understand that approaching government with libertarian principles would make the argument meaningless. Instead, groups like the American Family Association have adopted the strategy that its will must prevail for all, just like the alleged Homosexual Agenda™ it so despises. There is no faster way to creating exactly the government-imposed sensitivity they fear. Brilliant strategy, AFA.

May 10, 2006

Conclusion: The journey means nothing

I love theories:

Several colleges and universities are reporting significant declines in average scores on the new SAT test, leading many high school counselors and college admissions officers to conclude that the longer exam is wearing out test takers and hurting their performance.

USA Today, which reported the score drops in today's edition, said some colleges reported no score declines but others reported large drops, such as 28 points at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Penn., and 23 points at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Tex.

Is it possible that the average student applying to some of these schools is different than in the past? More people being enticed to apply to college, the football team is winning, or some other factor? Probable? Who knows, and really, who cares... What's important is the simple fact that standardized tests shouldn't be such a huge factor in the application process. If the test is too exhausting, imagine what four years of high school is like. Or, the admissions offices could just look at the transcript of those four years that (allegedly) filter into that test.

The result could also just be the result of our nationalized education system dumbing our students into being able to regurgitate facts without any critical thinking. Perhaps that has something to do with this:

Charles A. Deacon, dean of admissions at Georgetown University, said the average applicant for his freshman class had a score on those two sections 7 points below last year's average. He said his own study of the old and new tests suggests the drop may be explained by more emphasis on reading in the new test, which has for years gotten lower scores than writing.

When in doubt, resort back to the most basic assumption of what education should be. In the business world, I don't care if someone knows a few trivia questions. A thinking person could find that in under a minute with Google and a few keystrokes. Give me someone who knows how to analyze and solve problems. I don't believe I'm alone. Athletes don't train for marathons by driving 26.2 miles every day. Learning is no different.

Perhaps a Madison descendant, instead?

Dynastic arrogance is one reason, among many, that I will not vote for Hilary Clinton in 2008 if she wins the nomination. So what does President Bush have to gain with the same thinking, especially at a time when America seems to be disinclined to buy the Bush brand name.

"I would like to see Jeb run at some point in time, but I have no idea if that's his intention or not," [President] Bush said in an interview with Florida reporters, according to a story on the St. Petersburg Times Web site.

If that sounds familiar, the Bush brothers' father, former president George H.W. Bush, made a similar statement last year, telling CNN's Larry King that Jeb Bush would be "awfully good" as president.

"This guy's smart, big and strong. Makes the decisions," the first President Bush said then.

Can we please have a viable third party candidate in 2008? Some sense of a respect for America would be helpful.

May 09, 2006

Should death certificates cite "Insufficient Socialism"?

I don't know if this is the alleged cause as determined by the study or if it's a bias slipped in by the journalist reporting on the study, but this bit from a story on infant mortality rates, and how America is second only to Latvia among the industrialized world in infant deaths. Consider:

The researchers also said lack of national health insurance and short maternity leaves likely contribute to the poor U.S. rankings.

Saying that lack of national health insurance is a cause is the same as saying that I still have student loans because I didn't have a rich benefactor when I graduated from college. It's one possible argument, but it's preposterous to think of it as causative, or even related, really. I have student loans because I racked up credit card debt during college. Where many people my age paid down student loans, I paid Visa.

In the case of this study, health insurance affordability and access may (and probably do) have a significant contributory impact to high infant mortality rates. Preventive care works wonders, as we surely know by now. But there is no way to realistically gauge that national health insurance is the solution to reducing infant deaths. Any reasonable study of economics suggests it could reduce the rate, but at the likely expense of some other group. What trade-offs shall we start making to get the preferred ideological solution to health care in America? Or would it make sense to say that inadequate health care access and affordability are contributing factors, and work to find a solution to that conundrum that leaves open a much broader range of options? Remember, keeping kids alive and healthy is supposed to be the goal.

May 05, 2006

Is this the exception to the general truth?

From today's Opinion Journal:

Need an antidote to the Moussaoui verdict? Go out this weekend to see "United 93."
Zacarias Moussaoui is lucky the jurors at his sentencing trial weren't allowed to see the movie "United 93" the day before reaching a verdict. If they had, rather than handing him life in prison, it is likely that one or more of the jurors would have come out of the box to deliver the death sentence himself--just as the four doomed men on Flight 93 charged their hijackers to stop its fanatic pilots from flying the airliner into another American building.

I wonder if Peggy Noonan still believes that Americans are ambivalent about the death penalty?

Some will say the Moussaoui life sentence merely proves that we in the U.S. are beyond biblical justice, beyond an eye for an eye, even if our Islamic enemies do not bother to claim any grievance larger than resentment to justify the most startling slaughter of innocents all over the world. This argument--that the refusal to impose the death penalty on Moussaoui shows "we are not like them"--might have been entertainable before September 11. It may no longer be.

Guilty, I guess, but it'll take more than saying that the world changed on September 11th to convince me my viewpoint is wrong. It's the same excuse used for why we must give up some of our liberties in the pursuit of safety. The argument doesn't work there, either.

... But perhaps you no longer know September 11 as well as you think. In this week of the Moussaoui life sentence, it is pertinent to ask whether the days and seasons we've traveled from the time of September 11 have returned the people of America to a routine that feels more normal than perhaps it should. Our sense of normalcy may not be in our best interest.

As an example, one thought that occurred in the hour after seeing "United 93" had to do with the recent debate in the U.S. over the warrantless wiretapping of suspected phone calls between terrorists. In that hour, this "debate" seemed quite otherworldly. It is unlikely that in the first six months after September 11 Sen. Arlen Specter would ever have thought to intone that the wiretapping program was "in flat violation" of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. But he does now. Times change.

I'm blogging the essay as I'm reading it, so my response here is a mix of laughter and defeat. Can the Wall Street Journal's editors become any more apologetic for the Bush Administration's desecration of the Constitution?

There is reason to believe that pre-9/11 thinking will in time return and prevail.
Defenders of Moussaoui's life sentence say he will "rot in prison." Perhaps in a better world Zacarias Moussaoui would share a cell with Hannibal Lecter. But if our moral betters aren't going to let Saddam's torturers rot in Abu Ghraib, if they aren't going to let the CIA's most important al Qaeda captives rot in "secret" foreign prisons, they certainly aren't going to let Moussaoui rot in Florence, Colo. He will be treated more than well.

I used the word "rot" this morning, so I'll the criticism. But perhaps the editors should research the definition of "rot". It is not synonymous with "torture". So, again, I refer back to Ms. Noonan's words I quoted this morning. People who deplore Moussaoui's life sentence as a lack of testicular fortitude by the jury aren't what I'd term "ambivalent" about the death penalty.

Not to mention the Moussaoui trial itself. ... But our moral betters insist that the whole lot of Guantanamo detainees be given access to this same system of justice. They would diminish and crush it.

How weak is our justice system, really, if it keeps someone like Moussaoui from attacking America during the four years of his trial? Him making clearly ludicrous statements, proving that he's a psychopath more than anything, is a threat to our country? I guess this is the part where I remember that words are dangerous, our Republic can't withstand criticism, and might is right.

I suppose I'm soft and not a patriot

I disagree with most of Peggy Noonan's remorse and dismay that Zacarias Moussaoui didn't receive the death penalty, but this seems particularly insincere:

I happen, as most adults do, to feel a general ambivalence toward the death penalty. But I know why it exists. It is the expression of a certitude, of a shared national conviction, about the value of a human life. It says the deliberate and planned taking of a human life is so serious, such a wound to justice, such a tearing at the human fabric, that there is only one price that is justly paid for it, and that is the forfeiting of the life of the perpetrator. It is society's way of saying that murder is serious, dreadfully serious, the most serious of all human transgressions. It is not a matter of vengeance. Murder can never be avenged, it can only be answered.

I hope I'm not the only person calling bullshit on that. It's absolutely about vengeance. Otherwise, why all the pictures and interviews with family members of the September 11th victims? Why the sobbing testimony rehashing the gruesome details of that day and how it's affected us since?

That day was awful. As much as we'd like it to do so, killing Moussaoui would never lessen that wound. The worst fate he can suffer now is to be relegated to the past. His lies and deceptions achieved his goals once. Imposing the death penalty would only increase his murderous impact. That's not a sufficient reason to spare him, but we're not the murderous thugs. This time, the jury didn't forget that.

Post Script: It doesn't sound like his incarceration will be a picnic, for those who want him to suffer.

April 26, 2006

Giving new meaning to "freeway"

There are circumstances sufficient to justify a social safety net. Although private would be better, government-provided is possible. This isn't one of those circumstances:

Some California drivers are resorting to desperate measures to beat the surge in gas prices at the pump -- deliberately running dry on the state's freeways and simply waiting for rescue.

... part of a publicly funded patrol that gives a free gallon of gas to drivers who have run out of fuel.

I accept that stranded motorists can be a safety hazard, but who are these idiots who would run out of gas on purpose to save three, maybe four, dollars? And why should the taxpayers foot the bill? It's not an imaginative leap to think the taxpayers state should bill all stranded motorists. I've also heard of a fascinating service called AAA, but they don't operate on the public dime, so I see the lack of appeal.

April 22, 2006

In other news, one is less than two

It's always annoying amusing when elderly people win huge jackpots in casinos or state lotterys. They're always fun little stories that follow a quick pattern. As shown by today's edition of this tale, it's location in the "Oddly Enough" section demonstrates its overall importance. Yet, I clicked through.

Unfortunately, now I must mock the unnamed writer:

Great-grandmother Josephine Crawford of nearby Galloway Township was playing the nickel slots in Harrah's casino in the game where each play costs 5 cents, or a nickel.

A nickel slot costs 5 cents, or a nickel? Who would've guessed? Does that mean a quarter slot is 25 cents, or a quarter? Perhaps that's simplifying the story beyond the "average reader's" need. Find me someone who is old enough to play a slot machine and I'll guess she understands how much money she needs to play one spin.

Update: In the comments Kip explains what really happened, i.e. what Reuters ignored. Of course, I missed it, too, but it's Saturday, so I blame Reuters.

April 21, 2006

Is an innocent billionaire in prison successful?

Yesterday, President Bush hosted Chinese President Hu Jintao. During the course of their joint press conference, President Bush made an interesting statement:

As the relationship between our two nations grows and matures, we can be candid about our disagreements. I'll continue to discuss with President Hu the importance of respecting human rights and freedoms of the Chinese people.

China's become successful because the Chinese people are experience (sic) the freedom to buy and to sell and to produce. And China can grow even more successful by allowing the Chinese people the freedom to assemble, to speak freely and to worship.

China is not successful. No amount of money can justify not having the freedom to assemble, to speak freely and to worship (or to not worship... that's important, too). Money is good, but I'll take freedom every time if the deal is one or the other. I suspect that more than a few Chinese agree.

April 18, 2006

Headlines Can Be Misleading

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you read this headline?

Bush Picks Portman as Budget Director

Right, me too. President Bush needs to shake up his administration, but it takes a creative decider to choose Senator Padm Naberrie Amidala to serve as director of the Office of Management and Budget. Only after opening the article did I discover that it's not Natalie Portman, but U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman instead. I think the mistake is understandable, so count me among the disheartened.

April 14, 2006

Networks finally understand the Constitution

Even though lawsuits like this shouldn't be necessary, it's about time the broadcast networks grew a set:

Four TV broadcast networks and their affiliates have filed court challenges to a March 15 Federal Communications Commission ruling that found several programs "indecent" because of language.

ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox, along with their network affiliate associations and the Hearst-Argyle Television group of stations, filed notices of appeal in various federal courts, including in Washington D.C. and New York. Some were filed late Thursday and the rest Friday morning.

The move represents a protest against the aggressive enforcement of federal indecency rules that broadcasters have complained are vague and inconsistently applied. Millions of dollars in fines have been levied based on those rules.

The networks need to fight the censorship coming from the FCC more often every time. That won't happen, but this gives hope that maybe they're growing a spine. It's an infant spine, sure, but it's a start.

Personally, I like this:

The networks and affiliate groups, representing more than 800 individual stations, issued a rare joint statement Friday calling the FCC ruling "unconstitutional and inconsistent with two decades of previous FCC decisions.

"In filing these court appeals we are seeking to overturn the FCC decisions that the broadcast of fleeting, isolated _ and in some cases unintentional _ words rendered these programs indecent."

"Unconstitutional and inconsistent with two decades..." Blah, blah, blah. They should've just stopped with unconstitutional. Using the less severe, but equally offensive, censorship practiced by the FCC for the last two decades as a defense only invites the court to rely on tradition rather than the Constitution. Given how frequently that seems to be happening lately, I want the courts to use clearly absurd logic to insert tradition into "Congress shall make no law..." Instead, we'll maybe get the status quo from last year. Big deal.

FCC spokeswoman Tamara Lipper said Friday that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled more than 20 years ago that comedian George Carlin's monologue on the "7 dirty words you can't say on television and radio" was indecent.

"Today, Disney, Fox and CBS challenged that precedent and argued that they should be able to air two of those same words," Lipper said. "We are reviewing their filings."

What's to review? That ruling was wrong then, and it's wrong now. The Constitution should still prevail over the scared, puritan hacks reading, "interpreting", and "enforcing" it. At some point, the national mommies and daddies in the Federal government need to stop being nanny-statists.

April 05, 2006

Your neighbor has to pay for your broccoli

More information on the Massachusetts bill requiring universal health care coverage.

"We insist that everybody who drives a car has insurance," [Gov. Mitt] Romney said in an interview. "And cars are a lot less expensive than people."

I'm dismayed to see that a likely presidential candidate's thinking is so evolved that he compares people to cars. It would be an effective analogy if he hadn't forgotten that a car is a choice that poses a known hazard to other people, which in turn imparts legal liability on the owner. If I choose to carry no health insurance and I get sick, I face the financial burden of that choice. Big difference. Naturally, Gov. Romney hoped to imply that the financial burden placed on society from uninsured individuals requiring medical attention. That's a reasonable debate, but instead of going for the reasonable, he aimed low to appeal to the simple-minded who want government to manage everyone's life. Or at least everyone else's life.

This is, I suspect, the target for this new legislation:

But no state, experts say, has taken the step of making health insurance coverage a legal requirement. The idea was applauded by Uwe E. Reinhardt, a professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, who said that he has long believed that the American system of allowing uninsured patients to receive care at the government's expense was nothing more than "freedom to mooch."

I can hear the chorus of cheers coming from market-driven liberals progressives (it's a faint cheer), but the overall idea looks a little different when considering the final portion of Prof. Reinhardt's statement:

"Massachusetts is the first state in America to reach full adulthood," said Reinhardt, noting that the new measure is a move toward personal responsibility. "The rest of America is still in adolescence."

Only in modern America, with our full complement of government parentalism, could anyone consider forced action to be personal responsibility and adulthood. I could wear a penguin suit to work tomorrow, but that won't make me a penguin.

As for the plan itself, if this is what providing a conservative, private sector solution looks like, I'm giving up.

Uninsured people earning less than the federal poverty threshold would be able to purchase subsidized policies that have no premiums, and would be responsible for very small co-payment fees for emergency-room visits and other services. Those earning between that amount and three times the poverty-level amount would be able to buy subsidized policies with premiums based on their ability to pay. Though no maximum premium is set in the bill, legislators' intent seems to be for it to top out at about $200 to $250 per month.

All residents will have to provide details about their health insurance policy on their state income tax returns in 2008. Those who do not have insurance would first lose their personal state tax exemption, perhaps worth $150, and later face penalties equal to half the cost of the cheapest policy they should have bought. That might work out to $1,200 per year, officials said. Those who cannot find an affordable plan could obtain a waiver.

I might give up anyway. Please, someone in Massachusetts, step back from the nanny-state abyss and think about what this really means. I'd love for it to succeed, but I'm only promising that I won't say "I told you so" when it fails to deliver the hoped-for outcome. Rather than babble on further, I'll let yesterday's hero, Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, fill you all with his words of inspiration:

"We did something to solve the problem," he said.

Do you think he'll stand on "we did something" or "solve the problem" when this blows up?

For a smart take on this: National Review

April 03, 2006

Tales of the Weird, with a bit of insight

This story about three men arrested for allegedly performing castrations without a medical license is disturbing enough, needing no extra analysis. However, this quote from Charlotte, N.C. District Attorney Michael Bonfoey jumped out at me. Consider:

"Assuming that the victims consented to this _ and we don't know that for sure yet _ that doesn't make it a defense," Bonfoey said. "We can't have people who are not medical doctors lopping off limbs and other body parts."

Mr. Bonfoey is so close to the correct answer on the concept of consent and the removal of "other body parts". Yet, somehow, I suspect he's so far away from the truth in understanding how people can (legally) run afoul of medical ethics.

March 24, 2006

Safety is voluntary?

How does this work, from a story about a child who died of lead poisoning, allegedly from a promotional piece of jewelry given away by Reebok?

Since 2003, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has announced 13 recalls of metal jewelry, involving nearly 162 million pieces, citing the risk of lead poisoning. Three of those recalls, including Reebok's, were announced yesterday.

More are likely as the agency continues to enforce its voluntary guidelines, issued a year ago, limiting lead in children's jewelry to no more than 600 parts per million in any component. "This isn't the last lead jewelry recall you will see," said CPSC spokeswoman Julie Vallese.

I have no opinion on the guidelines. I haven't read them, so I couldn't begin to be insightful. But how does an agency begin to enforce voluntary guidelines? Do this or we'll be really angry? Don't do that or we'll wave our fingers in your general direction? Seriously, I don't get it. I'm sure it works something like the FCC's system of fines. Offenders don't have to pay, but there's always the chance that the next broadcast license renewal might not go so well. This is effective? There has to be a better way.

March 22, 2006

College is not about collecting notes

It's reassuring, I guess, that whining is universal across industries. A professor at the University of Memphis banned laptops from her class.

On March 6, Professor June Entman warned her first-year law students by e-mail to bring pens and paper to take notes in class.

"My main concern was they were focusing on trying to transcribe every word that was I saying, rather than thinking and analyzing," Entman said Monday. "The computers interfere with making eye contact. You've got this picket fence between you and the students."

What's the issue? The law isn't about rote memorization, to my knowledge. I'd rather my attorney be able to tell me what precedents and facts mean than I care when a case was decided and in whose favor. Having been a graduate (MBA) student, I'm aware of the lack of understanding from trying too hard to capture every word. My style of learning may or may not be common, but I learned the most in classes where I paid attention. Strange, I know, but it might work for Professor Entman's students, too. Considering Professor Entman's students filed a complaint with the American Bar Association that was dismissed might indicate that she knows more than they do about the law.

Of further note is this tidbit:

"If we continue without laptops, I'm out of here. I'm gone; I won't be able to keep up," said student Cory Winsett, who said his hand-written notes are incomplete and less organized.

At some point in the 20th century, someone invented the tape recorder. Later in the 20th century, someone invented the digital voice recorder. Is it possible that Mr. Winsett and his fellow classmates could transcribe the class discussion during their post-class studies? Maybe they could take turns or request that Professor Entman offer her class as a podcast.

Of course, if I was in Professor Entman's position, I might not institute a ban on laptops since that punishes the students who use them responsibly. Instead, I might just make class participation more important in each student's grade. If the student can't keep up because of poor note-taking strategy, he or she will adapt or fail. That seems like a reasonable early test for future lawyers.

I make that suggestion with full acceptance that I don't know how much participation she requires. I assume it's greater than nothing, but I could be wrong as to the practicality of my suggestion.

March 15, 2006

Breaking News: Loud music causes hearing damage

I've written before about the misguided claim that Something Must Be Done about the potential for hearing damage resulting from unwise use of iPods and similar mp3 players. I didn't mention any inevitable government busybody involvement at the time because I didn't think further than the absurd lawsuit. I should have.

More research is needed to determine whether popular portable music players like Apple Computer Inc.'s iPod increase the risk of hearing loss, the National Institutes of Health said in response to a U.S. lawmaker's request for a review of the issue.

The proximity of the source of the sound to the ears can contribute to hearing loss, but "more research is required to determine if a particular type (of earphone) increases the risk," said James Battey, director of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, in the NIH letter.

Rep. Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, sent a letter on January 26 asking NIH to review research to determine whether portable music players are contributing to premature hearing loss as well as to recommend what people can do to prevent it from happening.

Study it. I'm not going to complain too much, but mostly because I know it wouldn't help. And the findings can be useful in pointing out the obvious helping people better understand the risks in a way that pain and tinnitus from listening too loudly could never accomplish. Of course, it would also be prudent for companies that market mp3 players to study possible effects, since legal liability, rational or not, might be involved. Again, all of that is more good than bad. But Congress can't contain itself. This next quote portends where this story will end:

"Kids are often more familiar with these products than parents, but they don't realize how harmful these products can be to hearing," he said. "It can lead to a lifelong ailment."

And there you go. Can we please save the money on the research and just write the report and the corresponding legislation now? At least if we're going to be intentionally stupid, we should be efficient in achieving it.

March 14, 2006

They were for the Constitution before they were against it

Two interesting tidbits from this story about proposed spending cuts increases cuts before Congress. First, Sen. Arlen Specter impersonating Rep. Tom Delay:

"We're beyond cutting the fat and beyond the bone. We're down to the marrow," said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who plans to introduce an amendment today to raise spending on health care, education and worker safety by billions of dollars above the president's request for next year.

I suppose a cheesy smile for the mug shot camera is next up on Sen. Specter's busy agenda? Here's a hint: check the Constitution and you'll find the general guidelines for where Congress should be spending federal dollars. There may be a few unwritten implications since the founders couldn't possibly have foreseen how significantly the world would change in the first few centuries of the Republic. However, I'm fairly certain they knew about areas such as education. Somehow that oversight probably wasn't implied. Resume cost-cutting there.

Next, this engaging theory:

Reps. Daniel E. Lungren (R-Calif.) and Jane Harman (D-Calif.) plan to unveil legislation today that would raise spending on port security by $801 million a year. That bill nearly equals a bipartisan Senate legislation that would raise annual port security spending by $835 million. Both bills are scheduled for quick action in the House and Senate homeland security committees in the coming weeks.

Proponents of the measures say the government has avoided such spending for too long under the guise of fiscal restraint. Three times since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the House has voted against Democratic efforts to raise spending on port security. But in the wake of a Dubai company's effort to take over management responsibilities at six major U.S. ports, such opposition appears to be collapsing.

"There simply is no cheap way to be better prepared," Lieberman said yesterday.

There isn't a direct connection between port security and spending reductions, but I'm sure a reasonable person could indirectly link over-spending on non-federal issues (and pork barrel madness) with a reduced availability to fund legitimate federal needs like national security. Granted, I don't have the wisdom of a congressman, so it's just a thought. I'm just saying that "no cheap way" doesn't mean we should just throw money around because it makes us feel better. For instance, on health care and education. Maybe if we spent only on legitimate funding needs, we'd stop worrying about cheap and stop focusing on effective.

March 11, 2006

D.C. gets the government it deserves

I'd planned to go into more detail about Wednesday's hearing weighing the merits of a proposed flat tax experiment in D.C. I would've discussed Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton's simple-minded objections and the progressive taxation double-standard she wants to perpetuate. Now that I'm writing the post, I'm unmotivated by the specifics of the issue. All sides are interested in ideological sound bites more than intelligent reform.

Instead, I wish Congress would "experiment" with a flat tax for the whole nation, but I'm paying attention enough to see that Congress has shown no will in recent years to address serious tax reform. If it wants to talk a big game about trying an optional flat tax experiment in the District, that's wonderful. Maybe then we can see some progress back to common sense. Initially, though, it's not going to affect me because even the flat tax isn't enough to make me move into the District, to be governed by its incompetent local politicians.

Instead, this quote is interesting:

Shadow senator Paul Strauss (D), who sat in the audience, said, "They think of us as a state when it comes to federal liabilities."

"When it comes to federal rights," he added, "they think of us as a laboratory rat."

Apart from being the first time I realized D.C. has a shadow senator, I'm amused that Mr. Strauss seems not to have read the Constitution. The Constitution says what it says about D.C. and its treatment. And to think Congress will do anything other than treat all of us the District as more than laboratory rats with deep pockets is simply laughable.

But here's the key point in this debate. If you don't like it, move. It's that simple. Like the residents of D.C., I have a choice of where to live in this region. I choose to live in Virginia. I understand there are good and bad aspects of that. I've concluded that the benefits outweigh the costs. Unless there's some nefarious force enslaving people in the District, I fail to see the causal link.

Work to change the Constitution or move.

Is it better to be a moron than a deadbeat?

This story about a push for men to be able to opt out of financially supporting a child if they don't want the child is a few days old already and it's been analyzed to death. I don't think it needs any deep analysis, since it should be clear that sex can lead to children. Anyone who doesn't know this shouldn't be engaging in sex. With respect to this case, it's possible to argue that the two now-parents had a contract that the woman violated. I have no idea how valid that argument is or how contract law would treat that. What remains as obvious is that if you have sex, you deal with the consequences.

What's interesting in this story is this:

State courts have ruled in the past that any inequity experienced by men like Dubay is outweighed by society's interest in ensuring that children get financial support from two parents. Melanie Jacobs, a Michigan State University law professor, said the federal court might rule similarly in Dubay's case.

"The courts are trying to say it may not be so fair that this gentleman has to support a child he didn't want, but it's less fair to say society has to pay the support," she said.

This is absurd. This is the same reasoning that traps men into financially supporting children later proven to be another man's child, just so the child may cared for by someone, anyone with a paycheck. Or, if the parents separate, the courts and state laws default to the idea that the mother is the more qualified full-time caregiver and the father is the more qualified financial caretaker, facts be damned. This is the inequity that should be under attack. When it's possible for the mother to have custody 90% of the time (or more), yet the father is responsible for 70% of the cost (or more) because he makes a higher salary, something is wrong. I'm not advocating paying for possession of the child, for lack of a better description, but both parents are responsible for conceiving the child. It's inherently unfair to use "he can afford it" (sometimes he can't) as a legal basis, yet to pretend that the father is too incompetent to care for his child for more than one or two weekends per month. Still, courts do it all the time.

If a man has sex, he should be responsible. Perhaps some middle ground solution is possible on reproductive rights surrounding wanted vs. unwanted children. It's "unfair" that women get more control between conception and birth in this situation, but simple biology dictates that more than anything. The practical solution is inevitably going to be ugly. It shouldn't be stupid after the child's birth, though, and that's where these activists need to push legislators and courts to fix the system.

March 08, 2006

Are we building Ewok Village 2000 2006?

I'm still amazed at how oblivious to logic some politicians can be. Throw in fiscal recklessness and it's a plan for future disaster. Consider:

President Bush, in his first visit to New Orleans since two reports criticized the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, today urged Congress to approve a $4.2 billion initiative to help Louisiana residents who lost their homes in the Aug. 29 storm.

"We've all been working together to figure out how to come up with a housing plan that will restore the confidence of the people in this important part of our country," Bush said. "In order to make sure that housing plan meets its goals, Congress should make sure that the $4.2 billion I requested goes to the state of Louisiana."

It's important to ask whether it's justified to "restore the confidence of the people" in Louisiana through transfer payments from the rest of the country. I don't choose to live in an area that sees hurricane activity every year, yet I'm expected to pay my share so that families in Louisiana can live happily on the Gulf Coast, without the financial risk equal to their clear exposure. Under his scenario, President Bush should know that any confidence increase in the Gulf region is zero-sum for the United States.

Need further proof why? Behold:

Speaking in front of a broken levee in New Orleans' hardest-hit Lower Ninth Ward, Bush spoke of a plan that would make as much as $150,000 available to each homeowner.

Since we're stuck bailing out an irresponsible system, isn't it reasonable to expect that we'll rebuild the region's defenses before we fund other rebuilding? Hurricane season isn't that far off.

March 06, 2006

Put that on the posters and see how it sells

Updating last week's post about South Dakota's new abortion bill, Governor Mike Rounds signed the bill. There's little surprise there, and nothing really commenting further about regarding the specific topic. Instead, I'd like to highlight a quote from Gov. Rounds:

"In the history of the world, the true test of a civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society. The sponsors and supporters of this bill believe that abortion is wrong because unborn children are the most vulnerable and most helpless persons in our society. I agree with them," Rounds said in the statement.

That's a great sentiment, but why do so many Americans only support strict interpretations on that theme? Can anyone imagine a day in which Gov. Rounds would issue a statement like this?

"In the history of the world, the true test of a civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society. The sponsors and supporters of this bill believe that routine infant circumcision is wrong because children are the most vulnerable and most helpless persons in our society. I agree with them," Rounds said in the statement.

It shouldn't be such an intellectual leap.

March 02, 2006

Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?

This recent story from The Washington Post reflects what I think is essential surrounding reasonable immigration policy.

Five years after African immigrants began flocking to this former mill town, city officials say they still are not qualified for many of the jobs the city has to offer. In response, Lewiston [Maine] is enforcing one of the country's most aggressive policies aimed at speeding assimilation: Somalis here often must take English classes, or risk losing some welfare benefits.

"ESL," said assistant city administrator Phil Nadeau, summing up the city's English-as-a-second-language philosophy, "is everything."

It's virtually impossible to argue that English fluency is not essential to success in America. Sure, some may succeed despite a lack of fluency, but that will result from the nature of a closed community, but the opportunity for growth and new ideas becomes limited with a refusal to stretch beyond a non-English speaking group within the United States.

Accordingly, requiring English lessons for immigrants receiving welfare benefits is legitimate. I'm bypassing the "should immigrants get welfare" aspect because it's not necessary for the point I want to make. Replace welfare with citizenship in the argument, if necessary. On whatever terms, English is our language. Individuals need basic English skills to function in society. Someone who can't function isn't likely to stay off welfare for any extended period. That's not helpful to any community.

Further in, the article presents a voice of doubt on whether the requirement is useful, since some individuals attend only because it's required, and as a result, don't bother to learn. I don't doubt that happens, but I also assume that such any legitimate program would include some mechanism to prove that the student makes progress throughout the course and can pass some level of proficiency at the end. Given how easily that fear could be applied to many American students wasting their time in high school, should we not require students to attend school until adulthood? Regardless, I think the critical view, that immigrants can't or won't learn, is absurd. Requiring an immigrant to know or learn English basic English puts the onus on the individual. If the person doesn't want to help himself, the majority of the community that accepts responsibility for themselves shouldn't be burdened. Providing support for the deserving poor shouldn't be charity without expectations.

Smart immigration policy reflects a truth that should be apparent to anyone watching the cultural conflicts around the world in recent months. Multi-cultural societies don't work. Not multi-racial, for that's a benign concept for a culture. A refusal to accept multi-cultural means that assimilation is essential. Individuals can retain pieces of their past and useful cultural associations, but it's essential to understand that America represents the principles and beliefs imparted by freedom and liberty. America includes cultural aspects from nations all around the world, but our ideas and culture are uniquely ours. Immigrants should expect to become Americans, not citizens of separate entities residing within the physical borders of the United States. English is a common bond, and as such, should be expected.

February 24, 2006

Virginians may breathe a little easier

The proposed statewide "public" smoking ban I wrote about recently failed to muster any support in the Virginia House of Delegates. This is hardly a surprise, but it's still good news for property rights in the commonwealth. Worth noting are a pair of quotes. The first offers what should be the end of this debate everywhere it's occurring in America:

"The problem is, I want to have smoke-free restaurants and businesses. But in America, you don't pass a law to tell a private business owner who is paying rent or mortgage payments what he can and can't do in his own place," said Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax).

I wish Virginia's Republicans practiced that throughout the spectrum of potential business activities, but every little bit of retreat from insanity is welcome. Unfortunately, the debate includes a few politicians suffering a shortage of brain power. Our politicians can barely wait to trample on our rights established by both the U.S. Constitution and the state constitution, but this bill's sponsor wants us to respect his rights. Consider:

"The bottom line is that we're not talking about a smoker's right to smoke indoors," said Sen. J. Brandon Bell II. "We're talking about my right not to breath in 4,000 chemicals and 60 known carcinogens that are associated with secondhand smoke."

Admittedly, if someone is going to ignore rights established in a Constitution so that his agenda can be furthered, it's not a giant leap to expect new rights to appear which allow him to trample on the rights he dislikes. That doesn't make it any less objectionable.

February 23, 2006

I suppose they're Liberals now

Ignore for the moment the heated nature of the specific topic involved in this story. Instead focus on the contradictory, though not surprising, lack of principle underlying the action.

South Dakota lawmakers yesterday approved the nation's most far-reaching ban on abortion, setting the stage for new legal challenges that its supporters say they hope lead to an overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The measure, which passed the state Senate 23 to 12, makes it a felony for doctors to perform any abortion, except to save the life of a pregnant woman. The proposal still must be signed by Gov. Mike Rounds (R), who opposes abortion.

The bill was designed to challenge the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe , which in 1973 recognized a right of women to terminate pregnancies. Its sponsors want to force a reexamination of the ruling by the court, which now includes two justices appointed by President Bush.

Like it or not, Roe V. Wade is the law. It may even be appropriate to challenge it, as these legislators are doing. But every legislator who voted for this can never again complain about "activist judges". Not only are they counting on judges to be activist in accepting their change to accepted law, they're engaging in activist legislating. There is no other way to explain this action, as they openly accept that it violates current law. They're counting on the expectation that President Bush stacked the court in their favor with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Roger W. Hunt, offered another interesting perspective on good for me but not for thee:

Hunt has also said that when the inevitable challenge to the ban is filed in court, the ban's supporters will be prepared for a costly court fight with $1 million already pledged by "an anonymous donor."

If the issue at hand was a liberal favorite, and supporters replaced "anonymous donor" with George Soros, Republicans like Mr. Hunt would be screaming rather than boasting.

Hypocrites, every one of them.

February 13, 2006

Failed socio-economic policies redux

Sebastian Mallaby's column in today's Washington Post is interesting more for the assumptions it proposes than for its specific content regarding President Bush's looming marketing push for Health Savings Accounts. While mocking President Bush's term "ownership society", presumably because he prefers the "social contract" and all it entails, Mr. Mallaby declares these flaws:

A rerun of last year's [Social Security] debate would show that health savings accounts are harder to defend than personal retirement ones. They are shockingly regressive: Furman's study shows how a poor family might get a subsidy of $150 while a rich one might get more than $4,000. They have not just a transition cost but a real cost: The tax breaks could widen the deficit by at least $132 billion over 10 years and a lot more after that. And health savings accounts pose a more formidable threat to traditional corporate health plans than personal accounts posed to Social Security. Market forces are already dislodging company health plans; an extra shove could cause an avalanche.

The limited consumer discipline that would come from health savings accounts could not justify these disadvantages. But when you talk to administration officials, they express remarkably few doubts. They believed in the ownership society last year; they still believe in it this year. They believe in individual choice; they distrust collective programs. They don't worry too much about the risks to the budget. Or to distributional justice. Or to existing safety nets.

Simple administration. Straightforward administration. The Clinton team would never have proposed such a clunker of a policy.

Three paragraphs and I lost count of the intellectual disasters. It's feasible to argue that Health Savings Accounts aren't the solution. I won't argue that they're perfect, only that something must be done. That doesn't mean action for the sake of action, of course, which is what I think Mr. Mallaby is partially offering as the Bush Administration's motive. Anything that fits the ownership society storyline, or something along those lines. To his credit, he challenges the logic of HSAs and offers a suggestion in return. I disagree, but that's reasonable in such a change with unknown consequences. Unfortunately, his conclusion relies on the assumptions I marked in bold. In order:

  • Income differences matter only in tax liability. Receiving benefits, if tied to income and the resulting spending differences, must be quantitatively equal or they're unfair and regressive.
  • Market forces are dislodging company health plans, violating the social contract. That's Bad. The central planners know better, so we must halt that trend, not encourage it.
  • Individual choice is bad. We're all in this together, so everyone should pay the same (unless he's poor) and receive the same benefits (unless he's rich), because the collective nature of government health care is important.
  • Liberals worry a lot about the budget. That's why raising taxes to meet Dubya's irresponsible budget is necessary.
  • "Distributional justice" is important above all else. If you don't have enough, however that's defined, and however much you do to earn it, you should be given what must be taken from others. Progressive taxes are good. Progressive benefits are bad. Regressive benefits are good. Regressive taxes are bad. Lather, rinse, repeat.
  • Existing safety nets are good. Reform must keep those. Remember, that's why raising taxes is important. Cutting spending would destroy safety nets. Government is the best provider of safety nets.
  • The Clinton team would never have proposed such a clunker of a policy. They would've introduced a better clunker. It's important to focus on better, not clunker. That's why we need national health care, not individual choice. Everyone will like one-size-fits-all coverage. It doesn't matter if the rich get worse health care. It's a fixed pie. You don't want others to be without. Do you? You're selfish.
I hope it's clear that I disagree with Mr. Mallaby's assumptions. In the future, I hope he'll put his assumptions in the first three paragraphs instead of the last three so that I may decide whether or not to bother reading his suggestions before I read them. That way, I'll avoid the socialistic noise and read whatever's left.

Next up, prosecuting all forms of fun

I haven't been following the alleged gambling ring "scandal" surrounding Phoenix Coyotes (NHL) assistant coach Rick Tocchet and Janet Jones, Wayne Gretzky's wife, among others. Frankly, I don't see the big deal. It's against the law, I get it. But the states involved run lotteries. With such hypocrisy, I don't need to go further and rely on principles. But since I happen to enjoy principles, why not? Where's the victim? Without a victim, where's the crime? I haven't heard of anything resembling broken kneecaps or even threats resulting from the alleged gambling ring. Perhaps I've missed them, but without a victim, and violating someone else's moral code doesn't count, the sin police need to get over it. State and federal legislatures need to decriminalize it and move on to real issues.

Now that I've finished ranting, this aspect of the case reveals how myopic some folks are:

A handful of NHL players have been implicated in the ring, authorities say, but none has been identified or charged. Strictly speaking, it is not a crime to place a bet, but NHL players would be violating league rules if they wagered on hockey games. There is no evidence of wagering on hockey, according to the federal prosecutor investigating the allegations on behalf of the NHL.

The only people who've committed a crime are the people running the ring. Where's the reasoning in that? He who sucks another into "immoral, destructive" behavior is guilty? Ridiculous. Gambling will happen with or without state approval, as evidenced by the allegations, should they be true. It would make more sense to let that happen in a business that pays taxes than in a business that wastes police resources. Legalize and increase tax receipts. Criminalize and increase expenditures.

Public service may be noble, but it's far from intelligent, apparently.

February 09, 2006

My 5-year-old nephew can recite the Preamble

From today's Opinion Journal comes a strange, but not surprising call to deal with the Bush Administration's warrantless wiretapping by abolishing FISA. Those who are paying attention could counter by pointing out that abolishing FISA would be little more than show, considering how callously it's been ignored in this fight. If the law is ignored by any administration, and no one in Congress is willing to punish that act (a likely, though not foregone, conclusion in this scandal), perpetuating the law is quaint, but pointless. I'm just amazed that supposedly intelligent individuals lack inclination to challenge such blatant abuse of the Constitution and the rights it guarantees. Consider:

Whatever happened to "impeachment"? Only two months ago, that was the word on leading Democratic lips as they assailed President Bush for "illegal" warrantless NSA wiretaps against al Qaeda suspects. But at Monday's Senate hearing on the issue, the idea never even made an appearance.

The reason isn't because liberal critics have come to some epiphany about the necessity of executive discretion in wartime. The reason is they can read the opinion polls. And the polls show that a majority of Americans want their government to eavesdrop on al Qaeda suspects, even--or should we say, especially--if they're talking to one of their dupes or sympathizers here in the U.S.

"The polls tell me this is the path" is a poor way to lead for both parties. If we're going to run the country that way, we should consider national referendum's on every vote Congress makes. That way, our elected representatives can know exactly how to vote on every issue. No need to let the pesky Constitution get in the way.

But at least this warrantless wiretapping only infringes on our rights. Something more disturbing with this approach shines through in the next paragraph.

In short, the larger political battle over wiretaps is over, and the President has won the argument among the American people. We hope Dan Bartlett, Steve Hadley and other White House message-makers notice the difference between this outcome, on a matter on which they bothered to fight, and so many other controversies when they ceded the field to their opponents ("torture," Joe Wilson).

"Torture." Wonderfully cheery, those editors. The Bush Administration should take the lead and torture anyone it pleases, in any way it pleases, as long as it keeps us "safe" from The Bad People Who Hate Our Freedoms. This is acceptable because the polls tells us the people don't mind. After all, if you've done nothing wrong, what do you have to worry about? We only torture people who deserve it, especially because they might have a ticking time bomb. That's also why we need to wiretap without a warrant. A terrorist might have a ticking time bomb that makes seeking a retroactive warrant too burdensome and dangerous to the American people. It's all for our own good. And, again, the polls show that we realize it.

The bullshit continues in paragraph four, which really is all the evidence anyone needs to know that reading further is unnecessary, as the Opinion Journal editors are more interested in power than our Constitution.

All the more so because the policy debate over Presidential authority continues, and on a dangerous path. Judging by Monday's hearing, Senators of both parties are still hoping to stage a Congressional raid on Presidential war powers. And they hope to do it not by accepting more responsibility themselves but by handing more power to unelected judges to do the job for them.

Remember, the public has already told us that, after The Bad People Who Hate Our Freedoms, activist judges are out to destroy America. We shouldn't give them any more power because they're all evil. And we don't want that kind of power invested in one person. Unlike the "entire executive branch", which is a force only for good.

Read the second half of the editorial if you don't think its credibility is undermined by the nonsense in the first half. Interestingly, it arrives at the conclusion that FISA should be abolished by using the logic that the president might be denied the right to save us all because an unelected judge gets in the way. No other argument I've seen gives this any credibility, and I'm not willing to offer it any credibility here. Instead, laugh along with me at the absurdity of this:

As federal judge and former Deputy Attorney General Laurence Silberman explained in his 1978 testimony on FISA, the President is accountable to the voters if he abuses surveillance power. Fear of exposure or political damage are powerful disincentives to going too far. But judges, who are not politically accountable, have no similar incentives to strike the right balance between intelligence needs and civilian privacy. This is one reason the Founders gave the judiciary no such plenary powers.

President Bush is no longer accountable to the public in the way the editors imply. He won't face another vote, unless that's the next bastardization of the Constitution the editors wish to embrace. The only recourse is impeachment, which is how this editorial began. Unless they'd like to propose leaving that decision for the people to decide, I'm dismissing that argument because questioning the President's actions is precisely what the Congress and the Judiciary should be doing. Given President Bush's poll numbers and their implication that polls should substitute leadership, I suspect the editors might wish to do the same.

Except Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, who are in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia. They're proper conservatives who understand the role of the Judiciary and respect it, which is why the American people gave President Bush a landslide victory in 2004. The War on Terror and conservative judges. Oh, and to fight the Homosexual Agenda. On those issues, we know we can always trust the President.

February 03, 2006

What's the hierarchy of individual worth?

This is outrageous enough ...

An 18-year-old man with a handgun and a hatchet critically injured three customers inside a lounge ...

... and this is pertinent to the case in explaining motive ...

... with gay clientele in New Bedford, Mass., late Wednesday, just after asking the bartender if he was in a gay bar, police said.

... but I do not accept that the violent, targeted bigotry of this case makes it any more egregious than it would be if the suspect had attacked three random people at a sporting event, rock concert, or poetry reading. It's instructive, certainly, but whatever tougher penalties apply because it's classified as a hate crime should be the standard for all such crimes, regardless of victim. It's a clich, but all crime is a hate crime. It doesn't matter if the assailant hates gays and lesbians, ethnic minorities, or a poverty-fueled shortage of heroin. Government's job is to prevent harm to individuals, not determine which individuals are worth more to society.

February 02, 2006

Join the revolution, eh

I wrote a few weeks ago that Sirius would not carry Howard Stern on its Canadian service due to decency standards in Canada revolving around the country having no equivalent to our First Amendment. It's embarrassing that a democracy in the 21st century has no guaranteed free speech, but at least it gives us some perspective on how much worse our situation could be. Unless our courts decide not to be activist or legislate from the bench and allow Congress to pass laws restricting pay content. But I digress. Yesterday, Sirius Canada announced that it would begin airing Howard Stern's radio show beginning Monday.

"It's no secret that Howard Stern's programming is not consistent with the kind of programming you would find on CBC/Radio Canada's airwaves, but this is a Sirius Canada decision," said CBC spokesman Jason MacDonald.

The subscription-based network is 40 per cent owned by the CBC, 40 per cent by Standard Radio and 20 per cent by Sirius in the United States.

"Sirius Canada is a separate company," noted MacDonald.

"Yes, we're partners and Sirius Canada made the decision that was right for it based on what the market demands."

This is obviously a triumph for free speech and free markets in Canada, but I don't know how long it'll last. Stern said as much yesterday. He was joking, but this makes me wonder:

[MacDonald] said new technology that allows Sirius Canada subscribers to block out Stern if they so choose was a significant factor in finalizing the deal.

Sirius Canada has said it does not expect Stern to run into censorship trouble this time because his satellite show is a pay service.

"It's really up to the public to decide whether it wants to submit a complaint, regardless of the fact that it's a service that is purchasable," says CRTC spokeswoman Miriam Gennaro.

She couldn't immediately say, however, whether different standards will apply to satellite radio.

I know Ted Stevens, Brent Bozell, and James Dobson would love to implement such a scheme in the United States, but I'm thankful the First Amendment says what it says. Now, if we just convince those non-"activist" judges to read it with the same deference to the text they would apply to any more favored portion of the Constitution. I know that's crazy talk, but I can dream, right?

Where's the Tylenol?

After reading this column by George Will, I wanted to comment that I disagree with this as too general:

Furthermore, Americans are uninterested in the question of which level of government addresses those fears and that anxiety. ... it also represented a vestigial impulse to connect any federal action with a clear -- meaning constitutionally enumerated -- federal power.

That impulse is gone in a nation in which it seems quaint to suggest that some things are beyond the federal government's proper purview. Today's default position is: Washington should do it.

So the president must fashion policies that are responsive to this national consensus but that will not cause fissures in his conservative base.

I read enough bloggers and news articles to know that this need for federal intervention isn't strong with at least a portion of our society. Then I read this article:

Congress approved a $750 million, five-year plan aimed at building healthier marriages Wednesday as part of its deficit reduction bill.

The measure now goes to President Bush. It includes $100 million a year for marriage-related programs and $50 million a year for fatherhood programs. ...

Federal grants to local groups will fund programs such as communication and relationship skills training or community-wide activities for high schoolers. Bush has backed marriage-strengthening efforts, citing research that children from two-parent families are better off emotionally, socially and economically.

I was wrong. Not only is it the default position, enough people seem to believe it's the only position. Only in today's political atmosphere would a $150 million increase in expenditures for a non-federal task be considered deficit reduction. If I wasn't so right about everything, I'd quit caring altogether.

January 27, 2006

Will the First Amendment suffer?

By now everyone's probably heard about the 8-year-old boy who shot a 7-year-old girl at a Maryland day-care center earlier this week. More details are emerging, mostly surrounding an alleged robbery attempt by the boy. Those details are as absurd as they sound, but this is what most caught my attention:

The prosecutor also said investigators found photographs of guns in the apartment and learned that the boy had access to "very violent video games." According to a police source, two of those video games are "50 Cent Bulletproof" and "187: Ride or Die." The Washington Post agreed not to identify the source because the case remains open.

"Bulletproof," released last fall, depicts rapper 50 Cent in a bloody New York underworld overrun with gangs and crime syndicates. Survival in the game requires shooting nearly anyone who gets in his way. The game costs about $50. "Ride and Die," an older game with a similar premise, is based in Los Angeles.

Darlene Hall, the boy's aunt, said her brother has been a positive influence on the boy, who she described as deeply troubled. She said the boy denied that his father taught him how to use guns.

"He beat on the desk and said: 'No, my father didn't do that. I learned it from 50 Cent,' " Darlene Hall said, describing how the child acted during a hearing on Wednesday that was closed to the public. She was present at the hearing.

No doubt Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton are in conference figuring out how to pin this incident on violent video games and the businesses that produce and sell them. It would be too easy to admit that a parent allowing a "deeply troubled" boy access to violent video games is responsible, rather than the game or its availability. Until we learn (which we have no reason to) the 7-year-old girl's name, I guess the Jane Doe Keep Kids Safe from Violent Video Games Act of 2006 will have to suffice.

Because Liberals like only French food

Speaking at a Philander Smith College audience yesterday, Ann Coulter tried to make the Ha Ha.

"We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens' creme brulee," Coulter said. "That's just a joke, for you in the media."

I'll just say that, to be considered a joke, it should be funny. How soon before right-wing political pundits blame this on the liberal media?

January 26, 2006

I have no faith in my fellow Virginians

When the polls close November 7, 2006, I suspect I'm not going to appreciate my neighbors:

The state Senate all but guaranteed on Wednesday that Virginia will hold a November referendum on whether to amend its 230-year-old Bill of Rights to bar same-sex marriages.

The Senate voted 28 to 11 to follow the House of Delegates in approving the amendment. Though each chamber still must pass the measure adopted by the other, their wording is identical and support among the senators and delegates is strong.

There's nothing new here, of course. Already codifying a ban on same-sex marriage and adding an additional, stricter law against binding personal relationship intentions through contracts wasn't enough. Fine, Virginia, I get it. I live in a state full of anti-gay bigots who can't see the reality that allowing same-sex marriage will mean nothing in your life other than a growing respect for equal treatment under civil law. (Hint: no one will force you, or your children, to marry anyone of the same sex. Shocking, I know.) But can't you fathom the lunacy involved in modifying the Virginia Bill of Rights to impose the will of the majority on the minority? Or is this too hard to grasp:

The state Bill of Rights was last amended in 1996, when voters supported adding a section protecting the rights of crime victims. Although changes to the state constitution are common, the 1996 action was the only time the Bill of Rights has been amended since 1970, when voters ratified a new version of the constitution.

"The only place in the constitution to put this is in the Bill of Rights," said Sen. Stephen D. Newman (R-Lynchburg). "There is currently no right in the United States, or certainly not in Virginia, for anything other than a marriage between one man and one woman."

That'll look real nice merged into Section 15 of the Virginia Bill of Rights (Qualities necessary to preservation of free government):

That no free government, nor the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue; by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles; and by the recognition by all citizens that they have duties as well as rights, and that such rights cannot be enjoyed save in a society where law is respected and due process is observed.

That free government rests, as does all progress, upon the broadest possible diffusion of knowledge, and that the Commonwealth should avail itself of those talents which nature has sown so liberally among its people by assuring the opportunity for their fullest development by an effective system of education throughout the Commonwealth.

From protecting victims to victimizing in ten years. Well done, Virginia.

When "W" is spelled "Hillary"

I've written about screwy incentives distorting health insurance before, but it's apparently going to be in the news a lot in the next week as President Bush prepares to address the topic in his State of the Union address. As with most of his proposals over the last few years, I'm less than optimistic that he has the leadership fortitude to get real reform passed. At this point, I barely expect any reform to pass, even if it appeals to the misguided warm and fuzzy crowd. If this story is accurate, the president might test my least optimistic suspicion:

President Bush is weighing proposals for new tax breaks for health care costs, which will be a major topic of next week's State of the Union address, a top economic adviser to the president said Tuesday.

"People are very, very frustrated about the cost of health care," said Allan Hubbard, director of the National Economic Council.

Hubbard told reporters at USA TODAY and Gannett News Service that the tax code offers advantages when a company buys health coverage for its employees but doesn't do the same for employees who have to buy coverage on their own.

Somehow I'm not surprised that the solution will be new tax breaks instead of fixing the underlying problem built into the tax code. One idea is to start taxing employer-provided health benefits, but President Bush and his economic team rejected that idea. But will the administration come up with a structural solution?

"The president's very concerned about the unfairness of the tax code," Hubbard said.

"Tax reform is not off the table," Hubbard said. "At the same time, it doesn't have the priority that health care does right now."

The implied answer is clear: where it should be about tax reform, the answer is always targeted breaks. Apparently, President Bush has the courage to ease the symptoms. While it's certainly possible that new tax breaks could alleviate the health care "crisis", something new will appear in its place until the tax code is fixed. Remove the government from the pushing its "this is good for you" influence and let the free market decide.

Prior posts.

January 12, 2006

People everywhere refuse to learn from history

This isn't going to end well.

Bolivia's president-elect said his government plans to seize oil and gas reserves owned by international companies, leaving other assets such as pipelines and refineries in the hands of foreign operators.

"The state will exercise its right of ownership, and that means it will decide on the use of those resources," Evo Morales told reporters yesterday in Pretoria, South Africa, where he is visiting the country's President Thabo Mbeki. Oil companies "will be partners, not owners," he said.

The comments clarify plans Morales has discussed since his election Dec. 18 to "nationalize" Bolivia's oil and gas reserves and boost government revenue on output. All reserves are now in the hands of foreign companies such as Spain's Repsol YPF SA, which owns 35 percent of the country's 55 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and Brazil's Petroleos Brasileiros SA (Petrobras), which holds 17.5 percent. Bolivia has Latin America's second-largest gas reserves.

Morales said he will cancel any contract that gives foreign companies ownership rights to oil and gas. His plans do not call for confiscation of multinationals' technology or other assets, he said.

Bolivia attracted $3 billion of investment for its oil and gas industry since privatizing the state energy company in 1996, helping increase its natural gas reserves sevenfold, according to the Bolivian Hydrocarbon Chamber. Investment in the oil and gas industry dropped to $135 million in 2005 from $236 million in 2004. In 2002, the year Morales lost a presidential runoff against Sanchez de Lozada, investment reached $345 million.

Will socialists ever realize that state-run monopolies aren't the most efficient method of distribution? Destroy contract and property rights and incentive disappears. The dream is always that everyone will suddenly prosper and receive a "fair" share of the nation's wealth, but all it does is divide a now-finite amount of wealth. Factor in that most of that wealth transfers to the few in power, the dream doesn't seem so brilliant.

Verification and justification are different

This news from the Commonwealth relevant to the death penalty debate:

DNA tests released this afternoon confirmed the guilt of a Virginia man who had proclaimed his innocence in a slaying and rape even as he was strapped into the state's electric chair in 1992.

Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) said modern-day genetic analysis that was not available in the early 1990s proves that Roger K. Coleman was present at the crime.

"We have sought the truth using DNA technology not available at the time the Commonwealth carried out the ultimate criminal sanction," Warner said in a statement. "The confirmation that Roger Coleman's DNA was present reaffirms the verdict and the sanction."

I'm happy this was done now that DNA testing has progressed since Virginia prosecuted the case and executed Coleman. Gov. Warner made the right decision. However, that does not alter my opinion of the death penalty. Everything I've said in the past still applies. Contrary to what Gov. Warner said, this reaffirms only the verdict. The sanction continues to stand as an uncivilized abomination.

January 11, 2006

He who pays, decides. Even in government.

With all of the talk of Jack Abramoff and Congressional ethics lately, I'm amused at how some members of Congress have now found the religion of restraint. Consider:

House Republicans, seeking to recover their standing with voters in the wake of a lobbying scandal, are considering a total ban on privately funded congressional trips, the lawmaker leading the reform effort said Wednesday.

Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., said GOP leaders were "seriously considering" the need to eliminate all privately financed travel. "That would be a very strong statement. We want to be bold," said Dreier, chairman of the House Rules Committee.

Current congressional rules prohibit lobbyists from paying for travel for members of Congress and their staff.

But qualified private sponsors can pay for food, transportation and lodging when members of Congress travel to meetings, speaking engagements or fact-finding events in connection with official duties.

"There's a difference between a fact-finding trip that you do with the Aspen Institute and these trips funded by lobbyists and corporations where you do an hour of work and then play golf at St. Andrews all day," said Jennifer Crider, a spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

I'm amazed that such principled individuals needed a scandal to come up with such an obvious proposal, but I'm more stunned that this is somehow "bold". If a trip is connected to official duties, the people for whom the representatives are acting should pay for the trip. If the people don't like what their representatives consider official duties, they'll let their representatives know. It's not particularly complicated.

Editorializing can be premature

Reading through more analysis of Marcus Vick's recent troubles, I found a useful fact in this column. It refutes a little of the heated, holier-than-thou rhetoric some have used over the last few days. Consider:

And for what it's worth, Vick and Tech coach Frank Beamer did wait outside the Louisville locker room in hopes of apologizing personally to Dumervil and Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino. They were told by a U of L official that Dumervil and Petrino weren't interested in discussing the incident.

I'm not going to start defending Vick because of that, but I think it shows that indicting the entire Virginia Tech football program, as some have written this week, is excessive. Facts still matter. Everyone, including me, forgets that at times. This is just another example of why we should strive to be smarter and less reactionary.

January 10, 2006

Facts matter. Providing them matters more.

I promise this will be the last sports-related post today, but I want to comment on this column by Michael Wilbon in today's Washington Post. Mr. Wilbon is one of two sports columnists I look forward to reading when any significant topic (to me) occurs in the sports world. I can always count on Mr. Wilbon to offer an insightful, well-written editorial. Reading today's column on Redskins safety Sean Taylor spitting in the face of Michael Pittman, I figured I'd get the same, since a $17,000 fine is ridiculously low. The column started out well, comparing Taylor's fine with the $20,000 fine running back Clinton Portis received for wearing non-regulation socks. So far, so good. It's when Mr. Wilbon got to the example of Marcus Vick as further proof. I agree that Vick is a useful comparison, but there are two serious issues I have with how far Mr. Wilbon takes the argument. Both exist in this paragraph. Consider:

So you'll pardon me if I'm not going to give school and athletic department officials a standing ovation for throwing his butt out of school . . . eventually. He should have been thrown out months earlier. And university officials, if they have the guts, ought to be taking a serious look at the entire football program because there's way too much trouble involving the football players on that campus.

As for Virginia Tech "throwing his butt out of school," this is the second time Mr. Wilbon mentioned this. Unfortunately, it's not true. Virginia Tech dismissed Marcus Vick from the football team, not from Virginia Tech. Vick did nothing to help himself in the last week, but there's a difference. But that's more a trivial complaint than anything.

More disturbing is the last part of that paragraph. With the phrase "way too much trouble involving the football players on that campus," Mr. Wilbon presents the Virginia Tech football team as a troubled program, one that coddles thugs and criminals while putting only money as a priority. Maybe that's true; I've heard such statements in abundance over the last week, so I'm not surprised. I expect proof with a statement like that, though. Simply stating something does not make it true.

Without facts, it diminishes our reputation with people who are paying only marginal attention to our program. It implies that we care only about athletics and victories, with academics of little consequence. If that's true, Mr. Wilbon should provide support for statements like that. If it's not, he should understand that making such throwaway lines for hyperbole hurts Virginia Tech unfairly with potential students, as well as athletic recruits, because his words have influence. Whichever impression the facts support, I can accept it. I can't accept that Marcus Vick alone is an indictment of the entire program, not without more proof.

January 05, 2006

The referee weighs in on Vick

Steve Usecheck, the referee from Monday's Gator Bowl, responded to the Marcus Vick incident:

"We missed that, and I'm sorry we did," [Big 12 Conference official] Usecheck told the Newport News Daily Press from his Colorado home. "The TV, everybody saw it but us. I wish we had the opportunity to talk to (Vick) because that was complete (expletive). You bet I would have thrown his ass out."

Usecheck said he has not seen a replay of the Vick incident but that purposely stomping a defenseless opponent warrants ejection. ...

"I was really disappointed," Usecheck said. "We don't see football like that (in the Big 12). Those kids were just completely out of control. Louisville wasn't as bad. Virginia Tech was brutal."

I have two words for Mr. Usecheck: shut up. He didn't see the play when it happened. He hasn't seen it on replay. Those of us who saw it know what the proper action should've been. There's nothing more gained from Mr. Usecheck's input.

Specifically, those quotes confirm exactly what I screamed at my television on Monday. The officials missed most of the game. They didn't see Vick's deplorable step. They didn't see other penalties, on both teams, that should've been obvious. They saw penalties, again, on both teams, that simply never happened. Mr. Usecheck also seemed to take glee in calling penalties on Virginia Tech. It was a pathetic job from kickoff until the final ticks.

Mr. Usecheck shouldn't perpetuate that by babbling about something he can't be bothered to see at least once.

Your lungs are belong to us

Passage was mostly inevitable, but the D.C. Council approved a smoking ban for bars, restaurants, and other public places yesterday. Mayor Williams seems inclined to veto the bill, despite the 11 to 1 vote, out of fear that it could hurt tourism and general commerce in the District. I'd like to see some mention of property rights for private property, but I guess a Democratic mayor can't utter such heresy. Better to turn the District into another collectivist bastion for people with too much time and not enough brains. Well done.

The ban isn't going to change my behavior any, because I already avoided bars. The abundance of cigarette smoke mattered, but barely. But what about the opposite view? Some people surely enjoy bars and, although smoking isn't the reason they go, it's part of the experience. An extra inconvenience might change their behavior. The statistics allegedly don't bare that out, but they're not really comparing the same circumstances, are they? Consider:

A New York government study showed that the city's bar and restaurant industry was thriving one year after its ban was enacted in March 2003. And in Massachusetts, the Harvard School of Public Health found little or no change in bar and restaurant patronage or tax collections after that state's ban was put in place in July 2004.

Thriving is good, right, but we don't know how relative "thriving" is. Maybe it's the same, but it's possible it could be worse. It could, of course, be better, if the smoke-free advocates are right and people now feel able to go to bars. I guess we'll have to trust the studies, which is fine since none of them have any motivation to find positive results from the ban. Right?

I've already written on the property rights violation of smoking bans, so I'm not going to dig into that again. Instead, I'll highlight this from those directly affected.

"Oh, man, it's gonna hurt," said Rob Klein, the bartender at Chief Ike's Mambo Room, a bar in Adams Morgan. "It's going to take people away from my bar stools, and that's how I pay my rent."

There's an economic impact to such public control of private business? That's certainly an obvious revelation. Why is it that Mr. Klein knows that, but the D.C. Council doesn't? Oh, right, Mr. Klein is wrong, because he's not properly concerned about his health. Thankfully, Smokefree DC is involved.

Smokefree DC applauds those Councilmembers who voted for the measure, because they have rightly ignored the sky is falling rhetoric and have stood up for the right of all workers to breathe clean air on the job.

I don't remember reading any such right. Maybe it's the 28th Amendment and I missed the newest printing of the Constitution. Last week was busy for me; it's possible. Someone let me know if you hear something, okay?

Remembering that one council member voted against the bill, I figured it had something to do with the wording of the bill or some displeasure with an exemption here or there, meaning the dissent was more symbolic than anything. Apparently not:

Council member Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) cast the dissenting vote. Council member Sharon Ambrose (D-Ward 6) was absent.

Schwartz said the issue was personal choice and freedom. "Don't make me out that I like smoking, because I don't," said Schwartz, an ex-smoker. "Bar and restaurant workers have a choice of where to work, and patrons have a choice of where to patronize."

I know a lot of she angered a lot of libertarians with the recent zero tolerance DUI bill dust-up in D.C., but that's a remarkably sane argument. Voting on business policies with dollars. Who could've imagined such a radical idea? And to counter her "I hate smoking" qualification (which I've given, too, but still... my blog, my rules), here's proof that she knows how to counter the ridiculous "right to breathe clean air" argument with a "you're a nanny statist health crazy" jab:

The longest debate was over whether to exempt the city's eight hookah bars, where people smoke tobacco out of a shared pipe. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) argued that hookah bars should be exempt because tobacco use is the central focus of their business.

Schwartz then jumped on Graham. "If it's all in the guise of protecting worker health, why would you want to kill off the hookah bar workers?" she said to laughs in the packed council chambers. "The hypocrisy is just astounding."


Reading the D.C. Examiner this morning, I came across this in the reader response thread:

The opposition to the proposed ban on smoking in D.C. intrigues me. What about those of us who choose not to smoke and don't want to inhale the smoke that others have inhaled?

Why should the rest of us have to pass through someone else's smoke when we enter or leave an office building or restaurant?

Ummm... would it be too simple to respond that you don't have to pass through someone else's smoke because you have the choice to take your business elsewhere? And that I can't remember the last time I entered a private building that permitted smoking in anywhere other than designated areas, such as smoking rooms in hotels? Or is the right to breathe clean air also a right to impose your personal preferences on private businesses? The answer seems to be yes, I suppose. Silly me. That might be why I didn't think of this:

Choosing to smoke elevates the risk of lung, mouth and throat cancer. Cancer treatments for smokers also add to the financial burden of the rest of us who pay for health insurance.

We don't pay for our health treatments alone; everyone shares in the cost.

Right, because when I purchased health insurance for myself in September, the insurance company completely ignored that situation, failing to put a "Do you smoke?" question anywhere in the application, so that it could charge me a higher rate if I imposed a greater risk on the company. That would've been smart. Maybe some insurance company will do that in the future to factor in the distinction between the smart people and the stupid people.

December 27, 2005

Quick commentary so my skills won't atrophy

Not that I'm under any impression that everyone's life stopped because I've been away from The Internets for four days, but I just want to check in to say I'm still here. Friday I had to begin finish Christmas shopping. Yesterday, Danielle and I drove to Richmond for the day to spend time with my family. Sandwiched in between was a two-day server outage that prevented me from posting. So there it is. I have a few items I want to comment on, but I don't have time to blog extensively about each one today. Instead, I'll offer a quick commentary on each, if you're interested.

First, this interesting news from the French:

A French government crackdown on digital piracy backfired Thursday as lawmakers rebelled by endorsing amendments to legalize the online sharing of music and movies instead of punishing it.

The vote by members of France's lower house dealt a setback to Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, who introduced the draft legislation. Showbiz and cultural celebrities protested the latest move, an indication that the amendments' supporters may eventually have to back down.

Under the original proposals, those caught pirating copy-protected material would have faced $360,000 in fines and up to three years in jail.

An 11th-hour government offer to give illegal downloaders two warnings prior to prosecution was not enough to stem the rebellion. Instead, the amendments voted would legalize file-sharing by anyone paying a monthly royalties duty estimated at $8.50.

The Recording Industry Association of America's (RIAA) ridiculous plan to sue anyone and everyone for copyright violations is terrible public relations. I advocated giving customers the distribution method they want, but it's the RIAA's choice to make. Going to the other extreme with crushing fines and lengthy jail terms, as France threatened, is equally dumb. But I can't cheer the Parliament's reverse compromise.

Letting users pay a monthly fee, as Napster and a few others are offering in America, may be the best solution, but France's Parliament has no reasonably presumable understanding of the digital music market sufficient to justify setting a monthly royalty fee for the French recording industry. The French economy isn't the American economy, but correct principles are correct regardless of where they're implemented. The RIAA's strategy may be absurd, but it's better than this nonsense. (Hat tip for this story: Buzz Machine)


Next, this story:

An anti-terrorism drill at Logan International Airport revealed flaws in law-enforcement's ability to respond to an attack, according to a newly released report.

On June 4, a team of federal, state and local law-enforcement officials gathered at Logan for a simulated hijacking of a commercial jet.

A report analyzing the outcome of "Operation Atlas" found that the agencies' response was lacking in some areas.

Ambulances were slow to respond to the simulated threat due to tight security restrictions around Logan and confusion over who was in charge, the 39-page report concluded.

Etc. How soon before the Bush Administration questions the patriotism of everyone involved. After all, doesn't this provide useful information to terrorists about where we're vulnerable? Silence is better than truth, remember.


Finally, this story:

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell on Sunday supported government eavesdropping to prevent terrorism but said a major controversy over presidential powers could have been avoided by obtaining court warrants.

But he added, "My own judgment is that it didn't seem to me, anyway, that it would have been that hard to go get the warrants. And even in the case of an emergency, you go and do it."

"Of course it should continue," he said. "And nobody is suggesting that the president shouldn't do this."

In order, no, yes, and no. I expected better from Mr. Powell. I used to respect him. Now, not nearly as much.

December 20, 2005

I want my police state onscreen only

Here's an interesting story on a trade group's efforts to improve the movie-going experience:

The National Association of Theater Owners, the primary trade group for exhibitors, is pushing to improve the theatrical experience by addressing complaints about on-screen advertisements, cellphones in theaters and other disruptions, while planning a public relations campaign to promote going out to the movies.

Some of the proposed solutions may not be so popular. The trade group plans to petition the Federal Communications Commission to permit the blocking of cellphones inside theaters, Mr. Fithian said. That would require changing an existing regulation, he added. But some theaters are already testing a no-cellphones policy, asking patrons to check their phones at the theater door.

A spokesman for a cellphone lobby said the group would object to any regulatory change. "We're opposed to the use of any blocking technology, because it interferes with people's ability to use a wireless device in an emergency situation," said Joseph Farren, a spokesman for CTIA-the Wireless Association, based in Washington.

Hypothetical situation: Movie theaters entice couples back to the movies with a "no babies" policy. Their marketing works! But to accommodate this newly rediscovered date night at the movies idea, the couple needs to hire a babysitter to watch their kids. Everything so far falls into a normal scenario. Now twist this to include the "ticking time bomb" (aka highly improbable, particularly distressing) scenario. The babysitter needs to reach the couple because their child is having a medical emergency. They can't receive the call because the cell phone signal is blocked. This is wise?

I can understand a desire to make the movie-going experience more pleasant, but are cell phones that troublesome? Only once have I been watching a movie in a theater when a rude person interrupted the film with a ringing cell phone not set to vibrate. The individual answered the call and conversed for several minutes, to much vocal complaint from other members of the audience. I'd have no problem with a business policy of removing guests from the theater who engage in such unacceptable behavior, as the theater should've done with that gentleman. But that occurred more than six years ago. Perhaps people are still too stupid to put their phones on vibrate or turn them off. My recent experience suggests not.

But for a moment, I'll assume it's more frequent, since I don't see that many movies in the theater now. (An indictment against movie quality, not movie-going experience, by the way.) What's wrong with a "no audible ringtone" policy? I'd accept a "no cell phone" policy, too, but I'd accept it by hiding my phone or not bothering to go to the movies. It's never been a problem, but I've been to concerts where patrons had to check camera phones at the door, verified by metal detectors. I hated it then, and I refuse to attend such concerts in the future. I won't trust a business which doesn't trust me. But that involves private transactions. Blocking cell phone signals is so far beyond that standard, I'm stunned anyone has the gumption to request such nonsense. Clearly the FCC should reject this. Otherwise, the trade group might as well lobby Congress for a tax on Netflix to stop the devastating impact of DVD rentals.

(Hat tip)

December 14, 2005

Tortured logic on torture

The McCain amendment (re)codifying prohibitions against torture of prisoners appears close to passage. There are a few last-minute snags, mostly surrounding the Bush Administration's desire to avoid further criminal liability for anyone who may have tortured prisoners in the last few years. Sen. McCain is correct in refusing to compromise until the White House agrees to the legislation without changes.

Using a bit of choice wording and faulty logic, the editors of the Wall Street Journal further pushed their counter-argument yesterday, determined to see the torture option remain available to any and all U.S. personnel fighting the war against terror. Consider:

Part of the problem with interpreting those words is that they depend on the context. All things being equal, we can't think of a worse human rights abuse than blowing someone to bits with a Hellfire missile. Yet no one objected when that happened to al Qaeda leader Hamza Rabia in Pakistan two weeks ago. If certain individuals can be ethically targeted for death in a war, then wouldn't the same hold true for rough interrogation methods? A strange code of morality would allow the killing of Rabia but not his stressful questioning to prevent further murders he might plan against innocent civilians.

Some of the more sophisticated critics recognize this, as well as the possibility of "ticking bomb" scenarios. That includes Senator McCain, who has written in Newsweek that on occasion "an interrogator might well try extreme measures." But he opposes writing any guidance into law or regulation--the way the Bush Administration has done--suggesting instead that the interrogator should go ahead and do what he thinks is needed and then depend on "authorities and the public" to "take [context] into account when judging his actions."

I don't see the direct connection between ethically targeting an individual for death during war and torturing him in captivity. If the individual, in this case Rabia, is free, he's a danger. The proper intention against an enemy is to stop him from being a threat. Death certainly does that. But if he's captured, is he a threat any longer? The basic answer is no, although the more complicated answer is presumably yes because he possesses information. Of course, if a target possesses such high value information that torturing him is allegedly justified, targeting him for death seems counter-productive to the larger goal of winning the war. Hellfire missiles and waterboarding aren't interchangeable in this debate.

That, of course, leads back to the original argument. What is justified? Although specific definitions already exist, and the Bush Administration generated memos designed to pigeon-hole war on terror captives into a small box invented to avoid existing laws and treaties, the editors pretend that torture opponents should justify why current United States policy should be reversed revert back to pre-Bush Administration standards. The argument relies on obfuscation to distract weaker opponents. It's a fine strategy if they can pull it off. They don't.

And don't forget "rendition"--the turning over of captured terrorists--to the likes of Egypt or Syria, the practice favored by the Clinton Administration because it lacked the nerve to handle captured terrorists outside the criminal justice system. We trust the CIA more than Egyptian intelligence, but where are the "torture" critics on the morality of this practice? The truth is that if the McCain Amendment passes, rendition will almost certainly increase. Perhaps this will be the next liberal target, until every al Qaeda detainee is treated no differently than a common thief.

We realize that our views on this subject won't carry the day, at least not until the U.S. suffers a more serious attack. The Bush Administration is already backing down from Mr. Cheney's earlier position, holding out in this week's negotiations on the McCain Amendment only for immunity for the past actions of U.S. interrogators. We still wish the President would take his case to the public, and perhaps even request hearings next year on Capitol Hill, because Americans are more sophisticated about the reality of what it takes to break these terrorists than are most journalists.

But at least the Administration has been willing to admit that protecting Americans takes more than denouncing "torture" at the top of one's lungs. Once the McCain Amendment becomes law, perhaps the torture moralists will continue their creeping honesty and let us know what U.S. interrogators can do to break the next Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Of particular offense in that passage is the nonsense questioning the manhood of the Clinton Administration because "it lacked the nerve to handle captured terrorists outside the criminal justice system." Illegal activity, rendition in Clinton's case, or torture in Bush's case, is still illegal activity. It does not matter whether an administration had the balls to do the deed itself. How differently do we treat those who murder and those who hire a murderer in their place? But who has the testicular fortitude to beat the shit out of the bad guys is not all that matters.

Our sense of justice and morals prevent us from allowing or endorsing government-sanctioned torture in America. Whether we call it torture, rugged interrogation, or aggressive coercion, it remains against the law. More importantly, we have a civilian-led military, complete with a Congress and judiciary entrusted with powers to check the executive from abusing and ignoring limits on his powers. When those bodies refuse to act, as they have for the better part of this scandal, we also have the First Amendment. Not to empower individuals to dictate how to break terrorists, but to ensure that limits on military behavior are enforced. The opposite of that is not sophistication, but barbarism.

December 11, 2005

Seeing nuance where no justifiable nuance exists

From The Corner at National Review Online comes this tidbit on torture. I won't recap the whole discussion because it mostly veers off into a tangent about what sort of physical endangerment one would choose if captured, but there is a telling explanation made in the process. First, a basic assumption for torture from Jonah Goldberg:

And don't tell me the analogy doesn't work because the criminals are choosing torture of their free will. The terrorists in these hypotheticals choose torture too -- when they decide not to divulge inforrmation [sic]. Everyone agrees that torture or even coercion for reason not directly tied to pressing need should never be tolerated.

Fine, terrorists choose torture when they don't talk. What about American soldiers captured in the field of battle? If they're tortured by their captors, do we dismiss it because they followed orders to reveal only name, rank, and serial number? Or do we denounce the torture as a gross violation of human rights and international standards of war? I agree that there's a distinct difference between terrorists and American soldiers, but the underlying assumption of how a captor should treat a captive remains the same, I think.

As an aside, I don't think everyone agrees that torture or coercion should never be tolerated without the ticking time bomb scenario. Many of the debates around the blogosphere reveal particularly nasty examples of people taking glee in the idea of torturing terrorists because the terrorists are bad. Modify the last sentence to "reasonable people agree" and we can move on.

Later, in response to reader reaction, Mr. Goldberg responds with this:

Moreover, innocent people would not choose torture. They would give up the information needed. Of course there is a very real and legitimate danger of torturing innocent people because we wrongly don't believe they're innocent, which would be awful -- again just like killing or imprisoning innocent people is awful. But for the terrorist who knows that innocent men, women and children are about to be murdered and chooses to stay silent, I simply haven't read a principled argument that makes the moral case against coercing this accomplice to murder that I personally find convincing. Contrary to what a lot of people think, that alone doesn't make me "pro-torture." It makes me unpersuaded by some of the more high-minded arguments of the anti-torture crowd.

I concede that that doesn't make Mr. Goldberg "pro-torture," but I still have a question that should seem obvious. How would an innocent person give up needed information? If he's innocent, he doesn't know anything to give up. How long do we torture him for withholding information before we realize he's innocent? Does the torture inflicted remain justified after he's no longer a suspect because he was thought to be a terrorist at the time of the torture? We know we've imprisoned suspected terrorists in the last four years who've turned out to be innocent individuals.

I simply haven't read a reasonable argument that makes the legal case for torture compelling. That it's also morally and politically devastating to the United States should also factor into what should've been a short debate. Senator McCain's amendment should pass the Congress unchanged. President Bush should sign it.

December 10, 2005

Behold the power of The Internets

Browsing through the Congressional votes database on the Washington Post's site today, I discovered a unique and interesting way to review legislative votes. Sure, anyone could think that organizing by party and state. I might even come up with region. But gender? I wouldn't have thought that overly useful. And baby-boomer status? I guess age could matter. I wouldn't use that, though. But here's the Holy Grail (data for vote 618, H.R. 4440):

Astrological sign
Not Voting

Someone please explain to me when that might ever be useful. Other than the bored hippie constituency, maybe, I don't get it. Just because technology rocks doesn't mean we should use it to use it.

December 09, 2005

Congressman Tackleberry should heed the lesson

The case of the shooting death of Rigoberto Alpizar by air marshals in Miami on Wednesday took an interesting turn. We have the official line, which hasn't changed:

"He was belligerent. He threatened that he had a bomb in his backpack," said Brian Doyle, spokesman for the U.S. Homeland Security Department. "The officers clearly identified themselves and yelled at him to 'get down, get down.' Instead, he made a move toward the backpack."

But now this emerges:

Passenger John Mcalhany told The Associated Press on Thursday that Alpizar bumped into him as he ran off the aircraft, and he did not hear him say anything about a bomb.

"The first time I heard the word bomb was when I was interviewed by the FBI," McAlhany said. "They kept asking if I heard him say the B-word. And I said, 'What is the B-word?' And they were like, 'Bomb.' I said no. They said, 'Are you sure?' And I am."

Mary Gardner, another passenger, also said Thursday she not hear Alpizar mention a bomb.

Obviously I have no idea which version is true. I'm no less inclined to assume that the air marshals acted properly. However, this is why we investigate these cases. We don't want cover-ups on mistakes to allow the government to save face. If the air marshals erred in their judgment of the situation or disregarded the reality of the situation with a trigger-happy response, we should find out. We assume they acted properly but leave open the possibility that they did not. Should the shooting turn out to be improper, we need to know why so we can prevent it from happening again.

Just as important, this is why public officials like Rep. John L. Mica should not be so eager with glee that a man died. Unless he wants to imply that we shouldn't bother investigating this further because the system worked better than we expected. I wouldn't be surprised if he did, though.

December 08, 2005

Deadly force is encouraged

Everyone knows the facts of yesterday's passenger shooting at Miami International Airport. I'm most interested in the responses to the shooting. ersonally, I'm inclined to assume the federal air marshal acted properly. Air security is essential and any air marshal must be allowed to act on the facts before him. We need to conduct an honest investigation and learn any lessons on how to improve air marshal response in the next incident. I have no doubt that it'll occur. What we don't need is shameful rhetoric.

"This shows that the program has worked beyond our expectations," said Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House transportation subcommittee on aviation. "This should send a message to a terrorist or anyone else who is considering disrupting an aircraft with a threat."

Rep. Mica needs to shut up. The death of a man is beyond our expectations? How low were they before this incident? I can't imagine we thought air marshals would just say "Excuse me, but could you please not blow up this plane?" Rep. Mica's statement is posturing for the law-and-order crowd and should not be tolerated. He's taking far too much glee in this incident.

Which brings me to Bill O'Reilly. Danielle and I watched the O'Reilly Factor last night because he had part one of his interview with Howard Stern. We wanted to watch and nothing else was on. We should've recorded it and fast-forwarded through the propaganda.

During the opening segments, Mr. O'Reilly spoke with a "reporter" at Miami International Airport. During the discussion, Mr. O'Reilly described the shooting as (I'm paraphrasing) "if the suspect doesn't cooperate, the air marshal is going to blast him." The rest of the discussion consisted of the "reporter" prosecuting the case and coming to the perfect law-and-order conclusion that any action of force by security forces are justified if the risk of terrorism exists. Rather than facts, we got glee that a man died and the remaining passengers were marched off the plane with their hands on their heads. Oh, and the luggage not belonging to the dead suspect blown up by the bomb squad was just a reminder that we take terrorism seriously.

The entire debacle disgusted me. That many people were watching, absorbing the propaganda as gospel pissed me off.

December 05, 2005

Capitalism in Action

In a blatant display of economic ignorance, is trying to save 20th century journalism. Consider: has launched a petition drive to protest job reductions at the Los Angeles Times and three other Tribune Co. newspapers cutbacks that the liberal activist group says threaten the papers' ability to deliver "strong watchdog journalism."

MoveOn organizers said Friday, a little more than 24 hours into their Internet campaign, that they had collected 17,125 signatures to protest cuts that this week reduced The Times' newsroom staff by 8%, or 85 positions. The group reported that it had obtained a total of 10,360 signatures objecting to cuts at the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and Orlando Sentinel.

Adam Green, civic communications director for Civic Action, said it might be difficult to reverse recent cuts, but said the petitions would warn Tribune Co., based in Chicago, against further reductions.

"The key for us is to get people to recognize that the Tribune's business model is at fundamental odds with a good journalism model," he said. "We want to bring more public attention on these cuts and slow the trend, to bring them more in line with a good journalism model."

Mr. Green has it wrong. The old journalism model is at fundamental odds with the current business model. Of course there's still a need for good journalism but the Times is a business above all else. This where economic illiterates get themselves into trouble. Capitalism isn't bad. It's the most effective system for satisfying needs in the world. Whether that need is Cowboy Cookies or hemp pants or good journalism or whatever else humans value, capitalism is the best system ever created. We create Useful Stuff under capitalism. If we still need good journalism, we'll get it.

Specifically, how does supporters get their news? I'd bet that at least one person who signed those petitions uses the Internets to get news. Did he pay for it by dropping coins into a machine or offering them to a merchant? No? That's the new delivery system for news content. Dead trees are a dying business model. Don't protest the Times for its layoffs because it's taking action to save the remaining 92% of newsroom staff. And if you don't know how its publishers should do that, guess what? Neither do they. Consider:

"I think it's terrific that people care enough about the paper to do whatever they can to make sure that it has the ability to keep doing great stuff," said Times Editor Dean Baquet.

"I think it means that at a time when people are putting papers down and questioning how relevant we are a bunch of people are saying, 'We think you are very relevant, and keep doing what you are doing,' " he said.

That's the very touchy-feely way of saying "We still don't know how to make money in 2005 and beyond." News is a product. It always has been, but in the past, publishers were the gatekeepers with a one-dimensional delivery method. Television changed that. The Internets destroyed that. The product is still in the marketplace. The demand still exists.

For proof, look at me. I'm linking to an article in the Los Angeles Times and offering commentary. Did I do the original reporting? Would I be writing about this if I hadn't read this article that the Times staff created? I could do the research on my own, of course, but I choose to spend my time in ways more valuable to me than original reporting. I rely on news sources for information, like most everyone. Demand still exists. But newspapers are organized around a business model that expects me to pay for a printed version. I want only lengthy reading material in printed form. News, however important, is now disposable and selective. Like most, the price I'm willing to pay for that is going down. The Times and Tribune Co. and every other publisher are figuring that out. A little late, but they're figuring it out.

Why can't figure it out?

Hat tip: Jeff Jarvis

December 01, 2005

I don't always enjoy being right

I wish I wasn't prophetic when I wrote this:

Is it reasonable to assume that if we rely on racial profiling, terrorists will switch tactics to include racial (and gender) profiles we're not looking for?

I'm not surprised. Terrorists may be one size fits all, but that's going to change.

She was the typical girl-next-door _ pretty daughter of a hospital secretary who grew up on a quiet street in this rust-belt town and finished high school before becoming a baker's assistant.

Years later she was in Baghdad, carrying out a suicide bombing in the name of jihad _ a disturbing sign of the reach of Islamic militancy.

Neighbors say Muriel Degauque, who blew herself up last month at age 38 trying to attack U.S. troops, had lived a conventional life but became heavily involved in Islam after marrying an Algerian.

Muriel Degauque was white. Would racial profiling for young men of Middle Eastern descent have stopped her if she'd blown herself up in the United States instead of Iraq? I reiterate what I've written in the past. Police, military, and intelligence gatherers are trained to do a job. They generally do it very well. Relying primarily on something so easily mistake-prone (racial profiling) will give us a false sense of security. That is not what we need when dealing with terrorism. I'd rather trust intelligence info, detective work, and the field instincts of a police offer dealing with suspicious activity. We're going to win the domestic portion of the war against Islamofascist terrorism because we have those three capabilities. We'd be wise to remember that every time someone promotes racial profiling as essential to the war against Islamofascist terrorism.

Don't make me retract my retraction

Yesterday, I highlighted this quote from FCC Chairman Kevin Martin:

"You can always turn the television off and, of course, block the channels you don't want," Martin said, "but why should you have to?"

I read Chairman Martin's words the way I believe most people read them. However, reading and hearing the words can confer different meanings. I've seen in places around The Internets that it's possible to read Chairman Martin's rhetorical question so that it applies to nothing more than a la carte cable programming. I'm inclined to give Chairman Martin the benefit of the doubt on this until I can hear an audio version of his testimony, even though I suspect he still believes the underlying sentiment I read into his words, regardless of his intent. But that only begs an analysis of a la carte programming in Chairman Martin's worldview without the added baggage of indecency nonsense. So it goes.

I'm a fan of a la carte programming, although I'd subscribe to more channels than I know I need because I like the randomness of stumbling on interesting documentaries. That'd be lost if I just subscribed to the channels I usually watch, so I'd pay a little bit to keep my options. If the channels I might like are offered at or below what I'm willing to pay for the option, I'd subscribe. If the channels cost more than my price, I won't subscribe. The channel provider could then adjust accordingly. That efficiency is the beauty of free market economics. Chairman Martin hates that efficiency, I think.

In his testimony this week, as well as in the past, Chairman Martin threatened the cable industry with further regulation if it didn't offer a la carte programming. That's statism at its core. "We're from the government. You'll do it our way because we know best." It's bad government, but it's also bad economics. Customers may or may not be better off if the cable industry offers a la carte programming as a result of regulation. But even if it improves where we are, it's not optimal.

Instead of his misguided power grab threats, Chairman Martin should work to deregulate the cable industry and eliminate the existing monopolies. If more than one provider existed, free from FCC restrictions, competition would drive cable operators to figure out what customers most want. (And no, cable and satellite aren't perfect competitors for each other for various reasons, i.e. homeowner associations.) Competition might prove that it's more price efficient for block programming than a la carte, but the market would decide. If it works, brilliant. If it doesn't, there are no regulations to kill, which is especially nice since we know how easy it is to rid ourselves of unnecessary government. That's why we pay lip service to believe in capitalism. Now is the time for Chairman Martin to show where he stands, although I think he's already done so.

November 29, 2005

Capitalism starves babies (and other lies)

I've discussed labor unions and touched on how they're not particularly helpful to America anymore. In this editorial, E. J. Dionne Jr. discusses the future of American industry and the wrongs labor unions tried to right. It's an interesting read, although every time I thought he might finally be heading for truth, Mr. Dionne takes an undesirable intellectual detour. For instance:

Decades ago, Walter Reuther, the storied head of the United Auto Workers union, was taken on a tour of an automated factory by a Ford Motor Co. executive.

Somewhat gleefully, the Ford honcho told the legendary union leader: "You know, not one of these machines pays dues to the UAW."

To which Reuther snapped: "And not one of them buys new Ford cars, either."

It's a semi-witty response and one that any company interested in technology should heed. However, Mr. Dionne draws the wrong conclusion from that exchange. Of course the machines don't buy new cars, but the logic flow does not automatically lead back to "Machines Bad, Assembly Workers Good". The purpose of a business is to maximize profit. If robotic assembly arms help reduce costs, they're useful. Finding ways to make the displaced workers productive is the next exercise. However, those unions so determined to "help" workers don't understand that those displaced workers may be more productive working elsewhere. It's the "creative destruction" described by economist Joseph Schumpeter, referenced in the editorial.

Mr. Dionne then debates the manner in which the left liberals Democrats progressives should tell the story of unions and labor and looking out for the little guy. He promotes that as more compelling than the story of capitalism told by economic conservatives. Rather than stumble along, leaving the core of the debate to the other side, progressives should discuss how government shepherding of creative destruction can improve lives. Consider:

But this muddle reflects a default on parts of the left and, especially, within the Democratic Party. Because so many Democrats fear that they might sound like -- God forbid! -- socialists, they are unwilling to challenge the right's core story. Capitalism, all by itself, would never have achieved the rising living standards that were the pride of the United States in O'Neill's 1950s and still are today. The rules enforced by the National Labor Relations Board made it possible for Reuther's union to organize by protecting workers' rights. Cheap 30-year mortgages, which became the norm because of Federal Housing Administration guarantees, created a nation of homeowners.

As medical costs rise, more Americans will need government help. More employers will need to offload the costs of medical insurance to avoid bankruptcy. Yes, that's "socialized medicine," just like Medicare. But don't tell anyone. The phrase plays terribly in focus groups.

For 60 years New Dealers and social democrats, liberals and progressives, turned Schumpeter on his head. They insisted that few would embrace capitalism's innovations if the system's tendency toward creative destruction was not balanced by public innovations to spread the bounty and protect millions from being injured by change. It's a compelling story. Walter Reuther knew it well. Too bad it isn't told very often anymore.

Mr. Dionne can argue that socialist redistribution and intentional economic stagnation are the best policies for America, but I need more proof than the National Labor Relations Board and mortgage guarantees, which don't amount to proof that the private industry can't handle those tasks. He can even argue that socialized medicine is necessary because businesses can't provide it much longer. I've mentioned a better solution in the past, but the debate is worthwhile. He shouldn't pretend that he's promoting an improved, socialistic version of capitalism, though. Resisting change doesn't stop it from happening. If it did, we'd still be using the horse-and-buggy and listening to vinyl records Gramophones.

November 09, 2005

The sky isn't falling. Even in Texas.

Even though a "traditional" marriage amendment passed in Texas yesterday, and a similar amendment is likely to pass in Virginia in 2006, I'm not distressed. I'm nowhere near last year's level of frustration because the past twelve months showed that the "losses" in this debate are short-term. Freedom has always prevailed over legalized bigotry and it will again. Instead, I'm inclined to amuse myself with the tangential aspects of the debate. From DailyKos comes this statement:

An anti-gay marriage amendment in Texas passed easily (even though it may hilariously invalidate every marriage).

I hadn't read the text of the amendment before reading that comment, so I looked it up. The ballot language was this:

"The constitutional amendment providing that marriage in this state consists only of the union of one man and one woman and prohibiting this state or a political subdivision of this state from creating or recognizing any legal status identical or similar to marriage."

No shocker there, of course, but it doesn't match any remote idea of a controversial interpretation. I followed the link to the amendment's text for the answer. Here it is:

SECTION 1. Article I, Texas Constitution, is amended by adding Section 32 to read as follows:

Sec. 32. (a) Marriage in this state shall consist only of the union of one man and one woman.
(b) This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

SECTION 2. This state recognizes that through the designation of guardians, the appointment of agents, and the use of private contracts, persons may adequately and properly appoint guardians and arrange rights relating to hospital visitation, property, and the entitlement to proceeds of life insurance policies without the existence of any legal status identical or similar to marriage.

Section 2 reads as nothing short of a concession that some legal rights must exist. The obvious question is why Texas won't set aside the charade that they've saved marriage by denying gays and lesbians access to the same civil institution, while allegedly conferring the same legal abilities. But that's more a head-shaker than anything else. The point of the DailyKos comment is Section 1 (b).

As always, I'm not an attorney, but I understand how the amendment's wording could lead to a different interpretation from the meaning. The text is awful, but I don't think this will lead to any nullification of marriage. It requires the reader to insert a bit of context to interpret it the way it's meant, but it requires just as much to interpret it broadly. With the current judicial activism nonsense, I can't imagine a Texas judge reading the broader meaning from the text. (How this isn't legislative activism is an appropriate question.)

An opponent could make the argument that reading the intended meaning out of that text is judicial activism, as well, and I'm inclined to agree. However, I don't believe that argument will stick, so it'd be an energy expense with little payoff beyond intellectual entertainment. I love those scenarios, but I'm a little strange.

As an aside, if I were a Kossack, I'd be more concerned that the election post carried the title "Weird. We Won. Onward to 2006!". When your party wins an election, you shouldn't be surprised. Especially when taking the Governor's mansion in both elections means handing the keys from the current Democrat to the new Democrat. Being surprised implies acceptance of permanent minority status. That's not really leadership-oriented thinking, no?

(Source: Balloon Juice)

Economics education should be mandatory

The Senate gets it wrong investigating recent oil profits, and the press exacerbates the problem. Consider:

The chiefs of five major oil companies defended the industry's huge profits Wednesday at a Senate hearing where lawmakers said they should explain prices and assure people they're not being gouged.

There is a "growing suspicion that oil companies are taking unfair advantage," Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said as the hearing opened in a packed Senate committee room.

"The oil companies owe the country an explanation," he said.

Lee Raymond, retiring CEO of ExxonMobil (XOM), said he recognizes that high gasoline prices "have put a strain on Americans' household budgets" but he defended his companies huge profits, saying petroleum earnings "go up and down" from year to year.

"Huge profits" is also in the article's title. "Huge" is a relative term; saying profits are huge doesn't make it so. There are other places to get detailed numerical analysis of the fallacy of "huge" profits, but near the end, the article cites James Mulla, chairman of ConocoPhillips, in pointing out that the company's $3.8 billion profit is a 7.7% profit margin. How is that "huge"? Just like price, volume factors into the final equation. The article should not say "huge".

I'm not surprised, though, because even our senators seem oblivious to basic business knowledge. If Sen. Domenici really wants an explanation, he can read the financial statements for every public oil company, just like investors do. Here's a quick test for the Senators: Is ExxonMobil priced correctly at $57.84 per share? How about ConocoPhillips at $66.90 per share? Like profits, one piece of information is all you need to know the answer, right?

November 07, 2005

Ding dong ding dong .. mmmkay

By now everyone knows that Denver residents approved Initiative 100, legalizing possession of up to one ounce of marijuana within the city limits. This is, of course, mostly symbolic since state laws against possession will still trump Initiative 100. We all know how the "Drugs are bad, mmmmkay" nanny statists will view this, so shock at continuing arrests and disregard for this message from the voters would be pointless. Remember, it's all about the will of the people unless the will of the people don't do what's in their best interests. The people don't get to offer input into what's in their best interest, either, but no matter. "Drugs are bad, mmmmkay" continues.

Personally, I agree with the gist of the "Drugs are bad, mmmmkay" message, although I'd change it to reflect that I merely don't get the fascination with drugs, or even alcohol. That doesn't mean I expect to deny it to you. As long as you don't endanger me, I don't care, so I think drugs should be legal and would've voted for Initiative 100. With all the issues facing our society, prohibition laws make no sense. Possession of one ounce of marijuana is trivial when considering other dangers. Legalize all of it and end the nonsensical battle.

While in Blacksburg over the weekend, I read the student newspaper, The Collegiate Times, for a bit of nostalgia. I always do this and I'm always amused at how bad it is. It was awful when I was a student. A reporter interviewed me for a story on a student organization I was involved in at the time and misquoted me after I e-mailed my response to her questions. Seemingly everyone involved was some combination of lazy and/or incompetent. Now, more than seven years later, nothing has changed. From Friday's edition, this editorial tackles the passage of Initiative 100 in Denver. Consider [sic's everywhere]:

News of such a measure brings about issues of legalizing marijuana in general. Denver should not have allowed such a measure to pass, even its mayor and the state of Colorado agree with that. The new procedure essentially stops people in Denver from being punished for carrying small amounts of marijuana. State law still allows for fines and speaks nothing to buying, selling or smoking the drug that has been known as a gateway drug to other addictive ones.

By passing such a procedure, the city of Denver may have gotten more than it bargained for. Then again, perhaps they really are attempting to become the next Amsterdam. If possession of marijuana becomes legal, what is to stop arguments of legalization of prostitution, heroin or any other illegal drugs?

In a country full of people who cannot even handle alcohol, legalizing marijuana is ludicrous. The United States arguably has some of the strictest laws pertaining to alcohol; however, drunken driving statistics are higher than those of most other countries, if not all.

What all of this boils down to is this: Making a vice more accessible, even legal, only ensures that it will become more harmful. Allowing people in one city to carry less than an ounce of marijuana literally removes the deterrence of carrying drugs in general. Not only that but a measure such as the one that has just passed in Denver, push the movement of legalizing marijuana in general.

That seriously could be the only reason something such as this has happened. In Telluride, Colo., the same measure as in Denver was narrowly turned down. It seems as though the purpose of introducing these procedures in localities that are so close to one another can only be to eventually challenge the state law itself.

The United States simply isn't ready for the legalization of marijuana. This country cannot handle the inhibitions that exist from alcohol, how can citizens expect to be able to handle marijuana? While it seems as though state law may trump the measures being taken in Denver, the overall effects of such things are the real problem. Legalizing possession in Denver pushes the movement towards general legalization in Colorado and basically paves the way for legalized marijuana all over the United States. Without a doubt the road the followers of this movement are headed on must be stopped.

I'm ashamed that poorly reasoned, grammatically ignorant screeds pass for thinking at Virginia Tech. There are so many lapses of logic that it's hard to decide where to begin. Is it the ridiculous notion that government officials are a better arbiter of standards than the governed? Could it be that the editors invoked the "slippery slope" argument without providing any justification for how that would happen, or even why it's a "bad" outcome?

No. It's the low level of intelligence needed to believe that "strictest laws pertaining to alcohol/drunken driving statistics are higher than those of most other countries" forms a strong pretext to criminalize drugs more until the people finally get it that drugs. are. bad. and they can't be trusted to make good decisions, so Thank God the government is looking out for them. The editors provide no support for their generalizations. No statistics, no theories, no anecdotal evidence. They offer nanny statism at its core: if we give you freedom, you'll only fuck it up, so trust us that we know better. No, thanks.

Yet, the editors don't stop there. Somehow America cannot handle the inhibitions that exist from alcohol, so how can citizens be able to handle marijuana? First, prove that Americans can't handle alcohol. I might agree generically, although I come to the conclusion that allowing Americans to drink earlier, where parents and society can teach moderation, would be more effective than "protecting" them from themselves with strict laws. I don't agree, though, that a blanket statement of fact is sufficient in this argument. Prove it with at least one fact. Surely one is available.

More importantly, the editors failed to prove that marijuana is worse than alcohol. Again, prove it. State at least one fact indicating that legalization of alcohol is reasonable but legalization of marijuana is not. It can't be the gateway drug nonsense, either, unless you prove that, too. Wishing it so doesn't it make it true. Cause and effect.

Finally, what kind of government do the editors believe we have? Granted, that's mostly rhetorical because the clear implication in that editorial is that the federal government mandates best. But consider the federal part of federal government. Isn't it reasonable to allow a locality to decide that it wants to try this experiment? If it doesn't work, it'll stop and presumably won't spread to other places. If it succeeds, the next locality has proof that it can be done without destroying society. In that regard, the editors are correct in assuming that it could spread all over America, but that's not a bad outcome if the experiment proves a success. But that's just my crazy notion that I'll err on the side of freedom unless the facts reveal that as unwise.

November 04, 2005

Basic competence used to be an assumption

I mentioned this scenario last week when I wrote that I'm against the death penalty.

A death row inmate escaped from a county jail after he obtained civilian clothing and a fake ID badge, authorities said.

Charles Victor Thompson, 35, of Tomball, was being held Thursday in the Harris County Jail after he was resentenced last week in the 1998 shooting deaths of his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend.

"He had changed out of the orange jumpsuit that inmates ordinarily wear," Harris County sheriff's Lt. John Martin said in the online edition of the Houston Chronicle. "He may have been taken out of the cell block and put in the attorney booth in the guise of having an attorney visit."

The facts of this case don't change my opinion. That's not a huge leap because this prisoner escaped from a jail after a resentencing and not a maximum security prison, but I stand firm that death row inmate escapes indicate a need for better security, not a quicker, more determined execution schedule. If nothing else, this example shows that we have stupid people in law enforcement. Presumably the legal system is better staffed, but I seriously question whether or not the jury box is. Even leaving the moral question aside, until there are reasonable assurances (professional juries, for example?) that this tendency for mega-foul-ups is accommodated, forget it. My belief stands.

November 01, 2005

Like Playing Twister in a Minefield

By now everyone has seen the studies indicating that circumcised men experience decreased HIV infection rates than intact men. Naturally, with the society-approved belief that circumcision is "good", or at least "not bad", this news is hailed as a breakthrough confirmation that we're doing what's best for our children sons. I've already dispelled that ridiculous idea with the obvious response that there are other effective methods of prevention, as well as the basic understanding that comparing our HIV infection rate with that of any nation in Africa is absurd. The mass circumcision rates in recent American generations did not prevent the rise of HIV. One might make the argument that we've minimized an otherwise worse epidemic because most of our males are circumcised, but there's no reasonable way to prove that. It can't figure in the discussion further than speculation. Given the tenacity with which circumcision proponents in America cling to their belief, any such experiment is pointless, anyway. Better to use this recent study, coupled with faulty logic, to further proscribe circumcision as "good" for the world. Consider:

A new French study completed in South Africa and released at the International Aids Society meeting in Rio de Janeiro shows that male circumcision could reduce the probability that a man will acquire HIV from an HIV-infected person by up to 70%.

I have been working in HIV prevention since I moved to San Francisco in 1982, and have been working in Africa since 1990. This is the most important breakthrough in HIV prevention since the efficacy of the male condom was unequivocally demonstrated in laboratory and human studies.

The only prevention strategy that is currently better than this is abstinence.

In these three sentences, the author offered two alternatives to circumcision, but that's too simple. The pro-circumcision argument must continue because scientists have found something magical that requires no further personal responsibility. Isn't that the blessing of science? Or, when in doubt, obfuscate logic and truth.

Some may question the results of this study by saying that many more men in the US, where male circumcision is practised, have HIV than in European countries where male circumcision is not widespread.

But many HIV infections in the US and Europe are passed from male to male, and the primary risk is to the receptive partner in anal intercourse. Circumcision would not protect in that circumstance, nor would it protect when the mode of transmission is sharing of injection equipment.

Sentence one does not easily flow to sentence two. In the beginning, the author compares the US and Europe to each other. In the second, he shifts to discussing a common transmittal scenario. One that, again, pretends that personal responsibility doesn't matter. It does. But the author later adds this:

Male circumcision does have advantages over the male condom. Many men do not like condoms, and they can be expensive and unavailable just at the moment that they are needed. Further, they tend not to be used at the riskiest moments - when people are inebriated or high on drugs.

Most important, they need to be used rather consistently to confer protection. Condoms require action every time; circumcision is a one-time irreversible event.

It's important to public health when an epidemic spreads, but how are these scenarios indicative that circumcision is the cure-all? If nothing else, "tend not to be used at the riskiest moments" sums up everything wrong with any argument that circumcision is a strong preventative. If a man will engage in such risky behavior because he's drunk or high, he's not likely to care who his partner is (or care about his partner). Worse, he may begin to feel that he's protected, negating any need to further protect himself. Brilliant. Men are too stupid to protect themselves, so let's encourage a scenario where their stupidity is likely to be amplified. I'm not the crazy one, here.

But will circumcision as HIV preventative be widely implemented becomes the question.

Whether or not young men will come in droves to be circumcised remains to be seen. Men and women alike squirm at the thought of male circumcision, especially for adolescents and adults [ed. - infants who can't say "no" is where that argument leads].

I was at a medical conference last year when one of the male circumcision studies was presented, and the investigator showed a film of the surgery with an actual patient. It was easy to see everyone's face scrunch up and their legs close as they moaned softly in empathic agony with the patient.

Very few of these news stories and commentaries bother to mention that the study was conducted on adults, with the results and pro-circumcision recommendation aimed at adults. It seems the study's authors concluded that people could rationalize the logical mistakes in assuming this study indicates that circumcision equals no HIV. It didn't. But I'm merely projecting my opinion on the author of this editorial, right?

The Botswana government has recently passed legislation indicating that all mothers need to be counselled on male circumcision for their male infants. It does not force circumcision on anyone - and that is important - but people need to be counselled about its potential benefits and disadvantages.

The American Academy of Paediatrics in 1975 issued a statement indicating that there are no medical reasons for male circumcision, and the procedure has been dropping in the US ever since. It may need to rethink its position as well.

This finding is good news in the fight against HIV. It will be controversial, and some individuals and countries may not want to do it. That is their choice, as no HIV prevention technique should be forced on anyone. But it does remind us that the pace of the fight against HIV is a hopeful one, and more good news is down the line.

The American Academy of Pediatrics "may need to rethink its position" in light of this. Right, but no one should be forced to undergo circumcision. Unless they're an infant in America with advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics, of course, because then it's easier, with no squeamishness on the part of the circumcised. And they're "protected" for life, so why should they care that it was forced on them?

Also, the author listed only two disadvantage (infection potential for circumcision in a non-sterile environment and sex before insufficient healing post-surgery increasing susceptibility) in his opinion piece. He states nothing of the long-term consequences. As I've written before, what if the newly convinced men undergo a circumcision that leaves too little skin, making their skin too tight. Skin tears can arise from that. Does the author wish to advocate that a bleeding tear in the penile skin will be less receptive to HIV transmission than a non-bleeding foreskin? But, you know, it's better to run with the information we have because PEOPLE ARE DYING. Action is always good policy.

Am I the only sane person left?

October 28, 2005

Patience is a virtue unknown to politicians

Sometimes, a sentence comes along written so succinctly that it's impossible to write it in a way that doesn't plagiarize the original. Such is this sentence, which gives the necessary introduction.

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, was indicted Friday on one count of obstruction of justice, two counts of perjury and two counts of making false statements.

Not that I couldn't have done it, but the effort wasn't worth the trouble. And that's not the purpose of this entry. To the point I wish to acknowledge this brilliant attack following the indictment.

Democratic reaction to the indictment came quickly. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said Friday, "The prosecutor has performed his job in pursuing this case vigorously and fairly. However the charges really beg the larger question what did the president and vice president know about these and related matters, and when did they know it?"

The Democratic National Committee urged Bush to delay his weekend trip to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., and confront the case.

Is there any wonder why the Democrats haven't won any significant elections in recent years? These charges don't particularly beg the larger question Rep. Conyers believes it does. Not one of those charges against Mr. Libby indicates that the president and/or vice president did anything illegal regarding Valerie Plame. That doesn't mean what they did was particularly ethical or decent (decency in politics - [sic]), but what they did or didn't do is little more than speculation right now. Allow Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to close his investigation.

If Rep. Conyers was smart, he'd wait and watch President Bush and Vice President Cheney bounced around by implicit guilt by association. He knows neither will admit to what he's asking. Why not let the (liberal) media dirty its hands, instead? With this, he does little more than appear to be an ass. And contrary to the DNC's call, wouldn't it make more sense to watch the president duck around this as long as possible? Nothing worsens the political damage more. For reference, see Plamegate. Oh, wait, circular logic. Also, probably too obvious. Was Lewinsky too long ago?


October 27, 2005

Can Children's Services invoke Eminent Domain?

You're going to be shocked, but I have an opinion on this story:

A Roman Catholic high school has ordered its students to remove their online diaries from the Internet, citing a threat from cyberpredators.

Students at Pope John XXIII Regional High School in Sparta appear to be heeding a directive from the principal, the Rev. Kieran McHugh.

Officials with the Diocese of Paterson say the directive is a matter of safety, not censorship. No one has been disciplined yet, said Marianna Thompson, a diocesan spokeswoman.

It's a private school, so no civil rights are being abused. That doesn't make it right. It's not even the most appropriate response a learning institution could pursue. Kurt Opsahl of the Electronic Frontier Foundation offered this, which is too logical and obvious for the school, I suppose:

"But this is the first time we've heard of such an overreaction," he said. "It would be better if they taught students what they should and shouldn't do online rather than take away the primary communication tool of their generation."

The real issue for me in this is the likely reason the school believes this is within its bounds. The parents who enroll their kids in Pope John XXIII Regional High School probably signed something giving the school the ability to make this decision for their children. But why do parents feel this is good parenting? Better to learn early that parents own children.

This is a high school, where the "kids" are within a few years of adulthood. Sooner rather than later they'll be making decisions on their own, involving themselves in relationships and activities with the same potential consequences that the school aims to protect with this policy. Shielding them from the world before turning them loose is an abdication of a basic purpose of education. Parents signing this away is worse.

I'd say I'm surprised, but I've written enough about that concept to know that it shocks only the foolish.

When Constitutional Rights Become Whimsical Privileges

There is a time for law-and-order government, but it should be within the law. It's shameful that the case of Jose Padilla has gotten this far:

"Dirty bomb" suspect Jose Padilla has asked the Supreme Court to limit the government's power to hold him and other U.S. terror suspects indefinitely and without charges.

The case of Padilla, who has been in custody more than three years, presents a major test of the Bush administration's wartime authority. The former gang member is accused of plotting to detonate a radioactive device.

Justices refused on a 5-4 vote last year to resolve Padilla's rights, ruling that he contested his detention in the wrong court. Donna Newman of New York, one of Padilla's attorneys, said the new case, which was being processed at the court Thursday, asks when and for how long the government can jail people in military prisons.

"Their position is not only can we do it, we can do it forever. In my opinion, that's very problematic and something we should all be very concerned about," she said.

Maybe he's guilty, maybe not, but that doesn't change the fact that he's an American citizen being jailed without charges. Three years is not a reasonable length of time to hold someone. If the government can't figure out what he might have done, all involved are incompetent. If they've formed an opinion, but don't feel obligated to share that with anyone, Padilla included, because they believe national security is more important than the Constitution, they don't believe in the Constitution. They might as well declare the Constitution null and void. The Supreme Court is trying to do that, but it hasn't gotten there yet. Until it does, the courts need to force the Justice Dept. to charge or release Padilla.

There's hope that principles will prevail, as evidenced by this piece of logic:

"I think the court is going to have to take it," said Scott Silliman, a former Air Force attorney and Duke University law professor. "This is a vital case on the principle of an American citizen captured in the United States, and what constitutional rights does he have."

Of course, I believed that we'd already decided that issue through more than two hundred years of legal proceedings. That's also why the next Supreme Court nominee is so vital. Better to have someone who understands that the Constitution exists than to have someone who will offer complete deference to the whims of the president. (This is where lackeys for President Bush like to add "in war time". Until someone can offer a tangible definition of how we'll know when the war is over and the presidency can revert to peace time rules, I'm leaving it out.)

October 26, 2005

Success isn't always good?

Rather than go too deeply into explaining why this drivel is condescending, ignorant, and offensive, I'll just highlight paragraphs and counter the writer's non-arguments.

Like a lot of African Americans, I've long wondered what the deal was with Condoleezza Rice and the issue of race. How does she work so loyally for George W. Bush, whose approval rating among blacks was measured in a recent poll at a negligible 2 percent? How did she come to a worldview so radically different from that of most black Americans? Is she blind, is she in denial, is she confused -- or what?

If President Bush has a 2 percent approval rating among blacks, some people need to be in that 2 percent. Given that there are what, 40 to 50 million black Americans, I don't find it hard to believe that Ms. Rice is one of the 900,000 or so who supports the President. Or is the implication that those two percent are race traitors?

Rice's parents tried their best to shelter their only daughter from Jim Crow racism, and they succeeded. Forty years later, Rice shows no bitterness when she recalls her childhood in a town whose streets were ruled by the segregationist police chief Bull Connor. "I've always said about Birmingham that because race was everything, race was nothing," she said in an interview on the flight home.

Or maybe she found a smarter way to deal with the situation as it existed. Dealing with what is makes more sense than whining about what is. But that's only a recipe for success. I could be wrong.

She doesn't deny that race makes a difference. "We all look forward to the day when this country is race-blind, but it isn't yet," she told reporters in Birmingham. Later she added, "The fact that our society is not colorblind is a statement of fact."

Or maybe she found a smarter way to deal with the situation as it existed. Dealing with what is makes more sense than whining about what is. But that's only a recipe for success. I could be wrong.

But then why are the top echelons of her State Department almost entirely white? "That's an artifact of foreign policy," she said in the interview. "It's not been a very diverse profession." In other words, there aren't enough qualified minority candidates. I wondered how many times those words have been used as a lame excuse.

Are there qualified minority candidates being passed over for lesser-qualified white candidates? I have no idea, but this provides me no evidence to support what the author expects me to conclude, that racism is the only reason the State Department is almost entirely white.

One of the things she somehow missed was that in Titusville and other black middle-class enclaves, a guiding principle was that as you climbed, you were obliged to reach back and bring others along. Rice has been a foreign policy heavyweight for nearly two decades; she spent four years in the White House as the president's national security adviser. In the interview, she mentioned just one black professional she has brought with her from the National Security Council to State.

That speaks for itself.

As we were flying to Alabama, Rice said an interesting thing. She was talking about the history of the civil rights movement, and she said, "If you read Frederick Douglass, he was not petitioning from outside of the institutions but rather demanding that the institutions live up to what they said they were. If you read Martin Luther King, he was not petitioning from outside, he was petitioning from inside the principles and the institutions, and challenging America to be what America said that it was."

The civil rights movement came from the inside? I always thought the Edmund Pettus Bridge was outside.

I know very few black Americans who think of themselves fully as insiders in this society. No matter how high we rise, there's always that reality that Rice acknowledges: The society isn't colorblind, not yet. It's not always in the front of your mind, but it's there. We talk about it, we overcome it, but it's there.

Secretary Rice implies that she always considered herself "inside". She expected to be considered "inside" and behaved accordingly. Seeing where she is today, the institutions seem to recognize what she believed. Is it possible the institutions would recognize her feeling of being "outside", if that's what she'd chosen to believe?

Consider what Sec. Rice said ("The fact that our society is not colorblind is a statement of fact.") and what the writer said ("The society isn't colorblind, not yet."). Two different worldviews exist in those similar but quite distinct statements. Which is more cynical and self-perpetuating?

I'll laugh at these posts if I go to law school

I haven't changed my mind about Harriet Miers being unqualified for the Supreme Court, and I think some of the ridicule she's getting for her clarity of writing is on target, but some aspects of two 1990s speeches reported in today's Washington Post don't seem unreasonable to me. Consider:

"My basic message here is that when you hear the courts blamed for activism or intrusion where they do not belong, stop and examine what the elected leadership has done to solve the problem at issue," she said.

At a speech later that summer titled "Women and Courage," Miers went further. Citing statistics that showed Texas's relatively high poverty rates, Miers said the public should not blame judges when courts step in to solve such problems.

"Allowing conditions to exist so long and get so bad that resort to the courts is the only answer has not served our state well," she said. "Politicians who would cry 'The courts made me do it' or 'I did not do that -- the courts did' should not be tolerated."

Is that simplistic, as this indicates? Perhaps, but I think there's a fundamental truth to what she said. I have no idea if she still believes it (or even believed it then), but it's a reasonable point. I do agree with this post's clarification, though.

The argument [Miers] makes is that the courts can't be blamed when they are forced to step in to resolve problems that elected officials have failed to resolve (e.g., the problems of school funding and low-income housing siting). That is a very standard argument, usually associated with liberals. Eliot Spitzer, for example, often argues that it is necessary to pursue anti-gun policies through the courts because legislatures have failed to act. But it's hard to see how the courts are to distinguish between a) a legislative "failure to act," b) a legislative decision that there is no problem demanding solution, or c) a legislative decision that solving any problem would create new and greater problems. Any act of judicial usurpation can be described as a reluctant response to the legislature's failure to enact what the judges wanted them to enact.

I'm sure a legal scholar (i.e. not Ms. Miers) could posit a useful explanation of how to apply that in a consistent, reasonable manner, but I suspect it's simply based a) rights being trampled, b) rights being trampled, or c) understanding that the experimentation of federalism has worked for more than two centuries, with the Republic still standing. Or cases will work through the court system as they now do. I don't claim to be an expert.

The perfect example is same-sex marriage. Any number of issues could apply, of course, but this is the most recent, most obvious example. Essentially, state legislatures and Congress should be in front on the issue, removing DOMA nonsense and removing barriers to civil recognition of marriage for all. They're not, which means the courts will do it. Not because they're activist but because it's obvious that it should and will happen under our Constitution. When elected leaders refuse to remove barriers to liberty, courts are one of the remaining options. The question of judicial involvement as activism is useful prevalent, but no one should be surprised when it's used.

November 2006 will not be pleasant

This editorial is a few days old, but it's still timely since it concerns the upcoming election in Virginia. Consider:

... the election is between Kaine and Kilgore, and the most important national implications of November's voting will grow from issues -- in particular, the death penalty and sprawl -- that the two men are raising themselves.

If Kilgore wins on the basis of a truly scandalous series of advertisements about the death penalty, it will encourage Republicans all over the country to pull a stained and tattered battle flag out of the closet.

Kaine is a Roman Catholic who opposes the death penalty. "My faith teaches life is sacred," he says. "I personally oppose the death penalty." I cheer Kaine for being one of the few politicians with the guts to say this the way he does. It's disturbing that faith-based political stands that don't point in a conservative direction rarely inspire the church-based political activism that, say, abortion, arouses. Maybe some of the churches will examine their consciences.

But Virginia has a death penalty on the books, so Kaine says plainly: "I take my oath of office seriously, and I'll enforce the death penalty."

That's not good enough for Kilgore. You have to read much of the ad he ran on this issue to believe it. In the commercial, Stanley Rosenbluth, whose son Richard and daughter-in-law Becky were murdered, declares:

"Mark Sheppard shot Richard twice and went over and shot Becky two more times. Tim Kaine voluntarily represented the person who murdered my son. He stood with murderers in trying to get them off death row. No matter how heinous the crime, he doesn't believe that death is a punishment. Tim Kaine says that Adolf Hitler doesn't qualify for the death penalty. This was the worst mass murderer in modern times. . . . I don't trust Tim Kaine when it comes to the death penalty, and I say that as a father who's had a son murdered."

Having seen the ads, that's an accurate recap. And they're every bit as disgusting as one can imagine. No reasonable person wants to embrace a murderer and excuse his actions. Mr. Kaine is not doing that, as evidenced by his response. He made a particular statement that he's personally opposed to the death penalty, but he would uphold the law if elected. How complicated is that? Do we want our politicians embracing only what the political winds bring? Do reasoned principles account for nothing?

Personally, I agree with Mr. Kaine on this. The death penalty is wrong. It's absurd that Virginians are so adamantly in favor of executing people. It often borders on a blood thirst. (If I'm not mistaken, we're second only to Texas - by a wide margin - since the death penalty became legal again.) That does not change my belief that the death penalty is uncivilized. It's the mark of a society interested in revenge rather than justice. Much like the current presidential defense of torture, I can't fathom how a party based so heavily on the teachings of Jesus could ever come to the conclusion that execution is justifiable. (Kaine is a Democrat, Kilgore a Republican.)

For what, safety? We lock inmates away on death row now, with few escapes. Is it not possible to continue designing improved prison systems in which society is protected? I'm not sure who will advocate that death row inmates lead particularly fulfilling lives in their cells. Like most people, I don't care about them, so keep the conditions. That's the bargain for violating the most sacred right guaranteed within society. But taking that final step to execution only tarnishes the society, without providing added benefit. It's the real culture of death.

Yet, that's not the most disturbing aspect of this political smear campaign. Mr. Kilgore is the Attorney General of Virginia. He should understand the most basic function of what Mr. Kaine did as a defense attorney.

Representing death row inmates is unpopular but essential because it allows the justice system to work -- and that includes finding guilty people guilty. Challenging prosecutors to make sure the wrong people aren't executed can actually be a service to crime victims. No one wants an innocent person put to death so the guilty party can remain at large to kill again.

For Mr. Kilgore to allow his campaign to devalue that necessary function in a cheap attempt to win the governorship shows quite effectively that he does not have a sufficient respect for the American legal system or the citizens it protects. I don't know that I'll vote for Tim Kaine next month, but I know I won't vote for Jerry Kilgore. If a pollster asks me why I voted against Mr. Kilgore, I'll tell her I based my decision on morals.

October 20, 2005

Who knew Bipartisan meant stupid?

There is religious persecution brewing in the military. We all know that it's the Christians being persecuted, but I'll let this article explain it.

Lawmakers yesterday said Christian chaplains throughout the branches of the military are being restricted in how they can pray, and President Bush should step in to protect religious freedom.

"We're giving the president an opportunity to use the Constitution to guarantee the First Amendment rights of our chaplains," said Rep. Walter B. Jones, North Carolina Republican.

He is circulating a letter to send to Mr. Bush explaining that Christian military chaplains are being told to use general terms when they pray publicly, and to not mention the name of Jesus.

"This is a huge issue with many of the chaplains in the military," said Mr. Jones, whose letter has 35 lawmakers' signatures so far, and will be sent later this week.

He cited a letter from one Army chaplain who said it was made clear in his chaplain training course that it is offensive and against Army policy to publicly pray in the name of Jesus, and he later was rebuked for doing so.

"Much to my great shame, there have been times when I did not pray in my Savior's name," the chaplain wrote.

Boo. Hoo. I'm not dismissing religion when I say that. This isn't religious persecution, even though that's the obvious impression being offered by Rep. Jones. Still, before explaining further, let's hear from two more politicians about this case:

"Chaplains ought to be able to pray based on who they are," said Rep. Mike McIntyre, North Carolina Democrat. "Otherwise, it's hypocrisy."

"We're seeing the same pattern ... and it's a pattern of hostility to freedom of speech," said Rep. Todd Akin, Missouri Republican. "The chaplains have complained, and it's been increasing and more widespread and not only limited to the Air Force."

How is it possible to have three politicians so blindingly stupid on one simple non-issue? It's not widely understood that only government can run rough-shod over an individual's civil liberties. Private individuals and businesses can't. Fortunately, this passes the government involvement test. Unfortunately, it involves the military. Specifically, here are details about the Army Chaplaincy:

You will serve in the active Army, with an initial duty of three years.

1. You must obtain an ecclesiastical endorsement from your faith group. This endorsement should certify that you are:

a. A clergy person in your denomination or faith group.
b. Qualified spiritually, morally, intellectually and emotionally to serve as a Chaplain in the Army.
c. Sensitive to religious pluralism and able to provide for the free exercise of religion by all military personnel, their family members and civilians who work for the Army.

[emphasis added]

Oh, yeah, there's that little challenge of Army Chaplains being active in the military when they're ministering. Unless I'm mistaken, and when am I ever mistaken, civilians don't lose their rights when they join the military, but they do face looser protections while serving. The chaplains have superior officers issuing orders, applicable only when meeting with a denominationally-diverse group. This is not an abuse by the United States Military. Religious freedom is in no danger.

No doubt Rep. Jones, Rep. McIntyre, and Rep. Akin are the next three in line for the Supreme Court.

October 19, 2005

If you need a friend, get a dog.

Last week, The Washington Post ran an article about a woman arrested for DUI in D.C. The story indicates that she failed a field sobriety test according to the arresting officer, even though her blood alcohol content registered at .03. The District has a zero tolerance law, which gives police leeway to declare a driver impaired even below the .08 legal limit. The remaining details of the case aren't the point I'm leading to, but an explanation might help. Kip at A Stitch in Haste had the most unique, and ultimately compelling, argument concerning the case. Consider:

But if your complaint is that DUI laws deprive you of your supposed constitutional right to have "just two beers" or "just one glass" and then hurl a multi-ton slab of metal down public roads at lethal speeds, then you have exceeded the threshold of logic and are no longer driving while libertarian.

Perhaps I'm biased because I don't drink, but that makes sense to me. That doesn't mean everyone who has one drink and then drives will (or should) be arrested, just that the person is altering the situation against himself. There are others on the road who are 0% impaired by alcohol. Don't like it? Don't drink and drive. So, I think Kip's right, even though .03 is less than .08. But I digress.

My point is that some commenters jumped on Kip regarding his defense of the District. I posted this comment in response to some of the more incredulous individuals.

The article does go on to mention a side effect of the law. Ms. Bolton now spends her evenings out in Virginia. The experiment of zero tolerance is having a foreseeable effect. Should the residents of the District decide this is unacceptable, they can vote for officials who will change the laws.

It seems it didn't even take that long for local government officials to act. Consider:

The D.C. Council yesterday overwhelmingly passed emergency legislation to clarify the city's policy on drunken driving.

In a 9-3 vote, the council passed a bill stating that anyone with a blood alcohol level under .05 is not presumed to be under the influence. Those with a blood alcohol level between .05 and .08 are presumed to be neither drunk nor sober.

The bill now goes to Mayor Anthony A. Williams, who has criticized the legislation as being hastily written and potentially damaging to the District's drunken-driving laws.

Mr. Williams said he will review the legislation over the next 10 days before deciding whether to sign or veto it.

"I wanted to keep our law so that people who want to come into D.C. to partake responsibly in the vitality of our city can do so," said council member Carol Schwartz, the at-large Republican who introduced the bill.

You may applaud me now.

Seriously, this is how government works. I'm cynical about government like everyone else, but I'm not so cynical that I think it can't change. We get the government we deserve when we don't hold our elected officials accountable. Put pressure on them, whether through newspaper articles, telephone calls, or blogging, and disagreeable policies can change. I still don't have a significant issue with the original law, but it's encouraging to see that government isn't a kingdom, unresponsive to the governed. Representative government works.

Even in D.C.

October 12, 2005

What Would Jefferson Do?

I'm a little behind on commenting about this but of course they are:

Leading House Republicans signaled Friday that they will try to weaken a Senate effort to limit interrogation techniques that U.S. service members can use on terrorism suspects.

Their remarks made clear that the language in the Senate-passed military spending bill faces uncertain prospects in bargaining between the Senate and House. The Senate approved the $445 billion bill 97-0 on Friday.

The detainee provision, which has drawn a veto threat from the Bush administration, was sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., himself a prisoner of war in Vietnam. It was omitted from the bill passed by the House and could spark embarrassing internal battling among Republicans.

This makes no sense. Only the most hardened anti-American would aim to harm U.S. soldiers or smile at the danger they face every day, but it's entirely appropriate to reinforce long-established limits on their conduct with prisoners of war. The fight over prisoner abuse is not about elevating those we hold prisoner to saints. Honestly, fuck them. I don't care what they think about much of anything. Beyond the basic need to prove that they're guilty of their alleged crimes, having them rot in a cell doesn't concern me. But this isn't about them. It's about our moral standard. They may be garbage, but we're not. So forgive me if I don't appreciate the fine intellect in statements such as this:

"We're not going to be delivering a bill to the president's desk that is veto bait," said Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Lewis seems to forget that the House, as a chamber of Congress, is entitled to check the unfettered will and actions of the Executive. It is not responsible for passing along only those bills the president enjoys. Why bother to have a free government if you wish to bow to the whims of a dictator, however benevolent he may appear? If you have any principles, you'll understand that allowing, and worse, condoning, torture is immoral. This president doesn't get that. You must.

Maybe this is just me coming out as a raging liberal who hates the president. It certainly would be easy to dismiss me that way, wouldn't it? But let me offer a quick reminder. Today is the fifth anniversary of the USS Cole bombing. The news is filled with stories like this today, whether it's in New York, Iraq, Bali, Madrid, or London. We're fighting to stop events like that, but the mentality that causes individuals to attack a ship, and others to cheer it from the coast, will persist as long as this world exists. That does not give us permission to act like every grade-school kid who thinks he can be the bully just because he's bigger than the other kids.

We may be expanding freedom, but the danger isn't going away. Reading the news from Iraq, I see near-daily reports of more American deaths. Sometimes it hits the Army, sometimes the Marines. On other rare occasions, it hits the Air Force. Those deaths affect me the same way they affect most Americans. I don't like it, but I hope their deaths won't be in vain. I also hope that more won't have to die because we don't heed the lessons. And what we're seeing is that we're not. When the President of the United States expects permission to treat any prisoner of war as he deems necessary, by the circumstances in the field, we've lost touch with reality. Torturing prisoners leads to more terrorism, not less. As I've heard it said, the innocent men we've tortured around the world (yes, it has happened) aren't terrorists when entering our detainee centers, but they are terrorists when they leave. That's stupid. We might as well bomb ourselves.

But I have a more selfish reason for wanting America to do this correctly than sheer patriotism. My younger brother, just shy of 22-years-old, is in the Navy. He's currently in training in the United States, but I'm waiting for the inevitable day when he's shipped off to some dangerous corner of the world. Maybe it'll be the Persian Gulf, maybe it'll be off the coast of North Korea. Regardless, it will not be a vacation. The Navy hasn't suffered any more attacks like the one on the USS Cole in the last five years. I want that streak to continue forever. With this stupid policy of condoned torture, we seem determined to encourage another attack. There are enough crazy people around the world seeking to attack us for some assumed insult to their religion. I don't want us providing that final "justification" to someone previously unwilling to attack us just because we think terrorists are scum. They are scum, but I don't want my brother coming home in a body bag because we think it's fine to torture a prisoner into a body bag.

Let the president veto that provision. History will judge him for it, should he brazenly pursue that to the end. The House, though, must follow the Senate's lead and act like a branch of government independent from the White House, beholden to nothing more than the Constitution and the principles we supposedly embody.

October 07, 2005

Expect the unexpected

With a new terrorist threat to the New York subway system gripping the nation, the blogosphere is abuzz. I obviously share everyone's concern and want our police and security forces to thwart any (potentially) forthcoming attacks. In an effort to accomplish this, the debate seems to descend to an argument simple profiling. When the constitutionality of profiling inevitably arises, the proponent either responds with some variation of "Constitution be damned" or "random" searches. New York implemented a random search policy for backpacks, which was incomplete, at best. (Read here for an explanation. Also, read this chain.) Yet, the proponents of profiling continue to advocate ineffective policies. Consider this from La Shawn Barber, who writes extensively and credibly about the threat of terrorism:

Will Islamofascists bomb the NYC subway? Is it all just a rumor? Your guess is as good as the governments. Flip a coin. Draw a straw. Throw it against a wall and see if it sticks.

Are they still searching little old ladies and skipping young men of Middle Eastern descent because it would be racist to search them? Probably.

It would be racist but I'm not against if for that reason. Immediate threats to safety must shake the debate from simple intellectual discourse. But within that intellectual discourse, reason can provide insight into how such a policy could fail, and fail miserably.

I don't normally agree with Michelle Malkin on much, as evidenced by the posts here where I've referenced her blog. But with her reporting on last weekend's suicide bomber in Oklahoma, she's doing excellent work highlighting deeper facts in the case. There are indications that the bomber, Joel Henry Hinrichs III, was a Muslim. He attended a local mosque in Norman, OK. His Pakistani roommate hasn't been heard from since the bombing. Mr. Hinrichs' bomb included TATP, an explosive compound not commonly used in America, but popular with terrorists. He tried to purchase a large amount of ammonium nitrate. On Saturday, he apparently tried to enter the stadium during the Oklahoma football game before settling on the bench where he blew himself up (intentionally or unintentionally). Etc. I don't know what story these and other facts will eventually tell, but it seems clear that there is more to the story than just some depressed guy commiting suicide. While I'm not ready to declare this of Islamofascist suicide bombing on American soil, the details of this case should be pursued.

This case also highlights the ineffectiveness of racial profiling in our attempt to prevent further terrorism. Click this picture of Mr. Hinrichs. (Image Source) Ignore the beard; a roommate of mine in college had a beard like that and he was no terrorist, unless you count accidentally killing fish when his hydroponic fish tank failed. So let me ask the obvious question. Say Mr. Hinrichs had tried to bomb the New York subway. Would racial profiling for "young men of Middle Eastern descent" have caught him? Is it reasonable to assume that if we rely on racial profiling, terrorists will switch tactics to include racial (and gender) profiles we're not looking for?

September 29, 2005

How about a religious test for marriage?

A useless display of idiocy somehow makes this writer's comparison logical?

The Netherlands and Belgium were the first countries to give full marriage rights to homosexuals. In the United States some politicians propose civil unions that give homosexual couples the full benefits and responsibilities of marriage. These civil unions differ from marriage only in name.

Meanwhile in the Netherlands polygamy has been legalised in all but name. Last Friday the first civil union of three partners was registered. Victor de Bruijn (46) from Roosendaal married both Bianca (31) and Mirjam (35) in a ceremony before a notary who duly registered their civil union.

The story discusses that civil union, but forgive me for missing the logical transition from sentence one to sentence two. Attack same-sex marriage and civil unions if you wish, and attack polygamy if you wish, but you must try harder if you're going to connect the two. Besides, if you believe the American "traditional" marriage crowd, since marriage can already be "replicated" in America through contracts, supposedly nullifying a need for any acknowledgement of inherent rights for everyone, what prevents a trio from replicating the same? It's just a series of "you can visit me in the hospital" and "you can have my assets", anyway. But when you believe there's an agenda of conversion among gays and lesbians, any idea might seem rational.

[Source: La Shawn Barber, who comments "Expect the same here if homosexual 'marriage' or civil unions are ever legalized in this great country (God forbid it)."]

September 23, 2005

The Universe is trying to crush my spirit, but I fight back

The water is rising in New Orleans again, which means here we go again.

"I'm sticking it out," said Florida Richardson, who sat on her front porch in Algiers, holding her grandson on her lap. "This house is 85 years old. It's seen a lot of tornadoes and a lot of hurricanes. You can't run from the power of God."

But you can drive from it. Maybe she can't drive away; the article doesn't make it clear. Why, though, the immediate descent into defeatism rooted in a vengeful, almighty God? I suspect I'll never understand it.

September 22, 2005

Public policy as birth control

The Indian government is implementing a new policy to change a societal perception. Consider:

The Indian government says it will reward girls from single child families with free education and other benefits.

Under the plan, education for such girls will be made free at secondary level. They will also be given scholarships for postgraduate study.

The government says the policy will apply to all schools and colleges, both government and privately run.

Apparently India is much like other countries in South Asia, with parents feeling strong societal pressure to have male children. Unsurprisingly, this leads to selective abortions and excessive breeding to properly shape families. As the 2001 Indian census shows, its population stands at "933 women per thousand men". This can't continue, so it makes sense that the government wants to try something. But I'm not sure this move will be appropriate to achieve a gender balance. It seems this will lead to more selective abortions of boys than anything else. Child-raising as lottery seems wrong-headed, at best.

Obviously, I don't think something like this would ever work in America, but it did raise an interesting question or two. If we tried something with this level of blatant gender discrimination, how long would it hold up? Would it even pass? I doubt it, but I don't really see how it's different than any other legal discrimination preferences we apply to education and jobs and wherever else we've identified discrepancies not rooted in merit. I wonder, though, in a hypothetical America where this plan passed, how long it would take the eldest daughter in a family to sue her parents if she could no longer afford school because her free education ended when the parents conceived another child.

Anyone have any better ideas for solving a gender imbalance within a population than this Indian plan?

September 21, 2005

Do I earn non-partisan credentials?

Unlike what I do here, this shows what partisanship looks like:

Give 'em hell, Harry.

Hey Dems, here's an easy one for you: follow the leader.

I'll pull the plug here before I'll resort to that sort of blind, non-thinking partisanship, especially when it comes to following someone like Sen. Reid. Why? Because I have enough sense to understand that opposition for the sake of opposition is unwise. In this instance, opposing Judge Roberts because he's a Bush nominee is counter-productive. President Bush has the votes in Congress to get Judge Roberts confirmed. History dictates that presidents deserve a high barrier to rejection for Court nominees. All that comes into play here.

I expressed reservations about Judge Roberts when President Bush nominated him, but I think he should be confirmed. I've seen no giant red flags that he's going to treat the Constitution as little better than toilet paper, so what would I gain from trying to block him, or even vote against him if I were a senator? If any nominee will face opposition, the president has no incentive to compromise. Playing "follow the leader" on this only enflames the partisan war, forcing a perpetuation of the "hate President Bush" theme on the Left and the perception of that theme on the Right. All Sen. Reid is doing is encouraging President Bush to nominate an extremist to the Court to fill Justice O'Connor's position. Democrats honestly think this will inspire voters? It may boost fund-raising at Move On, but it doesn't win elections. I have too much sense to attach myself to symbols instead of ideas. That's the standard I hold myself to when I write about politics.

September 20, 2005

Ownership society for sale - must sell immediately

This is why President Bush and Congress are irresponsible in throwing money at New Orleans with no plan other than political mollification of people too stupid to understand anything beyond today. Won't it be fun if something like this wipes $200 billion into the Gulf of Mexico in five years, when President Bush is retired in Crawford, Texas?

September 19, 2005

The New Iron is Rusty

If this is the reason that Angela Merkel failed to win a majority in Germany, Germany deserves its continuing descent into economic mediocrity.

It is ultimately hard to establish to what extent the fact that Mrs Merkel is a woman from the East contributed to the CDU's disappointing showing.

But one poll at least suggests 9% of voters - the difference between a majority and a hung parliament - would have voted differently if the conservative candidate had been a man from the West.

I don't get it. I won't vote for national candidates just because they're from Virginia. Is this really so important for people that it can impact an election? Are people really so devoid of common sense that being from the wrong side of the tracks and having one too few "Y" chromosomes are more important than ideas?

September 16, 2005

And so you see, the new worrd is inevitabre

Sitting on the couch last night, I couldn't prevent my focus from shifting back and forth. First, the president's speech. Then my wallet. Back to the president. Wistfully on the contents of my wallet. Open-mouthed at the president. Teary-eyed at my wallet. Defeated at the president.

Should I just give the Treasury pre-approval for open withdrawal from my checking account or do I have to go through the charade of writing the check?

September 15, 2005

The mirror is too cruel to face

Rather than discuss the merits of yesterday's court ruling from U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton declaring that "under God" doesn't leave students "free from a coercive requirement to affirm God," I want to highlight an interesting reaction to this news. Few will doubt that many people are hysterical over this news. The heathens win again and all that. I've said here before that I believe God exists, but He doesn't create valid legislation in the United States. That comes the United States Constitution. Perhaps unfortunate, but there it is. Which makes this reaction both amusing and frustrating. Consider:

Athiests (sic) account for 902,000 or 0.4% of the US population. Those who believe in a God or some sort of a higher being account for over 86% of the US population. It is amazing that such a small minority can rule over a large majority.

The deal here isnt just the small amount of atheists in America, but the fact that they have to punish everyone for something they dont believe in. If you do not want your child to recite the pledge of allegiance, then tell them not too (sic). No one forces your child to stand up, put their hand over their heart and say 20 seconds worth of American patriotism. Thank God I go to a private school.

This is what passes for a counter-argument? Allow me to translate that into what it really means.

Atheists don't matter because believers outnumber them with a super-duper majority. You're oppressing us.

The bad heathens are sinister and only want to punish us because they hate God. If you can't fit in, why can't you just shut up? Peer pressure and ridicule by the masses are inconsequential, so just sit there. Besides, it's only a small thing, without any real burden on your stupid kid. And, anyway, your kid is a godless communist who hates America. I'm glad I don't have to deal with your pinko son or daughter every day.

Stop fighting so desperately for "under God" when "with liberty and justice for all" is what's really under attack in America.

September 12, 2005

Wendy goes Buck™ better than I do

In the comments section of Thursday's post, my friend Wendy expanded on the blame theme with excellent insight, particularly into the federal versus state/local expectations. Better than summarizing what she wrote, I'm reprinting it here.


But, as someone who actually lives in a hurricane zone - and has experience with hurricanes in my state ... My pointer finger is NOT broken and I'll be happy to point one of them at the Local/State Government of Louisiana.

It has always been my belief that calling in the FEDS is a last resort. I personally do not want to owe the Feds a damn thing - but that Governor KNEW the scenarios facing her region and as an elected official she had an obligation.

I don't want the military to come in and declare my city a disaster area and start barking out orders ... I don't want to give them any more power than they absolutely NEED ... but I do believe this was an extreme case.

No one predicted the storm surge damage in MS, AL ... however, the local/State government in LA - certainly knew what could potentially happen with N'orleans.

And I don't mean JUST the flooding. I mean the AK47 action as well as the physical violence.

The Governor of the state has control of the National Guard - which I think she 'called up' on Sunday - much too late to get everyone in before the storm.

In '92 with Andrew, the Governor had the National Guard in place PRIOR to the storm reaching land. Death was minimal as was looting and violence.

The Mayor - (unlike my own who actually HAS a plan) - had no plan (or possibly he just had no intention) for getting those people out of there - Knowing the possible scenarios - he made no effort to remove the people or the city's property -

School buses which could have been used to mobilize the poorest people/ the disabled - were left sitting. One example ... helpless people in nursing homes died as a result of his inaction.

I was shocked when I saw all those buses under water in that parking lot and yet, people were left in the city to die?

If the SuperDome was a designated evacuation center - then why the hell was it not fully stocked with supplies for just such an event?

I could go on.

FEMA is called in by the Governor - I believe - and seriously, while their response wasn't flawless - and it would never be fast enough for any of us - it certainly wasn't much (if any later) than other disasters.

Other disasters?? What?? We've had OTHER disasters since 9/11??

Come closer .. closer ... Hurricanes hit all the time. Yes, they do! Category 4s ... even! Imagine that.

And unlike Tornados, Fires, Earthquakes and Tsunamis ... you're actually WARNED!!!!

Someone comes on television and says - "Um, the Hurricane is coming ... GET OUT!!!"

(I know you know this - but dayum the rest of the country acts like it's the FIRST DISASTER EVER!!!)

People have actually died since 9/11 from these types of disasters and while the numbers certainly have never reached the inconceivable numbers that Katrina will produce ... I do not believe their lives were any less valuable.

So with that ... here comes my other pointer finger ...

Bank accounts aside/ SAT scores aside ...

If you live in a hurricane zone - You need to have a PLAN ... and boy this is going to make me sound like a heartless bitch ... but, if you live in a fucking soup bowl and a hurricane is headed your way ... you need to GET OUT ... and if you can't your City/State Government needs to have a plan to help you get out!!

I believe that this has demonstrated how State/Local government as well as people's own complacency can be their undoing and THAT is a frightening revelation to the rest of us.

As a result we ALL feel the need to blame someone and who better than GW? He's such an easy target. He doesn't make it any easier by not accepting responsibility for the shortcomings of his appointed officials -

I've seen the media - and my heart breaks for the elderly, the children and the animals ... Those who were unable to help themselves.

I am outraged at people who 'think' they're doing the right thing by 'faking' press credentials to get in there and see what's really going on.

Morons. Do these assholes not realize that there might be reasons they don't let civilians in there? Maybe - oh I don't know - because you could get hurt ... or maybe you're an opportunist who may just be trying to loot ... or you may just be in the WAY????

You see, way back we had a problem with 'looky Lou's' .. people who just wanted to come in and take pictures and steal things and when they would get hurt - they'd blame the city for not 'telling them to stay away'. So it's just easier and actually for your own protection to keep your ass out of there!

More than the supposed and factual 'mistakes' that were made during this situation - I'm outraged by the media once again clouding people's common sense with emotion.

Yes, it is a travesty that we are the richest country in the world and we have this sort of thing happening - but to me ... the biggest travesty is that we are the richest country in the world and we have people who did not GET themselves out of harms way!! For whatever reason -

I can almost guarantee that if the Military had rushed right in and taken over - the press would be OUTRAGED that the military had rushed right in and taken over - and therefore the people would have been outraged that the military rushed right in and took over - it's a catch 22 - it's all about the spin and it sucks.

So now the question is ... are we going to sign our rights away to the Feds because we're all emotional about the military/FEMA not bailing us out?

Are we willing to allow the military to 'declare' our cities disaster zones and just come in and take over? I don't really want that - but if we give them some sweeping blanket of power in these situations - that may happen.

As for Kennedy - I'm sure he's probably one of those who believe the storm was caused by the Republicans - just like Jesse Jackson believes GW should be up on a pile of rubble essentially declaring war on 'Mother Nature.'


As opposed to the whacked out Republicans who believe it was a sodom and gomorrah act of god.


Then there's the Michael Moore angle - 'if we weren't at war with Iraq this would not have happened.' 'If President Bush hadn't cut the budget for the army corps, blah blah blah' ...

Puh-leeze. Newsflash! Presidents have cut the funding for the past thirty years or so and even if Bush HAD given them more money - the Army corps LAUGHED at the models given to them back in 1999 for the scenario that unfolded in N'Orleans ... so who knows WHAT they would have spent that money for.

September 08, 2005

More cheap political sniping

In case anyone is still not convinced, how is this relevant?

Referring to large numbers of poor and black New Orleans residents who were dispossessed by the storm, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., said earlier in the week the disaster underscored "the glaring economic disparities facing our citizens."

"As a nation, we must be sensitive to this inequality, sensitive as we respond to Katrina, and sensitive, too, as we select now justices for the Supreme Court," he said. "That's a critical question for Judge Roberts. Can he unite America for the future?"

Because a hurricane caused foreseeable damage, Judge Roberts is now responsible for uniting America? How does Senator Kennedy keep getting elected? This is at least where, if the Democrats had any competent leaders, someone would have muzzled the Senator before he could offer such ammunition to the "they just hate conservatives so I don't need to listen to them" people. If nothing else, this proves why presidents rarely come from the Senate.

Are you listening, Senator Clinton?

September 07, 2005

One thing is not like the others

Many seem to be going bananas about FEMA's decision to deny journalist requests to photograph corpses as they are recovered from New Orleans. While I don't personally want to see any of that, I understand the journalistic push to capture the whole story. I don't believe that's all that's driving it, of course, because photographs (and video footage) of corpses would be a ratings winner, but I'm going to believe the best about people right now. The ideals of journalism win out as their prevailing reason.

Yet, I genuinely believe that any censorship concerns are overblown. Recovery teams are searching through hazardous conditions and should not be hampered by taking care of journalists and photographers. I understand that journalists are embedded in war zones and that our government has experience with that. However, Iraq isn't flooded. The journalists can't move around by foot with the recovery team. They'll occupy space in boats better served by individuals trained for this crisis. Also, the potential for spreading disease is obvious. The mayor ordered a forced evacuation of all remaining residents. Why should we exclude journalists from that evacuation? Ultimately, we know New Orleans is a wasteland. We don't need further proof.

That's my spiel on the FEMA censorship non-story. This is what I find fascinating. From the article, there is this basic statement:

An agency spokeswoman said space was needed on the rescue boats and that "the recovery of the victims is being treated with dignity and the utmost respect."

"We have requested that no photographs of the deceased be made by the media," the spokeswoman said in an e-mailed response to a Reuters inquiry.

Perfect, basic journalism works to get the story. So why does this next paragraph follow the above excerpt in the story?

The Bush administration also has prevented the news media from photographing flag-draped caskets of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq, which has sparked criticism that the government is trying to block images that put the war in a bad light.

The Iraq war photography ban angle is suspect, at best, but it's possible to see that as relevant. Strained logic because corpses and caskets aren't equal in photography, but the connection is possible. "Which has sparked criticism..." is pure bias, though, attempting to frame the story to highlight that this isn't the first time the "evil" Bush administration has screwed up and tried to hide it. It's unnecessary, tiresome and distracting. No doubt this could (will?) be used as an example of the "liberal MSM".

When I want facts, I read news. When I want opinion, I read editorials. Logic suggests the two should remain separate. I still contend that individual organizations perpetuate such bias, rather than some grand conspiracy. Regardless, today, Reuters failed in its journalism.

September 01, 2005

Should looters be shot?

Enough has already been written by others about the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, so I'll pose the question most interesting to me now. I don't remember a situation deteriorating as fast as the one in New Orleans since the Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King verdict, and I feel comfortable saying that this is worse by a huge margin. So, should looters be shot?

I'll point you to this post by KipEsquire for reference on my thinking. Consider:

I therefore think it's wrong to call Katrina victims who are robbing stores for food, water or first aid supplies "looters." Trespassers, certainly, but trespassers entitled to assert the privilege of "private necessity." Of course, if such "acquirers" are ethical and if the logistics of the recovery and rebuilding allow it, then they should attempt to make restitution later on. But legally and morally they are entitled not to be condemned as "looters."

On the other hand, stealing televisions or laptops or weapons or anything else above and beyond the barest essentials for life most certainly does constitute "looting" and should be prevented by any means necessarily, including the use of deadly force.

I agree with his assessment. Yet, when I had this discussion with my brother today, he disagreed vehemently with me, stating that we can't shoot people for property. I think I'm right, but I'm curious to read what other people think. To hopefully sway your thinking, consider this analysis, which is what I argued when discussing the necessary response to looting.

I fully acknowledge that shooting looters is an inappropriately disproportionate response if one views looting as mere larceny. But one doesn't shoot looters to protect property, one does so to protect order. Somebody is going to suffer unjustly when society breaks down. I don't understand why Muller thinks it preferable for the law-abiding citizens to be the cost-bearers. History has shown repeatedly that the way to stop an anarchic riot is an early display of substantial force.

I'm willing to consider shades of grey, such as stealing televisions versus carjacking and armed robbery of hospital narcotics. Also of interest, what about looters stealing firearms? Are they stealing them to defend themselves or to form roving gangs?

So, please, post comments if you have an opinion. I think anyone stealing non-essentials should be shot because the need to restore order is above all else because stability precedes the emergency officials' ability to respond. What do you think?

August 30, 2005

He isn't being harsh enough

I can't begin to explain how happy this thrashing by Radley Balko made me this morning. Consider:

The Washington Post's Sally Jenkins -- possibly the worst major daily sports columnist writing today -- writes the most bizarre sports opinion piece I've seen in a very long time. And sports columns can be awful.


I'd suggest that Jenkins stick to writing about sports, and only sports. But she tends to embarass [sic] herself there, too.

Ummm, I concur. Not specifically about her foray into "sports as Intelligent Design?" argument. I could challenge any number of questions she poses, but why bother? I concurred with Mr. Balko's opinion almost five years ago.

When Michael Vick led Virginia Tech to the BCS National Championship game (in January 2000), Ms. Jenkins wrote the most condescending piece of "journalism" I'd ever read. Her column amounted to little more than a nice pat on the head for Virginia Tech, congratulating us on reaching the pinnacle game while admonishing us for thinking we could compete with a "real" team (Florida State). That we led after three quarters and could've won until almost the end seemed to escape her attention. Every other football analyst in the nation wrote about the stunning performance by Michael Vick in that game and the amazing rise of Virginia Tech throughout the season, while Ms. Jenkins stood alone, pretending that none of it happened. Her column was so obscenely devoid of intelligence, I wrote a letter to the Washington Post. (I knew it wouldn't accomplish anything, but still.)

I wonder if the last four years of Virginia Tech football changed her mind about our worthiness? How about our preseason rankings?

August 29, 2005

From the land of milk and duh

An interesting new scientific study is beaming around the Internets today. The story goes deeper than the premise, but I think it's important, or at least relevant to me, to highlight it. Consider:

Redheads sunburn easily, putting them at high risk of skin cancer.

Really? No kidding.

Ok, so that was the setup so that I could write "from the land of milk and duh." There's actually an interesting scientific discovery here. Consider:

Duke chemistry professor John Simon analyzed how the pigments in naturally red and black hair reacted as they absorbed either ultraviolet B rays associated with sunburn, or ultraviolet A rays, which can penetrate and damage skin even without a burn.

Both kinds of light caused a reaction with the redheads' pigment that creates molecules that damage DNA and cells in ways that can spur cancer.

In contrast, only UVB light caused that oxidative reaction with the pigment from black hair, called eumelanin, Simon reported.

Dr. Simon stated that this is only a theory, with more research necessary to determine if his findings are consistent with other researchers. That, of course, is how science works. Doctors knew that redheads have a higher risk of skin cancer, but no one knew why. Dr. Simon presents his hypothesis based on test observations and now other scientists work to disprove that theory. Sorta like evolution, one suspects.

This theory may not lead to the proverbial cure for cancer (literally in this case), but the advance of knowledge is important. I'm not even sure it adds much because it doesn't change my relationship with the sun; I treat the sun as a stalker and avoid it as much as possible. (I'm practically a shut-in.) But, again, satisfying intellectual curiosity is useful in a developed society. And it allows me to write "from the land of milk and duh."

Particularly annoying, though, is I now know that even when I'm walking around, my arch nemesis UVA is lurking. Bastards.

(Yes, I know I'm probably the only person who thinks that's funny, but holy crap, am I laughing.)

But not a real green dress, that's cruel

Q: Why did the first monkey fall out of the tree?
A: He was dead.

Q: Why did the second monkey fall out of the tree?
A: He was stapled to the first monkey.

Q: Why did the third monkey fall out of the tree?
A: Peer pressure.

All the cool kids are blogging Katrina, so here goes...

I encountered a few choice quotes this morning in reading hurricane coverage. First, this one:

"Im staying right in my residence. What God has in store for us, thats whats going to happen. He can turn it around at the mouth of the Mississippi if he wants to."
--New Orleans resident Derbera Smith, 53

Should I write the obvious tagline? Yes, I think I should. Believing in Intelligent Design doesn't imply not believing in Intelligent Response. Knowing that Katrina veered away from New Orleans, I'm sure she believes that God meant to spare her. I don't mean to imply that He didn't; I believe God exists. But I'm not willing to believe that he gave us brains with which to figure out weather patterns and cars and oil refining and every other brilliant discovery that makes avoiding a hurricane possible so that we could stick around and let foreseeable bad things happen. Even when they don't actually happen.

I don't write that without thought or understanding. I drove towards a hurricane in September 2003 to watch football! But I knew that the worst I'd experience was lots and lots of rain. And weak winds, by hurricane standards. Yes, I cackled like an idiot throughout the whole affair, but I knew that I wasn't in mortal danger. There was no mandatory evacuation ordered. As "crazy" as my decision was, I used my intellect to genuinely assess the danger and, like everyone else involved, realized that I'd only give up comfort. I'd get to keep my life.

Instead, wouldn't it be wiser to adopt this strategy?

"We just took the necessities," said Michael Skipper, who pulled a wagon loaded with bags of clothes and a radio. "The good stuff - the television and the furniture - you just have to hope somethings there when you get back. If its not, you just start over."

Yeah, I think so, too.

August 22, 2005

I get 70 miles to the gallon on this hog.

I can't read and article about the impact of rising gas prices on poorer families without highlighting this nugget:

Morales and a cousin who lives next door are saving gas money by working together to cut trips. Maria Puicon, 28, a single mother of three, works in the office of a local hospital. If one of them is out, that one checks with the other to see if she needs anything.

They also gather at home on Friday nights instead of going out, and their kids play in the backyard.

"We cannot go anywhere because of the gas," Puicon says.

Right, so now you know that my sense-of-humor tends toward the four-year-old mentality.

August 19, 2005

We need more evolution for cheaper gas

Skimming through USA Today I read two interesting letters. The first deals with the Intelligent Design debate. Consider:

Those who advocate educational censorship as a means to defend the theory of biological evolution have entirely missed the point ("How should schools handle evolution? Just teach it").

To argue that intelligent design is myth or legend only betrays ignorance and bias. And to dismiss intelligent design merely because it is a view held by many Christians is obvious intolerance.

Censorship, ignorance, bias and intolerance, all this to protect a sacred theory evolution that is increasingly being called into question by serious reinterpretation of existing scientific data.

New discoveries of the ever-increasing complexity of our universe make evolutionists' philosophical commitment to random or chance origins less plausible with each passing day. While the preference for a creator may not be scientific, neither is the preference to deny a creator.

Intelligent design is, in fact, the result of many brilliant scientists looking at all the same evidence and reaching far different conclusions based on philosophical preferences. We must now contend for our positions with an appeal to the evidence, not with coercion.

Opponents of intelligent design should confine their criticism to honorable debate instead of ad hominem attacks and red-herring distractions. If evolution is a scientific position as unassailable as supporters believe it to be, they needn't defend it with such unsophisticated behavior. To rage against the rising tide of the obvious in defense of a theory that has shape-shifted so many times it no longer even resembles Darwin's original thesis, is ugly, futile and decidedly unscientific.

On this, I believe, even Copernicus and Galileo could agree.

Phillip E. Long, Washougal, Wash.

There is so much to challenge here, but I'm only going to counter one simple lack of logic. Mr. Long clearly implies that he's happy to have philosophical preferences dictate facts rather than conclusions dictated by facts. Fine. Stupid, but fine. But his logic jumps the rails when he states that "the preference for a creator may not be scientific, neither is the preference to deny a creator." The theory of evolution, as I learned it, does not preclude the possibility of a creator. The universe "happened" in some manner, which we can never truly know. Evolution merely seeks to explain how we got to where we are after the earth began. It doesn't sync with Adam and Eve, though, so it must deny a creator. Very scientific and thorough.

Moving on, the second letter addresses rising gas prices and how taxes affect those prices. Consider:

Readers need to be reminded that nearly 50 cents of the price per gallon of gasoline is federal and state taxes. Funny how not one politician in federal or state government ever talks about how much per gallon we pay to taxes.

Why doesn't the federal government lower or do away with the federal tax on gas and instead tax oil companies more on the very large net profits they make?

Walter Matthis, Attelboro, Mass.

Shift the taxes from each gallon of gas to the profits of the oil companies? That will reduce the cost of a gallon of gas to the consumer? Let me put an unsubtle emphasis on that idea. Nope. Oil companies are businesses. When business costs increase, one of several results will occur. Profits will go down. Costs will be cut elsewhere (perhaps in the form of jobs). Prices will rise. Which is most likely? If you guessed "prices will rise", congratulations. Wait, you thought businesses absorbed taxes for you so that you don't have to deal with them? That's a good one.

Out of sight does not mean gone. That applies to much of life, but especially taxes.

August 15, 2005

How about ticketed cars go immediately to the car crusher?

As members of a civilized, peaceful society, we're all interested in the weight of the law holding. Without it, we'd be subject to anarchy, our lives dominated by the criminalistic few. We've know that the police power of the state is the key to maintaining what we have. But we know that it can go haywire without sufficient oversight. We believe in "innocent until proven guilty" as a key precept. The state must prove guilt. The Constitution is good.

What we don't speak of often is the idea that the agents of the state be smart enough to know when a citizen commits a crime. Sheriff George H. Payne Jr. must've been sick that day of his training. Consider:

A federal judge says Harrison County Sheriff George H. Payne Jr. made an honest mistake when the sheriff destroyed what he and other law officers thought were marijuana plants, and the plants turned out to be deer food.
Court records show an informant reported the crop as marijuana to state narcotics agents and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officers. The plants were scattered among other plants, a technique common among marijuana growers, authorities said.

Right, it could happen to anyone. I've seen Revenge of the Nerds 2, so I feel qualified to identify marijuana. What bad luck that it wasn't. But at least the victim, Marion Waltman, will receive just compensation, right?

Waltman sought a $255,000 settlement from the Sept. 8, 2003, raid on land leased for the Boarhog Hunting Club. Waltman, who had planted the kenaf, was watching a television news report when he saw inmate workers chopping down plants and heard the sheriff say the plants appeared to be marijuana.
Guirola determined that Payne was acting within his official capacity and within the scope of discretionary authority. Qualified immunity shields Payne from liability because his conduct was "objectively reasonable."

"The sheriff was faced with facts and circumstances which would lead a reasonable and prudent officer to conclude that the growing crop probably was marijuana," wrote Guirola.

"Virtually all of the law enforcement officers at the scene ... mistakenly identified the kenaf crop as marijuana. Thus, it was not objectively unreasonable for Sheriff Payne to reach the same conclusions."

Or maybe they're all just stupid, trained under the same ignorance.

I've mentioned it before, but I'll write it again. I'm not an attorney. I don't have any knowledge of "objectively reasonable" in the sense of qualified immunity. Again, maybe I'm missing a fine legal point. But, Judge Guirola is a moron. How does it make sense for Sheriff Payne to determine that there is a crime and immediately destroy the "criminal" crop if he can't even identify what he's destroying? Perhaps our idiotic drug laws encourage such nonsense, but it's still wrong.

When Mr. Waltman's offense proved to be deer food, how can he get that back other than through financial restitution? Why should the Sheriff's Department not pay for that? It's a clich that ignorance of the law is insufficient as an excuse. Shouldn't ignorance of what breaks the law be unacceptable as a defense by agents sworn to uphold those laws?

(Hat tip: Radley Balko)

August 11, 2005

We painted our office orange and maroon

I found an interesting story concerning my alma mater, but first, some background about its collaboration with King Abdulaziz University:

Ongoing discussions linking the two universities in the areas of distance and distributed learning (eLearning) and engineering were established by Sedki Riad, professor of electrical engineering and director of International Programs in Virginia Tech's College of Engineering, and Tom Wilkinson, director of Virginia Tech's Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning (IDDL).
As a first step, 60 KAU faculty members will arrive in Blacksburg this summer for a series of professional development activities that will be developed and delivered by Virginia Tech's English Department, Communications Department, Faculty Development Institute, the Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning, and the English Language Institute. KAU faculty will participate in two of four planned development programs: 1) English instruction, 2) communications instruction, 3) basic and intermediate computer and web skill development, and 4) designing, developing and delivering eLearning courses. Family members accompanying KAU faculty also will have an opportunity to participate in activities at the English Language Institute.

I hadn't heard anything about this when it happened in March, but I wasn't involved in any of those programs while in school, so I'm not shocked that this missed my radar. It does sound interesting, though. Any program that expands Virginia Tech's influence further is probably a good endeavor. Sharing with a culture we don't normally think of when discussing higher education should be a bonus.

I say "probably" and "should be" because, today, I came across this article. The summer classes mentioned in the original article are taking place in Blacksburg, which I would suspect would follow our ideas of educational instruction, more or less. That's not occurring. Consider:

The courses include topics such as Web site development and online instruction, but in keeping with the preferences of the Saudi university, the university created separate classes for the approximately 30 male and 30 female faculty members.

Why would Virginia Tech segregate the male and female faculty? We don't segregate classes like that in the United States, at least not public universities, which Virginia Tech is. I'm disappointed that Virginia Tech would do this. I've always believed that Virginia Tech is a wonderful institution. In six years spent in Blacksburg, I never witnessed any form of discrimination. I hope that the details aren't as frustrating as they seem.

Of course there is backlash coming from some of the Virginia Tech faculty because of these classes.

Eloise Coupey, an associate professor of marketing at the Virginia Tech, filed a complaint with the school Tuesday alleging the single-sex classes created a hostile environment for women.

"The presence of these segregated classes on campus indicates to me that the university doesn't place a strong enough value on women's rights," Coupey said Wednesday. "This makes me feel that the university holds me in less regard than my male counterparts."

Wait, what? Why is that environment hostile only to women? What about the men? Viewed from the context of the Saudis, yes, it's specifically aimed at women. But viewed from the context of us, I'd consider it discriminatory to both the men and women involved. Unless Prof. Coupey is implying that men can learn from women in an educational environment but that the reverse isn't true. I wonder, but I would still expect her to defend against all discrimination, regardless of gender.

In response to complaints, Virginia Tech "has made the course segregation optional," which is amusing because of this additional information, clarifying what was implied earlier:

While the program was designed by Tech staff, administrators with King Abdulaziz University separated the classes by gender.

Tech subsequently offered to make the classes co-ed, however the Saudi faculty said they preferred the current set-up because most of their classrooms at home are single-sex. Separate classes also allows them to tailor the content to their needs, several Saudi faculty have said.
Saudi faculty have repeatedly stressed that they had chosen to separate by gender. Many of the professors earned their advanced degrees at American and European institutions and are therefore comfortable in co-ed settings, faculty said.

There is this additional detail:

King Abdulaziz University paid Virginia Tech $246,000 to design and operate the faculty development program this summer.

Fascinating. I'm still disappointed (only a tiny bit), but I'm not offended. Should I be? Perhaps I'm reading too much into the $246,000 payment, but it seems to me that King Abdulaziz University paid for a product which Virginia Tech agreed to create. Within reason, of course, King Abdulaziz University gets to set the requirements for the course. And if the students self-select a segregation plan? I'm under-whelmed by the need for outrage, but that's because I think the facts suggest a simple solution. This isn't the standard to which Virginia Tech should hold itself, so it should not have set the classes up this way. But it did. I see no harm in finishing this program with the optional, self-segregating plan. Next time, think wiser and clearer before setting up a program like this. If a university such as King Abdulaziz University refuses, don't do the deal. Two-hundred-forty-six thousand dollars isn't that much money. Live happily ever after. Simple.

And yet, it's never that simple, is it? In a scene straight out of PCU, the outgoing director of Tech's Women's Studies Program offered a gem quote detailing how every event can be used for petty political point-scoring. Enjoy.

"I would say this demonstrates the insensitivity of the university administration to the experience of the women on campus," [Bernice] Hausman said.

It's visiting Saudi women, are you paying attention? Not every slight to a small group is a global "screw you" from the world to the women on campus. I have little doubt that $246,000 will now have to be re-directed to sensitivity training classes on the Virginia Tech campus for all administrators involved. I'll take Ms. Hausman in the office pool as to who will teach the classes as an independent consultant/qualified expert?

August 10, 2005

He's not a person, he's a suit! You're mailroom. No consorting.

I've written a little in the past on the liberal media and possible alternate explanations for the mass conspiracy that many conservatives want to see there. In the beginning I posited the idea that "bad news sells" is a better explanation. I've since refined it to include liberal bias, but only in the context of specific media outlets. Smear The New York Times with a liberal bias claim and I can accept that. But I'd same the reverse about Fox News. The back-and-forth could go on a long time. Information, with whatever desired slant, is available in a multitude of forms. The old, entrenched media is liberal? Fine, read, watch, or listen to something else. Changing technology has a way of flattening the market of competitive dinosaurs. It's Capitalism 101. Accept it.

Because of that, whenever I hear or read "liberal MSM", I suspect that the speaker/writer merely wants to spew an ideological point to score points. It's little more than stereotyping to diminish. My idea of reporting, writing, and thinking is that facts win. If there's a bias, I rely on my intellect to decipher truth. I don't need a political party to filter my perception. Not to mention that the ideal world would have no bias, not a non-liberal-so-it-has-to-be-conservative bias. So I stand by my theory.

Luckily for me, the news media provided an example earlier this week. (I'm not happy that the actual events happened to prove my point. I wish it hadn't happened and all that hippy blah, blah, blah.) So, consider this headline:

Marc Cohn shot in head during car jacking

I was horrified. I like Marc Cohn, so I clicked the link. This is what followed:

A Grammy-winning musician and husband of ABC news reporter Elizabeth Vargas was treated at a hospital and released Monday after being shot in the head during an attempted carjacking following a performance.

Right, so the headline gave no indication of that. Now, a few days later, the sub-headline does, but search the headlines and, even now, half still lead with only "Marc Cohn shot in head". Is that liberal bias? Or is it "bad news sells" bias? I clicked. And that's what the news media, whether MSM or not, want me to do. Again, it's Capitalism 101. If people weren't buying, the MSM wouldn't be selling. More to the point, aren't those people who link to and write about liberal bias in the MSM clicking and reading and discussing?

Solution? Keep questioning the "liberal" media. Technology makes that possible. But also question the people who bitch about the "liberal" media. Your brain makes that possible.

People can be so base

This story is "interesting". Consider:

The science and business of sex identification took yet another quantum leap forward recently with the's release of the Baby Gender Mentor Home DNA Gender Testing Kit. Now, a pregnant woman can know her child's sex shortly after she discovers her pregnancy. As soon as five weeks after conception, she can prick her finger, FedEx a blood sample to Acu-Gen Biolab in Lowell, and have the sex of her sprouting embryo e-mailed to her faster than Netflix can send her next movie.

Seems like a nice, harmless little bonus for horribly impatient people, right? That's what I thought, until I read further, discovering one potential issue I hadn't, and hopefully never would have, thought of. Consider:

Ultrasound and amniocentesis cannot accurately determine a fetus's sex until at least four months into pregnancy and sometimes not until month five -- a point at which virtually all expecting mothers have already chosen to continue their pregnancies to term. Since the state has no legal interest in a fetus before its viability (usually at 24 weeks), there has been a legal and technological gulf separating a woman's choice to continue her pregnancy and any knowledge of its sex.

This is no longer the case. With the Gender Mentor Kit, a new issue enters many prospective parents' minds: Do we want to have a child of this sex? Or should we try again?

Just what the hell is wrong with people? I understand that some cultures value male children more than female children, but, and this is an important point, we're not supposed to be one of them. Any couples who want to choose the sex of their children should keep their zippers up and adopt.

Ehhhhhhhhhhhhhhh... This topic is too disgusting; I have nothing more to say.


August 04, 2005

She can't be Sirius

Normally, I don't bother with celebrity gossip because I don't care. However, one quote from this story is worth highlighting. Martha Stewart is in trouble for some violation of her home confinement. As punishment, she faces an extra three weeks of being restricted to her home mansion. As inconvenient as that must be, she's an ubelievably understanding woman. Consider:

"Martha Stewart has agreed to an extension of the terms of her home confinement until Aug. 31.," her lawyer, Walter Dellinger, said in a statement released Wednesday.

It's so nice to see that she agreed to the extension. I can't imagine how much of a bind the government would've been in had she declined the offer.

Why do people like her?

July 29, 2005

The kids, they can surf for porn with all the extra free time

Yesterday, I mentioned the uproar concerning Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and reactions by U.S. politicians. We're not the only ones who are in a tizzy. Consider:

Australian officials effectively banned the computer game "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" and ordered it removed from stores Friday because it contains hidden sex scenes that can be viewed with a special Internet download.

The Office of Film and Literature Classification said in a statement it had outlawed sales of the game by stripping it of its official classification after learning of the explicit content.

"Revocation of a classification means the computer game cannot be legally sold, hired, advertised or exhibited in Australia from the date the decision is made," the statement said.

"Businesses that sell or hire computer games should remove existing stocks of this game from their shelves immediately," said Des Clark, director of the government-funded classification board.

There are so many different points to be made about this, but from that snippet I'll focus on the most obvious. I bitch about U.S. nonsense coming from the F.C.C. and other government busybodies officials, but in comparison to other democracies, we're remarkably tolerant in our intolerance. Our government-funded agencies may deem material objectionable, but content in American products, which this is (I think), so I'll clarify and say sold in America, must go much further down the "holy shit, that's just filthy" ladder before we make it illegal.

That's especially important when adding this fact, conveniently ignored by many complaining about GTA: San Andreas:

After downloading and installing a modification to the game one of many "mods" available on Web sites maintained by video game enthusiasts a new world opens up in which the girlfriends appear nude and engage in explicit sex acts, according to the modification's author.

The game, as sold on store shelves, is only violent. When the gamer downloads a modification from Not Rockstar Games, adding pixilated sex and nudity, the game apparently becomes dangerous and evil. Why not go all the way and ban computers because they might be used to create more dirty cartoon nudity? That logic, that a user can use the product and make it worse than it is initially, could be applied to fertilizer, among so many other items. Why not provide real protection for the masses and make everyone apply for a license to buy, oh, I don't know, everything? There are so many ways for public servants to earn their pay.

The truth is different, though. All that happens in situations like this is that future consumers who would only wish to enjoy the product as it was previously approved and sold are now denied that chance. Rockstar Games loses, consumers lose, and the possibilities for government intervention protection expand. Actions like this are maddening and shameful. And yet, I couldn't be prouder to be an American when I read a story like this. For all our faults, I still believe we employ the greatest government ever imagined, with the most respect for liberty. We may have far too many nanny state tendencies, but at least we treat ours as though we're Jude Law.

July 28, 2005

The entry where I send my four readers elsewhere

Anyone who reads this site can decipher that I enjoy the writing process. I have a few favorite topics that appear repeatedly, but I'll write about whatever interests me at the moment. Unfortunately, today I don't have enough time to focus on news commentary. Instead, allow me to point you to two interesting pieces from around the Internets that fascinate me.

First, from Kip at A Stitch in Haste discusses the idiocy of Congressional Democrats and their new proposal called AmeriSave. This is the basic summary of the program:

AmeriSave Match: Help middle and working-class families achieve retirement security by matching dollar-for-dollar the first $1,000 contributed to an IRA, 401(k), or similar plan. The AmeriSave Match will not involve creating a new type of account; instead, it builds on a successful model of 401(k)s and IRAs by increasing incentives to participate. Individuals would receive their AmeriSave Match after they filed a tax return, at which time the funds would be directed to their 401(k) or other plan.

Kip responds accordingly.

This new matching scheme is apparently meant to deflect from (i.e., continue the absolute obstruction of) private accounts within Social Security.

It is also a total fraud. The matching plan will have little or no impact on national savings. It also, by definition, does nothing to address the Social Security crisis (understandable since Democrats lie by insisting that there is no crisis anyway).

He gives a detailed, point-by-point explanation for why AmeriSave is an idiotic, pandering non-solution. Remember, when the government offers us anything, we're paying for what's offered. It's shameful when politicians treat us as if we're too stupid to understand this. Unfortunately, I fear they may be right with many, though. (Yes, I'm speaking of the further left liberals, the ones who imagine that socialism is a good idea not yet given a fair chance to succeed.) Either way, read Kip's post. It's good and worth the short time investment. (As is the rest of his blog.)

Next, I didn't write about the scandalous sex included in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. This type of issue is important to me, as I care most for the First Amendment and the surrounding free speech/intellectual property implications in today's society. Unfortunately, politicians saw this non-scandal as a chance to jump up and pretend to lead. (Yes, I'm speaking of you, Senator Clinton.) I've read a few news reports, but I already understand the issues. If I'd had the time, I would've written about the stupidity surrounding the whole mess. Instead, read Timothy's take on the topic at The One-Handed Economist. He wrote what I wish I'd written. As a bonus, I laughed out loud. Consider:

I have little to no patience for this kind of crap. Look, if you're too goddamned stupid to not buy your child a game clearly based on violence, you don't really have the luxury of demanding that the game company did something "irresponsible". Hidden content is the bread and butter of gaming, that stuff has been around since the advent of computer games. Those of us familiar with the subject matter call them Easter Eggs.

Furthermore, the goddamn game is called GRAND THEFT AUTO: SAN ANDREAS, what did you think it was going to be about? Quiet strolls in the park collecting flowers? How can you not know this stuff, parents? If you refuse to "protect" whatever perceived innocence your precious little children have, then it certainly isn't my job to do it for you. It also certainly isn't the governments, and you certainly don't have the right to ruin fun for everyone else.

Read the whole thing. It's not just funny, it smacks everyone deserving of a good smack.

As a side point, for what it's worth, I followed a link to The One-Handed Economist when Timothy defended me in a comment spat at Jeff Jarvis' BuzzMachine. I use my intellect when I comment on other sites, but not everyone can be expected to follow the same on the Internets. When some kind folks attacked me for not being an ideologue with only sycophantic, partisan intentions, Timothy backed me up. I've never met corresponded with him, but I checked out his site and liked it a lot. I recommend it.

July 20, 2005

Using a machete to slice a cupcake

I found this interesting headline on Drudge today. Behold:

Wow. That seems scary. I live in the D.C. area and ride the Metro, so I need to know more. I clicked the link, only to discover a most interesting opening line. Consider:

Subway riders may face random police checks of their bags under a security measure being considered in the nation's capital, the latest city to look for ways to deter terrorism on rail systems.

Mr. Drudge may consider himself a reporter, but I prefer my journalism to be unbiased factual, thanks. My world will continue, though, because I already knew that he's a hack.

LIBERAL Arts... I mean, come on, how obvious.

I haven't written about this before because I don't care about the topic, but here's an interesting thought on Ward Churchill at Pirate Ballerina. Consider:

We pointed out here back in February that Churchill (and the Left) would work strenuously to recast the argument in First Amendment and academic freedom terms. We didn't realize at the time, however, that Churchill would take such a proactive approach to that recasting, ensuring with each new "frag the officers" outrage that it would be more difficult for a judge to see the argument as anything but a freedom of speech issue.

And that means Churchill winshe keeps his job or gets a huge settlement from CU, or bothand the CU system and the people of the State of Colorado lose. CU's reputation and that of academia in general will, of course, be damagedbut not irreparably so. But that will not change the fact that Ward Churchill will have won.

The reputation of academia in general will be damaged? At what point did the people who most care about Ward Churchill start caring about the reputation of academia? Every argument I've read against Churchill that mentions academia prattles on and on about "liberal, cultural elites" in academia. The arguments portray the theory that mere words possess real danger, but they only intend to convey that liberal words possess real danger. I suppose we should forget that generalizations lumping all of academia (and those not aligned with today's Republicans) into one small box helps to debase the very ideas the writers pretend to revere. Forgive me if I fail defer success at accepting such pious concern for academia now that it's finally clear that only a minute, extreme fringe of the political Left wastes its brain cells caring what Ward Churchill says.

(Source: Michelle Malkin, in a justified rant against Ward Churchill)

"It is error only, and not truth, that shrinks from inquiry."

The title quote, which I like, is from Thomas Paine. Yet, today seems like the day to mention two recent quotes, as well. Both were given in response to Justice O'Connor's announced intention to retire. Consider:

"This is another opportunity for President Bush to appoint a conservative jurist to the federal judiciary who will interpret and apply the Constitution properly instead of legislating from the bench and relying on international opinion and public polls." - Republican South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster.

"As a senior member of the Judiciary Committee, I'll be looking forward to hearing from a nominee who understands that the role of the courts is to interpret the law, not create the law." - Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa

Remember, to put those in context, it's never been about "activist judges". It's been about judges who won't allow the (Republican) president or the (Republican) Congress to govern unchecked. Perhaps Sen. Grassley should introduce a bill to prevent Judge Roberts from becoming activist in the likely event that "Judge" is replaced by "Justice".

(Link originally found at Wonkette)

July 19, 2005

I watched The Amazing Race at 9pm tonight.

Concerning Judge Roberts' nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, I don't know how reliable this report is, so I'll have to withhold judgment until I read more. However, if true, I'm not optimistic about the coming years. Consider:

I'm told that the President waited to make this decision and that it was a deliberate decision. The President, I'm told, wanted someone he knew, someone who would be seen as conservative, and someone who would "tread carefully" on Executive Powers. Roberts was the only one in the end who fit the bill.

The last thing we need right now is someone who will tread carefully on Executive Powers. If there has ever been a President who needs to be restrained by the Constitution's checks-and-balances, it's President Bush. Unfortunately, there's no paper trail to inform this theory, so wait-and-see is the best we're likely to get.

Consider me underwhelmed.

Any idea why I live outside the Beltway?

I've only given a cursory interest in the ongoing "scandal" about whether or not Karl Rove leaked Valerie Plame's identity. Honestly, I'd love to see Karl Rove booted from any sort of influence, but please, do I need to spell it out for the stupid? Consider:

"I would like this to end as quickly as possible so we know the facts, and if someone committed a crime they will no longer work in my administration," Bush said at a news conference with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Asked on June 10, 2004, whether he stood by his earlier pledge to fire anyone found to have leaked the officer's name, Bush replied: "Yes." On Monday, he added the qualifier that it would have to be demonstrated that a crime was committed.

Karl Rove isn't going anywhere. He never was, even when this scandal had the potential legs of "criminal activity" by Rove. Rove is sleazy in his methods, but that's nothing new. But he most likely can slither his way out of any criminal actions, assuming he even committed a crime. But short of a prosecutor filing charges against him, Democrats need to refrain from this:

"President Bush backed away from his initial pledge and lowered the ethics bar," Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean said. "Bush should be prepared to keep his word, and to enforce a high standard of ethics in the White House as he promised from the beginning of his administration."

Yes, President Bush lowered the bar for ousting the (potential) leaker from his administration. Boo, hiss. And big whoop. If Rove is fired, do we think he loses his influence in the Bush Administration? As long as there is a secure phone line in the White House, Rove is free to practice his dark arts at will. So he doesn't push the buttons to make the politics of diversion happen. He'll still pull the strings. Personally, I'd prefer Rove in the White House where we can theoretically watch him because Rove behind the scenes scares me much more.

But this is Washington. A potential scandal is more than enough justification for going on the offensive. Better to smear someone because you hate them than because they've done something illegal. Victory at any cost, right? So what happens when the White House manages to spin this away? Every talking head on the Right gets to pin this as partisan politics on the Left. Sure, any sane person can decipher the spin to know it's happening. But will the ideologues care? Remember, these are the people spewing "Liberal MSM" and "activist judges" at every opportunity. This whole scandal reeks of the old adage that "the facts, although interesting, are irrelevant."

I'd rather win when the battle matters.

July 18, 2005

The answers are obvious if thinking is optional

Before what must be its pending, stunning conclusion that, and I quote, "the sky is blue", the Royal Institute for International Affairs (Chatham House) released a report with the following revelation (summarized from the press release):

A key problem for the UK in preventing terrorism in Britain is the governments position as pillion passenger to the United States' war on terror [ed. note: emphasis added by RIIA]. Formulating counter-terrorism policy in this way has left the ally in the driving seat' to do the steering. This is one of the key findings of Security, Terrorism and the UK, a new, long-planned briefing paper to be published on Monday 18 July by Chatham House and the Economic & Social Research Council.

The report also makes the assertion that "the UK is at particular risk because it is the closest ally of the US" and "there is no doubt that the invasion of Iraq has imposed particular difficulties for the UK". Right, all of it is exciting stuff, which is why I suspect that Tony Blair and his government have considered these ideas at great length. As a result, we should assume idiocy in anyone who believes that Prime Minister Blair has given control of British involvement over to President Bush. Over-simplifying the British alliance with the United States as little more than a puppet/puppet master relationship is absurd. Our leaders will make mistakes when working in an alliance, but to promote an idea that our leaders should stop working together because they might make mistakes is foolish and dangerous.

But the real key to me in this report is this statement:

The attacks on the transport system in London on 7 July 2005 represent precisely the nature of the threat from international terrorism that the UK authorities have been concerned about since 9/11.

This is particularly interesting since British citizens perpetrated the July 7th bombings in London. How that qualifies as international is beyond me. The July 7th murderers revealed that the national threat in the UK (and, no doubt, in the U.S., as well) is as important as the international threat. We must not become complacent (or overly suspicious to the point of destroying our own society, but that's a different rant) and believe that because we engage the murderers "over there" that they can't attack here.

Regardless of nationality, though, understanding that the murderers' eluded the government's detection efforts doesn't solve the remaining question of prevention strategy, something I fear will not stop the critics from using this report to score points. Consider this article announcing the report:

The findings are embarrassing for the Prime Minister because he has fought hard - and until now, largely successfully - to persuade people not to link his alliance with President George W Bush and the London bombings.

The authors do not directly link the war and the suicide attacks, which are now known to have killed 55 people. But their conclusions are likely to intensify the debate about whether the killings could have been avoided.

The report, written by Paul Wilkinson and Frank Gregory, two academics specialising in terrorism, concedes that there have been some successes against terrorism since September 11.

However, it goes on: ...

However, indeed. Embarrassing is an interesting word choice for a news article. Had this appeared in the Opinion section, I would've understood. But the news? Better to amplify judgment of the mistakes as fact than to report the facts and let the reader decide, I suppose. Do the reporters, Andrew Sparrow and Anton La Guardia, fear that Britons might come to the wrong conclusion?

Perhaps, because it continues:

When Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, connected the two issues in a speech, Downing Street accused him of being "naive". It issued a list of attacks related to al-Qa'eda going back more than a decade to underline the fact that the war in Iraq was not the starting point.

However, the Prime Minister and his supporters will find it hard to dismiss today's report. The Royal Institute of International Affairs, which also goes under the name of Chatham House, is respected throughout the world and is politically unbiased.

However, indeed. I've supported the rationale that the media as a whole does not possess a (liberal) bias. I still hold to my belief that journalism isn't biased, as a general rule. It would take an irrational lapse in logic to defend The Daily Telegraph, though. So I won't. I'll leave it at the simple notion that "Gotcha" may win points, but the political victory will be Pyrrhic.

July 12, 2005

Who wants to be King Dumbass?

Jann Wenner aimed for the title last week. Consider this post from the useless Huffington Post:

Amid all the optimism surrounding Blair, Bono & Geldolf doing Live 8 and G 8, and the award of that most wonderful and pacific of international institutions and global brotherhood -- the Olympics -- what a grim thing to have happened.

I have no problems with that, except for the "most wonderful" part. Oh, and the global brotherhood crap. Remember, this is the same institution that just voted, by secret ballot, to remove baseball and softball from the Olympic games. So the whole concept is irrelevant. But I'll pretend that it's all true. Yet, Mr. Wenner's rant is at The Huffington Post, so I'm not certain how long I can make pretend; nonsense is certain to follow.

So what brilliant thoughts come next?

Violence rarely gets us anywhere; the PLO, the IRA, the SLA, among others have achieved so little with their terrorism.

Wait, I agree with that. Is there some form of common sense taking over? I'm ready to accept that logic can come from the strangest places. So I read the conclusion.

If the London bombings are the work of an Al Qaeda offshoot, then you have to fairly say, in the same way we condemn other's terror, this is in part the result of Bush's War on Iraq.

This is in part the result of Bush's War on Iraq? Wait... what? Terrorism is bad and we condemn other's terror, so President Bush is to blame for this? As opposed to condemning the actual terrorists who planted four bombs on London transport? Oh, yeah, that makes sense.

Mr. Wenner should drop out of Irrational Liberal Guilt 101 and enroll in the local community college version of Logic 101.

(Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan, because I stopped paying attention to The Huffington Post about four minutes after it debuted.)

July 08, 2005

Those guys think they're revolutionaries

Here's an interesting business lesson:

Apple Computer Chief Executive Steve Jobs has a reputation for thinking different. But now he might be planning a move for Apple that will leave even his biggest fans surprised--becoming a phone company.

It might sound far-fetched, but the pieces are in place for it to happen later this summer. Apple is already developing a hybrid iPod/cell phone with handset maker Motorola. And companies ranging from the Virgin Group to The Walt Disney Co. are proving that a new network model can allow all kinds of businesses to easily enter the mobile market.

Essentially, this entails Apple releasing an iTunes-branded cell phone, with the cellular network leased from an existing company such as Sprint or Cingular. The startup cost is minimal compared to the early days of cell phones because the network infrastructure is already in place. And Apple benefits from popularity currently unparalleled in customer electronics. It seems like a reasonable idea. But why would Apple want to go through the trouble when it could simplify this opportunity with an iTunes application for mobile phones?

But Apple might have a problem getting the devices into customers' hands. Carriers will probably be loath to sell and support it, since they want to sell their own music downloads--not have customers upload tunes from home. "The carriers don't like it," says analyst Rob Enderle, head of The Enderle Group. "They want Apple to change the design so the phone has to sync through their networks, not with a PC."

Of course the carriers don't like it. They want to pretend that customers care more about the gatekeeper than what comes through the gates. customers may like the gatekeeper (Apple is the perfect example), but content is more important. Where the carriers go wrong is believing that exclusivity and control of content aren't important. If customers thought the way carriers believe they think, AOL would still dominate.

Perhaps an example... Last year I decided to switch cell phone carriers. I'd had minor issues with Sprint so I opted to transfer my phone number to Verizon. After purchasing a new phone with exciting features, I impatiently waited for the phone to charge so I could upload my unique ringtones. Reading through the instruction manual, I found no references to uploading ringtones. I searched the internets to figure out how to do it. And that's when I found out Verizon's little secret. Despite all the nice features of the phone, I was beholden to their wishes. I could have any content I wanted as long as Verizon sold it. No personal ringtones, no fancy pictures, no diversionary games.

Five days later I returned the phone to Verizon and became a Sprint customer again because Sprint allowed me to use the phone I purchased in the way I wanted to use it. Today, when my brother calls me, a Hokie gobble announces the call.

Customers aren't always rational, but they're not stupid. If the customer has an iTunes account, why would Verizon think she wants a middleman to sell her music from iTunes? The existing carriers imagine monopoly powers where they don't exist. They will learn the lesson, but as the lesson often is for large companies, the lesson probably won't be pleasant. Competition dictates an adapt or die mentality; Apple understands this better than most.

Although an Apple phone may not happen, some form of an iTunes-capable phone will. It makes too much sense and Apple has the clout to make it happen. In the scenario I imagine, Verizon, Sprint, Cingular, and every other cellular carrier should not be surprised when cell phones show up next to iPods and PowerBooks in every Apple retail store.

(Link via Slashdot)

July 07, 2005


July 06, 2005

Bolt the door, if you're coming in.

As a follow-up to the last post concerning the most recent column by Ann Coulter, I'd like to offer one of her examples of American taxpayer largesse. Consider:

Korans distributed to aspiring terrorists at Guantanamo. U.S. military

Would she complain if taxpayers paid for Bibles at Guantanamo Bay? However, as "interesting" as that question is, I'm more amused by this definition:

aspire (past and past participle aspired, present participle aspiring, 3rd person present singular aspires)

intransitive verb

1. have particular ambition: to seek to attain a goal
aspire to public office

2. fly high: to soar to a great height ( literary )

[14th century. < Latin aspirare "breathe toward" (see aspirate)]


Somebody contact the moonbat left! Not only are we torturing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, we're jailing them for "aspiring" to be terrorists. They haven't even become terrorists! But damn it, they aspire! Lock the bastards up!

I, of course, know that she realizes we're imprisoning individuals at Guantanamo Bay for (alleged, although the military tribunals may have decided already) terrorist activities, not intentions, so I'm only mocking her lazy phrasing. Yet, the more serious issue is the implication she throws in about the Koran. I'm not religious, so I don't know anything about the Koran, but there are what, more than a billion Muslims around the world? And they all have terrorist aspirations because they read the Koran? Hardly. Regardless of the negatives Ms. Coulter may believe about Islam and the Koran, does she believe that a few fringe Christians who commit atrocities represent all Christians?

Lazy wording may make for strange amusement, but lazy ideology fuels dangerous repurcussions, creating enemies where friends previously existed. Our enemies may be fighting us in their holy war, but we're fighting the physical threat to our safety. There is a difference and we must remember that.

July 05, 2005

Profit and Proper aren't mutually exclusive

There have been many stories of potential identity theft and fraud making the news in recent months. (Here's one of the most recent, just as an example.) An individual's ability to protect himself is possible, though this ability seems to fade with each new technological advance. The reach of information is almost beyond comprehension. Yet, there is one tool, however primitive, that can be used: the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act.

The FACT Act allows consumers to request one free credit report every 12 months. Right, I'm thinking the same thing everyone is. Nice baby step, but when my data can be stolen by a diligent hacker with little more than an internet connection, how am I supposed to protect myself with that? That's valid, and the consumer information industry should be doing everything it can to protect us police its business model. If it doesn't... Okay, even if it does, legislation is coming. But we have to start somewhere and the credit report is the simplest method.

Equifax CEO Thomas Chapman doesn't like this. Consider:

"Our company felt, and still does ... that it's unconstitutional to cause a public company who has a fiduciary responsibility to return profit to shareholders to give away the product," Chapman said to reporters following a speech at the Commonwealth Club of California in San Francisco on Monday [6/27]. "Most of my shareholder group did not think that giving away our product was the American way."

Chapman was referring to the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, which since last December has required credit agencies to provide consumers with a free copy of their credit report every 12 months to check for inaccuracies and fraudulent activity. Chapman said that viewing a credit report once a year wouldn't protect consumers against fraud.

"That's like turning on the smoke alarm once a year," he said.

His point is correct but wrong. Once per year is not enough and it won't really do much to protect fraud. It will, however, allow individuals to see the information sold, at a profit by companies like Equifax, that could affect whether or not they can purchase renter's insurance, to name an example that erroneously happened to me. So, even though it won't likely prevent fraud, it can help to clear mistakes. Except, it's notoriously hard to "encourage" credit reporting agencies to fix mistakes. But Equifax is now motivated to do the right thing for its business model.

Or does it?

To ward off excessive legislation, Chapman supports the idea of tougher industry standards pressuring companies to encrypt data. He suggested that increased funding for enforcement of data-theft laws would help reverse a trend in which few identity thieves are ever prosecuted.

Chapman also discussed the need to educate consumers about monitoring their credit records on a regular basis and being wary of giving out sensitive information. He noted that during a recent visit to a museum with his grandchildren, the cashier asked for his social security number as well as his home address and phone number when he tried to buy tickets with his credit card.

To ward off excessive legislation. May I offer protecting consumers (your supply) as a worthy goal from the beginning rather than only when something goes wrong? Where business fails to protect in accordance with reasonable standards (and even where it protects, but that's a different rant), government steps in with regulation. Welcome to America in 2005. And if you think a business subject to high profile "disasters" is going to escape extra scrutiny and governmental "care", you're smoking something now regulated by interstate commerce, even when it doesn't cross state lines. As for educating consumers to monitor their credit records on a regular basis, the technology exists, but you didn't do it because it didn't improve the bottom line. I seem to believe that's why Congress, correct solution or not, passed the FACT Act. And it only gets worse from here, especially if you pursue this line of logic instead of catching up to your real starting point. Just a hunch.

(Consider reading No Place to Hide by Robert O'Harrow, Jr. for more insight into many of the issues surrounding information sharing. There are examples relevant to this story. Also, request a free credit report every 12 months from

July 04, 2005

Put it back, Mr. Thomson. The King will remain a tyrant.

A distinct change has taken over America in the last few years (I'll round it to 4½ years, just as a "random" estimation). This change affects how we interact with each other and what we believe is permissible. What really fascinates me, though, is that it affects how we enforce what is permissible. Gone are the days when we called our local sheriff to complain about a neighbor participating in "impropriety". Today, we call the FBI or our Congressman. This solution might not be as quick as the sheriff, or even appropriate for the determined offense, but it is much more helpful to society as a whole because it'll impact more than just our own neighborhood. We can save our brother in Cedar Rapids the effort of dealing with his local version of the incorrigible town malcontent. Our best friend's mother-in-law won't have to worry about undesirable behavior next to her duplex in New York City. The positive benefits are endless. We all know America is better for this. We are realizing the Utopia of National Conformity Unity.

Since I want to continue our progress, I have an idea. This idea, while appearing quite strange and radical at first glance, will revolutionize the way government happens in America. Society will benefit. America will be stronger. Gridlock will vanish. Creativity will soar. America will drive the new Golden Age of civilization. It will be beautiful.

Before I reveal my idea, I must confess that I don't think it took as much of an imaginative leap as it might at first seem. It feels more like an extension of our present path. All I've done is wipe away the extraneous. But it's a good cleanse, I think. So, what's my idea? Are you sitting down? If not, you should; this idea is so stunning and new and spectacular that you just might faint. Have you taken my advice? Are you ready? Good, I'm going to tell it to you now. Beginning in 2008, each presidential candidate must propose, alongside his or her platform, an updated United States Constitution with which he or she plans to govern for the next presidential term.

I know, you can't believe what you've just read. Brilliant, isn't it? Especially because it's so simple. And obvious. It really modernizes government, doesn't it? And humanity, really. I can think of no flaws. None. And I've thought about this for at least five minutes.

Even though I know you know it's brilliant, I'm sure you have questions about how this will work. Since you've grasped that the "why" is self-evident, I'll skip ahead to your question. Each candidate must lay out a framework of the basic principles for the next administration. It can be a modified version of the sitting president's constitution, or it can be a new version intended to scrap and reverse the old. Either way, the country gets to live under revitalized governance with current thinking injected every four years to shake off the cobwebs of the quaint past.

In this Information Age, time is almost meaningless as a measure of change. Our old methods sustained us when society encountered evolutionary adaptations and growth. Now our growth is revolutionary, with an idea life-cycle so short as to be beyond meaningless. Under this plan, it's much more practical than to change based on our current election cycle than to rely on a constitution as old as our existing document. Every four years is better than every two centuries (or more). Who could disagree?

I do suspect that proposed constitutions will not differ for the candidate from the sitting president's party, but that's just a guess. Regardless, there will still be a variety of ideas proposed every four years. This can't be bad.

Again, no restrictions would be placed on the proposed constitution because we want the law of the land to be responsive to ever-changing needs. That's a good thing. And the proposed constitutions could be debated throughout the election campaign. Glaring inconsistencies or omissions could be rectified. Each candidate can clarify why the most important aspects of the new constitution may not be what seemed obvious. This all leads to election day, when the president-elect's constitution is ratified according to his or her popular vote. If it makes it easier, think of each presidential candidate's proposed constitution as his or her second running-mate.

Think about it. It's a perfect solution. You think marriage should be only between a man and a woman? Vote for that constitution. You think Congress shouldn't be able to prohibit flag desecration? Vote for that constitution. You think only socialist health care should be available? Vote for that constitution. You think only 14"-wide books should be allowed for novels or that only Toshiba televisions should be allowed for watching cartoons? Vote for that constitution. You think the judiciary is too activist? That worry is gone, too, because you can vote for the constitution that says only Punxsutawney Phil determines whether new laws satisfy the new strictures of the new constitution. How much simpler, not to mention the impartiality, can you get?

Hell, think bigger. Just imagine a world in which an official at publicly-funded buildings is required to read a Curious George book at 4:13 p.m. every day. You don't think that would win votes? You haven't thought hard enough, let me assure you. Or think how much the economy could soar with the need to print new constitutions every four years. Timber companies would grow. Or what about the financial benefit from the requirement that all public-school teachers wear a different puffed-paint headband for every lesson. I'm already counting the trickle-down riches, and they're not just monetary.

Our children and grandchildren will no longer curse or mock us. They can choose their own society when they turn eighteen, unburdened by our antiquated choices. Wow.

If we act today, the magic can begin. Election 2008 is three short years away.

July 01, 2005

How much will he withdraw from the piggy bank?

Given that many expect Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist to retire soon, which, if he does retire, I suspect is delayed to give Justice O'Connor the spotlight, here's my question: How does two nominations at the same time affect the nomination process? Obviously, the President's staunch conservative base wants a right-wing nominee, which it will probably get. But if Chief Justice Rehnquist retires, as well, is this possible? Are we more likely to end up with two more moderate nominees, to preserve President Bush's political capital? Or are we in for two brutal fights instead of one?

I hope it means two moderates, but I'm not counting on it. Your thoughts?

All the cool kids are commenting on it

President Bush remarked on the career of retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor today. The part about her tenure on the court is fine, as we should expect. She served the United States for 24 years. Good for her. But reminiscing about the past isn't interesting. I'm more interested in the coming confirmation process. In his remarks, President Bush said:

Under the Constitution, I am responsible for nominating a successor to Justice O'Connor. I take this responsibility seriously. I will be deliberate and thorough in this process. I have directed my staff, in cooperation with the Department of Justice, to compile information and recommend for my review potential nominees who meet a high standard of legal ability, judgment and integrity and who will faithfully interpret the Constitution and laws of our country.

There's the first shot at "activist judges", but the statement is innocuous enough that I'm not bothered by it. It can be interpreted as a shot against the judiciary and was probably meant that way, but it has no consequence since that line has been used so much that the quiver needs new arrows to be dangerous. So, moving on.

As well, I will continue to consult, as will my advisers, with members of the United States Senate. The nation deserves, and I will select, a Supreme Court Justice that Americans can be proud of. The nation also deserves a dignified process of confirmation in the United States Senate, characterized by fair treatment, a fair hearing and a fair vote. I will choose a nominee in a timely manner so that the hearing and the vote can be completed before the new Supreme Court term begins.

Those last two sentences were not innocuous. No one wants a rough confirmation process, but... okay, the leading Democrats probably do, but they're stupid. Smart people don't want a rough confirmation process. But smart people also realize that a non-"activist judge" who is an ideologue hurts the country because the "activist judge" nonsense isn't meant to apply to conservatives. If we can get a nominee who rests in the middle, who actually represents the ideals that President Bush and Senate leaders use in their rhetoric, confirmation obstruction will be less effective, though probably only a little less vocal and prevalent.

Regardless, President Bush opened the process today.

June 30, 2005

And dying when you're not really sick is really sick, you know. Really!

Where to begin on this? Jonah Goldberg's recent column for (enough said, some will (correctly) say) begins with an interesting notion, although it foreshadows nonsensical babbling. Consider:

In Washington, conservatives and liberals are quietly loading up on drinking water, D batteries and extra ammo, in preparation for the coming battle over judges. Ralph Neas himself has been seen by the campfire carving notches into the stock of his rifle, muttering, "Pain don't hurt." No one knows when the fight's coming, but everyone knows it is. But while we're digging fresh foxholes and listening to our Vera Lynn records, waiting for the blitzkrieg, it might be worth taking a step back to look at the big picture.

This is a battle between the forces of life and death, and, as inconvenient as it may be to the marketing efforts of abortion opponents, we are resolutely on the side of death. For we are those who believe the only good constitution is a dead constitution.

Having read that far, he intrigued me. Is he saying we should kill the Constitution and start over? Obviously there are a few things in there that he wouldn't like, so better to scrap it, I guess. I only had a little information, but I prepared for the inevitable "activist judges" gargoyle to appear, and soon. Sadly, Mr. Goldberg only alludes to it. But it's there in abundance, which will be obvious in a moment.


We've all heard about how great living constitutions are. The most extreme, but essentially representative, version of this "philosophy" can be found from the likes of Mary Frances Berry or the Los Angeles Times' Robert Scheer. They matter-of-factly claim that without a "living" constitution, slavery and other such evils would still be constitutional. This is what leading constitutional legal theorists call "stupid." The constitutionality of slavery, women's suffrage and the like were decided by these things called the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. Also, contra feminists, women got the vote not through a living constitution but by the mere expansion of the dead one - via the 19th Amendment.

I get it. Citizens decided that they weren't happy with the specifics of the Constitution, so they changed it. Brilliant. Why doesn't everyone who believes in a "living" constitution know that crazy little footnote? But I know, he means to imply that we need to fix the handiwork of "activist judges". He didn't say that, but I know it's coming later on. I'm jumping ahead.

Back to where we were.

This is not to say the "living constitution" is a myth. "It's alive!" all right, as Dr. Frankenstein might say. Supreme Court justices have found the most interesting things swimming in the penumbras and emanations of the U.S. Constitution. The point is merely that it is batty to argue that constitutional change is impossible unless we view the Constitution as a completely viable life outside the womb of historical context and principled meaning.

There it is. He didn't say it, but it's there. Whew. Four paragraphs in is a looooong time to wait for the conservative's verbal "money shot" first appearance, even if only its shadow arrived. Maybe Mr. Goldberg will stop teasing and just say it already. Let's see:

The more reasonable arguments for a living constitution revolve around the view that society is changing too fast and the Constitution-as-written must grow to stay relevant. Al Gore said in 2000, "I would look for justices of the Supreme Court who understand that our Constitution is a living and breathing document, that it was intended by our founders to be interpreted in the light of the constantly evolving experience of the American people."

And it's obviously true that the founders never envisioned a world of embryonic stem cells or retinal-scan cat doors (coming soon!). And there are good answers for what the Supreme Court should do when the Constitution is truly silent on an issue. For example: It should stay silent.

"It should stay silent." Bingo. So, what Mr. Goldberg instructs is that "activist judges" should ignore their duties when faced with an issue on which they might rule in favor of the liberals misread the Constitution. Better to let Congress act until the citizenry acts (through Congress) to amend the Constitution. Wise.

So what's the solution in America 2005?

But the problem here is that these arguments are all on the opposition's turf. Conservatives aren't merely anti-living Constitution - we are pro-dead Constitution. In order for us to live in freedom, the Constitution must die (Faster, Federalist Society! Kill! Kill!).

The case for dead constitutions is simple. They bind us to a set of rules for everybody. Recall the recent debate about the filibuster. The most powerful argument the Democrats could muster was that if you get rid of the traditional right of the minority in the Senate to bollix up the works, the Democrats will deny that right to Republicans the next time they're in the majority (shudder).

Remember, we're in the rule of "with us or against us". Every decision funnels through a prism of Conservative or Wrong. There are no shades of grey, and definitely no shades of chartreuse, bisque, or fuchsia. Binding rules are perfect for that mindset. We don't want to reinterpret anything under changing times. It's better to amend than to understand, I guess. Which leads us to this:

The Constitution works on a similar principle, as does the rule of law. Political scientists call this "precommitment." Having a set of rules with a fixed (i.e., dead, unliving, etc.) meaning ensures that future generations will be protected from judges or politicians who'd like to rule arbitrarily. This is what Chesterton was getting at when he called tradition "democracy for the dead." We all like to believe that we have some say about what this country will be like for our children and grandchildren. A "living Constitution" denies us our voice in this regard because it basically holds that whatever decisions we make - including the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments - can be thrown out by any five dyspeptic justices on the Supreme Court. In other words, the justices who claim the Constitution is a wild card didn't take their oath to uphold and defend the Constitution in good faith because they couldn't know what they were swearing to.

What if our children and grandchildren don't like what we do to their country? I'm just saying. Can we really make the Constitution "dead" and the Bill of Rights "living" and expect it to be perfect? Or will we encounter growing pains? I'm just saying.

Mr. Goldberg offers guidance and insight in the form of a quote from Justice Antonin Scalia, of course. Consider:

"What distinguishes the rule of law from the dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority," Justice Scalia wrote this week, "is the absolutely indispensable requirement that judicial opinions be grounded in consistently applied principle. That is what prevents judges from ruling now this way, now that - thumbs up or thumbs down - as their personal preferences dictate."

Right, because Justice Scalia rules on consistently applied principle and not personal preferences. The First Amendment says what it says and conservatives like Justice Scalia honor the words of our Founding Fathers on this. Just as an example.

But I'm not a constitutional legal theorist. Except, no, I really am a Constitutional legal theorist. Mr. Goldberg doesn't say I have to have a J.D. to be a constitutional legal theorist. I don't want to read any words into his statement that aren't there, so I must now reconsider. I've written enough about what the Constitution should mean, filling tens of hours of non-financially and non-legally productive time, that I have to have some reasonable term for why. What better title than the simple three word suggestion from Mr. Goldberg. There is the bump that is the fourth word ("leading") in Mr. Goldberg's proffered title, of course, that gets in the way, but I think highly of my mind, so there it is. Thus, I now confer upon myself the title of (leading) constitutional legal theorist.

But I'm still stupid.

June 28, 2005

You raise a doll-chopping homicidal maniac, and what do you do every time you see him? You give him money. Great!

Reading through the blogosphere tonight, I came across this article from The New York Times. All of the complaints I've seen lament that the editors buried this positive story concerning U.S. treatment of prisoners at Guantnamo Bay on page A15. Okay, it's possible that it's media bias. You know those wacky liberals and their lack of respect for truth over ideology. Yeah, I'm tired of that theme, too.

I'm taking a different angle on this story. First, consider the facts:

Senators from both sides of the aisle competed on Monday to extol the humane treatment of detainees whom they said they saw on a weekend trip to the military detention center at Guantnamo Bay, Cuba. All said they opposed closing the center.

"I feel very good" about the detainees' treatment, Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, said.

That feeling was also expressed by another Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

On Monday, Senator Jim Bunning, Republican of Kentucky, said he learned while visiting Guantnamo that some detainees "even have air-conditioning and semiprivate showers."

Another Republican, Senator Michael D. Crapo of Idaho, said soldiers and sailors at the camp "get more abuse from the detainees than they give to the detainees."

Presumably, this means we can all proudly pat ourselves on the back. Nothing to see here, folks. Go on home and be good Americans. God bless America.

Here's the problem: we don't deserve credit for doing what we're supposed to do. It's an unfair, but it's a reality we won't (and shouldn't) escape. We provide the overwhelming majority of prisoners at Guantnamo Bay humane treatment? That isn't something I doubted, but I'm glad it's reinforced. It's too bad it misses the point of the abuse/torture debate occurring over the past few weeks.

Given ninety-nine good examples and one bad example, what is everyone going to remember? What about when "everyone" is the world in a war for hearts and minds? The reason the alleged abuse/torture must be investigated is to get rid of it, if it exists. Congratulatory grandstanding about how wonderful we are and what wonderful meals we serve Guantnamo Bay's prisoners may make us feel good, but to pretend that we're too good to torture or that sketchy behavior is isolated to a few low-ranking members is arrogant and stupid. Unchecked and untreated, cancer spreads. Why do we think this is different?

So, yeah, it's possible to say it's the liberals and the mainstream media who are trying to wreck America in a case of blatant partisanship. But how does squatting on the opposite end of the spectrum make sense? When did smug, ignorant strutting earn anyone, especially politicians, commendations instead of ridicule?

(Source: Instapundit)

June 24, 2005

Inspector Butters is on the case, ma'am

As evidenced by the 2,146,316 flag amendment posts over the last few days, I'm a bit bothered up about it. But as Wendy pointed out in comments last night, there is another legal travesty in the news. In a (not really) stunning decision, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Kelo vs. New London. Here is a summary of the decision:

A divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that a city can take a person's home as part of a private development project aimed at boosting tax revenues and revitalizing a local economy, a decision that could have nationwide impact.

By a 5-4 vote, the high court upheld a ruling that New London, Connecticut, can seize the homes and businesses owned by seven families for a private development project that will complement a nearby research facility by the Pfizer Inc. drug company.

I admit that I'm not a lawyer, although I play one on Sometimes, such as in this case, I admit that I don't know as much as I should. I'm only basing my argument on standard, obvious logic. But I know enough to realize that this case is an abomination. However, since there are sufficient commentaries all over the internets, I'm not going to contribute anything other than to point to two of particular interest.

First, consider this New York Times travesty (link via Michelle Malkin - truth is truth, even when it comes from an ideologue):

In a blistering dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor lamented that the decision meant that the government could transfer any private property from the owner to another person with more political influence "so long as it might be upgraded." That is a serious concern, but her fears are exaggerated. The majority strongly suggested that eminent domain should be part of a comprehensive plan, and Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing separately, underscored that its goal cannot simply be to help a developer or other private party become richer.

That is not the situation in New London. Connecticut is a rich state with poor cities, which must do everything they can to attract business and industry. New London's development plan may hurt a few small property owners, who will, in any case, be fully compensated. But many more residents are likely to benefit if the city can shore up its tax base and attract badly needed jobs.

Do you believe that some hack politician being bribed lobbied by a real estate company will make sure that eminent domain is "part of a comprehensive plan"? Right, neither do I. As for "fully compensated", family history and memories can't get an appropriate price tag. How does a city compensate a family whose house has eight years of height lines etched into the kitchen door frame? How exciting will it be for a man to take his kids to his boyhood home and point out the nice backyard parking lot where he used to play catch with his dad? Cash isn't always king.

On a different angle, consider reasoning from KipEsquire:

Wouldn't it be nice if all those grass-root, "let the voters decide," Red State, "damn activist judges" types put as much effort into enacting state constitutional amendments limiting eminent domain as they did discriminating against gays? You might think people like that would care more about keeping their own homes than what goes on in their neighbors' homes. We'll see.

It's an argument that some might not like, but he's right. So, yeah, people can think what they want about social issues like same-sex marriage and flag desecration, but there are more important issues with a more fundamental, long-term impact on the United States.

So, yeah, although five Justices and the New York Times think this decision makes sense, I'm with everyone else. It pisses me off, too.

June 23, 2005

I'm not giving up on this topic

More thoughts on the Constitutional that passed the House of Representatives Nanny-statists yesterday.


When I e-mailed Congressman Loose Cannon™, I informed him of my opposition to H.J.Res. 10, which is this:

Title: Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States authorizing the Congress to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.
Sponsor: Rep Cunningham, Randy (Duke) [CA-50] (introduced 1/25/2005) Cosponsors (196)
Related Bills: H.RES.330, S.J.RES.12
Latest Major Action: 6/22/2005 Passed/agreed to in House. Status: On passage Passed by the Yeas and Nays: (2/3 required): 286 - 130 (Roll no. 296).

Do I need to clarify that Congressman Loose Cannon™ is in the list of 196 Cosponsors?

This is the response I received earlier this week to my e-mail. Before I reproduce it here, though, let me remind you that I referenced H.J.Res. 10 because I knew that it was the proposed amendment coming before the full House. I made specific reference to the fact that it would come before the House this week. And he was one of the 196 Cosponsors. So this is what his intern he wrote:

Thank you for contacting me regarding H.J.Res. 5, the Flag Amendment. I appreciate hearing from you regarding this important issue.

As you know, Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) introduced H.J.Res. 5 in January 2005 at the outset of the 109th Congress. H.J.Res. 5 proposes to amend the Constitution by authorizing Congress to prohibit the physical desecration of the United States flag.

Since its introduction, H.J.Res. 5 has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary. Rest assured I will keep your comments foremost in my mind if this measure comes before the full House for a vote.

Thank you again for contacting my office regarding this important issue. I appreciate you sharing your views with me, and I look forward to hearing from you in the future on matters of interest or concern.


Tom Davis
Member of Congress

I'm sure my comments will be foremost in your mind, but only if your mind is in the circular file. At least the pattern of not reading my e-mails for context continues, so that's a reassurance in this world of change.


Here are two more wonderful quotes about the amendment that passed yesterday:

Among the new votes for the amendment is Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who pushed the issue in his campaign and helped recruit co-sponsors. "Out in the country, at the grass-roots level, it's seen as a common man's practical patriotism," Thune said.

Because, you know, it's about the common man, the country folks. The real people. Not us liberal, elitists snobs on the East Coast. Because I hate America, unlike real, salt-of-the-Earth Americans. But, Sen. Thune, perhaps a suggestion: remove the symbolic flag from the pole before you beat us over the head with it. And take that slice of your mom's apple pie out of your baseball mitt. But most importantly, please, please make sure you loosen it from around your neck so that you still get oxygen. It's obvious that it's wrapped so tightly around you that it's cutting the flow to your brain.


House Judiciary Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) said during the debate that lawmakers "must act with bipartisan dispatch to ensure that this issue is returned to the hands of those most interested in preserving freedom -- the people themselves."

Rep. Sensenbrenner, returning this issue to the people, who hadn't been clamoring for you to address it the way they have about, oh, I don't know, terrorism, war, social security, taxes, and other minor issues, is wise in a Republic. Encourage mob majority rule when you're in power because, you know, your party will never be in the minority again. Well thought out.



Here's an interesting article from Eugene Volokh titled "What's Wrong With the Flagburning Amendment". Here's an excerpt, but read the full text.

"Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States, and the flying of the Confederate flag."

OK, so that's not exactly how the proposed flag protection amendment reads -- I've added the Confederate flag phrase. But this little thought experiment helps show that the flag protection amendment is a bad idea.

After all, burning the U.S. flag and flying the Confederate flag are similar in many ways. Some people argue that flagburning shouldn't be protected by the First Amendment because it isn't "speech." Well, burning one flag and waving another are pretty similar on that score. I think both are traditional terms in our political language, and should be constitutionally protected; but if I'm wrong, then both should be unprotected.

Of course, burning the U.S. flag deeply offends many people. But so does waving the Confederate flag, even when it's done by individuals and not by state governments. Many American boys died defending the U.S. flag -- and many of them died fighting against the Confederacy. Burning the U.S. flag is often an anti-American symbol. Likewise, the Confederate flag was a symbol of treason and rebellion against the lawful American government.

Mr. Volokh carries the argument through, building a very strong case against the amendment. He concludes with this:

America is different from most other countries, and even from most other democracies. In America, all ideologies are protected, even those that the majority thinks are evil.

Why is this right? Because the First Amendment was drafted and interpreted by people who intimately understood cultural, religious, and political conflict, and who knew how calls for censorship could launch the most bitter of culture wars.

The [First] Amendment is a truce: "I won't try to suppress your ideas, if you don't try to suppress mine." And the flagburning amendment risks shattering this truce.

(via Instapundit and The Corner)

Artificial intelligence is dumb

To add a little levity to yesterday's anti-flag desecration amendment entry, while searching for sources, I encountered an interesting ad. Clearly, whoever coded the logic didn't bother with context. Consider:

Need Flag Burning? Find Flag Burning products and suppliers? Who even knew that there were 650,000 manufacturers of flag burning supplies? And they're all online? Who knew?

Now, imagine if Congress passes the amendment and it eventually passes thirty-eight state legislatures. Our government will be responsible for putting 650,000 manufacturers out of business. That should sell well at re-election time.

June 22, 2005

It's just not the same without the balloons

I want to comment on Michelle Malkin again, but this time it's not a complete disagreement. Today, she posted a new Desecration of the Day. (Here's the picture.) I agree with her basic premise that it's important to highlight how some around the world disrespect/hate America. There's no need to pretend that everyone loves us. It's not true, so why hide from it? Show it every time it occurs, even though it's not new information. But, and this is important, we need to remember that we're not the cause, something Ms. Malkin ignores. Consider:

Here's your regular, gasoline-drenched reminder of the latest MSM-induced desecration that won't be getting front-page coverage

I enjoy that phrase: "the latest MSM-induced desecration". Ms. Malkin is referring to the Newsweek fiasco, of course, but why stop there? It's the whole mainstream media's (MSM) fault. Or, more to the point, the liberal media's fault. One poorly sourced/reported story and every future anti-American activity will be MSM-induced. Does that make sense?

Long before Newsweek screwed up, individuals around the world have burned the American flag. They've protested us. They've burned our presidents in effigy. This is not new. If nothing else, remember this: people with opinions like to be heard. (Hence, blogs. That I'm writing this for free indicates that I'm not immune.)

Yet, there's a more fundamental value that conservatives supposedly hold above most others. I thought Ms. Malkin would maintain this. I assume she still agrees with it, but it's lacking in the phrase "MSM-induced". What happened to personal responsibility?

If I walk up to someone and say "I hate you and I hate your ass face," would that person be absolved of assault if he punched me in the face? No? Why not? Just because someone is offended does not offer liability-free vindication to respond in whatever manner feels desirable.

Yes, the mainstream media screwed up and reported "facts" that portray America badly. (Newsweek, really, but I'll stick with Ms. Malkin's MSM generalization.) Don't the flag-burners have the choice of how to respond? If they choose to riot or burn flags, is that really "MSM-induced"? Yes, it sets the conditions, but unless the reporter provides the matches and the flag, the flag-burner must retain ultimate responsibility for his actions.

But you already knew that. It just doesn't sell very well among the "with us or against us" and "blame liberals" crowd.


On a related "with us or against us", "blame liberals" lesson, this post is 100% spot-on. Read it and know the truth.

How about a series of fines for good play?

Because the proposed Constitutional amendment banning flag desecration is up for a vote in the House today (since it always passes the House vote, the real issue is the Senate), I'm coming back to the issue. Remember, the Constitution's purpose is to restrict government, yet, in modern America, we're attempting to disgrace it with amendments which restrict citizens. I think the danger of this is self-evident, but if my last entry about the proposed amendment wasn't enough, consider this USA Today editorial (emphasis added):

The Founders never mentioned flag burning, but the Supreme Court, in 1989 and 1990, ruled that free speech included a right for people to express their grievances by abusing the flag.

Since then, flag-desecration incidents have dropped to almost nothing. But that hasn't stopped those who think they know better than the Founders from trying to rewrite their work. Five times since 1995, the House has approved constitutional amendments that would bar desecration of the flag.

What's next once that precedent is set? An amendment to bar desecration of the Bible? A prohibition on other speech that makes Congress unhappy?

If popularity is the test of free speech, then the right does not exist.

If you still don't care about that, whether you don't think flag desecration is speech or you don't think all speech should be protected, consider this rationale against an amendment:

As in the case of all dilemmas caused by the free speech doctrine, the entire problem can be resolved by focusing, not on a high-sounding but untenable right to freedom of speech, but on the natural and integral right to private property and its freedom of use. As even famed First Amendment absolutist Justice Hugo Black pointed out, no one has the free-speech right to burst into your home and harangue you about politics.


Keeping our eye on property rights, the entire flag question is resolved easily and instantly. Everyone has the right to buy or weave and therefore own a piece of cloth in the shape and design of an American flag (or in any other design) and to do with it what he will: fly it, burn it, defile it, bury it, put it in the closet, wear it, etc. Flag laws are unjustifiable laws in violation of the rights of private property. (Constitutionally, there are many clauses in the Constitution from which private property rights can be derived.)

On the other hand, no one has the right to come up and burn your flag, or someone else's. That should be illegal, not because a flag is being burned, but because the arsonist is burning your property without your permission. He is violating your property rights.

I agree. Would it make sense for Congress to propose an amendment that prohibits me from desecrating a Barbie doll? How about an amendment that prohibits me from pouring lighter fluid on a baseball bat and turning it into a giant candle? Maybe we should outlaw matches. Or we can really prevent the possibility that someone might offend us by prohibiting kindling. Oh, and television. Televisions broadcast images of flag desecrations. Crap, that also means we have to prohibit cameras. Still photos of flag desecrations are bad. And eyes. Eyes are bad. If someone desecrates a flag in front of us, the eyes have to see it. So eyes are out, too. Did I miss anything?

At this point, that an anti-flag desecration amendment violates the Constitution should be beyond argument. Now it's just an intellectual debate about how many ways can it violate the Constitution. Or to break it down to its true essence in 2005 America, do we still value the Constitution? I'm not sure I want the answer.

Call your Senators (and Representative) to let them know that this amendment violates the spirit and intention of the U.S. Constitution.

Update I: If Congress adheres to property rights, but then distinguishes flag desecration intent, prohibiting only desecration meant to offend, doesn't that become a blatant case of restricting speech? We have a circular logic here in which no possible amendment fails to violate at least one of the Constitutional arguments against such an amendment. I'm just saying...

Update II: The House passed the proposed Constitutional amendment, 286-130. Consider these two statments:

"Ask the men and women who stood on top of the (World) Trade Center," said Rep. Randy (Duke) Cunningham, R-Calif. "Ask them and they will tell you: pass this amendment."

But Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said, "If the flag needs protection at all, it needs protection from members of Congress who value the symbol more than the freedoms that the flag represents."

Naturally, when you want to quiet opposition, invoke September 11th. You know, with us or against us. But here's the problem: patriotism can handle a broader definition than "with us or against us". Patriotism can be found in upholding the principles inherent in the Constitution. Believing in freedom does not equal agreement with the actions it allows.

Fifteen words are worth a picture

Following up on yesterday's post about personal "lockboxes" for social security, I want to pass along this brilliant analysis of John Fund's idea. Consider:

I assume Fund's unspoken premise is that substituting "marketable" Treasury bills for the current system of vague promises will make it more difficult for future versions of the government to cheat, because defaulting on Treasuries amounts to ripping off the Chinese, which is much harder to get away with than ripping off Americans. Note that this addresses the dishonesty problem only by increasing the insolvency problem: future fiscal obligations become larger and more mandatory.


Anyway, read a few paragraphs down and tell me who's huffing the pipe:

Would the deficit increase if Congress used the Social Security surpluses to create personal accounts rather than finance current government spending? Not if Congress found the will to cut federal spending by roughly 3% a year.

Oops; when I saw that the first time, I thought it said, "Not if Congress found a nest of pixies at the bottom of the garden who vomited shiny gold coins", but then I realized that Fund's assumption was ridiculous. His overall conclusion, however, is true: if we spent less money, then we would spend less money.

I tried to explain the absurdity of Mr. Fund's proposal through illustrations. I think they were effective, but I wish I'd written Evan Kirchhoff's words, instead. How much more fun it would've been to write "a nest of pixies at the bottom of the garden who vomited shiny gold coins" than to drag clip art into neat order in Microsoft Visio...

At least I'm not the only one who understands the basic principles of government and debt. And for what it's worth, I'd like to participate in Evan's "Let me out of Social Security" plan, as well.

(Link via The Penultimate Genius)

June 21, 2005

Any color you want, as long as it's black

We've all heard a great deal over the last six months about President Bush's call for social security reform. Although I believe he should've started with tax reform, he's correct to encourage Congress to take action. Much of the information regarding his plans is vague, which mostly seems like a (correct) political play to get the topic in the national debate. But, for various missteps and bouts of irrational rhetoric, reform momentum seems to have faded away. Of course, we'd all like to pretend we can run away, but the problem is here until we deal with it. And even though I despise the government imposing mandatory "savings" minimum on me, I understand the social costs of a large percentage of workers saving nothing for retirement, thus creating an unfair (and economically ruinous) burden on society. There is a rational government interest in not having American cities cluttered with poor, homeless elderly and disabled. So I will issue no call for revolution. I welcome new proposals which serve to meet that alleged social security goal of a social safety net. Unless they're ill-conceived.

In an Opinion Journal column yesterday, John Fund wrote about a forthcoming proposal from Senators Jim DeMint, Lindsey Graham, and Rick Santorum. According to Mr. Fund:

Ceaseless pounding by liberals has driven many Republicans into a defensive crouch. It's time for some political jujitsu that will instead focus the public's attention on stopping Congress from spending the extra payroll taxes now flowing into Social Security on anything else. The only effective way to prevent that would be to take the money off the table by starting personal Social Security accounts for every American who wanted one.

I agree that we need to stop Congress from spending the extra payroll taxes. As I've mentioned in the past, as a self-employed taxpayer, I have the pleasure of paying both employee and employer payroll taxes out of my income. Admittedly everyone pays this because if employers didn't have to pay it, it would lead to higher salaries (with the additional tax going to the IRS) but my point is still the same. I see the direct impact of our social security taxation scheme. It's atrocious and must change. Any proposal that offers me more control over the money I pay so that I may one day see a return of that money earns my attention. If it also limits the government's ability to recklessly spend my money for other purposes, that's a wonderful bonus.

However, if I must save a specific portion of my income every year, I should be allowed to control the investment mix. At only 31-years-old, I'm not at the point where I need an ultra-conservative investment strategy. While I also will not pretend that purely speculative securities would be wise for social security savings, some risk (and diversity of choice, i.e. international stocks versus U.S. blue chips), especially for those willing to learn and actively participate in their investments, should be encouraged allowed. So my first choice is not to have a personal lockbox account of any sort because I fear the investment options will be too limited, yet to expect anything else borders on fantasy.

Mr. Fund's hypothetical personal lockbox under the DeMint/Graham/Santorum proposal meets my "worst-case scenario" test. Consider:

Politically, their proposal does disarm some of the most oft-used arguments against reform. It would create no new debt for the government because, unlike President Bush's proposal, the personal accounts would use only the surplus payroll taxes now flowing into the Treasury. That surplus will hit some $85 billion next year, and grow in succeeding years to the point that it could provide every worker who wanted one with a personal account of some $1,200. The surpluses will total some $2.5 billion until 2017, when Social Security starts running a deficit as baby boomers begin to retire. Preventing that money from being "raided" by a spendthrift Congress and White House could be enormously popular with a cynical public.

In addition, if the personal accounts were limited to no-risk, but marketable, Treasury bills, the argument about the "scary and risky" stock market investment of payroll taxes would be neutralized. Converting the nonmarketable IOUs the government now holds into marketable Treasury bills issued to taxpayers would create an asset that individuals would own and be able to pass on to their heirs. If history is a guide, such risk-free Treasurys would earn an annual rate of return of between 2.5% and 3%--much better than Social Security will deliver. The surpluses would become real assets owned by citizens rather than government IOUs (or, more accurately, "I owe me's") piling up in a filing cabinet in West Virginia.

Where to begin? While there are several issues in there, I'll focus on one. "...if the personal accounts were limited to no-risk, but marketable, Treasury bills, the argument about the 'scary and risky' stock market investment of payroll taxes would be neutralized." Ummm, no. Sure, such a plan would then securitize a portion of my social security funds, but how is this plan wise? More importantly, how is it any different than what we have today? The government would no longer have "I owe me's", but I would have "I owe me's". This sleight of hand offers the warm, fuzzy fiscal value of ownership, but I don't really own anything I didn't own before (other than the ability to pass that asset on to heirs, which is something). Every taxpayer is the government. The IRS is only the middleman.

Rather than explain this sleight of hand, allow me to illustrate it. This diagram shows how Mr. Fund's idea would work. Notice that the government would still spend the same amount under this proposal as it does today when it is "allowed" to spend the surplus. Consider:

It's simple. While I get the asset worth $1,200, the Treasury still has my $1,200 to spend on however Congress decides. The only difference is that the government no longer has an IOU in a filing cabinet in West Virginia. Now it has a item on its balance sheet showing an extra $1,200 in Treasury bills, which it will have to repay in the future. Again, Congress can still spend my $1,200.

What happens when those Treasury bills mature? Oh, here's where it gets interesting. Mr. Fund does offer a proposal for this inevitable scenario. Consider:

Would the deficit increase if Congress used the Social Security surpluses to create personal accounts rather than finance current government spending? Not if Congress found the will to cut federal spending by roughly 3% a year. Even if they don't, the unavailability of the payroll taxes to fund other programs could be useful. As Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan told Congress in March, "One can credibly argue that [the trust funds] have served primarily to facilitate large deficits in the rest of the budget." He went on to argue that personal accounts would add to overall savings, which "in turn, would boost the nation's capital stock. The reason is that money allocated in the personal accounts would no longer be available to fund other government activities." In other words, once Congress couldn't get its mitts on the payroll tax money, it would be put to more productive use in the hands of individuals owning their own accounts.

"Not if Congress found the will to cut federal spending by roughly 3% a year." Ahahahahahahahahaha. Ahahahahahahahaha. That's a good one. Raise your hand if you have faith in this Congress to cut spending. Ignore partisanship because Republicans and Democrats are equally responsible. (Ms. Coulter, that means you must put your hand down, now. Now. Thank you.)

Mr. Fund even argues the possible inevitable scenario where Congress doesn't cut spending. Remember, he argues "the unavailability of the payroll taxes to fund other programs could be useful". But I've already shown you that, under his proposal, Congress can spend the surplus payroll taxes. The accounting is the only aspect that changes.

So let's return to the obvious, logical question. What would the future look like when those Treasury bills mature? I have two illustrated scenarios for your consideration. On the left is the expected scenario, a tax increase to cover the maturing Treasury bills. On the right is Mr. Fund's hopeful scenario, a 3% Congressional spending cut. Tell me if you like either scenario.


Again, in both scenarios, the $1,200 for personal lockbox accounts continues. However, the additional $1,200 for maturing Treasury bills must be accommodated. Either taxes increase, or we get fewer services. I, of course, am all for fewer services, but until Congress shows some resolve to implement that, I'm not expecting it. Because today's political decisions have consequences, prepare for tax increases.

At least the social security crisis will be resolved.

(Link via Instapundit)

Grand Marshall of the Celebrity Commencement Speech Parade

I'm a little late to the party on this one, but if you haven't read Steve Jobs' Commencement address to this year's graduating class at Stanford, read it. It's the commencement address I wish someone had delivered to my graduating class, instead of the execrable political commercial for then-Governor George Allen that Dr. Beverly Sgro passed off as a commencement speech.

Consider this passage from Mr. Jobs:

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

That's what I wanted. To know that not only would failure happen, (because if it could happen to a successful billionaire entrepreneur, it would happen to me), it could serve as the catalyst for even greater success. As a 21-year-old graduate with little direction and focus, I didn't know that. What might it have meant to hear those words ten years ago? Not necessarily to have embraced them, but to have at least heard them? It's the past I wish I could create.

June 14, 2005

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

I think I'm beginning to make a hobby out of countering Michelle Malkin's lapses in logic contentions. Today, she linked to a story about released French hostages. Consider the basic facts of the story:

A French journalist who was held hostage in Iraq for five months says she was beaten by her captors.

Speaking at a new conference in Paris, Florence Aubenas said she was kept blindfolded in a basement cell that measured 4m by 2m (13ft by 6ft).

She said she was beaten after being accused of speaking to a cell mate.

Ms Aubenas was forced out of her car in Baghdad on 5 January, along with her guide, Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi. They were both freed on 11 June.

Mr Saadi was reunited with his family in Baghdad. Ms Aubenas, who is a senior correspondent for Liberation, was flown home to France.

What's the lesson in this story? Terrorists are despicable. They'll beat hostages for allegedly speaking to a cell mate. They'll hold hostages captive in a basement. They'll subject them to mock trials. Most importantly, this is the lesson reported by the BBC, which any right-thinking conservative will tell you is one of the biggest pushers of the Liberal Agenda™. Yet, the BBC reported this with objective facts that are easy to interpret. Again, terrorists do Bad Things.

So what does Ms. Malkin focus on? Consider:


Terrorist farewell gifts for a recently released French kidnapping victim:

Two rings and a bottle of perfume.

The French hostage reported that one of her captors offered her gifts at the same time he returned her belongings. Rather than discounting the significance of this as either a crush or a goodwill gesture or a hideously presumptuous guard, Ms. Malkin decided that this was the lesson: We hate terrorists, terrorists like the French, we hate the French. All with the specter of hating the Liberal Agenda™, I presume.

How ridiculous. From reading her blog, I understand that she wants us to realize that terrorists are bad, we're fighting terrorists, and we can't waiver in our commitment to the task. Ok, got it. I even agree with it, despite not casting my vote for George W. Bush last November. Yet, she doesn't use this as an example to further illustrate who the real bad guys are in this war. She takes another hysterical jab at Those Who Are Against Us because they don't agree with and condone every action we take. That's stupid logic.

Until we stop throwing around this nonsense and presenting the "with us or against us" mentality, we're going to be mired in the problem rather than striving closer to the goal. America is founded on belief in the moral correctness of our ideals and the ability to dissent in an effort to stretch the moral correctness of our actions closer to perfection.

June 13, 2005

You know, because it matters not really

God bless the staunch conservative mouthpieces bloggers who look out for the good people.

In yet another lapse in logical causality thinking, Michelle Malkin points her readers (of which, I am strangely one) to this story about Rosie O'Donnell's guest appearance on Friday's episode of The View. Ms. Malkin quoted the article's recap of Ms. O'Donnell's remarks concerning breastfeeding and a recent "nurse-in". Consider:

O'Donnell Halted Her Partner's Breastfeeding

Comedienne Rosie O'Donnell banned her partner Kelli Carpenter from breastfeeding their daughter Vivienne just a few weeks after she was born--because she was jealous of their bonding sessions. Kelli gave birth to Vivienne in 2002, and the lesbian couple have been raising her along with their three other adopted children.

But O'Donnell admits she felt left out of the motherhood process whenever she observed her partner nursing their child.

She says, "Kelli only nursed for like a month and then I was very angry.

"With the other babies, nobody nursed because they were adopted. But with this baby she was the only one getting to bond, so I was like, 'The nursing is over!' I cut her off.

"I'm like, 'You've had your limit, honey, no more!'"

I watched the clip (watch it here) and she did say those things. While I think she was being dramatical for the sake of television, knowing that the people who watch The View would not likely jeer her comments, I concede that it was stupid. Ms. Malkin correctly attacks Ms. O'Donnell's "selfish, psycho comments". I'll even add to that how absurd Ms. O'Donnell's comments were because, given that her partner is the biological mother, Ms. O'Donnell is in the role of the father. Men don't get that bonding, yet somehow the term "daddy's girl" is familiar to everyone. So, yeah, Ms. O'Donnell is selfish, putting herself above the child's needs (if she didn't exaggerate the truth for dramatic effect, though I don't doubt she's "me, me, me").

But. How does that correspond with introducing the story as "one for the Hollyweird files" and concluding with this:

Can the pathological self-absoprtion [sic] of Hollywood be illustrated anymore clearly?

You know, because Rosie O'Donnell is the sole spokesman for parenting skills and decisions for anyone who has ever worked in Hollywood. This is ridiculous. Ms. Malkin should have challenged her comments and then explained why "forbidding" nursing is wrong. And then, she should've stopped. But Ms. Malkin can't do that. Everywhere she turns there is some further proof of the Liberal Agenda™, which dictates that all people must be brainwashed into collectivism, self-absorption, and homosexuality. (I've written about this here and here.)

I do envy her, though, because I imagine she has much free time. Ignore the likelihood that she uses this free time to sniff out the tyranny of the Liberal Agenda™, she still has lots of free time that most of us don't. I know this because I think of those moments I spend evaluating each individual news item/circumstance/whatever to determine the truth and insight it reveals. How much easier it must be for Ms. Malkin to see the headline "Rosie O'Donnell Halted Her Partner's Breastfeeding" and immediately know it's the Liberal Agenda™. Oh, cursed objectivity, you are my life's bane.

I thought perhaps I read too much into the post, but I know from reading through the trackbacks to her entry that I did not. Not because there is so much hatred for the Liberal Agenda™ in the post as much as what she spews regularly. There is an overwhelming "with us or against us" absolutism in much of her thinking, which permits every basic fact to represent the Path of Righteousness™ and its obvious triumph over the fallacy of the Liberal Agenda™. The trackbacks to most of Ms. Malkin's "liberals are destroying America" posts include nonsense such as this blog:

Here's yet another reason why it's dangerous to exchange natural relations for unnatural ones. The family unit is being torn apart and Hollywood embraces it. This is enfuriating [sic].

That logic is solid, because any time one member of a community does something stupid or illegal or immoral or {insert other obvious bad Liberal quality here}, that person represents everyone in that group. Right, because every priest who molests an altar boy indicates the problem with every member of the clergy. And every doctor who abuses drugs reveals the heavy burden to which every doctor succumbs. And every pro athlete who crashes his car after beating his wife while drunk with his penis in another woman is proof that athletes are poor role models and should be mocked, shunned, and shamed for existing. How much easier life must be for those who have found that ideology trumps the mind's flexibility.

I hope the Kool-Aid® tastes really good because there sure is some mass consumption happening.

June 07, 2005

I spent 75¢ on this entry

KipEsquire at A Stitch in Haste points to this article concerning New Jersey's newly announced ban on junk food in school lunches (to take effect on Sept. 1, 2007).

Under the New Jersey plan, soda, candy and foods listing sugar as the first or principal ingredient will be banned from school cafeterias. Snacks and drinks with more than eight grams of total fat per serving and two grams of saturated fat will be banned, and cafeterias will have to restrict amounts of foods with trans fats.

The only beverages that can be served in amounts of 12 ounces or more will be water or milk with 2 percent fat or less.

I'm not going to focus on the merits of this proposal because I don't really care much. It's a noble goal that will go horribly wrong because the government wishes to dictate that people make responsible choices where they don't wish to do so. It's especially absurd because it involves the state's power over minors, a group that obviously has no political power to object. Also, parents form their child's eating habits, so anything that doesn't influence the prior learning before forcing the change, and I can think of little government intervention that would, will fail. I suspect the typical reaction will mimic this (not surprising) response:

"I think it's whack," Malcolm Jones, 13, an eighth grader at South Orange Middle School, said while munching on a baked chicken patty sandwich. A carrot stick sat untouched on his plate. "They took away French fries, pizza, all the good stuff. A lot of students aren't happy."

Anyone believe that kids won't find a way around this? Administrators and teaches will spend more time confiscating junk food contraband than educating kids. So, no, I have nothing to add to that debate that isn't obvious.

I do wish to comment on this quote, though:

Robert Earl, senior director of nutrition policy for the Food Products Association in Washington, D.C., said there were flaws with the plan because it excluded many foods that children want and need as part of a whole diet.

"Things like cheeses, nuts, peanut butter, flavored milks and normal foods that are part of a healthful diet could be excluded," Mr. Earl said. "It seems like the better objective is perhaps having a lot of variety instead of restrictions."

Education and choices? Oh, why would we do that? We don't put children in school to learn to think. They're in school to learn how to take directions. Duh.

But again I digress. What really bothers me is that Mr. Earl mentions flavored milks as "part of a healthful diet". How are they healthful? Aside from the obvious arguments that humans are the only species to drink the milk of another species and milk does bad things to the human body, how is adding flavors to milk going to keep make it healthy? Consider this explanation of flavored milk by the National Dairy Council:

In general, flavored milks are milks to which a sweetened flavors such as cocoa or cocoa powder, strawberry or vanilla extract has been added, along with a sweetener such as sucrose or high fructose corn syrup.

No doubt every nutritionist recommends a minimum daily intake of high fructose corn syrup. That's why we're being propagandized marketed flavored milk from many different angles. Consider:

Besides the great taste, pediatricians agree that flavored milk is a nutritious beverage for children. This same survey also revealed that 100% of pediatricians agree calcium is important for children's growth and development and 93% said that children are not consuming enough calcium in their diets. Many children agree that they would drink more milk if it were flavored, and a recent study shows that children who drink milk with their lunch consume more calcium for the entire day! Not just for kids, milk, including flavored milk, has an excellent nutrient profile, and, along with other dairy products, is the major source of calcium in the diet. Government data indicates that most of us fail to meet our daily calcium recommendations as set by the National Academy of Sciences. This can lead to bone fractures early in life and eventually osteoporosis. Why shouldn't we add a little "flavor" to our lives!

That's a hard-hitting study. 100% of pediatricians agree calcium is important for children's growth and development. Who knew? Blah, blah, blah. There's more debunking I could do on the facts, as presented so far, but that's for another day. What I will do is a little experiment, based on this comment from Dayle Hayes, a registered dietician:

Flavored milk does contain added sweeteners. However, the amount of sugar in most flavored milk is significantly less than the amount in regular soft drinks.

Really? That's good. We should make flavored milk the staple liquid to quench every thirst. But just to be sure, let's look at the labels, okay? Okay. Here is the nutrition label for Horizon Organics Vanilla Milk. Here is the nutrition label for Nesquik Vanilla Milk.

One has 29 grams of sugar, the other has 30 grams. They're basically even. And to get that fine flavor, they both use sugar. And Nesquik is better because it uses the high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors. Mmmmmm. Nutritious. At least they're use considerably less sugar than soft drinks. I hesitate to even think of the sugar content of soft drinks. But I must suffer for my art, so I purchased a 12 oz. can of Coca-Cola to read the nutrition label. (Coca-Cola doesn't make it available on the web. Wonder why?) I took this picture of the Coca-Cola nutrition label.

Right, the less sugar argument is true because that can of soda has 39 grams of sugar. And yet, I don't feel like that's true. Why is that? Could it be that the soda's 39 grams of sugar is in 12 oz. of soda, versus the 30 grams of sugar in 8 oz. of flavored milk? I didn't major in calculus, but I think I can do this math. The soda has 3.25 grams of sugar per oz. The flavored milk has 3.75 grams of sugar per oz.

I haven't had a soda in years, so I'm not promoting soda as an alternative to milk. But the argument that flavored milk is a good choice is absurd. For example, a serving of flavored vanilla milk has the same sugar content as a Snickers® bar. Yet, it's so much easier to believe the marketing from the government and dairy producers that milk is a great food. Really, they wouldn't market lies. They wouldn't pay legislators to legislate milk over soda water. Would they?

So, no, I have no faith in the state of New Jersey to get this plan right.

June 02, 2005

Adam & Eve owned a butcher shop

Sometimes a news item comes along that makes me angry. I may rant at many stories, but this article's nonsense is beyond anything imaginable. So, even though the article is more than three months old, I'm still going to comment on it.

I'm a vegan. I've written a little about that in the past, but not much because I don't care to preach to anyone. I think it's the right choice, but I know most won't agree. So be it. If you're interested, I'm more than happy to give you information about why I choose veganism. Basically, I subscribe to the "Don't tell, unless asked". Most carnivores don't want to know, believing that ignorance is bliss. Fine, enjoy. However, I expect the same because yes, I can get enough protein and no, I don't really want a burger. I don't even sneak them when no one is looking, even though I know many don' t believe that. Somehow, I survive.

A few months ago, the American Association for the Advancement of Science held its annual meeting. One topic was veganism and whether or not its healthy, appropriate, or ethical for children. Professor Lindsay Allen, a US scientist with the US Agricultural Research Service. (The ARS is part of the US Department of Agriculture.) Those credentials seem impressive, but this is what she had to say:

"There have been sufficient studies clearly showing that when women avoid all animal foods, their babies are born small, they grow very slowly and they are developmentally retarded, possibly permanently."

Really? Hmmm, maybe she's on to something. I've read the exact opposite in almost every book I've read in the last eleven years, but perhaps she's studied more. I want to know more.

"If you're talking about feeding young children, pregnant women and lactating women, I would go as far as to say it is unethical to withhold these foods [animal source foods] during that period of life."

Unethical? That strong? What would be better? Blue Kool-Aid® drinks? That occurs naturally in the wild. Chocolate milk? Ditto. I can't count the number of times I've driven by a pasture only to witness three, sometimes four children suckling the teat of some grateful dairy cow. She nurses them so well, it's stunning to think that, not only did she not give birth to those children, they're not even the same species. Yet she cares so much. Cows are cool.

Professor Allen's studied enough to know this. She's even done studies. Consider:

Research she carried out among African schoolchildren suggests as little as two spoonfuls of meat each day is enough to provide nutrients such as vitamin B12, zinc and iron.

The 544 children studied had been raised on diets chiefly consisting of starchy, low-nutrition corn and bean staples lacking these micronutrients.

This meant they were already malnourished.

Time to interrupt this just to emphasize that point. The children were already malnourished. Remember that as the story continues.

Over two years, some of the children were given 2oz supplements of meat each day, equivalent to about two spoonfuls of mince.

Two other groups received either a cup of milk a day or an oil supplement containing the same amount of energy. The diet of a fourth group was left unaltered.

The changes seen in the children given the meat, and to a lesser extent the milk or oil, were dramatic.

These children grew more and performed better on problem-solving and intelligence tests than any of the other children at the end of the two years.

Adding either meat or milk to the diets also almost completely eliminated the very high rates of vitamin B12 deficiency previously seen in the children.

Look at how completely the oil aspect dropped from the conclusion, but no matter. The point is obvious. Eat more meat and dairy. It gives the kids what they need. Damn, what an amazing elixir meat is. I'm just stunned. I would've never guessed that any adjustment to a nutrient-poor diet would make a difference. Who knew that consuming a variety of foods could make a difference? And I won't mention how happy I am that Professor Allen concluded that it's unethical to feed a young child a vegan diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, and oils, but it's ethical in the name of science to deliberately withhold nutrition from a group of children known to be malnourished. I have so much to learn.

Professor Allen did make a concession.

She accepted that adults could avoid animal foods if they took the right supplements, but she said adding animal source food into the diet was a better way to tackle malnutrition worldwide than quick fixes with supplements in the form of pills.

"Where feasible, it would be much better to do it through the diet than by giving pills," she said. "With pills it's very hard to be certain that the quantity of nutrition is right for everybody and it's hard to sustain."

Right. It's too hard to take B-12 supplements, so let's just go to the easy answer. That's how civilization achieved every advancement until this study, so it must work. Oh, and it wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that the National Cattleman's Beef Association partially supported the study.

One final revelation in the story shows how generous developed, carnivorous nations can be. Consider:

In Africa, good results had been obtained from giving people a dried meat on a stick snack which proved both nutritious and appealing.

In two hundred years of economic and scientific advancement, the best we can do is export corn dogs?

May 02, 2005

Maybe I'm just being dense

Lawrence Kudlow asked a question on Friday. Consider:

What is it about the mainstream media and the American economy? Why are they always looking for slowdowns, soft patches, double dips or whatever?

This is a valid, though simple, question, I think. Mr. Kudlow proceeds to explain the health of the American economy based on new economic indicators released last week. His conclusions and logic are sound, so I have no quibbles with him for asking the question about how that information is reported. Mr. Kudlow concludes with a simple declaration that a weekend walk through any retail store would prove:

I dont know what the media has against the American economic machine. But once again, Im here to report that the state of our low tax, low inflation, deregulated, high productivity, and technology-streamlined economy is quite healthy. And is likely to remain so for a good long period ahead.

I don't understand the difficulty in coming up with an explanation, though some have tried. Specifically, consider Bizzyblog's contribution to the conservative babble about the "liberal media". Rather than any specific paragraph, I'll offer the various conclusions drawn throughout. Read the whole thing to get the full buildup to the conclusion, but I believe this condensed version of what I believe are his important points should suffice (they're in bold on Bizzyblog, no less):

The business press, which used to do a pretty decent job of telling people what is going on in the financial world, has really dropped the ball during the last 20 years or so. This is due to a combination of ignorance about and bias against the free-market system. [Ed. note: from The Bizzyblog Manifesto]


The Newsies response to having been betrayed by their own Bizzies was to assign liberal reporters and columnists to the business beat.


...the liberal takeover of the business pages...

Get the picture? Obviously it's the liberals and their desire to turn America into a socialist state so that we won't have these economic fluctuations. Simple. Right?

I don't think so. Occam's Razor offers a better explanation with a simple evaluation of media motives. Mr. Kudlow offers the most obvious clue to his own question when he states that "profits drive business", but Bizzyblog seems to get too bogged down in "liberal media" facts to notice, though he did touch on economics with this:

Just as the if it bleeds it leads reporting from Iraq still negatively affects many peoples perception of its objectively stunning success, even in the face of the growing strength of other alternative news sources, MSM business reporting on the economy still unfortunately largely shapes the perception of how well, or how poorly, the economy is doing.

"If it bleeds it leads." Watch your local news if you think that isn't true. I live in the DC metro area and every time I watch the news, I see another story about a devastating house fire. How does this concern me? Why are they showing me this? If it bleeds it leads.

Media producers and editors know that I'm more likely to watch or buy the newspaper if I'm hit with bad news. Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, had a simple explanation for this in his book Confessions of an S. O. B.. If a man walks by a newspaper box and sees 75 degrees and sunny, he smiles and keeps walking. If a man walks by a newspaper box and sees "Bad Weather Coming", he stops and buys the newspaper.

Now, take that forward with economic reporting. Which headline will you stop and read click, "Interest rates down again!" or "Greenspan raising rates again?". We can argue about whether or not journalism is all about truth or ideology, and that argument can be supported by facts on either side. But the argument is a waste of time. Good news may be the truth, but bad news makes the reader/viewer a customer. Profits drive business. Simple. So, please, let's all just stop over-thinking this.

(Hat tip: Instapundit)

April 30, 2005

Sounds to me like you caused a damn accident

Those crazy liberals are at it again, what with the refusing to resist the Cable TV-fueled temptations of Satan and the pushing of the homosexual agenda onto children. Consider this story from Lexington, Massachusetts:

For David Parker, the first alarm went off in January, when his 5-year-old son came home from his kindergarten class at Lexington's Joseph Estabrook School with a bag of books promoting diversity.

Inside were books about foreign cultures and traditions, along with food recipes. There was also a copy of Who's In a Family? by Robert Skutch, which depicts different kinds of families, including same-sex couples raising children.

The book's contents concerned Parker and prompted him to begin a series of e-mail exchanges with school officials on the subject that culminated in a meeting Wednesday night with Estabrook's principal and district director of instruction. The meeting ended with Parker's arrest after he refused to leave the school, and the Lexington man spent the night in jail.

Ooooh, all conservatives think books are bad, right? Nope. Mr. Parker doesn't say that and the specific book that his son brought home wasn't the real issue for him. He's concerned that the school is exposing his son to "homosexual material" without prior consent. The facts seem to support a complete communication failure between the school and the parents about this issue, which is where I believe Mr. Parker tried to take the discussion. Consider these e-mail excerpts from Mr. and Mrs. Parker and the school's principal, Ms. Joni Jay:

Parkers to Principal on Friday, March 4, 2005

We do not authorize any teacher or adult within the Lexington Public School system to expose our sons, [older son] and [younger son] (begins school in 2006) to any sexual orientation/homoseexual material/same sex unions between parents.

Principal to Parkers on Friday, March 4, 2005

I have confirmed with our Assistant Superintendent and our Director of Health Education that discussion of differing families, including gay-headed families, is not included in the parental notification policy.

Parkers to Principal on Friday, March 4, 2005

We would like to clarify that our previous e-mail which states: "we do not give the Lexington Public School system permission to discuss homosexuality issues (i.e. - trans gender/bisexual/gay headed households) to our son [son's name]" - is a parental assertion; not a matter open to legal interpretation or administrative policy. Let us, David and Tonia Parker, parents of [son's name], be clear in purpose and prose on this matter:

Discussions concerning homosexuality issues will not take place in front of our son, [son's name] (5 yrs old), at Estabrook.

There is clearly a disagreement about how to handle this book. While I suspect that this book does nothing more than present a gay couple, which is not the same thing as "pushing the homosexual agenda", I concede that this can lead to questions that the Parkers aren't ready to answer for a 5-year-old. My nephew is four-and-a-half and, as smart (and inquisitive) as he is, my brother probably isn't ready to discuss same-sex couples. (I think my nephew, like most kids, would say "Oh", and then run off to play.) So, yeah, it's certainly a parent's right to determine what his/her child is exposed to at that age. And I don't believe that getting that agreement from the school is too much to ask.

That didn't happen in this case, though. Whether the school misinterpreted state law (mentioned in the article) or not is irrelevant. Mr. Parker should've taken his complaint to the school board, the next logical step. The exchange between the Parkers and Ms. Jay took several months, so time lag was not a factor. If, after taking his case to the school board, he didn't get the answer he wanted, he could consult an attorney and sue or work to change the school board rules or whatever potential remedy presented itself. He shouldn't have to go through that, but sometimes we endure obstacles that we shouldn't have to endure.

That's what he should've done, but it's not what he did. This is what he did:

Parker said he met with school officials to gain those assurances and then refused to leave until he got them. Parker stayed at Estabrook School for more than two hours, according to Superintendent William J. Hurley, as officials and Lexington police urged him to leave. Finally, they arrested him for trespassing.

He was there, officials and police asked him to leave, he declined, the police arrested him. That seems simple enough, right? Nope. This is turning into a rallying cry for "liberals vs. family values". Consider this conclusion drawn by Michelle Malkin (where I found the article):

Unbelievable that we've come to this. Parker is treated as a troublemaker and a bigot --and now a criminal--for refusing to cede parental control to p.c. public school educrats. Meanwhile, "diversity" brainwashing and Moral Equivalence 101 have seeped effortlessly into government kindergarten classrooms.

Mr. Parker is treated as a criminal, not for his beliefs, but for his alleged unwillingness to obey police instruction to leave the school premises.

Is this the only reaction where the thinker missed the simple fact for why the police arrested Mr. Parker? Consider this, from Wizbang!:

And in the meantime, what I think is the bigger issue is getting ignored. Whether or not you agree with Mr. Parker's beliefs, the fundamental question is this: are his demands that he be notified about what material is being taught to his son about a clearly controversial issue unreasonable?


Quibble if you wish with Mr. Parker's beliefs, but don't challenge his right to possess them -- and act on them. We need more parents who feel as protective of their children as he does.

While I quibble with his beliefs, Mr. Parker has a right to them. His demands to be notified are reasonable. But we also need more parents who respect the law as every other parent who has a disagreement with the school but works to achieve their goals in a proper manner.

Or consider this from The Pink Flamingo Bar & Grill:

The vast gulf between the left and reality is making any possibility of my children ever going into any public school vanish. This is not as some might claim the Right Wing evangelicals rolling back the clock. This is much more like parents finally understanding what is being attempted by the left wing.

Read the whole entry... it throws around the term "Nazi" and the statement that educators who believe same-sex marriage is acceptable "have dedicated themselves to getting into a position where they could start tearing down the family structure."

Or consider this from the blue site:

The liberals want to brainwash your children as early as possible. Liberal Massachusetts has a kindergarten program that teaches kids about homosexuals and "families" with 2 gay parents...

Sickening. The homosexuals will do anything to force their alternative (alternative to NORMAL) lifestyle down all of our throats...their new tactic is to start as early in a child's life as possible, so the brainwashing will be totally set in by the time they become adults. Disgusting...

This is why liberals need to be stopped from their destruction of the family, traditional values, and this country as we know it...

Do I need to comment on that?

Or consider this comment left on the blue site by moe:

So true,Josh,so true. I dunno what's gonna happen,but it ain't gonna be good. As much as I would like to have children,I'm glad that I don't right now. I would be constantly on edge,worrying that some stranger,will legally try and force them to learn to be fags. I wouldn't stand for it,and you're right when you say the vast majority of Americans find it disgusting too.

What the hell right does the public "education" system think it has? It's supposed to teach readin',writin',and 'rythmatic...not blowjobs and buttsex. And the big pisser,is that these filthy devient heathens,are enormously outnumbered by moral Americans,yet they somehow have been given authority. I ain't happy.

I don't bother queers,and I don't harass them or go hunting for them to bash,so why do they attack the rest of us? Vile bastards,they are. They remind me of muslims....always picking the fights and starting trouble,yet always claiming to be "oopressed" and "discriminated". They are not oppressed,but they should be. They should all get the ever lovin' shit kicked out of them everyday,then see how much they wanna bitch and moan. Same goes for anyone who supports them.

Ah, those conservatives with their family values. Thank God they're looking out for all of us from the evil liberal, homosexual agenda. Otherwise, what would concerned, law-abidingbreaking parents do?

April 22, 2005

That's a nice frame. What's the picture again?

There is a crisis afoot in America. You know, the crisis caused by the big, bad, evil oil corporations. The one where people are complaining because the price of gas is going up and have decided that Congress must do something because there is no way to go back in time and not buy that SUV that gets 12 miles-per-gallon and now costs $50 (and more) to fill up every four days. Yeah, that one, the one that proves capitalism punishes the stupid consumer. It's all good, because the Houses cares.

The House of Representatives passed an energy bill yesterday, so it now moves to the Senate. Among its provisions, it includes the following:

--Open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling.

--Provide product liability protection for makers of MTBE against lawsuits stemming from the gasoline additive contaminating drinking water. Payment of $2 billion in transition costs over eight years to manufacturers as MTBE is phased out.

--Expand daylight-saving time by two months, so it would start on the first Sunday in March and end on the last Sunday in November.

--Give the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission clear authority to override states and local officials in locating liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminals.

I presume that this bill is designed to be proactive regarding our current energy crisis but it misses the point. Sure, opening up oil fields in America could lead to "more" oil, but at what cost? I'm not knowledgeable enough about the details to bitch about the destruction of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, but I assume it's A Bad Idea™. Regardless, it misses the point IF it's intended as a long-term solution. More on that in a moment.

I'm not quite sure how liability protection for makers of MTBE is a good idea. If they're contaminating water in two dozen states, it's probably not smart to sweep that under the rug and say "Oops. Do over." I need to get better informed, but that's just a hunch. Especially when it comes with $2,000,000,000 in "You made a bad, harmful business decision, but we're going to look the other way while we you fix it" handouts. Nice job.

I'm not even going to bother swinging at the daylight-saving time nonsense, as Kip over at A Stitch in Haste already dismantled that idea with this post. Definitely read it. (And stick around and read his other posts, too. You'll be glad you did.)

As for giving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission "clear authority to override states and local officials in locating liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminals", I can only interpret that with basic logic. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has a For Citizens - LNG Overview, which offers this information specific to that provision:

Where do ships unload LNG?

Ships unload LNG at specially designed terminals where the LNG is pumped from the ship to insulated storage tanks at the terminal. LNG is also converted back to gas at the terminal, which is connected to natural gas pipelines that transport the gas to where it is needed. Specially designed trucks may also be used to deliver LNG to other storage facilities in different locations.

Oh. That's nice. We need that. There's the obvious question, of course, which this provision clarifies. Where should we place that terminal? What we now know is that if the Senate agrees and President Bush signs, this will go wherever the federal bureaucrats urban planners decide. No community decisions necessary. How is this smart? All bow before the Federal government, I guess.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan did weigh in on this. When asked, he offered this:

This is a comprehensive piece of legislation, and it does address one of the fundamental problems facing our nation, and that is that we are growing more dependent on foreign sources of energy. And we have high energy prices facing consumers because we have not had a national energy plan in place. We have a growing global economy and a growing demand from countries around the world for oil. And we are relying on foreign sources of energy. And that's why the President believes it is all the more reason we need to act now. He put forward a plan four years ago, and it's time for Congress to get that passed.

The key to solving any problem is to define it correctly. Once you do that, the solution becomes possible. Mr. McClellan, and by extension, President Bush, are wrong on the problem. It's not that we are "growing more dependent on foreign sources of energy." While that may be true, it isn't the issue. Framing the problem that way only encourages solutions like drilling for oil in Alaska.

The problem is that we are relying on the wrong sources of energy. (I'm including the wrong mix of sources in this explanation, solely as a simplification.) Our current energy usage has severe political baggage, which is what Mr. McClellan's statement conveys. Fine, we get it, but don't pit this as an us-against-them ploy. The global economy is here, whether we like it or not. That our political situation and energy needs aren't meshed demands a better response than a "circle the wagons" self-reliance isolationism.

President Bush claims to support alternate sources of energy. I'm willing to believe him to an extent until proven to the contrary. The quest for non-petroleum based energy sources is young, and the president stated that the nation should explore this. Mr. McClellan hinted that this energy plan does not meet President Bush's agenda. If we're going to offer incentives (not that we should; just that we are), let's do it wisely. How will President Bush work with the Congress to resolve this? Will he veto this energy bill if it comes before him without any significant changes from the Senate? I'm anxious to know.

I have no idea of the exact solution, but perpetuating the old paradigm (I have an MBA; I need to use 10¢ buzzwords.) with a mix of handouts for old ideas and new federal power-grabs isn't the answer.

April 14, 2005

Rebounding the airball?

I used to be a fan of the NBA, starting in the late 1980s. I didn't watch much basketball before then, but the rivalry between Magic and Bird was so big that it allowed me to develop an appreciation for the game. My developing enjoyment for the game grew around the point guard position and made me a fan of Rod Strickland, a point guard for the New York Knicks at the time. I thought I'd become a fan of the Knicks, but I was really just a fan of Strickland. When the Knicks traded him to San Antonio, I stuck with him and followed the Spurs. The same happened when he went to Portland and then to Washington. I enjoyed the shifting around because it led to Washington, which was the local market for me after I finished grad school in '98. Shortly after Strickland left Washington, he played fewer and fewer minutes with each successive team. I've followed him, but more sporadically as his career winds down. I've entered the phase where the game and the emerging players have to hold me as a fan, but that's not happening. I haven't watched a full NBA game for several years. Worse, I no longer care that I've become this apathetic about the game.

NBA Commissioner David Stern seems to understand why. He's proposing a simple change to the NBA that could improve the game, if in no other way than image. Consider:

"We are seeking to raise that to 20 or two years out of high school. The NFL's minimum age is 3 years after high school. I'm optimistic the union will agree to some raise in the minimum age in the current collective bargaining," Stern said in a recent chat.

That's about right. An age requirement is definitely a blunt-edged tool where something with more flexibility might be better, but it's a start. The level of play has fallen over the years (in my opinion) and one reason I have that perception is the increasing abundance of straight-from-high-school players. That doesn't help the league. For every LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, there are the players who don't develop or develop slower in the league than normal players. The increasing numbers of high school players impact the overall competition level, as well. This isn't good for the league.

Lest we ignore the players, consider this quote from Indiana Pacers forward Jermaine O'Neal:

"In the last two or three years, the rookie of the year has been a high school player. There were seven high school players in the All-Star Game, so why we even talking an age limit?" O'Neal said.

Are high school players in the All-Star game an indication that it's not a bad idea? Again, the high school players will look better when facing high school level competition. There is something to be said for the maturation and development that any player undergoes in college. Mr. O'Neal also made the point that Major League Baseball doesn't require anything beyond a high school diploma and that's true enough. However, he conveniently ignores that the majority of high school players take longer to get to The Show than college players. The college players experience a de facto minor league system. It's not a perfect substitute, of course, because of aluminum bats and the professional life, but it's close. The same maturation occurs. And that's what the NBA is lacking.

For a true understanding of this, Mr. O'Neal's need look no further than his own career. Consider:

O'Neal went to the NBA straight out of high school in 1996 and was drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers, who made him the 17th overall selection.

O'Neal didn't blossom into the star he is today until he was dealt to the Pacers during the 2000 offseason. He has made the past three Eastern Conference All-Star teams.

By my calculation, graduating in 1996 and blossoming into a star in 2000 is a four year span of maturation and learning. What other experience can we think of that takes approximately four years to complete? Admittedly he played more games and experienced the professional life during those years, but should the teams pay for that maturation with the millions of dollars spent on rookies, whether high school or college? Remember, when the teams pay those millions, that money has to come from somewhere. That somewhere is the pockets of fans. In the '80s and '90s, I could pay for Magic and Bird and Jordan and Barkley, guys who were flashy and showmen, but were also team-oriented first. If they shined but the team lost, they weren't happy. I don't get that feeling with today's NBA. That is why I don't watch the NBA any more. Sometimes the "good old days" really were better.

April 06, 2005

Different gunman, same gun

Just in case anyone is thinking that I've gone soft with all the tender posts lately, know that I haven't completely thawed my soul. Politics still matter to me and within politics, I have a few pet issues that seem to never attract common sense from our elected representatives. Today's lunacy is brought to us by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, who stated this about indecency and obscenity on our public airwaves:

"People who are in flagrant disregard should face a criminal process rather than a regulatory process," the Wisconsin Republican said at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association annual convention.

"That way you aim the cannon specifically at the people who are committing the offenses," and not at everyone, he said. "The people who are trying to do the right thing end up being penalized the same way the people who are doing the wrong thing."

Good plan, Congressman. To be fair, he doesn't support expanding current regulation to cable and satellite broadcasts, though I suspect he'd vote for it if it came up in Congress. And he does have a brief glimmer of rational thought about the easiest, least intrusive solution, which I will point out before analyzing his new idea. Consider:

"The first thing we need is education has got to get better, he said. "You can't expect the government to replace parental responsibility."

He said it was "far better" for consumers to press a button on their remote control to lock out programs or channels than for the government to set the standard.

This sounds remarkably like some other comments from the convention:

Glenn Britt, chairman of Time Warner Cable, agreed that the industry needs to do more to educate customers about parental controls but added that the industry can only do so much.

"What we can't do is ... make parents take responsibility," Britt said. "But if parents do take the responsibility to be concerned about what their children are seeing, this industry provides all the tools they need."

Imagine that. Technology is so good that parents can actually solve the problem. Let's see, what can they do? They can sell their television. They can pick up the phone, dial between seven and ten numbers, speak with a representative of their cable company, and cancel their subscription. They can use the little buttons on the television/cable box/remote that reads "Power". They can use the v-chip embedded in their television, assuming it's there, of course. They can even set the parental lock on their cable box to block certain channels. No need to be a luddite, folks. Technology kicks ass buttocks.

But what about Rep. Sensenbrenner's plan? Could it work? After all, indecency and obscenity are already criminal offenses; the government merely enforces them with a regulatory agency. It's certainly possible that our government has made a mistake in the past and could reverse course and prosecute indecency and obscenity with criminal penalties. I wrote about this on another blog (hat tip: Jeff Jarvis for the story), but realized, I shouldn't leave some of my better writing elsewhere. It's mine, all mine, so I'm going to use it here, expanding and editing where necessary. Here is my simple thought experiment that began with a simple question: "Diminishing the FCC's power is the goal of my protests, for Constitutional reasons. Is the solution to transfer the FCC's power to a district attorney, and by extension, a jury of citizens?"

I agree that having it decided by citizens instead of the FCC is a good idea, but probably only in theory. The United States is a republic to legislate and lead through calm, rational reasoning, not the mass hysteria that seems to pass for democracy. The FCC is made up of lawyers who refuse to follow the Constitution, seemingly unable to understand that "Congress shall make no law..." isn't a suggestion. Should we have confidence in lay people who don't have a legal education? And it still doesn't resolve the issue of the definition of obscenity. I don't see legislatures defining it any time soon. So we'd have 12 citizens deciding the traditional "community standards" for everyone. Are we confident that that's the best place to legislate for everyone?

Of course, if indecency/obscenity enforcement becomes a criminal matter instead of a regulatory action, that puts it in the hands of prosecutors and defense attorneys. I bet the defense attorneys will be better funded than the prosecution and able to convince the juries of what the Constitution means, right?

I don't think so. In criminal cases, the facts are the facts. If someone commits murder, there are facts. There was a living person, now there is a dead person. The suspect's fingerprints were on the gun. Simple. (I simplify for the purpose of my point.)

Ok, now apply that logic to indecency/obscenity. Let's consider a hypothetical situation. The producer of Fox's latest reality show airs a segment that contains the phrase "He's an ass." A TV viewer in Peoria, IL decides that she doesn't like that and complains to her local district attorney. The local DA files criminal charges. The jury of twelve peers decides for the city of Peoria that "He's an ass," violates their standards. The jury deliberation is closed, so we don't know how they specifically came to this conclusion. Either way, "He's an ass," is no longer acceptable on television in Peoria.

At the same time, a viewer in Clearwater, FL also disapproves of the phrase "He's an ass." He complains to his local DA and the case goes to trial. Now the producer must stand trial in two districts. Of course, in this case, the producer is acquitted, so the phrase "He's an ass," is still acceptable on television in Clearwater, FL.

See any problems yet? I count at least two. So what do we do? To (hopefully) eliminate the need to defend himself in every jurisdiction and to have conflicting standards for national broadcasts in local markets, Congress passes legislation that makes indecency/obscenity a federal offense. Community standards (Federalism?) are no longer relevant. It's national standards now, but so as not to offend anyone, we set that standard at the lowest level possible rather than the reasonable person standard supposedly in place today. Sound familiar yet?

Of course, with this idea, federal prosecutors are now the clearing house for criminal complaints. The PTC continues to catalog every possible offense occurring on television. They send lists on a daily/weekly basis to the federal prosecutor's office. There are too many requests, so the federal prosecutor hires more attorneys to handle the case load, to review what should and shouldn't warrant criminal charges. Eventually Congress decides that the case load is too much and creates the, oh, I don't know, the Federal Department of Homeland Decency to handle these cases. Problem solved.

That scenario seems plausible to me. Likely? Probably not, but nothing else about the last fifteen months of indecency nonsense was probable. Congress certainly seems gung-ho to deal with everything through an expansion of federal powers and control. Is my scenario really so far-fetched?

Our criminal system deals with complexities every day, but in those cases, the crime is determined prior to the crime. With obscenity, the crime only occurs if the wrong person is watching or listening and the material offends his individual standards. Do we really want a jury to decide if someone has harmed nothing more than a community's sensibilities? Criminalizing indecency/obscenity doesn't change the situation; it just moves disregard for the Constitution from one location to another. The true solution is to understand that the Constitution is the law of the land and no amount of moralizing is going to change that. Personal responsibility still matters and is the easiest, most immediate solution.

March 14, 2005

The pen is mightier than hatred?

The issue everyone loves most is back, this time in California.

Judge Richard Kramer of San Francisco County's trial-level Superior Court likened the ban to laws requiring racial segregation in schools, and said there appears to be "no rational purpose" for denying marriage to gay couples.

I'm not going to go into any details because I've written many times about this subject. My opinion is clear. This ruling only confirms my belief that same-sex marriage will be legal in the United States. There will be bumps and setbacks along the way, but this movement isn't turning around.

What I do want to point out, though, is this press release from Liberty Counsel President Mathew Staver after Judge Kramer announced his ruling. Consider:

"This ruling is not the end of the battle. It is just the beginning. Marriage should not be undermined by the stroke of a pen from a single judge. Marriage is a fundamental policy issue that must be decided by the people. To rule that there is no rational purpose to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman is ludicrous. This ruling, which flies in the face of common sense and millennia of human history, will pour gasoline on the fire ignited by the pro-marriage movement. Californians and the rest of the country will react to this decision by passing constitutional amendments to preserve marriage on the state and federal levels. No society has created a buffet-like arrangement of human relationships from which anyone may pick and choose and call it marriage. Marriage is and must remain the union of one man and one woman."

The pro-marriage movement? It seems to me that expanding marriage is pro-marriage and limiting marriage is anti-marriage. Liberty Counsel is self-delusional in thinking that it's pro-marriage. And "no society has created buffet-like arrangement"? That statement is explicitly not true, and I have no doubt that Mr. Staver knows that. The Netherlands, among others, recognizes same-sex marriage. And I can only assume that Mr. Staver intends for that statement to lead into the inevitable argument that marriage between a man and his dog or a woman and her desk won't be far behind. That sentiment is ridiculous and it's not going to happen, so I'm not going to refute it.

Really, I'm bored with the fear that surrounds this issue. There is nothing more traditional than two people wanting to pair up and commit to each other. How is that anti-family? Why the fear? At least with my boredom I know that this mass hysteria will pass, civilization will not crumble, and the planet will continue to spin. The only question left is whether to look forward to the expansion of freedom or backward to the safety of tradition.

SIDEBAR: For an in-depth understanding of the legal aspects of the same-sex marriage issue, read A Stitch in Haste. Kip has an excellent array of posts about the various dimensions of the issue. His blog is worth reading to become better informed.

March 09, 2005

I only write the interesting bits

The House of Representatives is considering legislation "that would let parents and children filter the curse words, sex scenes and violence out of movie DVDs". Senate bill S. 167 passed the Senate, so the House is its final obstacle before it lands on President Bush's desk for his signature. I think everyone can assume that he'll sign it. Here's the surprising point: I don't care.

I've written about free speech and our need to protect it, especially the speech that we least enjoy, but this legislation doesn't upset me. It's a blow against the boneheads in charge of Hollywood studios who wouldn't know business sense if Congress stapled it to the desk of every executive. For a group so historically focused on the greenback instead of artistic merit, this doesn't surprise me. Rather than embrace the potential for an expanded audience, the studios seek to shut down anything they don't control. This is very much an "old media" strategy when there wasn't money to be made in new ways or, wait for it... consumers who wouldn't purchase the Hollywood product before technology made it possible to be family-friendly safe watered-down.

Specifically, the Family Movie Act of 2005 addresses the following issue:

The legislation was introduced because Hollywood studios and directors had sued to stop the makers and distributors of technology for DVD players that would skip movie scenes deemed offensive. The movies' creators had argued that changing the content would violate their copyrights.

But the legislation would create an exemption in the copyright laws to make sure companies that offer the technology like ClearPlay, a Salt Lake City business, won't get sued out of existence.

An unfortunately worthy goal, although perhaps the "activist judges" would interpret the law as they did the invention of the VCR. Dare we trust the system? Of course the answer is no, and I think we all know the primary reason. This issue involves "family", so it's a political goldmine, no legislative necessity required. That it involves "family" against Hollywood transforms it into a bottom-of-the-ninth, bases-loaded four-bagger. Consider:

"These days, I don't think anyone would even consider buying a DVD player that doesn't come with a remote control," said Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas. "Yet there are some who would deny parents the right to use an equivalent electronic device to protect their children from offensive material."

Yes, but wouldn't strapping a collar on your child and putting the offensive material beyond the electric fence be as effective? Even though that amazing technological device known as the remote control can be used as a MovieNanny™ to "protect" children via its surprisingly effective On/Off button, I'm kidding. Representative Smith is correct that devices like the ClearPlay DVD player are simply electronic devices that filter content, helping parents to avoid responsibility protect their children from objectionable material. The original version of the disc isn't change. Take the DVD out of the player, put it into a non-ClearPlay DVD player and the movie plays as the studio and director released the film. The studios can complain, but there is no issue.

Rather than write a new ending, I'll rehash something I wrote last April. Behold:

If people are buying a movie, then watch a filtered version, the director still wins. She can continue making the movie that she envisions, while more people see it than would have originally. Through maintaining her artistic vision, she can perhaps enlighten those viewers about her idea of creativity and free expression. Who loses?

But I still think there's something to that whole invisible fence thing.

February 22, 2005

Putting the 'ugh' in donut

Senator Lindsey Graham has an interesting idea. And when I say "interesting", I mean stupid. Consider:

Graham touted the idea of a donut hole in the Social Security tax. Graham hasnt worked out exact numbers yet. But as a purely hypothetical example, the Social Security tax would apply to the first $90,000 of income, the next several thousands of dollars of income would be exempt, but then the tax would resume on all income above $300,000.

With his plan, the government would force those who can most afford it to redistribute their income subsidize the partial privatization of Social Security. Presumably this satisfies the mass-appeal of "soak the rich", which seems to be the primary method of political leadership in America. This strategy is targeted to lower-income workers who may or may not grasp that Social Security is intended as a bribe. "Vote for me," they say, "and I'll guarantee that you get the benefits you deserve."

Our tax structure is already biased against success, so this proposal isn't shocking. It does, however, further legitimize class distinction as a viable method of political career advancement. Who needs to strive for success when there's an extra penalty for achieving it and an handout incentive for not achieving it? Consider this clear statement:

It was only two months ago that Democratic leader and AFL-CIO president John Sweeney proposed raising the cap. Congress could make the highest wage earners pay their share to Social Security by raising the cap on earnings subject to the payroll tax, Sweeney suggested on Dec. 16. Upper-income folks "would hardly notice it," said Roger Hickey, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, a Democratic-allied advocacy group.

Class warfare is better left to the British. I don't pretend that it doesn't exist in America, or, given the above quotes, that it is exclusive to any political persuasion. I do know that it's unproductive and ridiculous in any form. Not only that, it's harmful. There will be an economic reckoning for this foolishness. Specifically, Senator Graham's proposed doughnut is a bad idea for a simpler reason than the class warfare aspect. When employment taxes increase, which is what Senator Graham's proposal is, employment decreases. Decreased employment leads to lower tax receipts for government and higher costs for social welfare programs. The long-term trouble facing Social Security will fade to the background when compared to the inevitable, immediate crisis that will result. I'm not theorizing how awful those repercussions will be, only that they will exist.

Yet, there is something more important. Consider this sentiment from Senator Graham:

Raising the cap is one way to generate more revenue without having to borrow the transition costs, Graham told reporters this week. Ive come to the conclusion that it is not responsible to borrow the transition costs and pass them on to future generations.

Ignoring the irresponsibility of borrowing to support an annual $400 billion deficit, there is a subtle idea hidden in Senator Graham's statement. My tax dollars should not be viewed as revenue. That they are is why we're now immersed in a federal fiscal crisis. The attitude among legislators is not to worry about out-of-control, irresponsible spending because there will always be another source of revenue. It isn't a reach to understand that the Congress will view Senator Graham's doughnut as a source of untapped revenue once it's in effect. The doughnut will disappear.

From a personal standpoint, this frightens me. As a taxpayer, I pay the same payroll taxes on my income that everyone pays. As a self-employed taxpayer, I also pay the employer portion of the payroll tax. This tax flows directly from my income. Every dollar I pay is a dollar that doesn't get invested, either in my business or in other growth-oriented investments in my personal portfolio. Every self-employed taxpayer faces the same ramifications. With Senator Graham's doughnut, most will not face any tax increase. Once Senator Graham's doughnut is removed, many will feel the impact. Their employees will also pay the consequences.

I understand that I'm paying a noticeable portion of my income to support current retirees, knowing that my benefits will not be the same. Considering how meager benefits are today, I resent the idea of paying more today with the rational assumption that I'll still see reduced benefits if when I'm allowed to retire. When Congress can't even attempt to balance the budget, I don't wish to offer them more money to mismanage. We elect our Congressmen to make tough decisions, not to take more of our money for bribes redistribution.

Fixing Social Security is a worthy goal because the program is broken. This correct solution is a discussion for the future, but the high-level answer is to rethink Social Security from the beginning, not to tweak it with a significant tax increase. Anything else only delays the inevitable.

February 07, 2005

Real men use hot dogs

Scientists in Norway discovered that "worms squirming on a fishhook feel no pain -- nor do lobsters and crabs cooked in boiling water". I'm not sure I believe it's that simple, but they're scientists and I see little reason why they would slant the study on purpose. The details of the study are interesting, at least to me as a squishy-hearted, tree-hugging liberal. Consider:

The government called for the study on pain, discomfort and stress in invertebrates to help in the planned revision of Norway's animal protection law. Invertebrates cover a range of creatures from insects and spiders to mollusks and crustaceans.

[Professor Wenche] Farstad said most invertebrates, including lobsters and crabs boiled alive, do not feel pain because, unlike mammals, they do not have a big brain to read the signals.

Some more advanced kinds of insects, such as honeybees which display social behavior and a capacity to learn and cooperate, deserve special care, she said.

"We have particular responsibility for animals that we have in our custody. That is not a scientific opinion, but the ethical side of the issue," Farstad said.

Aside from the obvious American school-boy humor of the professor being named Wenche, I'm impressed that the Norwegian government would consider such a study. It shows a willingness to understand that, even though we're the dominant species, that doesn't mean we should kill animals indiscriminately. Of course, the rational side of me understands that this study will be mocked, whether out of bravado or ignorance. It's not practical to assume that the use of animals for the purpose humans will stop just because a government wants its citizens to be sensitive, but Professor Farstad is correct in acknowledging that ethics matter. Yet, I can't help noticing the absurdness of another statement by Professor Farstad. Consider:

Norway might have considered banning the use of live worms as fish bait if the study had found they felt pain, but Farstad said "It seems to be only reflex curling when put on the hook ... They might sense something, but it is not painful and does not compromise their well-being."

That may be true, but doesn't dipping the worm into a body of water moments after impaling it on a hook so that a fish will chomp on its mangled body compromise its well-being?

February 02, 2005

I have a new favorite word

Before I jump into this entry, I must admit something. I don't have any idea what I'm going to write regarding this story about a man who won a verdict against Nestl for using his image on Taster's Choice packaging. Seriously, no clue. All I have so far is the punchline, because really, who cares about some guy winning a big lawsuit. We all know that he'll get approximately $12 out the $15.6 million awarded to him by the jury, not because his claim is without merit, but because some judge will decide that the jury was out of line to award that much. According to the law and the 0.02% of the facts that I know, his argument was legitimate. He signed a contract with Nestl to pose for photographs. Spelled out in the contract were the details of how those photographs could be used. The Taster's Choice label was not included. Like I said, the case is simple and inconsequential.

The story is amusing because of this quote:

"I said, 'expletive, that's me!' " Christoff recalled. "I'd had no idea. I only drink ground coffee, and most of the people I know do ground coffee. So they didn't notice. I didn't notice." He said even when he was shooting the photo -- which he hadn't thought of since 1986 -- he didn't drink the instant stuff in the cup in his hand.

Expletive? Who the hell uses the word "expletive"? In that situation, I'd normally say "Damn, that's me" or even "Shit, that's me". If I really didn't expect it, I might even say "Fuck, that's me". But not once have I ever been surprised and said "Expletive". I might start, though. Think of the humor that would ensue among those around you. Throw in a little inflection and that'll be some funny expletive.

Here's the funny part about this entry. That last line, you remember, the one where I wrote "that'll be some funny expletive," there's an interesting point behind that. That's not the punchline. My real punchline aims for something more political, something dense parody. My original joke was built off of these paragraphs in the story:

Christoff might have never known his image was on Taster's Choice if a woman standing in line with him at Home Depot in May 2002 hadn't casually mentioned that he looked like the guy on her coffee jar at home. He shrugged it off. He was used to people recognizing him from ads and training films he'd helped do for companies such as Visa and Xerox, not to mention a smattering of acting credits including the role as police commissioner in the 1995 Holly Hunter thriller, "Copycat."

But a few days later he was buying Bloody Mary mix at a drugstore, and there it was -- his image on a jar of Taster's Choice, on the shelf nearby. The hair was black in the picture, unlike his now-silver locks, but the arching eyebrows and narrow lips and chin were unmistakable.

Mr. Christoff was buying Bloody Mary mix. That wouldn't normally be a problem, but there's an additional factor that will make you all run for the hills with fright. I can't warn you enough ahead of time about what I'm going to reveal about Mr. Christoff. Are you ready? Ok, brace yourself, because here it is. Mr. Christoff is a... kindergarten teacher.

How can a moral society allow such a travesty? Isn't it a law or something that the community gets to decide what its teachers can do in their free time? Without such standards, we could have ANYONE teaching our children. I hope the parents are really, super-duper involved in Mr. Christoff's class, watching him like a hawk. LIKE A HAWK, people, lest he INDOCTRINATE THE CHILDREN. CHILDREN!

The last thing we want is a community full of 5-year-old alcoholics, wobbling around their classroom, tipsy from too many Bloody Marys, spilling finger paint and brandishing safety scissors. Someone will get hurt and we'll all be to blame because we didn't prevent a teacher from brainwashing his students with a love for the happy juice.

That'll be some sad expletive.

January 31, 2005

The world is a little brighter

I've been trying to write about yesterday's election in Iraq, but have had difficulty figuring out exactly how to say what I really want to say. There are a lot of positives being thrown about, all justifiable. There have also been negatives, whether discussing the reality of democracy by referring to the election as the "election" or by not discussing it at all. I can only conclude that sheer partisanship or blind hatred are the cause of these negatives. There are many political nuances and issues, both positive and negative, surrounding how Iraq got to free elections, but those are not the debate for today. Regardless of what anyone may want to believe about yesterday's events, President Bush succeeded. American troops succeeded. And most importantly, Iraqis succeeded.

Rather than babble on any further, I offer these thoughts expressed in an entry by Jeff Jarvis. He wrote:

The American right and left are analyzing the Iraq vote on the wrong basis: It's not about George Bush, pro or con. It's not about America, pro or con. It's not even about the war, pro or con. It's about the Iraqi people and democracy and their future, for which there is only a pro, not a con.

Anyone who doesn't understand that can't or won't understand democracy.

October 26, 2004

Better never than late

Remember the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, the one that President Bush said was essential to preserving American society? There's a new development, courtesy of President Bush. Before I address that, in order to remind everyone of the FMA that President Bush supports, reconsider the language of the proposed amendment:

Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this Constitution or the constitution of any State, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups.

Put that into the context of President Bush's comments during an interview with Charles Gibson. Consider:

"I view the definition of marriage different from legal arrangements that enable people to have rights. And I strongly believe that marriage ought to be defined as between, a union between a man and a woman," Bush said. "Now, having said that, states ought to be able to have the right to pass ... laws that enable people to you know, be able to have rights, like others."

This is ridiculous. Denying marriage and "the legal incidents thereof" to same-sex couples within the Federal Marriage Amendment excludes the possibility of civil unions, yet President Bush says he supports allowing states to create civil unions. While I believe him when he says this (honestly, I don't hate Bush or think he's evil; I just think he's incompetent), his support is an empty token. His statement demonstrates how he views the world in black and white. President Bush supports the FMA even though it blatantly conflicts with his support of a state's right to recognize civil unions. The language doesn't matter as long as it accomplishes the bigger goal. That is legislating in broad strokes rather than fine lines.

I'm not the only one who feels this way. After I formulated my thoughts on the President's statement, I read Andrew Sullivan's opinion. Consider:

For what it's worth, I tend to think this is his real position, rather than a belated realization that his extremism on this matter has cost him many votes. But if it is his real position, why didn't he say so before? And how can he support the FMA which specifically bars the "incidents of marriage" for gay couples? President speak in forked tongue. More to the point, he must surely be opposed to the state amendments in eight states that ban marriage for gays and also anything that even vaguely looks like a marriage. Those states are Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Utah. If you agree with this president, you have to vote against these state constitutional amendments. They bar civil unions as well.

To his credit, the President (through his Press Secretary) did make this statement; everyone missed it. Consider this:

Q: When the President says that the states should be free to pick legal arrangements other than marriage, does that include civil unions, specifically?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, states can make their own decisions with regard to legal arrangements. That would include hospital visitation rights, it would include insurance benefits, it would include civil unions -- we talked about this earlier. The President has made it very clear that he would not have supported it for the state of Texas.

Q: Civil union?


Ultimately, President Bush's argument still comes down to this, his fundamental (fundamentally stupid) argument about same-sex unions:

"Look. If you're interested in preserving marriage as a union between a man and a woman, there is one way to do so, without the courts making the decision. That's through the constitutional process and obviously I think that's the way to go, because I am concerned that courts are making this decision. This is too important a decision to have a handful of judges making, on behalf of the American people," Bush said.

Nine judges made a decision for 300,000,000 Americans in the 2000 Presidential election. You didn't seem too upset then, Mr. President. How is this different?

October 22, 2004

Look over there, it's a pterodactyl

Perhaps I'm a bit biased, but... Why are you laughing? Stop laughing or I won't finish this entry. I mean it.

As I was saying, I might be a bit biased, but I'm annoyed with the flu shot hysteria sweeping the country. There's not enough to go around for everyone; I understand that. Big whoop.

I don't mean to marginalize the dangers of the flu, but allow me to marginalize them. Most people in America are healthy enough that the flu will not cause dangerous, irreparable damage. As a nation, we're not going to have 45 million people die from the flu just because we don't have enough flu shots. Trust me, we'll get through this.

Consider what the Centers for Disease Control says about the flu shot:

Each vaccine contains three influenza virusesone A (H3N2) virus, one A (H1N1) virus, and one B virus. The viruses in the vaccine change each year based on international surveillance and scientists predictions about which types and strains of viruses will circulate in a given year.

Based on international surveillance and scientists' predictions... Translating that into different language, that means it's an educated guess. "The flu" isn't one virus so it's not a guarantee that getting a flu shot will prevent the flu. Consider what the CDC has to say about flu shot vaccine effectiveness:

The ability of flu vaccine to protect a person depends on the age and health status of the person getting the vaccine, and the similarity or "match" between the virus strains in the vaccine and those in circulation. Testing has shown that both the flu shot and the nasal-spray vaccine are effective at preventing the flu.

It's effective if a person catches one A (H3N2) virus, one A (H1N1) virus, and/or one B virus. If you catch any virus not in the vaccine, too bad for you. But that doesn't stop people from embracing the panic. From an AP poll, "more than half of the many Americans with a relative who is at high risk of danger from getting the flu say they're worried about the vaccine shortage". Fear sells. Consider this:

"I don't see why people are getting upset about it," said Pat Johns, a 69-year-old retiree from Clarkston, Mich., who is healthy and doesn't plan to get a vaccine this season. "There are too many other things to worry about. I think part of the reason that they do is that they watch too much TV."

Right. If you're legitimately at risk, get the shot. If you're healthy, relax a little. You're going to be fine. For my suggestion on dealing with this, I'll quote myself from last winter:

One day, we'll wake up to the idea that a healthy diet and exercise are the best protection against illness. Until then, we'll continue to inject ourselves with random illnesses in the belief that it will protect us from all illness. ... Don't behave obediently to every word doctors say. We're advanced, but we have more to learn. Don't be a lemming. Think for yourself.

I feel like Ralphie writing his "What I Want for Christmas" theme in A Christmas Story. It's not easy being so insightful, but someone has to make the effort.

October 06, 2004

Beam me up, Howie.

Stern.jpgI've mentioned once or twice that I don't like our government's irrational and (unconstitutional) assault on free speech. I'm not going to debate that now because there's no new information on that front, but I have to re-examine my beliefs. I was wrong about the entire debate. The last nine months have been wonderful and useful and beneficial, so I have a few thank you's to offer.

First, to the people who complained to the FCC about Janet Jackson's Super Bowl halftime debacle, I say thank you. You got the ball rolling while people like me were too busy watching another channel to even know that a breast had been flashed. Nice work!

Second, to the tight-panted bureaucrats at the FCC, I say thank you. You ran like lunatics once the fine, offended citizens of the United States gave you the ball. You threatened censorship. Righteous!

Third, to President George W. Bush, I haven't said this before to you, but I thank you for your outstanding service to the nation. Without your overbearing hand pressing down further on the censorship machine, we might have artists criminals slinging curse words and flashing naked genitals on the radio and the TV. Kick ass hiney!

Why am I making such a bizarre turn-around on my previous opinions? The witch hunt was worth it. All of the sternly-worded, paternalistic slaps on the wrist for our moral depravity will pay off in a better society. If my beliefs had been embraced, we'd be at a status-quo, but they weren't, so we're not. Inspired by this re-interpretation of freedom, Howard Stern is moving to Sirius satellite radio in January 2006.

Before anyone gets the wrong impression about me and thinks that I'm excited because that means we'll hear coarse language and sexual innuendo, that's not why I'm excited. Ok, it makes me do a little dance of joy, but that's not the point. I'm excited because our censorship-obsessed political climate is going to make me a lot of money. I bought many, many shares of Sirius in early 2003 and stuck them in the back of my investment vault. That decision is paying off today. Without the FCC witch hunt of the last nine months, Howard Stern's move to Sirius would've been improbable at best.

I'll do my part for the economy when I buy a beach house with my profits. (Insert super-cool slick thumbs up gesture and sparkle from winking eye directed at Michael Powell...)

September 08, 2004

Be a donkey, not a jackass

Dear Senator Kerry:

Stop being a terrible candidate.

I know you want to defeat President Bush in November. I understand that you have a "base" to pander to in your speeches. I realize that it's hard to sound different from President Bush on foreign policy issues. For the months leading up to the Democratic National Convention, you pretended as though you weren't running for president. That makes some sense because the facts are out there and seem indefensible to me, but you should've spoken out sooner. Unfortunately, I now know why you haven't spoken out earlier. You're a bad candidate who doesn't understand the concept of espousing one message and pounding it into the electorate.

Allow me to highlight your latest blunder, as reported in this story:

"George W. Bush's wrong choices have led America in the wrong direction on Iraq and left America without the resources we need here at home," the presidential candidate said. "The cost of the president's go-it-alone policy in Iraq is now $200 billion and counting."

Kerry said the "hard reality" is that Bush's choices have led to "spreading violence, growing extremism, havens for terrorists that weren't there before."

"I call this course a catastrophic choice that has cost us $200 billion because we went it alone, and we've paid an even more unbearable price in young American lives."

President Bush is a bad diplomat, a bad strategist, and a bad leader. Got it. Hammer that point over and over again. It's that simple. But you can't stop there. A little taste of "I'm John Kerry and I'm reporting for duty" theatrics and you're ready to perform at will. Don't do that because you keep putting your foot in your mouth. As evidence, I offer this:

"$200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford after-school programs for our children; $200 billion in Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford health care for our veterans; $200 billion for Iraq, but they tell us we can't afford to keep the 100,000 police officers we put on the street," Kerry said.

"He doesn't believe that America can be strong in the world while we also make progress here at home. He believes we have to choose one or the other. That's a false choice, and I reject it."

That's simple-minded. There is a large, complex, grey area in most issues of this significance. Just because President Bush pretends that the world operates like a black-and-white, wholesome 1950's sitcom and, even then, usually only sees one of those two colors, you are free to analyze a little deeper. From your statement, you seem to imply that we can choose both with equal commitment. That's old ideological Democratic nonsense. Lyndon Johnson tried it in the 1960's and it failed miserably. You've referred to Iraq as a Vietnam-style quagmire, but do you really think you'll be better able to manage a war and an expansive domestic agenda? President Johnson couldn't do it. President Bush hasn't been able to do it. How are you better?

The correct answer is "you're not". Fixing and finishing (finishing, not ending) President Bush's foreign policy agenda is critical in the coming years. You deftly hit upon some of President Bush's mistakes, but pretending like we can just walk away from those mistakes in the next four years is ludicrous. Neither you nor President Bush is approaching our foreign policy correctly. We are where we are. We need to understand that the war on terror isn't going away. We need a coherent strategy for restoring order in Iraq. We need to demonstrate that the United States is willing to respect our diplomatic relationships and commitments. (I do not mean to imply that we mustn't act alone if the situation calls for it, but we must eliminate our bully-mentality diplomacy.) We need to accept our mistakes, not as a sign of weakness, but as a sign that our leaders our human. We can't adjust until we accept that there may be a better way.

America is a great nation. Whether you defeat President Bush or not will not change that. But to fix and improve what needs fixing and improving, you have to begin at the beginning. Make us certain that you know where the beginning is and that you grasp the magnitude of the task ahead. President Reagan used that strategy in 1980 and President Clinton used it in 1992. That focus inspires confidence in your potential. That confidence can make you a great candidate. With that, you might get to be president.

If that's too much for you, at least stop being a bad candidate.

Thank you,

August 19, 2004

Defy logic: smack yourself in the face

What better way exists to jump into year 2 than with a continuation of old themes? But maybe with a different twist...

Reading this article, I'm amused that the same-sex marriage debate continues in Massachusetts. I'm not surprised; it's a contentious issue that will be with us for years. What amuses me is that there are supporters of the same-sex marriage movement who are so stupid as to be damaging to the cause.

Eight non-resident couples filed suit in a Massachusetts state court to block enforcement of a 1913 law that prohibits out-of-state couples from marrying if the marriage would violate their home state's law. The judge upheld the law. Consider:

In a ruling handed down Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Carol Ball said the law is being applied equally to all nonresidents. For instance, it has been used to stop marriages of couples who didn't meet their states' age requirement for marriage.

"Clerks were instructed to do so for all couples and all impediments, not just for same-sex couples," Ball wrote.

It's no surprise to anyone that I think this law is ridiculous. Massachusetts wrote the law to prevent mixed-race marriage at the turn of the 20th century. (I believe I remember that correctly from my earlier research.) It's now being enforced specifically to prevent same-sex marriages, which is abysmal social policy. However, it's the law, it's constitutional, and if it's enforced against every couple affected, whether heterosexual or not, then there is no basis to the argument on a legal basis. More from the article:

Ball said Massachusetts has a rational reason to ensure that marriages it approves have validity in other states. However, she also said she sympathized with the plaintiffs and was "troubled" by the state's decision to suddenly begin enforcing the 91-year-old law.

Marriage is a state issue and this law serves a legitimate state interest, so this legal challenge is misguided. Since these plaintiffs are ignoring the obvious tactic of allowing Massachusetts to absorb the "impact" of same-sex marriage as a reality, with the associated realization that its society will not crumble, I will do the same for my argument. The correct challenge to this law is to find a case or multiple cases where this law is not applied to heterosexual couples. For instance, if a couple is too young in their home state but Massachusetts marries them, then there is a real argument of discrimination, of unequal enforcement of the law. Even if the example the plaintiffs find is Massachusetts violating an obscure law in another state, it's a better tactic than what they're now using.

Or, they could move to Massachusetts.

July 16, 2004

Don't miss the obvious

Here's an interesting opinion column from the New York Post. The key quote for me is this:

The Republicans have put themselves on the wrong side of a generation gap. And it won't be easily papered over as today's young voters age into older voters who are more likely to show up at the polls.

When it's one of your first presidential elections as it is for me it's no trivial matter that voting Republican means a vote for a party catering to the worst prejudices about our brothers, sisters, friends from high school, college roommates, co-workers, bosses, drinking buddies and the like.

I'm not sure I can do it. And, if it weren't for the War on Terror, I know few for whom it would even be a question.

As much as this focuses on the Republicans, it also speaks to the Democrats. Democrats must aknowledge that national security is the main issue in the election. Do not pretend that it's the economy or education or the minimum wage. The war on terror is what voters most care about. It will decide this race.

July 14, 2004

Na na na na, hey hey-ey, goodbye

How a situation can change in just a few hours. I was going to post at lunchtime, but decided to wait until this afternoon. Now, of course, the FMA is dead for the year. In a 48-50 vote, the FMA failed to get the necessary 60 votes to reach the floor of the Senate. Too bad...

But I do offer Senator Rick Santorum's latest quote during the debate, just because it highlights his agenda:

"I would argue that the future of our country hangs in the balance because the future of marriage hangs in the balance," said Sen. Rick Santorum, a leader in the fight to approve the measure. "Isn't that the ultimate homeland security, standing up and defending marriage?"



(Here's the original post, since this debate isn't going away.)

Beware the rhetoric regarding the Federal Marriage Amendment. Now that the Republican leadership in the Senate realizes that it won't win passage of the FMA. Despite my joy at the potential for political suicide undertaken by the religious wing of the Republican Party, I'm still frightened that a United States Senator could make this statement and believe it.

"If you support ... a mother and a father for every child, you are a hater. If you believe that men and women for 5,000 years have bonded together in marriage, you're a gay-basher. Marriage is hate. Marriage is a stain. Marriage is an evil thing. That's what we hear," said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa.

This proposed Constitutional amendment is not about marriage. If it were about marriage, there would be one sentence in the wording proclaiming marriage as between one man and one woman, but that's not what it says. There is a second line eliminating any potential rights for same-sex couples from civil unions or other such arrangements. This is about stopping the implied homosexual master plan to "redefine marriage".

As for Senator Santorum's facts, I'll offer an alternate viewpoint about the history of marriage. Consider Andrew Sullivan's responses to President Bush's Saturday radio address, which focused on the Federal Marriage Amendment:

Then there is his second premise: that allowing gay people to enter into civil marriage would "fundamentally redefine" marriage. In fact, of course, gay couples want to enter marriage as it is currently defined. And the fundamental redefinition of civil marriage to which the president refers occurred decades ago--when contraception became widely available, severing the link between procreation and civil marriage; and with the advent of women's equality, ending the notion that civil marriage was a way in which men affirmed domestic control of women. If civil marriage is therefore not procreative and not based on distinct gender roles, on what grounds is the admission of gay people a "redefinition"? In fact, under the current definition of civil marriage, the exclusion of gay couples is a blinding anomaly.


But it is simply a fact that marriage is "an evolving paradigm." For the first millennium after Christ, Christianity didn't even recognize marriage as a sacrament. It was regarded as a purely secular matter of property ownership. Marriage also once meant the ownership of women by men. It was once permanent, and no divorce was possible. It was once restricted to couples of the same race. The notion that it has never changed is simply untrue. The only relevant question is whether the current change is a good one. The president doesn't answer that question. He simply asserts it, based on nothing but bad history and ignorance.

I've made it clear that I support legalizing same-sex marriage as a civil arrangement because the different-but-equal aspect of civil unions is absurd. (Don't even get me started about the nonsense going on here in Virginia concerning private contracts between same-sex couples.) Not everyone is going to agree with that, and I respect that. But that doesn't mean an amendment is the right option. I'm happy to see that many conservatives are agreeing and intend to vote against the FMA for the correct reasons (marriage is a state issue and this amendment would damage the Constitution). Insert pithy, feel-good ending here... Isn't democracy great?

July 09, 2004

Mud incoming! Duck!

Walking by newspaper vending machines yesterday, the headlines struck me as informative, highlighting the journalistic approach of each newspaper's editorial board. Each had its presentation of John Kerry choosing John Edwards as his running mate. Consider:

The New York Times reported the story to imply that Senator Edwards is a skilled politician. Hidden clue: Vote for Kerry/Edwards. Because they're smart. And those other guys are dumb.

The Washington Post reported the story to imply that Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards are focusing on what matters to Americans. Hidden clue: Vote for Kerry/Edwards. Because they care about what you care about. And those other guys don't.

The Washington Times reported the story to imply that Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards have much in common with each other. Hidden clue: Vote Bush/Cheney. Because they're the right guys with real values. And those other guys are vapid, out-of-touch liberals.

Reporting the news is essential, but doing so with an editorial slant is wrong. I don't like reading marketing material on the front page of a newspaper. While I believe that speaking of "good hair" in the front page headline is the most egregious error of the three, all three are bad. Whether liberal or conservative, bias is bias. I'm concerned about how much worse it's going to get before November 2nd.

June 24, 2004

The sun is free [bring your own lightbulbs].

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is showing himself to be an astute politician. Consider one of his many solutions for solving the state deficit:

On fiscal matters, Mr. Schwarzenegger considers himself an old-school Republican determined to ferret out waste. No item is too minor to escape his attention.

For instance, since Mr. Schwarzenegger took office on Nov. 17, the toilet paper in the Capitol has been switched from two-ply to one-ply, a saving of thousands of dollars over the years. "It's not anymore the two-ply," he said. "Because you know what? We're trimming. We're living within our means."

How about coin-op? Wouldn't that be even better?

June 22, 2004

Got perchlorate?

Anyone wondering what perchlorate is? I didn't, until today. So I looked it up. Perchlorate is an interesting little chemical:

Perchlorate is both a naturally occurring and manmade chemical.

Hmmm. That doesn't answer the question. I guess I should read a little further. Read along with me.

Naturally occurring perchlorate, for example, is found in nitrate fertilizer deposits from Chile.

That still doesn't explain it. Why can't the FDA get to the point. Continuing:

Most of the perchlorate manufactured in the United States is used as the primary ingredient of solid rocket propellant.

I still don't know what it is, but I now know enough to understand that I don't want to ingest it. But what are the other uses, since only "most" of the manufactured perchlorate is used in solid rocket propellant? Oh, there are good uses. Dare I even say it? There are great uses.

Perchlorate is also used in a wide variety of industrial processes, including, but not limited to, tanning and leather finishing, rubber manufacture, paint and enamel production and additives in lubricating oils. Perchlorate is also used in pyrotechnics, such as fireworks, gun powder, explosives, and highway flares.

As if perchlorate wasn't cool enough, it's even found it's way into California cows. That's right, folks. It's floating around in the milk produced by California cows.

While California health officials propose a maximum level of 6 parts per billion in drinking water, the EPA proposes a standard of 1 part per billion.

The [Environmental Working Group] tests, conducted by researchers at Texas Tech University, found the chemical in 31 of 32 samples from milk purchased at grocery stores in Los Angeles and Orange counties. The average level of the chemical was 1.3 parts per billion.

The EWG said the Food and Agriculture Department tests found an average level of 5.8 parts per billion of perchlorate in 34 samples it tested from milk silos in Alameda, Sacramento and San Joaquin counties.

Are you concerned? The government isn't.

Department officials confirmed those results, but spokesman Steve Lyle said the findings didn't show any need for consumers to drink less milk.

"At this point, there is not enough information to suggest that eating foods with low levels of perchlorate poses a significant health concern," Lyle said.

Just because perchlorate causes thyroid malfunction, which can lead to "lowered IQ, mental retardation, loss of hearing and speech, and motor skill deficits," why should we worry? A few chemicals can only work to strengthen our immune systems. Consider:

California's dairy industry will work with state and federal officials to find out how perchlorate is getting into milk and how to remove the chemical, said Michael Marsh, CEO of the Western United Dairymen, which represents the state's $4.5 billion dairy industry. But Marsh said there is a "paucity of science" showing perchlorate's harmful effects on human health.

I do not need overwhelming proof from the scientific community to realize that drinking rocket fuel isn't smart. It's good that I'm a vegan.


Now, I must announce a nifty little secret. California cows are getting their perchlorate from the multiple-state water supply.

After beginning my entry, I finished reading the article. The study wasn't slanted, but the articles about the study bury the full details in the bottom of the story. I slanted my story to prove something I take pride in: I won't slant facts to prove a point I wish to make. But I slanted my entry against milk to show how easy it is to spin a story. The lesson from the EWG study is deeper than the danger of drinking milk, but the headline will be used to prove the advantages of veganism. (Cow milk isn't meant for human consumption. Don't hurt the cows.) Or to prove that President Bush is decimating the environment by allowing perchlorate. (Perchlorate is used in missiles. Bush likes missiles. etc., etc. etc.) Or whatever other pet issue someone needs to push.

Spin occurs on every point of the American political/ideological spectrum. For some reason, we don't understand the concept of debate and the logic that fuels it. I won't go as far as to say that we've forgotten how to do this, that the "good ol' days" were more civil. One only needs to look at the muckraking of Yellow Journalism and the coerced paranoia of McCarthyism to understand that this is the basic mode of thought for most humans. We have the ability to rise above it but rarely choose to do so. I'm being sincere when I ask this next question. Why?

I don't claim to be superior to anyone in this regard, but I do value intellectual debate and reason in promoting beliefs. "Because" has never been acceptable to me. I don't accept it when it's offered, so I won't offer it back. Please know that when I write about something that interests me, I'm going to do my best let the facts lead the discussion. I'm going to push my beliefs, but I will not bend the facts to support them.

June 10, 2004

Bow before my media savvy

Walking around downtown DC today, I noticed something interesting while looking at the front of newspapers. Obviously, all the major papers are covering the state funeral for President Reagan, but I'm amused by how each newspaper offered a peek at its editorial marketing with its front page. In newspapers, it's important to put your "money shot" above the fold. Consider:

The "liberal bias" of The Washington Post focuses on the pageantry and order of a state funeral rather than President Reagan himself.

The "conservative slant" of The Washington Times emphasizes the personality of a Republican icon.

The "McPaper" aspect of USA Today highlights the human loss felt by the nation through the emotion of Nancy Reagan.

You're amazed at my intellect, aren't you?

Study hard. You might learn something.

Reading the news reports of President Reagan's funeral, I read something interesting in this article about the whole process. It seems to be a somber affair, as one would expect of a funeral. However, some are treating it "more like a parade" than a funeral. I don't have a problem with this, for the most part. While standing on chairs to take pictures may be a little tacky, a state funeral is as much a celebration of America as it is the mourning of a president. I don't think it's a significant disrespect, so I don't really care.

But then there is this:

After the building was opened to the public, some people left crying, but others got on their cell phones to ask if they had been seen on television.

I'm sure those people were respectful in the Rotunda, but why bother if you're just an ass who wants to be on the TV. You're delaying the people who want to express a genuine emotion. If getting on the TV is your only goal, Jerry Springer is looking for you. Save us the burden of being distracted by you, because you're no different than the morons who sit behind home plate at every baseball game, talking on your cell phone, waving at the TV. Nobody likes you.

Instead, show some class. In case you need a lesson in how, here's your example.

Margaret Thatcher pays her last respects to Ronald Reagan.

I can't make it any clearer.

June 08, 2004

Call me Nostradamus

Taking a walk through memory lane, allow me to highlight that, on December 5th, I wrote about Republican efforts to replace Franklin Roosevelt with Ronald Reagan on the dime. Although my psychic vision was blurry, I was prophetic in my ranting.

Ronald Reagan is not a saint. He was president during a very prosperous time in United States history. Bill Clinton was president during a very prosperous time in United States history. Ronald Reagan had a scandal while in office. Bill Clinton had a scandal while in office. Where's the push to idolize Clinton?

It's time to start a petition to have Clinton's face put on the $10 bill. Sure, Alexander Hamilton was instrumental in solidifying the financial foundation of the U.S., but that was during the age of agriculture. Clinton was president during the prosperous Dot-com 90's. We missed our chance to change the money during the industrial age. Let's not miss it for the information age!

Obviously, no one is pushing to idolize President Clinton on the $10 bill, but there is now an effort underway in Congress to replace Alexander Hamilton with Ronald Reagan. Consider:

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who as majority whip is the No. 2-ranking Republican in the Senate, says he'll sponsor the proposal when the time is right. Robert Stevenson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., says "there could be a head of steam" behind the idea, especially right after Reagan's death.

The key to this is the timing. A few opportunists are trying to capitalize on President Reagan's death to ram legislation through Congress. They're playing on sentimentality and the realization that peer pressure will prevent a public stance against this, at least initially. I suspect "unpatriotic" will even be thrown at anyone who dares to disagree.

I don't disagree with the idea of honoring Ronald Reagan. He was president, so he deserves the memorials and remembrances. Every president deserves that respect, regardless of politics, but beyond what we've already done, we're in danger of mythologizing him in a manner unbecoming of America's abhorrence of "royalty".

Yet, politicizing the U.S. currency is a bad idea. Our paper currency is symbolic, bigger than the legacy of Ronald Reagan. In its current form, U.S. paper currency reflects the history of our nation and the men who either created our nation or saved it from self-destruction: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Benjamin Franklin. Our currency is stoic and regal. We expect that stiff upper-lip response from other countries before we expect it of ourselves, but we've installed it into our currency. We don't change our currency on a whim and that has made it the international standard of stability.

Other countries don't use paper currency to the extent of the United States. While the rest of the world has progressed to coins, achieving reduced costs and increased longevity, we cling to paper and shun efforts to switch. We put a psychic value on our currency that shouldn't be violated to impose a political agenda aiming for something just shy of presidential sainthood.

For an appropriate response to this idea, consider this statement by Ron Chernow, author Alexander Hamilton:

"I hope the country finds a suitable way to commemorate Ronald Reagan, but I don't think it would be appropriate to do it by downgrading Alexander Hamilton, who has suffered from too much historical neglect, and who is finally and belatedly starting to be appreciated by posterity," Chernow says. Even Reagan might have objected, he suggests: "Hamilton was the prophet of the capitalist system that Ronald Reagan so admired."

But here I am, standing nearly alone in thinking that currency is a symbol of the economy. Consider this statement:

"Hamilton was a nice guy and everything, but he wasn't president," says Grover Norquist, who heads the legacy project as well as an influential conservative group called Americans for Tax Reform. "As a board member of the (National Rifle Association), I can also tell you that he was a bad shot."

I know he's trying to be funny, but he's also trying to trivialize the importance of Alexander Hamilton. Even though Hamilton was never president, how else should we honor his foundation of free-market capitalism than to display his image on our currency? Without Hamilton's ideals, we'd have an economy constrained by ancient thinking and artificial control. Perhaps we'd have something akin to the Soviet economy that President Reagan so honorably opposed and defeated.

We have enough trouble preventing an ignorance of history; we mustn't politic it into obscurity.

June 04, 2004

Phone companies are stupid

After my recent troubles with Verizon, I'm inclined to believe that phones companies are run by incompetent management. Of course, I know that it's not something wrong with just phone companies, but an inherent risk generally realized in large companies. They're big, inflexible, and stupid. They march forward, trampling over everything in their way, which usually includes customers, when they're nice enough to believe that people are customers instead of imbeciles to be separated from their cash. Those companies are dinosaurs, waiting to be made extinct.

In New Zealand, one such company is Telecom Corp.. It recently eliminated its plan that gave customers unlimited text messaging for $6.29 per month. It now offers "only" 1,000 messages per month before extra charges kick in. That's a good move, since text messaging is a dying phenomenon.

Before I went through my cell phone switch nightmare, I never used text messaging. When I returned to Sprint, I got the cool phone that makes web surfing and text messaging workable. So I started messaging. Certain people have been known to receive a dozen or more messages per day now that I'm used to messaging. It's cool and stuff. But 1,000? Danielle has only 500 per month with her Verizon plan, but I'll be amazed if she uses them all. So 1,000 seems to be plenty.

But still. Progress works like this: every year, a company changes its services to offer a lower price or more of the product. It happens with cars. It happens with computers. It happens with video games.

The common theme in my examples is technology. Anything that can technologically improve gets better or cheaper. It's so unavoidable that it might as well be the 11th Commandment. But Telecom Corp. missed the memo.

Fraser Ray didn't like that, so he protested by sending 80,012 text messages during May, the last month of the old plan. He makes me look like an amateur since I only sent Verizon twenty-six checks to pay my $56.09 bill. I have a new hero. But Mr. Ray was not alone because New Zealanders are awesome.

Telecom spokeswoman Helen Isbister said a handful of people had sent more than 100,000 text messages in May.

With an obvious protest, how does Telecom Corp. interpret this?

"I suppose it's an indication of the kind of thing we wanted to discourage by putting a cap," she said.

Phone companies are stupid.

June 03, 2004

Ella probably wears Supergirl underoos

Ella Gunderson has become the unofficial spokesgirl for a new trend in adolescent fashion: modesty. Consider her letter to Nordstrom regarding the "shocking" state of current fashion for young girls:

"Dear Nordstrom," wrote Gunderson, of Redmond, Wash. "I am an eleven-year-old girl who has tried shopping at your store for clothes (in particular jeans), but all of them ride way under my hips, and the next size up is too big and falls down."

"I see all of these girls who walk around with pants that show their belly button and underwear," she continued. "Your clearks sugjest that there is only one look. If that is true, then girls are suppost to walk around half naked. I think that you should change that." (sic)

Good for her. She noticed an issue at the store where she likes to shop and did something about it. All children should learn to take action instead of whining. This story is one proof that not all kids buy into the pop culture fashion requirement.

The full blame can't be placed on Nordstrom because they don't dictate trends. They predict by ordering ahead of season, but will not continue with a trend if the clothes don't sell. One walk around the mall proves that these clothes are selling.

While I do believe that current fashion trends are ridiculous, parents have to take responsibility. Kids need to be taught to rely on their inner guidance. Trends and fashion are ok, but when it goes too far (which is subjective, even in this case), they need to be taught to appreciate their own views.

What I don't like is that this will become an example that teenagers are turning away from Satan and towards Christ. Using this trend shift to brainwash children that their bodies are "dirty" will be a missed opportunity to teach them to think for themselves. At some point, as a society, we must embrace the belief that teaching kids to think independently does not automatically mean they will turn away from the beliefs of their parents. They should not be given trite or ridiculous slogans, such as the one used by "Clothing your father would be proud of". Good plan... teach young girls that they should focus on clothes approved by their fathers... because they can't want them for any other reason than to please an older man. I'm over-simplifying, but not by much.

This is the same culture that prefers McPapers for the morning commute. In Washington, DC, there are two commuter rags that people read every day: The Washington Post Express and The Journal. Both papers are attempting to capitalize on a national trend among newspapers to offer commuter versions. A reasonable idea, but it's been taken to the extreme. These papers offer trimmed down versions of their regular stories, offering the basic point of the story. Unfortunately, they pander to a presumed short attention span and reduced intellect.

As an aside, this is not surprising when journalists can't be bothered to do real research. I've seen this in other news stories, but I'll point it out here because it's relevant. From the article, consider this insightful proof that Ms. Gunderson is a role model:

A Google search of Ella Gunderson drew over 70 links to stories from all over the world. Eleven-year-old Ella Gunderson is proof that everyone can make a difference.

I've read The Washington Post Express in the past. This morning, I read The Journal for the first time. The paper is awful, but I searched for an article about Ms. Gunderson because of the report in The Journal. The article, in its entirety, read like this:

Teen proposes decent clothes

During a recent shopping trip to Nordstrom, 11-year-old Ella Gunderson became frustrated with all the low-cut hip-huggers and skintight tops. So she wrote to the Seattle-based chain's executives to complain. The industry has been getting the message: A more modest look is in, fashion experts say.

That's it. How can we teach our kids to think when we so rarely participate in the activity ourselves? I'm scared when I realize that many of the people around me on the Metro, who consider this an acceptable form of news, are going to important government jobs that could help decide the future of our nation and the world.

May 25, 2004

Will I go to bed without dinner?

There are two points of interest in yesterday's White House press briefing. First, while there may be a liberal bias in the media, the reporter repeatedly referred to "Stern's obscenities", as if everyone should find Howard Stern obscene.

Second, we're moving to a paternal state with the emphasis on a lone father figure as the standard, both moral and practical. This is bad.


QUESTION: Thank you. Andrew Card impressively addressed this weekend's annual gathering in New York of 250 talk radio hosts, where there was considerable debate over the possibility that if Howard Stern is driven off the air for his many obscenities by the FCC fines, all of us could be driven off the air by the government for our political opinions. And my question: Can the White House give us assurance that our expressed political opinions, liberal or conservative, will never be treated like Stern's obscenities by any organization in the Bush administration?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I'm not going to try to speculate on something that's so -- so broad as what you're bringing up. Obviously, the President believes that there are certain standards of decency that should be adhered to.


MR. McCLELLAN: And we all have a responsibility to adhere to those standards.

QUESTION: But he would never let the FCC --

MR. McCLELLAN: And that if people violate those standards, they should be held accountable. And there are measures in place to hold people accountable.

QUESTION: Of course. But he would never allow the FCC to take action against any of us in talk radio for our political opinions, would he?

MR. McCLELLAN: In a general sense, no. But, again, you phrase that in a context of some standards that apparently violated some of the -- our standards of decency.

I don't have the warm fuzzies from this.

May 21, 2004

Moving forward to refocus

Explaining why the American judicial system is forcing renegade agendas upon America, Cal Thomas states his theory:

Cultural tsunamis, like those that begin under oceans, are caused by something deep within. When high water hits the shore, it is the result of a subterranean earthquake. When the state of Massachusetts last Monday (May 17) began offering marriage to people of the same sex, this "wave" was preceded by a seismic shift in the moral tectonic plates.

I doubt there's anyone who will disagree with that. A "seismic shift in the moral tectonic plates" is a straight-forward observation free of any judgment as to what those moral tectonic plates should be. His explanation is more interesting.

The shift from personal responsibility, accountability, putting the greater good before personal pleasure, affluence and "feelings," and what once was known as "the fear of God" began following World War II. Consumption and pleasure replaced self-control and acting on behalf of the general welfare.

How is denying same-sex marriage an issue of "putting the greater good before personal pleasure"? That statement from Mr. Thomas sounds like socialist propaganda. Because my neighbor doesn't like it, I shouldn't do something that will make me happy, something that does no harm? I know he's not making such a broad argument, but that's the way he's framed it. That's not democratic.

Equating Americans putting the greater good before personal pleasure is the same as "the fear of God"? America may be a "God-fearing" nation, but it can't be governed by "the fear of God". Civil law and religious law may cross paths, but it can't be by design. Some religious principles are stricter than any democratic society can demand.

America must adopt civil equality where necessary, but that doesn't mean everyone must partake of the new, renegade rights. As Mr. Thomas concludes, sometimes self-reflection is more appropriate than enforcing personal limitations on others.

"Pro family" groups have given it their best shot, but this debate is over. They would do better to spend their energy and resources building up their side of the cultural divide and demonstrating how their own precepts are supposed to work. Divorce remains a great threat to family stability, and there are far more heterosexuals divorcing and cohabiting than homosexuals wishing to "marry." If conservative religious people wish to exert maximum influence on culture, they will redirect their attention to repairing their own cracked foundation. An improved heterosexual family structure will do more for those families and the greater good than attempts to halt the inevitable. A topical solution does not cure a skin disease whose source is far deeper.

While I don't understand Mr. Thomas's use of quotations for the word "marry", since the same-sex marriages occurring in Massachusetts are as legal as heterosexual marriages, his desire for focusing on family stability rather than stopping what is going to continue happening is correct.

The beauty of America is that we can experiment with new public policy ideas. Some will fail, some will succeed, but the imperative and ability to improve is what makes our nation unique. Self-examination never hurt that endeavor.

Spinning a globe the obvious way

This just in from the presidential campaign:

John Kerry is considering delaying his acceptance of the Democratic presidential nomination at the party's July convention so that he can keep spending the millions of dollars that he raised during the primaries...

When I read the headline, I figured that Kerry's campaign is setting itself up to be hammered by the media. After reading the facts, I still think his campaign will get hammered, but the facts reflect an election situation much different.

The Democratic Convention to nominate Kerry is scheduled for late July, with the Republican Convention occurring five weeks later. The implication is simple. President Bush can spend private funds for an extra five weeks. His $75 million in matching funds would only have to last for slightly more than two months. Kerry would need to make his $75 million last for three-and-a-half months. Delaying his official acceptance is reasonable. Consider:

"We are looking at this and many other options very seriously because we won't fight with one hand behind our back," Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said Friday.

Cutter said other options being considered include having the Democratic National Committee or local and state Democratic parties raise money to support Kerry's candidacy. However, Kerry would not have control of much of the money raised by the party. By law, the DNC cannot coordinate more than roughly $16 million of spending with Kerry's campaign in the general election.

Time can change the money factor in this election, but less money could also lead to creative thinking for the Kerry campaign. Either way, it's an interesting development in this election.

I like the idea of being obvious in this decision. Play it correctly and it can lead the national debate into the influence of money in elections. Trying to hide the fact will lead to mistakes and negative public perceptions. Make the right decision, then explain it. That should make it into a non-issue.

Given what we expect from Senator Kerry, he'll make no decision until the end, then try to pretend like he didn't make a decision. This is going to be fucked up in some way. Thus, I link you to this:

May 20, 2004

Flinging mud at a mirror

If politics is the battle between parties, what is the battle within a party?

On Tuesday, Senator John McCain made the following comments, which may be the next step in driving him to be the V.P. choice on the Democratic ticket:

Lately more and more comment about how Republicans and Democrats cant find any common ground and I myself have lamented on how nasty and partisan Washington has become. Well, I stand corrected, because there is one thing which unites Republicans and Democrats: Fiscal irresponsibility has become the great unifier of late, and for that we should all be ashamed.

I am a proud Republican. Im a Barry Goldwater Republican. I revere Ronald Reagan and his party of limited government. Sadly, that party is no longer. The current version of the Republican party is engaged in an outrageous spending binge and theyre being steadied and encouraged by the Democrats. It used to be understood that no one ever voted for a Democrat to be a champion of fiscal responsibility. But at this point, is there a party to take up that worthy cause?


My friends, we are at war. Throughout our history, wartime has been a time of sacrifice. At the beginning of the war I said it would be long and difficult, and would require a great deal of sacrifice on everyones part. But about the only sacrifice taking place is that by the brave men and women fighting to defend and protect the liberties we hold so dear, and that of their families.

It is time for others to step up and start sacrificing.


The party that was long known to be the guardian of the treasury is now its routine raider.

I agree with him. We need to move past the idea of political party allegiance as the determiner of correct ideas. What Senator McCain is saying is that we need to rise above that. This isn't a call for rampant taxes, but a challenge to govern responsibly. It's a call for leadership.

In response to that, House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert made the following