Principles may have precise definitions

While listening to Howard Stern this morning, a woman called in claiming that she drinks a 12-pack of beer per day while she’s pregnant. She believes that she should be able to indulge herself because she’s doing the work to carry the child. I won’t discuss either statement because, if true, her selfish irresponsibility is obvious. I found the entire discussion nauseating.

What was interesting is the point about she tried to make about being served alcohol. The woman said bars and restaurants serve her without question, which makes sense to her because “her money is as good anyone else’s.” Perhaps, but if I owned a bar or restaurant and a pregnant woman ordered alcohol for herself, I’d refuse to sell it to her. She can do what she wants, but I don’t have to accommodate her decision. I suspect I’m not unique in my stance.

Plenty of people would smear me as a greedy, profit-driven capitalist pig because I believe in free markets over government control. This scenario demonstrates that thinking in generalizations can lead an individual to incomplete conclusions without basis in fact. Those who would label libertarians as heartless and greedy without exception need to learn that libertarian and unscrupulous are not synonyms.

Where’s the green slime?

I don’t have much to add on this development that I haven’t already said:

Television broadcasters won a temporary victory yesterday when a federal appeals court told the Federal Communications Commission not to enforce an indecency ruling it imposed on several television shows earlier this year.

“We are gratified that the court has taken the first step in recognizing the serious First Amendment issues raised by the FCC’s new enforcement policies,” CBS said in a corporate statement.

The FCC also considered yesterday’s ruling a partial victory. The agency said it made the March indecency rulings to give the broadcasters guidelines on what can be said on television. But when the broadcasters complained, the FCC acknowledged that it had not followed its usual procedure in declaring the shows indecent. The agency asked the court to send back the indecency decision so it could be reconsidered, which the court did yesterday.

A precedent enforcing the First Amendment would be wonderful, but I guess it takes more courage than anyone in government possesses to understand that bullshit is not going to lead to rotting child brains. If the FCC must think about the free speech ramifications of its actions before it acts, that’s a chilling effect I’m willing to live with. More than anything the Constitution protects the people from government intrusion, not through government intrusion. It’s worth remembering.

I’m accustomed enough to this wave of censorship that I’m resigned to fighting it rather than getting upset. However, 2½ years is not enough time for this quote to do anything other than make my blood boil.

“Hollywood argues that they should be able to say the F-word on television whenever they want,” FCC spokeswoman Tamara Lipper said in a written statement. “The commission continues to believe they are wrong, and there should be some limits on what can be shown on television.”

It would be easy enough to just use the F-word here and pretend like that’s a victory. I know it’s not, although I do take (minimal) joy in knowing that every person who reads that quote will think of the actual four-letter F-word. Saying and writing the F-word doesn’t sanitize reality, no matter how many horseshoes and rainbows busybody social conservatives want to wish upon to pretend it does. Ha! Point, my side.

What disgusts me is the tone and implication within Ms. Lipper’s statement. Trotting out “Hollywood” is a useful tactic because we all know they’re leftist liberal weenies who need to be stopped from corrupting our innocent, angelic little children. But I want my government to have just a smidge less contempt for the notion that it serves me. I do not care for the idea that the government may decide what can and can’t be shown. It is not in the Constitution, and it is not in our ideals. Next thing we know, the government will dictate what we can and can’t say on television about it and our elected leaders. Oh, wait.

Once given power, government tends to assume more and wield it in broad strokes. Ms. Lipper and the FCC demonstrate our need to better adhere to limited government principles as stated in our Constitution, lest we lose what rights are naturally ours.

Cover the First Amendment in Whipped-Cream and Pasties

Now that it’s been called on its bullshit, the FCC wants a do-over.

“Today the Commission, supported by the ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates, filed a motion for voluntary remand and stay of briefing schedule in Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission,” the commission said in a statement. “It did so at the request of broadcasters who complained they did not have the opportunity to be heard by the Commission before it issued its decision in its “Omnibus” order in March. Additionally, the remand would allow the Commission to hear all of the licensees’ arguments which is necessary for the broadcasters to make these same arguments before the Court.”

I’ll ask the obvious: does no one understand that “Congress shall make no law” is an absolute? And is it any surprise that an arm of the government granted unconstitutional power by that Congress will somehow abuse that power beyond its own rules? The key lost in this story is that Fox is not one of the networks asking for this “voluntary” remand in Fox Television Stations, Inc. v. Federal Communications Commission. Good. If it sticks this out through to trial, I promise to watch every So You Think You Can [Insert Unwatchable Activity Here]? show its producers can imagine. Just include lots of T&A and swearing when if the court realizes that the bulk of the FCC’s Congressionally-sanctioned nanny-mongering is unconstitutional.

Hat tip: Jeff Jarvis

Final word on the flag amendment

The flag amendment is toast. Good riddance, although it’s safe to assume it’ll be back. I’m going to guess 2008. I don’t know why, it just feels like it’s on some strange cycle. Anyway, I thought I’d heard every possible stupid remark going into yesterday’s vote, courtesy of Senators Hatch and Specter. Alas, no:

“All rights enshrined in the Constitution have certain limits,” said Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.). “There is no such thing as unlimited rights. Although we treasure and value our right of free speech . . . we protect our national monuments,” including the flag.

“Congress shall make no law” is pretty ambiguous about limits, I admit. It’s just strange that protecting our national monuments isn’t in the Constitution. And if the flag is a national monument, does it need public restrooms to meet any federal regulations.

In other burning news, James Taranto chimed in to make his partisan point, even though he pretended to be on the side of common sense. What I don’t understand, and he presents a perfect example, is why so many people hate the New York Times as if its publishers are Hell’s army unleashed on us all? I concede that its reporting is often smug, self-important, ideological crap. My response is to avoid it. I rarely link to its stories because I find better, less-biased reporting elsewhere. Free speech with free markets is a sufficient combination for me to mentally handle any real or imagined offense to public sensibility by the New York Times. Why this isn’t enough for those on the right, other than needing a bogeyman to whip up the masses, is a mystery to me. Seriously, get over it.

That said, I’m amused that Mr. Taranto works a defense in yesterday’s Best of the Web Today aimed merely at attacking the New York Times for its editorial against the amendment. I imagine the effort necessary to navigate to his point was tremendous. Actually, probably not. Practice makes perfect, right? I digress. Mr. Taranto quotes the New York Times, writing about the flag amendment:

With the Fourth of July fast approaching, Senate Republicans are holding a barbecue. Unfortunately, instead of grilling hot dogs and hamburgers, they are trying to torch a hole in the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee by passing an amendment to the Constitution that would allow federal and state authorities to punish flag-burning.

Some things should be out of bounds even in a competitive election year. Messing with the Constitution is one of them.

Seems reasonable, but it’s the New York Times. They’re just a bunch of dumb liberals who don’t realize that the rest of America is patriotic enough to love the flag. So what is Mr. Taranto’s snappy retort?

But the ability to amend the Constitution is part of the Constitution. “Messing with the Constitution” also ended slavery, gave blacks and women the vote, and repealed Prohibition. (OK, that last one is a wash.)

In fact, if the First Congress had refrained from “messing with the Constitution” by proposing the Bill of Rights, there would be no First Amendment. Forget flag-burning; if the Times were true to its principles, it would be against free speech altogether!

Haha! He’s poking fun at the literal interpretation of “messing with the Constitution.” Funny, and damn if doesn’t catch them in their logic failure. Conservatives 1,239,938,839, New York Times 0.

Except, everyone understands that the editors at the New York Times did not mean the actual process of amending the Constitution. Congress followed the procedure exactly. Big deal. The anti-flag desecration amendment violated Constitutional principles, which Mr. Taranto clearly knows, unless he’s blinded by his disdain. I doubt it.

Best of the Web Today is hack journalism at its finest.

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.

He’s teaching me to change my instincts… or at least ignore them.

James Taranto, writing in Opinion Journal’s Best of the Web Today column, points to an article titled “Questions Raised About Kerry War Record”.

When John Kerry* ran for president, he offered one compelling qualification for the world’s highest office: He was a hero of the Vietnam War. True, America lost that war–but it was in spite of, rather than because of, Kerry’s battlefield efforts.

Timely, as opposed to partisan, this information enhances my trust that the only liar in Washington operates in the Senate chambers because he couldn’t win the presidency. Oh, and that the New York Times is biased. Shocking.

What’s most important, though, is the context of that all-powerful asterisk. It holds the key to relentless wit and insight. All included must bow before the “gotcha”.

* At least he served in Vietnam, unlike Harry Pelosi and Nancy Reid!

The same could be said about two important Republicans. But cheap partisan victories are vital to our national conversation. And only liberals in the media are biased.

Update: Kip at A Stitch in Haste dissected Mr. Taranto’s imbecilic attack on libertarianism, which appeared further down in yesterday’s Best of the Web Today. I’m glad he pointed it out, as I stopped reading the rest of Mr. Taranto’s nonsense after the John Kerry story.

How to win friends alienate fans and influence people

If there ever existed proof that government-imposed monopolies harm customers, the current cage match between Comcast, Peter Angelos, the Washington Nationals, and MASN is the shining example. (It also touches on a stupid business practice by Major League Baseball.) Comcast refuses to carry MASN, which has television broadcast rights to the Washington Nationals. I have no problem with the business decision by Comcast, though I despise it as a customer. Not because I want to watch the Nationals. I don’t, except when they’re playing the Phillies. The Nationals are currently in Philadelphia for a three-game series, of which all three games will be blacked out for all non-MASN outlets.

Last night, for example, Major League Baseball would not allow INHD to broadcast the game to my cable system, nor did it allow MLB Extra Innings to broadcast the game to me. It’s important to note that I’ve paid MLB for the games, yet they funnel me to MASN. This is where the problem culminates. Without MASN, I missed the game.

This could be easily resolved by Comcast or Major League Baseball putting customers first, but I’ve come to expect little from either. I tolerate Major League Baseball’s policy with my business only because I love the Phillies and watching the majority of their games not blacked out. I do write a letter every year, however. With Comcast, I only have the option to switch to satellite. That’s a fine form of competition, but it’s not feasible for my house and needs. The solution is simple, of course, but government won’t get out of the regulation business. Instead, I’m presented with idiotic symbolism:

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) [last week] signed into law a bill requiring Comcast, which is the District’s main cable provider, to begin broadcasting Washington Nationals games or face the possibility of losing its license to operate in the city.

The bill, which was passed unanimously by the D.C. Council earlier this month, says that unless the games are on the air beginning [last week], the District and Comcast must enter into negotiations to discuss the franchise agreement and explore ways of getting the games on the air.

So, rather than open the city to competition and allow the invisible hand to do the work of providing MASN, the City Council and mayor would prefer city residents (theoretically) be without cable television service completely. This is reasonable how, other than to prove that politicians want to be central planners masquerading as heroes? Remove legal barriers to entry and let the market decide; instead of just voicing an opinion, customers could then vote with their most powerful weapon possible. If the City Council and Mayor Williams did that, MASN would be on Comcast tonight.

And I’d get to watch the Phillies.

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.

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.

I’m stealing the term “definitional elasticity”

As long as it increases tax-receipts revenue, any logic is acceptable. Increasingly, states apply irrational justifications to tax iTunes and other music download services.

In Kentucky and Washington, state law does allow the taxation of computer software. Washington law defines software as “a set of coded instructions designed to cause a computer…to perform a task,” which tax officials have interpreted to include music, movies and e-books.

“We use that same rationale on other types of files, such as music files or video files,” said Gary Davis, the state’s tax information and education manager. “We view them as similar because they cause some action by a piece of hardware to play them.”

Davis recited aloud the definition of computer software from Washington’s tax law and said he believed that data files, like an executable program, cause a computer to “perform a task.” He said, “I think it’s our policy that that’s exactly what a music file does in order to hear it.”

That definitional elasticity has alarmed online retailers, which say states are interpreting tax laws in ways never envisioned by elected officials or the general public. They would rather see the issue decided openly in state legislatures than behind closed doors by tax agencies.

On what basis could any rational human being interpret an mp3 file to be software that causes a computer to perform a task? The only software that causes a computer to perform a task has an .exe extension. That stands for “executable”. It’s a bizarre notion, I understand, but it’s universal. An mp3 file has an .mp3 extension. Click that without an mp3 player on a computer and the computer will do nothing. Absolutely nothing. An mp3 is data used by a program as a set of instructions to create sound waves through computer speakers. Next, I suppose Mr. Davis will determine that a ball rolling down a hill is being propelled by perpetual motion instead of gravity.

Perhaps the music download tax question is valid. I’m all for as little taxation as possible, but I understand that politicians aren’t reasonable people. At least understand that updating legislation is the way to deal with new situations. Loose reinventing of the same language only cheapens the constitutional basis. Instead, understand that the words mean what the words say.