Monday, February 28, 2005

"Truth" vs. Fogies

In the blue, we have the AARP. In the red, we have USA Next. It's going to be a heart-stopper showdown of a game between them. But who do I root for? Is it too much to wish for a missile to hit the stadium? In a cresendo of political hackdom extremities, the Social Security battle is starting to center on the planned destruction of AARP by ruthless inaccurate and absurd attacks, declaring that their real agenda is gay marriage and to support the Iraqi insurgency somehow. (Hat tip, TP.) USA Next claims AARP does nothing but engage in total liberal activism, and thus is somehow at odds with 38% of its members simply because they claim AARP is liberal and those members say they are conservative. Again, this is based on nothing. It's funny that they didn't seem to have a problem teaming with the "liberal" AARP to pass that budget-buster of a 2003 Medicare Bill that's going to cost dozens of trillions of dollars in a few years. But that's not "liberal", heavens no! Because it was pushed and done by a Republican President it has to, by its very nature, be "conservative!" We all know USA Next is the Swift Boat Vets killers, and we all also know that they're ideologically bankrupt and just about waging Bush's shadow attacks on groups and issues he's too squeamish to attack himself. I HATE and LOATH the AARP, but at the same time I can't get behind someone attacking someone based on a fictitious campaign of gay-baiting and jingoist slogans with no basis in the reality of an organizations stances on anything.

On a completely separate note, I have to respect Halle Berry for actually showing up at the Razzies and taking her Worst Actress in person. She's got ovaries of crystal.

Saturday=Workday!

Sometimes I am dumbstruck by exactly how different people in the Middle East are. Like, for instance, can anyone make sense of this? Iraqis are protesting, that's right, PROTESTING, that they have Saturday off. High School kids went to school on Saturday, in protest that they had it off. I'm about to have a James F moment here (brilliant fisking to the anti-snow day editorial provided by Senor C).

What the fuck, chuck, what the what the fuck? Militants are threatening people with death if they take Saturday off. Students are vowing to continue their sit-ins. People are irate the West is trying to impose its principles of taking Saturday off. Huh? Come again? What is wrong with these people? And I bet you can't guess what the logic is for why they're angry? Is it because they want to work? No, that doesn't seem to be the case. Is it because Saturday is just a bad day for them? Well, you're getting warm. Is it because they are anti-Semitic? BINGO!!!!

That's right, you heard it right. They're upset because Saturday is synonymous with Shomer (fucking) Shabbas. Since it's the Jewish Sabbath, the Iraqis in question want to work and go to the school that day just to stick it to the Zionists. Give me a break.

Hillary v. Biden

One of my biggest fears for 2008 is Hillary Clinton winning the Democratic nomination. I think she is too polarizing and will not get enough support from the moderate voters to win the presidency. I know, people said the same thing about President Bush. I think the difference is, moderates for some reason trusted him. It could be that I am just not looking forward to what that campaign would look like once she won the nomination. The Republicans would use her as a punching bag, rehashing every little scandal from the 1990s. It would likely turn into the most negative Presidential election in our history – which is definitely saying something. To be honest though, talk of Hillary as the leading candidate right now doesn’t mean a whole lot this far away from the election. An article in the Washington Post admits that by comparing who was leading in 2001 for a possible 2004 run (Gore, Bradley, and Hillary Clinton). At this point, the leaders in the poll are all there because of name recognition alone.

If I had to decide today who to support for the Democratic nomination in 2008, it would be Senator Joseph Biden. He is one of the few Democrats that I know of with real foreign policy expertise; he has served as both the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His interviews and speeches show that his policies are well thought-out (as opposed to the much of the rest of the Democratic party right now, which is spending its political capital opposing Bush instead of clearly thinking out policy options). He is one of the few Democrats not pushing for a quick exit from Iraq. Instead he is calling for better coalition building and more help to ensure a decent outcome. The Democrats desperately need a candidate with experience and sound judgment when it comes to foreign policy – and I can’t think of a better example.

Putin Puts Out

In a complete and total blow to ineffective non-proliferation intiatives everywhere, Russia, after sort-of unilaterally deciding that there was no threat of Iran getting nukes (because you know, admitting would mean a lot less money selling them nuclear stuff), has decided to sign a new nuclear deal with Iran. Highly enriched uranium would be sent directly from Siberia to Iran, with the irrelevant minor caveat Russia would take the spent fuel (plutonium to make bombs) back. Since they're so good at tracking their nuclear materials, I completely trust this little assurance. . .only the opposite. Even if Russia somehow tracked, took back, and safely stored the Plutonium componenet, there's still possibilities to make weapons from the enriched uranium itself.

As for the nuts and bolts of the deal, it involves 10 tons of uranium, and 800 million US smackers in contract money to the Russians. that's a load of cash. And it's how much in dollars our anger means to Vladimir Putin.

Superbug Sighting

They call it the "Health Club Superbug," a disease that used to be found only in hospitals and clinics where all non-resistant bacteria were wiped out. But not anymore, of one note is a 28-year-old woman who died of advanced pneumonia from MRSA that was otherwise healthy and not hospitalized recently at all. Now it's spreading, especially amongst young and otherwise healthy adults in common changing areas and other communal areas(gyms and health clubs an obvious example). The name for it is MRSA - Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus. It used to be concentrated in the elderly, but hospital deaths from it have doubled in the UK in the past year. In the US, it has begun to spread like wildfire amongst prison populations and is also appearing in athletic facilities.

This is yet another example of how much we're reaping what we sowed with antibiotics. MRSA can be killed by non-typical antibiotics, but eventually the artificial selection-based microevolution caused by antibiotics will truly start producing bugs that nothing can wipe out. Hospitals and facilities are starting to crack down on overuse of antibiotics, but we still see constant proliferation of antibiotic soaps everywhere that cause the same things. Soap and hot water kills most diseases, by splashing antibiotics into all of our hand soaps and wipes we're simply adding to the danger of producing more of these superbugs, and having them get to the point where they chop down even the youngest and healthiest with advanced pneumonia.

Newsflash: Scorsese Shafted Again

First off, Best Oscar Coverage goes to the liveblogging Defamer. . .seriously some of this is the funniest I've ever read. I especially like the part where they predict that if Don Cheadle somehow won "bloody salamanders in clown makeup" would rain from the sky.

Martin Scorsese went Oscar-less again last night, in a triumphant display of why good and historical film directors never get any real credit, even as everyone ripping them off does (notice he lost when he directed Raging Bull, and Clint Eastwood wins with another boxing flick). Five times nominated no awards. Not to say he's in bad company, because Hitchcock never won a single trophy. I would dare to put Scorsese above Hitchcock, though. Where would American film be without its Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Last Temptation of Christ, or Goodfellas? Even his lesser films like Bringing Out the Dead, Casino, and Cape Fear are worthy of stellar recognition and were creative directing feats.

Then there's the lesser ones, like Michael Jackson's "Bad" video (seriously). And of course there was the embarassment of Shark Tale, but every career has its ups and downs. The man will win a lifetime achievement award eventually, that's for sure, but it's sad that his movies are constantly edged out by lesser ilk easily forgotten. The Aviator wasn't his greatest movie, but it was damn good. For one, it avoided the typical dragging, droning, absurdly long scenes that usually weigh Scorsese's movies down. It was light, constantly moving and that was an improvement over his style. It'll be interesting to see what Scorsese does with his next flick, a return to mafia-type fare with the Departed.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Janet and Ellen?

Ah the joys of idle dicking around on the Web and blogging the frivolous fruits thereof:

Love Calculator results

These are the results of the calculations by Dr. Love:

Janet Reno loves Ellen DeGeneres


89 %

Dr. Love thinks that a relationship between Janet Reno and Ellen DeGeneres has a very good chance of being successful, but this doesn't mean that you don't have to work on the relationship. Remember that every relationship needs spending time together, talking with each other etc.

Broder, SMASH!!!

The Biggest Loser (aka the Bush Budget), brought to you by the Incredible Broder.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Take Two

It seems that my previous post was a little premature. Although Hezbollah was suspected at first, they have since denied involvement in the attack and Islamic Jihad has claimed responsibility. This situation looks a lot worse since Islamic Jihad is saying they are planning more attacks. It doesn’t seem like the militant groups are going to disarm peacefully. Abbas will likely find that he has two choices; one is to keep the situation going as it is, letting the militant groups ruin the peace process at every step. The other choice will be to forcefully disarm the militant groups, which he has said he is not willing to do. I have thought for a long time that the only real solution from the Palestinian’s side is a civil war, with the security forces fighting to disarm the terrorist groups. As unfortunate as that may be, it would send an unmistakable message to the rest of the Middle East – that the moderates are willing to fight for control of their destiny against the extremists.

From additional commentary, check out Thomas Friedman's column in Sunday's NY Times.

Hezbollah Not Welcome Here

Waking up on a Saturday to the news of the first terrorist attack against Israeli civilians in almost four months is depressing. But I think it proves that one of the biggest obstacles to a real and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine is the situation in Lebanon. With the support of the Syrian government, the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah can launch attacks against Israel, stalling the peace process. Palestine needs to do everything in its power to move this process forward. And while their own militant groups appear to be quiet for now, they should take this time to root out Hezbollah. If not, Israel will have every excuse to react to attacks like these, which will start a downward spiral resulting in the Palestinian militant groups ending their “cooling off period”. It’s bad enough that the Palestinian security forces don’t have control over Palestinian militants, but it is unacceptable to allow militants from Lebanon to ruin this chance for peace.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Move to a red state, get tangled in more red tape

The more I wrestle with leaving the Free State for the Old Dominion, a state allegedly proud of smaller government, lower taxes, and less intrusion into the lives of its citizens---Sic Semper Tyrannis should say it all, right--- the more I find I'd be trading slightly higher taxes but less onerous red tape from the Maryland MVA for more red tape from both the state and local g-men in Virginny.

What is up with these damned ANNUAL inspections of an automobile? In Maryland we just do inspections for sale and resale.

What's up with registering not just with the state, but with the locality, and placing an ugly ass sticker in my windshield? Isn't it enough for you people that I move to your hellhole of a state, now I have to pay a car tax and put a decal in my window to let you know I let you bilk me out of more of my hard-earned money?

I have to do all this crap within 30 DAYS of moving to Virginia? In Maryland they give new resident til 60 DAYS, no annual inspections for the vehicle are required, and we sure as hell don't have a car tax which requires people to spend another hour in line dealing with a city,county, or town bureaucracy to get a friggin windshield sticker.

In Maryland, our windshields are pristine and sacrosanct, and our dashboards are topped by radar detectors. Another contraption your liberty-hating pols and po-pos despise.

In short, I don't know if I want to move to a state run by jackbooted stormtroopers who run me off the road for refusing to bow down to the onerous demands of the almighty Commonwealth.

In other words, I fart in Virginia's general direction.

Senseless Criticism: Wheels of Steel

Turntablism is tightly interwound with the history of hip hop, but of course the sucka MCs are always the ones getting all the credit. With few exceptions (RJD2, DJ Shadow, Madlib), DJs that strike out on a pure instrumental path have been largely ignored. At least in commercial terms and by records sales. Where they haven't been ignored is in their roles as record producers and in the ears of other artists, who seek to emulate their experimental feets on the wheels of steels. Turntablism is ascending, and its experimental edge is pushing musical composers, producers, and rappers to new soundscapes and styles.

In this vein, I would like to talk about three amazing compilations of experimental turntablism, all come into my possession within the past month. The first one, Deep Concentration 2: Deeper Concentration, and the second, Deep Concentration 3, all come from the Deep Concentration Series put out by Om Records. This series oversaw a blending of hip hop and other electronic music forms that produced an unbalanced and exciting pan-turntablist experience. Deeper opens up with Sole And JC's tribute to Grandmaster Flash's "Wheels of Steel," the meandering "What It Is" that asks a question about exactly what the state of the music they play is around the turn of the century. After that, it bounds into one of my favorite tracks, the oozy "Interstellar Hydroponics" that trips through a fast breakbeat and warbling synthesizers (with the token clips from old scifi movies). Aside from that, there's the obnoxious thunder of DJ Ming and FS's "Madhattan Bound," combining loud drums and scratches with old big band jazz samples in something that sounds like Soul Coughing's "Bus To Beelzebub" with random Jazzstep Drum N' Bass interludes. The real treat is DJ Spooky dropping some illbient into the album with occasional collaborator Organized Konfusion on "Murder by Syntax." It's an MC and a DJ, but it ends up sounding like free form poetry with alarms in the background. Deeper is full of stumbling rhythms, light synths, Spaceballs samples and abrasiveness. That's precisely what makes it an exciting and unpredictable record.

Deep 3 plucks a different string. It's smooth opening track "The Human Condition" is full of laidback jazz samples from marimbas and xylophones and moves in a suite like format between several different mellow sound textures, breaking really briefly into a swift drum n bass section that moves into rapid, funky synth-pop. While Deeper explored the ground of Illbient well, Deep 3 is more about fusion of DnB, World, and Downtempo styles into hip hop. Deep 3 completes a loop between Hip Hop and DnB that has been further explored in the British style of Grime. It builds with Radar's "Antimatter," to collapse into the creepy world beat of Musaics' "Babylon Rhythm Exorcism." Other highlights are Planet Asia's relaxing "Fresno State of Mind", and the hyperweird Space Travelers' electrofunk piece "Buggin Out" that recalls Afrika Bambaataa's recent effort. My true favorite of the piece is the rough and raw "Cynicism" of Highlanders, made totally with highly distorted scratching DnB fuzzy bass that moves through an entire DnB cycle, wrapping what would normally be 6 highly boring DnB songs into one rapidly mutating, eclectic DnB suite. Deep 3, while just as diverse as Deeper, definitely has more of a DnB feel to it, but the Hip Hop influence of obscenely deft scratching washes the tired genre of DnB with new life.

Lastly, there's Constant Elevation, from Astralwerks, that absolutely wonderful record company that gives creative people entirely too huge production budgets. While unrelated to Deeper and Deep 3, its mission statement is "bridging the gap between hip hop and electronica," so its feel of experimental turntablism is akin. El-P drops in on the opener with the grinding downtempo of "Day After the Day After," followed by one of two (and the better) appearance of Omid with the middle-eastern/classically influenced psychosis of "Schrodinger's Cat." Freestyle Fellowship and Peanut Butter Wolf Plus Madlib also make excellent contributions, but basically don't provide anything more groundbreaking than their usual stuff. This Kid Named Miles (that's really the guy's DJ name), gives some great old school, big beat funk flavor that smacks the crap out of anything Fatboy Slim ever accomplished with "Slight Amnesia." The biggest surprise (well, not if you listen to Blackalicious records), is Chief X-Cel's inspirational, symphonic closer track "Multitude." Constant Elevation is less experimental than the Deep Concentration series, but that makes it a ton more accessible, and it features a lot more prominent artists.

These three compilations are a great introduction to turntablism in general, and provide a lot of takes on its possibilities. They also showcase a lot of directions the hip hop and electronic underground are headed in. While the weaker and less open-minded listener will probably want to try out Constant Elevation, Deeper and Deep 3 will definitely dazzle anyone. It's just a question of whether your musical mind can take the sensory assault.

Obscene (adj) - Repulsive; disgusting

When is a person’s name obscene? When it is the name of a New York Yankee. At least that is according to the owners of the Fleet Center in Boston. A Yankees fan has won the bidding to name the Fleet Center for a day, and has decided to name it the Derek Jeter Center. Fleet Center officials will decide today whether to accept the name or not.

Canada - a smarter military?

What does it say when Canada seems more aware of the changing nature of modern warfare than the mighty United States? Canada, despite strong pressure from the U.S., has declined to participate in the operation of the missile defense system. Our most recent military experiences have involved either peacekeeping or regime change (Kosovo, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq). There is little indication that we are at risk of a ballistic missile attack like we were during the Cold War. It is remarkable that Canada understands this better than we do.

Left, Left, Left, Right, Left

The Debate Link's David Schraub frets about how ironic and incoherent the political spectrum has become, and how, traditionally in thinking himself a "liberal" that the liberal notions in some ways are becoming centrist. His commenters also have some interesting takes on the matter. Liberal, as a word and term, has become so shaded with what the right-wing has painted it as that it's become a cartoon that doesn't even resemble the political reality of the people it was originally meant to chastise. Centrism also has a weird sort of analogy because a lot of extremists on both sides masquerade as "centrists" while the wingnuts of left and right each have their own vilified connotation of what a centrist looks like and why they must be destroyed or forced to convert to the other party. While conservatism is. . .? (It ain't GWB).

I've been filled with the same thoughts lately. Reading Russell Kirk's The Conservative Mind, it becomes more and more clear that we are now involved in some sort of weird makeover of the conservative party as Kirk describes happening throughout the history of intellectual conservatism. A lot of the more "liberal" interventionist foreign policies have been adopted by Bush, as well as an apparent acceptance of big powerful federal government, also "liberal." Bush also loves democracy and wants it spread all over the world, which is also "liberal." As Evil Glenn also laments, his mouth dripping with the blood of slaughtered bunnies, right and left has collapsed into almost a meaningless distinction of pro or anti-war (that's especially true on the left side. Anyone who was for the war is automatically consider right). My point is a point articulated again and again, and especially by Pat Buchanan. Bush's Neoconservatism is a far cry from the traditional conservatism. This collapses the idea of what is right. The very things "liberals" used to be lambasted for and mocked are actual becoming central tenets of the Republican "conservative" party. Therefore, embracing things that were traditionally liberal, as David Schraub has, makes you look more centrist, or conservative. Russell Kirk dredges up numerous examples of this in The Conservative Mind, speaking of how Disraeli turned his back on traditional conservatism when he accepted the notion of a wider voting franchise. Also, as John Adams turned pessimistic about the notion of Providence and religion in history and government, he also took a step away and started to embrace liberal ideas. Kirk, being a paleocon that puts Pat Buchanan to shame, of course thought this was a negative thing and indicated a "rout" of Conservatives at each time.

Meanwhile, in the Democratic "liberal" party, you have a lot of what opposition minority parties do. They act contrarian. In opposing the values of "conservative" Bush (which are actually liberal), they come up with "liberal" counteracts (which are actually conservative), in arguing for things like isolationism/realism in foreign policy and the balancing of the budget. The reason this seems so disingenuous on the part of "liberals" in the Democratic party is that they're taking "conservative" positions they never did before. And, when you throw Libertarianism in (both economic and civil), you really blow the whole thing to hell.

Why did I write this abstract screed? Because I think, as Jon Stewart stated on the Daily Show once, that nowadays the political struggles are not the old right v. left contest. It's the moderates vs. the extremists. There is no intelligible and recognizable left (they've degenerated into fascists of their own), and no recognizable right (who've turned suddenly liberal and want to spread the gospels of democracy throughout the world, all while expanding federal power). So let's just drop this whole left right thing, because it doesn't make any damn sense anyway. it's all about specific issues, and where you stand on those. Are you a Truman Democrat? A Reagan Democrat? A Bush Republican? A Naderite Fool? Those are at least more helpful and specific gang-tags, if you insist on wearing one.

IRA & Sinn Fein

It is obvious our foreign policy is opposed to terrorism, right? We are actively seeking out al-Qaeda, we refused to negotiate with Yasar Arafat, and we did not lift sanctions on Libya until they renounced their terrorist ways. But what is our real policy towards the IRA? Many Irish-Americans have a soft spot in their heart for the IRA and Sinn Fein. After all, who wouldn’t be happy to see a unified Ireland? But I would hope the events of September 11, 2001 would teach all of us that there are better means to what might be a noble end. The IRA has refused to completely disarm along the lines of the 1998 peace accord, and has allegedly been involved in a recent bank robbery. Although their popularity is declining, it would be nice to see some real international pressure calling on the IRA to finally disarm.

Snow Excuses

Courtesty of a gutsy op-ed from El Wapo. Not for the faint-hearted (i.e. Evil Glenn).

The Walmart Economy

Professor Bainbridge attacks Walmart, from a Conservative position and with a whole lot of sound economics and logic on his side. His position in a nutshell, 1) small business are valuable in that they boost entrepreneurship, and Walmart crushes both, 2) Walmart is often recipient of large subsidies (tax and zoning breaks), that give it an unfair advantage over pre-existing businesses, and 3) Walmart undermines tradition, community, and aesthetics by the economic changes it brings in its wake of shuttering existing businesses.

This is definitely what has always troubled me about the giant. Bainbridge, after pointing out all this, of course, just states that local government should withdraw Walmart's subsidies but avoid the temptation to legislate against it. I think, for one, the backlash to Walmart has begun and is building. Not only is the store ugly, a terrible shopping experience, and often has bad selection, but it's wanton and callous treatment of its workers is unsettling to the public at large. This negative image will take care of Walmart's expansion faster than anything else.

The Heckler

Smash unveils his activities in endless heckling and opposition to ubercrazy left group ANSWER. It's a beautiful thing. While I was opposed to the Iraq War, and I have attended a couple of general anti-Bush protests and rallies, I draw the line at the loopiness of ANSWER, and anyone, right or left, who exposes them for the frauds and lunatics they are is doing a public service in my eyes.

Lonely Old Ladies, Beware

In a blow to crazy old ladies living in rundown houses all by themselves, a Pennsylvania judge has drawn the line. 32 cats is just too many cats. As a matter of fact, the judge decided more than 6 cats is too many cats. Now a family has to find some magical way to unload 26 cats on other people within 30 days or the judge is going to rule them in contempt of court. What I want to know: What all the cats names are! Anyone who owns 32 cats has to be crazy on their own, but I'm willing to bet there's more eccentric ones than "Ms. Whiskerson" in there. Also, SWEET CRACKERS how can this family claim that all these cats have regular visits to the vet? You know they're lying there unless they're billionaires.

Brainsuckers?

Game over man. . .

It appears that they're starting to find a more than unsettling new species of squid, fishermen are seeming to label them "head-squids" as their tentacles tend to be lodged in brains. Gotta love the ocean.

To Those About to Ralph, We Salute You

Yum.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

One step forward... then what?

I was getting ready to write about my optimism regarding recent events in the Middle East. But as I read the articles more, I realized that it is way too soon to get excited. A lot can happen after these important first steps.

In Palestine, the parliament approved the 24-member cabinet. The cabinet, in a break from tradition, is made up of experts who are highly qualified in the area they will be overseeing. Arafat had in the past given cabinet positions to the most loyal and not the most qualified. The appointment for interior minister is an ex-general who will have the job of attempting to reign in the militants. This all sounds promising, except that Abbas has been clear that he will avoid confrontation with militants. And despite recent progress between Israel and Palestine, one attack from any of the militant groups could break the peace process.

In Lebanon, citizens have been publicly calling for answers in the assassination of outspoken oppositionist to Syrian occupation, Rafik Hariri. There have also been very public calls within Lebanon for the withdrawal of Syrian troops. But the most recent headline is that Syria has said they will withdraw troops from Lebanon according to the 1989 agreement. Of course they didn’t say it would be a complete withdrawal, citing the need to give the Lebanese military time to fill the power vacuum to maintain security in the region. That argument sounds a little familiar. I of course understand the difference, we are truly committed to a free and democratic Iraq, whereas Syria wants to maintain control over Lebanon to protect from an Israeli invasion. The public calls for the removal of Syrian troops by the citizens of Lebanon, and the acceptance of the Syrian government to begin withdrawal seems promising. But Syria will almost certainly drag its feet as it “withdraws” and could even decide to create insecurity there as an excuse to stay longer.

Finally, in Saudi Arabia, much has been made of the recent elections. I was very optimistic at first. Although women were not allowed to vote, the elections are only considered an experiment, and the elected council will still share power with appointed officials and be subordinate to royal rule, I thought there is no way the Saudi government could stop the spread of democracy once it started. But the more I read, the less optimistic I became. According to The Washington Post article, there is still political persecution.

For some other democracy advocates in the kingdom, however, hope for an early spring of political change has been chilled by the continuing prosecutions in Riyadh of three imprisoned advocates of a written constitution for the kingdom. The men have been charged with holding unauthorized political meetings and distributing unauthorized petitions, according to several people involved in their case.

This just seems to me like another attempt by the Saudi government to throw the U.S. a bone. Like their promises to help in the fight against terrorism after the embassy bombings in Africa and the bombing of the USS Cole, these "experiments" seem a little hollow. Even if the people can rise up and demand democracy, the article does a good job of pointing out that many of the people elected would be strongly anti-American and supportive of a holy war in Iraq.

What is the lesson then? I will remain guardedly optimistic. We have some positive steps forward, and I can only hope that they don’t result in two steps back.

The Cosby Debate

Although I am not going to give my views on Bill Cosby and the discussions that have started since he has been talking openly about what he sees as problems in the African-American community, I do hope these discussions continue. The Washington Post has a very thorough article about both Cosby’s talks as well as recent sexual misconduct accusations against him. Since Bill Cosby seems to have the star power to both attract an audience and spark debate, I hope the accusations do not prevent him from continuing his talks for too long. Any problem in any community needs to be discussed and debated – whether or not what Cosby says is accurate.

Also, I caught one of his old talks recently on TV. And I noticed that there were things he was saying that should resonate to all parents, regardless of racial or ethnic background. One such example was when Cosby talked about parents coming to a school because of a discipline problem with their child. His opinion was that parents should come to the school ready and willing to believe the teachers and administrators and not necessarily defending their children. He said that children will lie to their parents to avoid punishment. I have heard that a big problem in all schools now is that teachers don’t always get support from the home – children are not always punished for poor discipline in school. Teachers need the support of the parents to maintain discipline in the classroom to provide an environment conducive to education. Anyway, my point is that all parents should be listening to what Bill Cosby has to say. He may be talking specifically to the African-American community, but just like his comedy in the past, what he says rings true to all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Togo's Gnassingbe Needs To Go

The saga of Togo is starting to reach a fever pitch. Togo is a tiny country in Africa whose precedent could mean a lot to the Continent. Maybe the future of democracy there. The story sounds familiar. What's unfamiliar is the reaction. Gnassingbe's father ruled until his death earlier this month, with an iron fisted and no hope of democracy. It was in the constitution, however, that upon his death actual elections would be held. The military decided otherwise, and installed Gnassingbe, the son, in the dead father's place immediately. The Parliament decided to rubber stamp it and amended the constitution to allow for 2008.

Some tin pot dictator's son ignores the law and comes to power in a military coup. Big deal, right? This sort of thing happens all the time. Well, apparently the greater community of Africa has decided to draw the line somewhere, and that somewhere is through Togo. Several Western African countries, Togo's crucial trading partners, have already slapped sanctions down. The African Union has even booted Togo, suspending them from all activities until they address the problem. Gnassingbe's brothers are begging them to back off, but the general consensus in Africa seems to be "enough is enough." Gnassingbe still has the reins of power though, and it takes a lot more than diplomatic poopooing and sanctions to get anything done. But maybe democracy really is moving somewhere with such a widespread negative reaction to this kind of power grab.

And there was great rejoicing

Proof that there is a God, and He is merciful.

Blink-182 Goes on 'Indefinite Hiatus'

NEW YORK (AP) - Blink-182 is taking a break _ and it could be a long one. The San Diego-based trio is on "indefinite hiatus" and "there is no set plan for the band to begin working together again," Geffen, their record company, said in a statement Tuesday.

Blink-182 has released seven albums of new-school punk over the last decade, including a greatest hits disc. Geffen cited the band members' families as the reason for the break.

"For over a decade, Blink-182 has toured and done nonstop promotion all while trying to balance relationships with family and friends," the statement said.

All three band members, Travis Barker, Thomas DeLonge and Mark Hoppus, are married and have one child each.

The door was left slightly ajar for a reunion, though, as the statement concluded, "no one knows what tomorrow may bring."

Where Are They Now? (This Ain't No VH1 Special)

Have you ever wondered who's who in Al Qaida, what their positions are, and how many of them have been captured and/or killed? Well here it is! Honestly, I thought I knew a fair amount about Al Qaida, but obviously I didn't. I wonder if the CIA even has this much information. It goes from the "board of directors" to the "inner circle" to the "financial committee" to the "diplomatic corps." It even lists the cells and plotters involved in recent attacks and what their status and locations are as well. (Hat tip, to the indispensable Smash)

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

MCPS in the news again

There is a case before the US Supreme Court that will have a major impact on schools across the country – and it originated in Montgomery County. Parents of a Montgomery County student asked for special education programs for their son. MCPS offered an Individual Education Program (IEP) outlining the special education services he would be provided. The parents were not satisfied with the first middle school MCPS wanted to enroll him in because they thought class sizes were too large, and turned down the second school MCPS suggested to enroll him in as unsatisfactory. The parents then enrolled their son in a private school and sued to have the tuition paid by MCPS. The administrative law judge ruled that the burden of proof rested on the plaintiff and ruled in favor of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). The US District Court reversed the decision and ruled that MCPS must prove that they are meeting the requirements to provide free appropriate education. MCPS appealed to the US Supreme Court, which has agreed to hear the case.

What is at issue here is where the burden of proof should rest. In our current legal system the plaintiff has the burden of proof. But if the US Supreme Court upholds the decision of the US District Court, it would be making an exception, forcing the defendant, MCPS, to prove that they are meeting the obligations of the law. That could be a dangerous first step down a slippery slope where the burden of proof would rest on defendants in certain situations. I think the Supreme Court will avoid this pitfall and rule in favor of MCPS, and I think they would be wise to do so. Parents can still bring school districts to court as long as they can show why the school district is not providing services they are responsible for. The Clinton administration weighed in on the side of the parents, but the Bush administration has yet to take a side. I have a feeling, based on recent legislation to decrease the number of lawsuits, that the Bush administration will come out on the side of MCPS knowing that if defendants have the burden of proof in any situation, the number of lawsuits will certainly increase.

Calling All School Marms

Yes, it's British day! For some odd reason I've decided to have all posts on Britain this Wednesday. Call it convenience because I only have to read two newspapers. England is prepping a massive overhaul of its education system. You can recognize some echoes of NCLB (Or All Children Left Behind, should you prefer that name). Indy has a nice roundup of quotes from Kelly, the Education Minister:

"Ms Kelly said she would 'transform' vocational training, introducing new specialised diplomas and asking employers to agree to their content.

Specialised diplomas would be available in 14 subject areas at levels 1, 2 and 3 and would replace the current system of around 3,500 separate qualifications.

'Historically our education system has produced a high achieving elite, while failing the majority,' she warned.

'In today's global economy, in which our national competitiveness increasingly depends on the skills of each and every person, we cannot afford so much talent to go to waste.

'We cannot afford to let intellectual snobbery leave us with a second class, second best vocational education system,' she said."


Britain's efforts include moving away from a more elite-driven education system, the typical European model, to a more broad-based and increasingly vocational approach. She even plans to move beyond the patented A-level to perhaps A (multiple plus)-levels of achievement. Also, students will be able to start mixing college educations and work in with their classes starting at age 14, to combat the heavy problem of people dropping out (or the leave rate, in the English terminology). It should be interesting, and resembles a lot of pushes in the US to provide more vocational training and strengthen community colleges as an effort to rebuild the fading lower middle-classes that have been hardest hit by globalization and the migration to a service economy.

Rudie Can't Fail

I've always been a huge fan of the Clash. A lot of people know this about me. I compare practically every rock band and evaluate them based on how much they emulate the Clash. They were rough, raw, and wrote complicated music. Calling them punk is practically a crime in my mind. But according Stephen Metcalf at Slate, they were also the last great moment of alliance between the working class and the middle class, not just musically but socially.

Taxman

In Britain, they are seriously considering instituting a chewing gum tax. At first glance, this might remind you of Seattle's flirtation with the latte tax, but there's an actual motive behind it besides just raising money for universal pre-K. What it all hinges on is a bill in the House of Commons that would change the classification of gum to litter. Quote from the Telegraph:

"Under the Cleaner Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill, currently being debated in the House of Commons, chewing gum will be classified as litter, paving the way for the introduction of on-the-spot fines for those who are caught discarding their gum in the street. This will also increase the pressure on councils to remove it."

Considering one of the alternatives is somehow forcing the Wrigley corporation to pay part of the cleanup costs resulting from this re-classification, (and who knew there are actually 935 million packs of gum sold a year just in Britain?) or forcing biodegradable regulations on chewing gum, perhaps a gum tax to finance it's pickup doesn't seem so crazy or unreasonable.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Small Learning Communities

The idea of schools-within-schools has been growing steadily in the last 10 years (especially after the tragedy at Columbine). The basic idea is that a high school with enrollment over 1,200 students can receive a federal grant to turn a large high school into smaller schools or academies. Each grade will be broken into a number of smaller sections, and each section will usually share the same teachers. It gives big high schools a smaller feel and allows teachers to make lesson plans that are related, as well as the ability to work together to help under-performing students. In this model, students are less likely to slip through the cracks. CNN has an interesting article about Wheaton High School in Montgomery County.

Montgomery County Public Schools has the Downcounty Consortium(which includes Wheaton HS), a group of five high schools with the small learning community model. Each school has a number of academies in different educational areas (including information technology, biosciences and medicine, the humanities, and many more). Students in the Downcounty Consortium have choice about which school they would like to attend based on which academy they would like to be a part of. I have had a chance to visit these schools and it really is an exciting program. Although it is too early to judge the results of the program in Montgomery County, there have been positive results from other programs across the country. As discussion continues on President Bush’s budget, this needs to remain a priority. These models can help decrease class size and give large schools a smaller feel. Larger schools are most often in urban areas (or suburban areas) with students that are most at need. Let’s hope Congress realizes how important this grant is and continues funding it.

I Love The Smell Of Nuts In the Morning

Anyone who was in DC this weekend probably saw the CPAC shenanigans. I know I did, along with the anime convention going on across the street. It was hard to tell who to label more disturbing, the CPACers, or the kids in Sailor Moon costumes. 5th and I saw a particularly sizable lot of them go into the movie Constantine, which I thought was pretty decent. If anything, I was wondering what CPAC people were doing in a demon-movie. Now, I wonder even more. Ryan Sager at Flack Central Station has a critical piece on the 2005 CPAC. (Hat tip: Sullivan, who is taking a sizable break from faux semi-retirement today). In it, he truly fears about the hijacking of the GOP by the true nuts and the sidelining of the libertarian types who are their fountain of good ideas.

Revealing quote:

"Conservatism can't survive by religious extremism and tax cuts alone.

There needs to be something more than Ann Coulter's substanceless ranting and faux-provocative calls for a "new McCarthyism." There needs to be something more than immigration opponents comparing Mexicans to burglars stealing American jobs. There needs to be something more than treating the Log Cabin Republicans like a punchline conservatives would rather forget.

But that something wasn't present at CPAC."


By the picture Sager paints, they've got their work cutout for them. But unlike the Democrats, at least they have a party right now. Divisive and imperfect as it is, it's better than shambles.

Don’t be a snob – watch NASCAR

I never understood the excitement about auto-racing or NASCAR until now. I couldn’t understand how a race could attract 180,000 or more fans (Daytona attracted over 200,000) and why it is the fastest growing sport in the United States. I spend the better part of my Sunday afternoon watching what turned out to be a very exciting sporting event. Jeff Gordon won his third Daytona 500 in one of the most exciting finishes in NASCAR history (you might not believe that claim from me, but the whole racing world has been saying it). Tony Stewart dominated much of the race, leading 107 laps, but lost the lead to Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on the 197th lap. Jeff Gordon passed him on the 198th lap, and was able to hold off Dale Jr. and Kurt Busch for the last 4 laps.

Any sport, when boiled down to its most basic elements can sound ridiculous. Some say baseball is slow and tedious with each pitch followed by minutes of boredom as the pitcher walks around the mound and the batter takes 20 practice swings. But any baseball fan knows that baseball is much more than that. It is the duel between the pitcher and the batter where even a good batter will lose 7 times out of 10. Fans know there is something poetic about a double play and majestic about a perfect game. NASCAR is no different. At the base level, it is cars making left turns for 6 hours with the occasional crash mixed in. But it is so much more than that. It is 40 drivers, inches away from each other, going 200 miles an hour. In a matter of seconds, anything can happen. The leader for most of the race, can lose his top spot in a blink. And on any given day, anyone can win the race. But on most days, your top drivers are at the top of the field, driving for their shot of glory. Give NASCAR a chance, and you’ll soon find the race is much more exciting than any crash.

Eminent Domain (Screw You, Taxpayer!)

Eminent Domain, or the right of local governments to tinker with people's property, has come under fire lately, as in with affordable housing. Now, on the opposite side (unaffordable housing), it's coming under another legal assault. Eminent domain has been long used by governments to seize property and consolidate, usually for use in development projects (clear the way for condos, mini-malls, and other urban and suburban terrors). It's been argued for a long time that this is allowable under Article 5 of the Constitution so long as the government offers just compensation for the property. In other words, local governments can't abridge anyone's property rights without giving them something in return. This has been a huge issue with regard to affordable housing, zoning, assessment/appraisement, code enforcement, and of course the subject here, economic development.

Picture New London, Conn., complete with a nice lower-middle class neighborhood with stable land values and a view overlooking the Thames. Donald Trump (or maybe one of his failed apprentices) decides it's a good idea to build a bunch of insanely expensive condos and other such fiddle faddle on this neighborhood. He leans on his pal the mayor to begin using eminent domain, and the notion of private property goes out the window completely. The city simply begins seizing and condemning people's homes, offering them the assessed value of their homes (which is often, as 5th and I can both testify from being involved in some of these matters, a complete farce), and assembling them into a huge chunk to later resell to the developer. So the residents of New London sue. While few except the most libertarian of cranks would dispute that cities should have some rights to do this (otherwise roads would never be built and general development would almost prove impossible), it clearly is abused in the name of neverending gentrification and to the devaluation of the concept of property rights at all. I say good for the residents of New London. The question is. . .will DC residents do the same to oppose the inevitable abuses of eminent domain that will have to occur to build the new stadium?

The Meltdown Continues

As the Virginia General Assembly gears up, the constant transportation crisis is again dominating the agenda. At issue: how to spend the $1.2 Billion dollar surplus. Essentially, transit has already spoken for most of it. Even with the surplus, Virginia's financial health is still in doubt, especially over the scare last year of Virginia losing it's Triple-A bond rating because of financially unsustainability. Gov. Warner (D), again outRepublicaning the Republicans, is warning against adding any new programs to the budget because of the surplus, saying that Virginia's state budget cannot take any new financial liabilities on.

It's good that these issues are being brought up right now. Virginia's surplus is a mirage that's going to be eaten up as the state's decrepit interstates and numerous tunnels and bridges start to fall apart, and the explosive population growth continues to put absurdly too many more cars on the road.

Bam, the Sequel (Seriously, Not the Sound Effect)

Iran has been hit by another monster of an earthquake. This one was 6.4 in strength, and even stronger than the Bam disaster from 2003, though the death toll is, as of right now, MUCH lower (230 vs. 23,000). They're projecting an end death toll of 350 right now. Between the Hurricanes, the Tsunami, and now this earthquake it's been a rough six months of natural disasters. Let's see if the U.S. can capitalize on this like we did the 2003 Bam disaster (and make the Iranians refuse aid and look like they're hiding something again).

Cold Turkey

Player vs. Player has always been a great strip, and as someone who has repeatedly tried and failed to kick coffee, and has even failed in attempting to cut down on coffee, this is so true it's painful. "Not having caffeine has split me in two . . . I'm weakening. . .losing my ability to make decisions . . ."

Maryland vs. Virginia tax burdens [revised]

So I've been considering moving to Virginia, closer to my workplace in Alexandria. My commute is a pain, and gas is costly, as is car insurance and the penalties I can incur on my car lease should I decide to not buy the car out of the lease in a few years. So tax rates aren't my only concern. That said, with my tight budget, I have to have a good idea that my take-home pay will be roughly equal to or more than what I'm earning now by moving from Maryland into Virginia to take up residence. What I've found makes it seem not to cost me only $30 more a year in income taxes and save me in sales taxes. I lease a car and am not sure if I am exempt from the car tax.

I'm single with no kids, so let's see:

Using the Maryland and Virginia tax tables available on their respective websites, I arrived at the following tax assessments:

Virginia: $1,266 (taxable income of $26,500-- $29.5k less $3000 deduction)
Maryland: $1,236 (taxable income of $27,100-- $29.5k less $2400 deduction)

So moving across the Potomac will cost me $30 more per year, or a cost of only $2.50 a month or $1.25 per pay period. Easily offset in savings on sales taxes paid, but I'm not sure what my car tax burden would be, if any (I lease from a dealership in Maryland, is that exempt?).

Anyway, this website's information is accurate on Maryland but inaccurate on Virginia (which led my initial post on this matter to be incorrect).

This revised post is more accurate but not a completely accurate accounting of tax savings or increase should I move to the Old Dominion.

So it's not as bad as I initially thought, but I still despise Mark Warner and want that stupid toothy grin wiped off his face.


###

Monday, February 21, 2005

Jane Clayson was just ahead of her time

Jane Who-son, you ask?

Jane Clayson, former co-anchor of CBS's The Early Show.

On February 11, 2000, Clayson incorrectly guessed Reagan as the top placement on a "best president" survey. After guessing "Ronald Reagan," her co-host, Bryant Gumbel went near-ballistic.

Well, she was only five years ahead of her time.

A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll put Reagan on top with 20 percent, followed by Clinton and Lincoln in the mid-teens and then Roosevelt and Kennedy at 12 percent.


Here's the February 2000 exchange which was among the best "Notable Quotables" for Y2K as recorded by the Media Research Center (MRC---for interests of full disclosure, my employer).


Bryant Gumbel


Co-host Bryant Gumbel: "Well, later on this morning we’re going to be talking on this President’s Day about this presidential survey. Who would you think finished first?...Of all the Presidents when they did first to worst. Oh c’mon, you would know."
Clayson: "Ronald Reagan."
Gumbel, dropping his pen: "First?!?!"
Clayson: "Who was it?"
Gumbel: "No! Reagan wasn’t even in the top ten. Abraham Lincoln. Maybe you’ve heard of him."
-- Exchange on CBS’s The Early Show about C-SPAN poll of historians which ranked Reagan 11th, February 21. [95 points]

[also posted to Shepherd's Pie, Web Edition]

As Your Physician I Advise You To. . .

Sadly, surly, strung-out, insane, and yet semi-lovable Hunter S. Thompson took his own life on Sunday night. When I think of Hunter S. Thompson, I will never think of his books, or even the movie "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" (though the part where Gary Busey says "can we have a kiss?" haunts me to this day). I will think of a sketch frm the Conan O'Brian show where Conan was firing automatic weapons with Thompson at his "compound." Then Thompson proceeded to freak out and scream at everyone, at which Conan yelled into the camera "this man was holding a machine gun five minutes ago!" Memories. Nevertheless, Thompson was an innovative man, despite his less-than-admirable use of dangerous psychedelic drugs of all stripes. His style blended journalism, narrative, and literature into a potent concoction, making his stories of non-fiction into more than journalism, but journalism, confessional, and adventure all at once.

No, The OTHER UN Scandal

Lubbers, the High Commissioner for Refuges at the UN, resigned on Sunday. Not over Oil-For-Food, but over one of the many sexual harassment scandals floating around. The Independent has a retrospective on his career, but it appears he was allegedly a serial harasser. This is yet another blow to whatever dignity the UN has left. At least they've exorcised one of their demons.

As a bonus, The Debate Link treads over some thoughts on the UN and Anti-semitism. I think it's a valid point, not so much that the UN is institutionally anti-semitic, but that they have lost the ability of moral judgment. Sponsors of terrorism sit alongside victims of it and carry equal weight.

It Happened One Slow News Day at Census

Look, I'm as much a fan of American cinematic trivia as the next guy, but, honestly, is this worth the time and attention of the press office at the Census Bureau?

To: Feature Reporter

Contact: Rick Reed or Tom Edwards, 301-763-2812, both of the U.S. Census Bureau

WASHINGTON, Feb. 21 /U.S. Newswire/ -- Following is the daily "Profile America" features for Feb. 22 from the U.S. Census Bureau:

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 22: AN HONORED MOVIE

Profile America -- Tuesday, February 22nd. Many movies from the 1930s that were popular at the time are all but forgotten; but one, that was released on this day in 1934 is still enjoyed and rated highly by critics. The movie was It Happened One Night, a screwball romantic comedy directed by Frank Capra, starring Claudette Colbert as a runaway heiress and Clark Gable as a cocky reporter onto a good story. The film was the first to sweep the Academy Awards, winning best picture, director, actor, actress and screenplay. One scene, in which Clark Gable leans on a fence while munching a carrot inspired the creators of Bugs Bunny. In 1934, there were some 11,000 movie theaters across the U.S. Now, that number is just over 5,000.

Profile America is produced by the Public Information Office of the U.S. Census Bureau. These daily features are available as produced segments, ready to air, on a monthly CD or on the Internet at http://www.census.gov (look under the Newsroom" button). For further information, contact Rick Reed, 301-763- 2812; fax: 301-457-3670; or e-mail: reed@census.gov.

http://www.usnewswire.com/

-0-

It just seems like something I'd expect to see sent to the media from the American Film Institute or Turner Classic Movies, not the Census Bureau.

A minimum wage increase for strippers

An excerpt of a chat with a friend of mine on the Hill whom we'll call "TK." Please also note that while this conversation did take place over AIM, the handle I was using at the time was not the one listed here, nor, of course, is TK's handle.


TK (01:49:35): shep

TK (01:49:57): i would like to propose legislation

TK (01:50:19): one class of people has not received a wage increase in several thousand ears

TK (01:50:24): years

TK (01:51:03): strippers have been getting single dollar bills fo too long

TK (01:51:12): it's time to give them 2s

Prince Of Perksia (01:52:21): yes

Prince Of Perksia (01:52:30): good idea

Prince Of Perksia (01:52:32): TK

Prince Of Perksia (01:52:37): you've stumbled onto something brilliant

TK (01:52:39): yes

Prince Of Perksia (01:52:47): a great way to save the $2 bill

Prince Of Perksia (01:53:00): for when you don't want to be chincy and give the stripper a $1

Prince Of Perksia (01:53:13): but you're too cheap to give her a 5-spot

Prince Of Perksia (01:53:27): Jefferson would approve

Prince Of Perksia (01:53:36): and approve heartily

TK (01:54:04): his is bipartisan

TK (01:54:21): wage increase - yay liberal values, supply side economics = less stripping = conservative values

TK (01:54:42): see

TK (01:55:07): dont you see!!!!!!

Prince Of Perksia (01:55:23): yes

Prince Of Perksia (01:55:25): it's brilliant

###

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Cold Medicine Logbooks Nothing to Sneeze At

TULSA -- In the 10 months since Oklahoma pharmacies became the first in the nation to keep popular cold medications behind the counter and require identification to buy them, seizures of illegal methamphetamine labs have fallen by 80 percent, state law enforcement officials say.

Now more than 25 states -- impressed with Oklahoma's success in thwarting small-scale meth production -- are considering similar legislation, in the face of opposition from the pharmaceutical and retail industries. Oregon recently passed a bill, and other states are close behind.

I dunno. I'm all about enforcing the drug laws regarding methamphetamine trafficking and production, and I'm all for aggressive surveillance by cops to do so, but the notion of the government mandating pharmacies keep track of this stuff is something I don't approve of.

The Oklahoma legislation was approved by the legislature after three Oklahoma state troopers were shot and killed by meth users. Customers can buy no more than nine grams -- or about 12 boxes of the drug -- over a 30-day period.

Henry has proposed strengthening the law by linking pharmacy databases so that meth users cannot go from store to store looking for the tablets.

Great, give the government a foot in the door on cold medicine, and it's a matter of time before the state police or the feds push for more authority to surveill what ordinary citizens take as prescription drugs or perhaps monitoring, maybe limiting how much alcohol or cigarettes they purchase in a given month (to prevent supply to minors).

Maybe I'm overreacting, but it seems to me that the anti-Patriot Act crowd should also be worried about this and combatting it, especially given some interest among federal legislators to pursue a similar bill in Congress.

Prosecute the law vigorously and build up a case to take to a judge for a warrant, but Big Brother shouldn't make CVS report to it how many times I buy a given product in a certain month.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Cheney Is A Monkey

The irrepressible Darth:

"We cannot tax our way out of this problem," Cheney said to cheers from some of the administration's core supporters at the CPAC meeting. "We must not increase payroll taxes on American workers. Higher taxes would only buy time and then future Congresses would need to come back and raise taxes again and again on our children and grandchildren."

It's Darth's gap in perspective between his reality and real reality that force Mrs. Cheney to balance the family checkbook.

BTW, Rummy was bitch-slapped yesterday on C-SPAN for the "discrepancies" between the FY06 Defense budget and the Supplemental. He was speechless for a few seconds...SPEECHLESS I tell you. And JCOS Myer didn't fare much better himself.

Pro (Republican for) Life

If you haven't read the new Bacon's Rebellion blog yet, I suggest you do immediately. The comments section provides more interesting fodder for thought than the actual posts, especailly with this group of well-informed Virginia citizens. A beyond salient point made by Bacon's Rebellion founder, Jim Bacon:

"Consider this: Cultural conservatives are associated with certain values and lifestyles that promote childbirth. They oppose abortion. Women are more likely to get married younger, become homemakers, and have more children. The fertility rate of culturally conservative women is significantly higher than it is for liberal women who delay marriage and childbirth in favor of advancing their careers. Let's assume that that the Suzy Homemakers of the world average 2.5 children while the LouAnn Lawyers average 1.5 children. Assuming that children hold values similar to those of their parents, that skews the odds in favor of the cultural conservatives by 5 to 3 with each generation."

I'd be more than shocked if these numbers actually panned out over time. Luckily, for the Dems and Leftys, the liberal-izing effects of higher education takes some of the nonsense mommy and daddy feed to their kids (both on the Left and Right), and encourages them to think for themselves. As long as the Academy continues to be a Liberal's wet dream, the 5-to-3 advantage won't be a major issue.

BUT, in a glimmer of hope for the Right, we are seeing conservative's ramping up efforts at our college campuses. Whether that will actually be a positive long-term development has yet to be seen.

Red Light, Green Light

Is this the end of the Traffic Light Camera era in Virginia? It seems that a committee in the Virginia House of Delegates decided that the red light cameras (intended for use as a deterrent against unsafe driving practices), will no longer be funded past June 30th of the current year. While they’re a liability to those of us with spotty (read: aggressive) driving habits, the red light cameras were little more than an annoyance for most drivers in a hurry. I find it particularly odd that our state delegates would eliminate an aggressive driving deterrent when, just last year, the state passed a bill that doled out some serious punishment to drivers under the influence. So much for a state that supports safer driving practices.

Lessons from Rwanda

I just finished Gourevitch’s book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda. The first thing I can say is the obvious; it is incredibly powerful and emotional. Gourevitch is a great writer and is able to hold your attention as he describes the genocide (both in Rwanda and how the world around it was acting) and the situation after the genocide. He covers the story that Hotel Rwanda is based on, but doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on it. Besides the power of the story itself, Gorevitch gives us a lot to think about.

Every step of the way, we failed Rwanda and we ignored our obligation to stop genocide whenever it happens. We failed to stop Hutu Power’s organized slaughter of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. And after the RPF (an army of Tutsi exiles) invaded Rwanda and formed a new government, the international aid community supported those guilty of genocide in refugee camps. These camps allowed the Hutu groups to avoid justice, organize, and continue to carry out attacks on Tutsis. And following the return of many of the Hutus to Rwanda, we still ignored the violence that continued inside the country between Hutus and Tutsis. Despite all the rhetoric, to this day we continue to ignore violence in Africa.

It is easy to look at the situations in places like Rwanda, Congo, or the Sudan and think that the problems stem from centuries old tribal conflicts. Nothing could be further from the truth. In Rwanda, Hutus and Tutsis were living side-by-side in peace with few outbreaks of violence (in fact, the Hutu/Tutsi distinction, supposedly ethnic, is largely ambiguous). Each outbreak of violence was not random, but organized by the government. And the genocide of 1994 was highly organized. The government, using the radio, broadcast orders to kill, including giving the names of the targets. Moderate Hutus that were against the Hutu Power government were killed, and people who at first would not kill were threatened and forced to kill.

Finally, I am reminded of Hannah Arendt’s book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. I read this in an undergraduate political philosophy class. Hannah Arendt covered Adolf Eichmann’s trial for war crimes. He was one of the chief architects of the Final Solution – the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews. She expected to find an evil man who was violently anti-Semitic. Instead she found someone who said he was just doing his job. He believed he wasn’t responsible because he was following orders. After following her argument, the reason for the title of the book is obvious (a book that covers similar topics is Obedience to Authority by Stanley Milgram). Similar situations are found in this book. Gourevitch interviewed some of the people accused of genocide. Many said they were not involved – others killed but not them. But a few admitted to killing, but said they were just following orders and are therefore not responsible. One of the people Gourevitch interviews in the book thinks that so many people in Rwanda killed because they were told to, but would now be decent members of society because they are now told not to kill. Maybe evil and virtue are both banal.

Fat Bastard/Felonious Monk vs. The Hokie Triumph

I don't know what angers me more this morning. I'm an anti-fan of the blunder twins, Dennis Hastert/Tom Delay and an even lesser fan of Virginia Tech.

"The House's top two Republicans swiftly rejected an idea floated by President Bush to raise the ceiling on wages subject to the Social Security payroll tax, with Speaker J. Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay saying yesterday that they would consider that a tax increase.

Underscoring the fluidity of the debate over Bush's proposal for restructuring the 70-year-old retirement program, DeLay (Tex.) said Congress should look at a more flexible retirement age. But he flatly opposed subjecting more of the earnings of higher-income people to the Social Security tax.

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) rejects President Bush's plan, saying it "would take more money away from people."

"This Republican House didn't come here to raise taxes," DeLay said on Fox News. "We can solve this problem without raising taxes.""

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Rise of the Machines

Here they come. . .machine-gun-toting robots, and within the decade. This is but another of the many reasons I think insane people like Charles Rangel who talk of drafts need to be taken to task on the spot because it's not going to happen. (Hat tip, Mr. Saletan's excellent "human nature" roundups). I have to admit, this is both a little bit cool and a little bit scary. There are some truly great aspects of having thoughtful, intelligent human soldiers on the battlefield representing their country and balancing tough moral decisions in combat. However, not risking human life is also a plus. So, here are my thoughts in elementary school format.

Pros: Less casualties. That's an obvious one. Also these robots, whether by remote control or AI, can search in hazardous or dangerous places, including the strongholds of terrorist-types. Think the caves of Tora Bora or hideouts in Fallujah. This will make combat less risky and the human toll of war less likely. Providing that these things are as smart as scientists claim their may be even less civilian deaths involved, but that's hard to tell.

Cons: They're going to be really expensive. They're also, by lessening the human cost of war, possibly going to make it easier to justify going to war. Sometimes having to think about balancing lives means leaders exercise more prudence. Less casualties and less risk is a big recipe for callousness. Also, like almost all weapons, imagine other countries in the future, or terrorists, deploying such robots in terrorist operations. A far-fetched thought, but possible nonetheless. Also, you lose the human element of judgment on the battlefield, which is sort of an x-factor hard to quantify but I would like to believe could lead to better judgments than cold mechanical calculations.

Good thing we don't have a skynet. Yet.

"Tort Reform"

re•form (r -fôrm )
v. re•formed, re•form•ing, re•forms

n.
1. A change for the better; an improvement.
2. Correction of evils, abuses, or errors.
3. Action to improve social or economic conditions without radical or revolutionary change.

Unsurprisingly, the Sentate finally passed what amounts to another Bush victory, “tort reform”. The reason I place ‘tort reform’ in quotations is due to the fact that we won’t know if this will actually BE an improvement.

I’ve worked in the legal field on the defense side, and I’ve been exposed to the various abuses (Keep in mind, I wasn’t employed by a right-wing ‘we-hate-the-little-people’ legal machine. In fact, the majority of attorneys I worked with were quite the Lefty.). The reason most plaintiff’s attorneys stick to state court is due to…drumroll please… political considerations. Quite a few state benches are stocked with not only former trial attorneys, but former trial attorneys with elections to win in the near future. Many state judges are beholden to the same political pressures as any other elected official looking for an upward political trajectory. The favoritism shown towards their constituents (largely plaintiffs) is an indirect function of their need for votes, and manifests itself as prejudicial conduct towards the big bad corporations (largely defendants).

Don’t get me wrong here. The Enron’s, Worldcom’s and other bastard corporations are guiltier than hell, but I was under the impression that Lady Justice didn’t wear campaign buttons. While many federal appointees are also tainted politically, candidates for the federal bench are vetted by Congress. This process isn’t always perfect, as there’s always some press about Bush’s slightly impartial bench nominees. But by and large, the federal judiciary is much more balanced with regards to how they operate. My hope is that moving class action lawsuits straight to federal court will actually alleviate some of the burden on an already overburdened system, by keeping nonsensical lawsuits out of the system. I repeat, this is MY HOPE.

A major caveat to this move for the Democrats, my MAJOR concern actually, is that one of their main constituent groups (i.e. trial lawyers, remember my ire towards John Edwards?) will be losing some of their financial clout. So this entire effort may just be a covert strategy to choke off some of those Democratic campaign funds by the GOP. Kudos to the GOP if that’s the case, since it really is a brilliant move.

Shape-up mainstream journalism

I am becoming more and more disappointed in mainstream journalism – and how the Bush administration is allowed to misuse it. We have already heard about journalists on contract with the administration who went on mainstream media programs and gave glowing analyses on administration programs like No Child Left Behind. Now we find out that the Bush administration gave credentials to Jim Guckert, a journalist with basically no readership, so that he could toss softballs to President Bush and Scott McClellan in press conferences. What’s more, it was so obvious that President Bush’s press conference on the eve of the war in Iraq was basically scripted that even Bush joked about it. Frank Rich talks about all this in his column for the NY Times. I am just surprised at the fact that most of the country isn’t more shocked about obvious examples of propaganda from our government – examples that show the administration isn’t concerned with a transparent government in America (but they don’t have any trouble admonishing other countries where there is government propaganda). Frank Rich also mentions Wolf Blitzer’s interview of Jim Guckert, where Blitzer avoided asking any tough questions. This seems more and more common in a mainstream media where everyone is claiming they actually ask tough questions.

I noticed the same thing last night on 60 Minutes Wednesday. Mike Wallace again refused to question Jose Canseco’s credibility because it would undermine his ability to frame the steroids issue as the fault of Major League Baseball and the players union. They would rather have the big expose on all the big name players that might be using steroids than question an unreliable source. Mark McGwire’s reputation (along with many other players) hangs in the balance, but Wallace and 60 Minutes didn’t spend the time to look at this objectively. Manager Tony LaRusa has said that he believes McGwire did not take steroids – but they never included those comments in the show (either they didn’t ask him that question, or they left out his answer). All of the players named by Canseco and the fans deserve journalistic coverage that is willing to look at this story objectively. Instead, a once respected news magazine has chosen to sensationalize the story – turning it into a shocking expose on the flaws of Major League Baseball, some of its greatest stars, and the records it cherishes.

Although I had little faith that 60 Minutes would cover this story objectively, I was hoping someone would. So far Canseco has cancelled interviews with Today and Sports Illustrated. Let's see if he reschedules.

Same Old Fruit Cake

According to the NYT, the President just named current Ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte to the National Intelligence Chief post. It's like neo-con incest over there. They keep recycling the same old hegemonic stability believing automatons. Aren't there anymore fruit cakes at the bakery?

The Abrams Report

I should have caught this earlier. Iapprovethismessiah has a post detailing our new Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy, ex-con Mr. Elliot Abrams, and his connections to the Mooninites. Curiously spelled out is also Full Moon Fever himself's Democracy strategy: Godism.

African Investment: A Sound Plan?

Investing in Botswana's minerals and mining industry is now less risky of an investment than the United States. While this is only the mineral industry, it does bode well for Africa in general as Ghana and Tanzania are also part of the top ten. That these countries have gotten to a point where they can have stable industry, even if it is natural resources exploitation, is good news for African Development. It'll probably be years before this kind of thing takes hold in the nations' whole economies, but that they have elevated to the point of the advanced industrial world is cause for optimism.

Egypt - Braude-sided

Joseph Braude at The New Republic Online has a provocative piece on Egypt and democracy. There's a lot in the air about forcing President-for-life Mubarak to have free and fair elections, but Braude makes a convincing case that doing so might be a bit hasty and we might want to opt for a more gradual approach of liberalization. Key quote:

"At this writing, I observe reports on Arabic television suggesting that Egypt's ruling party intends to grant dissidents the constitutional amendment for which they are clamoring, to make it easier to contest the presidency--but only after the spring elections. This move will anger Mubarak's many detractors because it would enable the incumbent to squeak by and have his sixth term. But it also would redefine the political system in Egypt in the leader's final years, creating a set of expectations for reform that America can hold him to on penalty of bankruptcy. The alternative, an ostensibly democratic government dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood, would only set back the cause of liberalism in the Middle East. For Egyptians, true democracy is finally on the horizon--and also worth waiting for."

There's an in-depth discussion of the kind of bed Mubarak has made for himself in Egypt by having to appease the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, the most powerful movement in the country currently, and of course there are the ingrown problems of Egypts troubling education system in teaching anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism. It parallels well to the unholy alliance the Saudi Royal Family had to make with Wahabbism to keep control of the country. Braude's argument that Mubarak is the best chance we have for a true liberal democracy might seem discordant at first, but he backs it up with a lot of facts and convincing theories about his malleability and the treacherous road of handing Egypt over to the Muslim Brotherhood in open elections.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

More scratch - but no sniff

Everyone should be so proud of how successful scratch cards have become. There is nothing more thrilling than discovering another gambling technique that can take money from the poor and redistribute it for “education”. Gambling, in all of its different forms, is attractive to state governments. It is essentially a voluntary tax and a very important source of revenue. Unfortunately, most people who gamble on a regular basis do not realize they are bound to lose money in the long run. The odds of every game are stacked against the players. In this article from The Washington Post, the amazing innovator they are talking about suggested raising payoffs to 45 cents on the dollar. If the state is giving out 45 cents on the dollar, then on average, people are losing 55 cents on the dollar. And even if you consider gambling a source of entertainment – it is a source of entertainment with a 55% tax on it. And all the research shows that gambling is a highly regressive source of state income – and one that can lead to serious addiction problems. So why is The Washington Post so excited about an employee of the state of Massachusetts who was able to improve techniques to convince more people to lose their money on scratch tickets? And why are they so excited that it has turned into such a big industry? You would think The Washington Post would be upset to see a regressive tax becoming more successful.

George Allen 2008

Talking about potential 2008 candidates on Inside Politics yesterday, the Hotline's Chuck Todd mentioned George Allen's behind-the-scenes engineering for a 2008 run: hiring key staffers and fundraising through a PAC:

WOODRUFF: You have to have a PAC if you're going to run, right?

TODD: You've got to have a PAC and you've got to pay for the travel. You know, and it's a way to raise money. You've got to give money to these candidates. So it's an essential part of this.

WOODRUFF: What about hiring people, starting to put a team together?

TODD: Staffing is -- you know, that's another reason to start a PAC, is sometimes to stash staff. Probably the guy who's made the biggest splash on the staffing front so far, at least on the Republican side, is George Allen, who is up for re-election himself in 2006.

WOODRUFF: Virginia senator.

TODD: Virginia senator, likely to run in 2008. He hired sort of the first-round draft pick of staffers so to speak. And that's Dick Waddoms (ph). He was the guy who managed Johnson's upset of Tom Daschle in South Dakota.

Allen hired him as the chief of staff. That got a lot of Republicans buzzing, going, you know, this Allen team is pretty impressive. He's got Chris Losovita (ph), who is behind the Swift Boat stuff, which was a very successful 527. 2004 is also sort of on the Allen team, so Allen has probably made the biggest staffing splash so far today.


I know all the early buzz is on Rudy Giuliani or John McCain, but I don't really expect either to run and besides, neither of them excite me. George Allen, however, is a guy I can definitely throw down for the 2008 presidential bid. And the good senator might have his chance at an early measure of support from the conservative base of the party with this year's CPAC 2008 presidential straw poll:

ALEXANDRIA, VA - The national polling firm of Fabrizio McLaughlin & Associates will poll the 4,000 conservative activists expected to attend the 32nd annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) February 17-19 at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington, DC, the American Conservative Union announced today.

In past years, the CPAC straw poll has been an important early indicator of presidential preferences among conservative activists. This year the CPAC poll will probe the attendees' preferences among potential Republican candidates, and also will ask who they believe will win the Democratic nomination in 2008.

Among those speaking at CPAC and often mentioned as potential Republican candidates in 2008 are Sen. George Allen of Virginia, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Sen. Norm Coleman of Minnesota, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

The Fabrizio poll also will question CPAC attendees on such selected issues as President Bush's immigration and guest worker plan, Social Security reform, the conduct of foreign policy, the war on terrorism, civil liberties and the USA PATRIOT Act.

Results of the straw poll will be announced by Chairman David A. Keene and pollster Tony Fabrizio on the final afternoon of CPAC, Saturday, February 19th.



No Miracles left in the NHL

It is now official; the NHL season has been canceled. The problem is that most fans that knew enough about the situation must have known there would be no season. Both sides have been so far apart throughout the negotiations. But as a fan, I have to face the fact that I won’t see anybody hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup (the most sought after trophy in professional sports) nor will I see any NHL action until next fall – at the earliest. With both sides so far apart, I am not even optimistic that the season will start on time next year.

So where does the NHL stand? At the end of last season, the NHL was at the beginning of a transition. Its older stars were fading, and its young stars were gaining attention. Players like Jerome Iginla and Martin Saint-Louis were the bright future of the NHL, ready to usher in a new age. The NHL has lost the opportunity for the legacy of those players, and that of the NHL, to expand this year – hopefully with the help of some more fresh faces. If the NHL wasn’t at a point of transition like they are now, this season-ending lockout might not have been so damaging. In 1995, the year of the last strike, Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky were still in the game – as were other notable stars like Mark Messier, Eric Lindros, and Patrick Roy. The damage was minimal (especially since they didn’t cancel the whole season). But the NHL needed this season to promote its young stars. Jerome Iginla needed a chance to show how good he really can be. Many people are asking themselves if they really miss the NHL, and it is because they can’t name any stars that they think maybe they don’t miss it.

For those of you who aren’t sure if you miss hockey (and for those that really do) go rent Miracle staring Kurt Russell. Don’t be afraid that Disney is behind this movie. They stayed true to the story without unrealistic romance and glory. After all, this story doesn’t need anything extra. In 1980, the USA hockey team, a team of 20 amateur hockey players, under a tough coach (Herb Brooks) beat the best hockey team in the world (USSR) – it was the Miracle on Ice. Watch the movie and you’ll see hockey at its finest. You’ll watch as amateurs do the unthinkable, and inspire a country when we needed it most. You’ll see why this story continues to be told, how much sports can mean during tough times, and why hockey can be one of the most beautiful sports in the world. After witnessing the owners and players cancel a season over money, it will be refreshing for you to watch people play hockey to bring glory to their sport and to their country.

"Do you believe in miracles!?!"

Maybe there are no more miracles left - only old stories.

Canseco a best-seller?

What does it mean that Joes Canseco’s book Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big is already a best seller? Before BALCO, Jose Canseco couldn’t find a publisher willing to print his expose. They knew he had no credibility and no one would listen to him. So what has changed? Since BALCO (Bay Area Lab Corporation – allegedly responsible for distributing designer steroids to big name athletes) baseball fans have begun to accept the seriousness of the steroids scandal. For more than a decade, the owners, coaches, and fans turned a blind eye to the possibility that illegal performance enhancing drugs were tarnishing the nation’s pastime. Since we can no longer ignore it, fans are trying to understand it as much as they can. The problem is, no one on the inside is talking about it in a meaningful way. And in the absence of real discussion from the people involved, the fans will listen to whoever is speaking.

In this case, Canseco is the only one talking and it doesn’t matter that he has zero credibility. It doesn’t matter that he isn’t adding anything important to the discussion except to increase speculation on who did and who did not take steroids. In fact, Canseco doesn’t even use his example to push people away from steroids. In his interview on 60 Minutes he said he would encourage people to take steroids because it makes decent athletes great and great athletes exceptional. And the press is acting in the same way that the fans are. They are so desperate for any information on steroids that they are no longer willing to act as a filter by doing research and ignoring unreliable sources. Mike Wallace, in his interview of Canseco on 60 Minutes, basically tossed up softballs to a former 40 home run hitter, allowing Canseco to peddle his book without any tough questions. Any hint of Canseco’s lack of credibility was dismissed by other interviewees – the logic being that steroids is a real problem in baseball, and therefore his ridiculous accusations about big name players must be true. They might as well have turned it into a paid infomercial (I am looking forward to tonight's 60 Minutes to see how they frame MLB's response). How does baseball solve this? More people need to be willing to talk about it in a meaningful way so that Canseco isn’t the only one people have to listen to.