Blog moving!

November 21, 2008

We’re moving to a new address — I hope the last move for a long time. Please visit us over at the new site. Go there and bookmark it now, so you don’t forget — wouldn’t want to miss Monday’s posts, would you? How can you possibly start your week without yelling at me?

http://fwnextweb1.fortwayne.com/ns/editorial/oa/


Change we can believe in

November 21, 2008

In case you don’t already have enough to worry about:

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) – People in a vast seismic zone in the southern and midwestern United States would face catastrophic damage if a major earthquake struck there and should ensure that builders keep that risk in mind, a government report said on Thursday.

 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said if earthquakes strike in what geologists define as the New Madrid Seismic Zone, they would cause “the highest economic losses due to a natural disaster in the United States.”

 

FEMA predicted a large earthquake would cause “widespread and catastrophic physical damage” across Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee — home to some 44 million people.

That’s nothing we didn’t already know. What we don’t know is how likely such a catastrophe is, which they . . . don’t say. Thanks. If an airplane hits your house tomorrow, there will be catastrophic damage, so it would be best if your weren’t home! Chances of that happening — somewhere between zero and 100 percent. You’re welcome.


Just for fun on Friday

November 21, 2008

leups

Germans are weird – and 14 other images you will

think are Photoshopped but really aren’t. (via FARK)


Flush with success

November 21, 2008

Ain’t progress wonderful?

AS the world celebrates World Toilet Day today, sanitation experts have called for the end of the flushing dunny to save water and provide fertilizer for crops.

Leading health advocates have called for the use of “dry” toilets which separate urine from faeces and remove the need to flush.

Speaking at the recent World Toilet Summit in Macau, World Toilet Organisation founder Jack Sims said the concept of the flushing toilet was unsustainable.

We will save the planet by reducing all societies to third-world status. I’m kind of rushed for time — aything else I’m supposed to feel guilty about today?


What budget crisis?

November 21, 2008

This is never, ever going to end, is it?

The Indiana House will once again invite clergy members and other guests to give opening prayers before legislative work begins, a tradition that had been halted temporarily because of a lawsuit challenging the practice.

A U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled last year that taxpayers who sued over the prayers did not have the legal standing. So on Tuesday, as lawmakers gathered for an organization day at the Statehouse before the January session begins, the House started its business with a prayer from the Rev. Matthew Barnes of Indianapolis.

[. . .]

The ACLU of Indiana, which represented the taxpayers in the previous lawsuit, says it could bring another lawsuit if sectarian prayers continue in the General Assembly.

I’ve heard all the arguments from both sides so often I can recite them in my sleep, and I’ve written about the issue until I’m sick to death of it. You can choose whichever side you think is the most right if you want to keep playing that game, but the fact is that whether prayers are said or not and what kind and who says them do not matter to Hoosiers’ real lives one whit. So whichever side just walks away and says, “We have more important things to do, so we’re not doing this anymore,” will win our undying gratitude.


Spend to save

November 21, 2008

Consumer prices dropped by the largest amount last month in the 61 years the records have been kept. Why that’s not the immediate good news we might think:

While falling prices especially for such key products as gasoline can provide a break for consumers, analysts said the worry is if price declines become so entrenched that consumers stop buying things, awaiting further price drops. That is one of the problems facing housing as buyers in some markets stay on the fence, expecting home prices to drop further.

We can’t put off filling the car’s tank until gas hits $1.50 a gallon, but if something we want has already come drastically down in price, why buy it now when there’s every chance the price will come down even more? I’d sort of like a new laptop, but any day now I can probably pick one up for pocket change. If a lot of people behave that way — and a lot are — hello, deflation and . . . that other “d” word.

There’s someone in my gift-exchange circle who gives me cash every Christmas and birthday — not a lot, but it can add up if you don’t spend it. I put it aside one year, then forgot about, Next birthday and Christmas, I did the same thing. The more money I accumulated, the less likely I was to spend it. It’s quite a tidy sum right now, and, guess what? It’ll grow a little more this year.

So there you have it. It’s all my fault. Well, yours, too. Our economy is so consumer-driven that we can pump it up or tear it down just by our collective mood. So let’s get out there and spend to save the country!


The yearly yikes

November 21, 2008

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could stay home for the first few snows until all the idiots completed their winter-driving remedial education?

The Indiana State Police suggest drivers look in the mirror before pointing a finger at Mother Nature for weather-related traffic accidents.

With the snow and ice having turned Indiana roads treacherous lately, the state police are full-go in an effort to limit the number of weather-related accidents by emphasizing responsible driving.

“Sometimes it’s a shock to the system when the first snow hits,” said Sgt. Ron Galaviz of the Indiana State Police.

Yeah, sometimes, it’s a shock to the system — like every single year. My previous feline — Pierre — was an inside-outside cat. The first snow of winter, he’d step boldly onto the porch, then immediately come zooming back inside, shaking the stuff off his paws and giving me an accusing look. Then, he’d walk through the house and wait by the back door until I let him out there — “Surely that stuff isn’t everywhere,” I knew he was thinking. Sadly, it was always snowing outside the back door, too. He always forgot, year after year, and we went through this annual routine until the day he died. So now you know: Fort Wayne drivers — dumb as cats.


Novak’s whacks

November 20, 2008

A fascinating interview with Robert Novak, who has been the man so many have loved to hate for so long. A tease:

Reagan was a great leader. I think Kennedy was terribly overrated, but he was a good leader. I don’t think George Bush even comprehends the demands of leadership. I went to see him when he was governor of Texas. I should have gotten a warning at the time. He expressed such contempt for Washington. If I were smarter, I would have seen huge trouble ahead from somebody who has that many negative feelings about the job.

The only president in my time I give a passing grade to is Reagan. I thought Nixon was the worst — a vicious little man. He never should have been president. The one I have the hardest time giving a grade to is Clinton. Did he have talent? Absolutely — he was a very accomplished man. But what did he do? I don’t think he accomplished anything. I think he was very good on the Cold War. But he seemed to be a man with limited horizons and ambitions.

You might have some sympathy for him because he’s dying of a brain tumor, but he’d snarl at you for that, too. Gotta love this:  “I find that politicians as a class are up to no good. Sometimes they accidentally do the right thing.”


In over their heads

November 20, 2008

The Sistine Chapel it ain’t:

What $23 million buys.

What $23 million buys.

The U.N. Human Rights Council, frequently accused of coddling some of the world’s most repressive governments, threw itself a party in Geneva Tuesday that featured the unveiling of a $23 million mural paid for in part with foreign aid funds.

In a ceremony attended by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Spanish artist Miquel Barcelo told the press that his 16,000-square-foot ceiling artwork reminded him of “an image of the world dripping toward the sky” — but it reminded critics of money slipping out of relief coffers.

Oh, well. A lot of real damage could be done with $23 million, so maybe we ought to be happy it’s staying, um, in house. Hundreds of thousands of citizens of the Congo could not be reached for comment. Or anything else.


Us, too

November 20, 2008

On Monday, I did a post taking The Journal Gazette to task for not identifying those quoted in a story about illegal immigration:

I wonder if the JG would pull that “first names only” stunt if this were a bank robber or a burglar. As a matter of fact, would law enforcement let them get away with it, or would some reporter be hauled in front of a grand jury?

An alert reader (and, coincidentally, a JG employee) e-mailed to point out something I’d forgotten, a column by The News-Sentinel’s own Kevin Leininger from Aug. 4, 2007, about a man named Juan: “Juan is here illegally. That’s why he doesn’t want his last name used, even though he was willing to be photographed.” Now, it’s a lot more fun to bash The Journal Gazette, because — well, just because. But we deserve our lumps, too. By not naming illegal immigrants — by helping them stay “in the shadows” — newspapers contribute to the notion that immigrants who break the law by coming here are a separate class of lawbreakers whose only sin is that the rest of us are so heartless and xenophobic. Things are either illegal or they are not. Breaking the law either has consequences or it does not. Those who insist on blurring the lines because they have sympathy for the people in question help breed a disrespect for all laws and the very notion of law.


The bum’s rush

November 20, 2008

You’re doing a lousy job, so never mind waiting for the regular election. You’re outta here!

GARY — Local lawmakers are promising to push legislation empowering voters to remove officials from office in the middle of their terms.

State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said he’s responding to constituents, who want a way to force Gary Mayor Rudy Clay out of office.

On first hearing, the suggestion seems a reasonable way to make politicians pay attention, and there would be a feeling of power if we knew we could throw the bums out at a moment’s notice. But it also seems like a guarantee of chaotic government, rule of the slight of the moment. The normal election schedule seems like a good enough recall mechanism that probably shouldn’t be messed with.


Betrayed by reality

November 20, 2008

The “give peace a chance” crowd is getting a little nervous:

Reporting from Washington — Antiwar groups and other liberal activists are increasingly concerned at signs that Barack Obama’s national security team will be dominated by appointees who favored the Iraq invasion and hold hawkish views on other important foreign policy issues.

The activists are uneasy not only about signs that both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates could be in the Obama Cabinet, but at reports suggesting that several other short-list candidates for top security posts backed the decision to go to war.

Actually, the fact that they’re worried is enough to give the rest of us a little hope — national security has always seemed to be Obama’s greatest area of weakness. The antiwar activists appear to think there are only two possible ways of conducting foreign policy — the “reason with our enemies until they love us” approach or the evil, war-mongering, imperialist course, and that initial support of the Iraq war puts one ipso facto on the imperialist side.

But a lot of people supported the war, based on their consideration of what they thought was the best evidence available. That doesn’t mean they didn’t change their minds when better evidence was found or that they will always consider war as the first or best option. Anyone chosen by Obama will get their direction from Obama, so we have to rely on his judgment more than anyone’s. I’m glad he doesn’t seem inclined to surround himself only with people who think force is never needed and that diplomacy can get us everything. It’s still a dangerous world, and we should hope America’s commander in chief operates from that knowledge.

Or maybe we should just believe that Ayman al-Zawahri was kidding around when he said that “America continues to be the same as ever, so we must continue to harm it, in order for it to come to its senses.” Maybe so, because what are all the stories putting in headlines and first pargraphs? Stuff like this:

Al-Qaida No. 2 hurls racial slur at Obama

In a propaganda salvo by al-Qaida aimed at undercutting the enthusiasm of Muslims worldwide about the U.S. presidential election, Osama bin Laden’s top deputy condemned President-elect Obama as a “house Negro” who would continue a campaign against Islam that al-Qaida’s leaders said was begun by President Bush.

Al-Qaida commandeered our own planes and flew them into our buildings, killing thousands, and has declared war on modernity and Western civilization. Hey, no big thing. But using a racial slur? Man, that really crosses the line — go arrest the bum and put him in a cell without cable TV.


Don’t need yer stinkin’ edjemuhcation

November 20, 2008

Even if they don’t go to jail over the truancy, these parents probably deserve a little time for sheer stupidity:

A rural Richmond couple is facing a possible jail term for refusing to obey state truancy laws.

The case involves the alleged failure of Eli and Stephanie Collins, 3398 N. Salisbury Road, No. 44, to make their child go to school.

[. . .]

The child enrolled Aug. 19 and was withdrawn Oct. 3. In that time the child was absent 12 days. Further investigation revealed that the child had 87½ days of absence during two years in the Richmond Community Schools system and was tardy 60 times, according to the affidavit of probable cause in the case.

During a four-year period, the child changed schools 15 times, the affidavit said.

Indiana’s laws on home schooling are so lax and forgiving that we might as well not have any. All this couple had to do was inform the superintendent that they were home schooling their child. Then they could have done whatever they wanted to, or nothing at all. It seems almost unfair to punish them.

We don’t need home-schooling laws as strict and unreasonable as those in a few states, but they could use some tightening. But most of the home schoolers I know — and they range from the political left to the right — are very conscientious about their children’s education. So maybe I’m advocating a solution in search of a problem.


Check it out

November 20, 2008

I can understand people having strong objections to consolidating school districts or combining city and county governments. There is a sense that government will get so big and complicated that the ordinary citizen’s concerns will get overlooked. But consolidating libraries at the county level — having a county library system with numerous branches instead of a county library and several city libraries — seems like a logical move to me. The last two places I lived — in LaPorte County and here — have consolidated their libraries, and as a result have better services, more materials and better value for the taxpayers. But many members of the Indiana library community don’t see it that way:

Since December 2007, when the Indiana Commission on Local Government Reform issued a report on streamlining local government, many library leaders expressed wariness about the report’s call to reorganize library systems by county and to ensure that unserved residents get service. Many librarians suggest that giving up local control for a “one size fits all” strategy is wrong, with some of the most vociferous blogging at Save Our Small Public Libraries.

[. . .]

The Indiana Library Federation has expressed caution, stating that, it “supports legislation that will provide additional options for unserved areas to be afforded libraries.” However, it also “supports a thorough evaluation of the cost-savings of the recommendations and an approach that allows each library and or library district input into the determination as to what is the best approach for it and its patrons. The Federation encourages legislation that allows for local variations in public libraries.”

It’s natural for the librarians to want local control and the ability to respond to the specific needs and desires of their patrons. But everything I’ve seen in LaPorte and Allen counties indicates that those libraries’ patrons are being well taken care of, and I don’t know why it would be any different for other counties that might come under the commission’s recommendations.

Libraries are facing enormous challenges right now, and might find it harder and harder to justify continued taxpayer support. The Internet and the digital revolution have eaten away at many of the libraries’ core functions. People can do far better research themselves and in much quicker time than by relying on the library. Why check out a video and face the hassle of returning it when you can just download it? Libraries are going to have to rethink their basic missions — perhaps more strongly emphasizing the gathering-place function, for example. Consolidating at the county level might turn out to be part of the answer for them, not a threat to overcome.


Fenceless in Madison

November 20, 2008

This Associated Press story about a certain problem at the Madison Correctional Facility has a wonderfully understated line — “A fenceless prison presents some security problems.” Gee, do ya think?

The Madison Correctional Facility announced Wednesday it’s putting up a fence because joggers, bicyclists and even parents pushing baby strollers inadvertently enter the grounds of the minimum-security women’s prison.

“The facility has made several efforts to reduce this type of traffic through the facility by increasing signage, adding a landscape berm and sections of wrought-iron fencing around the perimeter,” a prison statement said. “Still people often venture unknowingly into the middle of the correctional facility while leaving their vehicles unlocked.”

Keeping civilians off the prison grounds is a bigger problem than one might think.

Of course, there’s prison, and then there’s prison. A minimum-security facility for women is not exactly what you’d use to scare little kids. When I lived in Michigan City, we all knew exactly where the prison was, and nobody jogged or biked within a mile of the place. The Madison facility even sounds kinda friendly, doesn’t it, perhaps even a job-creating, economic-development tool? If Harrison Square keeps falling apart, maybe we should consider something like that.


BE GODS, By God!

November 19, 2008

UPDATE to “The God trap” post:

The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles commissioner today backed off its denial of a woman’s request for a personalized license plate reading “BE GODS.”

The decision resulted from a lawsuit filed this week by Liz Ferris, who had that same plate on her car for eight or nine years but forgot to renew it on time for 2008. When she submitted a new personalized plate application, the BMV denied her request because of a recent policy change banning any references to religion or a deity on new personalized plates.

That policy took effect in November 2007, just after the renewal deadline passed for Ferris. Commissioner Ron Stiver said in a statement released today that the BMV would give Ferris a new plate bearing her old message — which she intended to mean “Be God’s” or “belong to God.”

[. . .]

But Stiver’s statement defended the policy, saying Ferris would get a pass under a grandfather rule that allows renewals of existing plates even if they run afoul of the policy change.

God has been grandfathered in! How patriarchal.


In style

November 19, 2008

If you read anything sillier about the Obama presidency, please let me know so we can keep a record:

Still, Bush and Clinton fit into the expectations of what earlier generations thought a president’s wife should look like. Obama has the opportunity to break the mold.

“Most previous first ladies have appeared to believe that displaying an interest in fashion and style undermines the importance of their role. They’ve subscribed to the old-fashioned view that a woman should de-sexualize herself or dress like a man if she wants to be regarded as intelligent and of good conscience,” says Mandi Norwood, the former editor in chief of Shop Etc. who is now writing a style guide directed to Obama for publisher Avon A.

“Mrs. Obama, however, has a much more modern view,” Norwood says. “She’s demonstrated that it’s smart to be stylish; that strong and positive statements can be made through the right choice of outfit.”

Heaven forbid that she makes the wrong choice of outfit and makes a weak and negative statement. Wonder what the girls will wear? Maybe Obama should wear a hat and undo what JFK did to the haberdashers. Geez.


Now you know

November 19, 2008

For you nitpickers who like to impress people with esoterica, Barack Obama is not actually the “president-elect.” He is the “president-designate.” He doesn’t officially become president-elect until Dec. 15 when the members of the Electoral College meet to cast their votes.


We’re ahead — so far

November 19, 2008

First, I saw this story:

A chilly, mostly dry day helped this year’s four-day deer cull at the Indiana Dunes State Park get off to a good start, according to property manager Brandt Baughman.

[. . .]

Indiana Dunes is one of 17 state parks selected by Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists for organized deer reduction hunts to protect sensitive species of plants.

Then I saw this one:

Since 2003, deer-vehicle accidents in Indiana are up 25 percent compared with 15 percent for the rest of the nation, according to State Farm Insurance, which used insurance claims to come up with its statistics. One in 129 Indiana drivers was likely to collide with a deer between July 1, 2007, and June 30 – the 11th-highest rate in the nation, according to State Farm.

They’re paying attention, I tell you, and they’re mad as hell. They won’t quite culling our herd until the score is at least even.


Help, help, Obama*

November 19, 2008

The line forms on the left:

America’s mayors are crying out for help from President-elect Barack Obama, seeking immediate relief from a national economic crisis that has slammed budgets in big cities, suburbs and small towns.

Responding to an informal survey by msnbc.com, many mayors called for a program in the style of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration to put people back to work and rebuild neglected roads, bridges and schools.

Sure, let’s bring back all those FDR programs. That’ll turn this recession into a depression the likes of which the country has never seen. Then we’ll need a real jobs program to turn things around, i.e. a war even bigger than World War II.

*(Sing it in your head to the tune of “Help, Help Me, Rhonda.”)


Catch me if you can

November 19, 2008

Joe Lieberman sort of gives the game away:

Lieberman claimed he was contrite Tuesday — sort of. The resolution that left him in charge of his committee also denounced some of his statements about Obama during the campaign. “Some of the things that people have said I said about Senator Obama are simply not true,” Lieberman told reporters, at the end of a news conference about his fate, where he stood behind Reid as the leader said he was in the clear. “There are other statements that I made that I wish I had made more clearly. And there are some that I made that I wish I had not made at all. And, obviously, in the heat of campaigns, that happens to all of us, but I regret that. And now it’s time to move on.” In the real world, that kind of passive-aggressive semi-apology might not fly. But this is the Senate — where just about anything does. And so Joe Lieberman is back in everyone’s good graces.

Lieberman supported McCain and trashed Obama, campaigned for Republicans and was generally a very bad boy as far as Democrates were concerned, but his vote is really needed now, and, besides, he said things he didn’t really mean. And when he did mean them, he said them badly or wished he hadn’t said them at all.

Man, I like that. So let me just say that if there’s anything I’ve written that you’ve disagreed with, I didn’t really mean it. And if you decide to disagree with anything I write in the future without first giving me the chance to say I said it badly or wished I hadn’t said it, you’re just being mean-spirited.

I don’t really mean that, of course.

Oh, yes, I do.


The God trap

November 19, 2008

Boy, do I feel silly. Yesterday, I did a post about the suit against Indiana’s “In God We Trust” license plates being tossed. I said it didn’t seem like a big deal to me, and in the discussion thread I went back and forth with Doug and Alex, essentially putting myself out on a limb defending the state, a dangerous position to find oneself in. Now the state has gone and sawed that limb off:

For years, Liz Ferris saw her personalized license plate — BE GODS — as a quiet declaration of faith, a shorthand message urging people to “belong to God.”

But now the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles says there’s no place for God on personalized plates.

[. . .]

The BMV, which approved Ferris’ license plate eight or nine years ago, now is rejecting her message, saying that it violates a new policy that bars any reference to religion or a deity on personalized plates, a policy she says violates her First Amendment rights.

[. . .]

A BMV policy committee reviewing personalized license plate rules in December 2007 opted to make all religious and deity references off-limits, said Dennis Rosebrough, the agency’s spokesman.

“If you permit one,” he said, “you have to permit all. We believe the better judgment is to not have any references to deity.”

The committee aimed to streamline and clarify regulations. The BMV views such plates as a limited public forum and bars all references to religion, politics, gender and sexual orientation.

There isn’t a dime’s worth of difference in the sentiments “In God We Trust” and “BE GODS,” is there? So what the state is saying that it can sponsor a religious sentiment on the license plates, but an individual can’t express the same religious sentiment as a vanity plate. If the state were actually trying to show it wanted to put the state’s imprimatur on certain religious observances, it couldn’t do a better job than this. Maybe Doug is right that we need to go back to one boring plate that just identifies one’s vehicle. Anything more, and the state either has to let anything or start deciding who can put what on the plates. It takes the simple task of taxing people for the privilege of driving and turns it into a complicated bureaucratic mess that just invites lawsuites. Maybe we should all be libertarian on this one — simplify, simplify.


Join the buycott

November 19, 2008

Let’s have a round of applause for National Ammo Day:

It is a nationwide BUYcott of ammunition.  You buy ammunition.  100 Rounds a person.

[. . .]

The goal of National Ammo Day is to empty the ammunition from the shelves of your local gun store, sporting goods, or hardware store and put that ammunition in the hands of law-abiding citizens.  Make your support of the Second Amendment known–by voting with your dollars.

Let’s see — 75 million gun owners X 100 rounds = 7.5. billion. Talk about a boost to the economy. And, remember, guns don’t kill people unless they’re loaded.


Flags of our hotheads

November 19, 2008

Remember Greg Townsend, the Decatur hothead who flew the American flag upside down outside his tire shop in protest of Barack Obama’s win? He has come to the attention of James Taranto, who compiles Best of the Web for The Wall Street Journal. Tranto is not persuaded by Townsend’s argument that he was flying a “distress signal” as described in statutes governing the flag:

This is an improper use of the flag. As one USA Flag Site contributor notes, Section 8(a) of the U.S. Flag Code states: “The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.”

Even if one grants Townsend’s claim that legal abortion and the bailout pose a danger to life and property, they clearly do not represent an extreme danger but an ordinary one–one that predates (and in the case of abortion, predates by more than 35 years) the election of Barack Obama. Further, a lawful election is not an occasion for “dire distress,” and no one seeing Townsend’s upside-down flag is in a position to save the lives or property he believes are in jeopardy.

Greg Townsend is not signaling distress, merely expressing an opinion. The U.S. Constitution guarantees his right to do so, including by misusing the flag. If burning the flag is protected by the First Amendment, surely so is the lesser insult of displaying it improperly.

It is disrespectful of the flag, but so is using it in advertising and putting it on T-shirts, if to a lesser degree. It’s no more a constitutional crisis than putting “In God We Trust” on license plates. I wouldn’t patronize Townsend’s tire shop even if I lived in Decatur, and I doubt I would like talking to him. He claims to be a patriot and probably is, but he doesn’t really understand what patriotism means. That flag is the symbol of everything this country stands for, including the peaceful transfer of power he finds so distasteful this time around. Don’t mess with the flag.


All trekked out

November 18, 2008

The trailer is out for the new “Star Trek” movie, and it looks like we’re going to get a “beginnings” type look at the original Capt. Kirk crew. Sorry, “Next Generation” stars. And, hey, fans of “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager,” you really got screwed. (What, no big-screen version of Seven of Nine? Unthinkable.) On the other hand, Kirk apparently gets it on with Uhura, which we all knew was happening anyway, right? I must  either be beyond my geekydom (live long and prosper!) or just in a bad mood, because I watched the trailer and it didn’t do much for me.


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