Archive for December, 2005

The top 10 arguments of 2005

December 30, 2005

Monday’s editorial page will be devoted to the "top 10 arguments of 2005" as selected by the editorial page staff — basically, me and editorial writer Bob Caylor. In defining a good argument, we didn’t consider only the ones in favor of a cause or effort we supported. A good argument just needs to be effective, based on one or more of several criteria. Was it especially eloquent for or against something in particular? Did it energize a political base or wake up the opposition? Did it advance our understanding of a complicated issue or shed new light on an old controversy? Did it elevate the conversation about an important subject?

Following, in no particular order, is the short version of our top 10, with links to the arguments so you can judge for yourself:

  • Rep. John Murtha, calling the war in Iraq a "flawed policy wrapped in an illusion," said it’s time to bring the troops home.
  • President Bush responds to Murtha, better explaining why we are in Iraq and trying to define what victory might mean.
  • The pope, in his "Instruction concerning the criteria of vocational discernment regarding persons with homosexual tendencies, concerning their admission to the seminary and to Holy Orders,” made it clear that, though the world might change, the church’s traditions won’t.
  • George Will wasn’t the only conservative who argued against the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, but he made one of the most convincing cases. And his defection, along with that of fellow conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, marked the turning point in the White House’s continued defense of Miers.
  • Gov. Mitch Daniels, in his inaugural address, made it clear that he wasn’t kidding around when he campaigned on bringing a lot more change to state government than Hoosiers were used to.
  • After years of conflicting ideas, inertia and false starts on downtown Fort Wayne, city leaders undertook a comprehensive process that involved looking at all the area’s strengths and weaknesses, getting massive public input and coming up with a plan that it hoped most people could buy into. The result was BlueprintPlus, a remarkable, 60-page combination of vision and pragmatism.
  • No court ruling in recent memory has sparked as much debate in Indiana as that of U.S. District Court Judge David Hamilton, whose decision basically told Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma to knock off his attempts to muscle in Christian sectarian prayers as almost the sole openers of House sessions.
  • Just because you’re on the losing side of the immediate debate, that doesn’t mean your argument won’t resonate in the public arena. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s stinging dissent (starts on Page 27) in the Kelo vs. City of New London case became part of the arsenal of weapons used by people woken up by the decision who started the fight to take back their private-property rights.
  • U.S. Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana’s 6th District emerged as THE spokesman for a revival of small-government conservatism in a GOP that had seemed to lose its way. In a series of no-nonsense speeches, he argued that his party had increasingly begun to see government as the solution to every social ill.
  • The 41 CEOs of the Northeast Indiana Corporate Council authored a blistering indictment of local officials who can’t even agree on occupying the same building, let alone think about something as complicated as cooperating or, heaven forbid, trying to consolidate government.

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Bottom of the barrel

December 30, 2005

I’d been getting tired of all the "best of 2005" lists, so I was glad to see this list of the worst TV shows of the year. I certainly agree with the inclusion of "Intervention," a truly appalling show. Can reality television just go away now? Enough, already.

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Wrong place, wrong time

December 30, 2005

Here’s an example of what drives some people stark, raving nuts about the immigration situation in our country. Even in a state as conservative as Indiana, there is a movement to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. If you talk to local law-enforcement officials, they’ll tell you the federal government won’t even come for a single illegal — if there isn’t a busload, forget it. At a time when there is a legitimate fear of terrorists sneaking into the country, our borders are more porous than ever. It’s just out of control, and the people who should be doing something about it can’t or won’t.

Yet here’s this one, unsuspecting teenager, brought into this country when he was 8, always thought he was an American but now learns he’s an illegal alien. And gets tossed into jail while it’s all sorted out by a bunch of dim-witted bureaucrats who say they’re just following the law. "What did I do wrong?" the kid asks. Well, for one thing, kid, you probably aren’t considered a representative of a big voting bloc.

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Borrowing trouble

December 30, 2005

Why we need a lot more Mike Pences in Congress:

U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow warned lawmakers on Thursday that a legally set limit on the government’s ability to borrow will be hit in mid-February and urged Congress to raise it quickly.

Failure to do so potentially risks throwing the country into its first default in history, Snow warned in what has become virtually an annual rite as U.S. borrowing needs spiral.

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Belts and helmets

December 29, 2005

Sen. Tom Wyss has introduced seat-belt legislation, the primary result of which would be to remove the buckle-up exemption for pickup trucks. As Masson’s Blog notes, "That distinction is awfully silly. Either it’s a good idea to require seat belts for people in motor vehicles on the public roads or not." There’s also another disparity, not mentioned by Masson, that makes Indiana’s vehicle-operator-safety rules one of the two silliest provisions of state law (the other being the "I promise to use these dangerous products only out of state" pledge required of people who buy "forbidden" fireworks): Drivers are required to wear seat belts; motorcycle operators, however, are not required to wear helmets. To paraphrase Masson’s Blog, either it’s a good idea to protect people from their own stupid behavior or not. Whether you’re of the "let people kill themselves" libertarian school or adhere to the "preventable deaths affect us all" philosophy, you have to admit that current state law on the matter is incoherent.

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We are how we eat

December 29, 2005

Much has been written about the demise of the family meal symbolizing the unraveling of this or that fabric of society. We shouldn’t overlook the obvious point that it has also removed the best way to learn how to eat properly:

We may laugh at reruns of "The Donna Reed Show," a product of the ’50s, in which a family gathers daily to say grace over its bountiful table. (The table always has proper linens and a stiff flower arrangement.) But the teenage daughter, though clothes-conscious, has a healthy, well-fed look.

Most families 50 years ago weren’t that hoity-toity, but they shared a square meal. Their dinner was also a fixed feature of the day.

When I lived in Michigan City, I had a friend who suffered from anorexia, and it was one of my first lessons in how scary mental illness can be. She had done everything she could to learn about her condition, did all the reading, had all the therapy. She got to the point where she understood perfectly, intellectually, exactly what was happening to her, how dangerous it was, even a large part of what caused it. "But that doesn’t mean," she said, "that I still don’t see a fat person every time I look in the mirror."

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Look at me, look at me!

December 29, 2005

Students desperate to get into their colleges of choice naturally can’t just be satisfied with sending in boring applications, so they trot out their circus acts. They are then shattered to learn that:

. . . college admission has more to do with finding a good fit rather than determining a student’s worth.

A lot of job applicants suffer under the same delusion, that it is all about them instead of their prospective employers’ needs. At least I did. Learning otherwise was, I think, one of my major accomplishments.

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Auf Wiedersehen

December 29, 2005

Man, I hate this, hearing that the Berghoff in Chicago is closing. Dining there (not just "eating") was one of the great gastronomic experiences of my life, the first time I ever had sauerbraten. I haven’t been there in more than 20 years, but the idea that I could go back sometime was one of the small comforts that got me through many a fast-food-gobbling day. Has anyone else wondered why Fort Wayne, with its strong German heritage, has had such a dearth of good German restaurants? Is it because people didn’t want to go out and eat the same things they had at home?

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If the shoe fits

December 29, 2005

Let’s see, I’m really, really bored, and I have a choice of two magazines to read — Sylvester Stallone’s fitness publication or one devoted to shoe fetishism. Tough call.

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A wise vote for a fine fellow

December 29, 2005

It might seem tacky for Columbia City Mayor James Fleck to break the City Council tie and vote for his own pay raise. But he has a valid point:

He was pushing for the mayor’s salary to be boosted to the same level as the department heads he supervises.

People who know they make more than their bosses tend not to take them seriously.

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Berry hard times

December 29, 2005

Looks like the Blueberry Festival in Marshall County, after 39 years in business, is encountering some tough financial times:

But organizers say the city of Plymouth increased its bill for services such as equipment rental by more than $5,000 for this year’s Labor Day festival.

"We want to stay involved with the city … but they’re kind of driving us away," festival president Randy Bowser said at this week’s Board of Public Works and Safety meeting.

Maybe they should go for the Fort Wayne Solution and start charging such high fees to the food booth providers that locals can no longer afford it and only traveling vendors will participate. Then Plymouth, too, can have a festival that’s lost its way and no longer has anything to do with celebrating the city.

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Right to view

December 28, 2005

Republican State Sen. Tom Wyss of Fort Wayne faxed me a copy of legislation he’s introducing to put a right-to-view provision into Indiana’s death-penalty statute. (It’s not available online at the legislative site yet, but when it is, it should be Senate Bill 160). Under current law, relatives of the person being executed can view the execution, but family members of the victims can’t. Wyss’ bill would reduce from 10 to five the number of friends or relatives of the convicted person who may attend and allow up to "eight adult members of the immediate family of the victim to be present at an execution." (If there was more than one victim, the total number of relatives still can’t exceed eight, and the Department of Corrections is supposed to develop procedures to choose who can be present at the execution if there are requests from more than eight people).

Wyss told me he doesn’t know if it is true that seeing an execution would "really bring closure" for the vitcims’ family members but that they should be given the option anyway. I agree with both sentiments. There are good reasons for victims’ relatives not to view the execution, including the fact that it might leave them more agonized than relieved. But let them make the call and decide whether it’s important to them or not.

In at least one state’s experience, more executions have victim witnesses as time goes on:

In 1997, twenty-three out of thirty-seven executions had victim witnesses. In 1998, seventeen of twenty executions had victim witnesses, and in 1999, twenty-nine of thirty-five executions had victim witnesses. In 2000, thirty-four of forty executions had victim witnesses. In 2001, fourteen of seventeen executions had victim witnesses. In 2002, 25 of 33 executions had victim witnesses.  In 2003, 19 of 24 executions had victim witnesses. In 2004, there were 16 executions with all 16 having victim witnesses. Thus far in FY 2005 there have been 12 executions with 10 having witnesses.

If this site is accurate, 20 of the 38 death-penalty states have some kind of right-to-view provision. Probably they don’t all follow the national protocol on victims as witnesses, but there is one.

Indiana already has quite a few laws concerning the rights of crime victims. This would be an important addition.

UPDATE: Doug of Masson’s Blog points out that Sen. Waterman already has a right-to-view bill (S.B. 122). Looks like it leaves the number of condemned’s friends and family at 10 and would allow only one relative of the victim. I like Wyss’ numbers more.

UPDATE 2: Doug doesn’t oppose the right-to-view effort but doesn’t think it’s as important as I do. The comment responding to him is from me.

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No sordid details

December 28, 2005

The Clinton impeachment, "in a gray area of history, too long ago to be a current event, too recent to be judged in perspective," has now hit school textbooks. The textbooks vary in how they treat the scandal, but all of them, even the college-level ones, are equally reluctant to get into the, um, details of what Clinton lied about:

Middle school texts describe it as "a personal relationship between the president and a White House intern." In high school books, it is Clinton’s "improper relationship with a young White House intern," or Clinton "denied having sexual relations" with an intern.

I remember being talked to by some nervous teachers during that period about our Student Voices letter-to-the-editor monthly competition, open to middle and high school students. We chose the topics for the contest, and on alternate months we picked generic topics or taken-from-the-headlines subjects. Clinton’s woes were in the news so much that year that more than one of the contests was based on the Monica affair or its fallout. To tell you the truth, the kids dealt more maturely with the subect than most adults who wrote letters to the editor. I suspect they could handle some of the "sordid details" in textbooks, too.

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Highs and lows

December 28, 2005

The Indianapolis Star looks back at the high and low points for Indiana’s congressional delegation. This is the take on 3rd District Republican Rep. Mark Souder:

Highlight: His Fort Wayne-based district was a winner in the military base-closing process, gaining new Air Guard planes and more than 200 jobs.

Lowlight: His anti-meth legislation was stymied by the fight over renewal of the Patriot Act.
And this is what they say about Republican Mike Pence of the 6th District:
Highlight: His star rose in his first year heading a group of House conservatives, particularly after Congress endorsed a budget-cutting package.
Lowlight: House GOP leaders chewed him out for a well-covered news conference he organized to say Republicans weren’t trying hard enough to cut spending.
Actually, the high and low point for Pence cover the same subject, and considering how his less-than-thrifty GOP leaders come out looking, if that’s his "low point," way to go.

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A billion here, a billion there

December 28, 2005

Why did anybody expect No Child Left Behind to be any different from any other federal program in just throwing money at a problem and pretending that it will make a difference? NCLB, among other things, mandates tutoring for low-income, low-performing students. So the money gets tossed around, consulting firms make a mint, and nobody even knows if it’s helping the kids:

On the state and national levels, no one tracks school spending on the tutoring industry, which analysts predict could become a $2 billion-a-year venture.

Big shock.

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Al the trooper

December 27, 2005

I’m not crazy about Al Franken; I think he’s wrong on just about everything and, worse, he’s not really funny anymore. But you have to give him credit for being willing to entertain the troops and trying to leave his politics at home when he does.

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Reason for a list

December 27, 2005

This, from the Reason Foundation, is one of the more interesting "top 10"  lists of the year. It features "key domestic policy developments affecting individual liberty, free markets, government accountability and the rule of law" and also includes what to look for next year as the issues develop. Note that one of the 10 is about the privatization of toll roads.

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Got a second?

December 27, 2005

We’re confused enough about time in Indiana. This will probably drive us right around the bend:

Leap seconds are not without controversy, however.  They can affect communications, navigation and air traffic control systems and computer systems that have to be updated.

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There’ll be 50 in 2006 alone

December 27, 2005

Look through this list of the 50 greatest gadgets of the past 50 years and try to guess which is the very best gadget of all. Give up? The next one, of course.

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Eye on the prize

December 27, 2005

People who don’t think the Iraqis’ fight for liberty is worthy probably won’t appreciate the larger story, either — but 2005 has been a good year for freedom. And the best news:

Of the nine countries that improved their ratings, no fewer than six are Muslim countries. Indonesia moved from "partly free" to "free," while Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Mauritania and the Palestinian Authority moved from "not free" to "partly free." Of the four countries that became less free in 2005, none was a Muslim country.

The world is moving in the right direction. Let’s be on the right side of history.

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Going to pot

December 27, 2005

You can have limited sympathy for this doctor who was apparently growing marijuana to treat his wife — if you break the law, you accept the consequences — and still doubt the wisdom of coming down hard on him. The drug warriors do not enlist much support for their cause by treating all drugs the same. I presume most people would consider a meth lab in the garage next door much more dangerous than the doctor’s enterprise to the neighborhood and the well-being of society.

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Your smoke-free castle

December 23, 2005

And you thought those of us who said the anti-everything crowd would soon be coming into our homes were just being paranoid:

Ministers have told councils, health boards and social work departments that they should compile a "smokers’ map" of Scotland, focusing on those who regularly receive visits from officials and carers. This would identify individual households where a smoker is resident.

The smokers would then be sent letters asking them not to smoke for one hour before a council worker or health worker called round. Public bodies have also been advised to use the smokers’ map to ensure that any workers who suffer from breathing problems are kept away from the homes of smokers.

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Hillary being Hillary

December 23, 2005

I really hate to spend a lot of time thinking about Hillary Clinton, but since she’s likely to be the Democratic candidate for president, it has to be done. This guy has her pegged, I think. When a politician we think of as candid and forthright suddenly turns nakedly opportunistic, it disappoints us. When Ms. Clinton does it, we just think, oh, well, that’s Hillary being Hillary. And it’s not even interesting to watch, as it at least was occasionally with Bill:

Lacking her husband’s uncanny knack for finessing left and right, however—the famous triangulation strategy—she plays the game awkwardly, like a very earnest Vulcan who has closely studied Earth politics.

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Feel like you’re being watched?

December 23, 2005

If you feel like getting away from it all, too bad. There’s no place where they can’t find you:

Britain is to become the first country in the world where the movements of all vehicles on the roads are recorded. A new national surveillance system will hold the records for at least two years.

Using a network of cameras that can automatically read every passing number plate, the plan is to build a huge database of vehicle movements so that the police and security services can analyse any journey a driver has made over several years.

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Too cute for words

December 23, 2005

Bunnies_1  Come on admit it, there’s not nearly enough cuteness in your life. Even if you’re a big, burly heterosexual male, you long to go "awwwww" at least once a day. Well, this site will satisfy the most cuteness-deprived people in the world. Just leave the computer if you’re going to get sick.

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