Archive for June, 2006

Lightning strikes

June 30, 2006


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Howard the hippie

June 30, 2006

This might be the single most incoherent raving by a political figure I’ve seen in the last six months:

America is about to revisit one of the most turbulent decades in its history, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean told a religious conference in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. "We’re about to enter the ’60s again," Dean said, but he was not referring to the Vietnam War or racial tensions.

Dean said he is looking for "the age of enlightenment led by religious figures who want to greet Americans with a moral, uplifting vision."

"The problem is when we hit that ’60s spot again, which I am optimistic we’re about to hit, we have to make sure that we don’t make the same mistakes," Dean added.

Here’s an idea: If we don’t want to repeat the mistakes of the ’60s, let’s not go there. This is 2006. Let’s try to make it to 2007. That seems like a pretty good direction.

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Bring in the plumbers

June 30, 2006

We can agree or disagree with some of the assessments in this story about the true extent of the damage caused by the continuous publication of leaked secrets. But I think it gets one thing exactly right:

"The damage from this, if there is damage, is in the question of whether foreign governments and sources can trust the US to protect sensitive information," says Larry Johnson, a security consultant who worked for the CIA and the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism.

ANY successful war effort depends on secrets, especially among allies. Every story blabbing sensitive information increases the belief by our allies that we can’t keep those secrets. Everyone’s been focusing so much on the bad decisions by media outlets to publish the leaks that we’re danger of forgetting that there are people in the administration doing the leaking, people who are violating their oaths and breaking the law. If we want to talk about prosecution, up to and including for treason, this is where I would start.

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Humpty Dumpty tossed

June 30, 2006

Maybe this guy should be forced to put a sign in his yard that says, "I am a greedy, opportunistic jerk who got what he deserved":

The Indiana Supreme Court says a Munster man who leaned back too far and tumbled backward off the top row of gymnasium bleachers is responsible for his own fall.

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A stunning appeal

June 30, 2006

Ah, the workings of the legal mind. John Stephenson, 42, is to die by injection after a jury convicted of him in the March 1996 shooting deaths of three people along a rural Warrick County road. Stephenson is seeking a new trial or new sentencing. Here is what his attorney says:

During Stephenson’s eight-month trial in Warrick Superior Court, the sheriff’s department required Stephenson to wear a stun belt under his clothes as a security measure. If Stephenson had misbehaved in court, a sheriff’s deputy could have delivered a painful electric shock with a remote control, which did not happen.

State public defender Steve Schutte argued Wednesday that four to six of the original trial jurors saw the stun belt and realized what it was for.

"That says to a jury, ‘This is a dangerous man,’ . . ."

So jurors might have considered him a dangerous man because they saw the stun belt, not, you know, because he was charged with KILLING THREE PEOPLE.

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Stolen fries

June 29, 2006

Quick, what’s the most common thing women order in restaurants? A salad? Soup and half a sandwich? Iced tea? Guess again:

Women order fries more often than any other food.

Here’s another surprise: The second-most-ordered food is burgers, followed by pizza. A main-dish salad comes in seventh.

I have to admit this one shocked me. Most of the women I’ve ever dined with have not ordered French fries, but they usually ended up eating up half of mine. "Stolen fries taste the best," one once told me. I think I need more normal friends.

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Your boom is in the mail

June 29, 2006

Just a reminder, as we get closer to our first Fourth of July with legal fireworks, to read all the police reports on Wednesday, after having stayed safely indoors all day Tuesday:

A Whitefish man was critically injured early Tuesday while allegedly using fireworks to blow up mailboxes with a friend.

I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but alcohol was involved.

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A lousy little distraction

June 29, 2006

Hooray, let’s stick it to up for the common man:

A week after the GOP-led Senate rejected an increase to the minimum wage, Senate Democrats on Tuesday vowed to block pay raises for members of Congress until the minimum wage is increased.

What a showing of solidarity! Until those at the bottom of the pay scale get $7.25 an hour (never mind how many of them it will drive out of work), members of Congress will have to subsist on the pitiful scraps they get now.

I also loved Reid’s whining about how Congress is allowing itself to be distracted by such issues as "gay marriage, the estate tax and flag burning" instead of dealing with the important stuff. Flag burning, I seem to recall, took up all of a day and a half. That’s not much of a distraction. If they’d managed to keep that issue going for, say, two weeks, just imagine how many of the "important issues" they could have stayed away from instead of screwing them up royally.

The way Congress has been going lately, I’d prefer gridlock. In the meantime, bring on the distractions.

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The Fat Lady hasn’t sung

June 29, 2006

Gosh, I thought all the evidence was in and the debate about global warming all but over. That’s certainly the gist of this Associated Press review of Al Gore’s movie:

The former vice president’s movie — replete with the prospect of a flooded New York City, an inundated Florida, more and nastier hurricanes, worsening droughts, retreating glaciers and disappearing ice sheets — mostly got the science right, said all 19 climate scientists who had seen the movie or read the book and answered questions from The Associated Press.

But then there is this — how inconvenient:

The June 27, 2006 Associated Press (AP) article titled “Scientists OK Gore’s Movie for Accuracy” by Seth Borenstein raises some serious questions about AP’s bias and methodology.

AP chose to ignore the scores of scientists who have harshly criticized the science presented in former Vice President Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth.”

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In a moral muddle

June 29, 2006

OK, this is me being judgmental.

What can you say about (or to) a person who believes what she’s decided is "morally wrong" but is going to do it anyway because the other options would leave her "worse off emotionally"? Sorry, kid, you could have had a life, but I would have felt so bad about having you and then giving you up.

The story points out that, in Indiana, a woman must wait 18 hours for an abortion and receive state-mandated information about her choices in person. I know many people believe this is a terrible imposition on the "right to choose." But the story also quotes the woman in question:

"I found out that I was pregnant and it is definitely unplanned and unintended. I was on birth control at the time," said Renae. "I’m faced with a decision between keeping or aborting (the fetus)."

If you think if it as "a fetus," you’ve already made up your mind, and a week of haranguing won’t change your mind. I know this is a difficult issue, and I’m not quite as anti-choice as you might think. (My belief is that "a person" begins with the development of the brain, before which the state should not be involved and after which it has a legitimate interest). But you have to wonder about what we’ve come to if terminating even a potential human life and maintaining an emotional even keel have attained moral equivalency.

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Want to be full of spit?

June 29, 2006

See, there’s a silver lining in every cloud, even if it’s a killer cloud of tobacco smoke. Because Indiana has the second-highest percentage of smokers in the nation, we get to be a test site for this cool new product:

It’s called Taboka, a smokeless, spit-less tobacco product wrapped in sheath netting. It’s just days away from its national one-city debut in Indianapolis.

Well, maybe not cool. What’s the point of using a "smokeless tobacco" if you can’t go around spitting out clumps of brown, ugly goo every few minutes? People might tell you it’s disgusting, but at least they’re not getting it in their lungs, right? This sounds like something you might want to accompany with a nice, refreshing non-alcoholic beer.

I had an uncle — Victor, and I swear I’m not making this up — who could keep a wad of gum going in one cheek and a wad of tobacco going in the other and never get them mixed up.

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Tag, you’re out of it

June 28, 2006

Boy, am I glad I got through school before this crap started:

Some traditional childhood games are disappearing from school playgrounds because educators say they’re dangerous.

Elementary schools in Cheyenne, Wyo., and Spokane, Wash., banned tag at recess this year. Others, including a suburban Charleston, S.C., school, dumped contact sports such as soccer and touch football.

In other cities, including Wichita; San Jose, Calif.; Beaverton, Ore.; and Rancho Santa Fe., Calif., schools took similar actions earlier.

The bans were passed in the name of safety, but some children’s health advocates say limiting exercise and free play can inhibit a child’s development.

Many schools are also sending kids home with long lists of homework assignments over the summer. Why not just lock them in a room with armed guards until they’re 21?

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Are they actually Sirius?

June 28, 2006

Baba Wawa has been one of the people most responsbible for blurring the line between news and entertainment fluff on TV. But, hey, if you loved her smarmy interviews, you can pay to listen to them all over again:

Sirius will air a weekly two-hour series, starting next year, that replays many of the interviews Walters has conducted since joining ABC in 1976. About four interviews will be featured in each program, with new introductions by Walters to place them into the context of the time.

"It is a wonderful way for them to be heard," Walters told The Associated Press. "So many of them are classics.

Classics. Nope, nope, nope. Don’t think so.

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So long, Harry

June 28, 2006

Uh-oh, millions of kids probably will be upset to hear this:

LONDON, England (AP) — Author J.K. Rowling said two characters will die in the last installment of her boy wizard series, and she hinted Harry Potter might not survive either.

"I have never been tempted to kill him off before the final because I’ve always planned seven books, and I want to finish on seven books," Rowling said Monday on TV in London.

Better put the grief counselors on notice. No telling what this will do to the next generation’s self esteem.

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In the course of Human Events . . .

June 28, 2006

Here’s news Republicans will love to broadcast and Democrats will love to rally against. Mitch Daniels has cracked the Top 10 list of conservative governors as chosen by Human Events, the "national cosnervative weekly." Here’s what the political editor said about Daniels:

10. Mitch Daniels—Indiana

While the former Bush Office of Management and Budget chief upset Indiana conservatives with his call for a temporary tax increase on those earning more than $100,000-per-year (the legislature rejected this), he nonetheless overcame a $645-million deficit with spending cuts. He has also attracted more private-sector business to the state and signed a voter identification measure that infuriated liberals.

I’m guessing he got poor grades for the fact that he "upset Indiana conservatives" but bonus points for a measure that "infuriated liberals."

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Delay, delay, delay

June 28, 2006

The death-penalty appeal in this country has been so perfected that many people who are on death row have about as much chance of dying of old age as they do of the state actually carrying out the sentence. Now, in a case in which the resolution has been delayed for two and a half decades, the defense is using the delays ("some of which" he blames on the state) as reason for another appeal:

Prosecutors should be prohibited from again seeking the death penalty against a man convicted of killing a Gary police officer in 1981 because the passage of time would hinder his defense, an attorney told the Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Brilliant. Simply brilliant.

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The First Amendment, but . . .

June 27, 2006

As it happens, I agree with this editorial that a flag-burning amendment is a waste of time and effort — it’s not as if there’s a national epidemic. But I don’t agree with the newspaper’s reasoning that such a measure would somehow dilute the First Amendment:

The writers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights never envisioned freedom of speech applying only to pleasant words. There is no need to amend the First Amendment.

I see the opposite problem. The First Amendment has been expanded far beyond its original intent, including by proposals such as this one. What the writers of the Bill of Rights envisioned was protecting actual speech, especially the robust political speech so vital to a healthy democracy. I doubt very much if they intended to protect nude dancing or Karen Finley’s right to smear herself with chocolate in public, but that’s where we’ve come to.

Over the years, courts have moved beyond actual speech and way beyond political speech. The first layer of protection added was "expressive conduct." Since conduct frequently accompanies speech, it makes sense to extend the First Amendment’s protections to include such things as picketing and marching and door-to-door solicitations by those such as religious proseltyzers. Then courts went to the next logical step and added "symbolic conduct." That’s where we get into such things as nude dancing and flag burning. Courts have been mixed as the First Amendment has pushed into these new areas. In the ’60s, for example, the Supreme Court held that wearing peace-symbol armbands was protected, but burning draft cards, because it involved illegal behavior, was not.

The more vaguely defined the connection to the First Amendment and the closer we move to conduct and away from actual speech, the more it is legitimate to ask whether "free speech" is actually involved. There have always been exceptions to free speech anyway. Obscenity, for example, has never been covered by the First Amendment; justices have disagreed strongly on exactly what it is, but no Supreme Court in history, from the most liberal to the most conservative, has ever granted it protection. Defamation isn’t protected or breaches of the peace or "fighting words" or incitements to crime or sedition. None of these exceptions involve prior restraint, mind you, but what can or cannot be punished after the deed is done.

The First Amendment was never intended to cover everything people say and do in all places under all circumstances. And, as much as it has been expanded, it still isn’t that all-inclusive. As important as the amendment is, it represents one value that must compete with others.

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They’ll find you anywhere

June 27, 2006

If you ever doubted that telemarketers were out of control:

The federal government has decided to put its own secret Homeland Security hotline to the nation’s 50 governors on the federal Do Not Call Registry, according to Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner.

The move came after a complaint Thursday by Minner, who said that when her line rings, chances are it’s not an emergency but an unwanted intrusion. "Every time that phone rings, it’s telemarketers," she said in Washington.

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Forgive and forget

June 27, 2006

Holy cow! Looks like the debate over illegal aliens is going to turn around. Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, who has favored the "path to citizenship" for illegal aliens, now says he is firmly opposed to amnesty!

Oh, wait. He meant he is against amnesty for Iraqis:

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said if there is to be peace in Iraq, al-Maliki must find a formula for moving forward that is acceptable to all. "I’m hopeful that one of elements of the formula that he presents to the Sunnis is not amnesty because that is going to run into solid opposition, obviously, in the United States," Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CBS’"Face the Nation."

Never mind.

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Fencing in the land grabbers

June 27, 2006

It’s nice that the president has put the White House on record as being opposed to the use of eminent domain strictly for economic development purposes. But critics are right that this is mostly window dressing and that much more is needed:

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, praised President Bush’s order, but the senator pointed out the federal government has a limited role in such projects. He has introduced legislation to block federal funding for any state or local projects in which land was taken through eminent domain.

Even supporters of the broad use of eminent domain don’t think much of the president’s symbolic act:

Doug Kendall, executive director of the Community Rights Counsel, said he’s not aware of any federal government agency that takes property for economic development.

"It’s an effort to appease the property rights base, while ignoring the difficult question of when eminent domain should be used to help downtrodden communities," he said, according to the AP.

Note that this guy’s organization is called a Community Rights group. I don’t think "communities" have rights any more than animals do. Only individuals. Indiana legislators seemed to realize that and passed legislation last session to strengthen property rights.

(Nitpicky language gripe: I think the writer meant Community Rights Council, or else the guy who formed the group isn’t too swift.)

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Who’s responsible and who isn’t?

June 27, 2006

If a man deliberately sets out to get a woman drunk so she loses her inhibitions and has sex with him, I doubt too many would object to the state charging the man. Until it recently changed its law, Wisconsin  apparently was the only state left that did not define alcohol as a potential legal intoxicant in rape cases:

The change, long sought by rape-victim advocates in Wisconsin, means that victims who are very drunk during a sexual encounter can be judged incapable of giving consent, triggering a possible second-degree sexual assault charge.

But suppose a man and a woman each got drunk independently of each other, then met and had sex. Would the man still be held liable? Apparently so:

Blanchard also stressed that the somewhat lower bar on consent standards for victims does not extend to perpetrators, who can be charged for crimes whether they have been drinking or not.

Somebody please bring some moral clarity to this for me. Alcohol breaks down the inhibitions for everyone, right? Are we saying that men are to be held responsible for their actions even when they’re under the influence of alcohol, but women are not? What kind of equal treatment under the law is that?

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You may have OPD

June 26, 2006

Finally, a new psychological disorder is identifed that might actually exist:

In light of news that road rage is caused by a psychiatric illness — Intermittent Explosive Disorder — I would like to share my own findings. I am a clinical psychologist and have come up with a new syndrome — obnoxious personality disorder.

It’s a malady that exists mainly in Miami, although it is spreading to Broward and West Palm Beach. Some have hoped to escape it by moving to neighboring counties, but evidence of the illness is showing up as far away as Jacksonville.

I see great potential for a federal grant here for someone to find proof of what many of suspect, that OPD has left Florida and is, in fact, prevalent in Indiana.

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It’s Katie, bar the door!

June 26, 2006

I’m holding my breath. Is it possible she might come to Fort Wayne and that I, a humble resident of flyover country, might have my input sought for what a Great American Network would then beam back into my living room?

CBS said Thursday it is sending incoming evening-news anchor Katie Couric on a tour of several cities to meet informally with viewers this summer and hear what they’re interested in seeing on the news.

Gosh, Katie, I don’t know, how about, oh, let’s see, some news? A few facts about the things that might affect my life? Just do your job, please.

I have to admit, I’ve seen more than one "focus group" come and go at newspapers. What do you want us to publish? What would you like? How can we please you? What sniveling nonsense. People don’t know what they want in the paper until they see it. We’re supposed to be the ones getting paid to figure out what to give them. This is one of the trends screwing up the country. It seems to me it came along about the times personnel departments became "human resource" departments.

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Pop-ups for plop-downs

June 26, 2006

If you thought nothing could be more annoying than Internet pop-up ads:

TAMPA – That hallmark of Internet life – the pop-up ad – may be coming to a TV screen near you.

Cable and satellite TV companies serving the Tampa Bay area have begun experimenting with onscreen features and advertising that are more interactive and, they argue, helpful for TV viewers and clients.

"More interactive?" That means you will have to click something on your remote to get rid of the things. "Helpful" for TV viewers? No, you’ve just been using TiVo to skip the ads, and that can’t be tolerated. Love this:

Still, not all cable companies are sold on pop-up ads.

"We tried this in test markets and, frankly, it was not well-received," said Michael Thompson, director of marketing for Knology Inc. cable systems, which provides cable in parts of Pinellas County.

Now, there’s a shock. I see this never-ending struggle in our future. We keep figuring out how to avoid annoying, intrusive ads in every area of our lives, and they keep coming up with ever more clever ways of bombarding us with them.

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Reel estate

June 26, 2006

Make  no mistake. This isn’t about "protecting the consumer" and making sure all services are delivered. It’s a move to hold down competition, plain and simple:

A new state law will require Indiana real estate agents to provide a list of services that may seem like the basics to those who’ve bought and sold a home:

Answering questions, handling offers and counter-offers, and assisting with the transaction paperwork.

But critics of the law, which will take effect Saturday, say it will squeeze out an emerging choice for home sellers in some areas — one that lets clients choose and pay only for the real estate services they want.

What, you thought requirements that barbers and beauticians be licensed by the state were to protect your right to safe hair? There are many advantages to retaining a part-time legislature as Indiana does, but there are a few drawbacks, too. This is one of the them — the welcome mat that is put out for kindly, helpful lobbyists in professions to be in the thick of writing legislation that — surprise, surprise — helps those in the professions.

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