Archive for December, 2006

Big Bad John

December 29, 2006

One good thing about the Clinton-Obama slugfest is that it might knock Edwards out of the race fairly quickly:

Former senator John Edwards of North Carolina launched his second campaign for the White House from this flood-ravaged city Thursday with a call for the United States to reduce its troop presence in Iraq and a plea for citizen action to combat poverty, global warming and America’s reliance on foreign oil.

Wow. War, poverty, global warming and foreign oil are bad. What a brave, bold platform. I have it — let’s outlaw cars; all problems solved. We won’t need the oil, nobody will care about the Mideast any longer, the Earth will be saved, and we will all be equally poor.

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Mr. Penny Pincher

December 29, 2006

Kevin Leininger had a good column last night about Paul "Mike" Burns, the former mayor and city councilman who made contrariness an art form. I love this quote:

As State Rep. and former City Councilman and Mayor Win Moses said, “Because he voted ‘no’ on everything, Burns never voted for anything that went wrong.” Not many politicians can say that.

There is a sometimes not-so-fine line between resistance and obstructionism, and Mr. Burns surely crossed it more than once. But every legislative body, especially ones as small as city councils, needs someone like him who counts every paperclip and questions every dime. Somebody who actually sits at the table needs to keep reminding them (since they often don’t pay attention to editorials and letters to the editor) that it ain’t their money they’re spending. There are a couple of good watchdogs on the council now but nobody who approaches the mission with the zeal of Burns.

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Buildings of cards

December 29, 2006

I would like to thank the "key legislators" who are watching out for me and really seem to care about my well-being:

Concerned about new casinos that could be more like buildings than boats, several key legislators want to review whether state regulators are stretching what Indiana’s gambling law allows.

House Speaker Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, said legislators will make changes if necessary to ensure the Indiana Gaming Commission can’t authorize what Bauer says are essentially land-based casinos.

"They can’t change the rules," Bauer said.

I know some will say the legislators are being silly, wasting time on a superficial distinction after they have allowed gambling to take over the whole state, but that’s only because they don’t understand the sophisticated reasoning being deployed. If I gamble in a "building," it’s like I’m giving in to sin in a way that feels like my normal life, which means I could come to accept it as natural and become addicted to it. If I gamble on a "boat," which I am hardly ever on, it will seem like an exotic experience, a fun fling of the kind one only engages in when 100 miles from home and there are no cameras, so I am much less likely to decline into wastrelness.

I bet you didn’t think our legislators were capable of such subtleties.

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Stop the music!

December 28, 2006

One reason to be glad the holiday season is almost over:

Forcing store clerks to listen to the same holiday music over and over could be akin to torture and should change, a British noise pollution group said.

The UK Noise Association and labor unions are suggesting legal action on behalf of store employees who listen to endless looped recordings of holiday music, the Observer said Sunday.

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I don’t know how the people who drive the ice cream trucks keep from becoming homicidal. Maybe if it were "Jingle Bells" or "Holly, Jolly Christmas" they had to hear OVER and OVER and OVER again, they would indeed snap.

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Degrees of separation

December 28, 2006

I notice that people everywhere, including Fort Wayne, are sharing their stories of having met or in some other way been touched by President Ford. I am sorry to report that I don’t have such a story.

I was, however, at the Michigan City rally for Ronald Reagan, the time he was seeking the presidency and didn’t get it. I’ll always remember it because Barbara, one of my newspaper co-workers, thought it would be the highlight of her life. She had had a lifetime crush on Jimmy Stewart, who was accompanying Reagan. But when we got to the rally, and she saw Stewart in person, she realized that he had a HAIR on the outside of his NOSE. I have not seen, before or since, anyone so devastated.

And James Brown and I were in Vietnam at the same time, which is probably the only thing that saved the tour for me. I was temporarily out of country when Bob Hope did his thing. Can you imagine — going to Vietnam and missing Bob Hope? James Brown was even funny, though, God knows, he didn’t have to be.

I also got a post card once from Birch Bayh, father of Evan, after I interviewed him in Wabash and wrote nice things about him. But he isn’t dead yet, so this probably isn’t the time to make a big deal about it.

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Fred’s Law

December 28, 2006

Fred Phelps is either a delusional whack job who really believes that God is killing our soliders in Iraq because the U.S. too gay-friendly a country, or else he is a shameless publicity hustler. In either case, he has what he probably wanted:

President Bush has signed into a law an amendment to U.S. law protecting military funerals from protests like those staged by a controversial Kansas church that characterizes soldiers’ deaths as divine punishment for homosexuality.

The new amendment prohibits protestors from demonstrating within 150 feet of a funeral and within an hour of the memorial service. It provides a year in jail and/or an undetermined fine for violators.

Imagine, being able to launch, from a tiny little church in Kansas, a crusade that changes U.S. law. Has Borat heard about this?

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Be afraid

December 28, 2006

Indiana lawmakers return in January — one variation of headline in many newspapers and on many Web sites in the last couple of weeks.

"No man’s life, liberty or fortune is safe while our legislature is in session." — attributed to Benjamin Franklin.

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The People

December 28, 2006

I’ve written enough about the need for us to move on from the time-zone issue, and every time I do, I get calls and mail from people who don’t want to let it go. But let me say an unkind word or two about the rederendum, which we should be thankful Indiana uses only sparingly rather than promiscuously as California and some other states do:

A bill introduced by state Rep. David Crooks, D-Washington, would put a ballot question before voters in the November 2008 general election to determine if the entire state could be placed into the Eastern or Central time zone.

Crooks said the referendum would simply gauge public opinion and give lawmakers better direction on how to proceed.

"What I’m trying to do is have fact-finding opportunity on what could occur. The biggest concern I hear is, ‘We want unity, whatever time zone that would be,’" he said.

Unity is much overrated. Time zones should be decided based on what makes geographic and commercial sense, not what The People want. Seeking the counsel of The People is the mark of a cowardly politician who just wants to stay in office rather than worrying about doing the right thing. We have, wisely, decided to have a republic rather than a pure democracy, removing the most critical decisions from the whims and passions-of-the-moment of The People. We don’t decide. We just decide who decides.

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In the lick of time

December 28, 2006

Awwww, a brave doggie saves his people’s lives:

We named him Hero and now is a hero," said fire victim Melissa Boyd.

Hero was coughing from smoke inhalation after saving Boyd and her 4-year-old son from a house fire on Christmas.

"The dog saved our lives because he jumped on my son and started licking him on the face to wake him up," Boyd said.

"He went in the fire," said Noah Boyd.

I love my cats dearly, but they would never lower themselves to something so inconsequential as saving my life. They lick my face for their own selfish reasons, usually because they are bored and my reaction amuses them. A fire? Hey, way cool. Look at the way his head is all lit up.

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Doubt and certainty

December 28, 2006

I read this Richard Cohen column in yesterday’s Journal Gazette, and it really ticked me off, which, I suppose, is a better way than some to make sure one is awake enough to leave the house and get into the car:

If I were not forced to choose a person as my person of the year, I might choose a concept: certainty. It is the one concept we cannot afford. Certainty is where we all get into trouble. We were so certain that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that it was reason enough to go to war. And once we went to war, we were certain that we would be welcomed in Baghdad by adoring throngs of Iraqis. And all that certainty was itself preceded by the fervid certainty of a president that he had been chosen for this war, this moment, this task. This was the worst certainty of them all.

So, Cohen’s goal is to go through life full of doubt, certain of nothing? And that’s the kind of leaders he wants? No, I realized, such people really aren’t full of doubt. They are certain, too, and certain that the problem with the people who don’t agree with them is that they are too certain.

Then, later in the morning, a column came across the wire by Jonah Goldberg (which will be in today’s News-Sentinel, one small benefit of having a two-newspaper town), and he answered Cohen and his fellow doubters far better than I could:

This ultimately is my problem with the anti-certainty chorus; they aren’t offended by conviction per se, but by convictions they do not hold. Jean-Paul Sartre famously wrote that "hell is other people." Well, for the new "liberal" champions of skepticism and philosophical humility, hell is the certainty of other people. "Closed-minded" has come to mean "people who disagree with me." (This is a corollary to the popular tendency of defining "diversity" as a bunch of people who look different but think alike). So, for example, pro-lifers have an unshakable "dogmatic" and "faith-based" certainty that abortion is wrong. But, we are told, pro-choicers are merely open-minded and realists. People who are certain gay marriage is good are "enlightened" people, while those whose convictions point elsewhere are zealots.

In other words, certainty has become code among the intellectual priesthood for people and ideas that can be dismissed out of hand. That’s what is so offensive about this fashionable nonsense: It breeds the very closed-mindedness it pretends to fight.

I wrote a column for the editorial page a few years ago, and it’s even truer now, that the older I get, the fewer things I am certain of. But I am more and more certain of those few things. That seems to me to be a normal progression, the way thinking people change. As we learn, we discard the certitude that comes from prejudice, our parent’s views, "the way things have always been" and all sorts of other reflexive responses, and remain certain of only those things our experience tells us is true. As we have been discussing in a previous post, if doesn’t matter what you believe but what you have accumulated the evidence to support. The goal should be to seek certainty through the available facts, then act on it, not dismiss the certainty of people we don’t agree with. What they believe doesn’t matter, either — only what they can convince us is true.

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Keep your bad opinions to yourself

December 27, 2006

No, you do not have a right to your opinion. Because:

1. A right for one person carries with it duties for other people. If I have a right to live, you have a duty to not kill me. If you have a right to your good reputation, I have the duty to not libel you.

2. If you did have a right to your opinion, what is the corresponding duty I have? To agree with you? Of course not. If you have a right to your opinion, I have a right to mine; so we can’t both exercise our own rights and fulfill our duties to the other person. To listen to your opinion? Heavens no. There are too many opinions, and there is so little time. To let you keep it without protest, even if you are wrong? But if you were, for example, crossing the street because you had the mistaken opinion that a speeding car were not heading for you, wouldn’t you consider it my obligation to correct your mistake?

3. So there is no right to an opinion, unless you keep it to yourself, in which case there is no right at all, since rights can exist only in connection with other people and their behavior. Whenever anyone says, "Well I have a right to my opinion," he is really saying that he has no evidence to offer for that opinion and he is really not interested in pursuing the truth of the matter. It’s like resigning a chess game because you know you can’t win it.

That’s my paraphrase of one of the passages in the opening chapter of "Crimes Against Logic," a nifty little book by Jamie Whyte, an English philosopher who used to lecture at Cambridge, which I received for Christmas. I’ve read dozens of books on argument and rhetoric and logic, and this is one of the most readable. Whyte is short on the jargon that professional arguers love to throw around, such as "ad hominem fallacy" and "post hoc, ergo propter hoc," and long on everyday, comon-sense examples. If you want to be better at spotting the flaws in others’ arguments, and better at making arguments yourself, I highly recommend it.

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War math

December 27, 2006

This is even lamer than the "Iraq war has gone on longer than World War II" stories:

The latest deaths also brought the number of U.S. military members killed since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003 to at least 2,978 — five more than the number killed in the Sept. 11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

You can’t even think about doing that math, let alone sitting down to write the sentence and stick it in a supposedly objective news story, without having a mindset that says "This war is wrong, President Bush is evil, and it’s time for him to admit it and get us out of there." How many people died at Pearl Habor? At what point during World War II did the number of U.S. military members killed equal that number?

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Obama banter

December 27, 2006

Barack Obama is saying nothing, but doing so eloquently, he is "humble in all the right places," and he is just exotic enough at a time when people are sick and tired of all the same old faces. So says columnist Froma Harrop, who compares the senator to a couple of Hoosiers:

In 1996, Richard Lugar ran for president as a brainy, issue-oriented moderate and all around decent guy. He said back then that the voters had tired of the mud-throwing and cheap sound bites in Washington. "If they really want shouters and screamers," the dark-suited Lugar said, "then they’ll vote for someone else."

Lugar lost the Republican nomination to Bob Dole, who then lost the election to Bill Clinton.

Indiana’s junior senator, Democrat Evan Bayh, recently visited New Hampshire to weigh his prospects for a 2008 presidential run. He was flattened by crowds running to see Obama, and dropped out.

What was Obama saying that other centrists would not have? Absolutely nothing.

Obama talked about ending the nastiness in Washington and taking personal responsibility, and that government can’t solve all problems — platitudes emptied of all controversy. If anything, his colleagues from Indiana would surely have offered more exciting commentary.

Obama’s appeal comes not from the things he says, but from who is saying them. He scores as an exotic who talks of barbershops and church socials in the flat tones you’d expect from any son of the prairie.

Had Bayh been half-Kenyan and raised in Hawaii by white grandparents from Kansas, he too would have become a political star, at least for the month of December. But he is a conventional white man. When Bayh speaks in the quiet Midwestern way, he gets tarred as lackluster.

Yeah, Bayh is lackluster, and it could have been mentioned that Lugar comes across as boring. I wouldn’t call any of the bunch "centrists," except for the content of their speeches. Bayh and Obama pretty much vote the Democratic line, and Lugar is a loyal Republican voter. I’m also not sure about "Obama’s appeal comes not from the things he says, but from who is saying them." It’s also how he says them — we do value political eloquence in this country. But it will take Obama only so far.

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Big goof

December 27, 2006

How would you go before this judge one of these days?

The Indiana Supreme Court has reprimanded a judge for allowing a man to stay in prison more than a year longer than necessary.

The court said in a Dec. 19 reprimand that Madison Superior Court 3 Judge Thomas Newman Jr.’s “conduct reflects discredit on him and the Indiana judicial system.”

The state judicial commission filed disciplinary charges against Newman in July, accusing him of “indifference” in the case.

The best part is that the prosecutor defended the judge, saying he wasn’t really indifferent; he just made an "inadvertent" mistake. Oops, there goes a year of your life. So sorry. My goof.

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Ringing in the new year

December 27, 2006

A Gary Post-Tribune columnist is suggesting 10 places in that city at which to have a good time on Sunday, New Year’s Eve. There will undoubedtly be similar suggestions made in other cities, and you can get lots of tips on where to go in Fort Wayne. Here’s my advice: 1. Get food, beverages and whatever other supplies you might need early, say on Thursday. 2) Go home on Friday after work, and get a good night’s sleep. 3.) Go out on Saturday and get whatever you forgot on Thursday. Catch lunch while you’re out, maybe even take in a movie. 4). On Sunday, open the door to get the newspaper, then go back in the house and STAY THERE UNTIL MONDAY. It will be crazy and dangerous on the way to and from wherever you might go. What, are you nuts, thinking about getting out there with all the drunks?

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That was the year that was

December 26, 2006

We’re in the post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s news black hole, so it’s time to start looking back on 2006 and trying to figure it out.

Call it the war on terror, a war against Islamofascism or a war between modernity and tribalism, we seem to have all but forgotten the struggle we finally had to acknowledge we were in on 9/11. Look no further than the Associated Press’ top 10 stories of 2006, which leads off with the war in Iraq and finishes with Darfur (poor Al Gore’s Global Warming crisis was only No. 11). I’d name the absence of that struggle from the list my top story of the year. What’s it going to take for us to pay attention again, losing a whole city? Also not on the list, but something that deserves top-10 placement, is the YouTube phenomenon. This is the year we’ll look back on and realize it’s when the fundamental relationship between content providers and content consumers changed forever.

I haven’t even seen any ballots for top state news stories, but the takeover of the House by Democrats is the story we’ll still be talking about next year. With both houses controlled by Republicans, Gov. Daniels was able to get much of his activist agenda through in his first two years. His last two will be a slightly different story.

Locally, I’d make it a toss-up between the downtown stadium, which was already on the list of possibles before it even became an actual proposal, and the county’s smoking ban. Both will continue to make news far into 2007. I’d probably lean toward the stadium because there are more long-range implications.

But what do journalists know? Here are bunch of YOUR top-10 searches through Yahoo for the year. Your top overall search was for Britney Spears. Your top two news searches were for the deaths of Steve Irwin and Anna Nicole’s son; Iraq came in at No. 3.

And a few more lists:

The top 10 words of the year, led off by "truthiness."

The top 10 baby names of 2006, led by Aiden and Emma.

The top 10 albums of the year, chosen by a Billboard panel of critics. Bob Dylan had the No. 1 spot.

The American Film Institute’s choice for the 10 best films of the year.

Consumer affairs lists the top 10 scams of the year, led with, of course, the fake lottery scam.

Top 10 funniest political quotes of the year. And the winner is . . . John Kerry: “If you make the most of (education), you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

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Shut up, Virginia

December 24, 2006

Aasanta Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, as surely as blah, blah, blah. It was in the New York Sun in 1897 and is probably the most famous editorial ever blah, blah, blah. My boss made me run that on the editorial page every year. He left, so I quit running it. Yes, Santa Claus, there is a Leo, ho-ho-ho. I thought I had gotten rid of the silly thing for good, but I got this e-mail just the other day:

DEAR LEO: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says if it’s in Opening Arguments, it must be true. So tell me. Is there a Santa Claus? VIRGINIA.

I guess I have to answer her. We are supposed to be interactive these days.

Dear Virginia: I am very busy right now. You think I have nothing better to do than answer questions from silly little girls? I have passed your concerns along to a few other people in hopes that they might be able to address your concerns. Following are some of the responses I received.

GEORGE BUSH: Yes, it is true that I originally believed there is a Santa Claus. But if you look at the record, you will see that EVERYBODY believed it, including France and members of the Clinton administration.

TEDDY KENNEDY: It has become obvious that no one over the age of 8 continues to believe there is a Santa Claus. George Bush lied, children cried.

NANCY PELOSI: Hearings will begin on that issue shortly after the first of the year. We will focus specifically on the question of what ethical considerations might have been violated in connection with any promises that might have been tendered or exacted by the previous leadership in regards to all these "gifts." Rest assured that Christmas will now become a transparent holiday that the American people can once again have faith in.

AL GORE: Certainly he exists, but unless we change our ways, he is doomed. The North Pole IS MELTING as we speak!!!

GOV. MITCH DANIELS: It seems a disservice to taxpayers to try to get all those toys delivered on one night by one man. My administration is now in talks with Toys ‘R Us, and we should be able to get $1 billion up front for all-day kindergarten and a plan to save horse racing in Indiana.

MAYOR GRAHAM RICHARD: The problem isn’t Santa Claus, the problem is that we just haven’t made Fort Wayne attractive enough for him to stop here. We will take care of that in the next phase of our downtown redevelopment plan, which will require us to take over the top floors of all buildings through eminent domain for the installation of bigger chimneys.

THE INDIANA POLICY REVIEW: A study we commissioned by economist Sam Staley indicates that whatever illusion of "joy" and "good will" is created by this one day of gift-giving quickly dissipates before the first of the year. Anyone with a minimal understanding of economics will realize that a cost-benefit analysis reveals Santa’s mission to be a fool’s errand.

NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL PAGE: Santa Claus is merely encouraging dependency among a group of people who should learn self-sufficiency. When they get gifts for free on one day, merely by asking for them, they tend to expect the same treatment from then on, forgetting that they must only expect the benefits of their own hard work.

JOURNAL-GAZETTE EDITORIAL PAGE: "Santa Claus" is a polite fiction invented by conservative reactionaries who want us to believe that private charities can take the place of a compassionate government that best understands the needs of a diverse population and can redirect its resources accordingly.

INDIANAPOLIS STAR EDITORIAL PAGE: The evidence arguing against the existence of Santa Claus is persuasive, and mounting, but the heartfelt belief of generations of children cannot lightly be dismissed. Much further study is required.

I also received many responses from local bloggers. A lot of it was gibberish that I couldn’t quite make out, but a few comments stood out. Mitch Harper at Fort Wayne Observed pointed out that he was one of the first people in this area to support Santa Claus, pushing through a bill when he was a member of the General Assembly that made the jolly old man exempt from the gift tax. Angry White Boy at Fort Wayne News wonders why Santa, always seeking to have young people sitting on his lap, isn’t on a registry somewhere yet. Robert at Left of Centrist observes that Santa is surely a Democrat who secretly sat in at drums for the Beatles between Pete Best and Ringo Starr. Bob G. notes that, if Santa comes to southeast Fort Wayne, he might need more than a .38 special to protect his milk and cookies. I haven’t heard yet from Nancy Nall, but I understand that she has spent five minutes on Google researching everything there is to know about Santa and is prepared to smack down anybody who presumes to write too superficially about him.

As you can plainly see, Virginia, the world has changed. It is no longer the case that one overworked editorial writer will create something that tries to take one specific question from an 8-year-old girl in one city and make it touch a universal chord within all of us. There is no common ground anymore, Virginia. We are all just shouting into the well, hoping the echo makes us feel good. Go listen to your iPod, Virginia, or put the video of your teddy bear on YouTube. Some of us have serious personal issues we need to get out there in hopes that we get noticed.

P.S. I did send your query to Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit. He sent back 367 links. I don’t have time to check them out, but you might find one or two of them of interest. Tell Your dad to go back to his newspaper and stop being a troublemaker.

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It’s everybody’s First

December 22, 2006

If you weren’t watching TV on Wednesday, you missed some good cussin’, on C-SPAN, of all places. That dull little cable network was carrying the hearing on the FCC’s tough new decency standards, and the judges and attorneys involved actually used the F-word and the S-word, among other expletives. The FCC apparently didn’t come off looking too good:

When Miller explained that the FCC policy was crafted largely to protect young children from indecent language, (Judge) Pooler asked why the FCC wasn’t similarly concerned about violence. And when he said broadcast TV should be regulated differently than cable because it was more pervasive, and because some children had broadcast TVs in their bedrooms, Pooler argued that any parent who allowed an unmonitored TV in a child’s room already was abdicating responsibility.

"You want to protect those children … even when their parents are lax," she told him.

The slippery standards were made clear to anyone who watched yesterday. Cher uttering an obscenity live on the Billboard Music Awards? Unacceptable to the FCC.

That same utterance by Cher, if replayed on broadcast news putting these very Fox v. FCC hearings in context? Protected as news. But if the FCC seeks to protect children from any exposure, why is news safe?

The FCC didn’t have persuasive answers to most of the tough questions posed yesterday.

I defer to no one in dismay over the coarsening of the popular culture and the belief that we need to stop exposing our children to all the vile crap they must now cope with. But wishing we would do something is not the same as wanting the government to order it so done. The Founders were fairly serious about freedom of the press, and the First Amendment was designed to let us all have robust exchanges of expression with a minimum of government interference. If the electronic media had been around the, they would have been included in the protection as much as the print media.

Of course if the electronic media had been around then, the deliberations of the Philadelphia convention would have been leaked to the 6 o’clock news, and we wouldn’t even have had a Constitution written, but that’s a different story.

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He likes us!

December 22, 2006

A cynical New Yorker finds a reason to rhapsodize about Indiana:

IF LIFE were fair, Ronell Wil son, the weasel, would wind up on the same juice-jab gurney as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

"Knowing full well that nobody would ever be executed in New York, I asked where Wilson could be executed and I was told, Terre Haute, Ind.," said Mike Palladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association.

That is where McVeigh was dispatched and Wilson the weasel would follow the same express train to a damned eternity. If life were fair.

Just keep your tired, your poor, your huddled masses. Send us your scum, and we’ll give ’em the old juice-jab.

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Build it, and they will . . . what?

December 22, 2006

Overall The long heralded downtown baseball-stadium plan is finally here, and it’s a doozy. We should probably call it the stadium-plus plan, since it also includes a hotel, condos, shopping and a little bit of everything else. There’s so much to say about the proposal that we’ll all undoubtedly be writing back and forth about it for months, but just a few obvious points right off, er, the bat:

1. There had better be very open and very thorough discussions about this at every step of the process. If a monster project such as this is to succeed, public support is essential. If it gets pushed through over the objections of a majority of the citizenry, it will fail. There’s nothing Fort Wayne and Allen County taxpayers hate more than feeling like something is a done deal they have no say on.

2. It will be a tough sell. Everything proposed for Harrison Square, we already have. There’s a stadium people already go to. People are now quite happy to shop at Glenbrook and Jefferson Pointe. There are plenty of hotel rooms and places to live in other parts of town. Why is it so important to have all that stuff in one particular place? The case can’t be made with facts and figures — the opponents will have plenty of those, too, and everybody will be able to point to similar projects in other cities that succeeded or failed, and nobody can really predict how this one might work out. The city has to sell a dream — why downtown is important and why this will revive it.

3. This project is so big that it will suck all the air out of any other downtown plans for a long time. So this had better be the right idea. It would be better for it to not get off the ground than for it to get done and not make it.

4. I’m a big believer in downtowns in general and have a lot of fond memories of ours in particular, so I really would like to see it come back. I’m not sure this is the best idea. It’s a self-contained complex. Even if it does well, how will it spur development elsewhere, especially on what will become the dead zone on the north side of the Grand Wayne Center? Why should I care if this particular corner of downtown does well for the people who set up businesses there?

5. But I’m still only skeptical, not cynically pessimistic.

Our editorial board will be meeting with the mayor at 3 o’clock this afternoon. If’s there’s something you’d like to know about the proposal, put it in a comment, and I’ll ask him. Nothing snarky or sarcastic, please. Serious questions about a major project that could be good or bad for downtown. I’ll write about his answers in a future post.

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Half a loaf

December 21, 2006

The mayor proposes a 30 percent raise for his office and ends up with a 15 percent one. Boy, couldn’t see that one coming, huh? I hope this means the mayor will do a 15 percent better job in watching out for MY money.

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Vietnam redux

December 21, 2006

Well, that’s the problem, isn’t it?

As he searches for a new strategy for Iraq, Bush has now adopted the formula advanced by his top military adviser to describe the situation. "We’re not winning, we’re not losing," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. The assessment was a striking reversal for a president who, days before the November elections, declared, "Absolutely, we’re winning."

If we’re not winning and we’re not losing, we’re just fooling around in place. Newt Gingrich made a point on ABC’s Sunday show recently that we had two options in Iraq — rely on the local structure and have a minimal American presence, as we did in Afghanistan, or dismantle the structure and put massive American forces there. We chose instead a disastrous mixture of the two — dismissing the locals but trying to maintain a light footprint. Gingrich has the advantage of being an expert iin hindsight, but that sounds about right. I’ve been critical of those who can’t get over Vietnam and base all their foreign-policy opinions on our experience in that debacle, but it’s clear we’re still struggling with an important lesson Vietnam should have taught us: Don’t go to war unless you have to, and if you do, don’t just fool around with it.

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To the moon and back

December 21, 2006

I’ve written before that space exploration is one government program I support — the public sector has been subsidizing voyages of discovery at least since the time of Columbus. And the idea of a moon base appeals to me, probably as much for romantic reasons as practical ones. But Gregg Easterbrook, writing for Slate, makes a good case that returning to the moon would be an expensive folly:

What’s it for? Good luck answering that question. There is scientific research to be done on the moon, but this could be accomplished by automatic probes or occasional astronaut visits at a minute fraction of the cost of a permanent, crewed facility. Astronauts at a moon base will spend almost all their time keeping themselves alive and monitoring automated equipment, the latter task doable from an office building in Houston. In deadpan style, the New York Times story on the NASA announcement declared, "The lunar base is part of a larger effort to develop an international exploration strategy, one that explains why and how humans are returning to the moon and what they plan to do when they get there." Oh–so we’ll build the moon base first, and then try to figure out why we built it.

What I like about Easterbrook is that he doesn’t fall back on the usual "Why are we wasting so much money out there when there are so many problems here on Earth to solve?" argument. NASA has a legitimate function, even if it doesn’t always do the right thing, and breaking the bonds of this planet is a human imperative, even if we disagree on the steps to do it.

What should NASA do? As I argued in Slate back in March, rational budget priorities for the agency would include first and foremost an exhaustive study of the sun, as well as the Earth and Mars and Venus, the two other Earthlike planets in the solar system, with automated probes and satellites. Second, it borders on criminal that NASA is doing nothing to prepare for a deadly comet or asteroid strike. (The agency says it has already cataloged 835 "potentially hazardous" large space rocks.) Third, space telescopes should continue to be used to study the distant universe. Fourth, researchers should be working on a breakthrough in propulsion technology, which could make getting to the moon more affordable.

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Common ground

December 21, 2006

The president, on his belief that he and Democrats in Congress can find common ground:

"I believe it’s going to be possible here," Bush said. "… I’m going to sprint to the finish and we can get a lot done."

That’s what many of us are afraid of. Between Bush, who has never been a small-government conservative, and Democrats, who are, well, Democrats, there is no limit to what this will cost us.

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Home rule, kaboom!

December 21, 2006

The worst thing about the state’s fireworks law is that it overrode all local ordinances on things like nuisances and noise. Neighboroods let local officials know they werre upset with the disturbance of their peace and quiet, and local officials let the state know. But now that some corrective action might be taken, the author of the law isn’t happy:

But Sen. Tom Weatherwax, R-Logansport, said he will work to kill the proposal.

"The state would become a patch quilt of rules, with some communities having no shooting and others limited shooting," said Weatherwax, who authored the current law. "This would probably take away from what we tried to do, which was keep a statewide, uniform approach to fireworks."

What’s wrong with a "patch quilt of rules"? Why should Fort Wayne be like Warsaw? Why should Wabash have the same fireworks rules as Indianapolis? This is the kind of thinking that has made home rule such a tough fight in Indiana.

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