Archive for January, 2007

It wasn’t Gettysburg

January 24, 2007

Re: State of the Union. What was the point? No domestic policy will go anywhere, because Democrats are deep into the "whatever Bush is for, we’re against" mode. That is not leadership, but it’s the way it is. Roughly 70 percent of the country is against the administration on the war in Iraq, and there won’t be any coherent discussion of that because we seem headed for obvious defeat, and the implications are scary. Such a major address shouldn’t be irrelevant, but it probably was.

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January 24, 2007

John Mellencamp is quite the sour man:

In rock singer John Mellencamp’s latest musical epistle from the heartland, Americans are vengeful, unforgiving, ignorant of other cultures and led by a president he describes as a "rodeo clown."

Maybe he’s in training to replace Hoosierland’s most famous misanthrope, Kurt Vonnegut, who is talking about himself in the title of his most recent book, 2005’s "A Man Without a Country." Most of it is like this:

In case you haven’t noticed, as the result of a shamelessly rigged election in Florida, in which thousands of African-Americans were arbitrarily disenfranchised, we now present ourselves to the rest of the world as proud, grinning, jut-jawed, pitiless war-lovers with appallingly powerful weaponry – who stand unopposed.

In case you haven’t noticed, we are now as feared and hated all over the world as Nazis once were.

And with good reason.

In case you haven’t noticed, our unelected leaders have dehumanised millions and millions of human beings simply because of their religion and race. We wound ’em and kill ’em and torture ’em and imprison ’em all we want.

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Comics relief

January 24, 2007

Has anyone else stopped reading the comics pages? I used to read them regularly. There were two or three each in the morning and evening papers that I followed. I don’t know if says something about me or something about the comics, but It occurred to me this week that I haven’t even looked at them in at least two or three years.

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Old joke, new version

January 24, 2007

"Oh, look! I have metal fragments in my ground beef."

"Shut up, or everybody will want some!"

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Spanking a debate

January 23, 2007

The reaction to this California proposal is breaking along predictable lines — liberals supportive, conservatives generally scornful:

A Democratic assemblywoman from Mountain View says she will submit a bill next week — once it is officially drafted — proposing that California become the first state in the nation to make spanking of children 3 years old and under a misdemeanor. Penalties could include child-rearing classes for offenders to one year in jail.

Just the mention of the bill has become a minor statewide perturbation, sparking denouncements from many Republican lawmakers (the State Senate minority leader, Dick Ackerman, declared, “I’m trying to pick a word other than crazy, let me see, not well thought out.”), heated debates among parents (“A bill should be passed to allow other parents to smack the parents of undisciplined children,” wrote one Internet poster) and some self-reflection on behalf of the governor, whose proclivity for calling others girly men has been replaced of late with dialoguing about his feelings.

I don’t know, though. We just had a highly publicized child-abuse case in Fort Wayne that sparked a lot of outrage, including, if I may use the term, in the conservative-leaning blogosphere. So I presume we’re not against "government interference" in family life. There is no excuse for child abuse, and government has a role in stopping it. Doesn’t that make this a difference in degree, rather than in kind? If the legislator sought to outlaw all corporal punishment, that would be one thing. But this is about spanking those 3 or younger. Where does this fit along the spectrum from making a child sit in the corner to beating him with a coat hanger in evoking our distaste for an activist government?

On the other hand, how do you get the attention of a 2-year-old, assuming you can’t watch him 24 hours a day and want to persuade him not to stick his hands in a fan or on a hot burner or someplace else that might harm him? You can’t reason with him. I ask in total ignorance as a non-parent who has never had to deal with such things.

Look at the photo of the legislator in question, by the way. My first impression is that she would never have to spank a child. Just looking at her would make most 3-year-olds, not to mention many adults, run screaming in terror.

I remember getting spanked a few times in my childhood. My parents didn’t make a habit of it, but they didn’t forswear the practice, either. When I did get spanked, I knew I had really, really, really screwed up, and it made me examine my actions. I guess I believe mostly something I read once about parental discipline of children: It doesn’t matter so much how you do it or how often. What matters is how consistent it is. The last thing you want to do is raise a child who believes that the rules don’t make sense, so it doesn’t matter what he does.

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Fun day Sunday

January 23, 2007

Anybody think they’ll ever try this in Indiana?

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) – Washington state’s experiment with Sunday liquor sales is a big hit, and lawmakers may expand it to more stores this year.

Twenty state-run stores and 38 contract stores run by private vendors have been keeping Sunday hours, noon to 5 p.m., for the past 16 months. And sales are expected to top $18.5 million by June 30th.

About the same time they have the Super Bowl in Fort Wayne, probably.

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Madness abounds

January 23, 2007

No kidding:

In their efforts to capture the public’s attention, then, have climate scientists oversold global warming? It’s probably not a majority view, but a few climate scientists are beginning to question whether some dire predictions push the science too far.

"Some of us are wondering if we have created a monster," says Kevin Vranes, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado.

Vranes, who is not considered a global warming skeptic by his peers, came to this conclusion after attending an American Geophysical Union meeting last month. Vranes says he detected "tension" among scientists, notably because projections of the future climate carry uncertainties — a point that hasn’t been fully communicated to the public.

The science of climate change often is expressed publicly in unambiguous terms.

For example, last summer, Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, told the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce: "I think we understand the mechanisms of CO2 and climate better than we do of what causes lung cancer. … In fact, it is fair to say that global warming may be the most carefully and fully studied scientific topic in human history."

Vranes says, "When I hear things like that, I go crazy."

Remember "Reefer Madness," the anti-marijuana screed that so exaggerated the dangers of pot that it became celebrated for its awfulness? Such exaggerations had the unintended side effect of making drug experimenters distrust all drug warnings, to their detriment. Global-warming preachers, by exaggerating the certainties of climate science, are becoming like that. So are the anti-smoking crusaders with their wildly exaggerated claims about the dangers of secondhand smoke that are absurd on their face. (One whiff, and you’re going to die!) Those who misuse science to push the public in the direction of a perceived good might regret it if the result is a mistrust of all science.

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The demand curve

January 23, 2007

According to a new poll, 62 percent of Hoosiers would support a $1 increase in the cigarette tax if the money were used for health initiatives (of course, the poll was commissioned by a coalition of anti-smoking groups, so there might be a little "getting the results they wanted to get" going on here). This news must have stunned Gov. Daniels, who keeps getting thumped for suggesting even a 25-cent hike, and it should give pause even to those who see smokers as the preferred target group of sinners for getting more endless amounts of new money. Whenever a price increase is contemplated for any product (such as newspapers, which I know a little about), there are very carefully done studies to pinpoint the price increase that would be the most workable. Every increment of increase will bring in x amount of new money but would decrease demand by y amount, decreasing current revenues. They usually arrive at a precise price increase for which it is determined that the amount of new revenue will exceed the loss of current revenue — go one step above that, and there will be a net loss.

Granted, predicting the behavior of smokers isn’t quite so easy since tobacco is, you know, addictive and all. Still, history tells us that price increases decrease smoking, and a $1 jump all at once might be a little risky in terms of killing off the goose with the golden eggs.

So to speak.

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God only knows

January 23, 2007

I have made merciless fun of people who invoke God’s name to win football games, and Sunday would have been a good day to have at them again. The winning coaches of the Bears and Colts both thanked God profusely during post-game interviews. Even Colts owner Jim Irsay got into the act:

“It’s an incredible day for us,” said Irsay, who began his career with the Colts as a bellboy in the early 1970s, ascending to full ownership following the death of his father, Robert Irsay, in 1997.

“There’s a lot of glory up here with this trophy. As the humble leader of this organization, we’re giving all the glory to God.”

But I’m wondering if they all mean the statements literally. I suspect some of them at least are merely giving thanks for having God in their lives and making them the type of people they are (or something like that), not actually suggesting that God gives a rip about who wins football games.

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The people’s stadium

January 22, 2007

The poll published by The Journal Gazette yesterday pretty much confirms what most of us already had anecdotal evidence of: Not many people support a new baseball stadium downtown. According to the poll, about seven in 10 don’t think the stadium is a good idea. They are also supportive of downtown in general and are more interested in seeing more parking and more shopping than they are in seeing more downtown housing or a third hotel.

"The people" are not always right, but their opinions do matter. If opposition stays this strong, and the city goes ahead with the plans anyway, that will put success of the project in great doubt. At the least, the city has to do a much better job of selling the stadium. Some opposition will disappear or soften as more people think about some of the details — that the project won’t involve general property taxes, for example, that it will include more than just a stadium, that it will involve millions of dollars of private investment.

But 70 percent is an awfully strong number. What’s needed even more than details is a compelling story of the vision behind the idea. Why will duplicating something we already have somewhere else bring people downtown? How does in make our city special to just copy what so many other cities are doing? Why is baseball the only catalyst project that was seriously considered?

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Justice served

January 22, 2007

Of course Oprah, J.K. Rowling and Martha Stewart lead the list of the richest females in entertainment. But look at No. 13 — Judge Judy. She makes more than the nine Supreme Court justices put together. OK by me. Not a single decision she’s made has screwed up the whole country.

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No joke

January 22, 2007

Different people look for different signs that civilization as we know it is ending. Mine is America’s rapidly disappearing sense of humor:

An article in the annual joke issue of Princeton University’s student newspaper has left some readers accusing its staff of racism.

The Daily Princetonian issue included a column with a byline that closely resembles the name of Jian Li, an 18-year-old Asian man who filed a civil rights complaint against the university last summer after he was denied admission.

Li, who now attends Yale University, told The Associated Press on Saturday that his complaint against Princeton accusing the school of bias against Asian students remains under investigation.

"I think the article was extremely distasteful," Li said. "Whoever decided to publish it showed an extreme lapse of judgment."

Under a byline of Lian Ji, the article published Wednesday used broken English and spouted racial stereotypes to bash the school for his rejection.

The joke, of course, is that Asian students are discriminated against because they are too smart and tend to raise the curve, so the broken-English stereotype makes fun of a new stereotype. It’s not that funny, but they were at least trying. Naturally, those who were offended had to trot out the R-bomb, and the student journalists had to say they were sorry for giving offense, blah, blah, blah. I’d like to see a new version of sensitivity training that begins with a subscription to The Onion.

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January 21, 2007

Acolts_3 Abears_2

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Without peer

January 19, 2007

Wouldn’t it be funny if they had to cancel the Scooter Libby trial because they couldn’t find a jury of his peers?

On the third day of the trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the job of finding Washington jurors who do not hold negative views of the George W. Bush administration, its war in Iraq and Vice President Dick Cheney became harder.

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Space race

January 19, 2007

Boy, Ronald Reagan must be rolling over in his grave:

The White House reacted with alarm and anger last night after China successfully destroyed a satellite with a ballistic missile, the first space test of such offensive military technology by any nation in over 20 years.

Using a ground-based medium-range ballistic missile, the test knocked out an ageing Chinese weather satellite 537 miles above the earth on January 11 through “kinetic impact,” or by slamming into it, Gordon Johndroe, President Bush’s national security spokesman, said.

The test comes amid increasing fears within the Bush Administration over the ambition of potentially hostile nations and terrorist groups to acquire technology to destroy crucial US space systems on which the country — and particularly its military — heavily depends. It will inevitably stoke fears in Washington of a potentially new and dangerous era of space war.

Maybe China will — tee hee — share the technology with us so that we may all live in peace and harmony.

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Sorry, Simon

January 19, 2007

The question that so many are apparently asking: Did anyone NOT watch "American Idol"? Yes, that would be me. If I want to hear bad singing without even the benefit of several drinks in a smoky bar, I’ll just put a tape recorder outside my shower. That attitude does, however, leave me out of a lot of conversations at work.

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The art of humor

January 19, 2007

Art Buchwald has died at 81. He was the premiere political humorist of his time, a Jon Stewart of print. He made fun of everybody of all political persuasions, but his humor was a little more gentle than what we see today. I grew up reading him, and I never thought about it, but his influence probably contributed to my interest both in newspapers and writing about government and politics.

As with many outwardly funny people, he had his demons, but he had a warped take on those, too:

But in his 1993 memoir, Leaving Home, Buchwald revealed that he was hospitalized twice — in 1963 and 1987 — for suicidal depression.

Two of his oldest friends, TV correspondent Mike Wallace and author William Styron, who died in November, also suffered from depression.

Styron wrote a bestseller, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, which prompted Buchwald to quip: "He and I had depressions at the same time. And the only difference is, he made a million on his, and I didn’t make a dime on mine. We argue about who had the worst depression. He says his was 9.9 on the Richter scale and mine was a rainy day at Disneyland."

The humor that makes me laugh the most is that which comes from an appreciation of human foibles and one’s own weaknesses. That’s the kind of humor Buchwald had and laregly seems to be missing today. So much of it is just plain meanness.

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Come on in

January 19, 2007

Indiana Catholic bishops, writing about immigrants, says the faithful should "welcome others as Christ himself," declaring pretty much an open-borders position, providing strong evidence for the wisdom of the separation of church and state:

“Immigration reform is evident and should include a broad-based program of earned legalization for undocumented persons; a temporary worker program with appropriate protections for both U.S. and foreign workers; changes to the family-based immigration system to reduce waiting times for family reunification; and restoration of due process for immigrants,” it says.

The letter also says, “Immigrants in this country without proper documentation should be provided opportunities to obtain legalization if they demonstrate good moral character and earned legalization should be achievable and independently verifiable.”

That’s amnesty, a sure way to gurantee the 10 or 12 million illegal immigrants — a term the bishops are careful not to use — already here will be joined by 20 or 30 million more. We are all brothers and sisters in the church’s view, which means borders are of minimal importance. That’s fine for the church, but the government has to be more concerned with secure borders than the lip service paid to them by the bishops.

But it’s not, really. I should’t be too hard on the bishops, I suppose, for articulating a view that is likely to become government policy before the year is out.

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Head games

January 18, 2007

Headline of the week: Amnesia is worse than thought. Actually thought is much worse than amnesia — all those dark, conflicting ideas colliding instead of being able to sink into blissful ignorance.

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Not a shoe-in idea

January 18, 2007

The Mastodons were fun. But big shoes?

To fund Team Dreams, the Visitors Bureau is offering fiberglass and weatherproof shoes 7 feet by 4 feet by 3 feet to businesses purchasing a $7,500 tournament sponsorship package. To maximize visibility of the sponsors, each custom-designed shoe will spend time in various locales in the city, including Glenbrook Square, Jefferson Pointe and downtown.

The shoes will be moved to Spiece Fieldhouse for the tournaments.

In 2005, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne and United Way of Allen County organized the Mastodon project, resulting in a herd of 102 fiberglass mastodons around the city. IPFW, whose mascot is the mastodon, developed the project as part of its 40th-anniversary celebration.

I don’t think so — a cute idea taken, er, one step too far. What made the Mastodons fun was all the things that were done to them — in an airplane, in a manhole, in a stagecoach, in a jack-in-the-box. The logos on the sides will be different, but a shoe pretty much looks like a shoe.

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Free means free

January 18, 2007

A lot of people are asking this question: Should state pay for students’ textbooks? Some say no, for this reason:

Some lawmakers expressed concern about finding enough money to provide free textbooks and still afford state-funded full-day kindergarten.

“As a former school board member, I am used to unfunded mandates and having to borrow money for things that the state has set,” said Tom Dermody, R-LaPorte. “I believe we need to focus first on the free- and reduced-lunch kids. Right now, the state isn’t even covering 100 percent of that.”

I say yes. Schools can already offer full-day kindergarten if they choose. There is conflicting research on its value, so the local option seems like a decent idea. The state constitution, however, requires the state to provide students a free education. As long as parents have to pay for books, that constitutional requirement isn’t being met.

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The Dunceday Clock

January 18, 2007

It is five minutes to midnight — do you know where your planet is tonight?

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which 60 years ago began keeping tabs on humanity’s temporal distance from self-annihilation with the concept of a “Doomsday Clock,” apparently found things sufficiently dire to nudge the minute hand forward two clicks, indicating that we are now “five minutes to midnight” — or Doomsday.

The clock had last been adjusted in 2002, when it was moved from 9 minutes off to 7 minutes. The current position is the closest the group has put the planet to Doomsday since 1953, when the Soviets and the United States were first playing with their newfangled thermonuclear weaponry, and things looked mighty bleak indeed.

Even if this group didn’t put global warming on a par with a nuclear North Korea, the Doomsday Clock would be a silly exercise, akin to Mr. Blackwell’s 10 Worst-Dressed List.

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Execution stayed

January 17, 2007

This just in:

The Indiana Supreme Court stayed the execution Wednesday of a man scheduled to be put to death Friday in the 1993 slaying of an Indiana State trooper.

The court, in its 3-2 decision, stated that the arguments raised by Norman Timberlake’s attorneys that he should not be executed because he is mentally ill are similar to those in a case the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing in the case of a condemned Texas man.

Timberlake’s lawyers have actually used just about every excuse there is in their attempts to stop the execution, including: 1. He didn’t do it, 2. He’s mentally ill and, 3. Lethal injections are cruel and unusual. It seemed like a risk to me to argue both 1 and 2, since his mental state is irrelevant if he didn’t even do it. But this just shows that if you throw enough against the wall, something is bound to stick once in a while.

But it’s valid to consider the mental-illness question, if we’re talking about illness so severe that the person is divorced from reality. Courts have already said it isn’t right to execute children who haven’t formed the concept of right and wrong yet, and the mentally retarded, for the same reason.

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Secret executioners

January 17, 2007

The Indiana attorney general is fighting to keep secret the identities of the doctor and prison employees who will execute Norman Timberlake, assuming all the appeals fail. I sincerely doubt if it’s for the reason given:

Executions are carried out under substantial stress, the state’s motion says, and employees and doctors might not take part if their involvement is known.
"Individuals opposed to the death penalty . . . pose no less danger to those involved in executions than some abortion foes pose to persons and property involved in abortions."
There have been documented accounts of abortion foes taking it out on abortion providers, but I can’t remember a single incident of a death-penalty opponent going on a killing spree. They just don’t seem the type, do they? A more likely explanation is that the state’s executioners just don’t want to be known as that, because they know everyone else will consider it creepy and start avoiding them.

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January 17, 2007

Sen. Bayh is back from overseas, and I hope he takes better care of himself than Rep. McHugh:

In fact, an aide for the senator disclosed at 3 p.m. Monday that the news conference would be postponed. The reason, the aide said, was that one of Mrs. Clinton’s companions on the trip, Representative John McHugh, took ill during a stop in Germany and stayed behind to recover while she and Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana, the third member of the delegation, flew back to Washington on Monday.

If he misses the signs, Bayh is likely to fall victim to the insidious PTSS, politicians’ travel stress syndrome. Early symptoms include the urge to hold press conferences, a need to conduct committee hearings in order to address critical problems, and the desire to spend billions of dollars, followed by an irresistible compulsion to run for president. If it goes on too long, there is no choice but to call in the political experts, who, interestingly enough, all give the same advice: Take two polls and call me in six years.

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