Archive for April, 2007

Free at last

April 30, 2007

Today is being celebrated as national Tax Freedom Day — the day on which all national, state and local tax obligations would be paid off if all of every paycheck were dedicated to that. Actually, though, that’s just the national average — TFD varies from state to state based on specific tax burdenss. Since our taxes are a little lower than those in most states, Tax Freedom Day here was acually on April 23. Congratulations — you’ve been working just for yourself for a whole week. Take a long lunch to celebrate.

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Stamp acts

April 30, 2007

I failed in stamp management again, as I do every time the price goes up. I have about two weeks to use up the remaining 40-some stamps on a 100-stamp roll, then it’s off to the Post Office to buy 2-cent stamps. I could buy several rolls of Forever Stamps and avoid this in the future, but I rarely use stamps these days except for bills, so that doesn’t seem like a good investment.

I do like the "forever" concept, though, and it would be nice to see a lot more of it. Give me a forever price on the things I use every day, and let me get a new car at today’s price even if I don’t get one for five years. A forever tax rate would be nice, too, but, God knows, that will never happen. A forever age would be nice as well, but 23 would be the age I’d pick, and that ship sailed a long time ago. 

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A plate of red herring

April 30, 2007

Leave it to a libertarian to cut through the clutter and get to the heart of the matter. While everyone else is fussing about church and state issues in the matter of Indiana’s "In God We Trust" license plates, Rex Bell of Hagerstown asks:

. . . why we are buying license plates to put on cars that we bought to drive on roads that we paid for. And why does it cost more to get permission to drive a new Cadillac on our roads than an old Volvo? All of the necessary funding for our roads should come from gas and wheel taxes, and that would work out a lot better if they would use the money raised from those taxes on the roads, instead of spending billions on unrelated pork projects. And vehicle ID numbers are already in place if we need to determine origins and ownership.

He also confesses to being "confused on the difference between a strawman and a red herring. I’m not sure what the latest ICLU suit over the ‘In God We Trust’ license plates would qualify as." Since he’s a smart libertarian (oops, a redundancy), I presume he’s being facetious. But it can still be instructive to go over the difference for novice argumentarians.

Both rhetorical devices represent attempts, during the course of an argument, to change the subject. A "red herring" is the introduction of an irrelevant topic that seems to be related but really isn’t — for example bringing up "those Godless perverts who want to keep the Indiana House from opening sessions with a prayer" as a reason to support the IGWT plates. A "straw man" is a distortion of the opponent’s argument, usually an exaggeration, the better to demolish it. I say, "Offering a specialty plate with no extra fee does not mean the state is endorsing a religion," and you reply,"So, you’re not worried about the Religious Right’s attempt to turn us into a theocracy?"

Since the ICLU is engaging in a lawsuit rather than an argument, neither term applies. What the ICLU is doing comes under the heading of "wasting our time over an issue of no great importance."

So, a red herring and a straw man walk into a bar . . .

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Off the rails

April 30, 2007

The great student-newspaper crisis at Woodlan, which was a case of both sides overreacting, then getting caught up in the fury unleashed by special-interest groups using it as a cause, is over. Students who work for publications at East Allen County Schools will forever be unable to share their wisdom about sex, drugs and other great social issues without adult review. Some people will regard this as a great civil rights tragedy.

They should be happy, at least, that any student journalists who want to protest such heartless treatment will now be able to do so at 2 in the morning, after making their way through the drunken drivers, crack addicts and other assorted nocturnal threats:

Until last year, when a new version of Indiana’s curfew law was adopted, it was no crime for teens to hang around in a public place at any hour.

Constitutional challenges have taken the state’s curfew law on and off the books three times since 2000, but Indiana’s latest law won’t be challenged by civil rights groups because it includes protections for youngsters’ First Amendment rights.

And this just in:

Two ominous messages written on restroom stalls this week at Leo Junior-Senior High School led to an early weekend for students.

The first message made reference to blowing up the school, while the other alluded to the April 16 Virginia Tech massacre. School officials called in the Allen County Sheriff’s Department which brought three bomb-sniffing dogs to the school Friday. After about a 40-minute search, officers determined no threat existed.

Still, news of the second message, written in marker and saying “VT will happen here,” had spread so widely by Friday morning that the school’s phones were flooded by worried parents.

Somewhere along the way, we seem to have largely abandoned the idea that it is adults’ responsbility to teach young people, to guide them, to protect them. And we mutter and shake our heads and wonder why things went off the rails.

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Helping and hurting

April 30, 2007

I have a question about government "encouragement" of the private sector — the type we’ve seen plenty of lately and will see still more of shortly. It is my suspicion that changing where people spend their money does not make them spend more money. They aren’t going to spend more than they were to fix up their houses because the big-box home-supply store is eight blocks away instead of three miles away. They aren’t likely to go to more ballgames than they would have because the stadium is in one place instead of another. People tend to have fixed budgets — they don’t change much from year to year the percentages of their incomes they spend on things like housing, entertainment, food. That being the case, moving people’s spending habits around geographically isn’t really economic development — it’s simply, as a couple of libertarians have pointed out lately, economic relocation.

So, what we are left advocating is helping one area of town by hurting other areas of town. You can’t argue that more money being spent in an area will help it without accepting the notion that less money being spent in an area will hurt it, right?

My question: Is this a legitimate role for government? Can one area of town — whether it’s downtown or the southeast side — be deemed to be so important or in such bad shape that it is necessary to hurt other areas to help it? How much hurt is justified for how much help?

Governments already play this juggling game. They take taxes from all of us equally, for example, but do not spend them equally. They might decide that the streets in one part of town need immediate work but that streets in another part can wait a few years. Such inequality — establishing a triage based on perceived needs — is inherent in most things government does.

But what is called economic development these days takes that mindset to a new level, and government should at least acknowledge what it is doing so we can confront the core philosophical question instead of arguing around the edges.

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Republican mayoral race

April 27, 2007

Here is the video of the Republican mayoral candidates, at least four of them — Duke Brown, Matt Kelty, Teresa Licari and Nelson Peters. Ivan Hood didn’t come down for an endorsement interview. A few notes:

1. To keep the clip to a manageable length, I dropped the last question on "What is the best thing about Fort Wayne?" I trust you will still be able judge the candidates without seeing their answers to that.

2. In order not to agonize over whether to put Kelty or Peters first, since their answers will be of the most interest, I assembled to video so that the candidates are in the order in which they came here for their interviews — Brown,Kelty, Licari, Peters.

3. There is a lighting problem in the Licari and Peters segments — my apologies, although you can still see what they look like.

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At-large Republicans

April 26, 2007

My video of Republican at-large candidates threatened to be too big, so I split it up — Part 1 has the six candidates — John Crawford, Marty Bender, Bob Morris, Liz Brown, Adam Mildred and Kurt Gutman — answering the first two questions, and Part 2 covers the other three questions.

On the five questions: 1. The challengers expressed some reservations but were generally supportive of Harrison Square. Incumbent Crawford said he was still making up his mind, but, as we now know, he ended up voting for it. 2. Crawford, naturally, was the most supportive of the tougher smoking ordinance, and Brown was close behind. Bender and Morris wanted some exceptions for people complying with the current ordinance, and Gutman said the city and county missed a chance to work together. 3. All six were generally supportive of at least talking about government reorganization. 4. Priorities for the city — Crawford: Keep government lean; Bender: The business climate, public safety and infrastructure; Morris: Lower tax burden; Brown: Be a leader in showing why we are a premiere city; Mildred: Clear the way to let businesses create jobs; Gutman: Basic city services. 5. What’s the best thing about Fort Wayne? Crawford: The people; Bender: A good place to raise children; Morris: Our rich history and the people; Brown: The people and the city’s affordability; Mildred: A great place to work, play and raise kids; Gutman: The unique things in our history.

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Cause and effect

April 25, 2007

Maybe there should be a clinic or a rehab program for the easily shocked:

INDIANAPOLIS — Property tax bills for homeowners could jump by an average of nearly 24 percent statewide this year, according to a new estimate showing far bigger increases than had been previously predicted.

“This is shocking stuff,” Rep. Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, said Tuesday. “This is the worst property tax news I’ve seen in 30-some years here.”

When I was in high school, we had an English teacher who made us compile huge notebooks each grading period. I hated them and always put off doing them until the last minute. I was then shocked to discover that finishing one would require an all-night session. But I was, you know, in high school. Shortly thereafter, I learned that there was a direct connection between things I did and didn’t do and the consequences that resulted. No place for me in the General Assembly, I guess.

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Far, far, far, far, far away

April 25, 2007

Being immersed in video editing this week and therefore only half paying attention to the national news, I would expect to miss a few things. But have we really made such astounding leaps in space travel in the last few days?

Nevertheless, the discovery in the Gliese 581 system, where a Neptune-size planet was discovered two years ago and another planet of eight Earth masses is now suspected, catapults that system to the top of the list for future generations of space missions.

[. . .]

Dr. Dimitar Sasselov of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who studies the structure and formation of planets, said: "It’s 20 light-years. We can go there."

Yeah, right, "we can go there." Pack your bags. Since a light year is only about 6 trillion miles, and the planet is only 20 of them away, we probably ought to start deciding what to do with it. It’s not too soon to start working on making it a smoke-free planet; you can’t be too careful. Ed says he isn’t going if they don’t have breaded tenderloins

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Democratic at-large race

April 25, 2007

This is the race for  which we had most of our no-shows — only three of the seven candidates came for endorsement interviews. Don’t Democrats like us? I think the three who came are probably the cream of the crop. Incumbent John Shoaff bucked his party and the administration on Harrison Square. Denise Porter-Ross is a neighborhood advocate and involved in Fort Wayne’s All-America City bid. Tom Essex is a lawyer who took over the Wayne Township Trustee’s office in troubled times. (See the video here) Also in the race is Melvin Billingsley, a pastor and one-time County Council member with pretty good name recognition; Richard Cline, who has run for a number of offices (we’ve never endorsed him, which may be why he skipped us this time); and two people I’m unfamiliar with, Michael Reef and Eddie Arrington.

On the five questions, Shoaff is against Harrison Square, and Porter-Ross and Essex like it. Shoaff is for the tougher smoking ban, Porter-Ross would be "willing to revisit it," and Essex thinks there should be exceptions for people who made the effort to comply with the current ordinance. All three favor studying government reorganization to one degree or another. On city government priorities, Shoaff lists downtown development, Porter-Ross favors reaching out to people, and Essex identifies public safety. The "best of Fort Wayne"? Shoaff: Our small town-big city mix. Porter-Ross: Community  oriented government. Essex: We’re a thriving and growing city.

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Democratic mayor’s race

April 25, 2007

Tom Henry doesn’t have any "serious" competition — neither Frederick Steinke nor Tom Cook Jr. are really campaigning and should have no expectation of getting more than a handful of votes. But at least Steinke showed up for an endorsement interview, so you get to see him answering the same questions as Henry (see video here). Consider it a preview of the fall, when you will see a lot more of Henry as he takes on either Matt Kelty or Nelson Peters.

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The 4th District

April 24, 2007

The Republican mayoral primary may be the most important contest, but the 4th District Democratic one is arguably the most interesting. The seat is now occupied by a Democrat, Dr. Tom Hayhurst, who isn’t seeking another term. Whichever Democrat wins will face Mitch Harper, well-known Republican lawyer and former member of the Indiana House.

The candidates — Charles Langley and Leslie Raymer — are both educators (see video here). Langley is a teacher at Summit Middle School and Raymer an instructor at IPFW (she is also the former head of the Fort Wayne Human Relations Commission). Langley would take a youthful perspective to council, underrepresented right now, and Raymer would take a woman’s point of view, not represented at all on the current council.

On the five questions: 1. Langley thinks Harrison Square is a good idea that has been badly marketed, while Raymer isn’t so sure about a "single-use, seasonal" facility. 2. Langley likes the stronger smoking ban but thinks tax breaks should be considered for those merchants who complied with the current form; Raymer says the ban may be heavy-handed but is the best interests of public health. 3. Langley favors cooperation over government consolidation; Raymer says any consolidation should be accompanied by real cost savings, not just better efficiencies. 4. Both list economic development as a top priority; Langley also mentions streets and roads as a 4th District priority, and Raymer would put an emphasis on "green" development. 5. Both like "the people" of Fort Wayne.

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Heytakealookatthissign

April 24, 2007

Today’s sign in need of a proofreader. I have nothing against "galgas," but what’s wrong with "man gas"? Don’t answer that. If I’m reading the sign right, that would be 2 free ounces of coffee. Wow. Or maybe it’s 20 z’s of coffee. Anyone have a clue about what "owsol" refers to?

Aagas

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The 2nd and the 5th

April 23, 2007

The first two videos are for the City Council district races in which an incumbent faces a challenge from a newcomer, not that common in primaries.

In the 2nd District Republican race, longtime incumbent Don Schmidt (the longest-serving member of council) faces opposition from Donald Schaab (video here). Schaab served a term on the Fort Wayne Community Schools board and says he is running mostly because he got tired of there never being any competition in the primary. "I think the public deserves some kind of choice," he told us. On the five questions: 1. Both candidates like the Harrison Square project in general but not the baseball-diamond part. 2. Schmidt likes the more restrictive smoking ordinance, while Schaab likes the version in place now. 3. Schmidt thinks government restucturing should be studied but believes momentum has been lost; Schaab would concentrate on individual department mergers. 4. Schmidt thinks we should concentrate on finding uses for the OmniSource property,the Renaissance building and soon-to-be-left-behind Holiday Inn; Schaab wants to pay attention to infrastructure. 5. Schmidt thinks the best thing about Fort Wan\yne is its ambiance, neighborhoods and parks; Schaab likes the people, festivals and churches. (Mr. Schaab is very soft-spoken, and I neglected to compensate; you’ll have to strain to hear him sometimes. My apologies.)

In the 5th District Democratic race, two-term incumbent Tim Pape is challenged by Douglas Boren, a military veteran who has been involved with many veterans’ organizations (video here). He says he is running because the veterans’ point of view isn’t being represented. He seems especially energized by the anti-smoking ordinance, which will also apply to the private clubs to which he belongs. He also wonders if, with projects such as Harrison Square, we are trying to be Indianapolis, "something we are not," and says that, eventually, "every right becomes a privilege and then a tax." On the five questions: 1) Pape is enthusiastically for Harrison Squre, Boren against. 2. Pape favors the stronger anti-smoking ordinance, and Boren is against it. 3. Pape says government reorganization is urgently needed; Boren says it will never happen. 4. Pape says government needs to get wages up to where they were two decades ago in comparison with national averages; Boren says concentrate on the city budgeet. 5. Pape likes the fact that Fort Wayne is big enough to have amenities but small enough that he still always sees his old friends; Boren says our schools are the best.

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See the candidates

April 23, 2007

If blogging is a little light this week, it’s because I’m editing video I took of the primary candidates when they came in for their endorsement interviews. There will be a short video for each of the contested races, and as they get done and put on our Web site, I’ll link to them here, too. I asked all the candidates the same five questions:

1. What do you think of the Harrison Square project?

2. Would you keep the smoking ban scheduled for June as is or modify it in some way?

3. What do you think of studying government reorganization, including the possibility of a city-county merger?

4. What is the top priority city government should concentrate on?

5. What is the best thing about Fort Wayne?

Harrison Square, it seems, will be decided before the primary; but that’s a good reason to ask about it. It represents a certain way of looking at government’s role in economic development, and similar projects are sure to come up in the future. The smoking ban will have been in effect six months by the fall election, at which point it can be revisited or left alone; this seems like a good time to get everybody’s views on the subject. Government reorganization has been on the table for a long time and seems likely to stay there. The two general questions about city government’s top priority and Fort Wayne’s best were asked just to see what kind of variety was brought out.

The candidates were each shown the questions at the start of their endorsement interviews with the editorial board, which means they had roughly 45 minutes to think about them while also answering other questions. Nobody refused — 21 of the 27 candidates showed up for interviews, and all of them agreed to be videotaped. Nothing should be inferred from the fact that six people didn’t come here — it might be that they are not serious canidates, but it could also be that they don’t care about newspaper endorsements in general or The News-Sentinel’s in particular.

Nothing fancy on the videos — just the candidates looking into the camera and talking — and I didn’t do a lot of elaborate editing except to show all the candidates in the same races answering each question at the same time. Take whatever value you can out of them.

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The culture club

April 23, 2007

Everybody’s beating up on Newt Gingrich because of his appearance on ABC’s "This Week," in which he said, A) Somebody with a concealed weapon could have stopped the Virginia Tech killer earlier in his rampage and, B) It’s all the fault of liberals and "elites" for creating the culture we have. On the second point, there are certainly things wrong with our violent and permissive culture — including many of the things he indentied. But blaming everything on one group alienates half the people you might want to help you fix the problems — that’s why Gingrich, while he might be a very good professor in the way he throws out provocative statements to open up discussion — might not be the best of the bunch of potential presidential contenders. And whatever happened to the conservative idea that people are responsible for their own actions? "The culture made him do it" is just as lame as Imus’ "Rap music made me do it."

As for the first point: If a deranged gunman starts shooting at a group I happen to be in, I’m pretty sure I would rather have a gun than not. About you, I’m not so sure. Maybe you are like the professor, who would have been much more effective by returning fire than by trying to keep the door shut with his body. On the other hand, maybe you are another Seung-Hui Cho just waiting to be set off. That’s the debate we should be having but aren’t — how best to keep guns out the hands of people who shouldn’t have them without violating the rights of responsible gun owners.

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Twits and brats

April 23, 2007

Oh, please:

Millennials — also known as Gen Y — are typically described as those born since the early 80s. And the signposts on this generation’s road to maturity have been a somber directory of tragedy shared. The Oklahoma City bombing. Columbine. September 11. The space shuttle disasters. Hurricane Katrina. And now Virginia Tech.

Previous generations of young people have had their allotment of horrors — two world wars, Vietnam, Kent State, the list is long — but no cohort of American youth has ever endured repeated mass catastrophes in the harsh, inescapable glare of a 24/7 media environment.

Those of us in the Baby Boom generation took ourselves far too seriously, aided an abetted by a media that tracked our every whim, turning us into a bunch of insufferable twits. I can see the same thing happening all over again, creating a generation of whiny brats.

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Got milk?

April 20, 2007

Well, it appears I was wrong, or at least in the minority. Americans would rather have a president who knows the price of milk than one who can lead us through the coming perilous years:

Presidential hopefuls take note — pocketbook issues matter to voters, and that includes being familiar with how much Americans’ pocketbooks are hit when buying everyday items. A new FOX News poll finds that significantly more voters think it is important for candidates to know how much a gallon of milk costs than it is for them to reveal serious health issues that could make a difference to their presidency.

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Drop that cigarette!

April 20, 2007

Only 23 years late, 1984 is finally here:

"Talking" CCTV cameras that tell off people dropping litter or committing anti-social behaviour are to be extended to 20 areas across England.

They are already used in Middlesbrough where people seen misbehaving can be told to stop via a loudspeaker, controlled by control centre staff.

[. . .]

Home Secretary John Reid told BBC News there would be some people, "in the minority who will be more concerned about what they claim are civil liberties intrusions".

"But the vast majority of people find that their life is more upset by people who make their life a misery in the inner cities because they can’t go out and feel safe and secure in a healthy, clean environment because of a minority of people," he added.

Wouldn’t you know — there are always a pesky few "in the minority" worried about their silly old "civil liberties."

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The code

April 20, 2007

Bringing it all back home — the Virginia Tech story meets the Don Imus story:

Those who may want to help police bring criminals to justice will run into a conflict with rapper Cam’ron.

The Diplomats leader, who will be featured on this week’s edition of 60 Minutes, tells Anderson Cooper that helping the authorities would not only hurt sales of his, but also violate his "code of ethics."

"If I knew the serial killer was living next door to me?…I wouldn’t call and tell anybody on him — but I’d probably move…but I’m not going to call and be like, ‘The serial killer’s in 4E,’ " said Cam’ron in response to a hypothetical question posed by Cooper.

"Code of ethics." Yeah.

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Just a drop or two

April 20, 2007

Let us now praise moderation. First up is Jim Webber, a gardener who finally decided to retire at the age of 94:

He puts his longevity down to having "plenty to do and being interested in it" – as well as a bit of his "medicine" – whisky.

And we have Deana Jarrett, an unhappy record holder and a former police officer:

A former Seattle police officer returned the highest blood-alcohol reading ever recorded by a Washington state driver, and she was charged with driving under the influence Wednesday.

Deana F. Jarrett, of Woodinville, registered a 0.47 percent blood-alcohol reading after striking two cars April 11, said Trooper Jeff Merrill, public-information officer for the State Patrol. The legal limit in Washington is 0.08 percent.

A blood-alcohol level above 0.40 percent is potentially lethal.

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Message in a needle

April 20, 2007

One value of the death penalty is that it lets society say what it will not tolerate. Like this:

AUSTIN – Backers of a Senate bill to toughen punishment for child-sex offenders said they’ve reached a deal that would permit the death penalty for offenders who repeatedly prey on children.

The compromise bill, which was distributed to Senate members on Tuesday, would allow the death penalty only for those twice convicted of raping a child 13 or younger. It also boosts mandatory minimum sentences for a variety of sex crimes against children.

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Sign say

April 20, 2007

Today’s sign in need of a proofreader:

Abbq

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The Lone Gunman

April 19, 2007

The blame game has shifted from "Why didn’t officials at Virginia Tech lock the campus down after the first incident?" to "Why weren’t the clear warning signs in Cho Seung-Hui’s behavior heeded?"

The hostility in the videos was foreshadowed in 2005, when Mr. Cho’s sullen and aggressive behavior culminated in an unsuccessful effort by the campus police to have him involuntarily committed to a mental institution in December.

For all the interventions by the police and faculty members, Mr. Cho was allowed to remain on campus and live with other students. There is no evidence that the police monitored him and no indication that the authorities or fellow students were aware of any incident that pushed him to his rampage.

But what could have been done, exactly? Profiling those with mental illness is just as fraught with peril as profiling racial minorities. You could find hundreds of people in Indiana with symptoms like Cho’s, the vast majority of whom will not go on to become mass murderers. They will have lives of quiet agony, and some will end up killing themselves. If the signs were 100 percent accurate, such-and-such symptoms will always result in innocents being killed, the case could be made for just locking people up. If the accuracy rate were something like one-in-a-thousand, an incarceration solution would bring out the civil libertarian in all of us. But what about an accuracy rate of 90 percent, or 70?

Certainly the school could have just kicked him out, especially after the two stalking incidents, and maybe it should have. That would have protected Virginia Tech students, but a likely outcome would have been that 32 different people died in some other location. More intense counseling? An involuntary commitment for evaluation and treatment? Sneaking anti-depressants into his coffee? Anyone who has been around the mental-health field even a little bit knows how tricky all this is, conflicting opinions about what to do made even more difficult by myriad laws, regulations and protocols. It’s more art than science, and every day, it seems, what you knew yesterday isn’t true to day. Stop giving antidepressants to your children — it will make them suicidal! Oh, wait; that’s not exactly true.

Cho is obviously the kind of person who should not have access to guns — I haven’t heard even ardent Second Amendment supporters say otherwise this week. That may be an argument for better background checks — not that a really determined person can’t find a way to get a gun:

All background check systems work at the margin. They don’t work perfectly. They may only prevent the prohibited person from buying at a dealer, causing him to look for a private seller. But any system that isn’t hideously expensive–and still works at the margin–can be a good thing.

If 2% of prohibited persons, because they can’t buy from a dealer, decide not to buy a gun, or need to spend more money or time to find a private seller, this can be a good thing.

All of this brings us to Cho’s package to NBC, which included his video full of paranoid ramblings. There’s already a huge discussion going on about the ethics of running the thing and the effect it might have on future alienated young people. A psychiatrist who is a consultant for ABC-TV News was on "Good Morning America" today and embarrassed them by begging the network to please stop showing the stuff:

If anybody cares about the victims in Blacksburg and if anybody cares about their children, stop showing this video now. Take it off the Internet. Let it be relegated to YouTube," Welner said. "This is a social catastrophe. Showing the video is a social catastrophe."

[. . .]

Welner believes that instead of offering insight, these videos merely offer validation of delusional behavior.

"I think that’s very important for the viewing audience to understand. This is not him.These videos do not help us understand him. They distort him. He was meek. He was quiet. This is a PR tape of him trying to turn himself into a Quentin Tarantino character," Welner said. "This is precisely why this should not be released. Parents, you should cut the pictures out of the newspaper. Do not let your children see it. Take them out of the room when these videos are shown. Because he’s paranoid and his agenda of blaming the rest of the world is unedited."

"There’s nothing to learn from this except giving it validation."

We may all look back on this and wish NBC had just destroyed the package and not said anything about it. The First Amendment works best when those of us who rely on it take some responsibility for our actions and agree that we don’t always have to do something just because we can. It’s a lot like the Second Amendment in that respect.

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An inch and a mile

April 19, 2007

Partial-birth abortion seems pretty much indefensible to me. But those seeking a "reasonable solution" to our abortion agonies have to contend with those who do defend it, quite passionately. Here is one of the justices who dissented from the 5-4 Supreme Court decision upholding a federal ban on the procedure:

In dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the decision "alarming."

It "cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this court," she said.

This is from the "give them an inch and they’ll take a mile" school of discourse. In informal logic, it is called the slippery slope fallacy, the idea that one step will lead to another and another and, because we didn’t resist that first step, the world as we know it will be destroyed.

Everybody does it over one issue or another. Let them ban machine guns and they’ll take our hunting rifles and the next thing you know the government will be checking its lists and rounding everybody up. Let them get away with protecting children from Internet predators and pretty soon they’ll be arresting everyone who criticizes the mayor and goodbye First Amendment. Let them use marijuana to ease the pain and nausea of cancer treatment and the next thing you know crack cocaine will be on sale at Walgreen’s. Look at my last post on private property: Let them give a few buildings on Broadway historic-preservation designation and pretty soon they’ll show up at your front door with an eviction notice.

This can be a rational approach. There are people, on these issues and many more, who have an agenda and want to get to their ultimate goal by easing the rest of us along one small step at a time. There are those who do want to ban all guns and legalize all drugs and stop all abortions. Depending on the issues that are important to us, it can make sense to draw a line we don’t want crossed.

But such a posture, taken by so many people over so many things, makes it more and more difficult for reasoned debate aimed at realistic solutions. Today’s culture makes each of us determined to be the last one to erase the lines we have drawn.

No answers here. Just questions.

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