Archive for July, 2007

A dark and stormy post

July 31, 2007

This year’s winner in the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which annually honors the worst opening sentence for a nonexistent novel, to honor the Victorian novelist Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel “Paul Clfford” famously begins, “It was a dark and stormy Night”:

Gerald began – but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten per cent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them ‘permanently’ meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash – to pee.

Long sentence pauses — which are entertaining but can be distracting, especially if the writer loses track of where he is, and more so for readers who might not be paying as much attention as they should, a description of most readers, really — are a specialty of mine as well.

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A capital crime

July 31, 2007

tHiS SeeMs lIKe tHe RiGhT dEcIsiOn:

Larry Cochran will never get the chance to face LARRY COCHRAN in court.

In a bizarre twisting of the notion of “capital” crimes, federal drug defendant Larry Cochran has apparently begun to annoy the judge presiding over his case.

Hoping to take advantage of a common practice of listing parties’ names in legal filings using all capital letters, Cochran last month filed a lawsuit against the “fictional” LARRY COCHRAN whose name appeared in an indictment for drug dealing.

“Who is this (defendant) fictitious entity (LARRY COCHRAN)?” Cochran queried in his motion. “How can the Plaintiff (Cochran) a real live flesh and blood man, be an involuntary party … to an action and/or claim involving … fictitious and artificial entities?”

U.S. Judge James Moody, who also is presiding over Cochran’s criminal case and the flurry of similar motions, letters and requests Cochran has filed from his cell in the Metropolitan Correction Center in Chicago, dismissed the case.

A frviolous lawsuit by a drug defendant? What’s this world coming to?

What’s yours is mine

July 31, 2007

We baby boomers have been commanding way too much of your attention. Now, we’re coming for you money:

The aging of America is not just a population change or, as a budget problem, an accounting exercise. It involves a profound transformation of the nature of government: commitments to the older population are slowly overwhelming other public goals; the national government is becoming mainly an income-transfer mechanism from younger workers to older retirees.

Consider the outlook. From 2005 to 2030, the 65-and-over population will nearly double to 71 million; its share of the population will rise to 20 percent from 12 percent. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—programs that serve older people—already exceed 40 percent of the $2.7 trillion federal budget. By 2030, their share could hit 75 percent of the present budget, projects the Congressional Budget Office. The result: a political impasse.

And, of course, those three programs are not the only ones involving transfer payments, so the 75 percent figure doesn’t even tell the whole story.

 

Needle park

July 31, 2007

Who could have guessed that this wouldn’t work out?

They tell us he was steaming, but San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom shouldn’t have been too surprised when The Chronicle reported that Golden Gate Park was littered with used drug syringes.

After all, his own Public Health Department spent $800,000 last year to help hand out some 2 million syringes to drug users under the city’s needle exchange program — sometimes 20 at a time.

Although Health Department officials say 2 million needles were returned, the fact is they don’t count them and can only estimate how many are coming back.

And from the looks of things, a lot of them aren’t.

Mary Howe, director of the Homeless Youth Alliance, which operates a needle exchange program near the park with the help of city money, said her group gets back only about 70 percent of the needles it distributes.

“People lose them or the police take them,” Howe said.

And it’s not just the city handing out needles.

Under legislation passed in 2005 by the same Board of Supervisors whose members now decry the needle problem, anyone over 18 can walk into a Walgreens or Rite Aid and buy as many as 10 needles — no questions asked.

One idea to fix the problem discussed in the story is to put biohazard boxes in the park where people can just drop their needles. But a parks spoksman said — no kidding — “some people think that sends the wrong message.”

Awake and inside

July 31, 2007

This just in:

Can adding a cup or two of coffee to the exercise routine increase protection from skin cancer? New research indicates that just might be the case.

The combination of exercise and caffeine increased destruction of precancerous cells that had been damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet-B radiation, according to a team of researchers at Rutgers University.

What if I double the coffee and just skip the exercise?

Cute as a dumpling

July 31, 2007

I keep hoping a dead relative will speak to me from beyond the grave and tell me, oh, I don’t know, where a large pot of money is hidden or what secret there is to life or what it’s really like on the other side. If I ever do get contacted, it will probably be something like this, though:

WHITING – A businessman who said a dead relative told him in a dream to cook the world’s largest pierogi believes he and a friend did just that Saturday at Pierogi Fest.

Tim King said his uncle sent him on a mission to create a monster dumpling filled with potatoes and cream cheese when he appeared in a dream three years ago.

“I am half-Polish and have been around pierogi all my life. And, believe it or not, I had a dream about my Uncle Emil, who is deceased,” King said. “We were eating pierogi together and he told me to cook the world’s largest pierogi.”

You people would help me eat the world’s largest bologna sandwich, right?

Face off

July 31, 2007

I want me one of these:

Brigham and Women’s Hospital has given a surgical team permission to perform partial face transplants on certain disfigured patients, making it the second US hospital that has gone public with plans to do this rare and hotly debated procedure.

Then I can be smart AND pretty, which is much better than cute and dumb.

Corn and coal

July 31, 2007

I hate to say I told you so, but, well, you know:

Ethanol doesn’t burn cleaner than gasoline, nor is it cheaper. Our current ethanol production represents only 3.5 percent of our gasoline consumption — yet it consumes twenty percent of the entire U.S. corn crop, causing the price of corn to double in the last two years and raising the threat of hunger in the Third World. And the increasing acreage devoted to corn for ethanol means less land for other staple crops, giving farmers in South America an incentive to carve fields out of tropical forests that help to cool the planet and stave off global warming.

So why bother? Because the whole point of corn ethanol is not to solve America’s energy crisis, but to generate one of the great political boondoggles of our time. Corn is already the most subsidized crop in America, raking in a total of $51 billion in federal handouts between 1995 and 2005 — twice as much as wheat subsidies and four times as much as soybeans. Ethanol itself is propped up by hefty subsidies, including a fifty-one-cent-per-gallon tax allowance for refiners. And a study by the International Institute for Sustainable Development found that ethanol subsidies amount to as much as $1.38 per gallon — about half of ethanol’s wholesale market price.

Yeah, Indiana has a lot of corn, but so do a lot of other states. And we’re one of the few states that has decades and decades worth of coal reserves. We could be the Saudia Arabia of coal, if we pushed that for our energy needs:

Last year, America consumed more than 1 billion tons of the mineral. At the present rate, using existing extraction technology, the reserves will last 243 years. Coal is dramatically cheap to mine, too: In 2005 it cost $8.66 to produce a million BTU of oil; the equivalent energy from coal cost $1.19. About two-thirds of America’s favorite fossil fuel comes from surface mines (about 778 million tons); the rest is produced in underground mines, mainly in Appalachia.

Beat out again

July 31, 2007

Darn. I was almost sure it would be me:

Indianapolis – Ball State University plans to name its new communication building after alumnus and late night talk show host David Letterman.

Letterman’s mother, Dorothy Mengering, was at Monday’s announcement by the board of trustees in their hometown of Indianapolis. Mengering, who lives in the city’s northern suburb of Carmel, and her famous son were both expected to attend the building’s Sept. 7 dedication.

Maybe they can still do the Leo Morris Memorial Restroom. OK, hold it down out there.

Conventional wisdom

July 31, 2007

Gov. Daniels wants big, bold ideas from his commission on government change, and even a constitutional convention is on the table:

The Republican governor has more in mind than just amending the state constitution, which has happened regularly in Indiana’s history. Daniels has floated the idea of calling a constitutional convention, where delegates would rewrite the constitution from square one. Although parts of the current document could be retained, anything dealing with the structure of government and the legal rights of Hoosiers could potentially be changed.

This possibility is, not to overstate the response, freaking out some people. Doug’s reaction is typical: “Maybe I don’t trust the passions and attention span of my fellow citizens, but this strikes me as a spectacularly Bad Idea. Such a convention wouldn’t have to limit itself to property tax reforms or any other particular charge. Just a gigantic can of worms.”

A certain amount of fear and loathing is understandable. Just look at the national constitutional convention. Nothing much was expected from that gathering. It wasn’t even originally suggested by the central government — weak and ineffectual under the Articles of Confederation — but by Virginia. Only five colonies signed on originally, and all but one (Rhode Island) finally agreed after the central government gave its imprimatur to the idea. The convention had one task and one task only: “the sole and express purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation and reporting to Congress and the several legislatures such alterations and provisions therein as shall when agreed to in Congress and confirmed by the States render the Federal Constitution adequate to the exigencies of Government and the preservation of the Union.” But rarely has there been such a collection of dangerous minds, and those gathered have become known as the Founders because they threw everything out and started from scratch.

The possibility that lesser minds might attempt that with Indiana’s constitution inspires a certain amount of trepidation. Just look at Article I, for example, the state’s version of a Bill of Rights. It’s a thing of beauty, 37 sections instead of the U.S. Bill of Rights’ mere 10, and none of us should want it messed with.

On the other hand (you knew it was coming, right?), the Philadelphia convention was followed by a vigorous detabe — the likes of which the world had never seen — that stretched from coast to coast as Americans took to the streets and the newspapers and pamphlets to talk about the kind of country they wanted. Part of the reason for the convention in the first place — as expressed by George Washington — was that the “American idea” was in danger of being lost in the clash of regional prejudices and local imperatives. Could there be a national government strong enough to establish a national interest but with enough checks and balances to guarantee basic freedoms? This great experiment in liberty began with the free exercise of that liberty.

Is there an “Indiana idea”? I don’t know, and it certainly would be risky to let whoever the politicians today appoint try to come up with one. But I presume that whatever a convention came up with would be the subject of a statewide conversation and some kind of ratification process.  That’s a conversation if might be useful to engage in. If we can’t trust Hoosiers to have it, we might as well just let the General Assembly rule us and stay home quietly, mailing out our tax payments when we are told to.

Carey on

July 30, 2007

I was glad to learn that one of my favorite comedians got a long-lasting and well-paying gig. I doubt that even Drew Carey’s being the host would make me want to watch “The Price Is Right,” but it might make me hate it less.

Carey is one of the more famous self-identified libertarians. One reason it is hard to take the Libertarian Party as seriously as it would like to be considered is that it doesn’t recruit famous people to carry its national banner. Carey is doing too well to go into politics, but Hoyt Axton, the singer-songwriter, might have have been persuaded. Clint Eastwood would clearly not be interested, or Tom Selleck, either. But how about Penn Gillette? Instead, the party recruits doctors and real estate salesmen, seeming much more interested in pushing its ideas than in actually winning elections.

The party is much more credible at the local level. And given the strong anti-incumbent feeling in Indiana right now, we might see a candidate or two do well in City Council races throughout the state.

My favorite story about Carey is that he had corrective eye surgery but kept his glasses anyway because they had become some a trademark. But that turns out to be only partly true:

Carey has had refractive surgery to correct his vision and therefore did not really require glasses (any glasses he wore in public were merely props to help the audience recognize him), however, whilst this was true for several years, on the May 17,  2006 episode of the Jimmy Kimmel Live show he revealed that when he turned 40, he actually developed a need for bifocals.

I can relate to that. I still maintain my facade as an aging, balding, white male because that’s who my readers are comfortable with, even though I was abducted by aliens in 1972 and transformed into a 7-foot Asian woman who can bend space and time.

Cover ups (and downs)

July 30, 2007

The 100 Best Cover Songs of all times, and they got No. 1 right — Jimi Hendrix’s version of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”; he made that song his. For the worst, though, I might have put William Shatner’s “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” or Michael Bolton’s “Dock of the Bay” ahead of Limp Bizkit’s “Behind Blue Eyes.” On the good side, they didn’t list one of my favorite covers, Jerry Lee Lewis’ version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” more moving than you might think.

Two walls

July 30, 2007

We have to chase religion right out of the public square, especially schools. If a student decides to say a prayer at the commencement exercise or a teacher leaves a Bible on her desk, this is supposed to be some big breach of the separation of church and state that will doom the republic. Then, there are the Muslims:

Some public schools and universities are granting Muslim requests for prayer times, prayer rooms and ritual foot baths, prompting a debate on whether Islam is being given preferential treatment over other religions.

The University of Michigan at Dearborn is planning to build foot baths for Muslim students who wash their feet before prayer. An elementary school in San Diego created an extra recess period for Muslim pupils to pray.

At George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., Muslim students using a “meditation space” laid out Muslim prayer rugs and separated men and women in accordance with their Islamic beliefs.

Critics see a double standard and an organized attempt to push public conformance with Islamic law.

“What (school officials) are doing … is to give Muslim students religious benefits that they do not give any other religion right now,” says Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel at the Thomas More Law Center, an advocacy group for Christians.

Could someone explain the double standard to me? It really isn’t reasonable to argue that the Muslims are seeking to “impose their religion” if they’re just seeking an accommodation of it. But that’s the point. It isn’t reasonable to argue that about Christians, either. If there really is a wall of separation — about which there is a lot of debate — then at least it should be the same wall for everybody.

How to win

July 30, 2007

Gee, do ya think? Scrabble buff says it’s all about the words. I suppose next they’re going to tell me poker is all about the cards and bowling is all about the pins.

A small price

July 30, 2007

Let’s see. We’re too dependent on oil from the Mideast, so using Canadian oil would be a good thing. The lack of refining capacity is really hurting us, so a refinery in Indiana increasing its capacity would be a good thing. Creating jobs in Indiana and adding money to the state economy would be good things. So if BP wants to do all that at its Whiting refinery, and the state allows it, reasoning that, although more pollutants would be dumped into Lake Michigan, the refinery would still be within state and federal clean-water guidelines, how would Congress react? With shameless posturing, of course:

WASHINGTON — The House voted Wednesday to urge Indiana to reconsider its approval of a permit allowing an expanded BP Amoco refinery to dump more pollutants into Lake Michigan.

The resolution passed 387-26 on a roll call vote.

“This Congress will not simply stand by while our Great Lakes are treated like a dumping zone,” said Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the House Democratic Conference and the bill’s chief sponsor.

All of Illinois’ 19 House members voted in favor of the measure except Peoria Republican Ray Lahood, who was absent. 

Indiana’s nine-member delegation was divided along partisan lines on what was generally a bipartisan vote. Four Democrats backed the resolution; one, Julia Carson, who was a sponsor, did not vote. The four Republicans opposed it. 

This is not the choice between evil business profits and a clean enviroment that opponents want to portray it as. It’s not even a choice between energy independence and a clean Lake Michigan. It’s a small step one way and a small price to pay.

Crashing safety

July 30, 2007

When a police chase goes bad, it’s always a big story, especially if an innocent bystander is hurt or killed. Such publicity has added to the pressure for various jurisdictions to tighten their chase policies. But there is another side to the story:

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) – The two men in the silver Infiniti were pulled over only for having tinted windows – so when the driver hit the gas and fled, the state trooper had no choice but to let them speed away.

The trooper was just following an Illinois State Police policy that allows officers to chase drivers only when they believe someone is in danger or when a violent crime has occurred.

After fleeing from the traffic stop, the men inside the car allegedly went on a crime spree in Illinois corn country, fatally shooting a sheriff’s deputy and then taking hostages at a small-town bank. They were arrested hours later.

The case illustrates the limitations of the restricted chase policies adopted by many police departments beginning in the mid-1990s, as news helicopters began televising more pursuits and more bystanders got killed.

Troopers chased the Infiniti only after deputy Tommy Martin was shot as he drove by the suspects going the opposite direction. Some officers have questioned whether the suspects could have been stopped earlier if the pursuit policy were less restrictive.

Indiana, for instance, still allows state troopers to chase drivers who flee traffic stops, even if officers know nothing about them.

Fort Wayne and Allen County have policies that sound good, at least in theory. Their officers have more latitude than officers in Illinois, but the officer in the car doesn’t have the final say; the officer is in contact with a supervising officer who can call off the chase at any time if the threat to public safety seems greater than the good of chasing the person who is fleeing. It’s a tough call, and I’ve written editorials that explore both sides without taking a very strong stand one way or the other. Right now, I guess I’d err on the side of letting the police do their jobs and make their best judgment calls.

Gentlemen’s night in

July 27, 2007

Come on, guys, you’re embarrassing me:

Lawsuits could be putting “Ladies’ Nights” at bars and clubs across the country on the rocks.

In about two dozen cases, plaintiffs contend these drink and admission deals for women constitute discrimination against men and should be banned.

Get real, and get a life. While the ladies are out enjoying their cheap drinks, that gives us one night a week to play with our remote controls in peace.

Payback

July 27, 2007

All you people who voted in a Democratic majority in Congress — is this really what you had in mind?

In any event, it’s worth putting this in perspective in terms of the accomplishments of the present Congress. If you take a look at the 110th Congress right now, which had promised to have all of its appropriations bills done this month, here’s what we have seen since the beginning of the Congress: More than 300 executive branch investigations or inquiries; 400 requests for documents, interviews, or testimony; we’ve had more than 550 officials testify; we’ve had more than 600 oversight hearings; 87,000-plus hours spent responding to oversight requests; and 430,000 pages made available to Congress for oversight. That’s pretty significant.

In fact, the 87,000 hours that we mentioned that have been used in document production — that’s equal to more than nine-and-a-half years — and here’s your graphic of the day, ladies and gentlemen — if you took those 430,000 pages and stack them on top of each other, they would reach a height twice that of the executive mansion, itself.

The Republican Congress went after President Clinton with too much zeal, neglecting more important things in the process. This is payback times 100. How is the country being served?

Back in the cave, please

July 27, 2007

The cavemen from the Geico commercials are debuting in their ABC half-hour comedy series in October. But don’t worry — it won’t be about race:

There was no intention to have the Cro-Magnons represent any minority group, said his colleague, Josh Gordon.

[. . .]

“I think it’s really a show about acclimation more than anything, and that’s something that everybody deals with, doesn’t matter whether you are a minority or not,” producer Joe Lawson said.

On the other hand, it’s hard not to think about that aspect:

Schiff and fellow producers responded to reporters’ questions about the series, many of them focusing on parallels between the cavemen and black stereotypes and the pitfalls of turning an ad into a series.

The caveman commercials were entertaining at first, but have worn awfully thin. “Tiresome” is the word that comes to mind to describe the series. Do a remake of “Mr. Ed” with one of the Budweiser Clydesdales, and I might watch it, but this? I got over my need for acclimation lectures a long time ago.

All riled up

July 27, 2007

The “squeaky wheel” effect:

And, ABATE’s done a good job of making lawmakers listen.  Fort Wayne state representative Win Moses says,  “If you sponsor a bill in the legislature advocating a helmet law, you may have one thousand Harley Davidson riders on your front lawn for a long time.  That’s how strongly they feel about it.”   I asked Moses if there’s been an outcry from the insurance industry or a citizens group.  He responded, “There’s hasn’t been an outcry that equals the ABATE program.”   And, until that changes, Moses says, expect to continue seeing motorcyclists riding without helmets on Indiana roads.

That’s a pretty honest political answer to explain Indiana’s indefensible legislative contradiction of mandating seat belts but not motorcycle helments (the arguments for and against are exactly the same; require both or neither). Car drivers are not an interest group. Motorcycle riders are.

Getting all riled up and making legislatures pay attention is tricky business. Homeowners outraged at soaring property taxes got the hang of it this year. They might get a special session of the General Assembly, and they surely will get some relief. Fort Wayne bar owners upset at the loss of revenue from the smoking ban are having a rougher go. They’re trying to get smokers to react as one, but they’re not having much luck so far. In fact, they might even be increasing the pressure on the county to make its ban tougher. A bad habit is not something a lot of people want to rally around.

So it begins

July 26, 2007

Messy

July 26, 2007

A presidential candidate who understands the concept of federalism?

Giuliani argues that the best way to reduce tension about social issues is to allow states, rather than the federal government, to take the lead in responding to them. That would allow socially conservative and liberal states to each set rules that reflect the prevailing values inside their borders. Rather than perpetual combat in Washington, he insists, the nation could reach a new equilibrium as different states gravitated to different solutions.

But that would make states like little laboratories of democracy. How inefficient.

Better all the time

July 26, 2007

I know we’re in the midst of an extended presidential campaign, which means talking about how bad things are so we can choose the candidate who can best fix all our terrible problems. But can we pause occasionally to remember that we live in the most advanced country in the history of the world, with unlimited opportunities and lives that get better and better all the time?

“American capitalism is derided for its superficial banality, yet it has unleashed profound, convulsive social change,” he writes. “Condemned as mindless materialism, it has burst loose a flood tide of spiritual yearning. The civil rights movement and the sexual revolution, environmentalism and feminism, the fitness and health-care boom and the opening of the gay closet, the withering of censorship and the rise of a ‘creative class’ of ‘knowledge workers’ — all are the progeny of widespread prosperity.”

Relative freedom and the astounding prosperity it yielded have created one of the most humane societies in history — the opposite of what the opponents of economic freedom predicted.

OK, back to your whining.

Smoke ’em if you got ’em

July 26, 2007

You know where to come for the latest smoking news, don’t you? First up, a guy with a serious habit:

New details tonight on the man who stopped to buy cigarettes while being pursued by the police.

The guy was allegedly on the run after a robbery, but he took the time to stop and the clerk who sold him the pack of cigarettes spoke to 3TV.

One guy was in a hurry today, dangerously weaving through traffic all over north central Phoenix.  He really wanted to get away from police, but apparently he wanted a cigarette even more.

Hey, you never know how long theswe chases are going to last — wouldn;t want to run out. And the guy knows that as soon as he’s put in the slammer, he won’t be able to smoke.

And no post about bad habits would be complete without checking in on Kim Jong-il:

The North Korean capital, Pyongyang, has reportedly become the latest city to impose a smoking ban.

However, rather than being for the good of the general public, it is all about the country’s leader Kim Jong-il.

The move comes after doctors advised Mr Kim to stop smoking and drinking after a recent heart operation, reports say.

“Kim’s home, office and all other places he goes to have been designated as non-smoking areas,” a former South Korean lawmaker said.

Imagine having to live in a dictatorship like that, in which an absolute ruler can decide what everybody else can and can’t do based only on his own personal needs, desires and views.

Oh, wait . . .

Back and forth

July 26, 2007

We have ourselves an old-fashined slugfest.  On July 12, we printed a letter to the editor from Mike Sylvester, Libertarian, CPA and a Harrison Square opponent, saying, among other things, that  the city had not responded to 58 questions he had submitted about the project. Then, on July 25, we printed a letter  (third item down) from City Attorney Tim Mangest that said, among other things,  that “Mr. Sylvester also failed to note that he never sent the city a list of 58 questions that he continues to say he did.” Now, Sylvester has several posts on the Libertarian Party of Allen County blog (just keep scrolling). This is the meat of it:

 I decided browse through my email account to determine how many times I submitted this list of questions to various people over the last four months:

Sent to Pat Roller once by email
Sent to Tim Manges TWICE by email
Set to Greg Leatherman once by email
Sent to Mark Becker once by email
Sent to Councilman Tom Didier once by email
Sent to Councilman Talarico once by email
Sent to Councilman Pape once by email

Note: I have copies of each and every one of these emails…

Now, maybe there is a technical point that sending the questions to these specific elected and appointed officials is not the same as sending them to “the city.” Otherwise, somebody’s probably going to have to back down. I have no idea if Mike is asking reasonable questions or being (at least in the eyes of the city) a pest. But Harrison Square has not exactly been the most transparent project in the history of the city.