Archive for December, 2007

He loved his dog

December 24, 2007

This is the season of “good will toward men,” but let’s not get carried away:

Will Smith has stunned the world by declaring that even Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler was essentially a “good” person.

The Men In Black star, 39, is determined to see the best in people, and is convinced the former German leader did not fully understand the extent of the pain and suffering his actions would cause during his time in power in the 1930s and ’40s.

He says, “Even Hitler didn’t wake up going, ‘Let me do the most evil thing I can do today’.

Actually, I think he probably did. And given his death toll, it hardly matters if he didn’t. Refusing to acknowledge pure evil is not “trying to see the best in people.”

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Sound of music

December 24, 2007

David Byrne on the salvation of the music industry:

I love music. I always will. It saved my life, and I bet I’m not the only one who can say that.

What is called the music business today, however, is not the business of producing music. At some point it became the business of selling CDs in plastic cases, and that business will soon be over. But that’s not bad news for music, and it’s certainly not bad news for musicians. Indeed, with all the ways to reach an audience, there have never been more opportunities for artists.

[. . .]

Some see this picture as a dire trend. The fact that Radiohead debuted its latest album online and Madonna defected from Warner Bros. to Live Nation, a concert promoter, is held to signal the end of the music business as we know it. Actually, these are just two examples of how musicians are increasingly able to work outside of the traditional label relationship.

Just shows (to no one’s surprise, I’m sure) that Byrne is a little smarter about the music business than I am. When Radiohead offered its latest album as a digital download and let downloaders set their own price, I questioned his common sense.

I also like what he says about what music was before technology turned it into a commodity: “In the past, music was something you heard and experienced — it was as much a social event as a purely musical one. Before recording technology existed, you could not separate music from its social context. Epic songs and ballads, troubadours, courtly entertainments, church music, shamanic chants, pub sing-alongs, ceremonial music, military music, dance music — it was pretty much all tied to specific social functions. It was communal and often utilitarian. You couldn’t take it home, copy it, sell it as a commodity (except as sheet music, but that’s not music), or even hear it again. Music was an experience, intimately married to your life. You could pay to hear music, but after you did, it was over, gone — a memory.”

A bill is a fee is a tax

December 24, 2007

“Agreement is reached for sewer separation” is such a nice, friendly sounding headline, isn’t it?

Fort Wayne has reached a tentative agreement to comply with federal clean-water mandates, but it could mean sewer bills triple for residents during the next 18 years.

The agreement, announced Friday afternoon by Mayor Graham Richard and Mayor-elect Tom Henry, requires the city to invest $239.4 million over 18 years on improvements to its sewer system.

Could city officials take a few deep breaths and carfefully think through any more big-spending proposals they want to treat us to?

Hoosier thrift

December 24, 2007

A Hoosier version of putting the money under the mattress:

Paul Brant, 70, bought his last new truck 13 years ago. Ever since then he’s been saving up for his next new one, which he bought Friday with $26,670 in rolled quarters and dollar coins. Clinton County Indiana Sheriff’s deputies escorted Brant to Mike Raisor Dodge where the estimated half a ton of rolled coins was traded for a 2008 half-ton 4X4 Dodge Ram.

[. . .]

By the way, when Brant bought his previous Dodge truck in 1994, he paid for the whole thing with all the quarters he’d saved up over 23 years. And with the nickels, dimes and pennies, he bought his wife a new Dodge Neon.

He lost all the interest he could have had by putting the money in the bank. On the other hand, he won’t be paying all the interest most of us do on car loans, so that makes him the smart one.

Drink up

December 24, 2007

IU medical researchers debunk some medical myths. We do use more than 10 percent of our brains, our nails and hair do no continue to grow after death, and we do not need eight glasses of water a day:

She and Carroll trace the misperception to a 1945 recommendation by the Nutrition Council that Americans consume the equivalent of eight glasses of fluids daily. Lost over the years, they concluded, was the council’s note that the 64 ounces called for included water contained in coffee, soda, fruits and vegetables.

Eight glasses of fluids. Well, never mind. I get more than my quota from coffee alone.

Cyberchondriacs

December 21, 2007

I have a friend who starts feeling the symptoms of any disease she reads about in the newspaper. Thank goodness she hasn’t found WebMd yet:

First-year medical students are some of the biggest hypochondriacs around. Bombarded with information about every disease under the sun, they start to imagine they have them all. In their minds, every mole is skin cancer. A nosebleed is surely a sign of a tumor. Headache? Must be skyrocketing blood pressure.

“People get terribly anxious,” says Dr. Arthur Barsky, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “One woman who came to see me was convinced she had melanoma. She brought in 20 pages of color photos of various skin lesions, trying to figure out which one looked most like hers.”

And now, because of the Internet, we can all be first-year medical students. We can all develop what’s called “medical student syndrome.” We get basic information, and not necessarily a lot of context, and we’re off and running toward a conclusion that may be completely wrong.

I’ve never been inclined to hypochondria; I’m more like the comedian who said, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” But I swear TV commercials are determined to turn me into one. Watch for any two-hour period of time, and you’ll see half a dozen maladies you never heard of that they now have a drug to fix.

Funny peculiar

December 21, 2007

Today’s “statement of the obvious” entry:

Men are naturally more comedic than women because of the male hormone testosterone, an expert claims.

[. . .]

Women tend to tell fewer jokes than men and male comedians outnumber female ones.

Women tell fewer jokes because they’re lousy at it. And they just don’t get the Three Stooges. Enough said.

Long-distance grief

December 21, 2007

My mother had a lingering death in a hospital in Indianapolis, slipping away with a blood infection. We all came and went from her room, taking turns at the vigil, sneaking away for breaks. She died while I was taking a quick nap in a nearby patients’ lounge. That nap haunts me to this day. So I empathize with Daniel Tani’s agony:

HOUSTON – Daniel M. Tani’s 90-year-old mother died in an auto accident this week, but he has no way of getting home until late January. He must grieve from more than 200 miles away — in orbit, aboard the international space station.

It’s a heartbreaking situation no other American astronaut has experienced. And it’s made all the more tragic by Tani’s devotion to his mother, Rose, who raised him and his siblings alone in suburban Chicago after their father died when he was 4.

I served my country for three years in the military. In return, I benefited from the G.I Bill, which made the completion of my college education less burdensome. It seemed to me then and seems to me now a fair tradeoff. I think Tani should get a free pass for the rest of his life, whatever he wants, paid for by the government. I’d even accept a legislator putting that in an earmark.

La vida loca

December 21, 2007

What do you get when you cross a right-wing hunting nut with a left-wing environmental nut? A locavore, of course:

As a remedy, so-called locavores encourage a diet coming from one’s own “foodshed” — usually within 100 or 300 miles of home. The rationale of localism is promoted in popular books and Web sites: it leads to a healthier lifestyle and diet; brings money to rural communities; promotes eating meat from animals that are able to “carry out their natural behaviors” and “eat a natural diet”; allows consumers to visit the places where their food is raised; supports the production of foods that have fewer chemical fertilizers and pesticides; and it keeps us in touch with the seasons.

While those sound suspiciously similar to the reasons many Americans choose to hunt, the literature of localism neglects the management and harvest of wildlife. This is a shame, because hunters are the original locavores. When I was growing up in Michigan, my family ate three or four deer every year, along with rabbits, squirrel, ducks and grouse that were harvested mostly within eight miles of our house.

These two groups would never admit they have anything in common, of course. They’d both have to admit that “ecology” is everything, interconnected, not separate and competing interests.

I’ve got the locavores beat, by the way. 100 to 300 miles? I refuse to eat anything that doesn’t come from a supermarket three miles away.

Santa Clinton

December 21, 2007

I would have guessed that this was a parody of some sort, or a Republican dirty trick, portraying Hillary Clinton as Santa Claus handing out the federal goodies. But, no, it is an actual Clinton ad. These people actually do think this way, and Clinton is the least liberal of the Democratic presidential candidates.

We’re pigs, too

December 21, 2007

Sometimes I hear accusations of journalistic collusion, i.e. that what news we cover and how we cover it are somehow dictated by our editorial-page leaning. We slant the news in order to make our friends look good and our enemies bad; we package the information we give you in a way that reinforces our philosophic predisposition. I am happy today to present evidence to the contrary.

On the opinion page yesterday, we ran an editorial headlined “New budget is earmarked for excessive spending.” It lamented the pork-barrel projects that keep the federal government large and intrusive and its budget bloated:

Earmarks are down in the budget. How much depends on who is doing the calculating, but the percentage is nowhere near 50. The White House has the most critical calculation, saying only 13 percent of the earmarks were cut. Democrats say they cut them by 43 percent but don’t count water and military construction projects. Taxpayers for Common Sense puts the reduction at more like 25 percent. The group says it has identified almost 9,000 earmarks worth $7.4 billion. Many of them were “airdropped” into the budget at the last minute, giving opponents little time to discover and argue against them.

It’s clear that earmarks are here to stay. And why not? They should be called what they are: an incumbent insurance plan. By targeting dollars for specific projects in their district, legislators might not put the money where it is most needed, but it surely goes where it will do the most good. Legislator looks good, legislator gets re-elected.

Same paper, same day, in the news section — a perfect example of the problem:

Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., voted to secure $3.34 million for projects in Fort Wayne. The funding was approved as a part of the FY 2008 Omnibus Appropriations bill that passed in the Senate on Tuesday night by a vote of 76-17.

They get money, over in that district or in that other state, and it’s despicable pork pushed through by a craven, re-election-seeking political hack. We get the money, and it’s a thoughtful, responsive public servant meeting local needs. And so it goes.

If I’d known about the money Fort Wayne managed to squeeze out of this disgraceful omnibus bill, I would have identified Lugar, an ostensibly conservative Republican, in the editorial as a part of the problem. I do so now.

More with less

December 21, 2007

Mayor Graham Richard gets as close to saying, “We want to tax and spend!” as you’ll probably ever hear a politician come:

Richard says the problem for Henry is, in the name of capping property taxes, Governor Mitch Daniels and state lawmakers may well drastically cut revenue streams to local governments that will have to do more with less.

Mayor Graham Richard/(D) Fort Wayne: ” Well over half of all mayors are new this year, so they’re coming in, they’re learning their jobs and the legislature is considering a package of bills that will substantially reduce the ability of cities to be competitive.”

More with less. What a good idea! As for TIF, those districts allow governments to capture new property taxes and spend them in the developing area. That means less money for schools and other property tax-funded entities, which puts pressure on them to increase taxes. At a time when the state is desperate to address a property tax crisis of epic proportions, it isn’t reasonable not to look at TIFs.

Higher education

December 20, 2007

All you IU grads, looking for ammunition with which to needle your Purdue friends — here’s a free one:

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Two Purdue University maintenance workers rescued a student locked inside the trunk of a frozen car and buried under 11 inches of snow, Sunday morning.

[. . .]

The statement says the student’s car doors had frozen over and she had been attempting to get into the car through the trunk and the fold-down back seat. She became stuck in the trunk when the weight of the snow closed the trunk behind her.

They said it

December 20, 2007

“Don’t Tase Me, Bro” is chosen as the most memorable quote of the year. I dunno. I think No. 8 might be my favorite:

“(I have) a wide stance when going to the bathroom.” — Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig’s explanation of why his foot touched that of an undercover policeman in a men’s room.

Inked out

December 20, 2007

Remember when gas prices started going up, somebody did the math and figured that bottled water priced out at about $10 a gallon? Try this:

For most printer companies, ink is the bread and butter of their business. The price of ink for HP ink-jet printers can be as much as $8,000 per gallon, a figure that makes gas-pump price gouging look tame. HP is currently the dominant company in the printing market, and a considerable portion of the company’s profits come from ink.

The printer makers have been waging an all-out war against third-party vendors that sell replacement cartridges at a fraction of the price. The tactics employed by the printer makers to maintain monopoly control over ink distribution for their printing products have become increasingly aggressive. In the past, we have seen HP, Epson, Lenovo and other companies attempt to use patents and even the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in their efforts to crush third-party ink distributors.

Giving up paper was about the last part of my transition to the digital age. Until just a couple of years ago, I didn’t feel like I was doing real research unless I printed articles out, then read through them and underlined or highlighted the good parts. For a single editorial, I often had a whole stack of papers that later had to be thrown out.

Now, I’ve become comfortable with having mutiple windows open, going back and forth among them and consulting relevant source material while I’m doing the actual writing in yet another window. Screw them and their $8,000-a-gallon ink.

The governor’s list

December 20, 2007

Gov. Daniels has sent out an e-mail with a book list of holiday gift ideas based on what he’s read this year. It’s heavy on history and biography, as you might expect, and a little light on what I would call fun reads, things like mysteries and science fiction. But there are a couple on there I might now be inclined to seek out.

Unreasonable raise

December 20, 2007

I love it when something obviously outrageous is proposed, such as increasing the mayor’s salary to $130,000, then we are expected to buy in when something more reasonable is finally done:

Council approved a 3 percent raise for the city clerk, City Council and the mayor. City Clerk Sandra Kennedy will receive $73,451, members of City Council will receive $21,414 and Mayor-elect Tom Henry will receive $123,600 in 2008. Originally, City Controller Pat Roller had presented an ordinance where Henry would receive $130,000 for 2008, but Henry previously told The News-Sentinel he would not accept the larger raise. Mayor Graham Richard earned $120,000 this year.

I still don’t see the justification for the mayor’s raise. It’s not for a job well done — Henry hasn’t taken office yet. It’s not to make the pay comparable to like positions; Fort Wayne already has the highest mayoral salary in the state. It’s not to attract “more qualified” candidates who can get more in the private sector. I know this is small potatoes, but if they do something small and unjustified, I just consider it practice for something big and unjustified.

Time warp

December 20, 2007

Man, they just won’t let this issue go:

The question of the time zone was once again brought before the state legislature by Rep. Kreg Battles, D-Vincennes. Battles introduced legislation, House Bill 1038, that would put the question to a statewide vote.

Two questions, really.Battles proposes that Indiana voters be allowed to vote on whether or not the whole state should be on the same time zone, and if so, which one? Eastern or Central?“As long as Indiana is divided by time zone borders, especially from east to west instead of north to south, then we are going to have problems,” Battles said. “We need to find out if there is a clear mandate there from the public to address the issue.”

Indiana is bordered by two time zones. It makes absolutely no sense at all for the whole state to be in the same zone. Furthermore, something as obviously interconnected should not be decided by the popular vote. Even if the voters were asked, what do you think they’d so? The ones near the Eastern border areas would vote to go Eastern. The ones near the Central zone would vote that way. 

Bah, humbug

December 20, 2007

Looks like they’re a little slow to get into the holiday spirit in northwest Indiana. First, we have the story of a Christmas party that got a little out of hand:

SOUTH HAVEN, Ind. — A northwestern Indiana community’s fire chief has resigned and faces criminal charges after a fight at the department’s Christmas party.

South Haven Fire Chief Doug Patton got into an argument with two firefighters who left the party Saturday night, Porter County sheriff’s deputies said.

The two firefighters, who were on duty, returned to the fire station. About 20 minutes later, the firefighters returned to the party where, according to witnesses, an argument began between Patton and the two men, with Patton threatening their firing.
Patton resigned on Sunday. He was not immediately arrested, but said he would surrender to police after he speaks with an attorney.
“No one gets to cuss the chief,” Patton said.
Then, there’s this dissing of Santa:
CROWN POINT — Everyone knows Santa can fly. So does the Fat Man really need a taxpayer-subsidized helicopter ride to yearly Christmas parties?

In Lake County, Santa Claus gets annual lifts in the Sheriff’s Department chopper to events in Crown Point, St. John and elsewhere.

[. . .]

While acknowledging the chopper costs are low in the context of the Sheriff’s Department’s multimillion-dollar annual budget, Lake County Commissioner Gerry Scheub called on Dominguez to trim the nonessential flights from the itinerary. “$20,000 here, $20,000 there and suddenly you’re talking about a whole lot of money,” said Scheub, D-Schererville.

This humongeous scandal was unearthed by an investigative report by the Post-Tribune newspaper. What are they gonna do next, go undercover to prove that all that money under the pillows didn’t come from the tooth fairy?

Vaya con Dios

December 19, 2007

We’ve been vilifying Fidel Castro as a ruthless dictator for all these decades, and it turns out he is a caring, thoughtful leader just looking out for everybody’s best interests:

Fidel Castro suggested yesterday that he might stand down to make way for a leader from the younger generation. The move is being seen as a significant step in a likely handover of power that could occur as early as March, with the Cuban president possibly retaining an honorary role and title.

“My essential duty is not to cling to office nor to obstruct the rise of people much younger, but to pass on experience and ideas whose modest value arises from the exceptional times in which I lived,” said the man who has led the country since the 1959 revolution, in a letter read out on national television.

Don’t let the door — well, you know.

The cutting edge

December 19, 2007

The Democratic presidential candidates have all these new programs that will require massive funding. Their favorite source of revenue seems to be to repeal those evil Bush tax cuts that so benefit the rich. This abysmal economic ignorance is supported by the usual suspects. The New York Times, for example, spanks the Republican contenders for all supporting an extension of the cuts:

That’s because, rather than delivering any additional benefit that voters can actually take to the bank, carrying out such a pledge would do nothing more than maintain the status quo. Nobody’s taxes would be cut further; they would at best stay the same. There’s not as much political payoff in that.

Yes, no additional benefit, except not having more of our money taken by the government. When we get to keep our money, we put it to use, which creates economic activity, which adds to our aggregate wealth and increases government revenues. Why do so many on the left go through such tortuous analyses to avoid that simple common sense?

From The Wall Street Journal:

Notably, however, the share of taxes paid by the top 1% has kept climbing this decade — to 39.4% in 2005, from 37.4% in 2000. The share paid by the top 5% has increased even more rapidly. In other words, despite the tax reductions of 2001 and 2003, the rich saw their share of taxes paid rise at a faster rate than their share of income. How could this be?

One explanation is that the Bush tax cuts reduced the income tax liability of middle and lower income households by more proportionately than the rich. The average family of four with an income of $40,000 saw its income tax liability fall by about $2,052 a year from the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.

The rich get richer — what a scandal. They therefore pay more for the redistributionist schemes those who detest them so treasure.

Buyers’ market

December 19, 2007

The Internet has made it much tougher on retailers, but perhaps not for the reason you think:

People once believed that the Net was going to transform where we shopped—that it was going to make physical stores obsolete. It hasn’t: even today, online sales are roughly three per cent of total retail sales in the U.S. What it has changed is how we shop, for a simple reason: it has created informed shoppers. In the past, retailers could make profits from what economists call “information asymmetry”: sellers knew much more about prices, quality, and value than consumers did, in large part because good information for consumers was either hard to obtain or just not available at all. Today, it’s easy to research and comparison-shop, and most consumers do it for at least some of their purchases. A recent study by Accenture found that two-thirds of those surveyed compared products online; a similar study, by the Consumer Electronics Association and Yahoo, found that more than three-quarters of electronics purchases are researched online but actually occur in conventional stores. And the amount of time people are spending on their research is far from trivial: fifteen hours for televisions, twelve for digital cameras, and so on.

The power has been shifting, in other words, from the seller to the buyer. We go into stores much less susceptible to the spin the retailers try to hit us with. I guess I’m atypical in that I contribute to that 3 percent figure; I now do far more shopping online than in actual stores (see previous post on the Apple Glen nightmare). But when I do venture out, I know exactly what I’m looking for. When I bought a digital video camera, I knew all the models in all the price ranges, what they would do and wouldn’t do. I knew exactly what I wanted and what I was willing to pay for it. The only reason for buying it at a store was so I could hold them all in my hands to see how they felt. That kind of comparison shopping was not possible before the digital age without an enormous investment of time and effort.

Fake hate

December 19, 2007

I mentioned in a recent post the cases of liberals faking hate crimes — doing things such as hanging nooses in the dorm or painting swastikas on their doors — usually in a misguided effort to drum up support for their multicultural agendas. It seems only fair to take note when a conservative does the same thing:

Francisco Nava ’09 admitted yesterday to fabricating an alleged assault on him that he said occurred Friday evening and to sending threatening emails to himself, other members of the Anscombe Society and prominent conservative politics professor Robert George. He admitted the falsification while being questioned by Princeton Township Police.

    In an interview with The Daily Princetonian, Nava expressed remorse for his actions’ effects on the recipients of the threatening emails, other Anscombe members and the general Princeton community. “I accept full responsibility for my actions and agree to face criminal and/or disciplinary proceedings from the University,” Nava said. He declined to answer any other questions, however, including how he managed to inflict the injuries on himself and what motivated his actions.

Whatever happened to just making your best arguments and letting the court of public opinion sort it out? When Andy Warhol observed that everybody would be famous for 15 minutes, little did we know how much some people would hunger for their share.

(I think, by the way, that I’ve gone through about six or seven minutes of mine, usually in five- or 10-second bursts, although getting The News-Sentinel picketed in my first year here used up about half a minute.)

One big mess

December 19, 2007

I made the mistake Saturday before last of going to the Jefferson Pointe-Apple Glen complex to do a little shopping. I swear, if planners had hired 10 sadistic fiends and told them to design the worst ingress-egress-parking situation possible, this is what they would have come up with. WANE-TV had a nice little feature on the two intersections there that are basically eight-way stops (“Stoplights could be coming to Jefferson Pointe” on the Featured Videos playlist).

That just covers the public streets. The nightmare doesn’t end once you get into the shopping areas, though, and I think Apple Glen is worse than Jefferson Pointe. I spent about 20 minutes in Kohls and about 30 just getting from the parking lot back to the street.

Sometimes I worry that Harrison Square won’t work — we will have invested all that time and money for a complex downtown that people won’t come to. But sometimes I worry that it will work, bringing the possibility that I will face a traffic nightmare of epic proportions every day I go to work at 600 W. Main St.

Look, I know I spend a lot of time grumbling about government doing things it shouldn’t. But the basics need taking care of, OK? One of those is to figure out how new businesses will affect existing arrangements, like, you know, TRAFFIC!  

Loooong arm of the law

December 19, 2007

And the moral of the story is: If you’re an escaped rape convict who has eluded recapture for almost 20 years, don’t drive drunk:

Joseph Dixon Midyette, 48, was captured Saturday under the name Bruce Youngs by a Hancock County Sheriff’s Department deputy who pulled him over for suspicion of driving under the influence, said Maj. Joe Hunt.

After a blood test showed that Midyette was legally intoxicated, Hunt said a dispatcher spent four hours searching various databases to determine that Youngs was actually Midyette.

The story says Midyette used 13 different aliases and several different Social Security numbers and dates of birth to evade authorities and that his wife of 10 years was “unaware” of his past. And here’s a really interesting part:

After Midyette’s escape, records show he traveled to several states, including Florida and Indiana, where he served a five-year sentence as Bruce Youngs for a 1991 rape in Marion County.

Hunt said that in the early 1990s, technology did not exist to check Midyette’s prints against offenders nationwide.

A lot of movies and TV shows made it seem otherwise, didn’t they?