Archive for April, 2008

Devil in the details

April 30, 2008

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on our editorial “endorsing” Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential primary, including some from a good friend who has given up a large part of her personal life to volunteer for Obama. (I offered her a guest column spot if she wanted to write a rebuttal, so stay tuned for that possibility.)

I used the quote marks around endorsing because the editorial didn’t exactly sing Clinton’s praises. I don’t expect an endorsement of a Democrat in the primary by a conservative editorial page means that much to Democratic voters. Republicans likewise shouldn’t pay too much attention to The Journal Gazette’s endorsement of primary Republicans, since the probability of the paper endorsing those same Republicans in the fall is exceedingly small. But we try to stay in the same conversations everybody else is having, and all we can do is be as honest as we can be. I hope the editorial succeeded:

There are two candidates in the Democratic primary, and they are both very liberal – just look at their ratings by political watchdog groups. Clinton is the less liberal of the two. It is that simple.

I caught a little bit of Pat White on WOWO on the way home yesterday, and he summarized the editorial as “opting for the devil we know” as opposed to the devil we don’t know. That’s as good a description as any, I guess, but it requires a little elaboration.

To say Clinton is “divisive” is only another way to say the country is divided. Half the country thinks one way, half another, and both sides are getting more entrenched and dismissive of the other side. We have to take that division as it is and deal with it. I think Obama is promising something he can’t deliver — a new kind of politics, moving beyond the old ways, all that “hope and change” stuff. When you cut through the rhetoric, he is a liberal politician — nothing more, nothing less — just like Clinton. The conservative half of the nation isn’t going to roll over and play dead just because President Obama says so, especially when it becomes clear he’s just going to make government bigger and spend more money.


The indifferent universe

April 30, 2008

I don’t believe in miracles, but, damn::

SUFFOLK, Va. – It was a scene of haphazard destruction that stretched for 25 miles: Row upon row of homes reduced to sprays of splintered lumber, shopping centers stripped to bare metal, parking lots turned into junk yards.

And yet no one died.

“The only thing I can say is we were watched over and blessed,” Fire Chief Mark Outlaw said.

Sometimes, things just happen, and we wonder why. You’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it happens to you instead of someone else. Sometimes, things just don’t happen, and maybe we should ask why in those cases, too. Why did we leave the restaurant in Michigan City exactly when we did on that Saturday in 1983? If we’d left 5 seconds sooner, we would have been through the U.S. 30 intersection before the car that hit us got there, and I wouldn’t have been in the hospital for five weeks. If we’d left 5 seconds later, we’d have had less time to brake, and I’d be dead.

And the universe doesn’t care either way. Thornton Wilder tackled that question, and the best he could come up with was, “Well dunno. I think there’s a pattern there somewhere, but I can’t prove it.”

Remember or read about the Palm Sunday tornadoes? I was in Indiana then, just in the right place at the right time.

Happy Well-Being!

April 30, 2008

Eventually, everything will be reduced to a number. Researchers have come up with something called the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which attempts to measure the nation’s general welfare “much like the Dow Jones Industrial Average portrays the health of the stock market.” The index classifies people as “thriving” (49 percent of Americans), “struggling” (47 percent) or “suffering” (4 percent). And get this:

Those who are thriving tend to have higher incomes, more education and less illness. Those who are suffering have trouble meeting their basic needs, including food, shelter and medical care, said James Harter, Gallup’s chief scientist for workplace management and well-being.

That’s all it takes to thrive — education, high income and not being sick? If only we’d known. If only we’d had the science!

Lincoln life

April 30, 2008

Thank goodness Abraham Lincoln just grew up here, so Indiana can stay out of this little Kentucky-North Carolina tiff:

A group in Rutherford County, N.C., opened the Bostic (N.C.) Lincoln Center and is petitioning the federal government to run a DNA test of Lincoln’s father, Thomas, to see if it matches some of the 16th president’s saved genetic material.

Keith Price, president of Bostic Lincoln Center Inc., said Lincoln was born in rural North Carolina, where Price believes Nancy Hanks gave birth to him out of wedlock.

Price is relying on an oral tradition that says Hanks’ family, in the late 1700s, traveled from Virginia to North Carolina, where she worked for Abraham Enloe, who some point to as a possible father. A picture of Enloe’s brother looks “very much like” Abe, Price said. Thomas Lincoln, on the other hand was more like a “fireplug,” Price said.

I suppose next, they’ll want the Lincoln Museum. Well, they’d just better watch it, because we’ll never,  ever . . . oh, wait.

Acid test

April 30, 2008

Bad trip, man:

GENEVA (AP) — Albert Hofmann, the father of the mind-altering drug LSD whose medical discovery grew into a notorious “problem child,” died Tuesday. He was 102.
Because LSD exaggerated inner problems and conflicts, Hofmann thought it should be used to recognize and treat mental illness, and he was, well, bummed out by the fact that Timothy Leary and the hippies turned it into a party drug. I saw of a lot of it being used in Fort Hood when I was in the Army, and it was no joke about the exaggeration. If a guy was a little vain, under LSD he’d become a raging narcissist, certain his nose was growing ever bigger. If he was a little distrustful of others, he’d become a paranoid lunatic. It was like a secret personality detector.

Yard work

April 30, 2008

The neighbors are complaining, which is why this is a story. But it seems sort of creative to me:

Jim Downs and Pat O’Brien said they did not want to cause a controversy when they covered their Merrillville front lawn with green indoor/outdoor carpeting.

[. . .]

“The senior citizens claim the yard’s incline makes the space too difficult for the 72-year-old Downs and 62-year-old O’Brien to mow. The landscape service they used last season is no longer in business.

The couple did not want the yard to become overgrown and unsightly with weeds as summer wears on and they don’t want to have to worry about the space if they decide to go away for a few days.

I’ve never understood people who are obsessed with their lawns and shrubs and such. As far as I’m concerned, a yard is just something to separate my house from the street and the other houses. I’ve toyed with the idea of just paving it and painting it green.

Clean and sober prom

April 30, 2008

Good idea:

 After an alcohol-fueled “embarrassment” at least year’s prom, Whiting High School students may face breath tests at prom Friday.

Whiting School Board members voted unanimously Monday night to authorize breath tests at school functions. The measure allows sobriety tests at a slate of school functions, but prom was clearly the board’s concern.

Now, if they could just figure a way to get a handle on the drinking the students do after the prom.

In harm’s way

April 30, 2008

There are two church-state issues that can be in conflict: 1. Freedom of religion requires government to keep its distance and let people worship the way their conscienses dictate. 2. But religion can’t give cover to practices that are clearly against the law of the land. It can be tricky to determine when the behavior is so unacceptable that the state is justified in stepping in. Remember the Santeria members who got in trouble for killing chickens because it violated laws against “animal sacrifices”? They should have just fried and eaten the chickens afterward — no problem! And doesn’t the fact that so many jurisdictions are enacting medical marijuana laws weaken the prohibitions against using weed in religious ceremonies?

And the raid on the Texas compound of course has given us lots of fodder for the debate. The state upped the ante when it took the unprecedented step of confiscating all 462 children and separating them from their mothers. Even if we accept the premise that maintaining a polygamous community somehow creates the potential for harm, how can what the state did not be called child abuse? 

Then there is this couple, who let their 11-year-old daughter die of untreated diabetes while they prayed over her:

According to court documents, Leilani Neumann said in a written statement to police that she never considered taking the girl, who was being home-schooled, to a doctor.

“We just thought it was a spiritual attack and we prayed for her. My husband Dale was crying and mentioned taking Kara to the doctor and I said, ‘The Lord’s going to heal her,’ and we continued to pray,” she wrote.

They have been charged with second-degree reckless homicide and could face up to 25 years in prison if convicted. Maybe that’s a little harsh, but I can’t say I have all that much sympathy for them. They don’t belong to any organized religion or faith but are said to be religious “isolationists” involved in a prayer group of five people. The mother, especially, seems to be in some kind of twilight zone between fanaticism and severe mental illness.

But we don’t have to make that judgment to say: Don’t kill the kids. You have the right to believe whatever you want to, even if that causes you to take actions that end up harming you. But there is a line you can’t cross when it involves children who don’t yet have the capacity to make reasoned judgments. We can debate whether that line was crossed in Texas. Here, it most certainly was.

Make room!

April 29, 2008

Omigod, what are we going to do?

If the USA seems too crowded and its roads too congested now, imagine future generations: The nation’s population could more than triple to 1 billion as early as 2100.

That’s the eye-popping projection that urban and rural planners, gathered today for their annual meeting in Las Vegas, are hearing from a land-use expert.

“What do we do now to start preparing for that?” asks Arthur Nelson, co-director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, whose analysis projects that the USA will hit the 1 billion mark sometime between 2100 and 2120. “It’s a realistic long-term challenge.”

Might I suggest, since most of us will not be among that billion, that we try not to panic too much? And, with all due respect to Mr. Nelson, this isn’t really something you “plan” for. The population will grow incrementally, not suddenly and dramatically, so we adapt rather than plan. This story sounds like it was written by someone who has mostly experienced big urban centers, which are indeed crowded and congested, and isn’t thinking about all those wide open, mostly empty spaces this country has. A billion? Piece of cake.

Of course, if the projection is accurate, and you extrapolate it to the whole world, that means about 18 billion warm bodies will be wandering around begging for the precious food we need for biofuel. Oh, no, wait, we can’t handle that many people. Population will actually peak at around 9 billion in 2075. Dr. Ehrlich, phone home. You need to exhume Malthus one more time.

Whimsical justice

April 29, 2008

Justice Antonin Scalia was on “60 Minutes” trying to explain Originalist constitutional thinking to Leslie Stahl, and he might as well have been talking to the wall:

Scalia has no patience with so-called activist judges, who create rights not in the Constitution – like a right to abortion – by interpreting the Constitution as a “living document” that adapts to changing values.

“It is an enduring Constitution that I want to defend,” he says.

“But what you’re saying is, let’s try to figure out the mindset of people back 200 years ago? Right?” Stahl asks.

“Well, it isn’t the mindset. It’s what did the words mean to the people who ratified the Bill of Rights or who ratified the Constitution,” Scalia says.

“As opposed to what people today think it means,” Stahl asks.

“As opposed to what people today would like,” Scalia says.

“But you do admit that values change? We do adapt. We move,” Stahl asks.

“That’s fine. And so do laws change. Because values change, legislatures abolish the death penalty, permit same-sex marriage if they want, abolish laws against homosexual conduct. That’s how the change in a society occurs. Society doesn’t change through a Constitution,” Scalia argues.

Values do change, and that’s what the law is for. Bedrock principles do not change, and that is what the Constitution is for. That seems so basic to any understanding of a constitutional republic’s operation, but so many people are willing to blur the role of the Constitution and the law. If you really buy into the “living Constitution” argument, you’re willing to let nine people tell you what the law of the land is. And they might do things you like or things you abhor, and you will live under the tyranny of the whim of the moment. 

The global humming crisis

April 29, 2008

OK, so what is Al Gore going to do about this?

Indeed, scientists now say the planet itself is generating a constant, deep thrum of noise. No mere cacophony, but actually a kind of music, huge, swirling loops of sound, a song so strange you can’t really fathom it, so low it can’t be heard by human ears, chthonic roars churning from the very water and wind and rock themselves, countless notes of varying vibration creating all sorts of curious tonal phrases that bounce around the mountains and spin over the oceans and penetrate the tectonic plates and gurgle in the magma and careen off the clouds and smack into trees and bounce off your ribcage and spin over the surface of the planet in strange circular loops, “like dozens of lazy hurricanes,” as one writer put it.

Look, we might not be able to actually hear it, but, trust me, there are computer models proving that it’s getting louder. If something isn’t done soon, nobody will even be able to go outside by the year 2020. The problem will be even worse in the Third World, of course.

Poor, poor Bill

April 29, 2008

Oh, give me a break

 Hillary Clinton will have nightmares about her botched run for the presidency; it’ll be worse for Bill Clinton.

[. . .]

It’s going to be tougher for her husband. The most talented and resilient politician of this generation has damaged his standing with gaffes, political miscalculations and a series of paranoiac, volcanic eruptions.

Bill Clinton thought being president was just a real hoot, and the White House was his playground. Can anybody who has thought about it ever get over the image of what was going on while he was on the phone with Arafat? Bill has made millions and millions since leaving the White House.

Bill Clinton has always known how to have a good time, and he always will. Damaged his reputation? With whom? Think he cares?

Happy days

April 29, 2008

Don’t know about the trains, but the torch was sure on time:

PYONGYANG, North Korea – Assured of a trip free of anti-Chinese protests, the Olympic torch made its first-ever relay run Monday in authoritarian North Korea

An attentive and peaceful crowd of thousands watched the start of the relay in Pyongyang, some waving Chinese flags, footage from broadcaster APTN showed. The event was presided over by the head of the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, who often acts as a ceremonial state leader.

“Attentive and peaceful.” What a nice place it must be.

Howard’s end

April 29, 2008

It’s nice to know Howard Dean still has left in him one of those primal-scream moments that sealed his doom as a presidential candidate:

Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said that either Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama needed to quit the presidential race in June in order for Democrats to win the White House in November.


Sorry, Howard, I don’t think they’re listening to you, and there’s really no reason they should. Obama is the favorite, so he won’t quit. If he wins, he will have become a much better candidate for weathering all the controversies and becoming seen as a real person instead of a glib elitist. If Clinton wins, it will be from keeping her head down and fighting and never quitting. You want a tough president?

Republicans, many of them wondering how in the world they ended up with John McCain as their candidate, would have been better off if they’d voted in such a way that their primary went on a little longer. There’s a lot they could have learned about their potential nominees that they never got around to.

Attention, Wal-Mart shoppers

April 29, 2008

Every time a school district decides to adopt a school-uniform policy, there is a story quoting somebody or other worrying about how it will affect all the poor people. A couple of years ago, I made the gentle point that even poor parents have to buy clothes for their kids, and uniforms are not usually designed to be extravagant. A school board member merely starts with that observation and then unloads:

A little more than a week ago, the Osceola County School District decided to implement school uniforms. Since then, he says parents have complained saying they can’t afford the new clothing.  He disagreed with parents and fired off an email to them saying:

“Everyone can afford Wal-Mart and if they cant they need to think about turning of their cable TV or stop buying alcohol or cigarettes and spend their money on their children.”

Whew, way to go; put the blame where it belongs. Almost everything schools do these days that distracts them from their education mission is aimed at the one thing they can’t really fix — making up for what parents should be doing but aren’t.

Remember that ID

April 28, 2008

Indiana’s Voter ID law gets a 6-3 passing grade from the Supreme Court:

A majority of the justices were persuaded that combating voter fraud and preserving the integrity of the polling place were important enough objectives to justify the ID law.


As important, Stevens noted, was the failure of opponents to demonstrate the burden that would be placed on elderly and minority groups. The record in the case was almost devoid of any pure numbers indicating the percentage of voters in Indiana who lacked an ID that would allow them to vote, a point underscored at oral argument.

It put the justices in the position of being asked to throw out a statute that they recognized served legitimate interest even though there was little evidence of the harm it caused. In the end, they couldn’t do it.

Now, you can be sure of being able to rent a video, cash a check or buy an airline ticket on your way to vote.

On the war path

April 28, 2008

Hillary Clinton in Indiana, dsiplaying as little understanding of the global economy as Barack Obama, or at least a similar unwillingness to talk honestly about it:

At the union hall in Gary she grew so animated in describing the plight of old-line industrial workers, in fact, that she described them in language from the oft-repeated poem, attributed to Martin Niemöller, about the victims of Nazism. “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist,” goes the version inscribed on a wall at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. “Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew,” it continues.

Mrs. Clinton’s version went like this: “They came for the steel companies and nobody said anything,” she intoned. “They came for the auto companies and nobody said anything. They came for the office companies, people who did white-collar service jobs, and no one said anything. And they came for the professional jobs that could be outsourced and nobody said anything. So this is not just about steel,” she finished.

Those old-line industrial jobs aren’t coming back, OK? All the babble about a green-collar economy won’t change that. Those Democrats who have been telling us over and over again we have to get along with the rest of the world had better be careful about heading us into trade wars we can’t win. They’re all beginning to sound like a bunch of mercantilists.

Work week

April 28, 2008


The idea isn’t new one. The oil crisis of the 1970s prompted some employers to switch to a four-day work week, but the idea never took hold nationally.

These days, though, energy and congestion issues may give the concept more traction. Several petition drives for a shortened work week are now circulating on the Internet.

With less emphasis on structure and more on productivity, I’d think all kinds of flexible work weeks would start being looked at. What if someone can get his job done with three 13-hour days, or, for some strange reason, he would like to five or six hours every day of the week? And, by the way, what’s sacred about 40 hours? Here’s the job — get it done, whatever it takes.

A few years ago, when I had an actual staff, they left it up to individual departments whether to stay with five eight-hour days or go to four 10-hour days. I thought three-day weekends were pretty desirable and went to my staff with a plan. But the two full-timers each had small children at home and didn’t want to change the routines they already had in place. So we stuck it out with the traditional schedule. Bummer.

Bayh’s gamble

April 28, 2008

If Hillary Clinton loses Indiana, Will Evan Bayh also be a casualty? The Politico explores the issue:

Evan Bayh, the Indiana junior senator who has national political aspirations of his own, also stands to see his stature rise or fall depending on the outcome. As the state’s most popular Democrat and a vigorous Clinton supporter, Bayh’s ability to deliver Indiana will be closely scrutinized as a test of his clout and could go a long way toward burnishing his credentials for a spot on a possible Clinton-led presidential ticket.

“Closely scrutinized as a test … toward burnishing his credentials” for a spot on the ticket? If Clinton loses Indiana, there ain’t gonna be a ticket. Let’s not overthink this thing.


Not to be

April 28, 2008

This is disappointing, but it’s no great shock, is it?

INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said on Sunday he would not hold another debate with rival Hillary Clinton until after the May 6 nominating contests in North Carolina and Indiana.

Unless something drastically alters the political landscape, I don’t know why he’d have another one even after May 6. He doesn’t do especially well in them, and, being so far ahead, he has everything to lose and nothing to gain. Calling for a debate or more debates is what the one who is losing does.

I’ve heard some commentators say ducking further debates will hurt Obama with superdelegates, who will start worrying about how he’ll handle debates with John McCain. But unless Clinton catches Obama in delegate count (all but impossible) or the popular vote (not impossible but very difficult), the superdelegates have to go with the voters, unless they want to see a revolt in their party that will give the election to McCain.


April 28, 2008

There aren’t many acts I’d go out of the way to see live anymore — that was another part of my life. But the Robert Plant-Alison Krauss tour would be at the top of the list. I first saw Krause when she was just a kid, on stage with Bill Monroe at Bean Blossom. And what was the point of anybody else doing heavy metal music after “Led Zeppelin II”? And they weren’t even exactly a metal band.

This is a fascinating marriage of styles, and the reviewers say the show is something special. Rockers will be disappointed that the duo go more in the direction of Alison’s root music than Robert’s, but, hey, they’re both, as producer T-Bone Burnette says, out of their comfort zones.




April 25, 2008

Do as I say, not as I do?

With his state’s critical primary in two short weeks, Democratic Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh — a strong supporter of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton — has been leaning on the Hoosier State’s freshman House members to stay on the sidelines rather than endorse Sen. Barack Obama.

Obama is hoping to win the outspoken support of Reps. Brad Ellsworth, Baron Hill and Joe Donnolly. He campaigned for them ahead of their 2006 Democratic sweep, and their districts sprawl across the southern half and central heartland of Indiana — white, working class areas that favor Clinton. Even a good showing in those districts could be enough for Obama to take the state, given his strength in Indianapolis and the largely African American north near Chicago.

In an interview today, Bayh said he has appealed to Ellsworth, Hill and Donnolly to stay out of the race until their voters have spoken. Clinton will take all three of their districts, he said.

“Why should they get crosswise with some of their friends if they really don’t need to?” asked Bayh, perhaps the most powerful elected Democrat in the state.

Come on, Evan.

Bible fight!

April 25, 2008

A lot of bloggers are writing about a story from a couple of days ago to the effect that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “made up” a Bible verse:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is fond of quoting a particular passage of Scripture. The quote, however, does not appear in the Bible and is “fictional,” according to biblical scholars.

In her April 22 Earth Day news release, Pelosi said, “The Bible tells us in the Old Testament, ‘To minister to the needs of God’s creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.’ On this Earth Day, and every day, let us pledge to our children, and our children’s children, that they will have clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and the opportunity to experience the wonders of nature.”

Cybercast News Service repeatedly queried the speaker’s office for two days to determine where the alleged Bible quote is found. Thus far, no one has responded.

Distinguished biblical scholars, however, cast doubt on the existence of the passage.

OK, it’s not nice to make up Scripture, even in support of Earth Day. But it’s hard for me to believe Pelosi would actually think no one would fact-check her on the Bible. I wonder if she or somebody on her staff is just a little unclear on the rules for quote marks. Her “passage” is a paraphrase of a lot of verses in the Bible that say the same thing about being good stewards of the Earth.

Here are just two: “I brought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruits and its good things. But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination.” (Jeremiah 2:7) And: You shall not pollute the land in which you live…. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in which I also dwell; for I the Lord dwell among the Israelites.” (Numbers 35:33-34)

Peer pressure

April 25, 2008

Remember that story some of us got so exercised over about the proposed Maine law that would make it a crime merely to peer at children? Turns out we didn’t have the story quite right:

The bill that sparked the controversy would make it possible for authorities to bring charges against sexual voyeurs who target children in public places. Under existing law, such conduct must occur in a private place to be illegal.

Hill, a first-term lawmaker, said she decided to try to strengthen the law after a reported incident at the public bathrooms near the beach in Ogunquit.

Hill said that Ogunquit police told her about a case in which a man repeatedly followed boys into the restroom and peered down at them as they used the urinal. Police were frustrated because such activity was illegal under a state law banning “visual sexual aggression” only if it occurred in a “private place,” and a public bathroom didn’t seem to qualify.

Hill’s proposal, which passed through the Legislature’s criminal justice committee unanimously, removes the “private place” language from the existing law.

Other provisions of the law were left unchanged, including language stating that in order to violate the law, an adult must look at a child’s “uncovered breasts, buttocks, genitals, anus or pubic area” for the purpose of “arousing or gratifying sexual desire,” under circumstances where a “reasonable person” would have an expectation of privacy.

But the article that appeared in the Portsmouth newspaper gave some the impression that they would be violating the law if they merely looked at a child walking down a sidewalk. The article began, “Those who peer at children in public could find themselves on the wrong side of the law in Maine soon.”

A newspaper got something wrong. The horror. If stuff like that continues to happen, why, people might stop buying newspapers.

Here’s the editor, explaining, sort of: “It used to be that we put things in our newspaper, and we really controlled them. And we don’t have that kind of control anymore.” No kidding. But even before the Internet made it possible for our mistakes to be picked apart by the whole world nearly instantaneously, newspapers had corrections policies. I hope the editor isn’t saying trhat this kind of incomplete story would have been left as is in the old days.

No cheap date

April 25, 2008

Awww, the poor babies:

PENDLETON — The dress, the hair, the limo, the dinner.

It’s never cheap to go to a high school prom.

But Hannah Cantrell estimates her costs will be over $400 for Pendleton Heights High School’s prom at the Murat Theatre in Indianapolis. At first, she guessed around $350 for clothes, but she remembered that her hair and nails had to be ready, too.

[. . .]

A researcher at North Dakota State University found couples in that Midwestern state spent an average $509 on the prom in 2004, with girls shouldering $296 and boys $213.

[. . .]

This year, Your Prom magazine polled its readers, usually a group of more upscale teens. The average price tag was over $1,000. Boys spent $545; girls, $530.

Maybe I’m just bitter because I was too much of a pathetic nerd in high school to even think of going to the prom. But just think of all the cell-phone minutes the kids could pay for if they cheapened up on the prom a bit.