Monday, August 29, 2005

Vote for Kinky

I think I've just found my ideal candidate. I don't know anything about his views on the issues. I can't even vote for him. But damn, he just emanates coolness.

I'm referring to Kinky Friedman, Jewish writer and musician, who is running for governor of Texas. You can't help but vote for a candidate whose campaign slogan is "why the hell not?" And one of his policy arguments is "I'm a Jew, I'll hire good people."

If that's not enough of a reason to vote for him, he's friends with Willie Nelson. They're both biodiesel-obsessed (not necessarily a bad thing).

Of course, a Jewish candidate in Texas has about a snowball's chance in, well, Texas of winning. But that's beside the point.

And let's bask in the awesomeness of this campaign promise as well...

“If elected, I would ask Willie Nelson to be the head of the Texas Rangers and Energy Czar and Laura Bush to take charge of the Texas Peace Corps to improve education in the state. I’d ask my Palestinian hairdresser, Farouk Shami, to be Texas’ ambassador to Israel. We’ve worked together to create Farouk & Friedman olive oil. The oil comes from the Holy Land and all of the profits go to benefit Israeli and Palestinian children.”

So those of you who live in Texas - Mike, I'm looking at you - vote for this guy come 2006. Why the hell not?

Friday, August 26, 2005

Wake Up, Wake

In the wake of the lottery collapse, the North Carolina state legislature just allowed counties to hold a referendum in various counties on allowing them to raise the sales tax. Wake County, my home, decided to take part.

I hope this referendum dies a horrible, painful death. A sales tax is the absolute worst way to raise money since it is the ultimate regressive tax. A lottery would have been less regressive than this. I doubt I'll ever be on the same side as ultraconservative Apex representative Paul Stam on anything again, but I have to say he's right when he says "there has to be a fairer way."

I'm not sure what that fairer way would be, though. Property taxes? Income tax? Telethons? Anyone have any suggestions? The problem with my opposition to this referendum is that I don't have any better ideas for raising more money...

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

Apparently, western N.C. was hit by an earthquake last night. Fortunately, no one was hurt in the magnitude 3.8 tremor, and the only thing damaged was one mobile home. I didn't even feel it here, 300 miles away.

Not sure what to blog about. I feel like saying that all this flap over memos John Roberts wrote in the '80s is somewhat misplaced. Sure, he should be asked questions about his controversial statements about pay parity and other civil rights issues at the upcoming Judiciary Committee hearing, and Senators would be amiss if they didn't bring it up. But good judges don't base their decisions on their personal feelings about the issue at hand - they base rulings on law. Someone could believe that all cats should be drowned in turpentine and dropped on Saskatchewan and still be a good judge as long as their rulings are based on a reasonable interpretation of the law. (Presumably, drowning cats in turpentine and dropping them on Saskatchewan is illegal, and laws against it are constitutional, so he would be bound to uphold such laws.)

Furthermore, I don't assume that Roberts feels the same way now as he did twenty years ago. I don't hold Aimee Mann responsible for her atrocious '80s hairdo, and I won't hold Roberts responsible for his opinions from twenty years ago unless he demonstrates that he still holds them.

Also, California is back in black. That sound you hear is former governor Gray Davis cackling maniacally.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Dictators Are Silly

Sometimes, dictators can be cruel, heartless, murderous, and any number of other horrible traits. But sometimes they can have just enough whimsy to be hilarious (when viewed from a distance, of course).

Saparmurat Niyazov of Turkmenistan is one such figure. In his twenty years as Turkmen dictator, he has fought moral crusades against some of the worst scourges to befall mankind: opera, ballet, facial hair, and gold tooth caps. Now, he's turned his attentions to lip synching. He says it negatively affects the development of singing (which can also be said for, oh, say, outlawing opera).

So much for Milli Vanilli's Central Asian tour.

More Fun With Automated Mailings

Jacob posted earlier on a letter sent by Comcast to one of its many satisfied customers addressing her as "Bitch Dog." Now, banking giant JP Morgan Chase enters the fray by sending a credit card solicitation addressed to Mr. Palestinian Bomber. Apparently, when victim Sami Habbas (a Palestinian-American who has been here for 51 years) called to complain, the ever-so-helpful folks at Chase greeted him, "Yes, Mr. Palestinian Bomber, how may we help you?"

I'm waiting for my "Dear Christ-Killer" letter...

A la Mr. Grier, instant update: apparently a NJ couple got "Jew Couple" written on their restaurant check - story from Daily Kos here. Not quite Christ-Killer, but funny nonetheless.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Election 2008 Preview

So we finally found someone who would seriously challenge Christopher Walken in '08. (He'll be 46, in case you were wondering.)

Let the race begin. It may not be any cleaner than '04, but it'll be a darn sight funnier.

Fun With Kickbacks

Call it poetic justice: in China, American companies are forced to bribe Chinese government officials in order to win contracts. Whereas in America, states bribe companies to locate an operation in their state. If only corporations would bribe me...

Bet On It

North Carolina is five votes away from getting a lottery. It's about the only Southern state without one right now. Certainly the lottery looks good on its face. Georgia's lottery has established the remarkable Hope Scholarships, which send any Georgia high school student whose GPA is above 3.0 to a state school for free (not bad, when your options include UGA and Georgia Tech). Virginia's lottery has contributed immensely to its public school system. Why not try to give North Carolina's schools a boost?

Let's look at who opposes this lottery. The mommies and daddies in the Republican Party say that nice boys and girls don't play at betting games. I don't respect that point of view enough to argue with it. But the objections pointed out by the five Democrats who stand in the lottery's way (including Janet Cowell, my Senator) and the three moderate Republicans who are being lobbied by the lottery (among them Cary's Richard Stevens, who is about three blocks away from being my Senator) give me pause.

Stevens and the Republicans are concerned that the money won't be spent well. One Jones County senator points out that the money his district will be getting will barely be enough to build three portable classrooms. If the money is divided according to the current plan, Jones can forget about the two new schools it needs. (Ironic moment: the legislative building is located on Jones Street, which is named after the aforementioned county.) They also point out that the funds can be diverted from education when the state needs them, which essentially turns an ostensibly education-oriented lottery into just another revenue generator.

Cowell and company say that the lottery is a "poor tax" - i.e. it hits the poor, who need the money, more heavily than the rich. And they have a point. In this legislative session North Carolina has given money away to corporate interests, lowered the top income tax bracket, and raised the sales tax. We don't need yet another revenue generator that acts regressively. But this isn't your everyday tax - no one is forcing people to play the lottery. If you can't afford the ticket but buy one anyway, it's your own fault for being irresponsible. We're getting dangerously close to the "mommy and daddy" philosophy held onto by Republicans.

But the liberals have a point - there are better ways of generating revenue. Not making irresponsible tax cuts when the state is having budget troubles might help too. (And I thought that was just a Republican problem.) A higher tobacco tax - NC's is currently lowest in the nation - would also do the trick, though that might end up being just as regressive as the lottery. Sales and property taxes can be restructured so that they fall progressively instead of regressively.

And the moderate conservatives have a point - don't expect the lottery to magically make our school system better. At its base, it's just another way of making money, and not even a good one.

I still support the lottery. I've never heard of anyone going broke from playing the lottery. Hell, I even support taxed privately-owned gambling since it would tend to take money from the more affluent (N&O columnist Dennis Rogers is with me on this one). But I worry about how much good this lottery's going to do. We can hope it will work the same miracles it worked in Georgia, but don't bet on it. Our trusty state will find a way to screw it up.

Speaking of Georgia, the Washington Post published an op-ed by David Becker that brings attention to an onerous law being pushed by Georgia Republicans. They want to require photo IDs at polling stations. They say it will limit fraud, even though Secretary of State Cathy Cox points out there hasn't really been any fraud in Georgia except by absentee ballot. No, Republicans realize that the harder it is to vote, the less poor people and minorities will vote. And the less poor people and minorities vote, the more Republicans win.

Honestly, I can't believe that people would actually want to make it harder for people to vote. Voting is kind of central to our democracy. The hard work should be in making the decision, not in physically casting the ballot.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

If Only...

Words cannot describe the disappointment I felt when I found out that this site was false. Because if we can't have a president that can singlehandedly fight our wars for us, we might as well have someone that could creep the bejesus out other heads of state.

Evolution, Baby

Surprisingly, there really isn't a whole lot to write about this week. The only big story is Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, and the eviction of a bunch of people who are willing to fight to the death for the right to live in a useless patch of desert. Honestly, Israel has useless patches of desert to spare (I'm thinking of the entire southern half of the country here). If you really want to live in the desert, there's room for you. Personally, I'm not sure I understand the problems with the settlements in the first place - or the return of the refugees who inexplicably left during the 1948 wars. (Inexplicably, because thanks to their departure Arab say in Israel's government is all but nil. Ten seats in the Knesset ain't worth crap.) Why not just let people live where they want to live?

And with regards to the security barrier that's mucking up peace talks, I don't have much to say. Robert Frost might, though:

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'
We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it
Where there are cows?
But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,
But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
He moves in darkness as it seems to me
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father's saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

Thanks, Bob.

On to other things: evolution. Seems the creationists want to get their two cents worth in high school biology classrooms. An article in Time describes their new tactic: creating problems with Darwin's theory, then proposing a new one called "intelligent design" (or creationism lite). They aren't the exclusionists they used to be - they don't want Darwin out of the classroom anymore - but they still want their "theory" given equal time. Never mind that unless you spend a lot of time on evolution, biology doesn't make much sense.

(Time's article is as heavily biased against the creationists as this opinion column. Be forewarned.)

I would like to say a couple of things. First, the next person to say that evolution is "just a theory" is going to be a severe challenge to my pacifism. Sure, evolution is a theory that can't be observed directly. So are gravity, relativity, electricity, magnetic fields, atoms, subatomic particles, wave-particle duality... I could go on. Science IS theory. Making inferences based on observations is what we do. Some theories are weaker than others, but evolution is one of the strongest theories out there. It has withstood, explained, and even predicted some 150 years of new data from paleontology, zoology, and the biological sciences. No observation has posed a significant challenge to evolution yet. We'll never see macroevolution occur (we've seen microevolution), but thanks to Heisenberg uncertainty, we'll never see an electron either. Why don't these "just a theory" people take on particle physicists for a while?

Second, let's not kid ourselves. Intelligent design is creationism and therefore religious in nature. It's constructed cleverly enough to avoid establishment clause critiques. But as one of the leading intelligent design proponents said, if it walks, acts, and quacks like a duck, we have warrant to conclude it's a duck. Sure, intelligent designers could be referring to an alien race who came to Earth and tinkered with DNA for a while until they had finished having their fun (see Parke Godwin's hilarious novel "Waiting for the Galactic Bus"). But who honestly thinks that such things are what intelligent design advocates are referring to?

Intelligent design is not a scientific theory and therefore has no place in our biology classes. It is based on the perceived holes in the accepted theory. Most of all, it is not disprovable. It is the official handwaving operator, the "then a miracle happened" between one part of the math equation and the other. It is not subject to scientific scrutiny because it requires a leap of faith beyond that which is normally required of scientists. It asks scientists, essentially, to give up.

History classes and special seminars can be used to "teach the controversy," if indeed there is one (within the scientific community, there really isn't). But don't ask students to give up on science. It's the last thing we need.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Blogging Gap

Haven't blogged in a while, and won't blog again for a while since I'll be away. But I posit this question for y'all to argue over: iTunes or Napster?