Friday, June 30, 2006

Eminent Domain Madness

Sometimes, the cavalier attitude local governments have respecting eminent domain is startling. So it is with this case, brought to our attention by libertarian magician Jacob Grier. It concerns a magic shop in Wheaton, MD (about half an hour's drive from my hometown of Herndon, VA) that has been seized and slated for demolition so Montgomery County can put in a shiny new alley.

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot indeed.

I really don't see how anyone could be in favor of such takings. There's nothing wrong with having a magic shop in between two strip malls. There's nothing wrong with the state buying property and tearing it down either, but if the state wants to get rid of the shop, they ought to be forced to pay what any other buyer would be forced to pay. Let the taxpayers decide whether or not the magic shop should be there - not some developer who can afford to buy a couple of county councillors.

I also note that the Jewish bookstore I used to go to a lot as a kid is on that same block of Georgia Avenue. I wonder what will happen to it when the county decides that there are better uses for the land than the strip mall that it's in...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Ride With The Devil

Note to voters in Utah's 3rd congressional district: The Devil is playing a part in your Congressional primary. I'm especially a fan of how the guy who said that immediately said "I don't want you to print that..." - as if that's going to stop any journalist from running a quote.

My favorite lines from the article:

"[Current representative Joe] Cannon's campaign would not address whether Lucifer is opposing either candidate."

From Satan's accuser, challenger John Jacob (Jingleheimer Schmidt?): "'"We have a country that was created by our Heavenly Father and it was a country that had a Constitution and everyone who came to America had strong faith.'" Well, one out of three ain't bad, I guess. Unless you like to refer to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, etc. collectively as "our Heavenly Father." Or unless you ignore all the atheists, agnostics, and apathetics that crossed the oceans. (Okay, picky people, I know atheism is strong faith in the non-existence of God, but you know that wasn't what Jacob was referring to.)

Update: Candidates should also be watching out for psychic curses applied by their opponent's campaign manager.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Crackpot Alert

According to some political scientists from East Carolina, Jon Stewart is singlehandedly responsible for the decay of American democracy. Apparently, Stewart makes people not want to vote.

As an NC State student, I'm required by law to make an ECU crack here. However, I can't think of any, and my state House candidate is an ECU grad, so I'll let you insert your own here.

Anyway, allow me to introduce Ms. Baumgartner and Mr. Morris to the tenuous relationship between correlation and causation. I don't think the Daily Show makes people think negatively about politics. I think that has more to do with the glut of corrupt, greedy, cheating, weasely, or just plain psychotic demagogues that get the media attention.

Maybe it's because huge corporations and their lobbyists keep us from making sensible changes in labor laws, even though a majority of Senators signed on to it. Or because legislatures are obsessed with idiotic worthless distractions instead of real-world problems. Or because blindingly obvious civil rights legislation gets waylaid because of political grandstanding. (Seriously, is anyone out there not on Capitol Hill still opposed to the Voting Rights Act? Yes, psycho Southern legislator/fossils, black people can vote now. Get over it.)

Or maybe it's because of things like this. Your representative will soon be contacting you about the $90.00 phone sex bill that got charged to your account last Tuesday.

And these guys have the gall to blame Jon Stewart? You do that. The rest of us will continue to laugh at The Daily Show in order to keep from crying.

In other news:

Possible terrorist plot foiled. And it didn't even require a warrantless wiretap. And they're actually issuing an indictment. Hell, they may even get tried. Makes you wonder why we haven't charged and tried the Gitmo crowd, doesn't it?

The House approves the estate tax cut and line-item veto. The cut is smaller than the full-on repeal that Republicans had been pursuing, but it'll still be pretty damn expensive and tilted toward the super-rich. Still, it's not as bad as it could have been. The line-item veto is limited to earmarks and targeted tax breaks; it was approved shortly after Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake tried to get a mere $200 million in earmarks removed to no avail, after which Flake said, "please, please, please don't drag me down." (Insert groan here.) The bill faces significant hurdles in the Senate, where Judd Gregg (R-NH) wants more comprehensive budget reforms, there are more than 40 votes against the estate tax (enough to filibuster, and since the minimum wage got filibustered there's nothing stopping Democrats from doing the same), and Senate Republicans are still unwilling to compromise on the very existence of an estate tax. Stay tuned.

Until then, quote of the day from Rep. Duncan Miller (D-CA), later echoed by the Republican Flake, regarding the line-item veto: "You control the House. You control the Senate. You control the presidency, and you need help before you spend again? What is this, Comedy Central?"

The Supreme Court protects whistle-blowers. Does this apply to the government? Who knows?

Let's see David Horowitz defend this guy. Oh, that's right, enforcement of far-right ideals isn't a concern in a university setting, just moderate-to-liberal ideals, right?

Thank you, John Edwards, for having your priorities straight. In a perfect world, his proposals would garner a lot more attention and a lot more honest debate. In fairness, the minimum wage increase got an airing in the Senate, where it failed. In an earlier debate about this, Jacob suggested that an expanded earned-income tax credit - a way of topping up income from the government's coffers - would be better. Anyway, I'd like to see what you think about the proposals, especially a) the five million temporary government-subsidized jobs. Kind of a CCC/WPA thing, which I like. But what would they be? How would they offer opportunities for other work when they expire? b) The tax credits to help low-income workers establish savings accounts - why not just give the tax credits and let workers establish savings accounts if they so choose? c) Expanded opportunities for college are great, but where's the funding for primary and secondary education? And where's the overhaul of the system by which education money is disbursed, which is probably the single greatest injustice currently being perpetrated by the government against the poor?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

...And We Can All Ignore Soccer Again


Oh well. The U.S. didn't play well enough to deserve the win (though Ghana didn't deserve a win either - their second goal was a gift from the refs). Same old problem - crap finishing. Eddie Johnson probably should have been in there earlier. And somebody send out a search party to find Landon Donovan - I think a crappy soccer player kidnapped him and stole his identity. Props to Beasley and Dempsey for that sweet goal too.

So who should I root for in the next round? The team named by the majority of commenters gets my allegiance.

To repeat: shit.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Calling All Amateur Philosophers

Your philosophical question to debate today:

Vegetarians often claim that slaughtering livestock for meat is "cruelty." However, in general the livestock exists because we grow it to be eaten. With that in mind, answer me this:

Is it better for something to live a life of pain or to not exist at all?

(Other implications of this question could include the abortion debate, euthanasia, etc... in which case, are the standards different for humans than for other animals?)

Also, for those who were, like me, confused about the Israeli flag that a Ghanaian player displayed in the celebration after Ghana's second goal against the Czech Republic on Saturday: the flag-waver, defender John Pantsil, plays his club ball at Hapoel Tel Aviv in Israel and was giving his second home a shout-out. Spiffy.

Less To Say Today

Sorry about the triple post. Blogger went insane.

I'll rant tomorrow about something or other. For today, I merely wish to state this: Episcopalians Firm on Gay Bishops is quite possibly the best headline ever.

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Lot To Chew On

First, happy Juneteenth. June 19th, for the uninitiated, is the day in 1865 that Union troops landed in Galveston, Texas, bringing freedom to the slaves of Texas with them. Since then, June 19th has become a day of celebration for the African-American community. So let us pause today to appreciate freedom, to remember those who fought for the end of slavery and for the end of segregation, and to remember those around the world who still fight for their freedom...

A few quick thoughts that are completely unrelated:

- The Economist has an excellent article on the increasing inequality in American wages since 1980. They correctly point out (in my mind, anyway) that the problem is not the inequality per se, but the lack of upward mobility - parental income determines more in the U.S. than in most other industrialized countries (Ben posted on this a while back, and I'll add the link in here when I find it).

It doesn't seem to me that there's a whole lot that the government can do about the income inequality (short of mandating a limit on salaries, and no one wants to do that). But does extreme inequality imply low upward mobility? It seems to me that the costs of moving up increase as the gap between rich and poor widens - just look at the astronomical rise in college tuitions over the past few decades. And with the continuing offshoring of middle-class jobs, are we dooming ourselves to a society stratified between capital and labor? And what, if anything, can government do to ensure that upward mobility is possible? I'll muse more about the economy in future posts (which is somewhat like a code monkey musing about building a car), but feel free to add your thoughts.

- What the hell? Then-Iranian president Mohammed Khatami offered to recognize Israel, stop supporting Palestinian terror organizations, and begin relations with the U.S. - and Bush turned it down?!?!?! I know the issue is more complex than this, but how? Even if Iran was using the conciliatory tone as cover for a nuclear program, wouldn't diplomatic relations with a powerful possible anti-terrorism ally and some much-needed muscle in the Middle East peace process be worth the risk? Especially if they're going to be enriching uranium anyway... so might as well open relations and try to persuade them to keep it peaceful, right? (I'm kinda surprised Zhubin hasn't posted on this yet.)

- And finally, to all my single male friends out there - stay away from Scottish women.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Happy Flag Day... Now Hands Off The Constitution

One vote. That's all the flag-burning amendment needs to become law.

It currently has 66 supporters in the Senate (it needs 67). It's passed the House. It will be ratified by all 50 state legislatures (more than the 38 needed) if it gets through the Senate.

Fans of the flag-burning amendment like to bring up how many soldiers have died for that flag. Actually, I thought the soldiers died to protect their countrymen's freedom. Which includes the freedom to do things like, oh, say, burn the flag. Oh, and when the President takes the oath of office, does he talk about preserving, protecting, and defending the flag? No. He swears to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.

Sure, flag burning is despicable. But just because an action is despicable doesn't mean we should outlaw it. We can't differentiate between speech we like and speech we don't like - otherwise "freedom of speech" becomes meaningless. Any constitutional amendment that cuts into the First Amendment rights that make our country special is not a monument to those who died for this nation - it is the worst possible affront to their memories.

Update: Bob Kerrey agrees with me.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

American Jew? Oh, Okay Then

Many of you know that I'm somewhat nervous about going to Israel, even though it's free. Well, I'm still nervous about the bombs, but at least my nationality can stop my abduction.

Seriously, who would have expected a Middle Eastern terrorist to abort a kidnapping because the victim was American? And how do you explain that to the guy you just kidnapped? "American? Oh, shit, we're sorry, we thought you were Israeli, ha ha, my bad, you see, the skullcap, you know... Oh well, hope you come back sometime, have a nice day!"

Let's pause to highlight the distinction between al-Qaeda-type terrorists and Palestinian terrorists. The Palestinians obviously aren't motivated by radical Islam - if they were, they would have kept and probably killed their obviously Jewish prisoner. Terrorism isn't monolithic, folks. Remember that.

On a completely different note, this has to be the stupidest lawsuit ever. I guess if you can't rob a store illegally, you might as well try it through legal means...

Monday, June 12, 2006

Red, White, and Blues

Well, that was an unmitigated disaster. Our play in the first half was nothing short of pathetic. I'm okay with that second-half goal - that's what happens when you push forward a lot. But the first two were just... crap. (Though Rosicky's shot on the second goal was pretty sweet.) And why can't we score a goal? Or even take a shot? Anyone who has seen the U.S. attack, please e-mail Bruce Arena at

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Jesus Said Knock You Out

Ever wish that your super-violent shoot-em-up game could have a more Christian spiritual dimension to it? Well, now it can. Introducing Left Behind: The Video Game. For the uninitiated, "Left Behind" is a series of novels loosely based on the Acid Trip - er, sorry, Revelation - of St. John. (On a side note, I read something interesting about Revelation being a veiled commentary on the dangers of emperor worship and a polemic against the anti-Christian and anti-Jewish policies of the emperor Nero. Indeed, the Hebrew letters for "Nero Caesar" add up to 666. If I find this again, I'll post it.)

You play as a member of God's shock troops, killing the minions of the satanic United Nations (!) and converting those who don't have a side before the Antichrist gets them. (And if you believe this guy, offering Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and other filthy heathens the convert-or-die deal made famous by the Spanish Inquisition. He seems like a raving lunatic and certainly engages in a ton of gratuitous Rick Warren-bashing, though, so take his words with a grain of salt. Or rather, the entire Bonneville Salt Flats. In fact, I only post this since it's where I first heard about the game via Barzelay.)

And if you get sick of doing God's work all the time, have no fear! You can also play as the Antichrist! What fun!

Speaking of evil people, I'm with Ben: I'm against the death penalty, but I won't be shedding any tears over the death of this guy. Let's hope we can use this as a turning point to end that stupid civil war...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Happy D-Day... And By "D" I Mean Devil

So today is the 62nd anniversary of the Norman stormin' that helped bring down the Nazis. Also, it's 6/6/06. What better way to combine the celebration of these two concurrent events than through a violent day of worship? (And why is the dude in the picture blowing a shofar? Is he secretly Jewish?)

Some New Jerseyites found a better way to commemmorate the day.

Good going, wall builders: you're not stopping illegal immigration, just increasing its death toll. Seriously, though, if people are willing to die to get here, do you think that a wall or stricter enforcement is going to stop them?

Estate tax repeal goes before the Senate this week - the House, unsurprisingly, already approved it. I'm not sure I understand the reasons behind repealing the estate tax beyond the obvious ideological ones. Even then, if we're going to cut taxes, I'd much rather see a cutting of the payroll taxes - you know, the ones that disproportionately affect modest-income Americans. The estate tax affects such a mind-bogglingly small percentage of Americans, and the arguments that Republicans tend to trot out regarding it - that family farms and small businesses often have to be sold to pay the taxes upon the owner's death - is a myth: only 13 family farms would face difficulties due to the estate tax, and they're probably not the most viable ones either. But Sebastian Mallaby argues this case better than I would. Here's the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities's numberful take. And here's Jeff Sessions' (R-AL) argument in favor of the repeal. The Seattle Times chips in as well.

Personally, I find it amusing that people out there are trying to get me to feel sorry for multi-millionaires. Boo-hoo, you have to pay taxes on your inheritance. For me, it seems that if someone gets money or assets that they didn't already have, that money or those assets should be taxed.

And speaking of stupidity, Washington state is cracking down on an activity that threatens to destroy mankind once and for all... online poker. It's now a felony, though one that will, by the state's own admission, be lightly enforced. Which raises two questions: 1) why pass a law that you won't enforce? and 2) exactly who is harmed by online gaming to the extent that would justify a law against it?

We should also remember another momentous event whose anniversary we celebrate today... my hole-in-one (8 years ago).

Ah, Vermont.

North of the border, the Mounties always get their man. The rest of the country seems nonplussed. Unlike, say, here. Seriously, right-wingers, stop saying that you're "protecting" marriage. You're restricting it, or at best defining it. The verb "to protect" implies that some sort of danger exists... and if your union with your spouse is threatened by the existence of committed gay and lesbian couples, you need counseling, not a constitutional amendment.

And a final 21-gun ONAF salute to the brave American, Canadian, and British soldiers that stormed those Norman beaches all those years ago.

Long Time, No Blog

So I haven't blogged in a while... sorry. But I just finished watching the first game of the Stanley Cup finals (Go Canes! Stupidest goal ever!), and it made me wonder: are seedless fruits really fruits? Discuss.

(Note: the beer consumed during the enjoyment of this sporting event had nothing to do with the formulation of that question.)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Today's Lesson in Bad Journalism

I used to appreciate CNN at one point. Apparently, I was on drugs. They've recently pissed me off with their blatantly nativist reports on immigration (ask Lou Dobbs - "Who can you trust?" Not Lou). Now I come across this story about a lawsuit launched by former sex offenders against a law that prevents them from going within 1,000 feet of a playground when children are present. They say that the law prevents them from voting, traveling on highways, and conducting other such innocuous activities and is thus unconstitutional; supporters claim that the law is there to protect children and should be kept.

But CNN wants you to believe that the sex offenders are trying to get courts to allow them to kidnap and rape children. Start with the headline: "Sex offenders sue for playground access." This makes it sound like sex offenders feel that they have the right to lurk creepily around playgrounds. That's an outright lie. Read on, and you find that former sex offenders - someone who has served their sentence is no longer an "offender" - are suing because the law interferes with their access to highways, polling places, and churches (places where playgrounds may be present). Their lawsuit is about how the law interferes with their legitimate daily activities, not with hanging around a playground and creeping out little kids. And you find that the law includes parks and pools as well, places not as directly associated with children as playgrounds. Think about it; "Sex offenders sue for park access" isn't anywhere near as inflammatory.

Now note the language used in the second-to-last paragraph: "The six, who include convicted child molesters and rapists, are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana." The appository phrase is entirely unnecessary and encourages the reader to choose a particular side. And I wonder why people give the ACLU a bad rap; they aren't advocating for people who feel that their constitutional rights have been violated, they're helping child molesters and rapists sue the government. Furthermore, the use of "convicted child molesters and rapists" makes it sound like we're talking about people who just got sentenced, not people who have served their debts to society.

Frankly, this "news article" would be more appropriate as a column. This is one of the least subtle instances of the manipulation of language in a news article in order to achieve a desired response. But this kind of thing happens in a ton of news articles from sources on every side of the political spectrum. I guess my point is this: watch out for misleading headlines and unfair juxtapositions of information.

Also, the search for WMD ends in Waldo, Florida. Now we just need to answer the age-old question: "Where's Waldo?" (I might add that this article is also misleading. The inclusion of paragraph 4 and paragraph 5 leads the reader to believe that those who protest against the opening of a sex shop are somehow responsible for the terrorism against the shop, which is about as dishonest as linking anti-war protesters to al-Qaeda. The technique is more subtle, however, so I didn't use it as my teaching moment even though it's closer to what you get from most professional news outlets.)