Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Intelligent Design Gets Stung

If Pat Robertson wants to wish disaster on every locale that votes against teaching "intelligent design" in science courses, he has a new target: Utah.

You read it right. The inexplicably nicknamed Beehive State, the most conservative and religious state in the Union, voted against a bill that would require teachers to warn against evolution.

Which reminds me. I want to introduce a bill in the North Carolina legislature warning students about the theory of gravity. It is "only a theory," after all. And some scientists disagree with it. Which would be true if I said I disagreed with it, and found someone else who would go along with it. Two is "some." Hey, have you ever seen gravity? Is F = G*Mm/r^2 mentioned in the Bible?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

It's A Gas, Gas, Gas

We all complain about oil company price gouging. This is probably because the oil companies are blatantly obvious about price gouging. So then it makes perfect sense for the state of Minnesota to fine gas stations for... selling gas too cheaply.

Or rather, it makes perfect nonsense.

Hat tip goes to Radley Balko, who I don't actually know.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

I Didn't Know I Was Responsible For Tom and Jerry

According to this dumbass, Tom and Jerry was an international Jewish conspiracy to improve the image of mice. Also, he claims that T&J was a Disney production (it was Hanna-Barbera) and that Walt Disney was Jewish (he is actually rumored to have been a sympathizer of the German-American Bund, a Nazi group).

And also, it couldn't be a Jewish conspiracy. Tom and Jerry was first drawn in 1940. At that point, we were too busy making up the Holocaust. Ass.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Fresh From The Tailpipe

This is why I buy my meats from the butcher's case at Whole Foods. I get my recommended daily allowance of carbon monoxide from sitting in traffic, thank you very much.

Thanks to Leah for the story.

Also, we Americans seem to like reliving great national flusterclucks. There are Civil War re-enactors, Revolutionary War re-enactors... and now, South Dakota gives us the Roe v. Wade reenactors.

Quick, America! There's no time to lose! Let's forget the threats posed by poverty, terrorists, a power-grabbing executive, and Indian chemists! Who cares if Iraq has a civil war on its hands? Ladies and gentlemen, our all-consuming passion is back! IT'S ABORTION TIME!!!!!

It hasn't happened yet. But you know it will.

Now, if only they would re-enact Kelo, and have it come out differently...

The Bernard Effect At Work

For those of you who are wondering - and I know you are - this is the perfect example of the Bernard Effect.

My Coolness Meter Is Broken

Tonight's Colbert Report pointed me to something that is simply brilliant. You may remember that the Iranian daily Hamshahri staged a Holocaust cartoon contest in response to the Danish newspaper Jylland-Posten's Muhammad cartoons. This understandably bothered Jews.

So two Jews have responded by... launching their own anti-Semitic cartoon contest. Said one of the contest's founders: "We'll show the world we can do the best, sharpest, most offensive Jew hating cartoons ever published! No Iranian will beat us on our home turf!"

The coolness of this is simply beyond words. Check out the image gallery for all the entries.

Also, I noticed that the prize for winning the Iranian contest was a gold coin. This demonstrates that the Muslim world is not very good at this whole anti-Semitism thing. Really, it should have been forty gold coins.


Seriously, no one can make offensive jokes about Jews like Jews.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Heaven's Angels, And Ports In A Storm

First off, I'm glad these guys found a good use for the obnoxious noise that motorcycles put out. Because the obnoxious noise that comes out of motorcycles is far less annoying than the obnoxious noise coming from the Rev. Freddy Kreuger. (Also, if anyone has a copy of The Slant's Fred Phelps "he's gay" pic, let me know.)

Second, I don't agree with Dub-Style on many things, but this is one of them. There's no reason a company should be barred from operating our ports just because they're Arabs. Anyway, Dubai likes us. It's not like we're turning over our ports to al-Qaeda or something.

This doesn't mean that our port security system is adequate. It's not. It doesn't matter who runs the damn things; we need to beef up port security across the board. It just means that we shouldn't play favorites with our contracts based on country of origin. A private company from the UAE has just as much right to operate a port in the U.S. as a private company from Britain.

Perhaps the most appropriate question to ask is not whether a company owned by Arabs should be operating our ports, but whether our ports should be operated by private companies at all. Nationalizing our ports would probably make security easier, though it would make the operation of the ports less efficient.

Anyway, I was watching the televised version of CNN for some reason, and I noticed that Wolf Blitzer and the horribly irresponsible Jack Cafferty are trying to stir up as much nativist sentiment as they can against the deal.

One final note on the cartoon controversy: you might recall that European powers - rightly - claimed that the publication of the cartoons was protected by free speech and free press concerns. I guess not all speech is created free: Shoah denier David Irving was jailed by an Austrian court for preaching his pseudo-history. There is a list of countries that ban Holocaust denial - notably missing from this list is Denmark. However, those countries whose governments defended the publication of the cartoons - most notably Germany and France - are talking out of both sides of their mouth here. Much of the reason non-Western Muslims don't understand freedom of speech is because of double standards like this.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

That Takes Effort, Man

More advice for the uninitiated:

If you're a Republican, and you do something that pisses off the ideological driving force of the Southern Baptist Convention, you've probably done something stupid.

So let's hear it for the North Carolina Republican Party: Banditos Theorem Proof #8132 (though really, I've lost count).

Friday, February 17, 2006

Everything You Know Is Wrong

Yes, up is down, black is white, and short is long. Here's some evidence:

Thing you knew #1: When you get shot in the face, the person doing the shooting should apologize to you. Not, I repeat NOT, the other way around. And yet, we find Harry Whittington, the guy on the wrong end of Cheney's birdshot, saying this: "My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this past week."

Ahem. You're sorry? What did you do? Jump in front of the barrel at the last second?

Thing you knew #2: Congress has the responsibility to oversee the executive's actions, and to reprimand them if they get out of hand.

Reality: Not so much.

Thing you knew #3: Guns 'n' Roses was never going to come out with that new album.

Reality: It might actually happen. I say this because some songs actually have names.

And a couple of other tidbits of advice for survival in these crazy times:

- If you find yourself operating an extralegal death squad, and you want to keep out of prison, don't tell people at a checkpoint that you're going to "execute your prisoner." Also, if you're running a government, and people suspect your Interior Ministry of doing something evil, don't investigate the charges using the Interior Ministry.

- Teachers: If you're accepting bribes from students so they don't have to attend gym class, you're not going to be able to keep that arrangement quiet. You should probably stop.

My condolences to all those affected by the Philippines mudslide. There must be nothing more horrifying than watching a wall of mud coming straight for you. Gives me the creeps just thinking about it.

On a slightly happier note, the World Bank has put out a study on poverty. (I didn't even know that the World Bank cared about poverty.) Their conclusions were blindingly obvious: growth doesn't always alleviate poverty, and in fact high poverty levels can inhibit growth. Marcela Sanchez explains why this report deserves more than a "no shit, Sherlock."

I just wanted to isolate this one quote that Sanchez pulls from the report: "Converting the state into an agent that promotes equality of opportunities and practices efficient redistribution is, perhaps, the most critical challenge Latin America faces in implementing better policies that simultaneously stimulate growth and reduce inequality and poverty." Yup. The World Bank, led by neoconservative mastermind Paul Wolfowitz, somehow momentarily slipped into liberalism.

It won't last long - they'll be back to keeping third-world countries under mountains of debt before you know it. It's nice to dream, though.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Wasteland

This year, February 6th marked the beginning of an annual event that doesn't get a lot of recognition. But it's there, and every guy knows what I'm talking about.

For a little over a month, this country enters the Sports Wasteland. Between the Super Bowl and the beginning of conference tournaments in March, there's absolutely no sports to watch. At all.

I'm not a passionate sports guy. I don't rearrange my schedule to watch games (usually). But if I'm not doing anything else, I kind of enjoy being able to watch a game, or highlights, or something sports-related. The problem is, February and early March are mostly devoid of good things to watch.

Pro basketball and pro hockey have almost meaningless regular seasons. Games don't really get interesting until the playoffs, which happen sometime in May or June, get near. College basketball has moments of interest - I watched a really good game between Connecticut and Villanova last night - but unless you're a fan of a bubble team, the big games start being played at tournament time.

March has The Tournament. April has the Masters and the always-interesting opening strains of baseball season. May and June have NHL and NBA playoffs, and this year June gets the World Cup as well. July is when baseball games start to become important again. And by September, football's back.

But February and early March... man.

Incidentally, Britain, blessed with Premiership soccer, doesn't have this problem, even though its soccer season is as interminable as the NHL's and NBA's. This is because there's no playoff - the winner of the regular season wins it all. There are consolation prizes - spots in Europe-wide tourneys - for the top 5. And the bottom three are kicked out of the league - incentive enough for fans of bottom dwellers to keep watching the late season games.

More Sodomy, And Budget Stuff

The latest victims of sodomy? A second grader, seven Tibetan monks, and a professor of Joyce. Talk about security threats. Can't be too vigilant against the marauding second-grader army.

This is just part of a growing nativist current in this country. Nativism has been around in America since Wampanoag Indians complained about the "damned Pilgrims taking our jobs and stealing our livelihood." (Incidentally, this remains the only time that nativist fears have ever been borne out.) Honestly, it's been at an all-time low since the '60s - which is where I like it. But it's growing again thanks to terrorism and economic fears, and people like the Minutemen and these low-level immigration clerks are caught up in it.

Tom Tancredo, the most infamous of the sodomites, would be proud. Hat tip to Leah for the story.

(To alleviate any confusion, "sodomy" is Jeff-ese for nativism or anti-immigrant sentiment. Read this for more clarification.)

But it's easy for someone like me to complain about anti-immigrant sentiment. I'm not the one being pushed out of the workplace by people quite happy to work long hours for a pittance. And I don't exactly live in the most terror-prone part of the country. However, it seems to me that the answer to these fears is not to shut out the rest of the world, but to welcome them and ensure that they play by the same rules that we do. Businesses hire illegal immigrants because they're easily exploitable; making illegal immigrants legal means that native-born Americans and immigrants can compete fairly. (Psychotic - in a good way - Internet personality Maddox wrote a column on this as well.)

Either way, an economy that creates jobs (not just a growing economy, GDP nerds), and a society that prepares people for the jobs it creates, would help everyone. Alas, Bush's budget doesn't quite grasp this. Expanding defense is understandable given the current geopolitical climate (there's probably still a good amount of waste there, but I don't know how much). Yet he proposes funding cuts for at least two crucial sectors - Medicaid and education.

Medicaid helps poor people get health care. Health care is the major factor troubling employers and keeping them from creating jobs. More uninsured poor people means more people who can't pay for preventive health care when they need it, and can't pay for catastrophic health care when they get it. Which means higher prices for everyone else. Which means higher insurance premiums for individuals and employers alike. Which means fewer jobs. If the government invests more directly in health care, it frees up money for employers to, say, pay employees.

Ford and GM have had well-publicized problems with their retirees' health care costs. That seems like an argument for a larger government role in health care if I ever heard one - if the government were doing its part in helping people get health care, the companies would not have had to step in and break their own banks in doing so.

(Let me add this: the market won't work in health care without a lot of tweaking. There's no basis for competition. If you're sick, you're not going to research which hospital you should go to in order to get the best care at the lowest price. You're just going to go. As a result, I have a healthy distrust for any "market-based" health care solutions.)

(Update 2/14: Harold Meyerson's latest column makes the same basic point, among others.)

Education prepares people for jobs in the knowledge-based economy we're migrating towards. Cutting funding for this makes no sense whatsoever. I really have to wonder whose genius idea it was to pay for the tax cuts by cutting education programs. Especially since the tax cuts don't appear to be doing anything, economy-wise.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Vandy Hoops...

As regards our men's basketball team:

Sure, we may have lost to South Carolina. Sure, we embarrassed ourselves against Florida and Tennessee, and somehow lost to Arkansas, Alabama, and Georgia. But we swept Kentucky, and that's all that matters.

As for our women: Arkansas? Florida? They have women's teams? If we can lose to them, how the hell are we going to survive Thompson-Bolling tomorrow? Oh well. At least you don't suck as much as the men.

Update 2/13: Seriously, is our women's team just congenially unable to hold a lead against Tennessee? Though there's no shame in playing the #5 team in the nation that close on their home court, especially when they're being coached by the Dark Lord...

Friday, February 10, 2006

Why Lobbying Reform Won't Work

So thanks to Jack Abramoff, both parties are getting into the whole "let's reform Washington" spirit. It'll last about another week.

Both proposals are predictable - limit lobbyist access to congresspeople, make campaign contributions more transparent, yadda yadda yadda. None of this will do anything, though. The problems are a lot deeper than Congresspeople want to admit.

Let's take the reform of so-called "earmarks" that has become a flashpoint for the debate over congressional ethics. I'm wary of removing earmarks, for one reason: the money will still go to the administration. It will just go as a block grant to a certain department, which can then do with it as it sees fit. This opens the door for all kinds of political abuses. Do you think this administration would hesitate to funnel the appropriated money towards "red states" and battleground states at the expense of Democratic-leaning areas? Do you think a Democratic administration would hesitate to turn the tables? Earmarks give Congress control over what happens to the money it appropriates, and ensure that districts represented by the minority party don't get left behind. Besides, some earmarks are honestly necessary. (Incidentally, pork accounts for a measley 1% of our total budget.)

There is a lot of earmark abuse, however. Ted Stevens' "bridge to nowhere" is a perfect example. But it continues because people like earmarks. People may talk about how government is wasting their money with pork-barrel projects and earmarked spending, but when the chips are down, people like having their neighborhood parking lot paved with federal money. That's why the incumbent will always beat out the anti-pork reformer: the incumbent can point to an appropriations bill and say, "Look what I've brought you." The subtext being: you wouldn't have projects like this anymore if you got rid of me. The result is a bunch of horse-trading; I'll vote for your bridge if you vote for my seaport. Don't oppose my bridge or your highway gets it.

The point is that abuse of Congressional appropriations power will continue as long as people continue to expect the federal government to fund local projects. People reward their representatives for getting funding for their local highway more than they would a pork-slasher who would use the savings to cut taxes or improve social services. Congresspeople aren't addicted to pork - voters are.

Lobbying reform won't make any changes either. Congress will continue to grant legislative favors to the people bankrolling their campaigns. You need money to win an election, after all. And that's the big structural problem. There's a phrase to describe a congressperson who refuses to go to bat for his campaign contributors: out of a job. Again, the problem here is the voters. We are too easily influenced by the advertisements and the PR campaigns that money can by. Not enough people take the amount of time necessary to actually learn about the candidates and make an informed decision. This doesn't make a difference when the advertising campaigns wash each other out, as in a presidential race or a competitive senatorial race. However, when there's a distinct funding gap, it gives the better-funded candidate the opportunity to distort the identity of his/her opponent and makes the votes of the well-informed almost unimportant.

Government could try to solve the second problem by funding all candidates equally and forbidding them from using outside money. As McCain-Feingold found out, though, this gets into free-speech issues, and there's always the dilemma about what to do with third-party/independent candidates. In all honesty, the solution lies with every voter. First, reward your congressperson for concentrating on national priorities and not giving in to the temptation to get federal money for your driveway. Second, ignore campaign ads and take the time to make an informed decision about every election. If every person makes those two reforms, it will solve a lot more problems than Congress could ever hope to solve.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Fun With Morals

Matt Novak (who I don't technically know) has launched a spiffy discussion about morality and the law. Read about it here.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Foreign Concepts

There are some people that are begging to be made fun of. First on the list: anyone involved in the whole cartoon flustercuck. So let us take a moment to laugh at how silly the world is being.

To that Danish newspaper: what the hell were you thinking publishing that cartoon? You had to know it would engender this kind of response. Is making a point about a supposed bias in the media really worth this?

To the ambassadors who withdrew from Copenhagen over this: you are stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Let me introduce you to a little concept called "freedom of the press." It's not that difficult to grasp. You ought to know about it if you're living in the West. The Danish government has NO CONTROL over what goes into a newspaper. Nor should it. So get your asses back to Copenhagen before you make fools of yourselves. Oh, wait, too late.

To the Middle Eastern Muslims who are burning things because of it: lighten up. Honestly. It won't be the last time someone makes fun of your religion. There are more important things for you to worry about. Like why you, personally, aren't getting any of that oil money. That's something to be pissed off about.

And finally, to these guys: we get it. You're launching a despicable cartoon contest in response to a despicable cartoon contest. Good job. You're exacting revenge in a lighthearted way. You're better than the idiots burning stuff. But - and I'm going to write this very slowly so your singular brain cell can process it - the Jews had nothing to do with this cartoon. Exact revenge on the people that attacked you, not on someone else. For example, if your country was attacked by people who live in Afghanistan, you wouldn't want to invade Iraq in response.