Monday, April 30, 2007

Weird Copyright Issue

A Salt Lake-area coffee house (!) has recently caught some flak for their T-shirts making fun of the LDS (Mormon) church, which doesn't allow its followers to have coffee. The shirts originally had coffee being poured into Moroni's trumpet, but the coffeeshop had to stop selling them when the church sued for copyright infringement.

The shop now has a new design, but the original case raises an interesting question - can a church copyright its religious iconography? Can I get in trouble with the Diocese of Raleigh for making fun of the Virgin Mary? To me, this seems a church that can't take a joke setting a really dangerous precedent. Copyright law experts - any ideas?

(Via Jacob. Incidentally, I like your wakefulness-transferring idea - maybe since I don't like coffee, I can ask Danielle to drink a couple of extra cuppas and I can get the buzz from it.)

A Voice of Reason

This excellent column by the Post's Sebastian Mallaby is a must-read for anyone interested in the immigration issue. It's far from an exhaustive debunking of some of the nativist myths that float around the ether, but it's a good start.

A caveat: the argument about the cost of undocumented workers to the average family is a bit specious, since it uses averages to ignore the fact that both the tax burden and the fruits of economic growth are unevenly distributed. I would like a more specific study focusing on the effect of undocumented workers on working-class people where the rich's contribution to the tax burden and portion of economic growth is factored out. The rest is pretty well done.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

A Case In Point

A couple of posts ago I made the comment (and I'm paraphrasing here) that peace will not come to the Middle East anytime soon because too many people are willing to place something else above peace on their priorities list. This is exactly what I'm referring to. Here's the money quote from the article, which describes why Hamas, against all available logic, thinks it's a good idea to fire rockets at Israeli civilians:

"It's the Palestinians' right to defend themselves," [radical Hamas leader Khaled] Mashaal said, adding the attacks came in revenge for the killings of nine Hamas supporters by Israel. "These are violations that needed a retaliation." (emphasis mine)

As long as people continue to value something as counterproductive and ultimately unfulfilling as revenge over peace - or until the will of the revenge-seekers is suppressed by the greater will of the people - there's nothing anyone can do to force peace. Depressing, perhaps, but this ought to be a reality check to those who wish to broker a peace: in doing so, breaking the cult of revenge and the cult of justifiable homicide must be our first priority.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Drafting Dead

I just noticed that Detroit, who has drafted a wide receiver in four out of the past five first rounds and has a need in pretty much every position but wide receiver, chose Calvin Johnson... a wide receiver. Explain to me how Matt Millen still has a job?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Taking De Bate

A few thoughts on the Democratic presidential candidate debate last night:

- Person who got the most positive bump in my personal book: Hillary Clinton, from neutral to somewhat favorable. Yes, I know I was probably the only person on the planet to have a neutral view of Hillary before last night. But she cleaned up some of the misunderstandings about her position on Iraq and held her own on other subjects. There were a few obvious dodges, but she's a politician so who's surprised?

- Honorable mention: Mike Gravel. I think he's Dennis Kucinich 2.0: Now With More Fire-Breathing Anger. Gotta love the one-issue candidates.

- Ways to piss Jeff off: everyone, but EVERYONE, dodged the environment question and started talking about terrorism. Given that energy policy and the environment rank behind only civil liberties on my list of important issues, this annoyed me. It basically demonstrated that no one on that stage gives a damn about energy or the environment. Kudos to Brian Williams, though, who made the comment of the night after Gravel went off-subject on an environment question and ranted about Iraq: "Getting back to the environment, which is unbelievably where that question started..."

- I swear that I commented to Mike (without whom I would not have known about the debate) that I think it would be great if a candidate gave a one-word answer, yes or no, to a question. Leave it to the normally loquacious Joe Biden to steal my idea.

- Boo to the format. I was amused by the section of the debate where the questions were essentially "explain your health care plan in sixty seconds." Yeah, like that's possible. It takes sixty seconds for these people to introduce themselves. Maybe we should give people a little bit more time? We could sacrifice a few of the stupid questions.

- Overall: Richardson's still my #1, but not by much. Edwards and Obama slipped a little in my estimation; Clinton jumped the most but Dodd and Biden did pretty well. And I hope Gravel sticks around for as long as possible... at least long enough to become the first presidential candidate to break out into a public fit of cussing on the campaign trail.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Weekly Update

I haven't blogged for a while, so I figured I'd roll a bunch of crap together and see what happens. Enjoy.

Israel stuff: First off, happy belated Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day) to Israel. It's 59. Seven more years 'til Social Security benefits kick in. I hear the U.N.'s senior discounts start at 60... hang in there.

Anyway, I'd like to post a link to this excellent column by the Post's Richard Cohen dealing with the double standard surrounding Israel, especially among activist groups. He points out that while Israel certainly has problems it needs to address, singling them out from all the nations of the earth for a boycott is somewhat unfair.

Now I often criticize Israeli policy in this space, and in my mind rightfully so, but I realize that compared to a whole host of other nations, Israel's actually pretty good. In fact, I challenge anyone to make a list of governments that aren't doing something immoral. I think the Federated States of Micronesia might be on there. Also Tuvalu, which gets somewhat of a free pass because it's so much fun to say.

So why do people single out Israel? Cohen thinks it might be a little bit of latent anti-Semitism. There's an argument for that, and it's worth pursuing. I would, however, posit this alternative explanation: out of all the countries in the world with high-profile problems, Israel is the only one that might actually listen to Western griping (and I include my own country in this statement).

Of course, some of you might be thinking, "wait, Jeff, don't you spend more time criticizing Israel than criticizing, say, Zimbabwe, and doesn't that make you a hypocrite?" Valid question (though I would argue that I probably aim more barbs at our government than at Israel's, all told). I don't like human rights abuses anywhere; not here, not in France, not in Africa, not in Israel. And not by anyone; white, black, Asian, Arab, Jew... anyone. It's easy to explain why I criticize American abuses: I live here. I believe in American ideals. And I get annoyed when they get undermined. It's a little bit more difficult to explain why I criticize actions by a govermnent halfway around the world in a country I've never been to.

The answer is this: while I'm creeped out by religious states in general, I'm still Jewish and as such I still have some sort of connection to a Jewish state. And I single the Jewish government of Israel out because God singled out the Jews from all the nations of the world, holding us to a stricter moral code than all the rest of the people. We're supposed to set an example, to be a light unto the nations or something, and when Israel chooses to do something that I see as contrary to Jewish morals I get annoyed (even if it's the geopolitically expedient choice). So there are some things that Israel does that bug me, even though these things wouldn't bug me if any other country did them.

I guess this is in and of itself a double standard - I'm okay with Jews holding Israel to a higher moral standard but not with non-Jews doing the same. But that's one I can live with.

A second note: I was (for whatever reason) reading some Israeli and Palestinian rap lyrics the other day and I noticed a trend - both Israelis and Palestinians rapped about how they wanted peace but they - especially the Palestinians - put some sort of qualifiers on it. I then began to notice how this is a common trend in all the rhetoric around this debate.

Around the same time, I heard about Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley sitting down at the same table and agreeing to work out their differences peacefully, and I realized this: the issues that divided Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland haven't gone away. They simply became less important than ending the violence. My point: peace will not come to the Middle East until everyone on both sides decides that whatever they're fighting for is less important than peace. (Mainstream and left-leaning Israelis are probably closest to this frame of mind right now.) And I don't see the problems between Israelis and Palestinians being worked out until the violence stops. Make of that what you will.

Oh, and when I was looking for Palestinian rap lyrics Google led me to Woman Honor Thyself, who is a friend of Michael's, is listed under his "Some Smart Right Wingers" category, and has commented at ONAF before. For some reason, this amuses me.

Things To Do In Florida When You're Dumb: You could convince yourself that Rep. Robert Wexler's comments on The Colbert Report stating that cocaine was "a fun thing to do" was anything but the ridiculous joke that it was and issue a primary challenge to him because of it... like Ben Graber.

Money quote from Graber: "There are many ways to look at it. Maybe he was shocked and the truth came out." Actually, Mr. Graber, there's only one non-stupid way of looking at it - as a JOKE. Wexler's one of my favorite representatives - if Floridians can't understand Wexler and Colbert's sense of humor, they deserve the shitty representation that they'll end up with.

F#&$in' Censorship Commission: The FCC has, in the wake of the Tech shootings, decided to try to ban TV violence along with TV sex. This is at once uplifting and disgusting. It's good to see the FCC finally realize that it's probably worse for kids to see violence than it is for them to see sex or hear "naughty words." But it's disgusting that the FCC still thinks it should be allowed to play parent to the world, and ridiculous that it seems to have forgotten the existence of the "off" switch. (And that TVs now come with a lot of parental controls.) The proposed ban is even more insidious because the FCC is trying to extend its authority into cable television, which is currently government censorship-free.

Word has it that Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) is going to introduce the legislation. Mountaineers, e-smack your senator around a bit for me.

Joe Biden Will Eat Your Young, Too: Former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani (played by Sean Astin) has guaranteed that electing a Democratic President will be deadlier for the average American than electing a Republican. Geez, the scare tactics are starting a little early, aren't they? At this rate, Republican attack ads will be showing Hillary Clinton flying planes into buildings by June '08, and by election time Barack Obama will be wearing a C4 vest wherever he goes. I really hope that he's sufficiently embarrassed by these remarks to apologize for them (in which case I call dibs on "Rudolph the Red-Faced Mayor"), but I doubt it. I just hope that Americans aren't dumb enough to fall for this kind of crap.

In Barney We Trust: Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) is introducing a bill lifting the Internet gambling ban. Frank says, "Why anyone thinks it is any of my business why some adult wants to gamble is absolutely beyond me." Couldn't agree more, Barney.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Really Lame Joke

In honor of the new month:

Q: What's Howard Dean's favorite Hebrew month?


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tragedy, And A Bit Of Absurdity

First, ONAF issues its sincerest condolences to all those killed or injured in the Virginia Tech massacre, and their friends and families. I can't imagine how it must feel to have someone you love ripped away from you in such a senseless way. I think we're all in a state of shock and mourning now.

But obviously, it's too much to ask for some people to just mourn for a while before they start pointing fingers. Dr. Phil has already fired up the inevitable "let's blame video games" bandwagon (and I like The Agitator's response). And noted creationist twit Ken Ham has blamed... Darwin and atheism. Jacob, Barzelay, Zhubin... you bastards. (Note - there are apparently some douches who used this line after Columbine too, including Tom DeLay.)

What else will be blamed for the shooting by the time the news cycle ends? I'll compile a short list, along with the people most likely to make the accusation:

- Guns (Sen. Feinstein or some such person)
- Liberals (Limbaugh, Falwell/Robertson/Dobson) (Update: Check.)
- Bullying (insert your favorite sociologist here)
- Trans fats (Mike Bloomberg)
- Taxes (Grover Norquist)
- Global warming (Al Gore)
- Moral decay (Phyllis Schlafly)
- Hillary Clinton (Dick Morris)
- Jews (let's face it, we get blamed for everything)

I'm thinking of a South Park episode here. Y'all know which one.

Oh well. At least it's comforting to know that, even in the face of ultimate tragedy, badasses like this guy still exist.

Update: And the winner of the Asshole Blame Contest is... this guy, who blames the Virginia Tech students themselves for not bum-rushing the guy. Honorable mention to this idiot who blames a "culture of passivity," whatever the fuck that is. Really, I haven't wanted to drop-kick anyone this bad for a long time. This is the kind of thing that makes satire obsolete. My little fake list up there is no match for real douchitude. I... I quit. More idiocy: The same NRO blogger apparently also thinks the kidnapped British soldiers were traitors. Can this guy just go ahead and blame Jesus for being a pussy, thus completing the jackass trifecta?

Yet another update: And we have jihad! Apparently, the fact that the VT shooter kinda looked like this guy who lives in Indonesia and may have a third or fourth degree connection to a suspected terrorist is proof that the VT shooter was a global jihadist. This blame stuff gets crazier and crazier, man... stay tuned. For some really funny stuff, read the comments section, where the author gets rightfully reamed.

Update: Predictably, Phelps is blaming gays. Someone else is blaming the Devil. Hat tip for both: Jamie.

Update: It was the Gipper, in the building, with the gun. Hat tip: Miguel.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt

I know there are about a million people who will say this, but...

So it goes.

There's a ton of authors, screenwriters, and artists in general who owe their entire careers to Kurt Vonnegut. I owe several entertaining and thought-provoking moments at least.

Best moment from Vonnegut's life: his thesis for a Master's in anthropology was unanimously rejected by his committee at the University of Chicago. They came to their senses when he submitted "Cat's Cradle" as his thesis... some 20 years later. Which is what happens when you threaten the entire committee with ice-nine.

All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I've said before, bugs in amber. - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1922-2007)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Short Note On Imus

Imus is a douche. We all knew that before the recent flap, and we all know that now. That's what this whole thing is about. I mention this because someone thinks this is a free speech issue. It's not. If the FCC gets involved it will be, but it's the radio station owner's prerogative to take a jock off the air. The right to self-censorship part and parcel of the right to free speech - you shouldn't be able to force a radio station to broadcast something that they don't want to broadcast.

Which brings up an interesting question - what if Imus were on public radio? Could they do anything about it? Thoughts?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Long-Awaited Immigration Post

It's been a while since I've talked immigration, but since Bush is thinking of reviving his guest-worker idea, I'll talk about it.

But first, here's an interesting article about a town in New Jersey that is actively refusing to enforce federal immigration laws. They've forbidden their local cops from reporting immigration violations, so illegal immigrants are now free to report crimes and resolve disputes through the local police.

And this seems to prove my biggest point about immigration. An enforcement-heavy approach doesn't get rid of illegal immigration - it just pushes it further underground. An immigrant-friendly policy would improve the lives of everyone involved, incorporate the newcomers into our society, and increase immigrants' contributions to our economy.

O'Reilly criticized this policy on his last Factor, pointing out the case of a Virginia Beach illegal who killed two teenagers while driving drunk. The spurious claim on O'Reilly's part, of course, is suggesting that the really bad crime the perpetrator committed was an immigration violation. Wrong - it was DRUNK DRIVING. Drunk driving isn't strictly the province of illegals - it could have just as easily been an asshole college student that killed those kids. I'll bet that wouldn't have stoked O'Reilly's ire, though. He was looking for an excuse to rip on liberal immigration policies and he found it. He could have just as easily argued for the deportation of all college students and found a similar case to harp on.

And it is the province of fools like O'Reilly to make the claim that "if immigration police had done their job, those kids would have been alive today." Actually, if immigration police had done their job, that guy would have succeeded in crossing the border on his fifth or sixth attempt. Rather, if we had a liberal immigration policy that allowed this guy to get a visa, we could a) allow the border patrol to do its job preventing drug-runners from crossing rather than chasing after honest job-seekers and b) allow the border patrol to ensure that this guy, if he is deported for his crime, doesn't return.

Let's dwell quite briefly on this idea of deporting immigrant criminals. I don't see, in some cases, how that's an appropriate punishment. They committed the crime here; they ought to be punished for it here. Sending them back to their country of origin only allows them to escape punishment and cross illegally again. If we're talking deportation after punishment, then I guess that's okay.

Anyway, O'Reilly unwittingly proved the point of the Hightstown folks. Because what if the situation were reversed; the victims had been illegals, and the perpetrator a citizen? In your average city, the crime would have likely gone unreported - the family of the kids would have been deported had they spoken up. Not in Hightstown - justice would still have been served either way. That's the genius of the Hightstown policy - treat people like they're equal citizens, and pretty soon they'll act like they have a stake in your society.

Natural No More

I'm back from my Arkansas-imposed blogging hiatus. A couple of short things to tide you over until my next significant-length post:

- Michael over at Oleh Musings has named me a Thinking Blogger. I appreciate the kudos. I'm supposed to name five people I think are deserving of the title, and I can't tag-back. So five blogs that make me think:

The Agitator: If you didn't hate the drug war before reading Cato Institute researcher Radley Balko's blog, you will afterwards.

Eternal Recurrence: Jacob presents posts on miracle fruit and coffee, and occasionally libertarian stuff as well.

What Would People Think?: Ben self-identifies as a "liberal Jesus freak." Rock.

The Blog To End All Blogs: Mike needs to post more often.

Philosofickle: Matt is a baseball nut who has some interesting things to say about pretty much everything. He also has another blog that tackles politics, though he doesn't update it enough.

Honorable mention: Zhubin, Barzelay, Kenny (who mysteriously stopped blogging). I'm noticing that there is a dearth of conservatism on my blog rotation. Anyone who has a good conservative blog to recommend, let me know.

Update: Apparently I'm supposed to link directly to the post that cited me, not just to the blog. So here ya go. Other changes to the post made too, since the next bullet point was a) horrifically poorly written and b) did not make sufficient usage of the word "asshat."

- Apparently, we're keeping European Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan out of the country. I wonder if he's chilling somewhere with Cat Stevens (who apparently has a new album out). The American authorities claim that he's supporting terrorism using some rather spurious claims that amount to "he once said hello to a terrorist." What the hell? If we denied visas to everyone who ever met with a terrorist, Donald Rumsfeld would have been exiled long ago. I think I waved at Timothy McVeigh once - I'm going to Guantanamo now.

Look, Ramadan may be - ahem - misguided when it comes to Palestinian terrorism (note to Tariq: attacks on civilians are NEVER justified, not even "contextually," asshat), but objectionable ideas shouldn't be grounds for denying someone a visa. I know several Americans who maintain ideas even more radical than his. We may not agree with Ramadan, but it's damn near un-American to deny someone a place in our country because we disagree with them.

- Is anyone surprised at the Don Imus thing? I mean truly, honestly surprised?

- Think of a number between 1 and 20. Then click here. This is kind of cool.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


In a related story, ABC News reports that we've been secretly supporting Jundullah, an anti-Iranian Baluchi guerrilla/quasi-terrorist group based in Pakistan. I'm not 100% sold on the veracity of this story yet, but it seems fairly well sourced and ABC is usually fairly trustworthy. Among the people who didn't know before ABC News broke the story: Congress. Bush wouldn't have it any other way.

So why would Bush not want Congress (or the rest of us) to know about Administration support for Jundullah? Well, maybe it's because they're a radical Islamic group affiliated with al-Qaeda. Or maybe it's because they have an annoying habit of attacking and killing U.S. diplomats.

Again, if this is true, it's an outrage. Of course, Jundullah denies any affiliation with the CIA or American institutions, so right now this is a story that hinges on the credibility of the "U.S. and Pakistani intelligence officials" cited by ABC News. I see no reason to doubt them, though - there would be nothing too surprising about Bush administration support for this group. And might I point out the obvious: this is reminiscent of our past support for some other unsavory characters.

Update: An Asia Times article from a year ago adds its two cents worth, mentioning Jundullah and Mujahideen-e-Khalq as anti-Iranian rebel groups. It claims the MEK are aided by the U.S. but says nothing of the Jundullah ties, which were presumably not common knowledge a year ago. The MEK are a secularist group that helped the Islamic Republic come into being in '79 but fell out of favor with the ayatollahs. They're currently on the U.S. list of terrorist groups, but since the African National Congress showed up on there at one time that doesn't mean much. Here's an Aussie description that makes for some interesting reading. They're probably on the list unfairly, but the fact still remains that the Bush administration has apparently been secretly supporting two organizations that they identify as "terrorist." Fascinating...

Letting People Go

It's somewhat appropriate, I suppose, that Iran's hostage climbdown occurred during Passover. No plagues necessary this time, I guess.

I'm very amused by the Iranian government's massively transparent attempts to save face here. They're sticking to their story (at least publicly), but claiming that they're letting the Britons go out of an act of charity. Then A-Train is decorating the soldiers who made the capture. And in the part of the deal that made me laugh out loud, he's also admonishing the Brits to not punish the soldiers for "confessing," as if anyone outside of Tehran actually believed that the written confessions were honest.

So a surreal ending to one of the more surreal diplomatic moments in recent memory. The Iranians received the right to talk to five Iranian prisoners held by the U.S. in Iraq - but were not able to secure a release. The Brits released an Iranian prisoner they had held, though that probably would have happened anyway sooner or later. Either way, it seems like Iran got the short end of this deal.

Let's not underestimate the importance of the seemingly wacky face-saving maneuvers by Iran either. If Iran hadn't been able to do these things, it's likely that they wouldn't have accepted the deal. It's very important in negotiations to offer your adversary a way to back down with something approaching dignity. Nothing fights harder than a cornered dog.

Anyway, kudos to Tony Blair, who is now officially the first world leader to make A-Train back down from anything.

Here's another angle on this incident - we now know that Ahmadinejad is willing to negotiate. What's more, whatever Blair used as the stick - further sanctions? Military action? We may never know - made A-Train want to cut a deal for a relatively small reward. The fact that A-Train cut this deal so readily means that, in all likelihood, the nuke program and the support for Hamas/Hezbollah are on the table. All we have to do is make Iran look bad (that shouldn't be hard, should it?) and offer the right combination of threats and incentives. Then we have to offer Iran a way to save face by accepting our conditions. Let the games begin.