Monday, November 20, 2006

A case of life immitating art?

"Fair and balanced" Fox News is ready to try to immitate The Daily Show with a half hour news comedy show for "conservatives" (Hyden, Steve, "Fox News ponders 'Daily Show for conservatives'," November 20, 2006):
No longer content with just producing unintentional hilarity on The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity & Colmes, Fox News is prepping a half-hour news satire program that will premiere in January. Overseeing the show, tenatively titled This Just In, is Joel Surnow, co-creator of that wacky laugh-riot 24. In Variety, Surnow said This Just In will be "The Daily Show for conservatives," an enticing description that promises many side-splitting Ted Kennedy jokes. "The way I look at it, almost every comedy show or satire show I see uses the same talking points against George W. Bush and Dick Cheney," Surnow told Variety. "The other side hasn't been skewered in a fair and balanced way." Finally, somebody will report positive fake news about Iraq.
According to the Variety article ("Satire hands a right," Learmouth, Micahel; November 20, 2006):
The pilot segs will be co-anchored by comedians Kurt Long and Susan Yeagley and feature a family of correspondents. "There will be some elements of 'The Daily Show' and some of 'Weekend Update,' " Surnow said.


Surnow said the show will feature man-on-the-street interviews and "respond to the news of the day." It will be scripted and may not have in-studio guests, a point of departure from Stewart and Colbert.
Predictably, the show won't be funny. The reason The Daily Show is funny is not because it offers fake news, but because it's a fake news show. Actually, it's even somewhat informative because it tells the truth, or at least tries to. (That is in opposition to Fox, which pretends to tell the truth, but doesn't.) It may present the truth in an absurd light, but it tells it nonetheless. Unlike the general cable news broadcasters, time is precious on The Daily Show's half hour slot, so the guests tend to be carefully picked and interesting; there's no need to worry about interviewing a Republican, and then interviewing a Democrat for balance.

One key ingredient to The Daily Show's success is its ability to mock attempts journalistic objectivity run amok. That "objectivity" sort of a by-product of the American media's obsession with having a di-partisan political system. If one side says something stupid, they don't feel they can report on the truth. Instead, they feel they have to present the stream of information as it came out of the mouth of a political official or party hack. This, in turn, allows some people (particularly Republicans, but Democrats too) to lie without being called on it.

Another key ingredient is that it really had a lot of material to work with the past six years. Politicians lied to get us to go to war in Iraq. Calling those politicians, like the Bush Administration, on their lies wasn't something very many news networks were willing to do. Further, with people like Rick Santorum and George Allen (both defeated in the recent election) in power, a constant stream of virulent social conservatism was being spewed across our airwaves for years, eagerly lapped up by their allies in the talk show industry. The Daily Show was able to present their absurd statements about homosexuality and the famous macaca incident in a humorous, yet tasteful, light.

In short, The Daily Show is often funny because it can turn the tables on dishonesty in political discourse. Much of that dishonesty comes from Fox News, of course. What will really be interesting is to see if The Daily Show can stay funny now that the source for all its material is out of power.


Friday, October 06, 2006

Mark Foley and his poley

I avoided saying much about Mark Foley because I really don't give too much of a damn about his text message masturbation. Of course, nobody can miss the irony of a conservative Republican and a gay sex scandal. Yeah, pagefuckergate was funny for five minutes, but it's time to move on.

Before we move on, I do have a few wise-ass comments. One, Foley really deserves a medal. He made an American election truly competitive for the first time in probably twelve years. The incompetence of his own party in doing, well, anything was just not enough to overcome the sheer incompetence of the Democrats. Foley did the opposition's job for them. Thank you, Mark Foley!

Next, by age 16, you aren't a child. Mark Foley isn't a pedophile. They may be legally underage, but they have pretty much adult bodies. I'm not really going to look into this too hard, but it may well be that age 16 is the age of consent for homosexual relations in Washington, D.C.. Of course, some of these events took place outside of Washington, so maybe they weren't legal where they took place. These little bastards knew what they were doing when they wrote back sexy things to Mark Foley. That said, they helped make a competitive election too. Let's give them medals as well.

Finally, in all seriousness, it's amazing to see how dishonest some Republican apologists really are. Look at Bill O'Reilly labeling Foley as a Democrat!

And here's to a Santorum/Foley ticket in 2008!

Monday, September 18, 2006

More Muslim Madness!

From The Independent ("Vatican experts say Pope 'unrepentant'," Popham, Peter; September 19, 2006):
As protests against the Pope continued to rumble around the Muslim world yesterday, Catholics began asking themselves if this highly intelligent man can really have been so crass as to have ignited the passions of millions of Muslims without realising that he was doing it.

If the alternative version is more credible - that he knew exactly what he was doing - then the next question arises: why? The gloomy conclusion of some Vatican experts is that there was no inconsistency in the Pope's choice of the words "inhuman and evil" - quoted from the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaeologus - to characterise Islam. Such a negative view, they say, is consistent with all his words and actions with regard to Islam.

Their claims make for a tragic contrast with the decades devoted by John Paul II to the challenge of bringing Islam, Judaism and Christianity closer together after many centuries of hatred and bloodshed. Now all that hard work, rowing against the tide of history, seems to be at risk.
I guess I wouldn't be surprised if Pope Benedict Unit Number XVI really did want to inflame Muslims. I really wouldn't be.

But I do have an alternate theory: is it possible that many Muslims are just really, really easy to piss off? We all remember the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy. Where are the "moderate" Muslim leaders to speak out and say, "You know, guys, you're going to get criticized every now and then. Especially because our religion has its fair share of nutcases. I know we're not all nutcases, and I know Christianity has nutcases too, so thankfully we're not the only ones keeping bad company. But really guys, don't you think it's time to cool it?"

A Jewish group had it right when Iran announced an anti-semitic cartoon contest. They responded with their own Israeli Anti-Semitic Cartoon Contest, to mock the stupidity of the whole matter. If only other religions and cultures could learn to be self-deprecating sometimes.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Solve all your problems: go to college!

The New York Times is calling on states and the federal government to heavily subsidize college education ("Killing Off the American Future," editorial; September 16, 2006).
America’s domination of the global information economy did not come about by accident. It flowed directly from policies that allowed the largest generation in the nation’s history broad access to a first-rate college education regardless of ability to pay. By subsidizing public universities to keep tuition low, and providing federal tuition aid to poor and working-class students, this country vaulted tens of millions of people into the middle class while building the best-educated work force in the world.


The warning about American vulnerability, which has been sounded in several reports of late, was underscored yet again in a study by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, a nonpartisan research organization. The report highlights some ominous trends. As the well-schooled boomers march off into retirement, the generation that replaces them is shaping up to be less educated by far. No longer the world leader in terms of the proportion of young people enrolled in college, the country now ranks 16th among the 27 nations examined when it comes to the proportion of college students who complete college degrees or certificate programs.
Nice as the idea of subsidizing college education sounds, it seems to me that many people think that's the only problem.

What about those who get into college? It's obscene that a freshman can't read adequately. Starting in first grade, schools aren't really educating people.

And what is this about college being a mandate for everyone? College should be for people who are prepared for it. There are perfectly intelligent people in the world who should never go to college because it's not for them.

Nazinger on Islam

I'm not one to defend the words of a Catholic pontiff, but I have to say, a lot of Muslims are really thin-skinned here. From Deutsche Presse-Agentur ("Anger mounts in Muslim world over pope's Islam remarks," September 15, 2006; reposted on Monsters and Critics News):
Anger mounted across the Muslim world Friday over remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI during a visit to Germany this week in which the pontiff quoted a 14th century Christian emperor as calling aspects of the legacy of Islam's Prophet Mohammed 'evil and inhuman.'


The pope's remarks came Tuesday in Regensburg in his home state of Bavaria, when he was quoting a conversation that took place in Ankara in the year 1391 between Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on Christianity and Islam.

'Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached,' the pope quoted Manuel as saying.

As head of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned by law but tolerated in Egypt, was calling on Pope Benedict to apologize, the Vatican was attempting to shore up criticism of the pontiff on a day that saw a new Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, take office.

One of the first tasks awaiting Bertone, an Italian, who becomes the Vatican's new 'prime minister' will be to repair the damage caused by Benedict's remarks.
As if some Muslim, at some point, didn't have a legitimate (or in many cases, illegitimate) gripe about Christianity.

Even Protestant Christians have, by and large, come to respect the fact that their beliefs can be criticized, and have been, and will be. Nevermind that in this case, the guy in the funny hat (oops) was just quoting somebody. He wasn't saying Muslims were evil. He was saying somebody said Muslims were evil...and it was said seven centuries ago.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

LATimes: "Texas-Sized Area of Thick Ice Lost in Arctic"

Well, according to The Los Angeles Times, the area of ice lost in the Arctic last year was about the size of Texas. Nonetheless, global warming is a lie of the liberal left-wing media bent on destroying America by depriving it of cars, gasoline, fumes, and parking lots. According to the article (September 16, 2006):
About 288,000 square miles of perennial ice, which normally doesn't melt during the summer, was lost from 2004 to 2005, scientists found using data from NASA's QuickScat satellite.
I have a simple solution. Since the ice was Texas-sized, let's wedge Texas up in the Arctic to replace the lost ice surface.

David Horowitz: Blatant Racist

Wow, I knew the guy was a nut, but I didn't know he was this crazy ("Ten Reasons Why Reparations for Blacks is a Bad Idea for Blacks - and Racist Too," January 3, 2001):
Slavery existed for thousands of years before the Atlantic slave trade was born, and in all societies. But in the thousand years of its existence, there never was an anti-slavery movement until white Christians - Englishmen and Americans -- created one. If not for the anti-slavery attitudes and military power of white Englishmen and Americans, the slave trade would not have been brought to an end. If not for the sacrifices of white soldiers and a white American president who gave his life to sign the Emancipation Proclamation, blacks in America would still be slaves. If not for the dedication of Americans of all ethnicities and colors to a society based on the principle that all men are created equal, blacks in America would not enjoy the highest standard of living of blacks anywhere in the world, and indeed one of the highest standards of living of any people in the world. They would not enjoy the greatest freedoms and the most thoroughly protected individual rights anywhere. Where is the gratitude of black America and its leaders for those gifts?

Nancy Grace's grilling causes a woman to commit suicide

Am I the only one who finds it ironic that a woman who helped prod another woman into suicide with her show on CNN wrote a book called Objection!: How High-Priced Defense Attorneys, Celebrity Defendants, and a 24/7 Media Have Hijacked Our Criminal Justice System? From the AP ("Mother of Missing Boy Commits Suicide"):
LEESBURG, Fla. (Sept. 14) - Two weeks after telling police that her son had been snatched from his crib, Melinda Duckett found herself reeling in an interview with TV's famously prosecutorial Nancy Grace. Before it was over, Grace was pounding her desk and loudly demanding to know: "Where were you? Why aren't you telling us where you were that day?"
Nancy Grace is an embarrassment and has no grace. And her pious, condescending Southern accent is the kind that gives Southerners a bad reputation for stupidity (besides the one they already earned).

(Special no thanks to AOL's The Feed for pointing this stupid shit out.)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Police chief wife "porn"

I was very disappointed by the "porn" that The Oklahoman reported ("Wife's porn site prompts calls for chief's firing," September 6, 2006). Apparently, a police chief's wife posed nude with the American flag draped around her. Alas, my "research" into the matter yielded no porn.

Before researching this matter yourself, consider (from "Police Chief Out In Nude Wife Pix Flap,", September 8, 2006):
"My wife is 6-foot-3 and weighs 300 pounds," he [Police Chief Tod Ozmun] said. "If there is somebody that thinks they can control her, have at it. I have tried for 11 years and haven't been able to."
Point taken. Have at it!

Ozmun later resigned as police chief. Another loss for American justice!

Friday, September 08, 2006

More 9/11 Political Propaganda Coming Up

I always find television tasteless. However, one particularly tasteless form of television is the political drama genre. And one particularly tasteless form of the political drama genre is the 9/11 political drama. In I guess 2003 I watched Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story, which featured the former hard-ass mayor of New York City trapped in the wreckage of the World Trade Center, taking charge of the situation, and using his Herculean strength to kick down doors that his aids weren't smart enough to open.

This week, it turns out ABC is up to yanking people's delicate heartstrings with yet another 9/11 drama. This one is known as The Path To 9/11. A bunch of former Clinton administration aids wrote a letter to ABC complaining about inaccuracies that leaked out.

According to an article in The Times of London ("Clinton aides condemn 9/11 drama as 'terribly wrong', September 8, 2006), among these complaints were:
Ms Albright objected to a scene that she was told showed her insisting on warning the Pakistani government before an airstrike on Afghanistan, and that showed her as the person who made the warning.
Mr Berger questioned a scene that he was told showed him refusing to authorise an attack on Osama bin Laden despite a request from CIA officials.

"The fabrication of this scene (of such apparent magnitude) cannot be justified under any reasonable definition of dramatic licence," he wrote.
The senators’ letter questioned the political motivations and leanings of the programme.

"Frankly, that ABC and Disney would consider airing a program that could be construed as right-wing political propaganda on such a grave and important event involving the security of our nation is a discredit both to the Disney brand and to the legacy of honesty built at ABC by honourable individuals from David Brinkley to Peter Jennings," the letter said.
Actually, it's really not all that surprising that 9/11 material comes across as partisan political propaganda. I've seen very little coverage of the 9/11 events that really couldn't be construed as propaganda.

It is sad, however, how right-wing nuts who largely control the American media seem to like to dramatize the whole matter. Even Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 came across as something of a Leni Riefenstahl piece, even though it at least tried to be factual.

9/11 political dramas have mostly tried to get off with treating George W. Bush as a knight in shining armor riding to battle to stop this horrible, horrible menace.

For some god-damned reason, after having five years to screw up, George W. Bush is still enjoying something of an advantage on the issue of terrorism over the Democrats, so a proganda piece fictionally portrays the Clinton administration's failures with dealing with international terrorism can't come at a better time. Like the times wrote:
Tim Reid, Times Correspondent in Washington, said that the row bore testimony to how politically-charged an issue the attacks continued to be, as the fifth anniversary of 9/11 approached.

"Politically, this comes at a particularly sensitive time because of the mid-term elections coming up. Clinton's side are very sensitive on this issue and the Democrats are particularly so at the moment because it comes at a time when the Bush Administration is trying to tell America that it can keep people safe from terrorism and fight al-Qaeda better than the Democrats. It is the only remaining issue where President Bush enjoys an advantage over the Democrats.

"The film reinforces what conservatives have been saying; that they were in power for only eight months before the attacks happened but the Democrats had been in control for eight years. Mr Bush and the Republicans are trying to focus the voters on their response to 9/11 rather than the war in Iraq and this film doesn't do anything to hurt that."
Of course, his response to 9/11 was to attack Iraq. But we can gloss over that little factoid too.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Democrats Are Pussies

Buried in the back of an article in the "left-wing" Washington Post ("Congress set for combative, pre-election push," September 4, 2006):
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said, "Democrats are going to make it clear that we understand that terrorism is real, that terrorism needs to be confronted and defeated and we are prepared to do that.
No, dumbass, that's not what you need to do. Stop framing this so defensively. If you want to win, point out how badly the Republicans misunderstand terrorism. It's not like you're lacking fuel for that fire. I mean, Iraq? Border security?

And where the hell is Osama bin Laden? Pumping gas at a station in Texas?

I really wish we had a few "third parties." Democrats always end up acquiescing to the whims of their more authoritarian counterparts across the aisle anyway.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

New Blog

I started a new blog concerning my comments on New York State and New York City. I felt that it would make sense to separate out these posts, since they tend to overshadow the rest of my commentaries and aren't really that interesting to non-New Yorkers.

Friday, September 01, 2006

More On How F**ked Up Upstate NY Is - And Why It Hurts Downstate

The Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester had a rarely lucid article on Upstate New York's problems. I disagree with a lot of the points made, and the politics, but the overall jest of it should really sound the alarm in stoic Albany. The article ("Spitzer shining light on upstate solutions, not just woes," March 27, 2006) was written by Joseph Morelle, a state assemblyman. He cites some alarming statistics:
  • Since the 1990 census, upstate's growth rate has been slower than that in all but two states. In fact, the state that was once first in population will rank fourth in the 2010 census, continuing the trend that has eroded New York's representative clout in the U.S. Congress since 1940.
  • Upstate has seen 25 percent of its young people between ages 20 and 34 leave, taking their economic potential.
  • More than one-third of upstate manufacturing jobs have disappeared in the past 15 years.
  • Really, Upstate has been in decline for over a generation, but it really was noticed in the 1990s when other parts of the country recovered from the same decline (industrial stagnation) while Upstate didn't. Consider that a century ago Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse were all prosperous, wealthy cities. Today, they barely keep their heads above water. Buffalo lost half its population since 1950, most of that loss occurred after 1970.

    I've always taken interest in Upstate's condition. I don't feel too connected to it, having never lived there, even though my family migrated down from there sometime in the mid-20th century.

    It's interesting from a socioeconomic perspective to understand just what's going so wrong with it. As a region, it could be doing very well. Even today, Upstate has relatively high incomes, skilled labor, decent infrastructure, and despite the myths, the weather far from the worst in the United States. On the other hand, the industry it once depended on has dried up, the Erie Canal is no longer an economic engine, and the region never really had a distinct cultural identity to fall back on.

    Meanwhile, New York State's government does nothing but look out for the interests of New York State's government employees, from the legislators on down. Costs are kept high, education is poor, growth stays stagnant, and the status quo continues to thrive. Children growing up in Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, or Utica have no hope of landing really good jobs after high school, even if their parents are lucky enough to retain one. They don't have the options, like perhaps even their fathers had, of going to work in a big factory and taking home a union pay.

    As Morelle says, Upstate's losing population, and that hurts New York State.
    Regardless of how upstate is described, the implications of our circumstances reach well beyond Schenectady. We do not have downstate's population or national profile, but clearly what happens here affects the health of the entire state. Our population losses slow the state's overall growth to a crawl, which means we lose ranking and political representation at the national level in relation to faster-growing states such as Florida, Texas and California.
    That's a rather important tie-in, and Florida will soon become the third largest state. If current trends continue, New York State is going to fall to fourth in population behind a muggy, penis-shaped hurricane magnet. If it doesn't happen by 2010, it will happen by 2020.

    This does hurt Downstate. As reactionary states like Texas, Florida, and, yes, even California, gain political representation in the House of Representatives, it happens at a cost to our representation. While New York City and its suburbs do fairly well economically, and even manage to attract new residents (primarily through immigration), it's barely enough to replace the losses downstate. Furthermore, New York City is, contrary to popular perception, propping up Upstate with transfer payments. In that regard, a healthy Upstate that can sustain itself means more money for us to spend on our own concerns, such as education, fighting poverty, and modernizing our infrastructure.

    So what are Upstate's economic strengths? I can't really think of many. There are some excellent colleges and universities: the Rochester Institute of Technology, Buffalo State, Syracuse University, Cornell University, just to name a few. And while industrial and transportation infrastructure does exist, there's little to produce industrially and little to import or export.

    Morelle heralds Attorney-General Elliot Spitzer as the economic savior of the region.
    ...Mr. Spitzer's economic program rests on a five-pillared approach:

  • Reduce the cost of doing business: Cut property taxes and reduce the costs of health care and workers' compensation.
  • Support cities: Revitalize urban downtowns and rural communities burdened by layoffs and the decline of schools and neighborhoods that follow.
  • Focus on small business with strategies designed to help the small-business sector, where so many jobs will be created, especially for women, minorities and immigrants.
  • Infrastructure investment: Renew the commitment to improve and modernize our transportation, energy and telecommunications capacities.
  • Innovation and emerging technologies: Identify and aid the growth of strategic industries. This last point particularly impacts Rochester, a city whose optical and imaging industries enriched our community in the 20th century, and where emergent photonic, biotechnology and fuel cell firms are building the foundations for similar prosperity in the 21st century.
  • That's all nice, but it's coming about a generation too late. Upon reflection, one really has to wonder where New York was in the 1960s when the space program and computer revolution were happening. Had Albany been thinking, Silicon Valley could easily have been in the Hudson Valley, and New York City could easily have enjoyed the 1990s benefits of Sand Hill Road's venture capital industry. Early 20th century high tech firms were already located in New York State, and many are still here, including IBM. When the state saw the Erie Canal dying, and technology rising on the west coast, it should have done what it could to encourage relocation to the Erie Canal zone.

    Today, New York State does have the chance to make a grab at the infant biomedical and biotech industries, if it wakes up fast. Many of the ingredients necessary to induce research and development exist in New York State—again, right along the former routes of the Erie Canal and New York Central Railroad, the corridors where the vast majority of the state's population still lives from New York City to Buffalo. Among those ingredients:
    • an educated, literate, and diverse workforce
    • virgin land to attract inexpensive, yet environmentally sustainable, development
    • world-class universities, from NYU and Columbia to Buffalo State
    • the cultural and economic clout of New York City to attract bright minds from around the world
    It doesn't seem to me that economic success needs to depend on the many of the factors cited in the success of other states. We do, however, need to find creative approaches to dealing with problems that have plagued New York since its pre-industrial infancy. While unions certainly may have a place in the economy, we need to find a way from keeping them from becoming slow, anti-progressive bohemoths; the same goes for many of the super-firms we give tax breaks to on Wall Street, or those rare tech giants that still exist upstate. If we're going to continue to have our bureaucracy and transfer payments, they should be contingent on productivity.

    This probably means requiring those who live on public money to work, if they're able to—and this is something that unions should, in all fairness, not be allowed to interfere with. Those who do work while receiving public benefits should be expected to learn a marketable skill in the process.

    We talk about term limits for our elected officials, but it's unelected officials who in many ways affect how people live and work more than elected officails. People who work for the government should have term limits. Since obviously experience is needed in many higher-level jobs, those who are qualified should be promoted if a position is available. Those who have spent a certain number of years working a job should be required to step aside and make room for another qualified applicant who can bring new ideas to the table. Those who are unable to be promoted in their fields should be expected to find a new line of work elsewhere, even if it means a different public service position or a private sector position—they should be prepared to train for and compete for a given public service job to demonstrate they're the best candidate. Only in compelling circumstances should somebody in a public service job be allowed to have more than a fixed number of terms.

    We should also try to unite our elected officials to craft coherent policy. If possible, a state law should be enacted to require members of our delegation in the House of Representatives and Senate to be compelled to publicly testify about what they're doing in Congress to improve New York's economic health and to see to it that the state is getting fair treatment from the federal government. Those who refuse to comply should be prohibited from appearing on ballots for re-election.

    Tuesday, August 29, 2006

    Yale, Schmale

    I will say no more:

    Search Shit From Your Firefox Toolbar!

    A few people have asked me how I got all these search things in my Firefox toolbar. Just drag these links to your toolbar.
    Just highlight a word on the web page and hit whatever you want to search. Or, don't highlight one and type the word in. I stole this from See here.

    Woman Dies Before Contradicting The Bible

    From The New York Times ("Death of a Supercentenarian," August 29, 2006):
    On Sunday, the oldest woman in the world died at age 116 in an Ecuadorian hospital. Her name was María Esther de Capovilla, and she was born in September 1889. We are all aware that there will be an end to our lives, but Ms. Capovilla’s death is a reminder of how absolute the boundary of human longevity really is. You may escape all the actuarial fates there are, and yet the body has its own term limits, a point at which the warranty expires and something furls up inside you.
    Now, what is that term limit? According to The Bible, it's 120 years (Genesis 6:3):
    And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. (KJV Genesis 6:3)
    Now, since the Bible is infallible, can anybody find an example of somebody who lived past 120 years? Oh, shit, the Times mentions it right in the first paragraph:
    The woman who succeeds Ms. Capovilla as the oldest woman on earth is also 116, and the oldest person on record died at 122.
    Well, we can brush that off as liberal media bias. As a matter of fact, who's to say Jeanne Calment ever existed in the first place? Did you ever meet her?

    NY Times Article on Buffalo

    I don't know about a lot of people, but I'm getting sick of seeing people boosting cities as if that's going to solve all their problems. That said, The New York Times had an interesting article ("To Burnish Its Image, a City Stages an Alumni Reunion," August 28, 2006) on Buffalo, New York, today. It began:
    Frustrated by decades of watching friends and family flee New York’s second-largest city for warmer climates, healthier economies and sunnier images, a group of Buffalo boosters gave a party this weekend.
    The complaints about the weather seem to be the prevailing wisdom about Buffalo's failings, but it doesn't explain why many cities with as bad or worse weather are actually doing fairly well, including world-class Toronto not even 150 miles away.

    So really, what are Buffalo's problems? It's really a rather elegant city. It's rather drab, perhaps, both in terms of client and environment, but it's not ugly.

    The article about the boosters quoted many people who felt the people were friendly. The mayor, Byron Brown, himself is a former resident of the Queens borough of New York City. “I came here at 17 to attend college and just fell in love with how friendly people are and how easy it is to get around,” Brown was quoted as saying in the article. “I’ve been here ever since and I’ve never regretted it.” My limited experience with Buffalo kind of tells me the same thing. The people are nice.

    While the architecture isn't as awe-inspiring as you find in New York City or Chicago, or even Boston for that matter, it has character. The abandoned Buffalo Central Terminal (link includes pictures, as does the New York Times article) kind of embodies what I said about the city being grab, yet elegant. Amtrak service to Buffalo now is centered on Exchange Street Station.

    In considering Buffalo's demise, it's important to consider its rise. Buffalo, like many places in New York State, became a large city because of a historical accident: the builders of the Erie Canal decided to use Buffalo, then a village, as the canal's western terminus. Buffalo grew to over half a million people by 1950, before canal traffic was abruptly cut off by the opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway, which allowed shipping to bypass Buffalo. At the same time, the demise of railroads in the United States made Buffalo rather unimportant as a waypoint for goods and travelers heading west to Chicago and elsewhere.

    Could the answer to Buffalo's problems lie with better transportation? Some Upstate New York politicians have been pushing for high-speed rail to Upstate New York, including making a trip to Buffalo possible within three hours (see "New York high-speed rail" on WikiPedia, which I largely wrote).

    I personally don't know if three hours is fast enough service, and have found myself pondering whether or not it would be worthwhile to try to find a way to make a two-hour round trip possible, perhaps through maglev service linking New York's largest cities. If you follow the traditional New York Central "water-level" route, this would require average speeds upwards of 350 miles per, which is probably too fast for conventional high-speed rail.

    Naturally, peak speeds would have to increase depending on how many stops are added, but one would figure a route would need to stop in New York City, White Plains, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo to capture the five most important centers of commerce in the state; four of those cities are on the list of the ten biggest in the state, White Plains being the exception merely as a center of commerce. To facilitate commuting, service would have to run from early morning to around midnight, but the side-effect would be a massive unified labor market throughout New York State.

    To fully compete with the automobile, service would need to be frequent twenty-four hours a day, or at least on par with the busier lines of the New York City Subway (which seem to run at least half an hour apart late at night). The positive side-effect of this is it would allow people who live as far away as Buffalo to enjoy the amenities of New York City, which include world-class dining and Broadway shows, without having to concern themselves with losing half a day getting to New York City, or finding a hotel room. Likewise, people who live in points between could take advantage of Buffalo's relatively famous and permissive night life as easily as they could New York City's.

    Further, for those who can't put up with the obscene housing and real estate costs in New York City, points inbetween the two cities offer cheaper real estate. Being able to allow the rest of the state enjoy New York City's talent pool, while letting New York City enjoy the remainder of the state's cheaper, yet still as of now well-trained labor market is also a good trade-off.

    For the remaining cities in the state, combinations of feeder lines varying between light rail (as Buffalo already sort of has, and Rochester and suburban Albany want again), traditional grade-separated mass transportation, local commuter rail, and conventional high-speed rail could still allow ready access to the cities mentioned above. Binghamton, for instance, could be fed by high-speed rail into centrally-located Albany to allow ready access to White Plains and New York City to the south and Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo to the north. The New York metropolitan area could always use expanded transit services, including perhaps PATH service as far north as Yonkers, or as far south as Staten Island.

    Crybaby Fascism (Alternative Title: "Gee, Look Who's Talking")

    It looks like Rumsfeld is off his meds again ("Rumsfeld lashes out at Bush's critics"; Associated Press; August 29, 2006):
    SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday the world faces "a new type of fascism" and likened critics of the Bush administration's war strategy to those who tried to appease the Nazis in the 1930s.
    Well, he's sort of right on two counts:
    1. The world is facing a new type of fascist-like behavior.
    2. As he implicitly states, fascists and those like them should not be appeased.
    Sad as it is to need to compare contemporary politicians to the fascists, it's worth noting that Rumsfeld himself, in his statements above, is certainly guilty of fascist-like behavior. Much like the cowards who ruled 1930s Germany and Italy, Rumsfeld, and for that mater his administration and many of their remaining supporters, cannot bear to be criticized. As a matter of fact, much like the terrorists he's accusing of being "fascists," Rumsfeld and the administration he works for seems to have a religious certainty that they are infallible. Everybody else, the majority of Americans at this point, is apparently wrong:
    In unusually explicit terms, Rumsfeld portrayed the administration's critics as suffering from "moral or intellectual confusion" about what threatens the nation's security. His remarks amounted to one of his most pointed defenses of President Bush's war policies and was among his toughest attacks on Bush's critics.
    Well, at this point, it's probably fairly safe to say that the majority of people who still support Bush would find a way to rationalize it if Bush appeared on live television raping an infant and saluting Hitler.

    But, to be fair, let's consider who Rumsfeld is talking about. He's criticizing super-national terrorism. I say super-national, rather than international, because these people are operating outside of the framework of the Westphalian state (by the way, fascists had no problem operating behind that shroud of legitimacy that statehood provides, and even relished having that legitimacy). While both certainly have their authoritarian bents, it seems that this would make Rumsfeld's party more like fascists than Al-Queda.

    On another note, OneGoodMove posted some rather hilarious examples of how thin-skinned American right-wingers can be. Watch the clips:

    Traumatized by Barney's Penis

    First the facts ("My 6-year-old was traumatized," The Village News, August 18, 2006):
    On Tuesday, August 8, I took my family out to Daniel’s for groceries. I have a 6-year-old daughter who learned how to read from the Barney and Friends book series. As we stepped out of the family van, she was very excited to see a Barney movie being advertised on the Daniel’s Market lit sign. She said, “Look, Daddy, a Barney movie!” I couldn’t see it, so she guided my eyes to the vulgar obscenity arranged there on the sign. “Look! Up there! Barney’s p***s!” I was shocked when I saw the words arranged on the sign. I quickly averted her eyes and escorted her into the store.
    Oh, shit. This is going to ruin your family. Right? Right:
    Since then, she has not stopped mentioning Barney’s p***s. This has shaken the bedrock of our family.
    Quick, honey, grab the phone! This is an emergency! Call the penis eradication squad! What are we going to do?
    I made an emergency call to our church’s pastor about this bombshell in my daughter’s life and he is unsure how it will affect her future.
    (I can answer for him: not very much.)

    Anyway, to continue, who is to blame? Why, young people!
    This sort of sick joke is typical of unlawful teenagers across the country, but I just didn’t think the little town of Fallbrook was home to such hoodlums. I am frightened for my daughter’s future; she won’t stop bringing up this horrible movie title! I would like Daniel’s Market to apologize for traumatizing my daughter, and I would like the pranksters to know just how vile their criminal act was.
    Jesus Christ. Where is this Fallbrook place anyway? Oh, here, it's in California. As someone pointed on another blog making fun of this piece, home to Tom Metzger.

    One day I'm going to drive across the United States of America. Every time I meet a prude, I'm going to have a shot.

    The links:

    Sunday, August 27, 2006

    Fox News cameraman converted to Islam!

    In the words of Jack Chick, haw haw haw:
    A video released earlier showed the two making various pronouncement including an apparent statement of conversion by Centanni to Islam. He explained after his release that he felt coerced into making the statements, as his captors wielded firearms.
    There's something ironic about a Fox News employee being forced to convert to Islam. Don't ask me what it is.

    See the full article ("After coerced conversion, Fox journalists freed") here!

    Katherine Harris

    Katherine Harris, the individual perhaps most directly responsible for getting a trained chimp in the White House, has a lot to say about religion ("Haris Clarifies Comments on Religion," ABC News):
    MIAMI Aug 26, 2006 (AP)— U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris told a religious journal that separation of church and state is "a lie" and God and the nation's founding fathers did not intend the country be "a nation of secular laws." The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate also said that if Christians are not elected, politicians will "legislate sin," including abortion and gay marriage.
    Separation of church and state is "a lie we have been told," Harris said in the interview, published Thursday, saying separating religion and politics is "wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers."
    God chooses our rulers? Why, here I thought they were picked in shady elections. Or by political hacks appointed to electoral colleges. Or, in the case of a certain President of the United States, by Katherine Harris and the Supreme Court.

    And while we're at it, what's this shit with the title of that article? Harris is "clarifying" her comments? Can it be any more clear that the woman is a fucking idiot who hasn't even read or can't comprehend the text of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution? For those who need help finding it (apparently, that's a lot of people), here's the complete text of the First Amendment:
    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
    I don't see anything about Congress abdicating its power to Jesus's dad. Further, the interview the article references—it can be found here—has many other little nuggets of wisdom demonstrating Harris' authoritarian beliefs:
    Civil rights have to do with individual rights and I don’t think they apply to the gay issues. I have not supported gay marriage and I do not support any civil rights actions with regard to homosexuality.
    (Harris apparently doesn't think homosexuals are individuals.)

    As for states' rights? Well, they're not convenient either. "I fully support a federal constitutional amendment to define marriage as being only between one man and one woman. I have voted in support of the Marriage Protection Amendment because we should not undermine the uniqueness of an institution that continues to serve as an essential thread in the fabric of our society," Harris said.

    Is Harris against abortion? "Yes. Because it’s a life, it’s a life. Life begins at conception." I would have thought Harris would at least be clever enough to see that, according to her fanstasy world, life begins with Adam and Eve and continues on because of conception.

    Wednesday, August 16, 2006

    Surprise! George Allen is a Racist!

    Former governor and current United States Senator George Allen (Senate Web site, Wikipedia entry) is the second senator from the South to say something blatantly racist in the past few years (the other being Trent Lott). From The Washington Post ("George Allen's America," August 15, 2006):
    "MY FRIENDS, we're going to run this campaign on positive, constructive ideas," Sen. George F. Allen told a rally of Republican supporters in Southwest Virginia last week. "And it's important that we motivate and inspire people for something." Whereupon Mr. Allen turned his attention to a young campaign aide working for his Democratic opponent -- a University of Virginia student from Fairfax County who was apparently the only person of color present -- and proceeded to ridicule him.

    Let's consider which positive, constructive or inspirational ideas Mr. Allen had in mind when he chose to mock S.R. Sidarth of Dunn Loring, who was recording the event with a video camera on behalf of James Webb, the Democratic nominee for the Senate seat Mr. Allen holds. The idea that holding up minorities to public scorn in front of an all-white crowd will elicit chortles and guffaws? (It did.) The idea that a candidate for public office can say "Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia!" to an American of Indian descent and really mean nothing offensive by it? (So insisted Mr. Allen's aides.) Or perhaps the idea that bullying your opponents and calling them strange names -- Mr. Allen twice referred to Mr. Sidarth as "Macaca" -- is within the bounds of decency on the campaign trail?
    The New York Times also published an editorial criticizing Allen ("A Discourging Word," August 16, 2006).

    The U.S. needs to get it straight: stop voting for Republicans. Even if you vote for a so-called "moderate" Republican (as if such a thing still exists), you're still empowering fools like Allen and Lott.

    Monday, August 14, 2006

    Cameras, Cameras, Everywhere

    A proposal to place security cameras at the entrances and exits of all New York City night clubs ("Plan for Cameras at New York Clubs Raises Privacy Concerns," New York Times, August 14, 2006) is raising eyebrows among gay activists. One of the biggest proponents of the policy is City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, a lesbian and activist for gay marriage.

    Always popular with the homosexual constituency, Quinn has now angered many of her traditional supporters:
    Allen Roskoff, president of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club, a citywide political organization formed by gay activists in 2004, said that Ms. Quinn was now in the position of “having to please a more diverse constituency than the progressive constituency that elected her.”

    Mr. Roskoff said many gays have told him that they are concerned about the proposed security cameras because they do not want to be filmed whenever they walk into a club.

    “When you go out at night, I think you have the right to be anonymous,” he said. “Not everybody’s out of the closet, and therefore it’s an invasion of privacy.”

    Many large Manhattan nightclubs already use security cameras, but the technology is intended for the protection of the club owners and not their patrons.
    Well, true, but you have the right to be anonymous regardless of whether you're in the closet. Debates like this shouldn't be framed in terms of how they affect a narrow interest group. When a Protestant, straight, white male (without even the intention of "hooking up"—some people still go out to dance) goes out and gets recorded, his privacy is invaded too. Sadly, the WASP guy probably doesn't mind being spied on, at least indirectly, by the state.

    Additional nightclub security is a dumb idea. It's a natural consequence of a problem of our making. For one, "underage" drinking laws have the obvious effect of creating a forbidden fruit aspect to alchol, so yes, young people will naturally be drawn to clubs. But besides that, the gritty underground nature to some clubs is the result of where they are and why they're there. Pushed out of neighborhoods with eyes, clubs often exist in sparsely populated, run-down warehouse districts where loud music and crowds won't bother many residents.

    What many New York City politicians don't remember is that many of us who choose to live in New York City do so because they want the privacy that you can't get in small towns and suburban subdivisions. State-mandated id checks and cameras are invasions of people's privacy. While they may thwart public drinking by people under the age of 21, they do nothing to thwart drinking, which instead takes away from the eyes of responsible, experienced adults, including parents.

    A serious way to address "drinking problems" would be to permit anyone 16 or over to purchase alcohol in bars and pubs, and anyone 18 and over to purchase it in nightclubs. This gives children two years to learn how to handle alcohol in a controlled environment before they turn 18 and become officially adults. Obviously, this requires changes to both state and federal laws, but that's the solution. (Heck, a driving age of 18 wouldn't be a bad idea, and a driving age of 21 certainly makes more sense than a drinking age of 21.)

    Wednesday, August 09, 2006


    The good news: Joseph Lieberman was defeated in Connecticut's Democratic Primary.

    The bad news: he's still running as an independent.

    It's nice to see Democrats purging the Republicans from their ranks. Naturally, Lieberman was not pleased. "For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand," he was quoted as saying on ("Dems Rally Around Lieberman Opponent").

    Sunday, August 06, 2006

    MADD both stupid and dishonest!

    The total cost of alcohol use by youth is $58,043 billion per year,2 the equivalent of $216.22 for every man, woman and child in the United States. Many of us are all too familiar with a major tragic consequence of underage drinking-traffic crashes. The combination of alcohol use and driving by young people with little driving experience and low alcohol tolerance can indeed be deadly. But several other problems are associated with underage drinking, including crime, various types of traumatic injury, suicide, fetal alcohol syndrome, alcohol poisonings, and alcohol dependence and abuse requiring treatment.
    $58,043 billion dollars! That's from MADD ("The Limiting Factor: economic costs of underage drinking"). Are they rounding up to the nearest 58,043th billion?

    One of the most counterproductive, rabidly intolerant, repressive, quasi-fascist organizations in the United States of America (and Canada, for that matter) is benign-sounding Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

    Although it kind of started off okay (maybe anyway), it long ago achieved its original mission of making drunk driving a taboo. Seriously, though, somebody had to do it. In the 1970s, drunk driving was dismissed as a minor problem, and punishments were light. Although MADD is probably too self-absorbed to go this far, drunk driving takes two stupid things, driving and excessive drinking, and puts them together. Neither is really healthy in the first place, but putting them together indeed does make a gruesome crash scene likely to happen.

    As many successful political movements in the United States tend to be these days, MADD was the brainchild of a suburban mother, Candy Lightner, whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Naturally, Candy Lightner got angry about her loss. That, of course, is an understandable emotion for any parent who loses a child to a three-ton smog machine. Candy decided to found MADD to lobby for laws making drunk driving a much more strictly punished offense.

    Kids, really. Please drink responsibly. And adults (18+): set a good example for the kids!

    I Wish I Could

    Maybe it wasn't enough for the Union to win the Civil War. Yankee wiseacres and their lily-livered pals out on the West Coast have been making fun of Southerners since the day the smoke cleared over Gettysburg. Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby is the latest movie to portray people from below the Mason-Dixon line as halfwits.
    One would expect to see something like that in a newspaper in perhaps New Orleans or Charleston—some place in Dixie where literacy rates are high enough that it's worth it to have a newspaper. However, the entertaining thing was that came from the Toronto-based The Globe and Mail (for those of you who maybe missed this in school, Toronto is in Canada). The article was called "Y'ALL HAVE A GOOD LAUGH NOW, Y'HEAR?"

    I wish I could, but I have to confess that I never thought Will Ferrell was really funny. And I think making fun of southerners became obsolete when The Dukes of Hazzard was presented as clean family entertainment.

    Completely old news:

    Wednesday, June 28, 2006

    Oppression Tower

    From The New York Times ("Architects Unveil New Design for Freedom Tower," June 28, 2006):
    Eager to avoid creating a fortress that overshadows the World Trade Center memorial, the architects of the Freedom Tower unveiled a new approach today. They would clad its 187-foot-high, bomb-resistant concrete base in a screen of glass prisms rather than metal panels.
    Basically what they're saying is that there will be no store fronts and no street life around the new World Trade Center's star attraction. People will enter the building like cattle and leave like cattle.

    The old World Trade Center towers were ugly and spartan, perhaps the largest relic of Le Corbusier. Instead of a park complex with office space, a real opportunity exists to carve an urban neighborhood out of the site. Excess space wasted on parkland could be used to provide much-needed housing for the city. Tall buildings can fit perfectly well into the New York City landscape, much like the Empire State Building does.

    Tuesday, June 27, 2006

    Surprise! Fucknut in Utah

    From ("Congressional Hopeful Blames Troubles on the Devil," June 23, 2006):
    Regarding the devil, [Congressional hopeful John] Jacob said Thursday that since he decided to run for Congress, Satan has bollixed his business deals, preventing him from putting as much money into the race as he had hoped.

    Numerous business deals he had lined up have been delayed, freezing money he was counting on to finance his race.

    "You know, you plan, you organize, you put your budget together and when you have 10 things fall through, not just one, there's some other, something else that is happening," Jacob said.
    Jacob explained that, when people try to do something good, there are frequently forces that align to stop them.

    "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. If that can be destroyed that would be the adversity. ... Whether you want to call that Satan or whoever you want to call it, I believe in the last eight months I've experienced that."
    Nobody would ever consider that the devil might be behind this guy's candidacy, right?

    Wednesday, June 14, 2006

    Erotica/Booze: Good. The Government: Bad.

    This from CNN ("FEMA cards bought diamonds, erotica"):
    WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Problems with the distribution of federal disaster assistance after hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused potential fraud and waste topping $1 billion, an audit by the Government Accountability Office found.

    Debit cards given to people displaced by the storms were improperly used to buy diamond jewelry, a vacation in the Dominican Republic, fireworks, a $200 bottle of champagne at a Hooters in San Antonio and $300 worth of "Girls Gone Wild" videos, the audit found.
    Now, if government wealth redistribution were limited to buying porn and booze instead of invading countries and bailing out airlines, this would be a much happier, safer country.

    Sunday, June 04, 2006

    Another Anti-Alcohol Screed in The New York Times

    The New York Times published another anti-alcohol screed ("Teenage Wasteland," June 2, 2006) this weekend. This one was written by some guy named David Pease, a Connecticut father-turned-control-freak inspired by the deaths of some of his children (is it possible that substance abuse runs in the family?).

    According to A Vigil for Lost Promise's sponsors page, Pease "is a self-appointed activist, mentoring proponent and prevention advocate focused on helping parents get a grip on the cloak of denial, and on helping teens break free from the bondage of underage drinking and substance abuse. He is the founder of the Amistad 53 Mentoring Program - currently being pilot tested in Stamford, Connecticut in partnership with Liberation Programs of Connecticut - and the Get a G.R.I.P. Foundation, working to inspire 'Greater Responsibility In Parenthood' by conducting workshops across the State." Sadly, he "lost his oldest son Dave to a heroin overdose at age 23 in 1997, and his middle son Casey in 2001, on his 24th birthday, to a car accident where alcohol played a role." You can read his testimony about his sons in his article "My Son Brian" published on the web site of The Partnership for a Drug-Free America.

    Anyway, I'm of course not happy that Pease lost his sons to what clearly amounted to a vicious substance abuse problem. However, I don't really think Pease can blame society for what happened to his children. Liberalization and culture really weren't the direct problems in his case. The children had a problem. He confesses that he maybe didn't handle it as well as he should have, which is actually pretty courageous, but at the end of the day one of his sons was playing with heroine, not exactly equivalent to smoking a joint or drinking a beer, and the other got plastered and attempted to drive home.

    But back to the New York Times article. Pease laments, "If there ever was a time to focus on the problem of underage drinking here in Connecticut, it's now, when teenagers are busy celebrating their final days of high school and the beginning of independence, in many cases by popping a cork or opening a bottle." Well, gee. It's kind of a long-accepted custom in western society to pop a cork of champaign to celebrate the passage into adulthood, which Pease carefully refers to as "independence" (because 18-year-olds who graduate from high school still aren't adults?). Pease's op-ed is full of the usually vague statistics about the "problem" of alcohol consumption:
    • "Our teenagers are reporting a consumption of alcohol during the last 30 days that is 21 percent above the national average, yet a number of Connecticut parents and legislators resist putting more teeth into our local ordinances."
    But what does that mean? It could mean lots of these "kids" are consuming small quantities responsibly, or a few are consuming small to large quantities irresponsibly. That's a meaningless statistic only made alarming by the fact that you have to be 21 to purchase alcohol. I find it rather hard to believe that parents who supervise their offspring drinking, which they shouldn't have to do when their children are already 18 and legally adults, is a danger to Connecticut society. As a matter of fact, Connecticut should probably be thankful there are some responsible parents out there who take the time and effort to teach responsible drinking habits.
    • "For too long, the country has focused on illicit drug abuse without giving alcohol abuse the attention it warrants. And yet according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, of the 22.5 million Americans over the age of 12 who are substance-dependent, 15.2 million, or 67.6 percent, abuse alcohol, while only 3.9 million, or 17 percent, are primarily drug abusers."
    I don't know the methodology of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration off the top of my head, but I don't think it's fair to conflate those who have a drink once in a while, no matter what age they are, with "substance abusers," which Pease appears to at least be implying. It's obvious that people prone to substance abuse might abuse alcohol more often than other drugs because alcohol is indeed freely available. 22.5 million people is a pretty small fraction of the U.S. population, however. According to this moment's estimate (1:53PM on Sunday the 4th of June, 2006) from the Census Bureau, the population of the U.S. is 298,898,582. That puts the the fraction of those over 12 who abuse substances at under 8%. It's not nice to say that 8% of our population has substance abuse problems, but that hardly seems like an extreme number.
    • "When one considers that more than 95 percent of those 15.2 million alcohol abusers started drinking before they were 21 years old, it would seem logical that underage drinking would not only be our main focus, but that it would also get the bulk of our prevention spending."
    I don't know what it means to start drinking per se, but it appears that most people at least manage to have a drink before the age of 21, or even 18. Whether they choose to drink again, much less drink regularly, I don't know the stat. Unless you're an abstainer (maybe a wise, conscious choice for that percentage of the population that is prone to substance a buse) for health or moral or religious reasons, you probably have a drink now and again.
    • "While restricting access is important, studies have shown that programs that reduce drug and alcohol abuse focus on educating parents and teaching children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol."
    How do you do that? Why, teach them to drink responsibly. Don't binge drink, kids!
    • "Recent studies of adolescents' brain scans show that the consumption of alcohol by young adults can cause long-lasting damage, particularly in areas related to learning, memory and critical thinking."
    Quite typical for these types of screeds, not such study was even cited. It's probably the case that binge drinking does affect cognitive development. But it seems pretty alarmist to say that having a drink, or even having one every night, will affect cognitive development. But again, this statistic is thrown around liberally, but never substantiated.

    The reason why alarmist screeds like this come about is because the authors of such claims are knee-jerk moralists. They act this way about alcohol and drugs, but not activities that don't carry a moral social stigma. For instance, according to NHTSA statistics in 2005, 43,200 died in car accidents. "Alcohol-related" deaths numbered 16,972. (It's important to remember that "alcohol-related" is also a very vague, misleading term. A sober driver hitting a drunk pedestrian is "alcohol-related.)

    Cars are apparently killing more people thank drivers who drink. Heck, Mr. Pease's son died in an automobile-related accident. Why don't we make it more difficult to drive? Better yet, let's shoot for Automobile Prohibition!

    Wednesday, May 31, 2006

    Feds screw NYC and Washington, D.C.

    From Reuters ("New York, Washington angry about anti-terrorism funds," May 31, 2006):
    The U.S. government has slashed 2006 counterterrorism funding by 40 percent for New York City and Washington -- two targets of the September 11 attacks -- sparking angry reactions in both cities on Wednesday.

    New York City will receive $124.45 million -- the largest amount of Department of Homeland Security funding under its Urban Area Security Initiative. But officials criticized the government for the sharp decrease in funds from 2005 when it was granted about $207.6 million.

    Rep. Peter King, a Republican from New York and chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, called the cut in funding "indefensible and disgraceful."

    "New York City has been attacked twice and is doing more than any other city in the country to defend itself and our nation," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, DHS and the administration have declared war on New York City, and I am going to fight this as hard as I possibly can."
    But then, what is Peter King expecting? He's a Republican. He should know better than anyone that his party has no interest in coming to the aid of his home state.

    According to the article, "Washington mayor Anthony Williams also criticized the government for awarding the Washington area about $46.5 million, compared to $77.5 million last year."

    Oh, and who got their funding increased? Those hotbeds of terrorist activity "Louisville, Kentucky; Charlotte, North Carolina and Omaha, Nebraska." Is it any conincidence that these cities in red states?

    Sunday, May 28, 2006

    Suspended for sharing caffeine gum; other schools still stupid too

    How dumb do you get? A girl was actually suspended for sharing gum with caffeine in it ("Student suspended for sharing caffeine gum," May 27, 2006). "What if the gum had been given to a student with a heart condition?" Amy Palermo, the school system's superintendent asked.

    Good question. What if she was allergic to milk and another student gave her something with milk in it? And then she died? And didn't go to Heaven because she never accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savior?

    Of course, schools are a paragon of healthy dieting. No, really. Cookies? French fries? Sloppy joes? You don't beat lunches like that. The school mentioned above apparently even allowed caffeine to be sold from soda machines after school let out. As long as those kids with heart problems die on the way home, right?

    And you know those big yellow cheese wagons that schools send children home in? "A recent study shows that at least 500,000 of our nation's school buses are amongst the worst polluting vehicles on the road today and pose a health hazard for our childeren who ride them" ("Nation's School Buses Worst Polluting Vehicles," May 27, 2006). Apparently, the worst are in South Carolina ("S.C. hits bottom rank in school bus pollution," May 26, 2006), where many of the worst things in the United States come from:
    South Carolina ranks dead last in the nation in the amount of pollution, including soot and diesel exhaust, spewed into the air by its fleet of aging school buses.

    That is according to a school bus report card issued Wednesday by the Union of Concerned Scientists.

    South Carolina's buses received a grade of D for soot pollution and was rated poor in smog-forming exhaust, the two major categories of emissions ranked in the report.
    Nevermind the stupidity of locating schools and housing miles and miles apart (hell, I had to drive half an hour to my high school—the school bus took more than 45 minutes). Why don't we hand them cigarettes too? The South still has a big tobacco industry. It's better to hook them while they're young.

    Saturday, May 27, 2006

    Bush: War on Terror is like War for World War II!

    From the BBC:
    President Bush has strongly defended the US-led war on terror, casting it as a struggle between freedom and tyranny similar to World War II.
    The war on terror, he said, resembles "the great clashes of the last century" between democracy and totalitarianism.
    "Like the murderous ideologies of the last century, the ideology of murderers reaches across borders," President Bush added.

    The "enemies of freedom", he went on, mistakenly assumed that the US was "decadent" and would collapse.
    The murderous ideologies of the last century who spied on their own citizens, took aggressive, preemptive action against non-aggressive powers, and won elections through demagoguery?

    If freedom has an enemy in high places, it's the President of the United States.
    "In those calls we hear echoes of other enemies in other times, the same swagger," he said.
    Ha! Swagger! Who does that remind you of?
    "We will accept nothing less than victory over the enemy," he said.

    He told the new officers that the US would continue to strike terror groups around the world.

    "The best way to protect America is to stay on the offensive."
    Spoken like a good German circa 1939.

    In all seriousness, statements like these belie the mentality of the Bush regime in a rather funny way. Much like Benito Mussolini in the 1930s, the modern neo-cons missed out on something they probably really would have sincerely enjoyed. Mussolini came about too late, in the 1920s, to enjoy the colonial adventure and grandiose political posturing that the late 19th/early 20th century Empire Club got to enjoy. Bismarck, Disraeli, and even a young Winston Churchill all had their day as leaders or at least patriots at the political and social forefront of some of the world's great powers (Winston Churchill of course became a remarkable leader in his own right during World War II, decades later).

    The modern Bush Administration doesn't really have a "great enemy of freedom" to even do battle with. Fascists were defeated by Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill, while authoritarian socialism died out by virtue of the idiocy of authoritarian socialism. (Naturally, some like to credit the Pope or Reagan for the defeat of "communism," but I personally credit nobody.) What remains of authoritarianism in the world tends to be the odd political anomoly, along the lines of Kim in North Korea or an aging, toothless Fidel Castro. More politically astute authoritarians even recognize that it's politically easier to make nice with the west and trade than to instigate the great military powers into imposing sanctions. This is why Libya decided to stop being a "rogue state" and started being an oil whore state.

    Nonetheless, the militant wing of the Republican Party needs to be fueled by a boogeyman, and vaguely-styled "terrorists" have to be it now. Fascinatingly enough, the Bush types of the world can't really comprehend modern terrorism for what it is: stateless, splintered groups of disenfranchised, largely under-sexed young males who are seduced by the promise of martyrdom. There are many of these types of people in the world, and some of them are right here in the United States (remember Timothy McVeigh?).

    Terrorism is not an ideology or a philosophy or even a movement. It's simply a tactic, one that even a state can use. Iraq, in turn, was easy to attack because it's everything a terrorist organization isn't: a fixed political entity guilty of incredible acts of mass murder. Stateless terrorists attack individuals and small groups of people to frighten the political status quo. It takes a government to commit acts of war. When a small group of thugs instigate violence, it's more in line with gangsterism (whether the goal is bootlegging liquor and drugs, or spreading a perverted interpretation of the teachings of Mohammed).

    When Saddam Hussein fell from power, even leftist groups around the world breathed a sigh of relief. A thug had fallen, but it left a power vacuum. It's important to understand that Iraq isn't a country in the way that the United States or Germany or France or Great Britain is a country. These states, carved by centuries of warfare and mutual recognition, exist because of their histories and because they defeated the greater powers that would otherwise occupy them. It may have been a zero-zum game at best, but it created the West as we know it today. Iraq exists because the victorious powers of World War I decided to carve up one of the losers in a way that was apparently politically expedient at the time. When he consolidated his power in an unstable Iraq, Saddam in a sense became the glue that held Iraq together. Sadly, he also represented the most progressive leadership the Middle East will be likely see in our lifetimes. Women didn't need to wear veils and Christians and Mandeans could openly practice their faith.

    Report: At Least 1 in 3 Drivers are Assholes

    From NY1 ("Survey: New York Drivers Among Least-Informed In Nation," May 27, 2006), according to a recent GMAC insurance survey:
    The poll asked more than 5,000 licensed drivers a set of 20 questions found on a typical DMV test.
    The results from the survey showed that one out of every 11 drivers in the United States would fail a state drivers test and one out of three don't usually stop for pedestrians [emphasis added].

    Tuesday, May 23, 2006

    Savage straights' rights

    A couple of days ago, the Bush administrations' Christian medical government subsidiary announced new recommendations for women: specifically, all pre-menopausal women should regard themselves as "pre-pregnant." From The Washington Post ("Forever Pregnant," May 16, 2006):
    New federal guidelines ask all females capable of conceiving a baby to treat themselves -- and to be treated by the health care system -- as pre-pregnant, regardless of whether they plan to get pregnant anytime soon.

    Among other things, this means all women between first menstrual period and menopause should take folic acid supplements, refrain from smoking, maintain a healthy weight and keep chronic conditions such as asthma and diabetes under control.

    While most of these recommendations are well known to women who are pregnant or seeking to get pregnant, experts say it's important that women follow this advice throughout their reproductive lives, because about half of pregnancies are unplanned and so much damage can be done to a fetus between conception and the time the pregnancy is confirmed.
    First off, for an administration that seems to oppose even birth control, it's probably not entirely a bad thing that they at least want to promote good health for their semen recepticles. However, it would be nice if the guidelines mentioned birth control as a good remedy for avoiding unwanted children and, consequently, unhealthy children. But hey, the little shits are only important while they're in the womb. Afterwards, they become welfare cases, education fund sponges, and eventually follow the course of either being workers or prisonors, either of which is apparently unworthy of the benefits of a decent education or clean air.

    Naturally, such things aren't quite surprising from the Bush Administration. As many have pointed out, and as I thought myself immediately upon reading about the new guidelines, they certainly don't seem to expect men to regard themselves as "pre-fathers," and things men can do to their bodies certainly can affect the health of their sperm, and consequently, their offspring. Men, of course are busy ruling and working and stuff, while women should be expected to stay healthy, slim (I kid you not: "...maintain a healthy weight..."), and in the kitchen.

    Sex columnist Dan Savage, a homosexual who has been endorsing the start of a straights' rights movement, had great line in his column from today:
    There is a bright side in the CDC's announcement: If we're going to regard all females as pre-pregnant, then we can, as my friend Gomez points out, regard all virgins as merely pre-fucked.
    I'm only speculating here, but if you maintain a healthy lifestyle, take the right dietary supplements, and still end up having your fetus look like a mutated hammer-head shark, it's a safe bet the Bush administration will still oppose abortion as a remedy.

    Monday, May 22, 2006

    Pataki lowers gas prices

    According to NY1 today ("Hoping To Ease Pain At The Pump Governor Signs Gas Tax Cap," May 22, 2006):
    A new tax break signed by the governor is aimed at easing prices at the pump.

    Governor George Pataki says the so-called "gas tax cap" creates a maximum sales tax on gas and diesel fuels.
    A cut in utility taxes would make much more sense, since it would give tax relief to every New Yorker. It doesn't make sense to drive needed jobs to the suburbs to pick on utilities. Keeping gas taxes higher keeps cars off our roads and people in public transportation, which is especially good for New York City.

    Illegal German immigrant gets attention from senators; is it because he's white?

    From AOL News ("After Graduation, Teen Faces Deportation," ABC News, May 22, 2006):
    Manuel arrived in Ohio in 1997 with his American-born step-grandfather on a temporary visa. Manuel didn't realize it, but the man had never adopted him legally. His legal troubles started when he got a letter from his local immigration office. The letter informed him that he had filled out the wrong form when he applied for a Social Security number. They told him to come in for an appointment to straighten it out.

    Manuel was excited about the possibility of getting the Social Security number so he could take his college boards, but when he showed up for the interview he got a shock.

    "I got there and they handcuffed me and brought me to jail," he said. He spent the next 16 days behind bars.
    First of all, the U.S. immigration service is run by assholes. Pulling something like that is just cowardly.

    Of course, help from higher up came:
    In April, Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine introduced a special bill to help Manuel gain legal status.

    "In my opinion, Manuel's status in this country must change," the Republican senator said. "Through no fault of his own, Manuel is not a legal resident of the United States. Had his step-grandfather adopted him, Manuel would be an American citizen today. And, if his step-grandfather had moved to legalize Manuel's status at some point before he turned 18, he would not be subject to deportation today."
    Is all this welcoming support because he's white? There are plenty of stories of Mexican children coming to the U.S. in the early years of their lives and still not having legal status after graduating high school, and being American in every sense except having a passport.

    Tory bullies

    Great letter in today's New York Times ("The Religious Right," May 22, 2006):
    To the Editor:

    Re "Conservative Christians Warn Republicans Against Inaction" (front page, May 15):

    Since 2001, Republicans have fed the maw of the religious right with hundreds of millions of dollars for its "faith-based initiatives," done everything possible to restrict abortion here and abroad, subverted science by forcing "abstinence only" AIDS prevention policies, stacked the federal bench with conservative zealots and relentlessly sought to eliminate any financing for gay-related health and social service programs. And it's still not enough.

    All this proves is that bullies can never be appeased.

    Matt Foreman
    Executive Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
    New York, May 15, 2006
    Quite true.

    Sunday, May 21, 2006

    MySpace's popularity

    An article on CNN ("Teens seek MySpace to hang out") hit the nail on the head in regards to MySpace's popularity with teens:
    As the real world is perceived as more dangerous with child abductors lurking on every corner, kids flock online to hang out with friends, express their hopes and dreams and bare their souls with often painful honesty -- mostly unbeknownst to their tech-clumsy parents.

    "We have a complete culture of fear," said Danah Boyd, 28, a Ph.D student and social media researcher at the University of California Berkeley. "Kids really have no place where they are not under constant surveillance."

    Driven to and from school, chaperoned at parties and often lacking public transport, today's middle-class American kids are no longer free to hang out unsupervised at the park, the bowling alley or to bike around the neighborhood they way they did 20 years ago.

    "A lot of that coming-of-age stuff in public is gone. So kids are creating social spaces within all this controlled space," said Boyd.
    It's true. There's just not a lot to do in modern suburbs, many of which don't even have bus service.

    I always felt that lack of trust amongst people in society is a serious social ill. Society tries to segregate teens from older people, even older teens it seems. In one case in Minnesota, prom officials turned away a girl who brought her 22-year-old husband to the dance ("Schools Set Age Limits For Prom Dates,", May 7, 2006):
    In northwestern Minnesota, Ada-Borup High School senior Rosalie Carnegie made local headlines recently when school officials ruled she couldn't take her Iraq war veteran fiancÄe [sic], John Neset, to the prom. The couple have a year-old baby together, but couldn't share prom memories because Neset, 22, is too old, according to the school's prom date policy.

    "It's a black-and-white thing," said Ada-Borup Superintendent Ollen Church. "We're not playing the gray area. It's not that we're not patriotic, because we are. We appreciate what John did for our country, but we felt that couldn't enter into the decision."
    According to The Wilmington Star in North Caronlina ("New twist for high school proms Some include corsage and background check," May 19, 2006):
    "Proms you always worried about, but there was an innocence to them. Now, kids these days have more brass, they're more sophisticated," said Paul Dakin, school superintendent in the Boston suburb of Revere. The school has an under-21-only rule for promgoers to try to stem the flow of alcohol to minors.

    Background checks for dates who aren't students are only one hurdle at West Salem High School in Oregon. All students also must pass by an administrator at the door who "gets pretty up-close and personal," said principal Ed John. If a student appears to have been drinking, a police officer gives a sobriety test.
    At Montclair High in New Jersey, parents and teens must sign pledges before youngsters can buy tickets to the prom. The teens must promise not to drink or use drugs. Parents must be reachable the whole night. Dates from outside Montclair High must send in photo IDs and sign the pledge, too. No one over 21 is admitted.
    Stuff like this is just the tip of the iceberg for young people; the above article mentions background checks for some dates. Often in the name of preventing drinking or providing for their safety, the liberty of young people is seriously curtailed. Some schools create almost prison-esque environments complete with metal detectors.

    At my high school, Loudoun Valley High School (it's even in WikiPedia!) in Purcellville, Virginia, I suppose it was the county that had a policy of not allowing students to go get a pizza at nearby pizzeria during their lunch breaks; it once suspended two of my friends for walking maybe 2000 feet across the sports fields and a parking lot to get pizza over the unpleasant school lunches we had to eat (we weren't allowed to order delivery either). Purcellville was a relatively small town/suburb hybrid. Most of us were 14 or over, didn't have to cross any streets (much less busy ones) to get food in the shopping center where the pizzeria was located, and probably weren't prime meat for child molester types. Essentially, we were locked indoors and herded like cattle until the state was no longer responsible for us at 3 P.M., after which the younger kids tended to board busses, and the older kids got in their cars and drove home. Today, the school seems to lock the doors during the day to keep outsiders out and has a police officer patrolling the corridors to keep away Dylan Klebolds and terrorists (I may not even be exaggerating).

    Americans piled into suburbs en masse starting after World War II, often leaving behind desolate city centers replete with poverty and crime. Rather than becoming more safe, they appear to have become more paranoid about safety. An important, and counterproductive, instantiation of this paranoia is the "protect the children" cliche—a result of such ideas is that children are kept away from older people who might be role models, for better or for worse. In the long run, this tends to hurt children because the restrictions placed on them affects their maturation process. Adult behavior, including sexuality, drinking, voting, driving, and freedom of movement, ends up having an air of mystery around it.

    Most adult behavior is learned. While deprieving children, particularly teens, of the opportunity to interact with older children and adults, we deprieve them of the ability to handle social situations that adults have to learn to handle. Some of these social situations are completely benign, but still have to be learned. Even having a casual conversation in a mature way requires that teenagers have the opportunity to converse with mature people.

    MySpace isn't a bad thing at all. If anything, it's a dumb thing. However, that's mainly because of the type of company you find on it—and it's really not a surprise. Teens go to MySpace because it's the one thing that offers them not only an outlet for expression, but also a place where they can kind of explore things—adult things, no less—with a degree of anonymity. The end result, of course, is they only interact with each other at their level, so very little maturation can possibly take place.

    Liquor licenses

    David Rabin and Robert Bookman wrote an excellent op-ed in the N.Y. Region Opinion section of today's New York Times. They argue that the state legislature's plans to severely limit new liquor licenses will hurt the fastest growing industry in the city, which are related to hospitality and night life.

    They link the problem primarily to noise complaints. Since the smoking ban was implemented in 2003, noise complaints have gone up supposedly because of additional people out on the street smoking late at night. Also, the implementation of the city's 311 line allows for residents to easily lodge anonymous noise complaints, sometimes probably frivolously.

    I suspect there is a more sinister plot here: even in New York, some people are really, really offended by other people having fun. Bar owners often try to be respectful, and even do a lot for their communities that people don't really give them credit for. After other shops close, it's bartenders, deli owners, and to a lesser extent patrons and the odd resident who are watching the street—afterall, who wants trouble less than an owner of a business? Some people, especially college students often from out of the city, tend to not handle themselves very well and they tend to get loud when they drink. But being overly-prohibitive, to the point of no longer being willing to level with the owners of the businesses, leads to authoritarian behavior the likes of which you see from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other anti-alcohol groups: on the face, they want claim to want something that sounds really good—peace and quiet, less violence, less drunk driving—but in the end they try to go way too far to impose their morality on others. Problems get addressed in terms of:
    • preventing drinking outright, as drinking easily makes some people intoxicated, which is in and of itself evil;
    • limiting access to alcohol because it leads to lower inhibitions, which leads to sex
    • state limits on liberty, rather than family and community consensus (this is very notable with MADD and its rabid support of preventing under-21 consumption)
    None of that does anything to address dangerous behavior, of course. People who are inclined to lose their inhibitions and have sex are probably going to find a way to do so. Naturally, none of that means that bartenders shouldn't be expected to use their judgement and cut people off when they feel the situation is getting out of control.

    In the end, that doesn't mean that a balance shouldn't be struck between residents' peace and bars' profits. New York City is not like Las Vegas and other new growth cities, where night life takes place in designated strips that residents have to drive to and visitors have (probably well-soundproofed) hotels to stay in. Clubs, bars, and restaurants in New York co-exist next to residential housing, at times buildings that have thousands of people in them. However, residents and lawmakers rarely want to negotiate. Some of the problems related to the smoking ban might have been alleviated by advanced filtering technologies. Rabin and Bookmen mentioned many compromises that liquor-related industries tried to make with lawmakers, the police, and resident groups. None came to pass.

    One reasonable solution to this problem might be taking away the anonymous nature of 311. We expect our governments to be transparent, but we don't seem to have any such expectation with people who use government agencies against private agencies. If I call 911, and report a robbery that's not happening, my number can be traced, and I can be charged with reporting a frivolous complaint. But if a resident makes a frivolous report on a bar to 311, there is no recourse, even if they do it again and again.

    The link: