Saturday, March 01, 2003

Ah-HA! I Was Right

Down below, in this post taking apart the Commercial Appeal's editorial stance on Governor Bredesen's proposal to use funds normally shared with the cities and counties to bolster the State's revenue problems, I speculated:
As it turns out, Bredesen plans to accomplish that mission in part by shipping red ink to Shelby County and other localities across the state.

Or, looked at another way, he plans to make sure that every level of Tennessee government feels the pain. Maybe he wants local leaders to see that he's serious, that they'll have to join him and not expect money to flow as it did in the past.
Well, it turns out I WAS RIGHT.

This week's Memphis Flyer editorial [Note: That link won't go to the correct editorial after about Tuesday, the 4th.] reports comments made by Governor Bredesen: [excerpted]
"Everybody's in the same boat. We're all in this together." That was Governor Phil Bredesen's message in a conference call to members of the Tennessee news media Monday, as the 2003 National Governors Convention was coming to an end in Washington.

One such is in the matter of state-shared funds. Asked if withholding significant amounts of these would not force local governments to seek property tax increases, Bredesen said, "I don't believe that's the case. There aren't very many places that could not find some way to save some of the money that's out there the way we have in state government." Bredesen reminded his listeners that, not too long ago, he too had been in charge of a local government (as mayor of Nashville for two terms in the 1990s) "and I know what it feels like on the receiving end."

Which is to say, the governor, who has asked state agencies to make 7.5 percent cuts across the board, was preparing local governments for the same tough medicine. He outlined the substantial cuts he'd already begun in areas like health and human services, higher education, and nutrition programs -- "I'm asking everyone to pitch in a little bit as opposed to making draconian cuts" -- and suggested that local governments could make proportionate reductions of their own.
Yeah, it feels good to be proven right.

The big question is whether or not the cities and counties will knuckle under. That's a real uncertainty. The Tennessee Municipal League is pretty powerful, and once they start working the Legislature, all bets are off.

I'm still not sold on the guy -- there's still ample time for him to drop the other shoe, after all; lobbyists and legislators will give him unholy Hell trying to make him do just that. But still, it's good to see Bredesen actually doing this. It's reassuring.
Bi For Now

This New York magazine "Naked City" column is titled "Bi For Now." It's about "hasbians," or women who were lesbian during their early twenties, but are now coming out as heterosexuals a few years later. It's about bisexuality as chic.
Though Anne Heche is the most prominent example, many hasbians (sometimes called LUGS: lesbians until graduation) are by-products of nineties liberal-arts educations. Caught up in the gay scene at school, they came out at 20 or 21 and now, five or ten years later, are finding themselves in the odd position of coming out all over again—as heterosexuals.
In other words, we've made being gay fashionable and so kids are trying out the fashion. While there's nothing wrong with homosexuality, and the libertarian in me says "so what?", I'm still troubled by this.

Unfortunately, I don't quite know what I want to say about this, or how to say it without starting a flame war. I see this as yet another symptom of the decline of Western European civilisation, which I also see as a bad thing. We have thousands of years of recorded history, hundreds of societies, scientific clarity to bring to bear, and the lessons of what has and hasn't worked. Yet we still wander off into areas that assuage our guilt at the places we find ourselves. We deform our society so that we don't hurt the few, rather than embracing the majority and welcoming the minority. We are steadily loosing ourselves from the moors of history and biology that ensure our future survival.

I'd better stop here. I need to think on this some more. But I wanted y'all to read this, and think about it and what it means about who we are becoming.

Gonna clear out a few old things floating in the bookmarks with this post.

I'm fascinated by science and also by the allure of alternate history -- the idea of "what if?" Suppose that Edward Babbage's difference engine, an early mechanical computer first developed in the mid-19th century had taken off? How different would the world have been?

There's also crypto-science, the study of artifacts that seem to be completely out of time. For example, a Scottish pioneer wrote out the theory of the telegraph more than 250 years ago, almost twice as far back as the first practical telegraphs. Imagine how very different history might have been if Europe had been wired for communications? Or if America had been wired during the American Revolution?

Then there's the batteries of Iraq. These are functioning batteries, up to two thousand years old, producing between .5 and 2 volts. What they were used for is a mystery, but their functionality isn't a question. Imagine early Greek scientists taking these and advancing them. It's not likely that motors would have resulted, but is the idea of lighting too much to believe? Think of how the world might have been different if medieval Europe had night-time lighting?

Or take the clockwork mechanism found off Greece in 1901. It's an intricate collection of gears and mechanisms that scientists now think was an astronomical calculator. But it's the detail and precision of the mechanism that astounded scientists, as it rivalled the work done by clockmakers of Enlightenment Europe.

Couple the battery with the telegraph, then the clockwork with the difference engine, and suddenly our world becomes a vastly different place. The imagination boggles at the consequences, and the spirit is humbled to see how so many things come and disappear, to be found again, time after time. It makes you view the world and our history in new and awesome ways. Advance is happenstance, the luck of time and geography. What might have been suddenly is a vast and myriad place.

If you are interested in learning more, try, a website for alternate history. Some books to look for are:

For Want of a Nail by Robert Sobel (America loses the Revolution)
Fatherland by Robert Harris (Germany wins WWII)
Bring the Jubilee by Ward Moore (The Confederacy wins)

The Corruption The Papers Don't Want To Acknowledge

Nashville's NewsChannel Five is doing the kind of work that is rare for television news these days -- real political investigative reporting. Reporter Phil Williams is a man who puts to shame pretty much anyone you can name here in Memphis.

He has a series, available online, called Perks of Power. It is an undercover expose of the buddy-buddy relationship of lobbyists to legislators, and the blithe, blase attitude of legislators to the issues of appropriateness involved.

Go and read this stuff, view the videos. It'll make you sick and, in light of the kind of editorial that the Commercial Appeal cranks out, it will also outrage you.
Model Rocketry: The First Step

I am the co-founder and first President of the Mid-South Rocket Society, a model rocketry club here in Memphis, Tennessee. We've been going strong for almost seven years now.

I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, the home of America's space program at the Marshall Space Flight Center. Some of you may have gone to the Space and Rocket Center there, or sent your kids to Space Camp. I still have great memories of hearing this terrible roar, followed by a shaking of the ground so strong it rattled the plates and glasses in the kitchen. The cause was a static test firing of a Saturn V booster, the rocket that took us to the Moon. You learned to appreciate the vast power of those rockets. I never got to meet Werner Von Braun, though my dad did, but space and rocketry influenced my life in all sorts of ways.

I got into model rocketry as a kid. I just liked watching something I made go hundreds or even thousands of feet into the air, to come back safely (most of the time) under parachute or streamer. Model rocketry taught me a lot of science, and some discipline. Even though I never went into a mechanical or scientific career, the lessons of science and the scientific method have stayed with me all my life, shaping the man I became. I left the hobby in my late teens, but came back to it in my thirties.

It's changed a lot, for those of you who may have flown once upon a time. Model rockets now can be up to 20 feet long, up to 50 or 60 pounds, and fly many miles into the atmosphere. Here in Memphis, the members of our club don't fly anything that large, but rockets as big as an adult, powered by motors as large as your arm, are common.

Even with the increases in size, altitude and motor power, the hobby still has the safest record of any hobby. There hasn't been a single fatality in forty years, and not a single major acccident or injury caused by model rockets. There have been fires, of course, but even these are rare. Why? Because the hobby has at its heart the Model Rocket Safety Code, which is a guide that is unique to most hobbies. It gives guidelines that, if followed, will help prevent any accident or damage. It's been working for forty years. Safety isn't something most in the hobby just give lip service to; it's a touchstone that we all take as seriously as our own safetly.

This year, with the advent of the Homeland Security Department, the usual clampdown on liberties that follows an event like September 11, and new moves by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the hobby of model rocketry is under attack to the point that it may disappear. It's reached the point that the two major model rocketry organisations (The National Association of Rocketry and the Tripoli Rocketry Association) have been pursuing a lawsuit against the BATFE.

But another group, the Amateur Rocket Society of America, went a different route and found a legislator who is willing to help. He has introduced some legislative amendments that will provide permanent relief for the hobby. You can read more about it here.

That last link is really important. It lists actions you can take -- RIGHT NOW -- that can save the hobby. They give sample letters and emails, instructions, and lists of Senators and Representatives to contact. Please go there now and do what you can.

Model rocketry has to be the most fun, exciting and painless way to get kids to think about science. You can pursue the hobby and never give a thought to the physics, ballistics, meteorology, aerodynamics and chemistry involved. Or you can follow your natural curiousity, as many thousands have done, and find yourself in a scientific and technical career. Model rocketry is the first step into space. It can be the first step into your future. But if it's not there, that can't happen.
Oh Well, I Used To Enjoy Him

Many of you are, I hope, familiar with the songs of Tom Lehrer: Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, The Masochism Tango, The Vatican Rag, Be Prepared! and many, many more back in the late Sixties and early Seventies. He went on to become a mathematics professor at the University of California and put his life as a performer behind him, nearly 40 years ago. He's worked hard to avoid the spotlight since, until a couple of years ago when he began to give interviews again.

Unfortunately, in one rather long interview with the Syndey (Australia) Morning Herald, he gives forth with some opinions that I, as a fan, wish I'd never seen:
"The real issues I don't think most people touch. The Clinton jokes are all about Monica Lewinsky and all that stuff and not about the important things, like the fact that he wouldn't ban landmines."

Telling sophisticated jokes about politics is something Lehrer believes works only in clubs such as the hungry i in San Francisco. Those clubs don't exist any more, nor, he reasons, do the audiences that once filled them.

"The people who go to comedy shows are kids that don't know anything, I think, and so you have to make jokes about your girlfriend or your family or that kind of thing only, make them as vulgar as possible...."

He says he couldn't do anything with the Israelis and the Palestinians "because I'm against everybody and I can't take a side". Nor can the man who found so many snappy couplets and delightful tunes in impending nuclear doom see any toe-tapping inspiration in September 11, the invasion of Iraq, or the thing he seems most keen to talk about the Columbia space shuttle explosion.

"They are calling it a disaster instead of a screw-up, which is all it was. They're calling these people heroes. The Columbia isn't a disaster. The disaster is that they're continuing this stupid program.

"One of the things I'm proudest of is, on my record That Was the Year that Was in 1965, I made a joke about spending $20 billion sending some clown to the moon.

"I was against the manned space program then and I'm even more against it now, that whole waste of money. And so, when seven people blow up or become confetti, then they've asked for it. They're volunteers, for one thing."
Not much else to say, I guess.

Thanks to Australian blogger Tim Blair for spotting this.
He Can Keep Doing What He Does

Stories have been popping up recently that Bill Clinton is either lobbying for, mulling over, or being considered for U.N. Secretary General. Apparently there is a behind-the-scenes drive to have Kofi Annan resign in the Fall; following that Mr. Clinton can take his brand of international schmoozing, hero-worship and sexual assault to the biggest stage of all.

I think this is a good idea. Look what Clinton did for the Democrats. He was able to take the Democratic Leadership Conference's brand of middle-of-the-road liberalism to the forefront of the Democratic agenda. He briefly unified his party behind him. He went global, to much acclaim and notoriety. Clinton himself prospered greatly during his administration.

But now, the Democrats are in disarray, a nearly-spent force. It was during his eight years that the Democrats suffered the greatest defections of the modern era. (Here's one summary; see Truth #9.) They suffered some big losses in 2000, when Clinton's coattails seemed to disappear, and some historic ones in 2002. His heir-apparent floundered while distancing himself from his mentor. Senator Daschle's idea of leadership was to try to obstruct everything. Nancy Pelosi, the new House Minority Speaker, is a very-far left liberal who'll only alienate more people. Most of Clinton's foreign policy work is now gone, because he was the reason and not the effector. He abandoned economic leadership during his last year, in the elusive search for his legacy, and the economy began to drift into the collapse that was due to come.

Now, as many as a dozen candidates seek the Democratic Presidential nomination (often a sign of disarray); the anti-war left in encountering strong, informed opposition; no one is leading the party. Heck, liberals and Democrats find themselves on the run on television! If only the Republicans could find some unity of their own, it would be crippling.

So, yeah, I say let Clinton do to the U.N. what he did for the Democrats. They all hitched their wagons to his star. Sadly, that star was a supernova. It burned very, very bright for a while, but burned out quickly, leaving an expanding shell of hot gas and a dark, cold husk. Now, they all get to drift around in space, waiting for the next star to come along. Serves 'em all right.
A Good Primer

Fine Rocky Top Brigade member Damn Foreigner has an excellent, brief primer on parliamentary politics and what the vote Friday in Britain's Parliament means to Tony Blair. A short read, and good for you.
Glad To Know They're Looking Out For Us

USA Today has a story in Friday's edition about country singer Darryl Worley's song, Have You Forgotten?, a pro-Iraqi war song that is burning up country radio.
"Almost everybody that calls wants to know: a) where can I get it? and b) will you play it again right now?" says Scott Lindy of WPOC-FM in Baltimore.
Well, almost everyone....
Steve Warren, who consults for about 40 country radio stations, wouldn't have applauded. "Singing a song about going to war with Saddam because bin Laden hit us is a leap of logic that I don't think any informed people outside the White House can make," Warren says. "I wouldn't play the thing, no matter how many requests I got for the sucker."
Good job, Steve! Protect us from ourselves and our ignorant wants.

And they wonder why radio is going down the toilet, and music sales are stalling.
Frank Is Bustin' Out All Over

Frank Cagle is going to the radio! The former Hilleary campaigner will host a daily two-hour show on the usual talk-show topics, from 9AM until just before noon.

Sadly for Memphis, it's in Knoxville, on WNOX AM 990. But the good news is that there is Internet streaming audio! Details at both Frank's site and the WNOX site.

Way to go, Frank! Keep their feet to the fire.
Not All Actors Are Lefties

For those of you unawares, Fred Thompson -- lawyer, actor, Senator, and now actor again -- has made a pro-Bush/pro-Iraqi war ad. You can see it here. Requires Real Player. It's very nice, with a good punch at the end.

If anyone sees this on their local television, please let me know.

Friday, February 28, 2003

Just A Thought

When did parenthood become a "right" that the State controlled and could take away? I know it happened sometime in the Seventies, but can't remember the outcry from civil libertarians when it happened. Seems like something this profound would have some kind of clear marker, like Roe v. Wade, or Stonewall, or Waco, or something. Anyone care to help me out?
A Wonderland of Dishonesty

Friday's lead editorial in the Commercial Appeal takes new governor Phil Bredesen to task for attempting to make cities and counties share the pain with regards to State budget cuts. It really is a piece of work, a wonderland of dishonesty. We're going to go through it all and look at the lies and distortions and panderings and politics.
Tennessee voters elected Phil Bredesen governor last year because, among other things, he promised to manage state government on existing revenue and give the quest for a broad-based state income tax a rest.
Bredesen promised, under all but the most dire of circumstances, to avoid the income tax if at all possible. Probably. He didn't say anything about "giving it a rest," which is something else altogether, something a lot like what the CA would like to do -- revisit the issue after most folks have had a chance to forget, and the paper has the chance to rewrite your memory. Notice, too, the not-so-subtle slipping in of the phrase "broad-based." No opportunity for propaganda missed!

And "quest?" It was a full-force ramming down the throat, a cooperative venture between Sundquist, Naifeh, some State employee and teacher unions, and the papers. There was nothing searching, as a quest implies, about the process. Dishonesty and deception reigned; every ugly trick was used.
As it turns out, Bredesen plans to accomplish that mission in part by shipping red ink to Shelby County and other localities across the state.
Or, looked at another way, he plans to make sure that every level of Tennessee government feels the pain. Maybe he wants local leaders to see that he's serious, that they'll have to join him and not expect money to flow as it did in the past. But the CA has never seen government as something that loses funding, so it's only logical that they wouldn't see the lesson, only the paddle.
Tennesseans who thought they would escape being asked to pay higher taxes with Bredesen in office may be in for a surprise. Most city and county government officials are not bound by a no-new-taxes pledge.
How interesting. First, Bredesen didn't make that pledge. Folks like Frank Cagle, Bill Hobbs, Tax Free Tennessee and myself pointed that out pretty regularly; heck, even SouthKnoxBubba would probably agree there!

Second, the CA's true colors are nailed to the mast once again. It hasn't even occurred to them, apparently, that city and counties might also cut spending. It's like every step you take away from the abyss, the edge crumbles a bit more and there you are again -- right on the edge again. The money train must always roll; last year's budget is always the minimum for this year, never just a number.
The governor has instituted broad, across-the-board cuts in state spending.
Currently seven percent, maybe nine. I'm still amazed to see this, and the apparent seriousness of his actions. I'm still in the "cautiously non-pessimistic" category, though. I'm a deeply suspicious person by nature (You're surprised, right?) and I still think it's entirely possible that this isn't good faith on Bredesen's part. Naifeh and the unions that depend on State money have been far too compliant and quiet here.

I think it may also be possible that this is the setup. Bredesen will make cuts and then sit back. As the complaints roll in, as the evidence piles up of people being "hurt," as "services" are cut, he'll slowly begin to make the case that he tried, but real solutions will only happen if we put the income tax back on the table. In other words, this is the "cover your ass" period, to be followed by the "look over there!" period, then to be concluded with the sad, head-shaking "we have no choice" endgame.

I could be wrong; I worry that I'm not.
But he has not shown much of an inclination to take on Nashville's powerful road lobby by leading a charge to divert gasoline tax money from Department of Transportation projects to such necessary state spending as state police highway patrols.
This is true, but where does the CA get off saying so? When Bruce Saltsmann told the governor that he wouldn't relinquish the funds, inverting the boss-employee equation with complete impugnity, the paper let that pass with no fuss. TDOT has been sitting on one billion dollars in unspent funds, and the paper has pooh-poohed the idea of raiding those funds, or of the proposal to divert one penny from the gas tax. For them to trot this out now is the most base hypocrisy. Coming from this lot, that's saying quite a bit!
And he has left it up to the legislature to join an effort to persuade the federal government to authorize sales taxes on Internet and catalog purchases that are not now taxed by the state.
Bill Hobbs, again, is doing fantastic work documenting this power & money grab, which is unconstitutional besides. But in this context it's a red herring designed to make you think the State would be better off pursuing mythic money sources than "stealing" from the cities and counties. It's a distraction.
Bredesen's plan to put some of the state budget burden on the backs of local governments is not a new idea, but it is a bad one.
Again, that's a matter of point-of-view. An equally valid argument can be made that he wants all levels of government to share in the budget cutting, especially as the money all comes from the same source: the State's coffers.
The governor told officials of the Tennessee Municipal League and the Tennessee County Services Association that he plans to keep local governments' share of revenues from the state tax on dividend and investment income.
That would be the legendary Hall tax. It's interesting to note that of all the multiplicity of plans put forward during the Income Tax Wars, coming from every angle and every point on the political spectrum of our State leaders, there was only one common feature. Every single plan eliminated the Hall tax! Who would have benefitted most? Those who make their living from investment income -- retirees and the ultrawealthy. Guess who has the ear of our Legislature.
Bredesen now says he is reconsidering the idea, but has not backed off. The money, about $50 million, would be earmarked to help the state keep promises it has made to local governments to help fund public schools.
Notice: "would be earmarked." Oh, suddenly, promises to taxpayers mean so much! Using this "future promise" tactic has long been a favorite of the paper's editors.
To make sure the pain of the state fiscal crisis is fairly distributed, he said, he also plans a 9 percent cut - an estimated $56 million - in other tax revenues now shared with local governments. Memphis would lose $14.7 million next year as a result, the municipal league estimates.
While not an inconsequential amount, don't forget that the City Council recently had to make up a $12 million shortfall and did so with some alacrity, in belt-tightening. Note, too, that the 9 percent figure is precisely in line with the Governor's demands for State departments. What's good for the goose and all that.
Faced with a projected budget shortfall of $480 million this year and $780 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1....
Remember, this was the largest tax increase in State history and already we are deeply in debt. Had the proposed income tax gone through, only 40% of Tennesseans would be paying that, and now that same 40% would be shouldering the $1.26 billion immediate "shortfall." This is fair?
...Bredesen essentially is instituting D.O.G.S. (Downsizing of Governmental Services), a budget-slashing plan the General Assembly flirted with but rejected last year.
"Flirted?" Again with the rewriting. This was the "doom and gloom" budget, to use the CA's own term, that Sundquist and Naifeh threatened the Legislature with! This was the Apocalypse that the paper warned readers of. Now, it seems, it's a budget option, albeit a bad one.
Lawmakers also rejected a proposal to cut local governments' share of state tax receipts. Instead, they raised the state sales tax rate by a penny as part of the largest tax increase in state history.
See my comments above. The paper, as they've done since this budget was passed, seems to like to repeat this phrase without seeming to understand that the largest tax increase in State history was instantly insufficient. There are problems far, far worse than revenue shortfalls when that happens.
Now many Tennesseans are burdened with the country's largest combined state and local sales tax rate, and they're anxiously waiting to see how state services will be affected by spending reductions.
Many? Heck, all of us! And a good number of visitors to our fair state. But compare that burden with the combined sales/income tax burdens others face and Tennesseans are down at the bottom of the tax burden pile. Tennessee, sounds good to me.

Besides, I'm not waiting to see how "state services will be affected," I'm waiting to see how State spending will be reduced! The lines are drawn; don't color outside them.
Some of those cuts will affect local government resources indirectly. Under the governor's proposal, local governments also would try to maintain services despite $100 million in direct state revenue cuts.
The numbers keep piling up, don't they? Oh, I meant the taxes piled on taxpayers, not the $100 million. Sorry....
All this is occurring after the legislature underwent two years of down-to-the-wire budget brawls...
Brought on by a governor who seemed hellbent on spending money he didn't have and a Legislative leader hellbent on bullying his compatriots into submission. Alternative plans were suppressed by Naifeh, and ridiculed by the papers; efforts at compromise were squashed by everyone in a hell-bound train wreck intended to cause such a mess that, odious as it was, the income tax was the least unpalatable option.

But here's the most astonishing passage:
...that had crowds of horn-honking protesters circling the Capitol, and on one occasion rioting within it, to discourage lawmakers from confronting Tennessee's systematic revenue problems in a meaningful way.
Unbelievable, if I hadn't already lived with the CA's unashamed, bald-faced past lies.

Naturally, they don't pass up the chance to repeat the tired "horn-honkers" slur, but to claim that protesters rioted inside the Capitol is a plain, pure lie! There is nothing to support that claim but the cold reptilian minds of the editors. Every television station in the State played video of that protest and the crowds inside were loud and barely respectful, but they were merely an angry, aimless, milling crowd.

Seeing the CA pass along this kind of complete falsehood, with impugnity, makes me despair. Their public power is quite hefty, but now we have to ask for whom they wield it. It sure isn't for truth or for you and me.

Bredesen deserves credit for opening up the budget process and being candid with constituents about the depth of the state's fiscal mess.
It's an improvement over the Sundquist administration, which lied with numbers at every opportunity. We are still stuck with the newspapers which happily repeated the lies. It would be nice to see the paper practice the kind of candidness and openness with their own internal processes that they praise Bredesen for. But I'm not holding my breath.

The harsh truth, which he has shared with Tennesseans, is that state jobs as well as the level of services that citizens can expect are in peril.
"Peril?" Only to those on the public teat. For the rest of us, it's welcome relief. The Socialists in our newpaper editorial and reporting pools wail and moan, but the publicly-expressed unhappiness we've been seeing the past four years is a powerful argument that they're wrong.

The governor's pledge of better management is more difficult to judge, although the fruits of that effort will start showing up soon enough.
It'll be interesting to see what the Legislature does with the budget. You can bet that the CA will be in there pitching for them to throw it out and adopt their own, one that satisfies the bureaucracy- and money-addicted cravings of the paper.

If essential state employees and programs have to be sacrificed, and local property taxes have to be raised...
They don't. Government will do just fine with fewer people, as long as legislators don't keep passing new laws. If they take their lead from Bredesen, and let him take the heat, then taxes don't have to go up either.

Note that the present makeup of the bureaucracy is "essential." I cannot honestly recall a single investigation by our paper of the waste that lurks in State government, other than their John Ford-driven vendettas. They've shown some ability to find it, lots of it, on the City and County levels, so why not go higher? Because if they do, they'll find it and then they can't argue for more money!

...while non-essential projects favored by powerful legislators and fat-cat state contractors survive, Tennessee's budget crisis is far from over.
Oh, wait! So there is money to cut? Now I'm confused....

And again, they blame others but can't seem to actually investigate them! Now who's falling down on the job?

I've read some really astounding editorials from the shameless bunch at the Commercial Appeal but I think this one takes the cake. Lapses of responsibility on their part laid bare but ignored, past lies and distortions repeated with embellishment, dismissively rewriting history on the fly, refusing to see things from the point of view of the people they supposedly serve, flogging the very idea that everyone else claims died last goes on and on.

If ever there was reason to toss the paper into the trash bin of history, this is the clearest, most persuasive one of all.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Just A Reminder

A couple of weekends ago, I created and posted some anti-anti-war protest images. This is just a reminder that they're there. Why? Because, well...damnit, I'm proud of 'em! They're pungent, in-your-face and frank. I think they rock. So browse on over if you haven't already and check 'em out. Please feel free to use 'em, pass 'em around, or let others know. All I ask is a credit or linkback.

Help make me and Half-Bakered famous, OK?

Would You Buy A Used Car From These Editors?

Today's Commercial Appeal contains this editorial stating the paper's approval of a new mall project in Collierville. It contains so many qualifiers, weasel words, suppositions and good-faith assumptions that I wouldn't trust anyone who offered me anything with this much wiggle room.

Let's strip away the foo-fa-raw and list the hedges:

If that promise is kept
that's a big if
officials insist
real estate observers seem to agree
need not
Developers promise
they say
officials will have to hold the developers strictly to their agreement
developers are responsible
guarantees...must be met.
Officials also will have to
expectation that
surely would want to
not likely to
could set a useful precedent

Does that sound promising?

Basically, the developers of Carriage Crossing were forced to scale their project way back -- by almost a third. But it's still a jumped-up strip mall on a regional mall scale. Any commercial project of that size and intent will draw more commercial develoment.

All we have is the promise by developers not to take advantage of the situation and the hope that elected officials will take a hard line against any attempted broken promises. But we've already seen, time and again, here in Memphis and Shelby County how officials cave to the needs of developers over the desires of the citizens. Developers are a potent and unexamined influence in this area -- as they are in every city in the country. What they want will happen.

The CA knows this. They also know who provides a rather healthy chunk of their profits. Take a stroll thru the paid regular and classified ads. Developers, builders, landscapers, realtors, banks, insurance, home furnishings and appliances. Without all that building, they'd have no need to sell. It's a comfortable death-lock.

That's why they've soaked this editorial in weasel words: to cover their asses so, a few years from now, they can moan about the broken promises and failed restraint without being complete hypocrites. They know exactly what's going to happen, but can't really anger anyone who actually might affect profits.

They'll only be partial hypocrites.
Important Notice

The following was found on a letter posted at the cash register of the local Piggly Wiggly grocery store, dated 02/19/2003. It was a photocopy of a letter on Shelby County Health Department letterhead, with a list of WIC (Women, Infant, Children program) changes.
Cheerios has a new cereal on the market "Richard Petty" which is not WIC eligible.
This raises a whole lot of questions, none of which are good.

I'll just leave it there.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Gail A. Needs Your Help

Gail A. is the online name for a woman who had her 16 year old son brutally murdered. She has since dedicated herself to seeing that the man responsible serves the maximum sentence possible. She has also worked to bring issues of crime and criminals to the public.

I first met her through Free Republic and some posts she made to this blog. She's a good woman and now she needs your help.
On April 11, 1989, 16 year old Jeremy Peter Flachbart a learning disabled student was brutally beaten to death by Terry Joe Windham (who was on probation for burglary and vandalism), who decided he wanted to commit murder to see what it felt like to kill. Jeremy, was on his way home from school when he was ambushed and beat to death with a 2 foot section of 4x4 fence post by Windham. After hitting Jeremy once from behind, Jeremy went down and Windham hit him 10 more times, after the 10th blow Jeremy groaned and Windham hit him 5 more times for a total of 16 blows.

Windham, went to a local game room to brag about his vicious act of murder, to his younger brother and some friends; he then took them to view Jeremy's body. While the police were investigating the scene he was on the sidelines watching, bragging, laughing, and making threats that if anyone told on him he'd kill them too. He was arrested on the scene, confessed, and was charged with 1st degree Murder; plea bargained down to 2nd degree Murder; was sentenced to 20 years. While he was in jail awaiting trial he made threatening phone calls to students. He will have served a little over 11 years of his sentence, he will have a 6th parole hearing on March 12, 2003 He was sentenced 20 years on 4/11/89. He became eligible for a first parole 3/16/91. (The murder happened on 4/11/89 but because of the way sentencing is figured in Tennessee he was sentenced on the day the crime happened).

Up to 1997 he had several drug charges in prison in 1996 and 1997. He had a positive drug screen 6/20/1996 and another charge of refusing a drug screen on 10/29/1997, and also got a charge of drug possession on 10/29/1997. These are all class B charges and cannot be paroled within a year of these charges which he has already satisfied (it has been over a year). He had several other Class C charges over the years (violation of TDOC policies). These are not considered serious and generally doesn't effect parole unless it happens within 30 days of parole I believe. His last three charges was 4/18/99, he got a Class C, "Failure to report as scheduled." 4/19/99 he got a Class C, Failure to report as scheduled. 6/20/99, he got a Class C, Violation of TDOC policies.

Terry Joe Windham the killer of my 16 year old son (Jeremy Peter Flachbart) is up for his SIXTH parole hearing on March 12, 2003

I am asking my FRiends at FR for letters of OBJECTION to the early parole of this killer be written. Recidivism nationally is 68%.

Tennessee Board of Parole 404 James Robertson PKWY, Ste 1300 Nashville, TN 37243-0850 ATTN Charles Traughber, Chairman

or email Cindy Jenkins, Victims Liaison

BE SURE TO INCLUDE inmate name and ID #

Parole Hearing March 12, 2003

RE: Terry Joe Windham # 204460
Please consider writing a letter or email to help her out. Please also consider mentioning this case on your blog.

You can read more about her case, and learn a lot more about crime and criminals and the penal system at her website. You can also read the lengthy thread that resulted when she posted this plea to Free Republic here.

Thank you.
Snow, Sort Of

Memphis has finally had a snow event. Tuesday, we got a good snow that left between 1 and 3 inches here in Midtown. I woke up around 3AM and saw the strong fall of tiny flakes. Beautiful. Naturally, this paralysed the city and everything was shut down.

Then Wednesday we got an icing -- about a quarter-inch coating on everything living or metallic. Sidewalks got slick but the roads were fine. Still, it was enough to keep the city shut down for a second day.

But that didn't stop us at work. We've been crazy-busy the past two days. There's still a threat of more freezing rain tonight, so tomorrow's looking busy as well. Blogging may be light until I get a breather, but I won't stop altogether. I've noticed that intermittent, unexplained, longish absences tend to depress your hit counts.

Can't have that. I went from three dozen regular readers down to about a dozen now. Gah. All that work....
Bart Feels The Vibes, Man

The Commercial Appeal's house Socialist, Bartholomew Sullivan, struggles hard to find the movement in the anti-Iraqi war activists in the Mid-South. It's a valiant struggle, but the results are lack-luster at best.

The article starts out trying to show how the online world is merging with traditional street protest to both broaden and deepen protest. It doesn't quite do that. The article also mentions MoveOn an anti-war website. In an unusual move for the CA, which until very recently didn't even acknowledge Internet options and still will often leave off web addresses for causes or opponents it dislikes, they do list it here. But after mentioning the Internet portions, the article then wanders into the usual overview of the protesters and the protest.

The headline says "Many raise message for peace," but Bart can't seem to document them. He writes:
Despite small street protests in Memphis, it would be a mistake to discount the opposition's breadth and intensity....
Unfortunately for him, he can only find small protests (mentioning one that drew 10 people) and a petition drive that netted 300 signatures. Not only that, but the "breadth" he mentions is only his own hopes. Of the ten people mentioned in the article, three are academics who are touted as "experts;" the other seven includes two students and five peace activists/organisers. Not especially broad there, Bart.

He is also undercut by the comments of his own interviewees:
"It's almost like an 'in principle' protest,'' Pohlmann said. "It seems to lack fire and intensity.''

Beatrice Blatteis: "Peace is so much more important than being right. Think of all the boys that will die, whatever happens....

She says she's discouraged that the American peace movement isn't as effective as the ones in Europe....

Wang says it's frustrating for him to see how apathetic most students are. But he says it's understandable. "It's hypothetical for them,'' he says. "They're not going to be called up.''
He almost sounds like he wishes it were personal, so he could see some more passion. Rather cold-blooded.

There are some strangely entertaining bits, as well. In talking about some of the attendees at one protest, listing their occupations to demonstrate diversity, he mentions "a lawyer who fought the downtown arena." Any Memphian who reads the paper knows exactly who he means -- Duncan Ragsdale, who the CA mercilessly disparaged and demeaned for his efforts to get civic leaders to actually poll the people for support before committing their monies to the project. My guess is that he's anonymous here because if Bart (or more likely his editor) named him, then the "kook and malcontent" image that the CA worked to pin on him then might transfer to the anti-war protest.

For some reason, as I've mentioned above, the "breadth" of people Bart sought out seems to come back to lawyers, professors and students, activists and marketers. I'm pretty sure that says as much about Bart as it does about the Mid-South peace "movement."

One more item. Mentioning one professor's view that email campaigns are seen as from the "less committed," Bart misses, or didn't know, that most politicians ignore email campaigns, as they are so easy to create and send out. Real, paper letters carry far more weight, as they require more planning and execution to send out.

Lastly, Bart writes the following:
And the peace movement's message is complicated by what [Pohlmann] says is an apparent consensus that the world would be a better place without Saddam Hussein.
Unfortunately for the reader, not one of the ten folks Bart spoke to can offer a single, concrete plan of action.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Alias & 24

I don't watch much television any more. As a kid, I watched almost everything I could, even the awful stuff. But nowadays I find that I'll turn off the television and radio/stereo to just let things be quiet. Most programs these days are just crap. Sitcoms have exhausted the formula. Programs are all about doctors, cops, lawyers, government agents, media people, etc. Even the supposed critical raves (Sopranos, Sex in the City, etc.) are just in-your-face ugliness wrapped up in respectablility.

Among the very few shows I make the effort to watch are Alias and 24. Both are excellent for different reasons.

Alias is eye-candy and mind-candy, pure and simple. The show is in the fine tradition of programs like I Spy, Mission: Impossible and Wild, Wild West. It's the high-tension, black-is-white world of spies armed with really cool gizmoes, presented with a thoroughly modern gloss. The pacing is very high, the music throbs and every episode finds a reason to put star Jennifer Garner is some skimpy outfit.

The epitome of this was the post-Super Bowl episode which began with CIA Agent Garner in a drop-dead sexy red teddy. In short order, she garroted the man she was supposedly seducing, shot up his airplane and bailed out over Europe as the plane went down. And that was only the first five minutes!

I admit it. The show is something of a cheap thrill. But the stars -- a uniformly excellent cast down to the guest stars and minor characters -- really sell the dialogue, and the plot zips by fast enough that reason can be suspended for enjoyment's sake. The show did have an arc, but the whole thing was completely thrown out in that post-Super Bowl episode. The premise was rewritten and smoothed out. The bad guys are still there, but now the good guys aren't double agents any more, but pure good guys. It's much more black-and-white; that may be a reflection of the times, but we'll see how it plays out.

The other show I love is 24. This is one unpredictable, tense and surprising show. Very few programs would be willing to kill a sympathetic lead in the final episode. You never know what to expect in 24 and that's the show's hook.

It's done on the British model. Last season was one long story -- of "the longest day of my life" in the show's intro -- of an assassination attempt on a presidential candidate's life. Counter-Terrorism Unit agent Jack Bauer was tasked with stopping it, while worrying about his wife who got swept up as well and a wayward daughter. (That daughter is the show's only major weak link. She has the worst possible taste in men and consistently can be counted on to make the stupidest choice in any situation. It's only the casting of the lovely Elisha Cuthbert and her perky breasts and taut midriff that makes her tolerable to any degree). And like British dramas, the show season is a self-contained whole. Everything, except lead Kiefer Sutherland (in the role of a lifetime) is on the table and anything is allowed to happen.

Last season ended definitively with a tragic win for the good guys. This season picks up a year later, with a sadder, angrier Bauer dragged into a new case -- a nuclear bomb somewhere in Los Angeles. Events from last year are not forgotten or glossed over as most American programs will do, but form the basis for this season's characterisations, again on the British drama model.

It's that unpredictability that makes the show addictive. So far this season, sympathetic character actor Sara Gilbert, as a spunky first-day-on-the-job computer expert has died, four episodes in. Xander Berkely as jerk boss George Mason has been given a lethal dose of radiation and is dying by inches right before out eyes. A ditzy bride-to-be turns out to be a murderous zealot. The assumed Muslim terrorist turns out to be a sympathetic good guy who is casually, brutally offed. An innocent man is tortured to death in front of the ditz's sister. A nuclear bomb is sought, found, faked, found again. A terrorist sees his first-born son murdered by Agent Bauer (or so he thinks...). The President sees his National Security Advisor ousted only to be replaced by a traitor in league with his ex-wife; the President's ex-wife, a real Lady MacBeth, has been switching back and forth between apparent good and bad like a pinball, playing everyone around her.... Well, I could obviously go on.

Yes, the plot is pretty thick by now, almost daunting. But this is the only show I've seen that had me literally on the edge of my seat in the first fifteen minutes of the first show of this season.

One show pushes the edges of style and pacing, while keeping its telegenic star front and center, to keep you enthralled. The other uses it's "anything goes" possibilities to the max. Both use their top-notch casts to the fullest extent. And both are some of the best television viewing there is.

(Alias is on Sunday nights, on ABC, at 8PM Central. 24 is on Fox, Tuesdays at 8PM Central.)

God help me, I sound like a television critic, don't I?
Media Bias Rant

I read USAToday. There, I said it. Yes, it can be McNews, but it is also a pretty quick read that's like a snapshot of the country and the world on that day. Almost....

USAToday used to have a television news column. It reported various bits and news about the behind-the-scenes, corporate world of television news. They replaced it some months ago with a column by Peter Johnson. Johnson's bias makes the column unpalatable.

For example, ever since Phil Donahue returned to television with his new MSNBC talk show (just cancelled today), Johnson has had article after article on the man and his every effort to stay afloat. You'd almost never know that Donahue has been consistently in last place, given how much ink Johnson wastes on him. Connie Chung, who is also a distant second, got some mention when she first went on. But the only way you ever hear of the show and the man who owns that time slot -- Bill O'Reilly -- is a side-swipe comment always in reference to the other two! For example: "Chung, who is struggling against the number one O'Reilly, who just got record ratings, is trying new strategies to find and keep viewers."

In a recent Life section cover story on the changes at CNN, he was forced to talk about FoxNews. But every mention of Fox came with an adjective that demeaned, slanted or tarnished the network. CNN was being forced, against the will of the hard-working, unbiased, real-news journalists to try to emulate the "conservative" Fox. It was all awful and terrible, and all Fox's fault in the bad way.

Today's column is yet more of the same. He reports on the "media debate" over whether or not major news outlets were late to the anti-war protest party. He mentions the New York Times, CBS, NBC, ABC and CNN, but -- surprise, surprise -- leaves out Fox!

He does point out that early coverage of the war was largely from a political point of view, leaving out "average man" reporting until protests ramped up, except when the average man was a soldier about to leave on duty. The timidity of politicians to stand against the rock-sure Bush led the reporters' take, helping them to incorrectly see all protest as dead aborning.

But it's all the high-minded kind of analysis that more and more Americans are finding irrelevant. Johnson completely skips over the effect of blogging, where blog readers have been aware of dissent for quite some time. We've also been aware that the touchpoint for organising protest was the ANSWER-birthed protests. And that link still doesn't merit much mention in the major news outlets. A furious debate has been raging across numerous points of view, allowing some of the widest expression of views you can hope to find, far wider than anything you'll ever see in the dead tree and broadcast media. But for Johnson, it might as well be nonexistent.

Johnson is still enamored of the old guard, and it shows. Painfully so. I wish his column would go, so USAToday can return to the regular news items I miss so much. Opinion I can find elsewhere, and certainly more up-to-date, informed opinion than his.

Monday, February 24, 2003

Stories You Don't See

Recent media reports were breathless with the news: Latinos are the new biggest minority in America. Latinos have been surging all over the place -- in music, culture and now politics. But the big story of a few years ago has gone missing in the new Hispanic profile.

Back in 1998, California passed Proposition 227 which banned "bi-lingual" education in favor of teaching recent immigrant children in the school systems pure English. The uproar from educators and politicians was deafening. They argued that little brown children would be left behind.

Well, that turned out not to be the case. In fact, the results were so rapid, and so stunning, that the largest educational foe of Prop227 (and I forget his name as I write this) became a convert. He also was branded a traitor to education and his people. But he was right.

Now, politics is catching up. In this story from the Sacramento Bee, we learn of the recall drive that removed a school board member who opposed "English immersion" teaching, in the country's most Hispanic city!
Lopez, one of the California's most ardent advocates of bilingual education, was recalled by a 40-point margin in the most Spanish-speaking city in the United States.

While the issues in the race were many, the one underlying theme that drove the election was Lopez's dogged belief in the need to teach the children of Spanish-speaking immigrants in Spanish rather than English. Lopez was done in by his advocacy of a brand of politics that emphasizes ethnic identity over assimilation, separatism rather than inclusion....

Arturo Lomeli, a Santa Ana dentist who was born in Mexico and who is president of the Downtown Business Association, told the Los Angeles Times that he voted for the recall because he was convinced that Lopez was trying to re-create Mexico in Santa Ana.

"You don't come to the United States and say, 'I'd like to live in a city that looks like Mexico.' ... You want nice things. You don't get them with a Nativo Lopez," Lomeli said.
Couldn't have said it better myself. Black political leaders should pay attention.
Jury Nullification

I am a great believer in the jury's secret power: jury nullification. That is the power of any jury to rule that a law is unjust, or that the application of the law in that particular case is unjust. Very few Americans realise that they have this power, and prosecutors, lawyers and judges would like to keep it that way.

Philadelphia, if I recall correctly, had a terrible problem getting drug convictions back in the late Eighties. Folks there simply assumed that any arrest of a black man for drugs was racially motivated, or that the police had planted evidence or trumped up charges. They refused to find any black man guilty. Turns out they were right; the police and prosecutors were incredibly corrupt. Of course, you didn't hear about the juries much at the time. Can't afford to have the average folks getting ideas, can we?

Jury nullification is part and parcel of the American legal system, as this story tells us. Clay Conrad's article is about how to pass voir dire in being selected for jury duty in drug cases. He walks just over the line of advocacy, sounding as though he encourages dishonesty, but he writes a good, brief history. He also doesn't talk about how to convince skeptical fellow jurors that they actually can do what you suggest, that they have that kind of power and authority.

Still, it's a good starting place for those of you not familiar with jury nullification. It's something all Americans need to know, as our government grows more and more rapacious.

You can learn more at the Fully Informed Jury Association's website. Take the time and regain the power.
Watch The Wording

Japan Today had a story the other day on the tragic death of a professional skateboarder. He was trying to slide down a five story bannister and only managed one floor before falling free to his death.

But look at how they word it:
He fell about 15 meters and was hit on the head when he landed on the first floor, according to the police.
What? Someone ran up and smacked him on the head? The floor hit him? He fell and smacked his head. The passive construction, endemic in Japanese I admit, here used makes for a strange image indeed.
Journalism and Blogging

Some good meaty reading from several bloggers on the relations between journalism, blogging and accountability.

It began with a long post from Rev. Donald Sensing discussing an appearance on a Nashville radio show. The hosts were clearly clueless about blogs (as many radio people still are, and many in the newspaper industry are too), and Rev. Sensing's frustration occasioned a good post.

Well, Bill Hobbs picked up on it in his blog, adding his own observations and fleshing out the perspectives Sensing laid out. And Chris Lawrence, a blogger I've pointed out before from Oxford, Mississippi, had his own thoughts. All three have real journalism experience and it informs their comments to great and damning effect.

The subtext of their posts is that "professional" journalists have an inflated and proprietary view of journalism. They seem to take the First Amendment as written for them, and not the masses. A perfect example of this can be seen in the contrast between their cavalier treatment of the Second Amendment and their fierce defense of the First. Try, just try, to picture the howls of outrage and gallons of ink if we did nothing more than require registration of journalists. Never mind if we set out to require that "professional" journalists meet minimum standards of writing or reasoning, or we required competence in the area they cover (ie. medicine, economics, defense). You see the double standard, I hope.

Speaking for myself, I don't view this blog as "journalism" per se. It's more a formalization of the posting I've done in other forums, and the standard-raising of my public opinions. I make every effort to write well and reason clearly, to get my facts and cites right, to be honest and not merely sensationalistic for effect. Half-Bakered is an effort to inform, to persuade. I want readers to come away with information or insight they might not get anywhere else, or in quite the way I do it.

I guess that makes me a peddler in the marketplace of ideas. Ah well....

In a related story, Michael Kelly of The Atlantic manages to name-check a huge number of blogs while doing a devastating obliteration of Leftist myopia on dissent. A short read, but perfection of critique.
It's For The Chiiiiiiiilllllldren!

Twice in as many days, the Memphis Commercial Appeal has used that vapid phrase: "Do it for the children." It's the new last resort of scoundrels who don't otherwise have a good leg to stand on. Even when it really is for the children, the phrase evokes squirmy distaste.

First, in Sunday's guest editorial, Michael P. Saba finally evokes it in an anti-Iraqi war column that is otherwise unconvincing. After taking fully three-quarters of the column establishing his bona fides in relation to Iraq, even admitting that Saddam Hussein is a real danger, he then goes on to limn the horrible, horrible threat we present to Iraq:
After 12 years of enduring harsh postwar economic sanctions and daily bombings, Iraq is surrounded by more than 150,000 troops, fighter aircraft, warships and high-tech weaponry. It even has been threatened with a nuclear strike. Yet Bush administration officials argue that Iraq is the great threat to peace.
It's part of the build-up to war, Saba. The sanctions can be stopped any time, if Saddam will only comply, as he agreed to do 12 years ago. You'll notice that all that weaponry hasn't been used yet, either.

Still, he wants the inspections to solve the problem. His best argument is this:
The potential economic cost of a war has been estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars, in an already ailing economy. This money could be better used to educate our children, provide health care and meet other essential human needs.

Our closest European allies want to give United Nations weapons inspectors more time to do their work in Iraq. We owe that to our children.
The Federal government, first and foremost, owes us security from enemies both foreign and domestic. Saddam clearly falls into that category. He is unfinished business from two previous administrations that can and should be ended while we can. Then we go on to the next threat.

In their second abuse of the "for the children" plea, the editors predictably have something to say about the announcement by the Department of Human Services that it will change or not implement some of the new rules that resulted after last year's child deaths in day care vans. Forcing parents to place their children into unsafe homes, where nothing resembling day care happens, to satisfy public anger over irresponsibility by a few day care operators is dangerous.

The DHS has apparently understood that Governor Bredesen is serious in looking for cuts and isn't keen to take on new oversight when they will have less money to do what they already do. Also, they have finally realised that if they force all day care centers to get new vehicles it will force cost increases that will cause some people to give up day care. Or worse still, these folks will go to the "Aunt Mabel" day care -- relying on older females to keep 6 or 8 small children in their homes. You'll recall that this was the situation at the home that suffered 9 casualties from a fleeing drug dealer.

But no, government must do all it can and more. It's "for the children."
Better transportation of children in day care facilities will cost money. It will put an added strain on the budgets of parents, providers and taxpayers.

But protecting children who are not in a position to protect themselves - or to lobby in Nashville for the protection they need - is too important to dismiss as just another routine casualty of the state budget wars.
That's right. Even if it kills the patient, he's gonna get treated.

On a related note, I'm glad to see the requirement for mandatory drug screening of drivers being dropped. It is, as it always has been in whatever industry this presumptive tactic has been used, unconstitutional. It's not hard to suspect if someone is using drugs; and that is sufficient threshold to then test someone. Failure to test a suspect is a failure of responsibility and that is sufficient also to close a business, if crime or criminal negligence results. Yes, someone will have to commit a crime first, but then this is America, where we used to presume innocence before guilt. We need only deal harshly and ruthlessly with one example to make clear the costs of not taking responsibility.

Sunday, February 23, 2003


The next post had a mangled bit of HTML code in it that seems to have defied untangling. You gotta watch those loose bits. You'll see it ends oddly. But everything else seems fine around it; the following posts show up OK. So, I'll just let it be.

The link you'll be looking for is here.

Oh, and if you can identify the source of the next post's title, you get bonus points redeemable at the Rocky Top Brigade's General Store. That got lost, too.
Happy To Be With You, Glad You Could Stick Around

Yeah, I'm back. Actually, I got back on Saturday, but most of you read this during the week, so Sunday's posts will be first. You'll see what's been going on once you're caught up.

Anyway, glad to be back with you. It took some doing to get over the hump to start posting again, but as the following shows, I apparently still think I have something to say. I blurt, you decide.

A reminder: I made some "anti-anti-war protest" banners. You can find them No comments:
A Philosophical Digression

There hasn't been an event to link this to, but I just want to clear some of my famous backlog. I would like to discourse on the link between creation and destruction.

They are not, as many believe, diametrically opposed. That is, destruction is not the opposite of creation. Destruction is, in fact, a variant of creation. It's only a question of entropy.

Entropy is defined as "a measure of the disorder or randomness in a closed system." In the universe, entropy tends to the maximum; that is, total disorder. But in subsystems within the universe, entropy can reverse; that is, tend to minimize. For example, melting ice is an example of increasing entropy -- water losing energy and moving to the fluid state. Growing children are an example of decreasing entropy; in this case, they become more and more complex, larger and larger.

Put another way, "everything falls apart." The eventual end state of the universe will be a vast, cold, unmoving fog of sub-atomic particles. That is the natural flow of entropy.

Creation, I think most would agree, can be simply described as taking one thing, or several things, and transforming them into something new. We tend to view this, however, in only one entropic direction -- in the reverse entropic direction of the growing child.

But look at destruction. It is taking something, say a plate of glass, and, by throwing a rock through it turning it into something else. But we see this increase in disorder, this entropy, not as a creative act. I would argue differently.

What is happening is a very human thing. Many folks take great pride, either intellectual, physical or emotional, in transforming many parts into a cohesive, functioning whole. That takes hard work, concentration and discipline. It takes a sustained effort. In physics terms, it requires a vast input of energy to reverse the flow of entropy.

A lot of folks don't have that ability for sustained effort. The reasons are many. Inarticulateness in the face of anger. Frustration at the possibility of failure. Impotence. Ignorance. Oppression. Ramp up the emotion and you get destruction. It is the ignorant, impotent man's act of creation. His way of saying, "I made this!" He is working with entropy; it is his friend and helpmate. It makes the job so much easier.

So, if we see creation and destruction as two ends of a spectrum, instead of two sides of a coin, we see that people can be moved from the destructive kind of entropy to the creative kind. It only takes an input of energy, an input of effort.

By recognising destruction as the creative urge minus the energy of intelligence, articulateness, opportunity, means and raw material, we now see that by transferring some of that energy from ourselves to others we can reverse the entropy gradient.

And suddenly, we see that many social problems are subject to relief. It's all in the entropy gradient.
A Confederacy of Dunces

No, that's not a meeting of Trent Lott, Strom Thurmond and friends. It's the great comic novel by John Kennedy Toole. lists it here. Amazon's Editorial Review is a pretty good capsule of the book.

This is one of a handful of books I reread every so often. Larry Niven's Ringworld is another. But Confederacy is laugh-out-loud funny, and so bizzare as to side-swipe you at every turn. It hasn't dated well: some of the book's characters come dangerously close to blackface stereotypes and others are gay stereotypes so flaming you have to wonder. (And Toole's sexuality has been the subject of debate since his suicide.) But there's no mean heart here, just a love of character that shines through loud and clear.

Word has come along that Confederacy will be made into a movie. I have grave misgivings on this. It's now so "of a time" that, in order to get through Hollywood's PC filter, they'll gut what makes it work and turn Ignatious J. Reilly into a John Candy-esque buffoon. So, I was somewhat heartened to learn that Philip Seymour Hoffman has been cast as Ignatious.

As you can see from his credits, he's been in alot of good films. I don't go to movies much, but I saw him in Almost Famous, successfully and respectfully bringing to life rock critic and force-of-nature Lester Bangs, so I am slightly relieved.

I would have thought a younger Oliver Platt would have been perfect. He has the bull-in-a-china-shop style and the physical appearance. But he is a bit too old now for the part.

Ah well. We shall see how this goes.

We need a name for all the anti-war folks out there who don't want war with Saddam under any circumstance, who don't worry themselves with Saddam's brutality to his own people, who aren't troubled by his possession of dangerous weapons, who've never read UN Resolutions 687 or 1441, who side with this dangerous dictator over their own countrymen and women, who whine "It's about oooooiiiiillllll."

I'm talking about the sheep dogs, the lemmings of reflexive reactionism. We need a name for them, something like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

I propose an organisation for them. People for the Ethical Treatment of Saddam -- PETS. Now, when we find one of them, we can go, "Hey! There's one of Saddam's PETS!"

Very convenient.
God Damn

See? You saw that title and flinched, even a little bit, didn't you? "G-D" seems to be the last taboo on television, for some reason. I've noticed that shows that like to bray about "pushing the edge" (ie. NYPD Blue, et al.) still avoid that one. Now, I don't have cable (SHOCK!HORROR!) so I can't speak to shows over there, but I suspect it's true on cable too.

Why is that? Seems these days that nearly anything is good to go, moreso on cable. But no one touches the "g word." Can it be that we're a more religious people than television would allow you to believe? That crossing that line would really cause trouble? That maybe there are still enough God-fearing Americans to make a real difference?

So, why don't these self-same folks get wound up over language, dialogue, situations, sexuality and violence? Now, yes, some folks already do. But I suspect that the numbers of protesters would be a whole lot higher for the show that regularly introduced the "g word." Why don't otherwise God-fearing Americans seem all that worried about the other nine Commandments?

That, I'm afraid, I don't have an answer to. At least not yet. I only have the question. America is still a very religious country, as polls continue to show, with a vast majority proclaiming themselves as practicing, believing Christians. We hear regular calls for some kind of religious presence in our schools and public life.

Yet porn is the only profitable part of the Internet. Television gets more and more base; movies continue to pander. Our casual life is also degrading.

I don't guess I have a point to this post after all. I just started with the realisation, the other day, that you never hear "God damn" on TV. It seemed important at the time, emblematic of something, but now I can't see what that is. There's some disconnect, some fearful dissonance occuring that I'd like to understand better.
The Political Digest

I've been a regular subscriber to The Political Digest for a couple or three years now. It's a self-described "Internet clipping service" put out by a retiree in California. Wayne Mann gets up early, scours the papers and the net for stories of interest to folks of a conservative/libertarian, pro-Second Amendment nature. His scope is pretty wide; he finds about 20 to 40 items daily! He then sets up an index and sends the whole thing out as an email to his subscribers. The emails run around 200 KB each, sometimes longer, depending on the news of the day.

I've found it's a great way to get a fast overview, and to find some otherwise missable items. You can subscribe by sending an email to with "subscribe TPD" (minus the quotes) in the subject line.

I have no financial interests or other links to this. I've simply found it to be very readable and enjoyable. Also, Wayne will sometimes include interesting personal items. It's well worth a look-see. If you'd like to see a sample, email me at and I'll shoot you over a recent copy.