Friday, March 30, 2007

Minor Bliss for Friday Evening

To deepest and darkest Hell with everything associated with politics and "public affairs" this evening. I had my 6-weeks'-post-surgery appointment with the orthopedist today, and it seems that I'll be starting physical therapy (for the second time) late next week ... and I expect I'll be pretty cautious about it, too, this time.

Meanwhile, we old guys who have our recorded music on old media (vinyl LPs and compact cassettes) sometimes find that we don't listen to it anymore, due to a lack of functional playback equipment, until we re-purchase it in digital form. That's costly, but it has its unexpected rewards. It had been years since I'd heard Steely Dan's wonderful album Gaucho, until I reacquired it and it showed up via UPS this week. Wow ... those drug-crazed rogues certainly built some ravishingly-beautiful tunes!

... I'll drop him near the freeway,
Doesn't he have a home? ...

Have a weekend, you-all.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


Can't believe I saw this in the morning paper:
Crackdown vowed on gaming machines
By Niki Kelly
The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, on Wednesday left no doubts about where he stands on legalizing electronic gambling – advocating a special state prosecutor to rid the state of illegal gaming of all kinds.

“When you look at gambling in this state it has exploded,” he said. “This is a shot over the bow at illegal gambling in the state. We are trying to draw a line in the sand here.”

Long estimated there could be as many as 30,000 illegal Cherry Master machines in the state – “crooked machines” that are easy to manipulate the payout.

He said one car lot in Fort Wayne had three cars on the lot and 20 machines inside the back door and said the machines are also in tobacco stores, truck stops and other establishments.

But illegal gaming doesn’t stop there. Long went on to describe sophisticated illegal poker clubs that can be accessed only with electronic key cards and noted recent busts in Marion County of daily numbers operations, known as pea-shake houses.

He conceded the explosion has occurred over time partly because some county prosecutors and law enforcement officials allow them to exist and some don’t.
Maybe some local officials "allow them to exist" because they don't see gambling as wrong. Their agnosticism on the immorality of gambling is understandable, given that the Hoosier Lottery is on the air several times an hour on most radio stations, informing us all that we can't win if we don't play.

There's a small-change cliche that many of us throw around: you can't legislate morality. On the surface, this is nonsense: what else should be legislated? I take it that what the cliche really means is that not everything that's immoral should also be illegal ... and, if that's what's meant, I agree. But State Senator Long and his chums had better be certain that whatever is made illegal is also morally wrong, and then be consistent about it. If gambling is so grievous a sin that it must also be made a crime, well and good (for the sake of discussion); but then, make sure the state itself isn't a gambling pimp, and make sure it's illegal for everyone, including the politico-buying proprietors of horse tracks in Anderson and riverboats on the Ohio and lakeboats in Gary, etc. Otherwise, stop embarrassing yourselves with this poorly-simulated indignation. The payout on Cherry Masters is "easily manipulated?" How hard is it to "manipulate" the payout on Hoosier Millionaire? Besides, I've yet to have a Cherry Master hold a gun to my temple and force me to gamble. This must be why I've yet to patronize one, I suppose.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

More Local Matters: "Censorship" in East Allen

Amendment I. 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.
Concerning the notorious East Allen County Schools "censorship" business, I'll start with a full-disclosure exercise. I served a term on that school board, 1996 - 2000, having won my one and only political race -- against two opponents, in fact. Of course, an electoral contest is different from a bar fight, in that it's easier to defeat two opponents than one, and probably easier still to defeat three; that is, as long as your opponents are mostly alike, and you're the different one. That way, they tend to split the opposition vote.

Anyway, I decided to retire undefeated in 2000, having changed my mind about several things, and having become convinced that government education is perhaps a contradiction in terms, or maybe just a bad idea in many, many ways. The current controversy seems to me to be an apt illustration of the "bad idea" thing:
Student news adviser put on paid leave
Her job at EACS on bubble
By Krista J. Stockman
The Journal Gazette

The East Allen County Schools teacher at the center of a controversy over the newspaper at Woodlan Junior-Senior High School has been placed on paid leave.

English and journalism teacher Amy Sorrell was told Monday that she was being placed on leave while the district investigates allegations that could lead to terminating her contract.

She said she doesn’t know what the investigation is about or why she is being placed on leave.

“I’m assuming it’s with this whole mess of all this other stuff, but I really don’t see how it got this far,” Sorrell said.

The problems began when sophomore Megan Chase wrote an opinion piece for the Jan. 19 issue of the Woodlan Tomahawk questioning people who believe homosexuality is wrong.

Although Sorrell, who has been at Woodlan four years, generally ran sensitive stories by Woodlan Principal Ed Yoder first, she did not show him Chase’s piece because she didn’t think it would be controversial.

After the paper came out, Yoder told the newspaper staff and Sorrell that in the future he would need to sign off on every issue.

Yoder also gave Sorrell a written warning for insubordination and not carrying out her responsibilities as a teacher for exposing Woodlan students to inappropriate material. He told her if she did not comply with his orders she could be fired.
During my time on the board, I read a number of issues of the Woodlan paper, as well as the ones produced in other EACS schools. Generally, I did not find this a happy experience ... not because of the sentiments and opinions expressed, which were more or less what one might expect from people of tender years and limited life experience, but because so many of the students were heavily, heavily challenged by the elements of correct English spelling and grammar. (I also found, over the years of my term, that their teachers and administrators were also surprisingly challenged in those areas: a condition to which I gradually became numb.)

I reproduced the first amendment to the U.S. constitution at the top of this post to dispose of the notion that a student's "first amendment rights" are somehow trampled if she is limited in what she can write in the school newspaper. The text of the amendment forbids the U.S. Congress from making laws abridging the freedom of the press, among other things; and since the Congress has not done so in this case, it's clear to me that the first amendment stands inviolate here.

When government organizes a public school system, everyone gets to pay for it; "everyone" in the district, but also "everyone" in the state, since a large fraction of the school system's budget actually comes from the state. (I should say "through the hands of the state;" the state, after all, has no money to distribute except for what it extorts from its subjects, meaning you and me.) Anyway, if a school in the district publishes a student newspaper, every taxpayer is privileged to pay for the paper and ink and processing, whether they routinely enjoy the privilege of reading the thing or not. These taxpayers are the publishers. Through their elected representatives, they (in principle) employ a number of administrators, bureaucrats, and teachers who (in principle) carry out their will and look after their interests as publishers. And that's where the "bad idea" thing comes in. What are these interests? Do thousands of people really share substantially common interests, opinions, and principles, simply because they all live in the eastern half of Allen County? Not likely. But they all get to share a great big school system anyway, operated according to the results of endless political fighting, with the political winners getting some (distant) approximation to what they wanted, and the political losers getting ... well, screwed, more or less. While the government's at it, why don't they just build great big group homes, and assign us to "families," a couple hundred at a time, and let us all learn to live together, deciding what's for breakfast and who washes the dishes, all according to the same sort of political methods? It's democracy, right? What's the problem?

I'm not discussing here whether Ms. Sorrell is being treated fairly or not, simply because I'm sure I don't have all the relevant data. I know that she is represented by a ferocious labor union, and that if she is treated improperly, according to her duly collectively-bargained contract, legal relief is available to her. Based on my experience in having dealt with one or two such matters during my watch, I'm fairly sure there's a lot of story here that's not been told in public, and probably will never be told, due to the well-founded "fear of the lawyers." Nor do I have any particular opinion about whether the student editorial that was originally at issue was really objectionable, or not. I'm sure that some of my fellow EACS taxpayers found it vile, and others found it praiseworthy; it is ever thus. I just think it's a shame that so diverse a group of citizens should be forced to publish, as a mutually-antagonistic collective, material that nearly always enrages someone.

It's so unnecessary.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Gettin' Any?

In one of the rare acts of responsibility in my allegedly-grownup life, I actually pay to be an e-mail subscriber to Joseph Sobran's column. I do so largely because I fear that he won't otherwise be able to put beans and bread on his table, purged as he was by the "respectable" "conservative" "movement" (meaning National Review, George Will, et nauseating cetera -- sorry about all the quote marks, but my [irony] [/irony] tags seem to be broken today). Being a paid e-subscriber means that I get to see the columns a week or two before they are generally released, which is pretty worthless as a benefit or privilege. What it really means is that I see something in my e-mail that I'd often like to reproduce or excerpt here, but it's embargoed for a while, and I've usually forgotten it by the time the embargo's up. But, this morning I'm de-cluttering the Outlook inbox, and I find this:
by Joe Sobran

[THIS COLUMN IS EMBARGOED UNTIL MARCH 19. If you forward it after that time, please use the entire page.]

It was around this time of year over two millennia ago -- in Lent, just before St. Patrick's Day -- that Julius Caesar was struck down. Of course Rome was not yet a Catholic city, let alone Irish, but it had a powerful criminal element, its senate.

Thanks to Shakespeare, the official version of the story is still familiar and easily accessible on the Internet. But the Bard's play deals only with the last few days of Caesar's life (plus the aftermath). It has nothing to say about what would now be the most scandalous fact of that life: Like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Julius Caesar owned slaves.

True, they were probably white slaves, so Al Sharpton's ancestors presumably weren't among them, which may be why the civil rights leader's name isn't Al Caesar. Caesar, muttering his scathing contempt for cowards, showed up for work that day despite the misgivings of his bitch Calpurnia (in colloquial Latin, his "ho") and her astrologers, as well as a homeless Soothsayer.

It was then that the conspirators -- led by Caesar's friend Brutus (who may also have been his bastard son, being the child of Servilia, one of Caesar's old squeezes, as Plutarch reports, though of course the media, including Shakespeare, play down such eye-popping details), Cassius, and Casca -- struck. After the others had stabbed Caesar, he stopped struggling when Brutus let him have it right in the groin (another fact the media have skipped over).

Rome was shocked. Caesar had just come home in triumph after vanquishing the once-popular Pompey. He'd seemed to have a promising future as dictator.

Now Brutus faced a delicate problem, challenging all his great gifts as an orator. How to placate the angry mob, which had adored Caesar?

At Caesar's funeral he explained that he and his fellow conspirators had felt they'd had no choice if Roman liberty was to survive. Sounded reasonable.

But then it was the turn of Mark ("Born to Raise Hell," his tattooed biceps proclaimed) Antony to do the talking. When the terms of Caesar's will were revealed, the inebriated crowd went nuts and tore the city apart. It was the wildest St. Patrick's Day Rome has seen to this day. He'd left every Roman citizen seventy-five -- count 'em! -- drachmas. And a drachma in those days, before the Federal Reserve System, was worth something.

If anything happened to George W. Bush today (oh, heaven forfend!), how much do you think each of us would get? Not being stupid, the Romans didn't have paper money, and their coins are still a lot more valuable than ours. So much for modern progress.

By the time of his death, Caesar had already had two children with Egypt's Cleopatra, the alleged "serpent of the Nile." As Shakespeare put it, in his typically lewd way,
"Royal wench!
She made great Caesar lay his sword to bed:
He ploughed her, and she cropped."

Then Antony too went to Egypt and did some ploughing of his own. Two more kids. Not that Cleopatra was actually such a femme fatale, but to quote Shakespeare again, "Our courteous Antony, Whom ne'er the word of 'No' woman heard speak ..." I used to have a buddy like that. "I never turned any down," he'd say. If he were here today he'd make a good Republican presidential candidate.

I doubt that John Edwards is a faggot, as Ann Coulter says, but the GOP might be in better shape if Rudy Giuliani were one. Giuliani, who is not on speaking terms with his offspring, seems determined to revive ancient Roman family values, perhaps including infanticide.

In the heydays of the Kennedys and Bill Clinton, not so long ago, satyriasis was thought to be the Democrats' affliction. How times do change. These days the only Republican who turns any down is that human paradox Mitt Romney, a/k/a Mitt the Monogamous Massachusetts Mormon. He is still, after 38 years, in the embrace of the first and, so far, the only Mrs. Romney. Well, at least Giuliani doesn't own any slaves, unless they are sex slaves.

In the Harry Truman era the GOP asked the voters a simple question: "Had enough?" Well, the voters have had enough -- enough, with over measure -- of George W. Bush. Now the party has a new slogan: "Gettin' any?"
I have a link to Mr. Sobran's site over there in the right-hand area, in case you'd like to read all his other stuff that I keep forgetting about before the embargo expires. Or, as far as that goes, I also seem to have a link right here.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Yet Another Amazing Statement

No, I don't think it's 1974 all over again. And, even though the Congress threatens subpoenas, and the Bush White House hunkers down and talks "executive privilege," I doubt we're going to see tanks rumbling through the streets of DC. (I can dream, though, can't I?) Still, there are some surprising things said:
President Bush has offered to allow Congress to interview the officials without oath or transcription of testimony and in private. The president said he will not allow them to testify under oath because it would damage their ability to give him their "candid advice."
Did I read that correctly? Prexy's "advisers" can talk to our congressional representatives only if they can lie? What other objection to their being under oath could there be?

Out of the mouths of idiot-tyrants ...

Thursday, March 22, 2007

A Fast-Moving Stream ... and a Modest Proposal

It's getting to be that time again, when Uncle demands that his subjects submit detailed reports of our lives, as measured by money: what income we had, what parts of it we spent for favored purposes, what taxes we've rendered up to our dread sovereign, and how much is yet to pay. As I consider the information I've given, and the checks I'll write -- one to my federal supervisors, one to their Indiana minions -- gloom and anger cast their shadows on my mind.

According to the Cato Institute, the feds will spend $2.7 trillion this year. That's more than the budget, but you know how it is: there's lots of wars, hurricane cleanups, Social Security programs, and other goodies that don't show up in the official budget. That's 2.7 times ten to the twelfth power dollars. It's the sort of number that might not have the meaning to us that it should.

As my old dad used to say, it got me to thinkin'.

The largest-denomination paper currency being printed by the federal treasury today is the one-hundred-dollar bill. There used to be larger bills printed, but no more. All U.S. paper currency has the same physical size (the contents of my wallet, and a decent steel scale from my pencil drawer, reveal that paper money measures about 6.14 inches long by 2.60 inches wide). Suppose that the feds do all their spending for cash, in $100 bills. Suppose that they did all of it through a slot, on bill wide and one bill tall, so that federal spending took place in a continuous stream of $100 bills, end to end. Let's do a little math.

The number of $100 bills spent in 2007 is going to be 2.7 times ten to the tenth. Assuming that the stream runs all year long, 24 hours each day, Saturdays and Sundays included, no holidays, no vacations: that means 3,082,192 bills flow past each hour. Every minute, 51,370 bills; every second, 856 bills. With each bill being 6.14 inches long, the speed of the stream is 438 feet per second, or 299 miles per hour. That's about one-third faster than the fastest open-wheel race cars travel.

It's a good thing we decided to use $100 bills. The corresponding speed for a stream of five-dollar bills would be 5,980 miles per hour ... and at speeds of that sort, air friction would cause the currency to be promptly consumed by fire. Considering how the money is used now -- to work evil, much more often than not -- a hypersonic stream of fiery paper might not be such a bad idea, at that.

"Our" government is, by and large, a monstrous purveyor of evil; a spectacular geyser of wrongs. Producing nothing that any sane person would want to buy, it must accordingly rob and steal for its living. It reaches around the world to shed innocent blood abroad, and into mothers' wombs to shed innocent blood at home. It specializes in calling good evil, and evil good. I know of no comprehensive cure for the disease of human government; like the other consequences of man's sinful and fallen nature, it will be with us until the time comes in which the Lord closes out the present order of things and replaces it with a new creation. Meanwhile, I take it that our business, in general, is to minimize and mitigate evils to the extent of our capability. Which leads me to my modest proposal, in two parts.

First, let's have an end to the clever and anaesthetic practice of withholding of taxes from people's wages. Instead, let's have taxes come due once per year, all at once: write a check. Write several checks, actually. One to the feds, one to your state, one to your county, and perhaps one to your city or town. We'll call that day Tax Day, and we'll observe it by rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.

Secondly, let's decide that Tax Day shall occur each year on the Monday immediately preceding the first Tuesday in November. Write your checks today; and then, vote tomorrow.

Do you think the rate at which Congressfolk are re-elected might decrease a little? Do you think our supervisors might spend a little less of our money? And, since I take it as unlikely that the evildoers in the employ of government would volunteer to do their evil for free, do you suppose that substantially less evil and mischief might be done?

It's worth a try.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Vinyl Siding For the Slums; Whitewash For the Tombs

I live near, and work in, a medium-sized city: Fort Wayne, Indiana. About 230,000 live in the city itself; the "metropolitan area" is home to about half a million. It's fair, I think, to say that it's reasonably typical of midsized Rust Belt cities. It grew through most of last century with a national economy that was based on the manufacture of hard goods, durable goods, automobiles, machinery of various kinds. International Harvester used to build a lot of trucks here; now only a smallish engineering facility remains. General Electric built many motors; that's pretty much gone, too. A "new" General Motors assembly plant was built in the late 1980s, but it was new only to Fort Wayne; GM simultaneously closed its equivalent existing facility in Wisconsin. The largest employer is local government, in the form of the city school system. The local economy isn't exactly what you'd call Dickensian, but it's tight; it's pinched.

Fort Wayne is probably also typical in another way: it's a prolific self-awarder of alternative names. A variety of boosters have come up with quite a few. The Summit City (this, on what must be some of the flattest land God ever made). The All-American City. America's Most Livable City (houses are cheap; of course, wages are low, too). The City That Saved Itself (much volunteer sandbagging during a big flood in 1982). The City of Churches (the German immigrants of the 19th century, from whom lots of us are descended, were mostly Lutherans with a large Catholic minority, and they were all a church-building bunch). And now ... the City of Strip Clubs. It seems that one of the candidates seeking the mayoralty of the Fort has just purely had enough:
Kelty said he wants to examine whether city ordinances regulating the businesses are adequate and are being properly enforced. He’s been looking into the issue for some time, he said, and last week’s story about two sixth-graders engaging in sexual activity during a class at Raymond Park Middle School in Indianapolis makes the issue timely.

“There is a real problem with the way human sexuality is portrayed in our culture at large,” Kelty said in a telephone interview. “What happened at Raymond Park is an extrapolation of what is going on with sexually oriented businesses in Fort Wayne.”

Fort Wayne was once known as the city of churches, Kelty said, but now has a reputation as the city of strip clubs.

Kelty appears to be looking for tougher laws regulating strip clubs. Strip club patrons aren’t there for the music or drinks but “are going to witness something that is difficult to construe as entertainment.”

The city’s strip clubs came under fire from the American Family Association in 1999 and 2000, and in 2001 the City Council adopted zoning-law changes that closed some loopholes and defined regulations for other sexually regulated businesses but did little to change the operations or hours of strip clubs.

Regarding government regulation of businesses, Kelty strongly opposes the pending smoking ban. “I don’t need the government telling small businesses how to do business,” he said last December.

But Kelty suggested that strip clubs and other sexually oriented businesses are a different story because of their effects on society. “If somebody goes into a bar and has a cigarette, how is that related to violence against women, rape?” he asked.

To get tougher laws, a Mayor Kelty would have to win City Council support. To enforce existing laws, he would need a police department willing to do so and, more importantly, the backing of a county prosecutor, who has shown more interest in attacking violent crime than vices.
Now, I think that Candidate Kelty is addressing his target audience here: the "values voters," who are often thought to be Christians -- and, in many cases, undoubtedly are. He's not likely to be the worst candidiate to seek the Fort Wayne mayor's office this time around. Myself, I don't have a vote in city elections; but if I did, I might well find myself casting it his way, depending on what other hats might be in the ring. This isn't really about Mr. Kelty; it's about the subject he brought up, and the reactions that it perennially gets. I, like Mr. Kelty, will address my comments to my fellow Christians; others, as always, are most welcome to read.

OK, strip bars. Strip bars are not good. They are places where men pay women, directly and indirectly, to do things that they'd be upset (I hope) to see their sisters, or their daughters, doing. They are places where men fail to recognize their sisters. (You say the nekkid dancers aren't your sisters? Think twice.) They are places where women fail to recognize themselves: images of the living God, for whose redemption Christ willingly submitted Himself to death by torture. Their failure to value themselves appropriately is a not-unlikely explanation for these women being all too often involved in substance abuse, prostitution, and the other sorry concomitants of disordered life in modern America. Strip bars are one of the symptoms of the fallen-ness among us ... along with the many other symptoms, such as material acquisitiveness, envy, murder, belligerence, gossip, theft, et infinite cetera. Many symptoms ... one basic disease.

So, what's the cure? Well, really, the cure is a who, not a what. Jesus is the cure. Jesus offers salvation for the soul and sanctification of the person: his thoughts, ethics, morals, and entire way of life. How should His church apply the cure? Well, if the church is actually Jesus's body here on Earth, it (we) might consider following His leading. Matthew 9:9-17 is just one passage from the Gospels that points to the path. In part of that passage, Jesus says: "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." The church (all of us) should exemplify sanctification, which -- inconveniently -- requires us to have some. The church (all of us) should love those around us, by seeking their good in practical ways, which includes food, shelter, clothing, medicine, companionship, and salvation -- what, after all, is more practical than salvation? The church (all of us) should be about curing the disease of the Fall.

But so often, the church concerns itself exclusively with the symptoms. Never mind the disease -- get rid of the symptoms! Or at least hide them. Outlaw those strip bars. All we have to do is get rid of them, and then the men that used to attend, and the women who used to strip off their clothes and make simulated love to the brass poles, will all enroll in self-improvement classes instead, right? Not powerful enough to actually shut down the meat museums? Well, at least zone them firmly away into the decaying remains of the former industrial areas, so we won't have to drive past them on Sunday mornings.

Well ... let's hear from Jesus once more (Matthew 23, verse 23 and following):
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the Law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too appear outwardly righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
Let's face it: our town is a tomb, filled with dead men's bones and every sort of corruption. Never mind the paint brush -- at least for right now. Let's try to learn to do a little carpentry.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Governor or Godfather? A Vital Distinction

I have a local heroine (well, an in-state heroine, anyway) in Debbie Harbeson, who lives down Sellersburg way, which is pretty much on the mighty Ohio River, and thus not especially local, as seen from Allen County. She writes a monthly column for her newspaper, which she also publishes at her blog, which usually makes good reading. The current one is outstanding. It concerns Our Dynamic Governor's proposal to "privatize" the state lottery. Debbie writes:
First, Daniels does not say government should get out of the lottery business altogether; he only wants to grant monopoly control to a single private business. The company that buys this privatization deal essentially wins a prize better than most lottery winnings. How lucky the company will be to sell lottery tickets in convenience stores without the hassle of other pesky businesses doing the same thing.

Mitch and his crew act like they believe in the power of private business, yet still don’t propose selling the lottery outright and opening it up to competition. In the end, they want the same thing all politicians want: forced control over as much money as possible.
I've always found this state lottery business fascinating, albeit morbidly so. One can make a libertarian case that gambling of every sort -- every sort not involving force or fraud, at least -- must obviously be legal: how is it anyone else's business if I conclude that some kind of card game or slot machine or horse race or dog race or what-have-you represents a better entertainment value for my dollar than going to the movies or the mammary bar or the minor-league hockey game? I find that case convincing, even though I have not the slightest personal interest in gambling -- if offered my choice of a week in Las Vegas, or having my wisdom teeth extracted, I'd have to think it over a while.

A coherent case might also be made that all gambling is a grievous moral evil and ought to be illegal. And I would agree that gambling for significant money is immoral, although I would still insist that the immorality shouldn't make it illegal, absent the force-or-fraud element. I can think of a whole ton of things that are wrong, but are still none of the state's business. But, although I would disagree with the criminalizer's argument, it is still at least coherent.

But see what we get instead. In general, gambling's illegal, which presumably means that it must also be thought immoral. But it's OK if the state runs it -- in fact, it's more than OK -- the state buys advertising all over the radio and TV which tells me that all attractive, fun-loving people gamble with the state. It's also OK if it takes place on "boats," or at least floating structures of some sort, and is run by those who've bought the favor of our supervisors. It's also sometimes OK if it involves horse races at designated places, again operated by favor-buyers. And it's OK under "privatization," as long as you patronize the selected monopolist.

Otherwise, it's bad. It's very, very bad.

All right, I'm confused. Governor Bitch Daniels isn't a crime family head, is he? Why, no, he can't be. Bad men can't be governor, and the government can't be a gang. So, there has to be some difference. So, what is the difference between the state government and an organized crime family?

Oh, yes, that's right. Gov. Daniels' button men wear snappy uniforms. And they have flashy lights on the tops of their cars. I feel much better now. I'll just have to keep this crucial distinction in mind.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Humor Break, Part 2

This may bring a smile to anyone who has ever: been an instructor; had an instructor; or both. And I would guess that covers most of us. I've never graded an exam with responses approaching these, but I think they pass the smell test for actuality.

I'd have given the student a few points there; he or she had clearly recognized that the object's gravitational potential energy was important to the solution, and had made a decent start before giving up and going to comedy land. Now, for an interesting take on thermodynamics:

Maybe a few points for mathematical whimsy? Okay, maybe not.

Finally: when all else fails, change the subject. Answer a different question.

Humor Break, Part 1

In a temporary exception to the No Fun Policy of this blog (and also its No Video Policy), let's see what happens when an ugly urban legend invades the happy world of the unicorns:

Friday, March 02, 2007

Is Every Country "Exceptional?"

Okay, so Arthur Silber has written another excellent piece today. I could post that nearly every day, really, but simply being a front door for Once Upon a Time is not the complete mission statement of this humble demiblog. Indeed, if pressed, I'd have to admit that a mission statement is one of the many things this blog lacks. I draw your attention to it on this particular day, though, because Mr. Silber brushes up against something that I've been puzzling about for some time.

He notes the mini-tempest that brewed up a day or so ago about both Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama having (separately) used the word "wasted" in connection with the American legionaries whose lives have -- in fact -- been criminally wasted in Mesopotamia. Apparently, that's the height of impiety -- the correct word is "sacrificed." Mr. Silber writes:
But it is almost impossible to deal with the fact that so many Americans, almost all our political leaders, and our media virtually without exception are so relentlessly stupid, and so resolutely determined to remain so. As this latest episode in national idiocy proves yet again, and for the millionth time, this laughably pathetic state of affairs certainly would appear to be the unalterable truth of where we are.

And so we debate whether these lives were "wasted." With the blind ferocity of religious maniacs, we enforce our new Puritan code, which demands that certain prohibited thoughts may never be uttered. Violation of this code means banishment from public life and from further "serious" consideration. Every matter of importance is reduced to the intellectual level of a remarkably backward house pet.
It seems to me that the central dogma in the maniacal religion to which Mr. Silber refers is that America is always right. Or, at the very least, America is usually right and is always well-intentioned ... the most that America could be guilty of might be a blunder.

Rationally considered, the notion instantly and resoundingly fails the giggle test. But it's very seldom rationally considered. Instead, American exceptionalism is the prevailing myth in which we're raised. It's our intellectual and spiritual atmosphere, and we tend to be as little aware of it, consciously, as a fish is of the water in which it swims.

Now, let me approach the thing I'm wondering about. Our country maintains more than 700 military bases in more than 130 countries, worldwide. It does not hesitate to invade, occupy, and destroy other countries -- countries half the world away, countries that never attacked it, nor possessed any credible means of doing so. Surely, we would instantly denounce any other country that operated in this way as a hegemonic empire. But a huge majority of Americans honestly do not recognize the US in that description. It is, seemingly, impossible for most of us to entertain the idea that our own country willfully does wrong. My question: is this failure the real American exceptionalism? Have the majority of the people living in past "bad-actor" states been similarly blind? Did most Germans, circa 1939-45, think of the Thousand-Year Reich as being a great benefit that their Vaterland was bringing to an ungrateful world? Did the typical Frenchman of the early 1800s sincerely believe that Bonaparte's forceful, unifying leadership was exactly what those recalcitrant Spaniards and Britons and Dutchmen were really lacking? Did the British, in the 1850s and 60s, feel genuine anger at the "insurgent" Chinese who foolishly resisted the British East India Company's opium monopoly in China? I do not know; but I wonder.