the absurd observers

Monday, February 28, 2005

A shift on the right?


Weed through the typical right wing rhetoric, and what this article shows is a refreshing shift in conservative politics. Perhaps in a post-hoc effort to rationalize Bush's invasion of Iraq, a regular on the Wall Street Journal editorial page endorses humanitarian intervention. Gone is the me-first, stability-at-all-cost, attitude that conservatives have historically embraced both domestically and internationally. The challenge for liberals in the coming years may be to avoid opposing humantarian intervention for the mere fact that conservatives support it. Liberals ought to embrace the fact that conservatives are finally seeing the non-selfish light and expand such rhetoric to the domestic sphere as well, the next time the wall street journal complains that taxes should be higher on the poor and lower on the rich.

Gonzales is against blocking? Me too.


A.G. Gonzales, has outlined some objectives. They are the usual sort of thing an AG would try to squash, except for one, described by CNN as:

Ending Senate blocking of judicial nominees, a "broken process that must be
fixed" before there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court.

I too, am for ending blocking, but not because I think the system is broken, but because I am bored.

So, here are my suggestions for other ways to go through the nomination process:
  1. Rubix cube contest. (Disclosure: I've suggested this in the past.) Let's face it, if you can figure out a rubix cube, you're smart. If you can't, well you're just like everyone else, and you shouldn't be a judge.
  2. Arm-wrestling. Except if you won the arm-wrestling, you'd be disqualified. We need more weaklings on the bench. Plus, it's easy to figure out who won and who lost.
  3. Questions. A beloved part of an old drinking game, where everyone has to keep asking questions without accidentally giving an answer. "Hey Dan, how smelly are your feet?" "Hey Seth, when are you going to grow facial hair?" (and so on). This type of competition would cultivate the "let me answer your question with another question" mentality that American's love in their judiciary.
  4. Fantasy Spelling. In this contest, each nominee would pick a few Senators. Then there would be a Senate Spelling Bee. The nominee that picked the winner of the Spelling Bee would get confirmed. This could spawn a whole cottage industry of Fantasy Spelling strategists and websites. If no one wanted to spell, then there could be a pie-eating contest, or maybe an intense game of Simon Says or Red Light Green Light.
  5. Staring Contest. (I've suggested this before, as well.) I'm talking about a real staring contest, without blinking. Winning one of those babies is impressive, and it would intimidate any naysayers from saying nay.

A new era in the Middle East?


Despite the rampant incompetence and deception of the Bush administration, it may have done the right thing for the wrong reasons. When I favored the war in Iraq, days like today were what I was hoping for. We will all have to wait and see if the anlogy to Eastern Europe holds, but the signs certainly are positive.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Golden Spines


Apparently, Dean, Kucinich, and Tubbs Jones have all been recipients of some Golden Backbone award. It appears to be some sort of honor for liberal democrats.

I consider myself liberal. However, I also consider myself poised to criticize at the drop of the hat, and this award, is just the drop of the hat I've been waiting for this afternoon.

According to

The group -- the Backbone Campaign -- is not only unhappy with the Bush
administration, but they find their own party somewhat compliant because many
will not stand up to President Bush and his policies.

Here are my criticisms:

1. Isn't the failure of progressive politics tied to more than a lack of courage?

2. Doesn't it distract from the real obstacles to focus the blame for the failure of progressive policies on something as, dare I say, Republican as questioning a politicians' toughness?

3. How much courage does it take to play to the party faithful and the outspoken far-left?

4. Wouldn't it take more courage to alienate the liberal base of the Democrats and compromise on some issues? If you think not, then answer these questions:

a. are you a serious liberal?

b. would you feel alienated if Dean compromised on some of his issues or Kucinich ate a cheesesteak?

5. Politics is about compromise. Courage and Backbone are the rubric of the fringe, always pulling in their own direction, challenging people's manhood for not challenging the people that challenge people's manhood.

So I ask, who deserves a golden backbone?

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Some concrete proposals to end the unfairness of social security

Since CB and others have been demanding some concrete proposals on this site, here are a couple on how to make social security more fair.

First, it should be noted that Social Security allegedly has two purposes, to make certain that retired people do not neglect savings and therefore have enough money when they retire to avoid poverty and second to insure people against the dangers of living past their retirement savings.

As currently set up, social security punishes people who die young by taxing them yet not providing any benefits to them and also drains the federal budget over time becasue, in the aggregate, the amount of benefits retirees receive exceeds the amount of contributions they make (plus a reasonable interest rate).

To address these problems, while simultaneously protecting the goals of social security, the following things should be done.

First, benefits should be limited to the amount of money people contribute plus a reasonable rate of interest. Second, benefits should be converted to a lump sum payment made at the time people retire, or if they die prematurely, their estate should receive their accrued contributions plus interest. Third, upon retirement people should be required to purchase an annuity that will pay them enough anually to be kept above the poverty threshhold, but not significantly higher. Any excess money should be returned to the beneficiaries to do with it what they see fit. Lastly, people should be ineligible to receive social security until they can demonstrate the ability to purchase such an annuity with their accrued benefits.

Such a system would continue to force people to save for retirement. It would preserve the insurance function by requiring people to purchase an annuity that would serve the same purpose. It would eliminate the unfairness to people predisposed to die young, by paying their estates the benefits they had paid into the system if they died before retiring, or if they retired would give them a greater amount of money becasue the cost of their annuity would be smaller. lastly, it would eliminate the endless budget drain by making sure that the benefits paid do not exceed the contributions.

Obviously, such a system would have to be phased in, given the number of people who have either already retired or have planned retirement around an inflated rate of social security, but, transition costs aside, it would preserve the goals of social security while eliminating the unfairness inherent to our current system.

The Jaker on Social Security


The Jaker proposes a solution to the social securty shortfall:

I've said it before, but it's worth repeating. The easiest way to eliminate the projected shortfall in Social Security is to eliminate (or at least raise) the cap on taxable income from its current level of $90,000. It's an immensely popular solution - 81% (the number of the day) support it, versus less than 50% who support benefit cuts, retirement age increases, etc.

It is important to recognize what exactly this proposal entails. If this proposal is in fact meant to generate money for the system without also generating greater future debt, then it must not only be that the cap on taxable earnings is eliminated, but that the money generated will not be repaid as part of social security benefits when such people retire. Essentially this proposal is merely a tax increase on upper-incom wage earners.

As a general priciple, taxes on the wealthy have been far too low. The question, however, is why do this through the ruse of social security. People who demand the benefits of social security argue that it is not a redistribution scheme, but rather a pension/insurance system in which people have earned the benefits they receive by paying into the system their entire lives. Despite the fact that beneficiaries usually take out well more than they pay in (and any interest that money would have generated), this tortured claim has always afforded social security a certain legitimacy that other redistribution schemes lack. When the system simply becomes tax the rich and a distribution to the old, hopefully the redistributive nature of social security will be more evident.

Additionally, it seems foolish to tie such a redistribution scheme to payroll taxes. Even if you buy the argument that old people have right to a comfortable retirement on the backs of everyone else, tying the scheme to the payroll tax only targets wage earners and does not touch people earning income from other sources. If we are merely redistributing money from rich to old, it seems most just to tax income, not just wages.

Of course, since defenders of social security already look favorably on people who recieve money for doing nothing productive, who knows?

Does he really believe this?


Democracies always reflect a country's customs and culture, and I know that," Mr. Bush told reporters today at a joint news conference with Mr. Putin. "Yet democracies have certain things in common; they have a rule of law, and protection of minorities, a free press, and a viable political opposition."

An ironic statement from a president who has repeatedly decided that the law does not apply to him, sought a constitutional amendment to curtail the rights of minorities, minimized his exposure to the press, and entrenched a majority in Congress by blatant gerry-mandering in his home state.

Immigration is the key to a strong military


As my fellow contributors can attest, I have been saying this for years. In fact, Seth Y called me today and said: "You won't believe this, but someone just wrote an op-ed that basically outlines your crazy immigration/military idea."

I think the piece hits on all the reasons I think such a proposal would work, but my argument mostly focused on the immigrants themselves.

People are willing to die to get into the US. They are willing to sit in storage crates on long boat rides. They are willing to build a raft out of fruit rollups. They are willing to risk life and limb just to enter the country. I think people would also be willing to risk life and limb to enter the country and gain full citizenship. Plus dieing on the field of battle just seems more honorable than dying while being forced into prostitution by some immigrant traffickers or dying of starvation on a raft.

Not only should the idea appeal to people who want to become citizens of the US, but it should also appeal to citizens of the US. Here are people that are willing to die for our country, our safety, and the ideas that make this country great. I say if someone is willing to die for our country, than they are more than worthy of being an American citizen.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

A response to Seth

No - not balance in the sense of an eye for an eye in every case - i just think there is something to be said about the uniquness and finality of a murder that must be punished... basically in summary all I am saying is that people who commit heinous crimes should be put to death - i think it is a travesty that a Jeffery Dahmer was allowed to live in prison (luckily he was killed in prison).... again I am not condoning killing an insane person or someone who may not have comitted the crime... but in a theoretical instance in which someone is 100% guilty of the crime and the murder they have comitted was sufficiently heinous - that person should be put to death...

I believe that the state has the power because the person committing the crime has lost his right to live by committing the act and furthermore the state is showing its respect for life, by showing that the taking of a life cannot occur without serious consequences (i.e. death)...

I pose this question: If someone tortutred your mom/sister/dad/wife etc. - they had their way with him/her for hours... raped them, pissed on them, and slowly stabbed them and watch their life get sucked away - should that person not be put to death? What gives that person the right to live, while your family member does not have a choice? Your family member will never get to take another breath, will never get to smile, will never get to dream etc... I think the gift of life given to these killers is extremely unfair and unjust... the line btw death and life is so huge that clearly the punishment does not fit the crime if you only put the person in prison...

I can see how from a policy stand point countries may want to appear more "civil" etc by not putting murders to death - in essence saying they are above killing - however "realistically" speaking the country is being dupped by a person who has now elevated themselves above everyone else and gets to play god - the state/country can play god because by comitting this sick sick act the defendant has lost his/her own right to live...

In conclusion, while I am not for the death penalty in all circumstances and I don't think we should try to model ourselves after the countries CB listed - I do think however that the Death Penalty should be kept as an option, a fall back, to be used in extreme cases...

A brief response to Reeve

Does "balance" mean that rapists ought to be raped, torturers tortured, thieves robbed from, and arsonists' property burned?

A bizarre claim from the NYTimes

To give you a sense of how incredibly unfair social security is currently examine closely what the New York Times is objecting to:

What if you died before you retired? As with many claims Mr. Bush makes about Social Security privatization, the fate of your private account in the event of your untimely death is unclear. But one issue that raises big doubts about whether that money could be inherited is the question of how the trillions of dollars the government would have to borrow to set up a privatized system would be repaid.

Under the president's proposal, when you retired, your traditional Social Security retirement benefit would be cut by an amount equal to all the deposits you had made into your private account plus interest. (The interest would be three percentage points higher than the rate of inflation.) The benefit cut would be each person's contribution to repaying the huge debt the Bush administration would take on to "pay for" privatization.

But if you died before you retired, you would have already used some of that borrowed money to set up the private account and yet would never have made any contribution to repaying the debt. So in that case, how would the government recoup your share of the amount it had borrowed? Well, it could let your share of the debt go unpaid - in effect bequeathing to your heirs and their fellow citizens ever-higher deficits. Or your spouse could inherit your private account and the benefit cut that went with it. Or the government could take its cut from your private account before the money went to your survivors - a grab that could wipe out your stash.

They essentially are complaining that it will cost the system money if people who pay money into the system their entire lives but die before retiring are able to leave some of that money to their heirs. If the people live past 65, then the government can deduct the amount they put into their private funds from the benefits they receive. If they do not live past 65, then the government cannot make this deduction and they can keep their benefits. The Times neglects to mention that people who die before reaching age 65 receive no benefits at all and thus dramatically subsidize the retirments of everyone else!!!

Proponents of the current system justify this inequity by arguing that social security is an insurance system, and like all insurance systems, those that do not need to claim the benefits of it will inherently subsidize who do. Social security, however, differs from typical insurance plans in three important ways. First it is unlike most insurance systems in that most people receive the benefit and it is only a few people who do not. Second, unlike most insurance plans, the people who can claim the benefit had nothing bad happen to them while the people who cannot claim the benfit died prematurely. Lastly the system makes no efforts to gauge the respective risks of the various people it insures. These factors all combine to screw people who are predisposed to die young. They end up paying just as much as everyone else even though they are unlikely to ever receive any benfits (and thus the value of insurance is significantly lower for them). Not only are they treated unequally, but the gap between them and those more fortunate is enhanced not diminshed. They do not get to live a long life and end up losing money becasue of it while people who are enough to live long lives take their money get to live comfortably. The Bush plan, for all its fuzzy math, false panic, and fiscal irresponsibility at least mitigates this fundamental unfairness.

Old People Vote


The GOP has left quite the metaphoric piece of spinach in their teeth. The strategists behind the swift boat controversy have been kicked into action to delegitimize the AARP over the social security mess. The AARP can't and won't back down from this fight. There's a better chance that Rumsfeld and Rove will be found making out in a West Wing supply closet than there is of the AARP getting scared off.

The AARP is the Tammany Hall of our time. It is the movement of people that can make or break an election. P. Diddy may have convinced some MTV watching 20-somethings to vote, but his clout is miniscule compared to the power of the lobby of the elderly. The AARP is the real world equivalent of the Soggy Bottom Boys from O Brother. If the American political scene was represented by a local news crew, the AARP would be the anchorman to the NRA's food critic and the christian right's traffic reporter. Why? Because the AARP has the best model for growth - everyone gets old. Also, the AARP members and friends vote. They love to vote.

I know the Democrats are always trying to enlist support from the AARP, but why not just swing for the bleachers at this point? Become the party of old people. Old people and liberals. Stop the hohum rebukes of the social security plans, and call the GOP the party of "young wippersnappers" who are against old people. Make it easy for everyone to understand that Democrats are pro old people. Have some party leaders move into retirement homes and assisted living complexes. Maybe introduce legislation for a national Bingo day. Embrace aging. Reject youth. Victory will be inevitable.

DP continues..

There is a theoretical "fight" going on... and that fight is the fight for "balance"... a fight that goes on in all facets of life... a fight that defines existence... the sun goes up and comes down... the seasonal cycles etc - a balance.... once you have brutally killed people with malice you have lost that inherent quality of life that should be valued, you have put yourself above everyone - you have said to another that your life means nothing and mine is elevated because I control yours - you are in essence attempting to be god like... this excessive power/disrespect for others/human life must be balanced by putting the murderer to death... this has nothing to do with a deterrent effect (which I admitt has no effect), it has to do with a basic fairness that is so fundamental to being human that if we lose it we may stray too far away from being a person and fall into a the trap of becoming an all consumed overly civilized detached analytical souless abstact thinker... while it would be "nice" to live in a world where all human life is valued and the gov't took the reins by stopping it's own killings, this is simply too nieve a view... essentially the gov't will be playing a game of monopoly with a different set of rules which are so far below the murders set of rules that it would be unfair to the other players who are taken out by the murderer... the only way to realistically respect life is to allow the govt to put to death heinous killers... I am more fearful of a society that is so far detached in hyper analytical thinking and self professed "civility" that it loses its very core and essential basic notions of fairness... the difference between life and death is so large a difference that it is a perverse punishment to all of society to allow these killers to breathe and dream etc while their victims have lost every ounce of life - a life that is shown to have value by putting to death those with no respect for it...

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Why not unilaterally impose a no-fly zone over darfur


In another captivating op-ed, Nicholas Kristof exposes the ongoing genoicide in Darfur. This makes me wonder why we continue to do nothing. I am sure U.N. apologists insist upon a security council resolution, which China would block, but since the Bush administration obviously does not consider itself bound by the U.N. why not unilaterally impose a no-fly zone over Darfur? We would not even need to monitor it. We could simply threaten to destroy the entire Sudanese airforce if they violated it. We could do so with virtually no risk of casualties and it would save thousands if not tens of thousands of lives.

A more serious reply

While Reeve says he wants to confine the debate to the theoretical, he curiously talks about the need to fight fire with fire. Such a statement is non-sensical in the theoretical realm. There is no theoretical "fight" going on. If Reeve mens to justify the death penalty on the grounds of stopping criminals, then the argument is really a policy one, and the statistics overwhelmigly demonstrate that the death penalty has virtually no deterrent effect when compared to life in prison without the possibility of parole. If Reeve means to confine the debate to the purely theoretical realm, then the issue is what to do with a person known to be guilty, assuming that whatever is done to him will have no affect on anything else in the world.

There are several famous arguments for why we should not kill such a person, but the reason why I ultimately am against the death penalty in such situations is that I have always felt huamn life, even in the form of a brutal criminal, has an inherent value to it. While there are rational arguments that can be made for why the life of a criminal has an inherent value, ultimately it seems to me to be an inate feeling more than anything else.

Certain artistic represntations seem to tap into such a feeling, so ironically, they may serve as the best arguments for why we should not kill the guilty. There are numerous examples of such representations, but two I can think of off the top of my head are Dead Man Walking and The Stranger.

Who needs the death penalty when you can get revenge by...


Becoming too civilzed? Why the death penalty should "live on"...


What can I say about the death penalty? At times it can be can "quite" controversial. Now that I am into my second semester of law school, I feel like I have a new understanding of the DP. I used to be "extremely" pro death penalty and always thought that anyone who was against it was "crazy" (e.g. - saying no death penalty after someone has killed your mom etc)... but now I am willing to at least listen to people who are against it. Basically, one of the few valid arguments against the death penalty is based on how the "system" itself is screwed up. The baldus study indicated that black defendants were found guilty more often than their white counterparts, and overall black lives were "less valued" than white lives, indicated by the fact that when a white person was killed, frequently the defendant would be put to death (when a black person was the victim the defendant was rarely put to death). However, two- tiered sentencing etc has helped eleviate some of the arbirtraniess of the death penaly.

BUT what I really want to talk about is the theoretical basis for the death penalty... more of a philosophical approach... I can't argue with the "system" problems... but let's assume that we have a perfect system where the defendant is 100% guilty of kiling etc (also a system in which the appeals process does not cost more than putting someone in prison -- you get the point) ... now what is everyone's problem with the death penalty? Many people, including some supreme ct justices have said that we should move away from the death penalty in order to become a more civilized society. My question is - isn't becoming too civilized a problem? Would we really like to live in a "time-out" world where someone can blow up a building and kill hundreds of people and then get to continue living life (i.e. - breathing)? I would be scared to live in a society where the criminals/crazies etc are elevated to a higher plane and we are too afraid to fight fire with fire because we don't want to come off as "uncivilized".... it is grossly unfair that someone can kill tens of people and then get to wake up everyday and use his imagination and jack off and sleep and eat and write etc while his victims lie in a state of eternal nothingness... if that is "civilized" then I say "no thank you to civilization"...
(killing all those people and then getting a "light sentence" for cooperating - f*** civilization)

How to save Amtrak


Amtrak, always in need of cash, regularly gets huge subsidies from the federal government. Politicians, train enthusiasts, and people who like to flatten coins are all trying to find a solution.

Look no further.

The answer, good readers, is slot machines. Now, I know what you're thinking, "this guy wants people to gamble on a train? What if people lose big and toss themselves out the window?" And that concern is precisely why I suggest slot machines: they let you lose at a steady pace, rather than the fast, heartbreaking 3 minute nest egg destruction that can take place in blackjack or craps.

People are willing to drive for hours, stay up late, socialize with others that haven't showered, and avoid sunlight for days just to gamble. Why not let people gamble on the train? Gambling would both provide a new way to draw more revenue from the people on the train and also persuade more people to choose train travel in the first place.

Trains would become cool. "What happens on Amtrak stays on Amtrak." Perhaps some shows to go with the slots: Newton, Tony Orlando, maybe Tito Jackson. I just don't see a downside. Amtrak could give free train tickets to big winners in the hopes that they'd lose it all on their next trip. There could be special poker trains or Celine Dion trains. I think it's a winner.

The unfairness of Social Security


In today's Washington Post, E.J. Dionne argues that the redistributions of Social Security which will only grow to encompass a far greater share of the budet are not unfair becasue old people depend on it to stay out of poverty:

Consider that for about 20 percent of retirees, every penny of their income comes from Social Security. Social Security provides half or more of the income of nearly two-thirds of the elderly. Greedy is not a word that comes to mind to describe such people.

The trouble with this arguement is that it assumes retirement is a legitimate option when the financing for such a retirement comes from the work of those younger people who pay into the system. Social security was conceived of at a time when people died shortly after retiring. Now people live for several years after retirement. People who are retired and depend on social security to sustain them are not necessarily infirmed or incapable of working, they simply seek the leisure that retirement affords. The question becomes whether it is legitimate for healty, able-bodied people to expect other people to financially support them.

The answer to this question is not necessarilly no, if they have supported prior generations' similar retirement. No one would seriously dispute that people deserve to have the benefits they provided to others returned to others. However, when the benefits retirees receive are several times greater than what they paid into the system a question of equity seriously arises.

As a soicety we offer meager welfare benefits to those who do not work when they are able to do so. After two years, we completely cut them off. When perfectly able-bodied 65 year olds demand the right to retire and recieve far greater benefits from the government for the remainder of their lives, they ought not be immune from criticism. When they receive so much money that it stands to bankrupt other social programs, including those that help people below the povery line, it is legitimate to label them greedy.

Criticism of The Jaker


Today marks the beginning of a new feature that will appear semi-regularly on TAO: "Criticism of The Jaker". As a regular reader of The Jaker, I find it entertaining and informative. However, some of the author's semi-crackpot ideas should not survive without comment.

Today TJ proposes that some Democrats from Bush's past need to come out of the woodwork and rat on the President for doing drugs as a youth. I'm no Bush fan myself, but I find this proposal repellent. Why? Because I am a fan of the movie "Scent of a Woman."

Let me explain.

Surely, if Col. Slade was willing to take a flame thrower to a prep school for encouraging Charlie to rat on his classmates over something trivial, Slade would be against the smear campaigns used by politicians. Granted, Slade was not the model of morality - what with the drinking, soliciting prostitutes, and general foul mouthedness - but he defended Charlie because Charlie integrity couldn't be bought by a free ride to harvard. Slade would probably hate the people seeking notoriety over something as vile to the old school ethos as tattling. If I thought the drug use was relevant, then it would be a whole different ballgame, but I don't, so I disagree with the proposition and listen to the Col. He said: "I'm just gettin' warmed up. Now I don't know who went to this place--William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryant, William Tell--whoever. Their spirit is dead; if they ever had one, it's gone. You're building a rat ship here. A vessel for sea going snitches."

Monday, February 21, 2005

What about freedom fries?


Apparently, France and the US have always had warm relations. This was news to me.

For christ's sake, some US lawmakers renamed french fries "freedom fries" only a few years ago. If that was an illustration of our animosity towards the French government - and it was - then the relations have experienced some chilly periods.

On my scale, renaming food is one notch below Orwellian doublespeak. I think someone hearing: "those aren't french fries, they're freedom fries" would probably respond with the same vacant up and down head nod that the citizens in 1984 gave when they were being educated that basic arithmetic was flexible. We punished a potato by ignoring its preparation. We created confusion (in fast food restaurants). We were so mad at the French that we thought we'd hit them wear it hurts: in the fries. (I use we, because I participated in the "Freedom movement", mostly because it was fun to think of phrases that would now be called Freedom ______, like: Freedom kissing, the Freedom quarter, Freedom dressing, and the Freedom Connection).

It was the kind of political move that made you wonder what other steps didn't make it out of the brainstorming session. "I got it. Why don't we put plastic wrap on Gerard Depardieu's toilet." Or, "I say we wait till they fall asleep and then we draw on them with magic marker." I don't think that renaming a fast food falls far out of step with these ideas.

Estrich and Kinsley


While a piece of me is distraught to see two of my favorite pundits start throwing ad hominem attacks at eachother, the humor value makes it all worthwhile.

My suggestion that your publishing it would be better (for you too) than my having to go outside somehow constitutes me blackmailing you is so outlandish that it underscores the question I've been asked repeatedly in recent days, and that does worry me, and should worry you: people are beginning to think that your illness may have affected your brain, your judgment, and your ability to do this job.

As ridiculous as Kinsley's claim of blackmail is, the irony of Estrich campaigning for the somewhat farcically politically correct representation of "Southern California Women" on the Los Angeles Times Editorial page, while simultaneously accusing Kinsley's Parkinson's disease of affecting his judgment is pretty incredbile.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Bush telephone calls


Check out this article. One of Bush's advisors during the 2000 primaries taped some of his conversations with the then Governor of Texas. Some of the substance is not terribly new, but what makes it interesting is that these conversations were with an adviser, so the spin factor is turned down a few clicks.

Some highlights:

1. W's thought that McCain would not be much of a player.

2. W's fondness for Ashcroft.

3. W's refusal to bash gays, coupled with his view that gay marriage would be special treatment.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

I love when people lament that we, as a society, have forgotten the meaning behind many of our holidays. The most cliched of criticisms sound like these: "Thanksgiving should be about love ones and not football or taking a nap." "Christmas is a religious holiday and not about presents." "Groundhog Day is about an animal and not the line: 'Ned... Ryerson. "Needlenose Ned"? "Ned the Head"'? "

But frankly, these varied interpretations of the meanings behind holidays are only slightly different from each other if we compare our society to some others.

Take, for instance, Democracy Day in Nepal:

Authorities cut off phone lines and banned buses and other cheap public
transport for much of Friday. Media censorship also continues.
The reports of detained protesters were difficult to verify because of the
communications blackout.
Earlier this week, the spokesman for the Nepali Congress Party was detained after he had urged people to launch a peaceful struggle on Friday to restore democracy.

And we thought Sean Penn was a moron...


"England is made up of minorities whether Asian or huntsmen,I believe as a nation we should be allowed to live in liberty." - Jeremy Irons on why a ban on foxhunting is tantamount to racial discrimination.

Friday, February 18, 2005

The IRA launders money in detergent boxes


"Kelly said officers found 94,000 euros ($122,000) in allegedly laundered euro notes hidden in a detergent box in a backpack, along with six cell phones. He said the cash 'was part of a money-laundering operation on behalf of the IRA.'"

Gotta love Irish irony. If the IRA only could figure out a way to drink Bushmills after they carried out a terrorist attack, their sense of irony would be complete.

Curbs on the state court system

President Bush today signed into law a measure that gives federal courts jurisdiction over class actions in which any plaintiff is from a different state than the defendant corporation. Republicans, probably correctly, believe this will reduce the number of large class action settlements where the lawyers make off like bandits and the people who actually suffered get very little.

The way the law works is that it shifts cases that otherwise would appear in state courts, where judges usually have ot run for re-election, to federal courts where the judges are appointed for life by the President. The presumption is that federal judges are less likely to certify ridiculous, meritless class actions that force corporations to pay millions of dollars in settlements rathner than incur the even greater costs and risks of proceeding to go to trial. The unstated claim is that federal judges are more honest and competent than the state court judges who regularly certify such class actions.

Ironically, the states most notorious for having the most ridiculous class action settlements are all Southern, bible belt states. Thus, by signing this law, Bush is essentially saying that people from Southern, bible belt states are incapable of electing politicians who will perform honestly and competently when in office. Since without these states, Bush never would have been elected, what does that say about the nature of his administration?

Bowler hats and debtor's prison

So, the NYT reports that Merck is thinking about putting Vioxx back on the market, despite health concerns.

I think this brings up an interesting issue. What are some other things that have been discontinued, recalled, or even merely forgotten that we should think about bringing back?

1. Debtor's prison. When people owe me money and never settle up, it makes me angry. I think that if they were thrown in a debtor's prison, then I would feel better and probably not even want the money anymore. Plus it would cut down on traffic during rush hour.

2. Bowler hats. Because people look more interesting when there's the possibility that their heads are perfectly round.

3. The L.A. Gear Catapult. This shoe was banned in the NBA because it was considered a machine. When the wearer jumped a mini catapult propelled the wearer higher into the air! This idea was genius. We need more shoes that incorporate medieval weapons. Maybe a Nike Hot Vat of Oil shoe or a Puma Battering Ram.

4. Anthony Mason on the Knicks. Not a week went by without some Anthony Mason sightings reported over the radio when he played on the Knicks, usually to the tune of: "Then this huge guy with a small head came charging out of the bar with a crazy look in his eye." Entertaining. Crazy. Pea head. Need I say more?

5. Simon. The game of flashing lights, reflexes, and beeping noises. It was fun, it was frustrating, and it flew under the government's radar despite its obvious obscenity.

6. The nickname "Lefty". There was a time when everyone left-handed was nicknamed Lefty. Now, however, I know many people that are left-handed and none of them go by Lefty. I propose that if lefties don't want the Lefty name, then righties should be able to use Lefty, the same way that fat guys can be called "Slim" or people with innie belly buttons can be called "Outtie".

7. Press Your Luck. Now that was a game show. It immortalized the words, "No whammies, no whammies. Big bucks. Big bucks!"

8. Stan Jones. The Libertarian candidate for Senator in Montana that took colloidal silver in 1999 for fear of Y2K leading to a shortage of antibiotics. He turned blue from the silver! Blue! And he doesn't have his own reality tv show yet? That's a crime. Trump has the Apprentice. Give Stan "the Silversmith". See

9. People that spin plates on sticks. Maybe they're still out there?

10. Claymation. Forget digital cartoons and give me claymation. It was the first trip a kid could take into surreal art. Watching Gumby walk down the street was like looking at the work of Salvador Dali. Even a 26 year old is a little frightened of Gumby, and yet still strangely calmed by his slanted head. Claymation would remind us that we could make spaghetti out of clay, and that would be worth it in of itself.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Pet Cloning

Animal rights activists are are upset over the cloning of pet cats. I realize as a meateater, this is all hypothetical for me, but isn't it ridiculous for them to devote resources to protesting the cloning of cats when only a hadful of idiots are going to spend the $50,000 required for one. Meanwhile the world continues with medical experimentation on animals, slaughterhouses that I am glad I know nothing about and crazy NBA players running dog fighting rings. I am sure they could protect more animals by following around Qyntel Woods than by worrying about cloning.

Great Site!

I'm glad we have another Internet option for Seth during the day so he can stay at Kirkland until 5 a.m. each night.

Welcome to the site

I'd like to start off the site with a serious discussion about cold cuts. Specifically, I'd like to address salsalito turkey. I know what you're thinking, "is this going to be ANOTHER blog devoted to hybrid deli-meats?" And, I'm here to tell you to relax, because salsalito just happens to be on my mind today, because - as I'm sure you can guess - of its inextricable connection with Social Security.

Salsalito is bland in the middle and spicy on the edges. Similarly, Social Security was boring for many years, but on the edges, at either end of its existence - at its start or finish - it's seemed interesting. Also, both salsalito turkey and social security are getting in the way of the GOP's dream of an ownership society. Keep this a secret though, because so far the GOP has only identified social security as the culprit.

While social security itself is like salsalito turkey, the debate and discussion about social security is a lot like the debate and discussion over Y2K in the late 90's. "Why hasn't someone fixed this already?" "Why didn't someone think of this before?" "Will this effect slotmachine revenues?"

The ball dropped on January 1, 2000, and nothing happened to our computers, not even to Commodore 64s that are powered by some guy peddling a stationary bike. I wonder if maybe when the proverbial salsalito turkey ball drops, as the baby boomers collect their social security, if maybe all of our spicy turkey sandwiches will still taste ok.