The good news about the Republican plan to reduce the deficit, according to this AP analysis, is that it will halve the federal shortfall "in a few years."
And the bad news?
All three GOP budgets [i.e., plans prepared by the president and GOP congressmen and senators] would make federal shortfalls worse than if lawmakers did not act at all, Democrats and balanced-budget advocates say. Some Republican figures show the same thing.
Here's a story, originally from The New York Times, about how "tens of thousands of would-be college students have been denied financial aid because of drug offenses, even though the crimes may have been committed long ago and the sentences already served."
"It is absurd on the face of it," says Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.). He knows what he's talking about: He wrote the goddamned law, which was passed in 1998. "I am an evangelic Christian who believes in repentace," he says, "so why would I have supported that?...Why would any of us in Congress?"
Souder's subsequent Damscus Road experience aside, the short answer to his question is: Because Congress is filled with jackasses.
Whole story here.
Journalism students note: This is a well-wrought story with a memorable anecdotal lede that tells of a girl who got thrown out of her house at age 13 for "declaring herself a lesbian" and then descended into drug abuse. Her inability to get federal financial aid is contrasted with the experience of an ex-con who, "after serving almost 10 years in prison for attempted murder...went straight to college on federal loans and grants."
The Wash Post reports today on Justice Department attempts to broaden its ability to do wiretap the Internet (and to stick Net users with the tab, natch). From the piece:
The proposal by the Justice Department, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration could require extensive retooling of existing broadband networks and could impose significant costs, the experts said. Privacy advocates also argue that there are not enough safeguards to prevent the government from intercepting data from innocent users.
Justice Department lawyers argue in a 75-page FCC petition that Internet broadband and online telephone providers should be treated the same as traditional telephone companies, which are required by law to provide access for wiretaps and other monitoring of voice communications. The law enforcement agencies complain that many providers do not comply with existing wiretap rules and that rapidly changing technology is limiting the government's ability to track terrorists and other threats.
How pressing is the need for reform? Well, there's this boilerplate request from the feds: "They are asking the FCC to curtail its usual review process to rapidly implement the proposed changes...." Gotta love the DEA getting in on the action: There's no doubt that the Internet has been a big boon to meth cookers everywhere who are just so desperate to share recipes and trailer park gossip, right?
Whole story here. If the FCC, which says it will/is doing its own review of the rules in question, caves, the least they can do is open up the floodgates to "indecent" content via "free" TV and radio broadcasts.
Is privacy already dead? And if so, what does that mean for you, me, and the NSA agents monitoring this exchange? Those are some of the questions raised by Brian Doherty last summer in this stupendous Reason cover story on one man's battle to travel anonymously.
[Thanks to Jack John S. of Kalamazoo for the Post link; go Broncos.]
From the Arizona Republic (courtesy of radio luminary Ernest Hancock):
Sideways ballcap lands Scottsdale teenager in jail
By most accounts, Marlon Morgan is a great kid. The soft-spoken junior plays basketball for Saguaro High School. He was nominated for Youth of the Year last year by a branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Scottsdale.
So why were his classmates wearing "Free Marlon" T-shirts last week?
The 17-year-old had just been arrested on campus during lunch for wearing his baseball cap sideways instead of to the front and refusing to turn it the other way....
Morgan was suspended from school for three days, beginning Monday when Saguaro returns from spring break. Though he was held in a jail cell at police headquarters for several hours, he wasn't charged. He was held on suspicion of disorderly conduct, failure to obey a police officer, trespassing and interfering or disrupting an educational institution.
It surely didn't help that Morgan is black in a school with very few African-American students. Whole revolting story here.
Forget Columbine. Aren't stories like this the reason audiences cheered the explosive ending of Rock 'n' Roll High School, which seems more and more like a documentary with every passing year?
The New York Times has a front-page story about the gray and black markets in human body parts used for medical training and research. "It is easier to bring a crate of heads into California than a crate of apples," complains one source. Another says supermarket beef is "better monitored than human parts."
The implication, of course, is that we need more regulation. But anyone who reads the story carefully can see that, as with the market for transplantable organs, regulation is a big part of the problem. "Selling body parts is illegal," the Times notes, "but there is no prohibition on charging for shipping and handling." It's not surprising that rules like these have created a quasi-legal market in which "the demand for bodies far outstrips the supply," and buyers (excuse me, recipients) are often unsure whether their sources are on the up and up.
It's true that legalizing the trade would not eliminate the black market completely. Some people would continue to deal in stolen bodies, just as criminals deal in stolen goods of all kinds. Bodies destined for cremation might still be diverted from time to time by mortuary employees trying to make some extra money on the side. But if explicit payments were permitted not only to middlemen but to donors' families (or to donors themselves), the legitimate supply would rise, prices would go down, and shady operators would no longer have much of an advantage over dealers who play by the rules. Naturally, this is one possibility the Times does not even mention.
I'm a huge admirer of Frank Furedi's work (am reading his intriguing new book Therapy Culture at the moment) and he's posted an excellent article about "The Politics of the Lonely Crowd" over at Spiked.
As an ardent enthusiast for the political disengagement and lifestyle liberation he decries, I'm not sure I agree with his latest piece. But he presents a fascinating reading of "social disengagement" that is well worth considering. A snippet:
We live in an era of political exhaustion and social disengagement. Fewer and fewer people are prepared to vote, and fewer still are interested in getting involved in party politics. In the UK, membership of the major political parties has fallen by half since 1980. During the same period, political party membership in France has declined by two-thirds, and in Italy by 51 per cent. By comparison, the German figure looks good: total party membership fell by only nine per cent, probably because of an influx of new recruits from the east....
The decline of party membership coincides with a wider disengagement from political life. Today, people's idealism and hopes are rarely invested in a belief in political change, and individuals rarely develop their identities through some form of political attachment. Thirty years ago, an individual might have identified himself as a Labour man, whose outlook on life was shaped by his belief in a socialist future and whose relationships in the present were with a community that shared this broad view. Today the question of who you vote for is seen as barely significant, and self-identity is viewed far more in terms of individuals' lifestyles, cultural habits and personal experiences....
Politics today has little in common with the passions and conflicts that have shaped people's commitments and hatreds over the past century. There is no longer room for either the ardent advocate of revolution or the fervent defenders of the free market faith. Political sentiments rarely acquire a systematic form, in which vague aspirations for change are transformed into real-life discussions about how change might come about. This is definitely not an age of political programmes. Where political life was once defined by debates about the welfare state or privatisation, now similar-sounding manifestos pick over class sizes in schools and university tuition fees.
[Link via Arts & Letters Daily]
Convicted conspirer Martha Stewart gave something like $157,000 to Democrats over the past few years, reports Foxnews.com.
Some high-profile Dems (e.g., Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton) are returning the dough; others aren't. Will it become a campaign issue? Sure, why not? It will be fun to see pro-business GOP candidates, whom one assumes felt that Martha was unfairly prosecuted in the first place, attacking Dems who rail against the privileges of the wealthy and the well-connected.
[Thanks to reader Lisa Langsdorf for the link]
Last weekend the Spanish economist Alex Segura was handcuffed, searched, and subjected to a three-hour interrogation at Dulles Airport, all because he had the same name as a fellow on a watch list. You can read his account of the experience here.
Christiana Halsey, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was sympathetic when contacted by the Los Angeles Times. "The next time he travels," she said, "hopefully this will not occur."
If you improve yourself, does that mean I lose? Arnold Kling writing over at TechCentralstation demonstrates how the fallacy of zero-sum thinking constantly misleads bioethical discourse.
The California Supreme Court has stopped gay marriages in the Golden State. It promises to make a decision "within months," according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The grounds for a decision that will make clear whether San Francisco's gay marriages are legal?
The court sidestepped the issue of whether state law, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, is constitutional. Instead, the court will review only the narrower question -- pressed by state Attorney General Bill Lockyer and organizations opposing same-sex marriage -- of whether San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom can ignore the state law if he considers it unconstitutional.
The stay doesn't affect the more than 4,000 weddings performed under Newsom's decree since Feb. 12. But those marriages would be nullified, if the court rules that Newsom lacked the authority to defy the law on constitutional grounds.
That depends on whether the city is covered by a 1978 state constitutional provision requiring administrative agencies to follow the law as written until an appellate court declares it unconstitutional. The city contends the constitutional restriction applies only to state agencies -- a position that looks shaky after Thursday's order, according to some veteran court observers.
Whole thing here.
Reason Online regular Jonathan Rauch, who has an excellent new book called Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America out. It's a great case for gay marriage, from just about every conceivable angle (we'll be excerpting it in the June issue). His latest column on the topic is here.
Rauch argues for a state-by-state, decentralized process by which political and social units try out different approaches to gay marriage--essentially, he argues for a federalist approach to gay marriage. This, he says, will prevent gay marriage from becoming as divisive an issue as abortion in the early '70s, when state experiments where undone by a nationally imposed judicial decision.
It's an attractive argument, made by a great writer and someone who, as a gay, partnered man, is writing from the heart as well as the head. Yet it strikes me as morally, socially, and political wrong that gays and lesbians who want to marry should have to wait years to get hitched in their home states. Social consensus--and social change--take time, but the fundamental injustice that gays can't marry legally remains a black mark on America until the situation is changed in every state.
Update: Here's a story about Massachusetts lawmakers' "preliminary approval yesterday to a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage but allow civil unions."
And here's Andrew Sullivan's smart take on recent goings-on re: this topic.
The Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty abetted a vicious ideological environmentalist smear campaign against Bjorn Lomborg by declaring two years ago that his excellent book The Skeptical Environmentalist, was "objectively dishonest." Naturally this accusation hit the headlines. However, in December, 2003, the Danish Ministry of Science and Technology overturned the DCSD kangaroo court's decision and sent it back to them. On futher reflection the DCSD members have now decided that perhaps they'd been a bit hasty and have completely dropped the matter (see press release below).
March 12, 2004
Scientific Dishonesty Committee Withdraws Lomborg Case
The Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty (DCSD) today announced it would not reopen the case concerning Bj�rn Lomborg's book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist".
In December 2003 The Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation completely rejected the DCSD finding that "The Skeptical Environmentalist" was "objectively dishonest" or "clearly contrary to the standards of good scientific practice".
The Ministry, which is responsible for the DCSD, found that the committee's judgment was not backed up by documentation and was "completely void of argumentation" for the claims of dishonesty and lack of good scientific practice.
The Ministry invalidated the original finding and sent the case back to DCSD, where it was up to the committee to decide whether to reopen the case for a new trial.
"The committee decision is as one would expect," Environmental Assessment Institute director Bj�rn Lomborg said today. "More than two years have passed since the case against my book was started. In that time every possible stone has been turned over, yet DCSD has been unable to find a single point of criticism that withstands further investigation."
"DCSD have reached the only logical conclusion. The committee has acknowledged that the former verdict of my book was invalid. I am happy that this will spell an end to what has been a very distasteful course of events," Bj�rn Lomborg said.
The DCSD translated their first judgment into English. Today's announcement is only available in Danish.
No word of an apology nor headlines declaring Lomborg vindicated.
The Institute for Justice is taking up the cause of a Tempe teenager who ran afoul of Arizona bureaucrats by helping his neighbors repel roof rats. Last month the Arizona Republic published a story about Christian Alf, a 17-year-old entrepreneur who was charging $30 a house to cover pipes and vents with wire mesh designed to keep unwelcome rodents out. The article prompted calls from about 250 people eager to hire Alf and his friends, plus one guy, an inspector with the Arizona Structural Pest Control Commission, eager to put him out of business.
Accused of doing an exterminator's work without the proper training, license, and supervision, Alf was threatened with a $500 fine, and his days of cutting mesh appeared to be over. "It scared the pants off me," the boy's mother told Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts after her son's brush with the law.
But now Alf has found a champion at the Institute for Justice, which specializes in fighting anti-competitive regulations like this one. In a letter sent this week, I.J. attorney Timothy D. Keller asks the pest control commission to stop harassing Alf. Otherwise, he warns, "the Institute for Justice will consider filing a civil rights lawsuit for violation of Mr. Alf's economic liberty."
New at Reason: Nick Gillespie considers how Lucy, Gilligan, Joe McCarthy and other antagonists of the high cold war era all became equal in the eyes of television.
New at Reason: Is the pleasure of seeing attorney John Banzhaf hoist on his carb-loaded, polyunsaturated petard worth the price of another federal pre-emption of state and individual rights? Jacob Sullum weighs the arguments over fat lawsuits.
When bots talk to other bots, peculiar interviews emerge.
New at Reason: Where has all the nuance gone? Jonathan Rauch says President Bush is getting in the habit of picking the most extreme positions available, and the gay marriage amendment idea is evidence.
I just love local politics.
From Newsday via Free-Market.Net
Owners of nearly two dozen hookah bars say their businesses have been threatened by [New York] city's smoking ban, and argue that hookah-smoking is a deep-rooted cultural practice that deserves exemption from the ban.
The owners, who operate about 20 bars located mostly on a stretch of Steinway Street in Queens called Little Egypt, say investigators from the city Health Department have issued them crippling fines for allowing customers to smoke fruit-flavored tobacco called shisha indoors, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Whole thing here.
Hamilton County, Ohio, home of the National Football League's Cincinnati Bengals and signatory to one of the shittiest professional sports franchise contracts in human history, has joined a first-of-its-kind lawsuit accusing the NFL and the Bengals "of squeezing $450 million from taxpayers to build a football stadium."
Paul Brown Stadium, built with state and local tax dollars, opened in 2000. Elected officials were so desperate to keep the generally hapless Bengals around that they signed a remarkable deal. As reported by the Cincinnati Enquirer:
"This lease is so one-sided that it shocks the conscience," Commissioner Phil Heimlich said. "We build the stadium and maintain it and yet they get 50 percent from soccer games, concerts and other events that have nothing to do with the Bengals."
The county is seeking to recover $200 million in damages and alleges that the NFL and the Bengals used a "monopoly" position to cut such a great deal. Most legal observers say the case is almost sure to fail, partly because it's self-evident that elected officials at the time were more than happy to sign such a deal.
Which is great for taxpayers. First they get stuck with a revenue sinkhole. Then they get stuck with the bill for trying to get out of the deal in the first place.
Reader uberkind sends along a link to this story about the latest front in the war against muscular baseball players. Bureaucratic overreach, proving a negative--what's not to love about the Food and Drug Administration?
The government will crack down on the steroidlike supplement taken by Mark McGwire, telling companies Thursday to quit selling androstenedione unless they can prove it's not dangerous.
Anabolic steroids, which build muscle, are controlled substances. But andro -- because it is a precursor, not the steroid itself -- has long been marketed as a dietary supplement and been sold over the counter. U.S. law lets dietary supplements sell with little oversight to ensure they're safe.
But the FDA is citing a seldom-used provision of that law that defines as a dietary supplement natural ingredients that were on the market before 1994 -- and says manufacturers must prove that any new ingredients are safe before selling them as supplements.
Police in Miami and elsewhere are actually using scarce resources to spy on rappers. It is a pre-emptive move against any violence they might spawn, we're told.
Earth to fuzz: The only threat these guys pose is to a melody at 20 paces. Congrats on joining and amplifying their thug life marketing campaign.
Iberian Notes has a good roundup of coverage of the terrible train bombings in Spain, with frequent updates. At this point, the casualty count appears to be 190 dead, 1400 wounded.
David Tell over at the Weekly Standard does an excellent job with a maddening task: trying to sum up the state-of-the-art of campaign finance law post-McCain-Feingold. He takes on an easygoing question-and-answer format to focus on how a Feb. 18 Federal Election Commission (FEC) decision will affect "Section 527" groups, such as America Coming Together and the Media Fund, that dare to express an opinion about candidates up for election. Tell's story is too long and detailed for meaningful excerpting here, but if hearing "FEC" and "Section 527" in the same sentence doesn't send you dashing from the room, it's essential reading.
Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is vowing to sue the FEC if it doesn't crack down harder quicker on such blatant political speech, which, as we all were taught in grade school civics classes, it is a cherished American principle to regulate and prohibit in the sternest fashion.
New at Reason: Who's left to invade? Brian Doherty surveys mankind from China to Peru, and opts out of the empire.
Last night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart had a bit of fun with CIA Director George Tenet's Senate testimony this week, especially this part:
And policy makers—you know, this is a tough road. Policy makers take data. They interpret threat. They assess risk. They put urgency behind it, and sometimes it doesn't uniquely comport with every word of an intelligence estimate.
I share Stewart's bemusement (and amusement). I'm not sure what "uniquely comport" means in this context. Is Tenet saying policy makers consciously distort intelligence to suit their needs? Or does he mean that they see what they want to see (a common enough human failing)? Perhaps the most troubling possibility is the one suggested by the literal meaning of Tenet's words: There are various glosses that can be put on an intelligence estimate, and each is just as good as the other; hence none "uniquely comports" with the data.
It seemed to me that Tenet was choosing his words carefully, perhaps for maximum ambiguity. If this is what the CIA's intelligence estimates sound like, it's no wonder they give rise to conflicting interpretations.
New at Reason: Mohammed Fneish, the right honorable gentleman from Bint Jbeil, Lebanon, gives Hizbollah's answers to the minister's questions.
If domestic job woes are India and China's fault, Radley Balko muses at National Review Online, isn't it funny that the states rated as least friendly to business by CEOs are having the most trouble?
Y'all can fill in the requisite line about how NASA should be private; I'll just link this image of the early universe recently captured by Hubble and observe that it's pretty cool. The early universe apparently looks like one of those novelty sparkle-domes you get in airport gift shops.
The absurd Bi-Partisan Campaign Reform Act strikes again. The Supreme Court actually upheld the BRCA's limits on political speech (I mean, limits on financing political speech; everyone knows that money isn't speech, right?) At the behest of Republican campaign weasels, the Federal Election Commission is considering closing the one remaining avenue where people can spend money to tell their fellow citizens what they think. Such regulatory shenanigans force activists like former Clintonista Harold Ickes who heads up the Media Fund which is rolling out a TV ads to complain about President Bush's policies to tell whoppers such as:
"Politically, we are trying to really highlight, underscore and push into sharp focus the policies of the Republicans. That may have a certain effect on the Bush or the Kerry campaign, but we are not involved in electing or defeating people. We are raising issues."
One begins to wonder what other gag orders politicians who don't want to be criticized will one day dream up. For example, when I lived in Latin America, a lot of countries had legislation that outlawed besmirching the honor of elected officials. Are you so sure that it can't happen here?
For the last year and a half, George Washington University law professor John Banzhaf, who treats the epithet "legal terrorist" as a compliment, has been bragging that fast food restaurants and other purveyors of fattening comestibles are running scared because of the obesity litigation he champions. McDonald's et al. ought to be worried, he said, because already there have been "five successful fat lawsuits."
But now that Congress is considering a ban on lawsuits that blame food makers and sellers for making people fat, Banzhaf admits he may have exaggerated a bit. In a press release issued yesterday, he says the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act "is surely premature, because there has been only one obesity lawsuit, and it was dismissed by a federal judge." Before Congress passes legislation like this, he says, "there should be a real history of abuse which must be corrected, not orchestrated panic based upon one failed lawsuit and some quoted-out-of-context rhetoric."
Having orchestrated the panic and provided the rhetoric, Banzhaf knows whereof he speaks. Still, he is clearly pleased (as always) by the attention, saying the legislation is "like a personal Bill of Attainder aimed just at me."
Here's an Associated Press story about Minnesota's decision to lock up indefinitely about 40 sex offenders who have already served their sentences for their crimes. Says Attorney General Mike Hatch:
We have approximately 40 sexual predators who are unable to control their sexual impulses on the street, or about to be on the street, due to the failure of the department to do its job.
The criminals in question are "Level 3" offenders, meaning they have been designated as high risks of committing more sex crimes. (As Thomas Szasz wrote in this Reason article about Catholic priests-pedophiles, it's far from clear whether sex criminals in general are more likely to repeat their crimes).
The impulse to round up such people is totally understandable but it also flies in the face of a criminal justice system predicated upon serving time for past crimes. And it obviously opens up major civil liberties issues--and creates a precedent for proactively locking up other sorts of potential criminals, too. At least 16 states currently allow for the indefinite lockup, typically in mental hospitals, of past sex offenders.
This much is clear: This is as much (or more) a political issue as it is a criminological one. Attorney General Hatch is, says the AP, a "potential Democratic candidate for governor in 2006" and "has accused Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty's administration of not doing its job or following the law."
Robert A. Heinlein's first novel, written in 1939 and shelved after being rejected by two publishers, is finally in print. The New York Times describes how the utopian For Us, the Living finally made its way from oblivion to print via a Seattle garage, and why Heinlein refused to publish the book in his lifetime.
"It's completely rewritten my view of his career," Heinlein scholar Robert James told the Times. "The impression was that he was writing commercial fiction from Day 1. Like a juggernaut he dominated science fiction. Actually from Day 1 he was writing what society should be about."
We've all heard it claimed that if America hadn't invaded Iraq, Libya wouldn't have stopped its attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction. Yesterday's Financial Times gives us yet another reason to doubt that argument:
Libyan representatives offered to surrender WMD programmes more than four years ago, at the outset of secret negotiations with US officials. In May 1999, their offer was officially conveyed to the US government at the peak of the "12 years of diplomacy with Iraq" that Mr. Bush now disparages....
Why did we not pursue the Libyan WMD offer then? Because resolving the PanAm 103 issues was our condition for any further engagement. Moreover, as Libya's chemical weapons programme was not considered an imminent threat and its nuclear programme barely existed, getting Libya out of terrorism and securing compensation had to be top priorities.
[Via Matthew Yglesias.]
New at Reason: For many of us, Walt Disney Co.'s greatest crime is that the copyright extension the company lobbied for a few years back will prevent Stanley Elkin's The Magic Kingdom from becoming a movie for another generation or two. But as RiShawn Biddle demonstrates, Michael Eisner has always been a genius at imagineering government largesse.
New at Reason: Vaccination? Heart transplants? In-vitro fertilization? All these crimes against humanity shocked the public when they were first introduced. Ron Bailey demonstrates how closely the current biotech battle resembles the quaint controversies of the past.
New at Reason: Nick Gillespie discusses the many recent dustups, brouhahas, and hair-breadth 'scapes i' the imminent deadly push for more media content rules from Congress.
Reason writers around town: At The LA Times, Brian Doherty gives a name to the case of Larry Hiibel, the Nevadan arrested for failing to identify himself to police.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) indulges Washington's favorite pastime: Threatening businesses with punishing legislation. Said McNasty to Major League Baseball big wigs:
"Your failure to commit to addressing this issue straight on and immediately will motivate this committee to search for legislative remedies," McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, told players' union chief Donald Fehr.
"I don't know what they [the remedies] are. But I can tell you, and the players you represent, the status quo is not acceptable. And we will have to act in some way unless the major league players union acts in the affirmative and rapid fashion," the senator said.
What kind of drug testing gets done in the world's drunkest--er, greatest--deliberative body, I wonder?
Previous thoughts on steroids and baseball here.
[ESPN.com link thanks to reader Ari Spanier]
The House of Representatives is expected to vote this week on the Personal Responsibility in Food Consumption Act, which is aimed at squashing litigation blaming restaurants for making their customers fat. The bill would shield food manufacturers, distributors, and sellers from lawsuits "relating to consumption of food or non-alcoholic beverage products unless the plaintiff proves that, at the time of sale, the product was not in compliance with applicable statutory and regulatory requirements."
I have mixed feelings about this sort of legislation. Given the precedent set by the state-backed tobacco lawsuits, which in effect imposed a nationwide tax and nationwide regulations without congressional approval, there is a case to be made for federal action. Advocates of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, recently defeated by hostile amendments, offer a similar argument: Unless Congress shields gun manufacturers from lawsuits blaming them for criminal use of their products, state courts will usurp its authority to regulate interstate commerce (as well as the authority of state legislatures to set their own gun control policies).
At the same time, it's disconcerting to see Congress instructing state courts to dismiss patently absurd lawsuits. I worry that it's not really necessary. I worry more that it is.
Howard Hallis' brilliant Lovecraftian parody of Jack Chick's fundamentalist tracts has been removed from Hallis' website. Seems his server got a nasty legal letter from Chick's outfit, which evidently has never heard of parody and fair use. You can see the letter here.
Fortunately, there's still a copy or two of the satire floating about on other sites. Read it while you can.
[Thanks to Eric Dixon for the tip.]
A federal court has ruled that Orson Welles' daughter may sell his Citizen Kane Oscar to the highest bidder. It is all very complicated, but the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had argued that a terms of ownership rider it has attached to all Oscars awarded since 1950 applied to the 1942 Kane fetish as well.
As for Beatrice Welles, she claims the up to $1 million the sale is expected to bring would be used to help abused animals. Why that is important is unclear. Presumably the funds are fungible and will relieve Ms. Welles of the burden of raising funds for her cause. If the Oscar is hers to do with as she pleases, she can hock it and hit Vegas with a nice bankroll.
If Americans continue to get fatter at current rates, by 2020 about one in five health-care dollars spent on people aged 50 to 69 could be due to obesity -- 50 percent more than now, the Rand Corporation study found.
In 2000, 14 percent of money spent on health care for U.S. men aged 50 to 69 went to obesity-related complications including diabetes and heart disease. In 2020, that could rise to 21 percent, the researchers said.
"Improvements in medical care, public health and other health behaviors have dramatically reduced disability among older Americans in the past," Roland Sturm, a Rand Health senior economist who led the study, said in a statement.
"But the continuing increase in unhealthy weight has the potential to undo many of these health advances."
"If the obesity trend were to continue through 2020, without other changes in behavior or medical technology, the proportion reporting fair or poor health would increase by 11.7 percent for men and 14.1 percent for women compared to 2000," they wrote.
Whole thing here. That's a huge "if" statement these researchers are making. If there's one bet worth making, it's that medical technology will be a whole helluva lot better in in 2020 (a year most proactively memorable for its animated Partridge Family series).
New at Reason: First they came for the jet-setting socialites... Elizabeth Koch wraps up the Martha Stewart coverage with a chilling consideration of why the rest of us ought to be afraid.
Reader Justin Cook points to this USA Today story on the perils of "distracted driving." The piece cites a University of Utah study showing that drivers with a .08% BAC performed better on a driving simulator than subjects chatting on cell phones. So does the article's author infer that the .08% cutoff is probably a little silly? Of course not—the study proves that those insidious talking drivers are even more dangerous than "drunken" drivers.
New at Reason: The Culture War, the dumb, lumbering beast, has emerged from its forested hiding place in the Pacifc Northwest. Jesse Walker goes in search of this legendary monster.
New at Reason: Cathy Young sees The Passion, and tries to make some sense out of the competing interpretations.
CAMY claims this is "the first public analysis of underage traffic to alcohol Web sites, finding that nearly 700,000 in-depth visits to 55 alcohol Web sites during the last six months of 2003 were initiated by underage persons." The data comes from comScore Media Metrix, but there's no figuring out from the report just how many actual people under 21 were tracked visiting these sites. ("In-depth visits" are visits exceeding two page views, which presumably excludes visitors deterred by age verification pages.)
CAMY says 700,000 visits is around 13% of the traffic to the booze company sites that were analyzed.
Taking the 700,000 figure at face value, here's another (quick and rough) way to gage the magnitude of the supposed problem: There are around 65 million people in the U.S. ages 5 through 20. Assume 59 percent of them use the Internet (that's based on 2001 data for 5-17 year olds) and that each Internet user visits 1,000 non-unique Web sites per month (based on this). Over a six month period, that's: 65,000,000 x 0.59 x 1,000 x 6 = 230,000,000,000 total visits.
So 0.0003 percent of Web site visits by underage youth are to alcohol company sites, which CAMY describes as "attractive and appealing to underage youth." Does this worry you?
First attempt to regulate space tourism passes the House 402-1--Ron Paul is the charmingly predictable one "no" vote. Dana Rohrabacher, the former traveling libertarian troubadour, can't resist selling it as a national security issue, given his representation of an aerospace-tech heavy Southern California:
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., chairman of the Science Committee's space panel and sponsor of the bill, said encouraging private entrepreneurs to develop new space travel technology would have spinoffs for the Pentagon. "Our great space entrepreneurs," he said, "are going to be developing aerospace technologies that can be put into our national security."
More of the details from the Associated Press story on Space.com:
The House bill, which passed 402-1, gives regulatory authority over human flight to the Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation.
To make it easier for companies to test new types of reusable suborbital rockets, the bill gives the office the authority to issue experimental permits that can be obtained more quickly and with less bureaucracy than licenses.
It also requires the Office of Commercial Space Transportation to come up with regulations for crew pertaining to training and medical conditions. Space tourists would have to be informed of the risks involved in their travel.
The bill also extends for three years an existing law under which commercial space launch companies are required to carry liability insurance, capped at $500 million, with assurances that the government will compensate for losses above that.
Yet more mishaps with electronic voting.
The Century Foundation's report card for the Department of Homeland Security was released late last week, and even the middling grade of C+ (doubtless a source of nostalgia for the president) is probably a bit inflated. For instance, the grade for aviation security is a B-. But the author put a lot of weight on formal compliance, rather than the bottom line: The low grade for poor staff training and background checks was balanced by an A for getting more warm bodies out at the security checkpoints... even if some of them belonged to felons or the untrained. And as she acknowledged at the release press conference, it's probably still the case that anyone with a CBS reporter's level of aptitude in the art of terrorism can get what they like on a plane.
Raelian women march topless to protest "the repressive myth of God." Story and headline shamelessly lifted from Jeff Patterson.
Given the miraculous B.O. of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ--which pulled in a reported weekend haul of $51.4 million--the inevitable question arises like the cock's crow at dawn: What does the Damascus Road Warrior do for a sequel?
Unfortunately, there are at least two such cautionary examples from Gibson's filmography, each of which inspires hope that the Rapture is just around the corner. The Lethal Weapon franchise degenerated into a privately funded workfare program for Gone Fishing sinners Danny Glover and Joe Pesci (to paraphrase Jefferson, we tremble for them when we realize there is a God in heaven). The other Gibson franchise involves the Mad Max character, who last appearance had audiences rooting that the post-apocalyptic warrior would never make it Beyond Thunderdome (thanks be to God and tempermental superstars, a fourth Mad Max flick is apparently dead).
The Passion--or more accurately, its immense popularity and its generally (though not universally) contemptuous reception by elites remains a fascinating cultural episode. Not long ago, Reason toured the Christian subculture and the what the magazine found there is worth thinking over as The Passion racks up more dollars in theaters everywhere.
Venezuela's big media outfits are famously unfriendly to President Hugo Chavez. So he's finding his friends where he can: The New York Times reports that he's poised to legalize -- and subsidise -- around 200 low-power radio and TV stations based in the barrios of the country, many of which were previously illicit pirate operations.
Meanwhile, Gilligan's Island and Dobie Gillis star Bob Denver is starting a low-power radio station in West Virginia. Licensed to "The Denver Foundation," the outfit intends to run "anything that strikes Denver's fancy," according to The Charleston Gazette. "'I think I'm even going to do original radio dramas,' he mused. 'The kind with cliffhangers where you have to tune in next week to see what happens.'"
Katrina vanden Heuvel is making the bizarre claim that Clear Channel is "trampling on the First Amendment" because it yanked Howard Stern. So, the obvious "huh?" component is that, as KVH surely knows, there are many charges one might levy against a private broadcaster's content choices, but offending a constitutional provision that binds only Congress (and, now, the states) ain't one of them. The deeper weirdness is that, to the extent that there is a First Amendment issue here, it's with the chilling effects of the FCC's post-Janet-boob zeal. KVH is surely correct that Clear Channel execs have no deep personal problem with trash talk if it brings in the cash, but she glosses the FCC angle to spin a "follow the money" theory that has Clear Channel's CEO spooning with Dick Cheney on cold evenings. How about "following the money" the other way, to the hefty indecency fines the agency is empowered to levy?
Bryan Caplan's libertarian purity test has been around for ages, but it appears to be making its way around the blogosphere again. I'm a bit surprised to find that I'm only six points more libertarian than National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru—doubtless confirming the suspicions of many H&R commenters. Though I'm still 38 points ahead of Jonah Goldberg.
Howie Kurtz drops in on Lou Dobbs in the middle of a spat with James Glassman, and finds CNN's bloviator-in-chief trashing Adam Smith and David Ricardo. Par for Dobbs' infomercial correspondence-course exposure to economics.
More juicy are indications that Dobbs plays to both sides of the trade warfare trenches, the close-the-borders skit for his mouth-breathing, mattress-stuffing TV viewers and the worldly financial maven for the hot tip-hungry subbers to his $200-newsletter.
Glassman has the details here.
Max Sawicky is one of a couple of people in recent days I've seen suggest that people who say the Social Security trust fund "isn't real" are somehow disingenuous, because, after all, most of our holdings are in the form of paper establishing some legal claim, rather than huge Scrooge McDuck style bins of gold ingots.
As a commenter there observes, though, there's a simple reality check: Just ask yourself (with apologies to John Searle) what functional difference the trust fund makes. As it stands, the trust fund effectively consists of the instruction "go raise some revenue to cover these bonds." And if it didn't exist? Well, the government would have to go raise (or divert) some revenue to cover its (legally non-binding) obligations to new retirees. So what's the difference? Is there some miracle of fiscal transubstantiation I'm missing?
Fareed Zakaria on the recent attacks against Shiites:
Most important, by waging war on fellow Muslims, Islamic radicals are proving that the war against terror is not a clash between civilizations, but a clash within a civilization. And the bad guys are losing.
Whole thing here.
The same-sex marriage debate increasingly calls, or should call, into question the legitimacy of the privileges bestowed on marital relationships in general. Take this entry in Andrew Sullivan's blog (scroll down to "Why civil unions suck"). Sullivan quotes a letter from an army wife saying that when she and her now-husband were still dating and he was deployed to South Korea, she found that, despite having legally notarized power of attorney, she was repeatedly thwarted while trying to handle his affairs. She also found out that, without being legally married, she would not even be notified if he was wounded.
This doesn't quite make Sullivan's case for full marriage vs civil unions -- many of the current proposals for civil unions specify that the couple would have the same rights as a husband and wife. But apart from that, what is the moral and legal justification for the exclusive rights of the marital relationship? Does this mean that a single soldier deployed overseas will find it much more difficult to keep his financial and legal affairs in order than a married soldier, because whoever he entrusts with those rights will not be able to carry them out as effectively as a spouse?
Or take the issue of estate taxes. Right now, a wealthy 80-year-old widow can leave all of her property tax-free to a 20-year-old boy toy if she marries him a month before her death. If the same widow wills her property to, say, her niece who has been living with her and providing constant care and companionship for 10 years, the niece will have to pay a huge estate tax. Where is the justice in that?
New at Reason: Twinkie taxes are on their way. Can federal body fat requirements and mandatory calisthenics be far behind? Nick Gillespie mourns the loss of fat America.
Over at the always interesting Spiked, Sandy Starr makes the claim that an irresponsible flight from reality ultimately underwrites the science fiction/fantasy subculture. Sizing up the current dominance of "geek culture," Starr, a self-professed Dr. Who buff, concludes:
This is a state of affairs that not only speaks ill of society, but actually demeans science fiction and fantasy as well, by putting them in the impossible position of having to provide us with the answers to life, the universe and everything. Fiction in these genres can be a terrific tool for exploring ideas, but it cannot satisfy the human urge to find meaning in life and to aspire to a better world. That can only come through confronting the questions that we face in the here and now.
If the geek shall inherit the Earth, then the Earth shall be the poorer for it. Both society as a whole, and science fiction/fantasy, would benefit if the latter were put back in its proper place - that is, as a satisfying diversion, rather than as life's raison d'�tre.
[Link courtesy of Arts & Letters Daily]
Update: Corrected spelling of Tardis and beg apologies.
More Update: Recorrected spelling of TARDIS (all caps) but refuse to make any more apologies to anyone other than Tom Baker.
Final Update (If I'm lying, may the Daleks take my soul): Forgot to link to Peter Bagge's comic "The Nerd-ification of America," which seems on point here.
Daleks Update: In my original formulation, I identified Sandy Starr as a she, which he is most certainly not. Apologies all around from me.
New at Reason: From Hauptsturmfuehrer to Hauptsturmgeezer—can an SS officer be too old to prosecute? Charles Paul Freund looks at the case of Erich Priebke.
Reason writers around town: At Tech Central Station, I review John Stossel's book.
A human rights group on Sunday accused U.S. forces in Afghanistan of detaining at least 1,000 Afghans and other people over the past two years in a ''climate of almost total impunity'' that it contends violates international human rights law. A spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan disputed the findings.
In a 60-page report released today, the group, Human Rights Watch, also called on the U.S. military to release the results of investigations into the deaths of three Afghans in U.S. custody in 2002 and 2003. Initial military medical investigators declared two of the deaths homicides.
The report also said it had received ''numerous reports'' of U.S. forces relying on faulty intelligence or using ''excessive or indiscriminate force'' that resulted in avoidable civilian deaths and the detention of innocent people. It contended that the United States was employing interrogation techniques, like shackling prisoners, stripping them naked or depriving them of sleep, that the State Department had condemned as torture in Libya, North Korea and Iran.
Full report from Human Rights Watch available here.
New at Reason: Is the path of liberty paved with eminent domain condemnations? Richard A. Epstein, Randy Barnett, David Friedman, and James P. Pinkerton debate the use of force.