Weekly Hit & Run Archive 2009 January 1-31

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Meanwhile, Joe the Plumber Is Heading off to Go Cover the Israel-Hamas War for Pajamas TV

No, really.

[Link via Wonkette]

Man Demands Return of Kidney, Redefines "Messy Divorce"

A man in from Ronkonkoma, New York, gave his wife a kidney during their marriage. Now she wants a divorce, and he wants his kidney back (or $1.5 million in compensation) as part of his divorce settlement. And you thought your divorce was bad.

Soon-to-be-divorcé and one-kidneyed man Richard Batista probably won't get any compensation though, because legally speaking, our organs have no value. They can be given as gifts, but never bought. For opponents of organ sales, it would be a dangerous precedent indeed to set the value of a kidney in divorce proceedings. But it's not likely to happen.

From the article:

Medical ethicists agreed that the case is a nonstarter. Asked how likely it would be for the doctor to either get his kidney back or get money for it, Arthur Caplan at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics, put it as "somewhere between impossible and completely impossible."

First and foremost, said Robert Veatch, a medical ethicist at Georgetown University's Kennedy Institute of Ethics, "it's illegal for an organ to be exchanged for anything of value." Organs in the United States may not be bought or sold. Donating an organ is a gift and legally "when you give something, you can't get it back," he said.

Obviously, actual removal and return of the kidney is not in the cards, not least because finding a doctor willing to do that kind of violence to the hippocratic oath would be no easy task. But it's pretty clear that the kidney is an asset that Richard brought into the marriage, no? 

Via commenter sixstring

Extra points to the commenter who writes a relevant and metrically correct limerick which begins, "There once was a man from Ronkonkoma..."

For lots more on who owns your body parts, read Kerry Howley here and here.

Too Bad

I can’t say that I blame him, but this is disappointing:

Former Ohio State football player Derrick Foster is expected to plead guilty to felony charges in connection with shooting two Columbus police officers, 10TV reported Wednesday.

Foster is scheduled to plead guilty to the felony charges on Friday, 10TV’s Maureen Kocot reported.

The former defensive end, who played at Ohio State from 1998 to 1992, is expected to serve time in prison as part of the plea.

The shootings occurred last April during a raid at a suspected East Rich Street crack house.

Officer Tony Garrison was shot in the arm and undercover narcotics Officer John Gillis was wounded in the leg, 10TV News reported.

Foster admitted going to the house to gamble and told investigators he never heard officers identify themselves before initiating the raid.

The house appears to have been a dice/gambling house, not a "crack house."  Last I read, no one in the house had been charged with a drug crime, including Foster. If anyone has, I haven't seen it reported in the local media. The raid was the third raid of the night for that particular Columbus SWAT team.

Foster had no prior criminal record, and in fact had an exemplary employment record as a code inspector for the city of Columbus. He also had a legal permit for the gun he used, and has said he thought the place was being robbed.  When several of Foster’s friends and acquaintances wrote letters to the judge vouching for his character, arguing that he wasn’t the kind of person who would knowingly shoot at a police officer, the police union initiated an intimidation campaign against them.

I’m actually surprised the prosecutors offered him a plea. It may be an indication that they weren’t confident trying him on the attempted murder charges.  Shooting at cops generally isn’t the type of charge for which a DA will cut you a break.

Still, if Foster was offered a decent deal, you can’t blame him for taking it.  An attempted murder conviction against two cops would put him away for a long time.

MORE: The Columbus Dispatch reports that one person in the house was charged with possession of cocaine.

Bush Really Comes Out for Darwin!

In setting aside a gazillion nautical miles in the Pacific as a "marine national monument," outgoing George W. Bush isn't just trying to secure an environmentally friendly legacy in the last days of his failed presidency.

The one-time anti-evolution chief executive is giving Charles Darwin a big, sloppy wet kiss.

From Bush's statement "on the Occasion of the Designation of the Marianas Trench Marine National Monument, Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, and the Rose Atoll Marine National Monument":

Baker, Howland, and Jarvis Islands were first formed as fringing reefs around islands formed by Cretaceous-era volcanoes (approximately 120-75 million years ago)....

Palmyra Atoll is a classic Darwinian atoll that formed atop a sinking Cretaceous-era volcano.

I realize that Bush didn't write this statement (or probably even read it), but I would have loved to have heard him pronounce the following sentence:

"The waters surrounding Baker, Howland, and Jarvis Islands have fish biomass double that of the Papahânaumokuâkea Marine National Monument, and 16 times that of the main Hawaiian Islands, due to the Equatorial Undercurrent that moves from west to east along the equator, creating localized nutrient-rich upwellings in shallows next to the islands."

What a difference a few years make!

Back in 2002, Bush said, "On the issue of evolution, the verdict is still out." In December 2008, he was more accomodating, telling ABC's Nightline, "I think that God created the earth, created the world; I think the creation of the world is so mysterious it requires something as large as an almighty and I don't think it's incompatible with the scientific proof that there is evolution."

In December, Reason's Ron Bailey gave reasons to worry about the new president's science squad when it came not to evolution but to the environment. Read about that here.

New at Reason: Dave Weigel on Where Libertarian Politics Went Wrong in 2008

From our February issue, David Weigel looks back on a thrilling and dispiriting year in libertarian politics.

Read all about it here.

Krugman v. Gupta

The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman is unhappy with the Obama administration for offering the job of surgeon general to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent and former Clinton White House policy wonk. According to The Washington Post, Gupta "has also been offered a top post in the new White House Office of Health Reform, twin duties that could make him the most influential surgeon general in history." That Gupta seems eminently qualified and would be the highest-ranking Indian-American to serve in the federal government is of no consequence. Because the TV Doc, says Krugman, criticized (or as he writes, "mugged") Michael Moore on CNN by questioning some of the numbers in his lousy pro-Cuba film Sicko—and made two mistakes in doing so. Here is Krugman:

What bothered me about the incident was that it was what Digby would call Village behavior: Moore is an outsider, he's uncouth, so he gets smeared as unreliable even though he actually got it right. It's sort of a minor-league version of the way people who pointed out in real time that Bush was misleading us into war are to this day considered less "serious" than people who waited until it was fashionable to reach that conclusion. And appointing Gupta now, although it's a small thing, is just another example of the lack of accountability that always seems to be the rule when you get things wrong in a socially acceptable way.

There is no need to revisit whether or not Moore "got it right" in his film or in his counterattacks on Gupta and CNN, but it should be pointed out that our future surgeon general copped to two mistakes in his criticism of Sicko. One was the result of a transcription error ($251 was read as $25), the other was an incorrect affiliation. Even if Krugman is broadly correct, this is partisan hackery at its worst: Gupta—a proponent of single-payer health care, incidentally—should be held "accountable" for having criticized an incoherent film by a director with a history of abusing source material?

Also, I recommend a quick read of Gene Epstein's Econospinning, which convincingly demonstrates that Krugman (in his role as Times pundit) might want to consider holding himself "accountable" for his slippery use of source material.

I reviewed Sicko here.

The Nightmare of Legal Immigration

Forget all illegal immigration for a minute. And focus on just how screwed up the U.S.A's system for totally legal immigration is. An infuriating testimony from Splice Today's John Lingan:

In July 2008, we received word that the Department of State needed another copy of Justyna's medical forms, the very same ones we had already filed on two separate occasions. They admitted to losing it, yet still instructed us to complete the $300 checkup and documentation procedure ourselves, within 90 days. When I asked our lawyer whether an appeal could be made, he said of course, but the process would take longer than 90 days and Justyna's entire file would be thrown out after that deadline.

If this sounds like a farce, it is. Here is a woman who has made the incomparable sacrifices of leaving her home country, her family, and her friends just to bring her new family together under one roof. The U.S. should be begging people like Justyna-who holds a master's degree and desires only to work legally and pay the according taxes here-to live and raise their families within our borders, yet our government makes it humiliating and nearly impossible for them to do so.

Read the whole thing here.

I've yet to meet an immigrant who went through proper channels who wasn't embittered by the experience.

Reason mag's Editor in Chief Matt Welch spills the beans on how he's both broken and been broken by immigration laws over the years. Read about it here.

Reason.com has tons of stories on immigration. Read some of them here.

And watch The Wall Street Journal's Jason Riley make a five-minute case for letting them in already:

And go to Reason.tv for a longer interview with Riley.

"The death of one man is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic."

That's what Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin allegedly once said to U.S. ambassador Averill Harriman. And Stalin was an expert on the topic since his regime killed as many 43 million people. It turns out that the mustachioed murderer may have been expressing an acute insight into human psychology. Earlier this week, the Washington Post's always interesting Department of Human Behavior columnist Shankar Vedantam reported on the research of University of Oregon professor Paul Slovic who looked at how people respond to humanitarian tragedies. As Vedantam explains:

In a rational world, we should care twice as much about a tragedy affecting 100 people as about one affecting 50. We ought to care 80,000 times as much when a tragedy involves 4 million lives rather than 50. But Slovic has proved in experiments that this is not how the mind works.

When a tragedy claims many lives, we often care less than if a tragedy claims only a few lives. When there are many victims, we find it easier to look the other way.

Virtually by definition, the central feature of humanitarian disasters and genocide is that there are a large number of victims.

"The first life lost is very precious, but we don't react very much to the difference between 88 deaths and 87 deaths," Slovic said in an interview. "You don't feel worse about 88 than you do about 87."

Slovic did one experiment shortly after the Rwandan genocide. He asked volunteers whether they were willing to spend precious resources getting water to a refugee camp in Zaire, now called Congo. There were many pressing demands for the money, but Slovic told the volunteers that the water could save 4,500 lives. Without the volunteers' awareness, however, the researcher told some people the refugee camp had 11,000 people while telling others that the camp had 100,000 people. The number of lives that could be saved was the same in both cases -- 4,500 -- but Slovic found that people were reluctant to divert resources to save lives in a large camp rather than the same number of lives in a small camp.

In another experiment, Slovic asked people to imagine they were disbursing money on behalf of a large foundation: They could give $10 million to fight a disease that claimed 20,000 lives a year -- and save 10,000 of those lives. But they could also devote the $10 million to fight a disease that claimed 290,000 lives a year -- and this investment would save 20,000 lives.

Slovic found that people preferred to spend the money saving the 10,000 lives in the first scenario rather than the 20,000 lives in the second scenario: "People were responding not to the number of lives saved but the percentage of lives saved," he said. In the one case, their investment could save half the victims; in the case of the more deadly disease, it could save 7 percent of the victims.

There are parallels between such behavior and how we perceive physical sensations, and evolution's hand in shaping the way we perceive physical sensations may be behind the errors we make in judging suffering among our fellow humans. We are sharply aware of the difference between total darkness and the light thrown off by a five-watt bulb, but we are hard pressed to tell the lighting difference between a 90-watt bulb and a 100-watt one.

Slovic said people probably are inappropriately -- and unconsciously -- using a similar metric in humanitarian crises: Failing to save only half the victims in a tragedy seems less dreadful than failing to save 93 percent of the victims of another tragedy. The mathematical side of our brain could tell us the absolute number of victims saved is more important than the percentage of survivors, but our analytical side isn't usually in charge.

Slovic has also shown that the amount of compassion humans feel can diminish as the number of victims increases: In an experiment in Israel, Slovic asked volunteers whether they would help raise $300,000 to save eight children who were dying of cancer. Those in another group were told only about one child with cancer and asked how much they were willing to donate to save the life of that child. Slovic found that people were willing to give more money to save one life than to save eight.

"When we trust our feelings in these cases, we are led down the path of turning our backs on the suffering of many people," Slovic said. "Even though we don't think of ourselves as uncaring, if we trust our moral intuition, it is not designed by evolution to respond accurately to these types of situations of mass tragedy."

Fascinating. Whole Post article here

Aiding Al Qaeda

The Gaza war has at least one clear beneficiary, writes Marc Lynch:

Ayman al-Zawahiri has finally weighed in on behalf of al-Qaeda over the Gaza crisis, calling it part of the West's war on Islam and calling on Muslims everywhere to attack Western and Israeli targets. He sounds about as happy as I can remember hearing him of late. He probably can't believe his luck.

Israel's assault on Gaza has really created an almost unbelievable no-lose situation for al-Qaeda. If Hamas "wins", then al-Qaeda gets to share in the benefits of the political losses incurred by its Western and Arab enemies (Zawahiri mentions Mubarak and the Saudis in this tape, but not the Jordanians) and can try to take advantage of the political upheavals which could follow. If Hamas "loses", al-Qaeda still wins. It will shed no tears at seeing one of its bitterest and most dangerous rivals take a beating at Israel's hands or losing control of a government that they have consistently decried as illegitimate and misguided. Either way, the Gaza crisis guarantees that a far more radicalized Islamic world will face the incoming Obama administration -- potentially severely blunting the challenge which al-Qaeda clearly felt after the election (hence Zawahiri's attempt to pre-emptively discredit Obama by declaring the attack Obama's "gift" to Muslims).

You should read the whole post. It goes well beyond the familiar observation that Israel's attacks have radicalized Arab opinion, zeroing in on how they've affected intra-Islamist rivalries. E.g.:

The way this crisis is playing out shows the bankruptcy and strategic dangers of trying to simply reduce Hamas to part of an undifferentiated "global terrorist front". The Muslim Brotherhood, from whence Hamas evolved twenty years ago, is no friend of the United States or Israel but is nevertheless one of al-Qaeda's fiercest rivals....Al-Qaeda has long been desperate for a foothold in Palestine, but has been largely kept out because Hamas has the place locked. Jihadist forums bear a deep grudge over Hamas's crackdown on various jihadist groups which have tried to set up shop there (Jaysh al-Islam, et al)....

Even if Hamas emerges weakened, as Israeli strategists hope, all the better (from al-Qaeda's point of view, that is). In general, where the MB is strong (Egypt, Jordan, and Palestine for example), AQ has had a hard time finding a point of entry despite serious efforts to do so, while where the MB is weak (Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Lebanon) it has had more success. Up to now, AQ-minded groups have had little success in penetrating Gaza, because Hamas had it locked. Now they clearly have high hopes of finding an entree with a radicalized, devastated population and a weakened Hamas.

In the Videotex Graveyard

In a sharp column about media history, Jack Shafer points out that the newspaper industry did not, as some assume, come late to the Internet. Indeed, its experiments with electronic distribution date back to the late '70s. But its approach was cautious, at times even protectionist; like pre-cable broadcast companies, newspapers didn't want any potentially disruptive technology to emerge unless they could be sure they controlled it. Shafer describes the results:

Newspapers deserve bragging rights for having homesteaded the Web long before most government agencies and major corporations knew what a URL was. Given the industry's early tenancy, deep pockets, and history of paranoid experimentation with new communication forms, one would expect to find plenty in the way of innovations and spinoffs.

But that's not the case, and I think I know why: From the beginning, newspapers sought to invent the Web in their own image by repurposing the copy, values, and temperament found in their ink-and-paper editions. Despite being early arrivals, despite having spent millions on manpower and hardware, despite all the animations, links, videos, databases, and other software tricks found on their sites, every newspaper Web site is instantly identifiable as a newspaper Web site. By succeeding, they failed to invent the Web.

Reid Is Backing Down As Fast As He Can

The Washington Post and The Boston Globe are both reporting that the Senate's Democratic leaders, after insisting that no one appointed by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich would be allowed to replace Barack Obama, are getting ready to let Roland Burris take his seat after all. Although Burris was not seated yesterday, ostensibly because his appointment papers did not bear the signature of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid met with him today and signaled that he will eventually be allowed to serve. The two prerequisites seem to be 1) a ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court on whether White's signature is necessary and, if so, whether he may legally withhold it and 2) Burris' testimony to the state legislature (which is working on the governor's impeachment) about the circumstances of his appointment. Burris is scheduled to testify tomorrow. "Once that's done, we will be in a different position," said Reid, who called Burris "very engaging" and "very nice."

White refused to sign Burris' credentials because he did not think a governor facing corruption charges should appoint Obama's successor, especially since Blagojevich is accused of trying (or at least hopng) to get something of value in exchange for that appointment. But White does not seem to have any legal grounds for withholding his signature, and he now says it doesn't matter anyway, telling WGN Radio "they could have seated him without my signature," which he called purely "ceremonial." He confidently predicted that Burris would be seated. Unless Burris testifies tomorrow that he bribed Blagojevich to choose him (an allegation no one has made), it sounds like he could be seated in a matter of days.

That's the right decision, since it's the one required by law. But by announcing that Burris would be barred from the Senate as a matter of principle and quickly giving in, Reid and his allies look like the spineless, shifty hacks they are. By trying to avoid the embarrassment of serving with a man appointed by a fellow Democrat accused of corruption, they have only magnified their humiliation.

On Monday I noted that Reid was getting ready to give in. Last week I said Reid never should have tried to keep Burris out. In a recent column, Steve Chapman concurred.

Some Questions for Eric Holder

The Legal Times reports that Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is gearing up for next week's confirmation hearing for Attorney General-designate Eric Holder:

In a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday, Specter, R-Pa., said he plans to focus his inquiry on three areas: the pardon of fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich; the decision by Holder's then-boss Attorney General Janet Reno not to appoint a special prosecutor to look into Vice President Al Gore's 1996 fundraising activities; and the clemency granted to a group of Puerto Rican nationalists.

"All of these matters relate to judgment," Specter said. "They relate to whether Mr. Holder had the kind of resoluteness displayed by Attorney General Griffin Bell, by Attorney General Elliot Richardson, to say 'no' to their superiors."

Specter also said he plans to ask Holder his views on journalists' privilege, the Bush administration's surveillance policies and the Justice Department's evolving view of corporations' attorney-client privilege.

A few questions about the Second Amendment wouldn't be a bad idea either.

Whole thing here.

New at Reason: Ron Bailey Interviews Science Writer Matt Ridley

From our February issue, Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey discusses the causes of poverty and prosperity with Genome and Nature via Nurture author Matt Ridley.

Read all about it here.

It's Getting Hard for the Porn Industry

TMZ reports that porn moguls Joe Francis and Larry Flynt are asking the government for a $5 billion bailout, citing a 22 percent drop in DVD sales last year.

I'd guess that has more to do with the abundance of free porn on the Internet than the credit crunch.

In any case, I will now take this opportunity to open the comments section to bad puns incorporating pornography and Congressional bailouts.

The Wall Street Journal Contributes to a Possible Torture "Truth Commission"

The Wall Street Journal points out that some Congress members are also complicit in pre-knowledge of possibly criminal torture policies of the Bush administration:

Beginning in 2002, Nancy Pelosi and other key Democrats (as well as Republicans) on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees were thoroughly, and repeatedly, briefed on the CIA's covert antiterror interrogation programs. They did nothing to stop such activities, when they weren't fully sanctioning them. If they now decide the tactics they heard about then amount to abuse, then by their own logic they themselves are complicit. Let's review the history the political class would prefer to forget.

According to our sources and media reports we've corroborated, the classified briefings began in the spring of 2002 and dealt with the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, a high-value al Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan. In succeeding months and years, more than 30 Congressional sessions were specifically devoted to the interrogation program and its methods, including waterboarding and other aggressive techniques designed to squeeze intelligence out of hardened detainees like Zubaydah.

The briefings were first available to the Chairmen and ranking Members of the Intelligence Committees. From 2003 through 2006, that gang of four included Democrats Bob Graham and John D. Rockefeller in the Senate and Jane Harman in the House, as well as Republicans Porter Goss, Peter Hoekstra, Richard Shelby and Pat Roberts. Senior staffers were sometimes present. After September 2006, when President Bush publicly acknowledged the program, the interrogation briefings were opened to the full committees.

If Congress wanted to kill this program, all it had to do was withhold funding. And if Democrats thought it was illegal or really found the CIA's activities so heinous, one of them could have made a whistle-blowing floor statement under the protection of the Constitution's speech and debate clause. They'd have broken their secrecy oaths and jeopardized national security, sure. But if they believed that Bush policies were truly criminal, didn't they have a moral obligation to do so?

Lest you think the Journal has gone "soft of terror," they are of course running this article with the intention of pulling a reductio ad absurdum on any attempts to bring government officials complicit in such policies to justice, or at least to some political damage, through a thorough investigation into Bush administration interrogation policies.

However, intentionally or not, the Journal has done a service in bringing this to, or back to, our attention. No politicians of whatever party or whatever branch should pass through their roles in these crimes unscathed, either by possible legal action or the public obloquy they deserve.

Don't Miss Reason Podcasts; Subscribe to Our YouTube Channel

You want audio podcasts of Reason.com and Reason.tv material?

Then don't delay: Go here now for the latest episode of the Reason.tv Talk Show; for anarchist author Crispin Sartwell's thoughts on, well, anarchy; for Bjorn Lomborg's radical perspective on prioritizing global problems; for former Securities and Exchange Commission member Paul Atkins' explosive views on how that agency added to financial turmoil; and much more.

And don't forget to subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube channel, which is online here.

Obama: Tomorrow We Scrimp, But Tonight We Spend Like There's No Tomorrow!

courtesy White Housecourtesy White HouseThe ever-credulous Washington Post reports just the facts in a science-fictional piece titled "Stimulus aside, Obama vows future budget restraint." Read some details and decide for yourself whether the truth is out there:

Two weeks away from assuming the presidency, Obama vowed Tuesday to "bring a long-overdue sense of responsibility and accountability to Washington" and called the need for budget reform "an absolute necessity."...

"Many will focus on the upfront cost of this legislation," [House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)] was to tell a House Democratic Policy and Steering Committee forum, according to an excerpt of her prepared remarks. "While we are not discussing small sums, focusing on the price tag alone ignores the cost of inaction and the real payoff in terms of job creation and increased revenues to our Treasury."

While promising to fight waste and to make tough budgetary decisions, however, Obama warned that the nation could face trillion-dollar deficits for years to come. Eight years ago, the federal budget ran a surplus; the deficit on Sept. 30 was about $455 billion. That was before the government began spending nearly half of a $700 billion bailout fund for the financial sector....

Obama has not detailed solutions for vexing problems such as growing demands on Social Security and Medicare. His prescriptions to make government accountable could easily run aground, much like those of predecessors who vowed to tackle government waste, fraud and abuse.

That's the same Obama who's pulling for a $775 billion stimulus package. And who has been trotting the spend-now, save-later line to sellout crowds for months now. That's the same Nancy Pelosi, by the way, who came into power saying the Dems would enforce fiscal discipline and then pushed a farm bill that blew the stops out on subsidies and whatnot.

The laffs continue here.

The good news is that Obama is not from Texas. Both LBJ and George W. Bush spent like not just drunken sailors but like falling-down-drunk drunken sailors. Inflation-adjusted discretionary spending increases during the past half-century have averaged 1.7 percent, with LBJ and Bush hitting high notes of 6.6 percent to 14.8 percent. Who wants to bet Obama's first budget comes closer to the high numbers than the low?

To stoke your fears of a unified government and spending (and that was all before we became the bailout nation), go here.

Should We Apply the Logan's Run Principle, Updated for Inflated Life Expectancies Of Course, to Congress and the Courts?

Denver Post columnist and Reason contributor David Harsanyi goes ageist on the only native criminal class in these United States:

Thirty years after Ted Kennedy griped about Ronald Reagan's advanced age, the man serves as a 76-year-old, nine-term senator recovering from brain-tumor surgery. Really, is there no one else available in the state of Massachusetts who can drop his Rs and vote dependably Maoist?

An average adult would not trust Sen. Robert Byrd (who is 91) to pet-sit their mutt for fear that the unfortunate creature might accidentally turn up in chili con carne. Yet, Byrd sits on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, where he doles out massive amounts of taxpayer funds for West Virginia landmarks with "Byrd" in the title. Fortunately, this session Byrd has lost his chairmanship to make way for a young whippersnapper in Hawaii's Daniel Inouye, who is 84.

And, sure, there has been some progress in the Senate with the ousting of Alaskan criminal Ted Stevens (85). The youth movement continued in the House with the ejection of 82-year-old John Dingell from his chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to make way for Henry Waxman, who comes in at a stylish 69.

Then, says Harsanyi, there's the Supreme Court:

Then there are Supreme Court justices, who in many ways hold power beyond that of legislators. Certainly the position entails a far higher level of intellectual rigor. The average age in that institution is 69. Five justices are over 70 and another two are over 60. Justice John Paul Stevens is 88.

In 2004, six in 10 Americans believed that there should be a mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court justices - probably because, like myself, they often can't get their childrens' names straight, much less remember what the Third Amendment says. (Though, in the end, we all stand united against the quartering of soldiers.)

The author of Nanny State concludes:

Theoretically, it would be nice to allow citizens to vote for anyone they please, young or old. But since we already have a minimum, constitutionally mandated age limit to serve in place, why not a maximum age? How about at least placing it wherever the average life expectancy falls?

Because, right now, Washington looks more like Del Boca Vista than America.

Whole thing here. I don't agree with mandatory retirement ages, but it is fun to make fun of jerk-off old senators.

Reason on definitively senile and decrepit Supreme Court Judges here.

Reason interviews Harsanyi here.

Recently at Reason.tv: How Far Will Smoking Bans Go?

On Friday, January 9, the California city of Belmont's controversial smoking ban—which snuffs out smoking "in individual units and their patio/yard areas of multi-unit, multi-story residences (apartments, condominiums, and townhouses) that share common floors and/or ceilings with at least one other such unit"—goes into effect. As a result, about the only place Belmonters will be free to smoke is detached single-family houses.

Which makes it a good time revisit Reason.tv's "Just Can't Quit: How far will smoking bans go?" This eight-minute documentary was produced by Ted Balaker and features one of the greatest exhortations to do things for the "children, children, children," you'll ever see outside of an episode of The Simpsons (right around the 3.50 mark).


For embed code, related links, and the video "Talking Butts" (which features a great cameo by John Waters), go here.

Related video:

"Do You Really Want to Live in a World Where Giant Inflatable Apes Are Banned?"

"Banned: Welcome to Nanny State Nation"

Reason mag on smoking issues.

New at Reason: Jacob Sullum on TARP, the GMAC Bailout, and the Lawlessness of the Bush Administration

The GMAC bailout, writes Jacob Sullum, highlights the lawlessness of the Bush administration, which has ignored statutory restrictions on the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and treated it as a slush fund for politically favored supplicants. Although he has strongly criticized President Bush for flouting the law, President-elect Obama has applauded the latest manifestation of that tendency. Evidently Obama opposes only the "unnecessary" abuse of executive power.

Read all about it here. 

Thirdhand Smoke Alarm

A recent New York Times headline warns parents to be on the lookout for "A New Cigarette Hazard: 'Third-Hand Smoke.'" The freshly coined term, introduced by a study reported in the journal Pediatrics, refers to particles and gases that linger in a room after someone has smoked there or in the clothing and possessions of people who have smoked (or been around smokers) elsewhere. The genius of the study is that it tries to stir up alarm about thirdhand smoke without bothering to show that such trace levels of toxins and carcinogens cause any measurable harm to children (or to anyone else). Instead the authors simply assume that thirdhand smoke is dangerous and then do a survey to see how many people are aware of this "fact."

You can get a sense of the researchers' method from the first sentence of their abstract: "There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke." As I noted when former Surgeon General Richard Carmona said something similar in connection with his 2006 report on secondhand smoke, this is an article of faith, not a scientific statement, since it cannot be proven or disproven. But if you start from the premise that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke, it is very easy to arrive at the conclusion that thirdhand smoke (as well as fourthhand smoke, fifthhand smoke, and sixthhand smoke) is dangerous. Here is another taste of the researchers' approach:

The toxicity of low levels of tobacco smoke constituents has been proved. According to the National Toxicology Program, these 250 poisonous gases, chemicals, and metals include hydrogen cyanide (used in chemical weapons), carbon monoxide (found in car exhaust), butane (used in lighter fluid), ammonia (used in household cleaners), toluene (found in paint thinners), arsenic (used in pesticides), lead (formerly found in paint), chromium (used to make steel), cadmium (used to make batteries), and polonium-210 (highly radioactive carcinogen). Eleven of these compounds are group 1 carcinogens (most carcinogenic designation).

Noting that many of the chemicals in cigarette smoke are toxic or carcinogenic in high enough doses proves nothing about the dangers posed by tiny levels of those chemicals. One searches the article in vain for any acknowledgement of the toxicological principle that the dose makes the poison. Talking to the Times, the lead author suggests we should instead apply the smell test, which tells us to fear a fellow elevator rider who has recently smoked a cigarette:

"Your nose isn't lying," he said. "The stuff is so toxic that your brain is telling you: 'Get away.'"

On his tobacco policy blog, anti-smoking activist Michael Siegel notes that the Pediatrics article "cites just a single study to support its contention that low levels of tobacco smoke exposure are associated with health harm." That study found an association between low levels of cotinine (a nicotine metabolite) in children's blood and their scores on cognitive tests. Siegel, a public health professor who supports smoking bans but believes their advocates routinely exaggerate the hazards of secondhand smoke, details the study's weaknesses, which make it impossible to conclude from it that thirdhand smoke causes brain damage.

"There is no convincing scientific evidence that exposures of this magnitude produce any significant health harm," Siegel writes, "with the one possible exception being children who have asthma and are sensitive to tobacco smoke." He worries that propaganda campaigns focusing on thirdhand smoke may backfire, convincing parents who now make it a point to smoke outside the house or to smoke when their children are not around that such precautions are more trouble than they're worth.

[Thanks to GregA for the tip.]

Do You Know the Importance of a Cuban Skypager?

As noted previously here at Reason, Cubans recently "celebrated" (or privately lamented) the fiftieth year of Castroite totalitarianism, an ideology that has forced millions into poverty and, for those brave and lucky enough to escape, exile in America and Europe. But, it's defenders argue, most of those undernourished compañeros can read (it's just that no good books are allowed!) and they have free health care (good luck filling that perscription!).

When Raul Castro took over from his big brother Fidel, now just a desiccated corpse squeezed into a track suit, he convinced the easily-conviced that his would be a more liberal, more open regime. As the AP reported last year: "First microwaves, now cell phones. Is this the new Cuba? Raul Castro is revolutionizing his brother's island in small but significant ways - the latest in a decree Friday allowing ordinary Cubans to have cell phone service, a luxury previously reserved for the select few."

Previously? Such luxuries were still out of reach for the noble peasant, of course, because the average Cuban salary is $19 a month. When the AP filed that story, it was $130 just to activate the telephone on the state-run network. So a year later, The Washington Post looks at how cell phones have transformed Cuba and discovers that...well, they haven't.

Tatiana González stood transfixed before the glass display case watching a single cellphone spin around and around on a carousel at the government-run store. It was a Nokia 1112, a simple, boxy gray workhorse of mobile telecommunications technology--and González was in love.

She coveted that phone. She confessed she had dreamed of that phone. But she would have to wait just a little longer before she could cradle it to her ear. How much longer? "I hope a year, no more," said González, who toils as a manager of medical records in a hospital, earning $21.44 a month.

[...]

The United States entered and exited the Age of the Beeper in the 1980s, but Cuba has just arrived at it. All over Havana, a visitor sees people looking at the cellphones, not speaking into them.

When Pérez and other Cubans get a call, they rarely answer. Instead, they look at the number, find a land-line telephone, which is ubiquitous and dirt cheap to use, and return the call. If they're feeling flush, they might type a message. "We just type," explained Pérez, wagging his finger. "No talk."

The Cuban government has not released official tallies of cellphone users, though a person who works in the technology field in Havana estimated that there were no more than 250,000 users in a nation of 11.2 million.

[...]

To open a mobile phone account with the state telephone monopoly, ETECSA, a user must go, with a cellphone in hand, to one of the few offices in Havana, stand in line for an hour and then pay $65 to activate the service -- a bargain compared with the $130 the government used to charge. This money is not paid in Cuban pesos but in the parallel currency used by foreigners, Cuban "convertible pesos," known as CUCs and pronounced "kooks." These are huge sums for Cubans, whose average monthly salary is around $20.

[...]

Standing in a two-hour line at the ETECSA shop at the Miramar Trade Center, a young woman said the Samsung cellphone she has had for more than a year was a gift from an aunt who lives in Spain. "I used it as an alarm clock," she explained, "while I saved my money to activate the line."

As every cellphone owner learns, the price of minutes in Cuba is cruel. Local calls between cellphones cost 65 cents a minute. Cellphone calls to a land line are slightly more. Calls abroad? Ordinary Cubans interviewed for this article laughed. No one calls abroad. Dialing the United States costs $2.70 a minute. Europe will set a caller back $5.85.

Full article here. Headline reference here.

New at Reason: Ron Bailey on Whether Nazism Can Happen Here

In 1961, obedience experiments conducted by Yale's Stanley Milgram famously revealed that Americans were no better at resisting the claims of authority than other people. So why hasn't the U.S. had its own Gulag or Auschwitz? The answer, writes Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey, is liberty. Our social institutions have traditionally limited what authorities can get away with.

Read all about it here.

Now at Reason.tv: The Reason.tv Talk Show featuring Michael C. Moynihan and Nick Gillespie, with guests Sallie James and Sam MacDonald

On December 19, Reason.tv's Nick Gillespie and Michael C. Moynihan sat down with Australian-born Cato Institute trade policy analyst Sallie James and memoirist and former Reason magazine staffer Sam MacDonald, whose new book is The Urban Hermit, a slacker update of sorts of Ben Franklin's Autobiography.

Topics covered include the future of free trade under President Obama, what it's like to grow up in Australia, the future of libertarian politics, and whether lentils, which are a huge part of MacDonald's memoir, are inherently awful.

Approximately 25 minutes. Go here for embed code, related links, and past episodes of the talk show. Go here for an audio podcast.

"For Middle-Class Pakistanis, a Gun Is a Must-Have Accessory"

Greatest headline ever.

In today's Wall Street Journal, an story about incentivizing private solutions when public law enforcement fails:

After escaping kidnappers who chained him to a bed for 25 days, Mohammad Javed Afridi pressed Pakistani law enforcement for swift justice. The police offered him something else: temporary permits for four automatic assault rifles.

Since Mr. Afridi's ordeal ended in mid-October, police in his hometown of Peshawar, in northwestern Pakistan, haven't made an arrest in his case....

So the cops allowed Mr. Afridi to arm himself against future abductions. The 35-year-old journalist now carries an AK-47 to work and back home to his wife and five children. Relatives rotate duty as his bodyguards. If his car is again stopped by armed men on a dark road, Mr. Afridi vows to shoot first.

In Pakistan, at least, sometimes you really do need to own four assault weapons in self-defense—even the police think so. Suck it, Brady Campaign Myth #8.

Big Hollywood Is on the Intertubes

Conservative writer Andrew Breitbart has launched a new group blog called Big Hollywood. It's kind of an answer to the Huffington Post (which Breitbart helped develop) and here is Breitbart's capsule description of his new site's goals:

Big Hollywood's modest objective: to change the entertainment industry. To make Hollywood something we can believe in—again. In order to give millions of Americans hope.

Until conservatives, libertarians and Republicans—who will be the lion's share of Big Hollywood's contributors—recognize that (pop) culture is the big prize and that politics is secondary, there will be no victory in this important battle.

More on that here.

Currently up at the site: A cogitation by Fox News' Red Eye Host Greg Gutfeld about free markets and rock ("'If only Kurt Cobain had chased the almighty dollar instead of the dragon, he'd be alive today,' Steve Albini might have said, if he wasn't so busy reading Hayek."); an explication of The Beatles' "Dear Prudence" by GOP Rep. Thaddeus G. McCotter ("Our majority was emaciated by electoral liposuction; our bold re-branding initiative put speed freaks to sleep"); and a well-headlined bit by The New Republic's Jamie Kirchick ("Listening To Annie Lennox's Gaza Commentary is Like Walking on Broken Glass"). All that and a bit by orgone enthusiast Orson Bean.

While there are plenty of areas of disagreement between Reason and Breitbart—his love for the Popeye-elbowed and out-of-wedlock-fathering baseball near-great Steve Garvey is only the most obvious one—he is certainly right that culture is the prize and that, as Matt Welch and I have argued in various places (including Politics magazine), politics is indeed a lagging indicator of change in American society. Given that, several of us at Reason will be participating at Big Hollywood, so look for us to bring a libertarian perspective to the site, one that is surely less down on the entertainment industry's lack of patriotism and more about the absurdity of all the combatants in the culture wars, especially idiots such as these.

Bonus Reason.tv footage: Breitbart and Gutfeld talk about not getting jobs back at Reason magazine when they might have still turned their lives around.

RNC Hopefuls on Ron Paul

At the Western Standard (where they are tracking Canada's heroes of liberty), Kalim Kassam sums up the comments various seekers of the job of chairman of the Republican National Committee made re: Ron Paul at a debate hosted by Grover Norquist.

While Kassam frames it as if they are all smartly recognizing the potential importance of Ron's libertarian, anti-interventionist, anti-fiat money crew to the GOP, the quotes he presents sound a lot more hesitant and grudging than that to me--less "these Ron Paul people are a valuable part of our coalition and should be heeded" and more "we ought not utterly and firmly bar these strange and disturbing people from crossing our threshold, if they really, really wanna help us out."

But check out the summary quotes and video here and decide for yourself, as exciting new media technologies allow us to do. The Wall Street Journal coverage of RNC hopefuls and Paul, which Kassam quotes.

Ron Asheton, R.I.P.

One of the great guitar-grinders of all time is gone: Ron Asheton of the Stooges is dead at age 60, found in his Ann Arbor home. Asheton has more than fair claim to space on top of that most crowded of pedestals, the one where we stand up and honor the "father(s) of punk rock."

Ron and his brother Scotty on the drums, with Mr. James "Iggy Stooge/Pop" Osterberg writhing and howling up front, were not only seminal in the draggy/thumpy/crunchy/fuzzy evocations of emotional and sonic charged ennui and fuck-all mayhem; they were, more important than being early to the game, still and always really, really great at it.

The classic Stooges line-up only made two albums back in 1969 and 1970 (though 1973's Raw Power, when guitarist Asheton was shifted to bass, is also a stone classic). The Ashetons and Iggy reunited as the Stooges with Minuteman Mike Watt on bass this century, and I'm very glad I got to be right up front at one of their 21st century reunion shows, watching the very un-rock n' roll looking Mr. Asheton bring his quiet, maybe even almost a little bored looking, sense of a working man doing a precise and important job as his fingers summoned the fuzzy violence that buoyed up the more colorful Iggy as he danced with the spirits and drew the crowds attention and energy and ferocity, all the qualities being stirred and shaped by that chubby old guy over to Iggy's left whose name they might not have known. He was Ron Asheton, and we're all lucky to have had him.

Reason Writers Around Town: Nick Gillespie on Joseph Priestley, The Invention of Air, and Why America Should Look to an 18th-Century Scientist for Inspiration

Writing in The New York Post about a new biography of Joseph Priestley, the 18th-century scientist credited with isolating oxygen, creating Unitarianism, and influencing Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, Nick Gillespie argues:

We live in troubling times, filled with signs of a great economic apocalypse, politicized science on topics from birth control to climate change and religious zealots who kill innocents rather than live peacefully with them. This is exactly the moment to learn from Priestley, who survived riots, threats of prosecution, and other hardships and yet never doubted that "the world was headed naturally toward an increase in liberty and understanding." Ironically, The Invention of Air underscores that there is nothing natural about progress and liberty, each of which must be fought for and defended every single day by visionary individuals.

Read all about it here.

Obama's Neocon Fans

The neoconservative pundit Jennifer Rubin takes a look at the pending presidency and likes what she sees:

So let's get this straight: Robert Gates will be the Defense Secretary, we're ramping up U.S. forces in Afghanistan and providing a reasonable period of time for a hand-off in Iraq, there isn't going to be a windfall oil profits tax or income tax hike but there is going to be a huge set of business tax cuts -- and Rick Warren is giving the invocation at the Inauguration. Who won in November?

I'm sure there will be times during the next four years when the Obama administration's decisions on issues (e.g. judicial appointments) have conservatives banging their heads against the wall, bemoaning the fact that John McCain wasn't elected. But so far it's hard to imagine McCain would have been doing more than the incoming Obama team seems to be proposing -- and with as much chance of success -- to further some key center-Right policy aims.

Those tax cuts might sound like good news, but they're bundled with some giant hikes in spending; they're basically a way to bribe Republicans into voting for the "stimulus" package. As for the rest -- well, it's no surprise that a Commentary writer would find more value in keeping Robert Gates in office than in blocking Detroit's corporate welfare package.

Meanwhile, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith seem happy with Obama's choice to run the CIA.

"Perhaps the whole of the General Theory was intended as a huge (400-page) joke, and Keynes was appalled to find disciples who took it all literally."

Over at the Foundation for Economic Education's Anything Peaceful blog, Sheldon Richman highlights libertarian journalist Henry Hazlitt's 1959 book, The Failure of the "New Economcs", which offers a startling take on famed economist John Maynard Keynes:

The more I read the more I thought: Keynes was surely joking. No one in his position could really be that confused, contradictory, and ignorant of economic logic. It had to be a gag on the economics profession, an emperor-with-no-clothes experiment.

Thus I smiled when I got to Hazlitt's statement in chapter XXV, "Did Keynes Recant?" (p. 398):

Keynes was a brilliant man. Much of what he wrote he wrote in tongue-in-cheek, for the pleasure of paradox, to épater le bourgois [shock the middle class], in the spirit of Wilde, Shaw, and the Bloomsbury circle. Perhaps the whole of the General Theory was intended as a huge (400-page) joke, and Keynes was appalled to find disciples who took it all literally.

If it was a joke, Keynes helped inflict much misery and oppression on innocent people just for a laugh. I guess for the elitist Keynes, the well-being of the masses can't be allowed to impede his bold and daring lifestyle. It is for people like him that secularists like me wish there was a place of fire and brimstone.

Read the whole thing here.

Where Presidents Meddle With Your Television Set

Starting last night, thanks to Le Prez Nicolas "Bling Bling" Sarkozy, France's four (count 'em!) national public television stations are now prohibited from broadcasting commercials between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Lest you think this is some kind of Hungaro-Gallic starve-the-beast ploy to get L'etat out of the TV biz, think again:

The government says the reforms will improve the quality of programming on public television by freeing it from "the tyranny of ratings" and it has pledged to make up for any shortfall in advertising revenues. [...]

The reform creates a funding gap for public TV which will largely be filled by a levy on private broadcasters and Internet providers and by government support.

The 2009 budget includes 450 million euros to compensate for the loss of revenue[.]

The usual protest strikes are scheduled, etc.

Note: French households currently pay 116 Euros a year (newly indexed to inflation) for the privilege of owning a television set. Also, as every French journalist is quick to tell you in conversation, Sarko is close personal friends with the heads of various private television honchos and other media owners, and has been cruder than his predecessor in using that influence to quash stories and reward allies; neither of which has ever proven particularly difficult in France. And, as part of the same law banning ads, the president will now have the direct ability (instead of merely the indirect ability) to hire and fire heads of state-owned media.

No One Better Than Ezra

The good folks at The Western Standard have compiled their Top 100 Canadians for liberty for the year 2008, starting with this top-25 tranche. Clocking in at numero uno (that's Canadian for "Chief Moose") is Ezra Levant. Explainer:

The issue that dominated 2008 for the freedom movement was the attack on freedom of speech and expression by human rights commissions across Canada, and Ezra Levant was at the centre of this issue as a pro-free speech newsmaker, advocate, lawyer and blogger. Levant is pushing back against Canada's human rights commissions with his new book "Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights." Levant's single-minded defence of free speech in 2008 makes him the Western Standard's choice for the #1 spot on our Liberty 100 list. Levant is the former publisher of the Western Standard.

Jacob Sullum on Levant here.

Great Firewall of China, Version 3.0: Stop the Porn and Vulgarity!

From the Financial Times via Drudge comes the latest rationale for why the Chinese government must crack down on intertube search engines:

China's government has accused the country's leading internet search engines and web portals, including Google, of threatening public morals by carrying pornographic and vulgar content.

While Beijing regularly launches web censorship campaigns, the new crackdown is the first in which the government has targeted heavyweight companies such as Google and Baidu, the local rival that leads the Chinese search market. During the last campaign about a year ago, the authorities listed only small and little-known websites as responsible for spreading unhealthy content.

More here.

Give the Chinese repressocrats this much credit: They must have been reading Reason magazine all these years to realize that "vulgar" culture is indeed often a motive force in dramatic social change. As Charles Paul Freund wrote in 2002:

Popular, commercial forms are not thoughtful. Rather, they are temporary, noisy, intense, ecstatic. They are sensual and disruptive. Because they are frequently set in motion by powerless and even despised outgroups, they appear subversive. They not only threaten social morals, but challenge established power relationships.

The result is that such ecstatic forms are attacked not only by the West's left-liberal critics for their commercial origin, but by the West's conservatives for their disruptive power. Cultural ecstasy may have billions of participants, but it hardly has a single friend.

Freund's stunning essay, "In Praise of Vulgarity: How commercial culture liberates Islam—and the West," is worth reading on a daily basis. It opens with a memorable description of the liberation of Kabul, "when the streets ran with beards? As one city after another was abandoned by Taliban soldiers, crowds of happy men lined up to get their first legal shave in years, and barbers enjoyed the busiest days of their lives."

Here's his masterful finish:

The Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan—just a few hundred miles north of Afghanistan—began a crackdown on dangerous "bohemian" lifestyles. The authorities went after a number of familiar outsiders—gays, religious dissidents—but even Westerners were surprised to learn that one targeted group was "Tolkienists." It turns out that there are Kazakh Hobbit wannabes who like to dress up in character costume and re-enact scenes from J.R.R. Tolkien's novels. For their trouble, they were being subjected to sustained water torture.

Hobbit re-enactors in Kazakhstan? Where do they get their paraphernalia? Are there Kazakh Tolkienist fanzines? Have fans started changing Tolkien's narratives to suit themselves, the way Western Star Trek subcultures turned their own obsession into soft-core pornography? Do re-enactors change roles from time to time, or are any of them trapped inside a Frodo persona? Is there no end to the identities waiting to be assumed? No end to what invention makes flesh, before it tosses it aside and starts again?

So maybe the Chinese are onto something by trying to control the culture, especially the vulgar commercial culture, their citizens are glomming all over. And while the attempt may cause all sorts of trouble, it will inevitably fail.

Inventor of Hawaiian Shirt Says Final Aloha

Alfred Shaheen, the inventor of the "aloha shirt" worn by everyone from returning World War II vets to Elvis Presley to slob frat boys to fictional fruit-drink pitchman and rageaholic "Punchy," has died at the age of 86. His technically and culturally innovative shirts didn't just throw bright colors and shimmering fabrics out into circulation; they were one small but noteworthy contribution to the ongoing and wonderful globalizing and mongrelizing of post-war society and fashion. From The Los Angeles Times obit:

Elvis Presley wore a Shaheen-designed red aloha shirt featured on the album cover for the "Blue Hawaii" soundtrack in 1961.

Born into a family established in the textile business, Shaheen maintained high standards by controlling the process from start to finish at the factory he built in Honolulu.

He hired professional artists and silk-screened their designs on silk, rayon and cotton fabrics he imported to Hawaii. Then his seamstresses cut and pieced together garments that were sold at his own shops and other retail outlets in Hawaii or exported to the mainland and around the world.

"He was a genius," Dale Hope, art director for the Honolulu-based Kahala shirt maker and author of "The Aloha Shirt: Spirit of the Islands," told The Times. "He knew more about the inner workings of all of the elements of printing, the garment business and wholesaling and retailing and distribution. He was really a bright, sharp and smart man."...

Most of the patterns featured three to five colors that laborers applied to silk screens by hand, saturating the fabric. Artists in the Shaheen studio had more than 1,000 dye colors to choose from, including innovative metallic shades, and they consulted rare books, libraries and museum collections. Sometimes Shaheen sent the designers on field trips to Tahiti and other exotic locales to soak up the culture for future work.

More here.

Is the Village Voice a Zombie Newspaper?

...in that it's already dead?

Over at the excellent Splice Today, alt-media icon Russ Smith questions a recent New Yorker story by Louis Menand about the venerable (and editorially ailing) grandpa of downtown weeklies, the Village Voice (once owned by none other than Rupert Murdoch):

Menand also claims that the mainstream press, aping the weeklies, discovered "youth culture" in the early 70s and hired men and women who understood the prevailing popular culture. In fact, it was the slow learning curve of the daily newspapers that opened up a market for the second wave of weeklies, papers that provided extensive events listings, affordable advertisements for small and independent retailers, free classifieds and intelligent arts criticism. The daily newspapers, contrary to Menand's assertion, never did get the "youth market" right and in city after city produced competing free papers that were laughable imitators of the weeklies.

Whole thing here.

Smith, who created the Baltimore and Washingtion City Papers and the New York Press back in the day, is down on print in general and, as a libertoid Republican, he's down on the GOP these days too. Here he is on the Reason.tv Talk Show yapping on all that and more:

New at Reason: Tim Cavanaugh on What the Contract with American Can Teach Today's Republicans

From our February issue, Contributing Editor Tim Cavanaugh explains what the modern GOP could learn from rereading its two-page 1994 masterpiece.

Read all about it here.

Bob Barr Recants DOMA Very Publicly, A Couple of Months After Two Relevant Votes

That is, the one for him for president, and the one where the state in which his op-ed appears, California, voted to bar gay marriage.

Libertarian Party candidate Barr was not well-loved by many party members for writing the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which Barr disavows in the Los Angeles Times with some of these words. (This is not the first time he's said he regrets DOMA. But it is the first time he did so in a piece written by him in a major newspaper. It might have been politically smarter to write and try to get prominent placement for this piece in late October.)

I've....come to the conclusion that DOMA is not working out as planned. In testifying before Congress against a federal marriage amendment, and more recently while making my case to skeptical Libertarians as to why I was worthy of their support as their party's presidential nominee, I have concluded that DOMA is neither meeting the principles of federalism it was supposed to, nor is its impact limited to federal law.

In effect, DOMA's language reflects one-way federalism: It protects only those states that don't want to accept a same-sex marriage granted by another state. Moreover, the heterosexual definition of marriage for purposes of federal laws -- including, immigration, Social Security survivor rights and veteran's benefits -- has become a de facto club used to limit, if not thwart, the ability of a state to choose to recognize same-sex unions.

Even more so now than in 1996, I believe we need to reduce federal power over the lives of the citizenry and over the prerogatives of the states. It truly is time to get the federal government out of the marriage business. In law and policy, such decisions should be left to the people themselves.

Reason magazine ran a cover feature interview with candidate Barr in our November 2008 issue. Reason.com did a post-election chat with him in late November.

A New Year's Police Murder in San Francisco Bay Area

Three police officers at the Fruitvale BART station early on New Year's Day have a young black man, Oscar Grant, pinned on the ground, and one of them shot him in the back and murdered him. (Grant and a group of other people were being held and questioned regarding reports of a fight on the train. He was not armed.)

Video report from local news station KTVU here. News account from San Francisco Chronicle here (and the video seems to fully corroborate the worst version of the story from witnesses in the written account).

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, $100,000 Bluefin

Everyone knows sushi can be expensive, but this is something else:

Two sushi bar owners paid more than $100,000 for a Japanese bluefin tuna at a Tokyo fish auction Monday, several times the average price and the highest in nearly a decade, market officials said. The 282-pound premium tuna caught off the northern coast of Oma fetched $104,700, the highest since 2001.

You might think that the sale of this huge, delicious, scary-looking tuna is all part of the grand Tokyo tradition going back centuries. And it is, in a way. But a fusion of American and Japanese tastes, techniques, natural resources, and new refrigeration and travel technology made the tuna market what it is today. 

The taste for richer fish such as tuna arrived [in Japan] with American troops after World War II, who introduced enthusiastic red meat eating to a previously ascetic people. The most prized sushi today is fatty tuna from the belly of the fish, or toro. But before Americans started ordering nigiri—raw fish laid on balls of rice—most traditional sushi chefs looked down on tuna with the same disdain a French chef has for fat-free mayonnaise.

Likewise, the American concept of tuna—the white, flaky stuff in cans—had no place for the rich, red flesh of the 600-pound creatures being caught in the cold water of the Atlantic. The huge tuna that now spark intense bidding wars at Japan’s Tsukiji seafood market were used primarily to make cat food.

An airline executive with empty cargo holds to fill got a worldwide market in tuna going, and the rest is history.

Read the rest of the article on sushi and globalization from me, here in "The Day of the Flying Fish."

New at Reason: Cathy Young on Russian Liberalism and the Putin/Medvedev Regime

A year ago, Russian liberals harbored at least modest hopes that Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin's handpicked presidential successor, might prove more liberal than Putin. Today, writes Contributing Editor Cathy Young, the winds of change in Russia are blowing again—harsh winds that may yet turn into a storm.

Read all about it here. 

One of Those Other Up-in-the-Air Senate Seats...

...is a little closer to resolution. But still maybe a lawsuit away. Details from AP:

The state Canvassing Board was posed to certify the results of the recount in Minnesota's grueling Senate election in Al Franken's favor — but that doesn't mean the race is definitely over.

The board was to meet Monday and was expected to declare which candidate received the most overall votes from nearly 3 million ballots cast. The latest numbers showed Franken, a Democrat, with a 225-vote lead over Republican Sen. Norm Coleman.

But after the announcement, there will be a seven-day waiting period before an election certificate is completed. If any lawsuits are filed during that waiting period, certification is conditional until the issue is settled in court.

Coleman, who led Franken on election night, hasn't ruled out a lawsuit challenging the results, claiming there were irregularities that gave Franken an unfair advantage.

The head of the Senate Rules Committee--which sits in mighty judgment over contested elections to his body--thinks it's all over, apparently:

New York Sen. Charles Schumer....said Sunday that Franken had won the election.

"While there are still possible legal issues that will run their course, there is no longer any doubt who will be the next Senator from Minnesota," Schumer said. "With the Senate set to begin meeting on Tuesday to address the important issues facing the nation, it is crucial that Minnesota's seat not remain empty, and I hope this process will resolve itself as soon as possible."

Republicans, meanwhile, unsurprisingly are being procedurally scruplous and saying the seat should remain empty until all legal questions are resolved.

I did not once make any "Al Franken Decade" jokes. At least not in this decade.

HackWatch: John Yoo Edition

Per Jacob Sullum's post below on the John Yoo/John Bolton piece in the New York Times, I think we have a new addition to our HackWatch feature.  Yoo, who under President Bush has argued that the president has the power to unilaterally withdraw from treaties, now wants the Senate to reassert its treaty power, because he fears the sorts of entanglements into which President-Elect Obama might get us enmeshed.

Yoo gets an 9 out of 10 on the somewhat-arbitrary Hackery Index.  The only ameliorating factor, here, is that Yoo's hackery seems more issue-oriented than strictly party-oriented. That is, he isn't explicitly arguing that Republican presidents should have more power than Democratic presidents.  Rather, he believes the president should have plenary power to negate treaties pertaining to issues broadly related to national security, but wants the Senate to reassert itself on treaties related to domestic policy.  Of course, the issues where Yoo wants plenary executive power happen to be issues where he agrees with Republicans, and the issues where he wants more Senate control are those issues where he doesn't trust Obama.  But Yoo does at least have a constitutional argument for making the distinction. It just happens to be a crappy one.

If you see an example of a pundit, politician, major blogger, or other Beltway creature who’s done a 180 on this or another issue, please send it to us, with links, and “HackWatch” in the subject line.

Historians and the Great Depression

David Beito, professor of history at the University of Alabama and author of the superb From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State, has published an open letter to the journalist Daniel Gross, taking issue with Gross' assertion that "one would be very hard-pressed to find a serious professional historian who believes that the New Deal prolonged the Depression." Here's Beito:

If the quotation accurately represents your views, it is very mistaken.

Off the top of my head, I can name "several serious professional historians" who would probably argue (and argue strongly) "that the New Deal prolonged the Depression." In addition to myself, they include Jonathan Bean of Southern Illinois University, Brad Birzer of Hillsdale College, Brad Thompson of Clemson University, Jeffrey Hummel at San Jose State University, Larry Schweikart of the University of Dayton , Michael Allen of the University of Washington at Tacoma, Ralph Raico of Buffalo State College, Burton Folsom of Hillsdale College, David Mayer of Capital University in Columbus, John Moser of Ashland University in Ohio, and Paul Moreno of Hillsdale. All have doctorates in history from top-ranked universities.

Whole thing here. Reason.tv looks at whether Obama's new New Deal will be as bad as the old New Deal here. Amity Shlaes discusses "Franklin D. Roosevelt's baleful economic legacy, the growth of government, and the death of classical liberalism" with Nick Gillespie here.

John Yoo Worries About Presidential Presumption

In a New York Times op-ed piece, John Bolton and John Yoo, former Bush administration officials not known for expressing concern about executive branch power grabs, urge Congress to demand that the president respect its constitutional authority...to reject international agreements that Bolton and Yoo do not like. While evading the Treaty Clause's requirement of approval by two-thirds of the Senate was OK in the case of Bretton Woods, GATT, and NAFTA, they say, it is clearly improper when dealing with climate change agreements, the Law of the Sea Treaty, and the International Criminal Court. Bolton and Yoo, who as a Justice Department attorney notoriously argued that the president can do pretty much whatever he wants in the name of national security, conclude by slyly suggesting that Republicans in the Senate help the incoming Democratic president "strike the proper balance between the legislative and executive branches that so many have called for in recent years."

New at Reason: Matt Welch on Arnold Schwarzenegger's Failure

From our February issue, Editor in Chief Matt Welch writes that if California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is the face of "moderate" Republicanism, the party is even more doomed than the 2008 elections suggest.

Read all about it here.

Reid's Thin Reed Bends

In an interview with NBC's David Gregory on Meet the Press yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid insisted "there's clearly legal authority for us to do whatever we want to" when Roland Burris, Illinois Gov. Rod Blogojevich's choice to replace Barack Obama, tries to claim his seat. At the same time, Reid left room for a deal that would allow Burris to serve. Here is his rationale for resisting the appointment:

Blagojevich obviously is a corrupt individual. I think that's pretty clear. And the reason that he's done what he's done is to divert attention from the arrest that was just made of him and the indictment which will be coming in a few days, according to the U.S. attorney in Illinois. That's why President-elect Obama agreed with us that Mr. Burris is tainted. Not as a result of anything that he's done wrong. There's—I don't know a thing wrong with Mr. Burris.

Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution says, "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members." The Supreme Court has ruled that in this context "qualifications" are the criteria laid out by the Constitution itself—e.g., that a senator be at least 30 years old and a U.S. citizen for at least nine years. In any event, Reid concedes there's nothing wrong with Burris' personal qualifications; according to Reid, it's Burris' appointment by a governor accused of corruption that's problematic. Reid is arguing that the Senate has a right to judge the legitimacy of Burris' appointment, just as it would have the right to judge the legitimacy of another senator's election. Yet if Burris himself is clean, as Gregory pointed out, "there's nothing suggesting that the appointment was at all illegal" (that it was the result of a bribe, for example).

Perhaps recognizing that his position is legally untenable, Reid declined to say that he would press it in court and suggested that Burris might be allowed to serve after all:

Gregory: But there sounds to me like there may be some room here to negotiate and actually seat Burris?

Reid: Hey, listen, David, I'm an old trial lawyer. There's always room to negotiate.

Gregory: All right, so you're not saying no completely that he won't serve?

Reid: That's right.

Last week I said the rule of law demands that Burris be permitted to take his seat. In his column today, Steve Chapman, no fan of Burris or Blagojevich, fleshes out that argument.

Private Benjamins

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, George Selgin suggests a solution for Argentina's small-change shortage:

Why the shortage? Argentina's central bank blames it on "speculators," meaning everyone from ordinary citizens, who stockpile coins, to Maco, the private cash-transport company (think of Brinks) that repackages change gathered from bus companies to resell at an 8% premium. But those explanations ring false. "Black marketeering" would not exist if coins were easy to get in the first place. After all, Argentines could just as easily hoard razor blades or matchbooks. Yet there's no shortage of those. What's so special about coins?

The answer is that coins are supplied by the government alone. "Put the federal government in charge of the Sahara desert," Milton Friedman said, "and in five years there'd be a sand shortage." If Argentina wants to end the coin shortage, it ought to give up its monopoly.

Crazy? Not if history is the guide. Over two centuries ago, Great Britain faced a coin shortage more severe than Argentina's -- so severe that it threatened to stop British industrialization in its tracks. People struggled to get coins for everyday use. The average worker was lucky to make 10 shillings a week, while the smallest banknotes were for 10 times as much. So the coin shortage even prevented factories from paying wages.

Like Argentina's government today, the British government wasn't able to end the shortage. Yet the shortage did end -- thanks to private-sector action. Fed up with the government's inaction, British firms started minting their own coins. Within a decade a score of private mints struck more coins than the Royal Mint had issued in half a century -- and better ones: heavier, more beautiful, and a lot harder to fake. Yet they were also less expensive, since private coiners sold their products at cost plus a modest markup, like other competitive firms, instead of charging the coins' face value, as governments like to do. Finally, when those who had accepted the private coins for payment went back to the issuer to redeem them, issuers offered to exchange their coins for central bank notes at no cost.

Armed with this history, it takes no great flight of fancy to imagine Argentine firms today, including supermarket and retail chains like Carrefour and Wal-Mart, reputable banks like HSBC Bank Argentina, and transport companies like Metrovias, issuing their own centavos and one peso coins.

Selgin wrote more about the British experience with private coins in this article and this book.

(Note to sticklers: Yes, I know a Benjamin is somewhat larger than small change. For now!)

Debating Obama's FCC

From 1 to 2 this afternoon, eastern time, I'll be discussing the coming Obama FCC on KUER, the NPR affiliate in Salt Lake City. I'm told the leftist communications historian Robert McChesney will participate in the conversation as well. McChesney won't be able to make it, so the other guest will be Craig Aaron, communications director of Free Press. We'll be on sequentially, not simultaneously.

Salt Lake listeners can tune in at 90.1 FM. XM subscribers can turn to Channel 133. Everyone else can listen online.

Random Morning Links

  • Obama promises 600,000 new federal employees.
  • Amtrak police arrest man who says he was taking pictures for an Amtrak photo contest.
  • Indiana Court of Appeals strikes down Internet sex sting convictions, finds that in order to be guilty of attempted sex with a minor, the victim must be an actual minor, not an undercover police officer. A solicitation charge against the man will stand.
  • Connecticut judge drives drunk, drifts out of lane while in a construction zone, hits a parked police car, and unleashes barrage of racial insults shortly after the accident. Her sentence? An alcohol education program. The charge will be erased if she stays clean for a year.
  • Not particularly interesting: Former Ft. Lauderdale city commissioner has his bike stolen. Interesting-er: While in office, commissioner created mandatory bike registration system, on the theory that forcing city residents to register bikes would deter theft. Interesting-est: When reporting the theft, the former commissioner had to admit to police that he hadn't registered his own bike, violating his own regulation.
  • Burglars dressed as cops invade home in DeKalb County, Georgia.

So Where Exactly Did Madoff Get the Idea to Pay Off Early Investors With Money From Later Investors?

The answer, deftly rendered in cartoon form and which I can't show due to copyright restrictions, may surprise you. But probably not, if you read the website or watch Reason.tv.

Hat tip: Veronique de Rugy.

Where, Where the Hell Is Bill?

Bill Richardson just loves his country too much to let an ongoing New Mexico influence-peddling investigation muck up his confirmation as Commerce Secretary, and so good-bye. Mildly bad news, maybe, for those of us who cling to any capital-C Character that comes along in an otherwise dreary sea, much like early-'80s Cleveland once embraced Super Joe Charboneau.

More substantively, to the extent that the Department of Commerce impacts trade policy, it would theoretically seem unfortunate that a trade-bashing president-elect has let go a man once self-styled as a "market Democrat." But Richardson dropped that moniker faster than a heroin habit when he ran for president, campaigning unpersuasively against trade agreements, and otherwise doing what Brian Schweitzer and all the other once-ballyhooed (by fools like me) Mountain West Democrats have done–stand athwart a party bending leftward on economics and yelling "me, too!" For eulogies of the market-friendly strain within the Democratic Party, see these pieces by Tim Cavanaugh and David Weigel.

The worst news of all is that the Department of Commerce still exists. An $8.4 billion budget with 38,000 employees? What are they building in there? Helpfully, the department's website lets us know, right there on the front page. At a link entitled "Commerce Department Accomplishments" you can find, um, some speeches and fact-sheets about why trade is good? Of even less help is a little front-page box entitled "Commerce and You." There you can access a nifty little population clock for the U.S. and the world, but also such marginalia as the Official Time in Your Area, Today's Weather, and (my favorite) Grant Opportunities.

Way back in 1987, when Republicans still talked that way, Clarence Thomas asked in a Reason interview: "Why do you need a Department of Commerce?" And as late as '08, soon-to-be disappointing Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr told us that, "The Department of Commerce, to my mind, has no legitimate Cabinet-level function."

Mitch McConnell Suddenly Determines That When It Comes to Bailouts and Stimulus Packages, More Time Is Better Than Less

Back in the fall, when a Republican president and Treasury secretary were pushing an ill-defined, low-oversight bailout of the financial sector (and everything else but the kitchen sink, although the fixtures at Goldman Sachs are probably getting upgraded under TARP), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was all for it, with great haste. You know, we were running out of time before everything exploded.

Indeed, McConnell praised his big house colleagues for passing a bill loaded with "sweeteners" that would get a recalcitrant House to change its original no vote, saying "I think a good vote coming out of the Senate will certainly be helpful over on the House side."

Now, staring down the possibility of a ready-to-sign stimulus package costing at least $750 billion for President Barack Obama come Jan. 20, McConnell is finally urging a wait-and-see approach:

"What I worry about ... is the haste with which this may be done," McConnell said on ABC's This Week. "This is an enormous bill. Do we want to do it with essentially no hearings, no input ... from Republican senators. I don't think that's a good idea."

More here.

Well, good for McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate and a staunch foe of the abridgements to constitutional speech usually praised as "campaign-finance reform." We've been stimulatin' the economy like nobody's business for a long time now, and it's worth calling for a cool-down period before moving into the next phase of the 1,000 fingers Magic Touch. Can we wait for, I don't know, maybe two or three quarters before figuring out the next massive intervention into the U.S. economy?

However, McConnell's change in attitude seems suspiciously unprincipled and mostly partisan. I'm all for divided government (here's hoping it delivers gridlock), but one of the problems with unprincipled pols is that, well, they don't have principles. Which means they will flip the moment they get enough goodies promised them to go one way or the other. And if the experience with the financial sector bailout is any indication, expect the second (and third, and fourth, and so on) bills to be even worse than the awful first draft. And expect McConnell sometime soon to be on the other side of the vote, the one with all those shiny, happy Democrats yapping about how they just guaranteed a car in every pot and two chickens in every garage by funding bullshit infrastructure programs in every ZIP code in the country.

New at Reason: Steve Chapman on Why the Senate Should Seat Roland Burris

One of the axioms of American democracy is that we are a government of laws, not of men. But as Steve Chapman writes, the Democrats in the U.S. Senate may ignore the rule of law and indulge their own preferences by rejecting Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's lawful selection of Roland Burris to fill the senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama.

Read all about it here.

George W. Bush: An Easy Act to Follow

The first rule of being a new coach is to always follow a loser. Ron Hart applies that logic to Barack Obama, who is effectively taking over the Detroit Lions after years of the Marinelli Magic. Writes Hart about Dubya's legacy:

Bush has been a big-government disaster. He was the "outside the Beltway" Texas governor who was going to cut spending and bring Washington under control. Instead, he oversaw the biggest expansion of government in modern times. And the most tragic effect of the Bush legacy is that he has set the conservative/libertarian ideology back 20 years. He did so by not being a conservative or a libertarian.

Now all that is left for him is to pardon a few folks and try to burnish his legacy. To date he has pardoned fewer felons than his predecessors. My guess is that even criminals don't want a pardon from W because they don't want to be too closely associated with him.

And this:

[Obama] has an easy act to follow in George W. Bush, who solidified his position with me as perhaps our worst president when he ignored the will of the country and Congress in giving Detroit all that bailout money (better known as "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic"). Bush, with help from Dick Cheney, has tried to establish an imperial presidency. In doing so he has always found the desires of Congress and the American people to be quaint and amusing. But W feels he knows best. That would be fine, if he had been right more often.

As a result of bad choices and the betrayal of fundamental principles, W's approval ratings are the lowest of any modern president. The only thing Bush is still above is the law.

Whole thing here.

Read all about Bush's "disaster socialism" in the January issue of Reason.

Reason Writers Around Town: Nick Gillespie on Why Joseph Priestley, "The Father of Modern Chemistry," Was A Gas

In The New York Post, Reason's Nick Gillespie reviews The Invention of Air, a new biography of the man widely credited with discovering oxygen and linking it to blood, creating Unitarianism, and inventing soda water. Arguably the best-known scientist of his day, Joseph Priestley was a close scientific colleague of Ben Franklin, patronized by the Birmingham entrepreneurs who helped create the Industrial Revolution, and an influence on Thomas Jefferson.

Author Steven Johnson figures Priestley, who was hounded out of England after an angry mob destroyed his laboratory in 1794, as precisely the sort of optimistic, rational seeker we need more of today. From the review:

Johnson paints Priestley not as a man of the past but precisely the sort of figure the world needs more than ever: A searcher who shared his discoveries openly and willingly, crossed disciplinary boundaries with impunity and insight, who conceived of the world as a large laboratory. As important, Priestley exemplifies "the temperament that we expect to find at the birth of America—bountiful optimism, an untroubled sense that the world must inevitably see the light of reason."

We live in troubling times, filled with signs of a great economic apocalypse, politicized science on topics from birth control to climate change and religious zealots who kill innocents rather than live peacefully with them. This is exactly the moment to learn from Priestley, who survived riots, threats of prosecution and other hardships and yet never doubted that "the world was headed naturally toward an increase in liberty and understanding." Ironically, "The Invention of Air" underscores that there is nothing natural about progress and liberty, each of which must be fought for and defended every single day by visionary individuals.

Whole review here.

Friday Mini Book Review: The Ten Cent Plague

Mini-reviews of past years.

The Ten Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America, by David Hajdu. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008). Hajdu (whose previous group profile of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Richard and Mimi Farina, Positively 4th Street, I reviewed here) claims for comic books a power and cultural influence in the 1950s that most standard American history denies them. To sum up quickly, forget rock ‘n’ roll when it comes to youth culture ferment and pop cultural dynamic world-changing; comics were the ur-Source of the postwar cultural revolution, while Elvis and Chuck Berry merely “added the soundtrack to a scene created in comic books.”

When outsider scholars and journalists dip into neglected fields like comic books, ones chockablock with scene-marinated fanatics (like myself) they risk making critical, interpretational, and historical howlers and seeming in ways both specific and general to just not “get it.” Hajdu is a very good reporter and developed quite a feel for his subject; there’s little opportunity for the comics fan and amateur historian to write angry marginal notes condemning his mistakes or misunderstandings.

He prefaces the story of the late 1940s/early 1950s cultural and governmental assault on comic books—which he dubs “the great comic-book scare”—with a short history of the comic book form, with well-drawn characters, from exploitative quick-buck artists to gestating genuine artists, with a special emphasis on the cultural marginality and freewheeling openness of the trash form, and the prominent role played by some female, and the occasional black, creators in it.

Hajdu notes that as early as 1909, with newspaper comic supplements still fledgling, Ladies Home Journal was already condemning comics as “nothing short of a national crime against our children.” What happened four decades later to bring them low and drive half the comic book titles in existence off the stands was a culmination of decades of middlebrow distrust and fear of this delightfully lowbrow form. It was also part of a general war on a rising new class of unruly kids, who had morphed from the more vernacular “hooligans” to the very social-scientific sounding “juvenile delinquents.”

The war against comics, Hajdu notes, “hopped from the back of the newspaper to the front, section by section—from the book reviews and religion columns to the ‘women’s’ department to the hard-news pages.” Concerted government action in response kicked off in earnest in 1948; soon at least 50 municipalities had passed some sort of law to restrict the sale or comic books.

That same year, the Supreme Court overturned a New York state law outlawing publications consisting of “pictures and stories of deeds of bloodshed, lust or crime.” It did so, though, mostly on grounds of the statute’s vagueness. Its decision in Winters v. New York assured legislatures that “circulation of objectionable printed matter” could certainly still be legally punished. “Neither the states nor Congress are prevented by the requirements of specificity from carrying out their duty of eliminating evils to which, in their judgment, such publications give rise.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement of press freedom, though the previous sentence does say “assuming that it is not protected by the principles of the First Amendment,” and it emboldened rather than halted local and state police actions against comic sales.

Also in 1948 came Fredric Wertham, the good liberal psychiatrist who attacked comics as a source of mental pathology and criminal behavior for kids in the pages of The Saturday Review of Literature and later in his 1953 book, piquantly titled Seduction of the Innocent. Then came the 1950 Kefauver Senate investigation and 1954 Hendrickson Senate investigation on links between comics and juvenile delinquency, the rise and murder of horror comics, and the imposition of the comics code that imposed sanitized standards on what was, if by no means an adult and sophisticated storytelling medium, at least a wilder and more entertaining one than the comics code allowed.

The reader might detect Hajdu’s thumb on the scale of historical significance, romanticizing what he wants us to read as an underreported and ignored “red scare” of sorts, the crusade against comics that drove many publishers out of business, many titles off the stands, and many creators out of the medium—including, he informs us, “untold numbers of racial, ethnic, and social minorities.”

But whether you're swayed by his claims for significance, they don’t drag down (nor do they buoy up) his narrative and characters. Hajdu commands and tells a great story of moral hysteria and the damage done, amusingly lurid comics and the amusing yet also dangerously lurid reactions to them from academics, churches, PTAs and governments. He brings to life everyone from publishers who didn’t give a damn what they sold, artists who lived and breathed their disrespected art, kids who fought to defend their pleasures, and kids who enthusiastically burned their fellows’ pleasures and beat them up if they didn’t go along with comic book boycotts. The detailed recounting of EC publisher Bill Gaines’ Dexedrine-fueled and self-destructive testimony before the 1954 Hendrickson committee hearings is especially delightful and instructive.

If Hajdu goes a bit overboard in insisting on the stories’ larger importance to people who don’t give a fig about comics, that’s a forgivable sin to an author pleasingly afire with his subject matter. In short: if you think you care about the history of comics, American 20th century pop culture, and censorship, this book is both necessary and a great pleasure. If you are sure you don’t care, Hajdu could well convince you that you should.

It's a Bong, Not a Bomb! We're Indian!

Yesterday at Reagan National Airport, Atif Irfan, a tax attorney, and his brother Kashif Irfan, an anesthesiologist, were forcibly removed from an AirTran flight to Orlando, along with their wives, children, and sister, plus a friend who happened to be on the same plane and was seen talking to them. The Irfan brothers' offense: discussing, on the way to their seats, which was the safest part of the plane. A passenger who perceived the conversation as threatening reported the Irfans to a flight attendant, and soon the pilot was ordering their removal from the flight, with the help of air marshals. Although FBI agents who interviewed the Irfans at the airport quickly determined that they posed no threat, the airline still refused to rebook them so they could continue their interrupted vacation. Now they want an apology, but AirTran seems to prefer a lawsuit. It claims it "complied with all TSA, law enforcement and Homeland Security directives and had no discretion in the matter." The TSA apparently disagrees. CNN reports that an agency spokesman "said it was the airline's decision to remove the family."

Would the decision have been the same if the Irfans and their friend had Anglo-Saxon names and fairer complexions? Would the suspicious passenger have been suspicious in the first place? The Irfans' friend, an attorney who works for the Library of Congress, thinks not. "I guess it's just a situation of guilt by association," he told CNN. "They see one Muslim talking to another Muslim, and they automatically assume something wrong is going on." 

Update: As cunnivore notes, AirTran has now apologized to the ejected passengers, refunded their airfares, and promised to reimburse them for the cost of switching to other carriers. The airline's statement says:

We apologize to all of the passengers—to the nine who had to undergo extensive interviews from the authorities and to the 95 who ultimately made the flight. Nobody on Flight 175 reached their destination on time on New Year's Day, and we regret it.

Even so, AirTran is not prepared to say it made a mistake. A.P. reports that "the airline said the incident on the flight was a misunderstanding, but the steps taken were necessary."

The Youth are Getting Restless

A stirring call to action from the Facebook group 300 million strong to get Bad Brains to play Obama's inauguration:

We want - no, we DEMAND that - every single person in the U.S., whether they're here legally or not, and even if they're way too young to vote or frankly not cool enough to appreciate buck-wild hardcore rasta-punk, support our call to have Bad Brains play President-elect Obama's inaugural bash.

Bad Brains, the baddest of badasses, were famously "Banned in DC" almost 30 years ago! So, it's high time (if you'll pardon the expression) that the most DC of all the DC bands was not only officially unbanned, but received the honor that President Clinton saw fit to bestow on Fleetwood Mac. (No offense.)

I don't see why not. If President-elect Obama is willing to break the hearts of his LGBT supporters by inviting anti-gay Pastor Rick Warren onstage, why not get the famously homophobic Bad Brains' frontman HR to hype the crowd up between speakers? Maybe Obama's old foe Alan Keyes will show up and get in the pit.

In case all you Obama staffers out there need further convincing, here are the boys playing "Banned in D.C." at CBGB's in 1982:

New at Reason: Jeff Taylor on Why 2009 Will be Worse than 2008

The unhappy fact, writes Jeff Taylor, is that 2009 is almost certain to feature more economic hardship than the year that preceded it. President-elect Barack Obama may think he has steeled himself for this outcome, but three major factors argue against Obama truly being prepared for the worst.

Read all about it here.

Reporting and Proportionality in Gaza

As the biggest news story of the week rolls on in bombs and blood, Israel maintains its ban on foreign journalists entering the Gaza Strip.

As outsider reporting on what's going on is barred, there are plenty of ways to work around conventional professional journalists these days, and the Israeli Defense Forces are using such modern-age conveniences as Twitter and YouTube to make sure its own version of events is getting out, even as they try to ensure no one else's is.

As I knew it would be, this piece I wrote back in July 2006 on Israel's then-current bombing in Lebanon and the discussions about blame and proportionality it generated is still relevant, and will probably continue to be for a sadly long time to come. For the most part, while reading that 2006 piece substitute "Gaza Strip" for "Lebanon" and "Hamas" for "Hezbollah."

Helen Suzman, RIP

First Miriam Makeba died, and now we've lost Helen Suzman, the leading classical liberal opponent of apartheid. From The Australian's obit:

The most celebrated white champion of the anti-apartheid movement, Helen Suzman was the South African MP who for 36 years consistently denounced the iniquities of racial segregation. Often, she was the sole politician in South Africa's parliament to campaign vociferously against apartheid. For six years, she was also the only woman among 165 MPs, enduring the contempt of male parliamentarians who viewed white supremacy as a birthright, and to whom liberal was a dirty word.

Undeterred, Suzman used her privileges as an MP to gain access to areas forbidden to the general public: prisons, black townships and "resettlement areas" in the tribal homelands. At every step she highlighted the evils of the system.

David Boaz has posted a nice tribute to Suzman at the Cato blog:

I loved reading about her quick wit in parliamentary debates. She sent the minister of law and order a postcard from the Soviet Union, saying, "You would like it here. Lots of law and order." Once she told a government minister to go into the black townships and see their appalling conditions for himself. He would be quite safe, she said, if he went "heavily disguised as a human being." In a famous exchange a certain minister shouted: "You put these questions just to embarrass South Africa overseas." To which she coolly replied: "It is not my questions that embarrass South Africa -- it is your answers." When an Afrikaner in Parliament sneered at her Jewish roots and asked what her ancestors were doing when his were bringing the Bible to the "savages," she snapped, "They were writing the Bible."

Boaz notes that Suzman "did not forget her liberalism when apartheid finally fell and the African National Congress came to power. She continued to speak out against repressive policies and the Thabo Mbeki government's continuing support for Robert Mugabe." She was a consistent classical liberal in another way, too: She favored free markets as well as human rights, and she understood that the two ideals were linked.

If Accidents Are Up, the Cameras Must Be Working

According to the Houston Chronicle, a city-commissioned study found that "the number of crashes at Houston intersections with red-light cameras doubled in the first year after their installation." That looks like evidence that ticket-wary drivers are causing crashes by stopping short at intersections or speeding up at yellow lights, as predicted by camera critics, who argue that such surveillance systems compromise public safety for the sake of revenue. Yet camera advocates say the study supports their argument that monitoring intersections reduces accidents by deterring drivers from running red lights.

How so? The cameras, which so far have been placed at 50 intersections in Houston, do not cover every direction at each intersection, and the increases in accidents were sharpest in the lanes on which the cameras were not trained. Accidents in the camera-covered directions, by contrast, "remained relatively flat or showed only a slight increase." Camera supporters argue that the total number of traffic accidents in Houston rose last year and that the monitored lanes would have seen even bigger increases in crashes without  the cameras. "Collisions are going up all over the city," a co-author of the study says, "but red-light cameras have held back that increase at approaches where they have been installed." (D.C.'s police chief deployed a similar argument a few years ago.)Camera critics say there is no evidence that "collisions are going up all over the city." According to Houston Police Department data, accidents have been falling since 2004.

Another problem with the argument that the cameras have improved traffic safety: Can it really be that they are working only in the directions on which they are trained? That assumes drivers know exactly which lanes are monitored by the cameras at a given intersection, as opposed to being generally aware that the intersection has cameras, which seems more likely to be the case.

Previous reason coverage of the red-light camera controversy here, here, here, here, and here.

[Thanks to Derek Ashworth for the tip.]

New at Reason: Read Our Complete January Issue

Our entire January 2009 issue is now available online! Check out Matt Welch on President-elect Obama's fiscal promises, Mike Flynn on the government's role in the financial meltdown, Greg Beato on the seductive perils of justice porn, Damon Root on the trouble with Thomas Jefferson, and more, all in addition to our Letters section, 25 Years Ago in reason, and other popular features.

Click here to read our complete January issue.

Two Fetishes Meet: Leather and Obama

In the third week of January, come to D.C. for the 25th annual Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend, stay for Obama's inauguration.

Via Mary Katharine Ham

Sure, Al. A Couple Hundred Tortured Detainees, 100,000+ Iraqi Citizens, the U.S. Constitution, and You.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales actually made John Ashcroft look like the Bush administration's resident civil libertarian. By the time he left office, his zeal for executive power coupled with political ineptitude and general incompetence managed to win him contempt from both the left and the right.

Now Gonzales can't find a publisher for his book, and no one has yet offered him the cushy, high-paying job at a D.C. law firm that high-ranking public officials seem to think they're entitled to upon stepping down.

According to Gonzales, Gonzales is a victim. Check out this quote from his interview with the Wall Street Journal this week:

"What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?

. . . for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."

Greedy Executives Double Salaries, Cut Customer Service, May Ask for a Bailout

No, it's not the latest Wall Street failure. It's D.C.'s Metro public transportation system. The D.C. Examiner reports that the system is anticipating major reductions in service, a hiring freeze, and possibly layoffs.  Yet salaries at all levels of Metro have increased at several times the rate of inflation.

Metro’s Approved Fiscal 2009 Annual Budget includes large pay hikes for salaried management employees, as well as hourly workers such as bus drivers, rail operators and maintenance workers. But the numbers take on added significance when compared to previous years.

For example, in the section entitled “Multi-Year Operating Cost Comparison,” we see that salaries for Metro managers in the Bus Services section have more than doubled since 2006. Next year, Metro’s top bus executives expect to be paid twice what they made just three years ago, and this when almost every economic indicator is steadily heading south.

[...]

In 2007, an exclusive Examiner series highlighted the excessive overtime payments that pushed more than a hundred bus and rail operators into six-figure territory – almost double the median income of the Washington, D.C. area.

[...]

Meanwhile, Metro’s “customers” have to contend with broken escalators, defective subway cars, increasing crime and decreasing system reliability even as they continue to pay the higher fares and parking fees imposed on them last year when most Metro employees were getting yet another raise.

New at Reason: Friday Funnies

In the latest edition of Friday Funnies, Chip Bok reveals the the most recent developments in the Bernie Madoff scandal.

New at Reason: Radley Balko on the Good News from 2008

The last 12 months may not prove to be the most fondly recalled in recent American history, writes Senior Editor Radley Balko, but things aren't all that bad. In fact, most social indicators are still moving in the right direction.

Read all about it here. 

New at Reason: Read the Complete Citings from our January Issue

The complete Citings from our January issue are now available online. Don't miss Jacob Sullum on the fatwa against Mickey Mouse, Radley Balko on the corrupt Chicago politicians who put themselves above the law, Brian Doherty on the problems with gun databases that store "ballistic fingerprints," Katherine Mangu-Ward on Washington state's ban on driveway car washing, and more.

Read all about it here.

Radio Free 2009

Ring in the new year with Managing Editor Jesse Walker's weekly freeform radio show, Titicut Follies. It'll be broadcast on WCBN-FM this afternoon from 12 to 3, eastern time. If you live in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area, you can tune in at 88.3 FM. If you live elsewhere, you can listen online.

New at Reason: Steve Chapman on Roland Burris and Rod Blagojevich

When the news broke that Gov. Rod Blagojevich was trying to auction off President-elect Barack Obama's Senate seat, Roland Burris called his behavior "appalling." But as Steve Chapman writes, after the governor appointed Burriss to fill the vacancy, the onetime comptroller-for-life lost interest in the scandal. "I have no comment on what the governor's circumstance is," Burriss demurred.

Read all about it here.