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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

 

SOTU

The State of the Union is tonight and as a quasi-political site, maybe we ought to post on it. But that's for tomorrow. Tonight we drink! 9 PM is game time...

(I'm somewhat fearful of the camera showing Ted Kennedy - "drink until your liver cries")

Update
20 minutes into the SOTU (and one Yuengling), here's my summary of the SOTU if I were Mr Mackey:
"Isolationism is bad. Mmmkay?"
Update 2
Tim Kaine is speaking and the only thing I can pay attention to is his left eyebrow. Down boy down.

Update 3
Can you smeeeeeeelllll what Tim Kaine is cooking?!!!!!???

Sorry, that eyebrow thing really got to me.

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The Great Zucchini

I've been meaning to post this for a few days: Gene Weingarten's profile of a children's clown in Washington. You may remember that Capturing the Friedmans began life as a documentary about children's clowns; the best thing about the DVD was additional footage from the original project. The Great Zucchini, the subject of Weingarten's piece, is at least as weird as David Friedman; read the whole thing. It's worth it.

H/T James Lileks.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

 

WTF is my birth state doing?!?

Tennessee has passed a tax on crack. NO. REALLY.

Here's the state web page for the "Unauthorizzed Substances Tax". From the state's "frequently asked questions:

What is the unauthorized substances tax?

The unauthorized substances tax is a state excise tax levied on controlled substances (marijuana, cocaine, crack, methamphetamine, etc.) and certain illicit alcoholic beverages (untaxed liquors and spirits).

Who is required to pay the tax?

The tax is due by any dealer who possesses an unauthorized substance upon which the tax has not been paid as evidenced by a stamp available from the Tennessee Department of Revenue. A "dealer" is any person who possesses more than 42.5 grams of marijuana, seven or more grams of any other unauthorized substance that is sold by weight, or 10 or more dosage units of any other unauthorized substance that is not sold by weight.

When is the tax due?

The tax is payable within 48 hours after the dealer acquires actual or constructive possession of a non-tax-paid unauthorized substance, exclusive of Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays of this state, in which case the tax is payable on the next working day. If a dealer is found in possession of a taxable substance, it will be presumed he/she had possession of the substance for more than 48 hours. Penalty and interest will be assessed pursuant to the provisions of Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 67, Chapter 1, Part 8.


What should I do with the stamps that I receive after I pay the tax?

The stamps must be permanently affixed to the unauthorized substance. Once the tax due has been paid and the stamps affixed, no additional tax is due even though the unauthorized substance may be handled or possessed by other individuals in the future.



Will the Department of Revenue notify law enforcement if I purchase stamps?

No. Information obtained pursuant to the unauthorized substances tax law is strictly confidential and may not be disclosed or used in a criminal prosecution other than a prosecution for a violation of the unauthorized substances tax law.

Who can I call to get an application for stamps or more information on the unauthorized substances tax?

The Tennessee Department of Revenue using one of the following numbers:
Statewide toll-free: (800) 342-1003
Nashville-area and out-of-state: (615) 253-0600

However, they only implicitly answer my question: Are they f'n serious? I guess so - they brought in $2 million dollars last year. One more question, which I figure is rather frequently asked is: what drug dealer is going to actually call the Department of Revenue to pay the tax?

On the flip side, Tennessee is prosecuting the government officials responsible for running an illegal driver's license ring.

Update
I guess I should note that I believe I understand what TN is really doing.

Specifically, they've come up with a fine that they can levy without the need to go to court, but that strikes me as unconstitutional (due process violation). I imagine there's been court challenges that I'm unaware of.

For added fun, the TN revenue office might be breaking federal law and looking at a minimum two years jail time. Last June we noted that the US House of Representatives had introduced a bill (HR1528) with the following legal effects:
‘FAILURE TO PROTECT CHILDREN FROM DRUG TRAFFICKING ACTIVITIES
SEC.425.

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person who witnesses or learns of a violation of sections 416(b)(2),417,418,419,420,424,or 426 to fail to report the offense to law enforcement officials within 24 hours of witnessing or learning of the violation and thereafter provide full assistance in the investigation, apprehension,and prosecution of the person violating paragraph (a).

Any person who violates subsection (a) of this section shall be sentenced to not less than two years or more than 10 years.If the person who witnesses or learns of the violation is the parent or guardian,or otherwise responsible for the care or supervision of the person under the age of 18 or the incompetent person,such person shall be sentenced to not less than three years or more than 20 years.’’
If that bill ever gets out of committee, I expect this program to end quickly, publicly, and messily. (That's not to say that I don't also doubt the Constitutionality of HR 1528, but if you're unConstitutionally imprisoned, you're still in prison)

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Rocket Man

Watching Stewie perform Rocket Man on Family Guy just now reminded me that I've been meaning to post a link to Shatner doing his classic interpretation of Rocket Man.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

 

Panda Porn

http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/asiapcf/01/25/panda.passion/index.html

Since apparently a lot of people visit polyScifi searching for porn, I figured I will give a link to "Panda Porn" following with the tradition of "Bison Porn". We need one of those articles every year don't we, so the number of people visiting the blog increases.

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New Criterion Contraption

Nights of Cabiria, now at the Criterion Contraption.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

 

Ultimate Showdown

Let's expand my earlier question of national importance to include all "superheros". So who wins and why?

I would ask you to leave a comment opining on the subject, but the question has already been answered in this Flash video (h/t Jonah) in which Chuck Norris features prominently...

If you click through on nothing else I post this week, watch this video (I also highly suggest that you turn on subtitles and turn on the sound)

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

 

In which I defend an anti-war position against QandO

This post by McQ centers on the following question:
How can one claim to be against the war for moral reasons and yet be for the instrument of the war?
McQ's believes that the two claims present a logical impossibility. I disagree.

Consider McQ's logic applied to another subject on which I am certain he feels differently and formed into an apparently equivalent logical conundrum:
How can one claim to be against murder for moral reasons and yet be for the instruments of murder (guns)?
Personally, I'm for the war (in Iraq - the war in question), for the troops, against murder, and for guns. But then I don't see why there should be any logical difficulty in separating the instrument from the activity. To make the logic work, the only assumption required is that there exists some other activity you support for which the instrument would be moral and useful.

As most people I know who are against the Iraq war at least accept the use of the military for purely defensive wars, then it can be perfectly consistent for them to oppose the war on moral grounds, yet support the instrument (the military) - they wish to preserve the instrument for some possible future activity (such as a defensive war) which they would deem the use of the instrument as morally justified.

Update
After a little back and forth in the comments on QandO, I believe McQ meant
How can one claim to be against the war for moral reasons and yet be for the executors of the war?
which is indeed logically problematic.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

 

A Question of Great National Importance

Chuck Norris versus Jack Bauer. Who wins?

When this great country of ours hits our next televised national crisis, who do we turn to? Does it matter if the crisis is in LA, Texas, or Vietnam? Are a former Green Beret's round house kicks superior to a CTU agent's handguns?

Discuss...

Update
D'oh, links added...

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81?!?

Kobe dropped 81 on the Raptors last night in 4 quarters. After this and his 62 point outburst against Dallas (in 3 quarters), I'm no longer certain that Shaq was the better player of the LA duo, which is saying something as I'm a big Shaq fan...

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Thursday, January 19, 2006

 

Hardly an Originalist

Who says activist judges have all the fun? This is from last spring, but I just saw it for the first time. Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber notes that Judge Janice Rogers Brown, the paleoconservatives' dream candidate for the Supreme Court, ended a speech she gave back in 2000 with a reading of Samuel Beckett that's somewhat... questionable.
Freedom requires us to have courage; to live with our own convictions; to question and struggle and strive. And to fail. To fail. Recently, I saw a quote attributed to Samuel Beckett. He asks: “Ever tried? Ever failed?” Well, no matter. He says, “Try again. Fail better.” Trying to live as free people is always going to be a struggle. But we should commit ourselves to trying and failing, and trying again. To failing better until we really do become like that city on the hill, which offered the world salvation.
Never mind for the moment that Judge Brown also argues in the speech that the belief in human perfectability is the first step on the road to destruction. And never mind the question Farrell poses ("What would that city on the hill look like if Beckett were the architect?" Ed: Houston). I'd like to defend Brown, because I believe she was using the quote correctly, but not for the reasons she thought she was. For someone who stresses the primacy of the original text, she could have done a better job of checking out her sources here (the speech footnotes everything else she quotes, but not the Beckett). Although Beckett was not much of an optimist, and not much of a motivational speaker, the "Fail Better" line, in the book where it's found, actually does a pretty good job of describing the conservative project, the construction of that "city on the hill." That book's title (and theme?): Worstward Ho.

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Beautiful Cities, Ugly Cities

The little debate over zoning between Matt and I (he's fur it, I'm agin it) inevitably came to the appearance of cities - a rather subjective measure on which we differed.

In my opinion, the best looking city I've visited is Miami FL. It's got a common architectural theme (not the theme of a city where I would want to live, but I appreciate it nonetheless), a nice mixture of buildings, and I think it neatly embraces its setting.

In my opintion, the worst looking city I've visited is Swansea Wales. It's an industrial city with lots of short squat buildings. It did, however, have a Tennessee Fried Chicken which amused me greatly, but didn't make the city any prettier.

What's your best/worst looking cities and why?

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The value of marriage

Illustrating (at least to me) again why I consider myself to be a conservative libertarian, I found this article to be quite compelling (h/t vikingpundit).

Purposefully echoing John Edwards, it asserts that there are two Americas - a highly successful well-to-do America and an unsuccessful mired-in-poverty America. However, rather than advocating messing around with the economy or rewarding people for their poverty, the article's focus is on why this is so.

It's conclusion is that these different outcomes are a function of the attitudes that people have towards marriage and how they believe marriage should fit into their lives, particularly with respect to childbearing.

Excerping:
That picture turns out to be as equivocal as an Escher lithograph, however. As the massive social upheaval following the 1960s—what Francis Fukuyama has termed “the Great Disruption”—has settled into the new normal, social scientists are finding out that when it comes to the family, America really has become two nations. The old-fashioned married-couple-with-children model is doing quite well among college-educated women. It is primarily among lower-income women with only a high school education that it is in poor health.

...

Forty-five years ago, there was only a small difference in the way American women went about the whole marriage-and-children question; just about everyone, from a Smith grad living in New Canaan, Connecticut, to a high school dropout in Appalachia, first tied the knot and only then delivered the bouncing bundle of joy. As of 1960, the percentage of women with either a college or high school diploma who had children without first getting married was so low that you’d need a magnifying glass to find it on a graph; even the percentage of high school dropouts who were never-married mothers barely hit 1 percent. Moreover, after getting married and having a baby, almost all women stayed married. A little under 5 percent of mothers in the top third of the education distribution and about 6 percent of the middle group were either divorced or separated (though these figures don’t include divorced-and-then-remarried mothers). And while marital breakup was higher among mothers who were high school dropouts, their divorce rate was still only a modest 8 percent or so.

...

But around 1980, the family-forming habits of college grads and uneducated women went their separate ways. For the next decade the proportion of college-educated moms filing for divorce stopped increasing, and by 1990 it actually starting going down. This was not the case for the least educated mothers, who continued on a divorce spree for another ten years. It was only in 1990 that their increase in divorce also started to slow and by 2000 to decline, though it was too late to close the considerable gap between them and their more privileged sisters.

...

As of 2000, only about 10 percent of mothers with 16 or more years of education—that is, with a college degree or higher—were living without husbands. Compare that with 36 percent of mothers who have between nine and 14 years of education. All the statistics about marriage so often rehashed in magazine and newspaper articles hide a startling truth. Yes, 33 percent of children are born to single mothers; in 2004, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, that amounted to 1.5 million children, the highest number ever. But the vast majority of those children are going home from the maternity wards to low-rent apartments. Yes, experts predict that about 40 to 50 percent of marriages will break up. But most of those divorces will involve women who have always shopped at Wal-Mart. “[T]he rise in single-parent families is concentrated among blacks and among the less educated,” summarize Ellwood and Jencks. “It hardly occurred at all among women with a college degree.”

...

The results radically split the experiences of children. Children in the top quartile now have mothers who not only are likely to be married, but also are older, more mature, better educated, and nearly three times as likely to be employed (whether full- or part-time) as are mothers of children in the bottom quartile. And not only do top-quartile children have what are likely to be more effective mothers; they also get the benefit of more time and money from their live-in fathers.

For children born at the bottom of the income scale, the situation is the reverse. They face a decrease in what McLanahan terms “resources”: their mothers are younger, less stable, less educated, and, of course, have less money. Adding to their woes, those children aren’t getting much (or any) financial support and time from their fathers. Surprisingly, McLanahan finds that in Europe, too—where welfare supports for “lone parents,” as they are known in Britain, are much higher than in the United States—single mothers are still more likely to be poor and less educated. As in the United States, so in Europe and, no doubt, the rest of the world: children in single-parent families are getting less of just about everything that we know helps to lead to successful adulthood.

...

There is something fundamentally different about low-income single mothers and their educated married sisters. But a key part of that difference is that educated women still believe in marriage as an institution for raising children. What is missing in all the ocean of research related to the Marriage Gap is any recognition that this assumption is itself an invaluable piece of cultural and psychological capital—and not just because it makes it more likely that children will grow up with a dad in the house. As society’s bulwark social institution, traditional marriage—that is, childbearing within marriage—orders social life in ways that we only dimly understand.

For one thing, women who grow up in a marriage-before-children culture organize their lives around a meaningful and beneficial life script. Traditional marriage gives young people a map of life that takes them step by step from childhood to adolescence to college or other work training—which might well include postgraduate education—to the workplace, to marriage, and only then to childbearing. A marriage orientation also requires a young woman to consider the question of what man will become her husband and the father of her children as a major, if not the major, decision of her life. In other words, a marriage orientation demands that a woman keep her eye on the future, that she go through life with deliberation, and that she use self-discipline—especially when it comes to sex: bourgeois women still consider premature pregnancy a disaster. In short, a marriage orientation—not just marriage itself—is part and parcel of her bourgeois ambition.

Anyways, go read the whole article - it's quite long (I excerpted maybe 10% of it) and has charts and all sorts of good stuff.

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My Sister's Just Not That Into Your Book

Here's my sister Emily's summary of He's Just Not That Into You, reformatted from the (instant messenger) original:

If your boyfriend is:
He's just not that into you.

But...

Now, here's the catch that made this book millions:

You are a hot, hot lady! Don't waste the pretty on him!

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

 

Soon To Be As Famous as Rumsfield and Hussein

Three updates on the AWESOME story of Jonathon "The Impaler" Sharkey's gubernatorial campaign. First, his wife was fired from her job as a bus driver shortly after his press conference announcing his candidacy. It sounds like it should be an interesting court case; I'm not sure of the legalities. Second, he has an interview with City Pages here. One thing he reveals in the interview is that as of Monday his campaign is going to be the subject of a documentary film. Which I cannot wait to see.

But here's the third thing, and I'm almost speechless at its sheer excellence. Jonathon Sharkey claims to have a close relationship with Jeb and George W. Bush. The deranged ravings of a lunatic? Well, he has pictures:



My guess is that Jeb Bush wouldn't be so happy if he knew he was talking to a man who would feature his brother's IMPALEMENT on the capital steps as a major plank in his campaign for the White House. The beautiful part is that Sharkey could (and should) argue that impalement is "consistent with the constitutional authority of the President . . . as Commander in Chief."

Here's the second photo:



I'm curious what the paintings were. Could it be that they hang in the Florida Governor's Mansion to this day? Or the White House?

H/T Wonkette.

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Nearly the most brilliant American Idol contestant ever

Watching the preliminary rounds of American Idol, I just saw what was almost the most brilliant contestant ever. He showed up with his "invention" - the Cosmic Coaster some rather crappy coaster that lights up and supports a drink in the air. He gave it to Paula who placed her drink on it (camera zoomed in for a close up), got in the name of the coaster and described its nonapparent features. Then he proceeded to give a horrible rendition of "If I only had a brain". But I don't think he cared about winning the contest.

He just got 35 million people to see his product. Damn that's smart. Would've been smarter if he had a website up so you could go buy one (there is another Cosmic Coaster which doubles as a bar board game).

I wonder if we'll see more of this in the future.

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In defense of the NFL

Not that you would think it needs much of one, but nonetheless I find it, I think, unfairly judged on Dean's World today.
There are two sports that are wildly popular in America: professional boxing and NFL football. Both of these sports are utterly barbaric. Yes, I am very much a libertarian and don't belive in imposing state power on what individuals do. Yet these two sports are so utterly horrific that I think someone needs to speak out.

...

The average age at death for an NFL pro is 55 years. When you watch professional football players, you are watching young men destroy themselves for your pleasure.

Yes, it's exciting to watch, and admirable in its own way. But still, ultimately, you're watching young men destroy their bodies and their brains for your pleasure.

In this post it's a little bit unclear why Dean is comparing boxing and the NFL and why he's asserting that boxing is wildly popular as it pales in popularity in comparison to football (college and professional), basketball (men's and women's college and professional), baseball, hockey, tennis, soccer, NASCAR, and professional wrestling (which is not really a sport, but is nonetheless much more popular than boxing).

However, Dean presents this same line of thought with more specificity towards the NFL in this comment that precipitated the debate and it is here that it is made clear that he views the bone crushing hits as the primary attraction of NFL football. [emphasis added]
I could go off on a long rant about NFL football, most of which would make me look like a liberal pansy. And most of which would be correct. To whit:

The NFL relies on the totally unsubsidized college football game. Of which 99 out of a hundred players never make the big time. And then when they do make the big time and make it to the NFL, they are paid obscene salaries to basically destroy their own bodies.

I totally disapprove of NFL football. The only thing I disapprove of more in sports is boxing. Because ultimately, what you're doing is cheering while young men absolutely destroy themselves for money. They screw up themselves FOR LIFE, just for your entertainment. 9 out of 10 of them wind up with LIFELONG CRIPPLING INJURIES, just to sate your desire to see a good hit.

I'm sorry, I know I'm a liberal pansy, I truly am, but when somone points out to you what you're actully looking at, how can you not be distrurbed? You're looking at black kids (and white kids) destroy themselves for you entertainment. 80% of them will die in pain and obscurity. Why do we applaud this?
In effect, Dean believes that football and boxing are both wildly popular because of our bloodlust. If the attraction and purpose of football was providing a venue to see people the the snot knocked out of them, then I think Dean would be correct in equating football with boxing. However, there is so much more to NFL football than just "sating [our] desire to see a good hit" as I asserted in this comment which I repeat in the following.
Well, while we do applaud aspects of the destruction, the bulk of our applause is reserved for the sport itself.

Drawing examples just from the playoffs, what's memorable about and what's cheered in NFL football is not the destruction, it is the sport.

It is the individual feats of athleticism - the one handed catches, the moves that leave defenders grasping at air, the perfect pass, the diving grab.

It was not the hit that possibly ended Carson Palmer's career that we cheered, it was Troy Polemalu's spectactular interception that got overruled. It was not the hit that jarred the ball lose from Jerome Bettis (although that was a pretty benign hit), it was the sudden swing in the game that resulted from the fumble and the sense of "Oh my God, they're going to do it." It is amazement at Steve Smith almost single handedly beats the vaunted Chicago defense.

Beyond the athleticism, it is the mental demands placed on the players and coaches. It is marveling at the defensive scheming of John Fox. It is the wonder of the dismantlement of the league's best offenses by Pitt's aggressive defense and conservative offense (but tricky when needed). It is seeing quarterbacks who have never been to a playoff game demonstrating that the intricacies to the game can only be learned by being there (all first time playoff starters lost and all played pretty badly). It is seeing veteran quarterbacks likewise humbled (P. Manning, Brady) though coming close.

Then it is the subsuming of the individual into something greater than the sum of its parts. It is the wonder of seeing a team (Washington) only eke out 128 yards of offense yet win by not making any mistakes. It is seeing a dynasty fail to repeat, but fail admirably (New England). It is the Colts' refusal to give up until the very end. It is seeing an underdog rise from its lowly sixth seed (Pitt) by playing tough consistent football in spite of the calls who is now just a game away from the SuperBowl.

Yes, we enjoy a good hit - we are men after all, but men are more than sheer blood lust and there's so very much more to love about NFL football beyond the reductionist equation of the NFL to gladitorial combat.

More so than any other sport and any other league in the world the NFL puts a premium on both athletic and mental brilliance (it's one of the last institutions on earth where they give you an IQ test before they hire you - the Wonderlic test).

So if you must insist on calling yours a liberal (not the classical kind as the term is typically used on this blog) position on the NFL, I must insist that you call it a liberal position for a reason different from your squeemishness.

Rather, like many of my liberal friends (I'm in a university so I have very few conservative friends) you have found something that you don't like and rather than leaving it at that, you have attempted to assert the superiority of your preference by fixating on the downside while ignoring the upside, emphasizing the most prurient motivations while ignoring the noble, pointing out the dirty underbelly while overlooking the gleaming coat.

In my mind, such a mindset has become synonomous with liberalism and it is displayed here again. Yet, I think a different term would be more appropriate - cynicism - as the cost of the NFL is known, but not its value.
I also address the 55 year old statistic in this comment but it's only tangential to my point and unrelated to what I think should be my concluding thought which is: Wouldn't it be cool if the Steelers play the Panthers in the first all wild card Super Bowl?

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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

 

Jonathon The Impaler

Best. Gubernatorial candidate. Ever. Let me introduce you to Jonathon Sharkey, who is running for governor of Minnesota. From his campaign site:
Honesty is very seldom heard nowadays, especially from a politician. So, I am going to break from political tradition. My name is Jonathon “The Impaler” Sharkey, Ph.D., L.D.D.D. I am a Satanic Dark Priest, Sanguinarian Vampyre and a Hecate Witch. My Magikal Path name is: Lord Ares.

I despise and hate the Christian God the Father. He is my enemy.

However, it doesn't mean that I hate all his followers.
Wow. And here's the best part of his platform:

Any one found committing an act of terrorism in Minnesota will be IMPALED by me at the State Capital. If the US DOJ wants to prosecute me for it, then I will take my chances in Court, for I do not believe an American Jury will convict me of brutally killing a terrorist!
That said, he also plans to block the federal government from sending any more Minnesota National Guardsmen to Iraq. I draw two lessons from his campaign:

  1. You don't have to support the war in Iraq to be tough on terror.
  2. When it comes to running for office in the United States, actively professing any religion is a better idea than atheism.

Seriously, check out this guy's campaign site (his photos are AWESOME). My favorite doomed political campaign used to be the guy who ran for Lieutenant Governor of California on a one-issue platform: legalizing ferrets as household pets. But Jonathan Sharkey has just won my vote.

H/T Wonkette.


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Concerned Alumni of Princeton

I'm not a fan of Sam Alito, and if I were a senator I'd vote against his confirmation in a heartbeat. I see nothing that would indicate that he's going to do anything but rubber stamp further expansion of the executive branch (in fact, he's much worse than Roberts on this). Anyway, I wanted to pass along an explanation at Obsidian Wings of what, exactly, Concerned Alumni of Princeton was for and about. He makes a convincing article that CAP was formed in direct response to the admission of women and minorities to Princeton (including the information that Princeton was the Ivy League school of choice for southerners because of their very, very limited admission of blacks). Anyway, I don't think Alito's membership in CAP is as big an issue as, say, Klan membership or something, but it's worth having some background on what the group was about.

Williams, by the way, has its own crazy alumni, but they've more or less given up on fighting coeducation. Their big issue is bringing back fraternities, which were done away with there in the 50s.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

 

New Criterion Contraption

Black Orpheus, now at the Criterion Contraption.

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At Long Last!

Sorry for nothing more interesting to post about recently; I've been just sitting back in shock and awe at the Famicom Band's live-action recreation of Mike Tyson's Punch Out. It's pretty badly filmed, and only features two fights: Don Flamenco and Great Tiger. But what fights they are! (All right, all right, the Great Tiger's magic teleportation punch is pretty unconvincing).

Oh, and they also have Elevator Action, featuring the worst jump animation ever.

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Friday, January 13, 2006

 

Taxing the poor

From Maryland:

In a stinging defeat for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and a major victory for organized labor, the Maryland General Assembly decided on Thursday overrode the veto of a closely-watched bill that will force Wal-Mart to pay more in health benefits to its employees.

The legislation apparently makes Maryland the first state in the nation to enact such a requirement, and was heavily lobbied by both business and labor. The bill was passed in last year's session of the Legislature and vetoed by Ehrlich, a Republican, in May. Since then, passage of the bill over the governor's veto has been a major priority of the Assembly's Democratic leaders and their labor allies.

The bill does not specifically target Wal-Mart. Known as the Fair Share Health Care Plan, it requires companies employing more than 10,000 people to spend at least eight percent of their payroll on health care benefits. Wal-Mart is the only company of that size in the state that does not already do so, though the giant retailer does offer health insurance to its employees.
How do companies pay taxes? By passing them along in prices.

What's the income demographic of Walmart shoppers? Predominately lower income.

So who's going to be bearing the brunt of this action? The poor.

Way to go Maryland lawmakers - getting the exact opposite result of what you claim you're trying to do.

My bigger beef with the program is that company specific taxes distort the market which is VERY bad for the economy. For example, here are perfectly plausible responses to the new Maryland regulation:
1) Walmart immediately shuts down a few stores to get under 10,000 employees (I believe the current count is 14,000), but otherwise continues business as normal.
2) Walmart passes along the 8% (Walmart runs a profit margin of 3.5% so profits can't absorb the hit) in prices, which other stores don't have to compete with. In the least, customers end up paying more (even if they go elsewhere, Walmart is the lowest priced retailer, so shopping elsewhere still ends up costing the consumer more), and in all likelihood, with Walmart facing higher costs than other retailers, there will be either store closures or layoffs until Walmart is under 10,000 employees.
3) Walmart distributes the cost around the nation (so that you and I are now paying for health care in Maryland, grr...) reducing its competitiveness around the country which will lead to layoffs/store closures, and higher prices paid by everyone. (This would also create a perverse free-rider incentive for other states to do something similar further exacerbating problems. Also note that under this scenario, MD is still effectively taxing the poor, just perhaps the poor in other states.)

Any way you slice it, it's bad for the economy.

As my own little protest, I'll be discussing with my wife tonight permanently excluding Maryland from potential locations for my post-graduation employment (I have a few unofficial offers from companies in the state). Maybe Galt's Gulch is hiring...

Update
In the comments, Matt notes that it's 8% payroll, not 8% revenues (proving that it pays to at least read what you paste in). Also this WaPo article notes that Walmart currently spends between 7 and 8% of payroll on health care, so the effect may be quite small.

However, taxing individual companies remains a market distorting mechanism and I'm afraid that this will set a very bad precedent.

(Side note: according to Tom Paine, there is only one other institution in Maryland that has more than 10,000 employees - Johns Hopkins. However, JHU is not exactly operating in a low margin market...)

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

 

Buying the press a clue on international mail

I've refrained from commenting on the NSA "wiretaps"* brouhaha because I don't know if they're legal or not because I don't know exactly what the program is (I also think that most people who've commented don't have enough insight into the particular program to add anything but noise).

However, the press outrage of the day is just dumb. Here's a Reuters excerpt:
U.S. officials can open personal mail arriving from abroad as part of the fight against terrorism, and do so when they deem it necessary to protect the country, a Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman said on Monday.

News of the little-known practice [-ed !!??!!] follows revelations that the government approved eavesdropping on U.S. citizens without judicial oversight after the September 11 attacks, which sparked concern from civil liberties advocates and some lawmakers who called for congressional hearings.
Last time I sent a package overseas, I saw the following form - look in the top left of the green box - "May be opened officially"


So a) there's an opening disclaimer on post office forms, b) Customs has always opened mail and packages (with national security always being one of the reasons for opening them), and c) It's not possible to have a functioning Customs office without opening mail/packages.

Since it was apparently news to John Cole of Balloon Juice as well, I'm disinclined to think this is a result of press dishonesty and instead will treat this as a data point in answering the question, "Is our children learning?" ("No, they isn't learning. Is they?").

(*) The best-supported inference on the NSA program I've seen is this post by Orin Kerr where it is speculated that the NSA was engaging in packet sniffing on switches that carry predominately international traffic which would a) make it not wiretapping (real-time, i.e., not recorded), b) explain a lot of curious things written in the press, and c) in my mind, probably make it legal. (IANAL, but it seems equivalent to what Customs does with snail mail - an aside to this aside - Not only do I think it's within Customs' purview to deny virus laden emails and phishing scams from entering the country, sorta like they do with fruits and animals, I think they should implement such a program)

However, I don't have any actual knowledge of the program (unlike what's written on international postal forms), so this footnote is idle speculation and really should only be considered an explanation for why I put "wiretap" in scare quotes.

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Ron Moore's Favorite SciFi

A top 5 list of sorts from Ron Moore on Opinion Journal. I must admit that I haven't read two of the works, though I do recognize them as classics. I think they'll be near the top of my post-graduation reading list.

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Saturday, January 07, 2006

 

New Criterion Contraption

Insomnia, now at the Criterion Contraption.

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Friday, January 06, 2006

 

Big Breaking VT News

Marcus has been dismissed from the team:
Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick was dismissed from the team Friday, the result of numerous legal transgressions and his unsportsmanlike conduct in the Toyota Gator Bowl.

University president Charles Steger announced the dismissal on the same day that coach Frank Beamer met with Vick and his mother in their Hampton Roads home, the school said in a statement. Beamer informed them of the decision during the meeting.
Something else I didn't know from the timeline sidebar in that same article
Dec. 17, 2005: [Vick] Pulled over by police in Hampton, Va. for driving 38 mph in a 25 mph zone and driving with a suspended license.
Update
Marcus arrested on firearms charge.
Former Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick turned himself into the Suffolk Magistrate's Office in Suffolk, Va., this afternoon after three warrants were issued for his arrest for waving a firearm at three men in the parking lot of a McDonald's restaurant on Sunday night.

Vick, the younger brother of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, was charged with three misdemeanor counts of brandishing a firearm. He was jailed at Western Tidewater Regional Jail around 2 p.m. today and was released on $10,000 bond, according to Magistrate Lisa Noel.
Clue to Marcus - stop digging, the hole is deep enough.

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Thursday, January 05, 2006

 

Road Trip!

Who wants to go to Ottawa? Before we go, make certain to pick up some "Derelicte" clothes from Mugatu so we fit in. The story (h/t drudge):
Seventeen chronic alcoholics who drank upwards of 46 glasses a day over the past 35 years, including cheap substitutes such as mouthwash that often led to unconsciousness, were offered a glass of wine or sherry each hour, from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm at an Ottawa shelter over five to 24 months.
Mmm... hobo wine...

But perhaps we don't have to go Ottawa as:
The program will soon be expanded to 24 beds and healthcare providers in other Canadian provinces and the United States have expressed interest in setting up their own

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