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The Therapy Sessions
Wednesday, December 29, 2004

A school experiment

Philadelphia schools experiment seen as model
Two academic years after Pennsylvania took over the failing Philadelphia school system and made the controversial move to contract out management of about one-sixth of its schools, test scores are up and class sizes are down. The district plans to expand private-sector involvement and is closely watched by U.S. educators as the leader in inner-city school reform.

"It's not that other cities don't contract out some of their schools, but Philadelphia does to a much greater extent than the others," said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of 65 school districts from the largest U.S. cities.

Private companies and universities today manage 45 of Philadelphia's 270 public schools. As private managers, they set curriculum and hire teachers and principals. But they are subject to the same state-wide performance criteria as schools that are under the district's management.

I was somewhat sceptical that the "Philadelphia Experiment" would have any positive effect on student achievement, and I still am.

It's not that I was against privatizing Philly's schools. Lord no! I was 100% for that.

How illuminating it has been to see private firms sweeping the bird shit and bat guano out of the corrupt, over-politicized, inefficient bureaucratic nightmare known as the Philadelphia School System.

Lo and Behold! Private firms are finding that $9,000 per student ($3,000 more than Pennsylvania's average per student spending, with Pennsylvania taxpayers footing the bill for their own children AND Philadelphia's) is more than enough to keep the heat on, the bathrooms clean, the libraries stocked and the buildings painted. The teachers are in the classrooms teaching, not baby sitting.

The schools now look like schools - not worn down factories - for Christ's sake.

We have dispensed with the silly idea that you can't measure performance through testing, and we are finding that large numbers of teachers weren't qualified to teach their subjects (one of the good things about "No Child Left Behind").

Who'd have thunk?

But let us be realistic. I think that the student improvement we have seen so far is little more than a "dead cat bounce." We are, after all, talking about the most hopeless of Philadelphia's schools. While some improvement is nice, they are still far from producing young scholars.

And I don't think we will ever get there. No matter how money or effort is expended.

As a society, we drastically overestimate the ability of schools to mold children.

This is a sad fact: In the first eighteen years of life, a typical child only spends about 10% of his time in a classroom. The other 90% is spent sleeping (of course), watching TV, playing video games, hanging out with friends and living with parent(s).

Stupidity begins at home: the typical poor home in Philly (and in poor rural white areas)is headed by a single parent who hasn't read a book in a decade. It is a home where the TV blares constantly and children are left to their own devices.

There is a culture of poverty that this country desperately needs to address, and it needs to do it free of the opaque lens of racial politics.

Well run schools won't change that.

But then, they can't hurt.


Merger madness

Hinjew leaders today conceded the merger of Hinduism and Judaism has not worked out as planned, as instead of forming a super-religion to fight off the common Islamic enemy, they have instead created a race of 900 million people who, no matter how many times they are reincarnated, can never please their mothers.

'On paper, this was a textbook alliance: two smaller competitors join forces to take on a larger adversary,' said New Delhi resident Chandra Gopan. 'But the synergies are just not there. For instance, I still believe I must pursue my own dharmic path to ultimate happiness, but when I get there, I just know my mother will find something wrong with it.'


The secret to long life

Become Homeless!:
The (homeless) coalition claims that 3,000 out of 3.5 million homeless people died last year. That's a death rate of 0.86 per thousand. According to the CIA World Factbook, the overall annual death rate for Americans is 8.34 per thousand. That means that if the coalition's numbers are on the level, the average American is 9.7 times as likely to die in a given year as the average homeless person--this notwithstanding the sky-high rates of substance abuse and severe mental illness among the 'homeless.'

Is the secret of long life to live in a cardboard box? Or are the Coalition of Homeless's numbers simply bogus?

I'll take "simply bogus" for $500.


Truer words never spoken

United Nations Convention against Corruption
“Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately—by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice, and discouraging foreign investment and aid."

Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-General, in his statement on the adoption by the General Assembly of the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

Of course, when the corruption takes place in your organization, under your own supervision, involves your own son and led to the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children, stonewall like hell.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Second Postulate of Parenting: order trumps justice.

(Over the years, my wife and I have been making a list of postulates for good parenting. They are very different from the child rearing ideas that many psychiatrists recommend. Psychiatrists, I am convinced, spend so much of their time thinking for parents that they have forgotten to think like parents.

A "postulate" is something that you are pretty damn sure is correct, while a "law" is an iron-clad truth. By the time these postulates are "laws," I'll probably be about 80 or so, and I won't give a shit anymore.)

I have already described the first, and here is the second, up for debate:

1) Old Fashioned, Uncompromising Discipline Works.

2) Order First, Justice Second (The Tito Policy)

Recently, I been forced to confront the limits of parenthood.

A typical scenario: Sean (age 4) bosses Timmy (age 1.5) around and tries to take his toy. Timmy reaches for his toy to get it back. Sean grabs his hand and pushes it away. Timmy hits Sean. Sean cries to me that he is in great pain (uh right...). Timmy cries for his toy.

Now, particularly when I'm driving, I don't have a clue who is wrong or who is right. And to confuse matters thoroughly, if I try to piece the sequence of events together, both children are going to lie to get the advantage.

Yes, that's what I said: My children are liars.

In fact, all children are liars.

Don't act so shocked. And if you immediately say "not my four-year-old," get out of here. If you honestly believe that your little child is an angel - incapable of lying - you are a naive fool and you should not be raising children.

All children lie. It is as natural as pooping their pants. Telling the truth is something that you learn to do. And the best way to learn this critical lesson is to learn that lying doesn't save you from trouble; it contributes to it.

How can the parent teach this lesson? I've given this some thought, and my best answer is The Tito Policy (and no, I'm not referring to one of Michael Jackson's brothers).

Tito was the former leader of the country once known as Yugoslavia, and he had the thankless task of keeping this artificial collection of spirited ethnic groups together as one nation. With such a job, he could not get involved in trying to figure out whether the Serbs or Croats were right about some historical difference; his goal was make them work together. Using his secret police and his military, he scared all of the Yugoslavian nationalities, and he kept his fractious nation whole.

Tito was not a great man. He was a lifelong socialist, for example, and if that is not stupid, I don't know what is.

But he understood a simple thing about making people work together. The same thing can work in the family.

Now I admit that my wife and I have not employed the Second Postulate. You see, Timmy is too young too understand it right now.

But in the future, it will be employed. And I believe it will be effective.

It's simple really. When confronted with a scenario like the one above, both children will be punished. In the car that might mean both children sitting on their hands for ten minutes. At home, it might mean each boy will have to sit alone in a chair with no toys or no books.

Who was right? Who was wrong? I don't care: my first directive is maintaining order.

What will both children learn from the Second Postulate?

They might learn the valuable skill of working with others to resolve differences. They might learn that lying or tattling (even with great charm) won't work with their father or mother. They might learn to compromise.

They might learn these things, but they probably won't. At least not early on.

They WILL learn that appealing to Daddy's sense of justice is waste of time (because it is), and that stomaching one's sense of resentment is superior than revealing it to Dad.

And they will learn that Daddy does not play favorites (after all, both boys are punished equally).

No, it's not perfect. But you have to work with what you have.

Trying to find out who was right and who was wrong is one of the worst things a parent can do. You have to face the fact that you will often be wrong, and the punishments you give out will be unfair. That will only make matters worse, inreasing resentment and teaching kids to lie well.

Fighting Siblings? Take a lesson from Tito.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Daddy's home

An infant with a stomach bug means daddy gets to sit home listening to a baby cry today. And hopefully not cleaning up too much vomit.

And when I get back to work, I will have to deflect lots of snarky comments about the suspicious timing of my sick day.

Oh well.


Employment opportunities for flat-chested suicide bombers...

Stories like this freak me out: TSA Changing Pat-Down Policy

Sources at the Transportation Security Administration confirm they're changing the way they conduct pat-downs. Some women have complained bitterly recently that the more thorough pat-downs to check for explosives just went to far - especially in the breast area.

Federal News Radio AM 1050/WTOP has learned the examination in that area, and possibly other areas, will be tempered.

People have been searched more intensely, including in intimate areas, since September, after two Russian planes were blown up by women who boarded strapped with explosives.

Now, I am under the impression that women are only patted down by other women. So unless the TSA agent is a lesbian (admittedly a possibility), nobody is really getting any thrills out of this.

But TSA stupidity doesn't manage to surprise me anymore. Announcing they will no longer pat down women's breasts presents a nice opportunity to terrorists.

Get ready for really action-packed brassieres. And ads like this on Al Jazeera:

Help Wanted

International Islamic fundamentalist terrorist organization seeking poorly-endowed women for matyrdom operations. Must be full of self loathing and a rabid desire to kill people you don't know. American visa a definite plus. Downtrodden and cursed by Allah as you are, you - a despicable woman - can yet serve as a hero to millions of rabid, jew-hating nutjobs and America-loathers in the Arab world and American universities! We are a highly-admired employer promising an excellent work environment, with only the best death benefits.

Yes, you can do it - despite the fact that you are a wretched, lowly female.

(Female applicants are cautioned that upon completion of a martyrdom operation, only male applicants are entitled to recieve a payment of 72 virgins upon entering paradise. Female employees do get into paradise - Allah willing - and their name is added to the esteemed Martyr's Honor Roll.)


Watch the polls

I can't say how many news stories I have now read that say things like "Iraqis' increasing frustration" or "growing anger."

This is poor journalism. Journalists should confine themselves to facts, for they are always poor at judging public opinion. American journalists were even poor at judging American opinion in the last election: few saw Bush winning at all (even though his victory was pretty well foretold by the polls).

Hello cynical journalists. Here is a fact:Poll of Iraqis detects optimism
WASHINGTON - Nearly three-quarters of Iraqis say they "strongly intend" to vote in next month's pivotal elections, and a small majority believe the country is headed in the right direction, according to a major new poll of Iraqi attitudes.

The poll of nearly 2,200 people across most of Iraq found a resilient citizenry modestly hopeful that the Jan. 30 elections will improve life. Iraqis said pocketbook issues such as unemployment and health care are more pressing than the bloody insurgency that claims Iraqi and U.S. lives virtually every day.

But the poll, to be released today by the International Republican Institute, also uncovered worrisome signs for the elections.

Significantly fewer Iraqis living in predominantly Sunni Muslim areas said they intend to vote. The finding underlines growing concern that the elections will be seen as legitimate by majority Shiite Muslims but rejected by minority Sunnis, who monopolized political power under Saddam Hussein...

...36 percent of those surveyed identified themselves as Sunni Muslims and 60 percent as Shiites, roughly in line with Iraq's religious makeup.

Of course, journalists have already declared failure in Iraq so many times that contradictory news like this is often relegated to the inner pages of the newspapers (this story was on page 16 of the Philadelphia Inquirer).

If Iraq becomes a pluralistic, democratic society (a very difficult and very worthy goal), reporters will once again be shaking their heads about how they managed to get things so wrong.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004


For just a moment, he teetered between life and death. Then, looking directly at the horrified crowd on the other side of the fence, he threw out his arms and fell backward into the sky, plunging 1,000 feet.

When he landed on a sixth-floor setback on the west side of the tower, he became the 34th suicide in the famed building's history. His $12 ticket for the observation deck was still inside his pocket.

Even though the jumper went to great lengths to hide his identity, Dr. Alan Berman, director of the American Association of Suicidology, said the man may have been hoping for recognition by choosing to leap from the grand spire.

Yah think?

I mean: no shit.

Let's look for clues here: he jumped to his death from the observation platform of the Empire State Building in front of hundreds of onlookers.

Nope, I don't see nothing.

This poor man's secret was safe until Dr. Berman broke out his magnifying glass.

Should I be afraid to ask: who pays Dr. Berman's salary?

I learned this painful lesson a long time ago, about the time that I could no longer call myself a Democrat.

If it is

a) stupid


b) unprofitable,

there is only one entity stupid enough to pay for it: my government.

Here's a bet that tucked into some appropriations bill or Health and Human Services grant, there was a nice wad of cash that keeps the lights on at the "American Association of Suicidology." (And I don't even get a receipt.)

It is here that they feverishly debate Earth-shattering questions like:

1. Why do people commit suicide? (ME! ME! I KNOW!)
2. Where do people commit suicide? (ME! CALL ON ME!)
3. What are the favored methods of taking ones life? (COME ON! MY TURN!)

Life sometimes sucks. I don't bitch and moan about the cancer patient who takes his own life because his pain is unbearable ("Dr. Death! Paging Dr. Death!"). In fact, I give him a bit of credit: I trust that he was a rational being undergoing stresses that he would rather not endure (and I cannot imagine).

Why should wring my hands over the old guy with huge bills who decides to check out? Or the disenchanted West African guy jumping off the building?

Aren't they doing the same thing?

Let me say this again: life is not for everybody.

Leave it to the government to study something that is done for obvious reasons to one's self (uh, by definition).

Don't let the government ever hear about that thing we know as "masturbation." SSsssh.

They'll create a government task force to study it.

Christ, they probably already have.


Haircut hell

This is funny as hell.

And it has happened to me.


I'm not even half a geek

You are 43% geek
You are a geek liaison, which means you go both ways. You can hang out with normal people or you can hang out with geeks which means you often have geeks as friends and/or have a job where you have to mediate between geeks and normal people. This is an important role and one of which you should be proud. In fact, you can make a good deal of money as a translator.

Normal: Tell our geek we need him to work this weekend.

You [to Geek]: We need more than that, Scotty. You'll have to stay until you can squeeze more outta them engines!

Geek [to You]: I'm givin' her all she's got, Captain, but we need more dilithium crystals!

You [to Normal]: He wants to know if he gets overtime.

Take the Polygeek Quiz at Thudfactor.com

Sunday, December 19, 2004

A parental experiment

Note: As I read over this post, I realize that it may sound little arrogant - as if my idea of parenting is the only one that will work.

That isn't true.

Parenting is an experiment that you only get one chance to do right.

And this is how my wife and I are setting up our experiment:

Before my wife and I had children, I spent a lot of time observing. Some of our friends had children. Some were well behaved and polite, and others - well - weren't.

We wanted nice children.

Over the years (with my wife's input), I've been formulating a list of postulates for good parenting. They are strikingly different from the ideas about child rearing that many psychiatrists recommend. (Psychiatrists, I am convinced, spend so much of their time thinking for parents that they have forgotten to think like parents.)

Why "postulates?"

A "postulate" is something that you are pretty damn sure is correct, while a "law" is an iron-clad truth. My experience in putting my ideas into practice is promising so far, but I'm not ready to declare my experiment to be a success. My kids are young, and it will be decades before I know how well I've done.

And let's face it: by the time if these postulates are "laws," I'll probably be about 80 or so, and I won't give a shit anymore.

So I put the first one forward for you, open to debate.

1. Old fashioned, uncompromising discipline works.

I mean this in the starkest terms: Mom and Dad are right, and children are wrong.

I think the biggest mistake (liberal) parents make is negotiating with their kids - the parent tries to understand why the kid are angry, explaining the rationality of the rules (i.e.: "These are the rules and I want you to understand that you mustn't be mad about them..."). Some bribe their kids with goodies if they do the things they should do anyway ("Austin, if you stop screaming in the supermarket, Daddy will buy you a candy bar!")

This negotiation is - in my opinion - a terrible mistake. The worst mistake that a parent can make.

To understand why, it is important to see things from the child's point of view: children realize that they live in a dangerous world, and they know they are small and vulnerable. (If you doubt this, watch your child when he comes under the sudden -and hopefully brief - realization that he is lost in a public place).

Children crave, they honestly crave, parental figures who can prove to them that the parent is in control.

They want someone who will say this:
I can control everything. I can make your world safe, and I am powerful enough to keep the evil of the world at bay. I can make your world a place where you can express the vulnerability that is love - without fear.

The parent, in a child's eyes, is God.

Now, how can you fill that role if you have demonstrated to your child that you can't (or won't) control him? If you can't do that - control a tiny bratty child - how can you keep his world safe?

The more the parent understands this, the better his children will be. Children who have the assurance of at least one such parent tend to be well adjusted. Children who do not tend to withdraw and show hostility to the outside world (often misdiagnosed as ADHD). This sullenness is only a defensive mechanism, in the same way that little "drop kick" dogs often act more fiercely than Pit Bulls.

In the worst cases, normal suburban parents - using the latest caring parental methodologies - can create sociopaths (i.e.: Dylan Klebold or John Walker Lindh).

There is a sense, particularly among highly-educated parents - that a discpilined home is an unhappy home. They think of the Von Trappes in "The Sound of Music."

But I have seen the opposite: strict loving parents have very happy homes, and well-adjusted, respectful children. After all, it is easy to "loosen up" a little after you have conclusively laid down the law with your child. The strict parent who is lenient on occasion is viewed as strict but kind, exactly as a parent should be. It is virtually impossible to suddenly become strict after years of demonstrating what a pushover you are. If you do, you will be viewed as a cruel tyrant. (This, coincidently, is the very true lesson of Machiavelli's The Prince).

What do I mean by strict?

No means no, absolutely. If Sean wants something and I tell him "no," that is the end of the discussion. He does not ask again (and if he does, he goes to his room). He does not get anything when he whines or cries (rest assured, he will get the things he needs (but perhaps not the things he wants) only after he has asked for them politely). When he cries, he goes to bed. He speaks to adults with respect("Mr.", "Ms.","Maam" and "Sir").

Sean and Tim go to bed when they are told (though they do tend to giggle together in their room for a while - I like the fact that they get along).They eat the food they are given, and if they do not, they go hungry (no, they won't starve). They watch little TV (I believe that boredom is the spark that awakens imagination). For entertainment, Sean, at least, "reads" books (he's four). When the weather's nice, they play outside as much as possible.

When punishment is necessary, we send Sean to his room (please don't call this ancient form of punishment a "Time Out," as if it is a recently invented), where he lays on his bed with no toys. But I would be a poor parent if that was the most frightening penalty in my parental arsenal. No, that honor belongs to "the spanking" -which is used sparingly but usually gets the point across quite well (you think it's cruel? I 'd love to debate that with you).

I realize, as a parent, that there are limitations. I can't make them love everything or everyone, but I can promise that they will be respectful and polite. I can't make them smart, but I can see that they will work hard. I cannot guarantee that my children will be successful in life, but I can guarantee that they will not be whiney people full of excuses for their own failures.

Will it work? It looks promising.

The experiment is underway.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Christmas greeting time

Oh shit. It's that time of year again: Christmas cards.

Every year at this time, my wife and I begin fighting: what do we want our "Christmas Greeting" to look like?

She opts for the traditional: the cheery, saccharin greeting that leaves every person with testicles choking for air.

I would rather not give a shit (my shit is precious).

But, when pressed, I go for the more earthy greeting: one that gives people a voyeuristic glimpse into the depravity of our strange lives, leaving readers thankful that their own lives aren't so deranged. That way, they won't bother to ask awkward questions at family gatherings, and I can concentrate on the things I do well, like consuming large amounts of alcohol...

But I digress. So it's a fight, every December.

Here's our "greeting" for this year. The parts that my wife censored into oblivion (yes, she won) are in bold:

The Rogers Chronicles - 2004

After receiving cards from the three people who send them to us, we realized that we might be “late” with this thing. But the one time we went to church this year, this “Priest” guy (“Dude, Superfly is sooo 1973…”) talked about Christmas, saying it starts on December 25, and ends when the wise guys (as Sean puts it) get there, some time in January (just like royalty, expecting the party to wait for them).

So, this can be considered “on time,” why even… “early!”

Also, some have complained that the content of our lives is too foul to be sent into your homes. Speak up! After a few expletives, we will be glad to remove you from our mailing list.

On with the news...

Everybody wants to know about the kids. The hell with the kids! We want to talk about ourselves! OK... Betsy almost quit her job and began a new one. But she balked. John continued to loaf through his career… And, well, he likes to cook with fire. And he’s still doing his silly thing on the internet, continuing to argue with, and lose sleep over, his tormenters on the web (“FatBoy37! You know where to find me: therapysessions.blogspot.com!”). The futility of this shadow-boxing doesn’t seem to bother him.

And Betsy runs. And reads trashy books. And well…OK….We’re boring. We always wondered why suburban couples with kids talk about nothing except their kids. Now we know: There’s nothing else. Not much, anyway.

Grandma Harvey stayed with us in January. She was able to see how strange we are close up (sometimes this leaves people a little shaken). She says she liked her time with us, which might be a lie. But hey, we’ll take it. We look forward to her coming again this year, when we’ll startle her even more with weird foods (How about some squid for supper? It was cheap at the market!). Not even the prospect of time with her grandkids will soften that pill!

John took Sean (the older son) to see fireworks on July 4th, and in a long standing tradition, made sure to place himself (and his heir) in the direct path of the falling, burning, spent firework debris. Sean didn't scar (too badly) and is now the proud owner of a few pieces of smoky cardboard.

Somewhere around May, we decided to build on the Rogers’ Nest. One bathroom is becoming a challenge here, even considering that our little caveman would prefer to “go” alfresco. We went through the drill of bringing out the contractors, etc. etc. A few came. Stunned by the sagging structure that we call home, none called back.

Guess we scared them all off!

But one guy’s greed overcame his good sense. He wouldn’t do the big job, but he did change our garage into a small suite with a bedroom and a bathroom (and it was a good thing too: the neighbors were getting tired of John peeing in the backyard). In addition, we now have a nice, big shed in the backyard to hold all the garbage that used to be in the garage. It has the added benefit of being a good place to lock Sean up when he’s being a pain in the ass.

Sean continues to be precocious, earning many back-handed compliments from his teachers. He also can palaver well enough to put Eddie Haskell to shame. Something about those big Harvey eyes and his engaging grin. The fact that he claims to be a Tyrannosaurus T-Rex, growling and biting at every opportunity, almost seems cute.


Unfortunately, Sean has been hanging out with the Lee Circle Gang – the horrible band of holligan toddlers that congregates outside our house – and he has picked up some terrible habits. Look Sean, your parents are old fashioned: no smoking until you are eight.

John’s pride – his new manservant Alhaji (he’s illegal – ssshhh!) – has been instructed to watch the boy and make sure that he doesn’t light up. No smokes and Alhaji gets an extra bowl of boiled cabbage.

Timmy is… well… He’s a toddler. He walks. Eats a lot. Drools some. Fills his diaper. It was especially funny when he pooped all over Sean (a case of "projectile excretion," for you medical types).

Curious Sean was a little less curious after that. Take a tip from your parents, kid: Timmy's dirty diaper really isn't that interesting.

In fact, it's a good reason to suddenly be "busy" with something else.

At least Timmy still finds dumb things funny. A funny face or strange sound is enough to get him guffawing. We will always be sentimental about his first words: “Titus!” and “Get Out!” Such a cutie!

Sadly, Timmy was diagnosed with lice, which he probably acquired from “the gang.” Yes, Timmy was slumming with these horrible toddlers and he picked up a good case of scalp crabs.

They’ll go away somehow, someday.

Concerning the kids: Stop worrying! Learn from our neighbors. They have accepted us as we are: too broke to leave or fix things up, and too ignorant to change.

Many other (less tolerant) people have suggested that we shouldn’t have a third kid, so there is no need to think of new, subtle ways to get this point across. May be we will, maybe we won't: we didn't exactly plan the two rugrats we have.

Anyway, we have at least reproduced at replacement rate – that is, somewhere between rabbits and pandas.

Rest assured – there are no immediate plans for more Rogers. We’re content screwing up the two we have, for now.

Well, that’s the extent of our excitement.

Hope you all continue to be well, etc. etc…whatever.

The Rogers

John, Betsy, Sean,
Timothy, and Titus, the dog


So true

Cool cartoon, thanks to the TS Right Dominion:


More great Engrish


The poet who didn't know it


Your Dominant Intelligence is Linguistic Intelligence

You are excellent with words and language. You explain yourself well.
An elegant speaker, you can converse well with anyone on the fly.
You are also good at remembering information and convicing someone of your point of view.
A master of creative phrasing and unique words, you enjoy expanding your vocabulary.

You would make a fantastic poet, journalist, writer, teacher, lawyer, politician, or translator.

What Kind of Intelligence Do You Have?

And so I ended up as a scientist.


So there's a poet in me struggling to get out? (If I get my hands on him, I'll beat the shit out of that freeloader - a tapeworm spewing verse.)

So how did end up in science?

In college I dabbled in literature and journalism (I even made the huge mistake of majoring in English). I found the people in the humanities to be a little stuck up (and the professors had political agendas that were more important than anything that happened in the classroom - anyone trying so hard to force people to believe in their ideology must be wrong).

Besides, I made my best friends among people who were in the sciences (including my wife). So I made it my career too, and I don't regret it.

Well, that and journalism pays shit.

It does, however, make a fine hobby.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Sports writing

Writing in sports is hard. The sports pages are usually where cliches go to die. Unfortunately, the people who tend to report on sports tend to be tone deaf in their prose, and hard-headed when it comes to criticism.

When I worked as an editor in college, a writer for my paper (in a piece I luckily had nothing to do with) got in trouble when he said that the Women's Field Hockey Team was manhandled by an opponent. Various feminist groups (my college was very liberal) simply could not believe that this was an honest mistake. The writer was making light of rape, they said, and they demanded the writer apologize (zealots like that have about a much of a sense of humor as a member of the Soviet Politburo), and some even said he should be kicked out of college.

It is refreshing when sports writing is done well. Bill Lyon, the Philadelphia Sports Columinst, has what can only be described as a gift for simile:A tough triumph and a big week off:
Pinkston runs down I-95 to the Carolina border and Donovan McNabb winds up and launches something that disappears from the radar screen. This one, Pinkston reaches and snatches but starts to lose his balance and looks like a man on roller skates coming down a spiral staircase. He makes it almost to the end zone before falling.

I saw that play, and that is exactly what it looked like.

Even when I'm not interested in the subject, Lyon can make things come alive.


Saying no

Who Will Say No?:
The larger lesson is that Americans are living in a self-created culture of delusion. The central truth about retirement 'entitlements' is this: The only guaranteed way to cut spending growth is to cut benefits. But this truth is unspeakable, so no one speaks it. In this climate, (Tommy) Thompson's self-serving boast passes as a plausible claim when it's actually an absurdity.

There's a compartmentalization of thought and conversation. Rapid spending growth is considered 'bad,' but anything that might cut that growth can't be discussed. By and large, the news media abide by this protocol of deception. Not surprisingly, news coverage of the Medicare drug debate was abysmally one-sided. Hardly anyone mentioned who would pay the long-term costs or asked whether the benefit was justified. Much coverage focused on gaps in the proposed coverage. Meanwhile, a drumbeat of other stories deplored present and future budget deficits. The inconsistency was glaring.

In wealthy democracies -- welfare states all -- individual benefits once conferred are considered sacrosanct, but when their total costs threaten the collective good, they must somehow be controlled. There's the paralyzing contradiction. The politics of 'yes' must ultimately yield to the politics of 'no' -- and the longer it's delayed, the more painful it will be.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The price control boogey man

A Reason Behind Every Shortage, an excerpt from a post at Economics with a face:
"As an economist, whenever I hear the word 'shortage' I wait for the other shoe to drop. That other shoe is usually 'price control.' " --Dr. Thomas Sowell

This morning NPR had a segment on a major fuel shortage in Iraq. Currently, lines at some gas stations are up to 4 miles long. One man interviewed, who had been waiting in line for three days, bluntly stated "How do you explain this? I don't know."

NPR tried to offer some explanations itself but Mike Shuster, who authored the segment, was for the most part clueless about the causes. Searching for an answer he blamed the insurgency's targeting of the oil infrastructure along with corruption by state officials who have been moving their families and friends to the front of the lines. He even quoted an army official who had the gall to blame the Iraqis themselves for hoarding fuel (here's a hint... that's an effect, not the cause of the problem).

For a brief moment Shuster got close to the true source of the crisis by noting that the price on the black market was 10 times the price that Iraqis "preferred" to pay at the government stations. Unfortunately, the insight stopped there. The words "price control" were never mentioned.

Having the quote from Sowell in the back of my head, I was certain some sort of price controls had to be involved. With a little research I found this article from the The Future of Freedom Foundation. While it is dated a year ago, it states that at the time the price of gasoline was set by the U.S. at around 5 cents a gallon. I assume the price is now controlled by the interim Iraqi government but the evidence suggests that not much has changed.

Yes, price controls cause shortages. Everybody knows that.

But price controls with drugs will work! This is a near religious belief on the left (and apparently, with NPR reporters).

They do it in Europe, they scream. See, it works!

No, it appears to work: the United States is paying the costs of innovation.

Innovation isn't that important, they sniff. It's overrated.


Suppose I tell you the United States can enact full health care coverage to every American, with a catch: every therapy or drug must be from the technology that was commonly available just 25 years ago - in 1980.

We could afford it. It would be cheap - after all, almost all the drugs would now be generics. Operations that were high tech back then are now routine.

But there would be no statins for your high cholesterol. The drugs that make transplants safer wouldn't be there. Several key anti-cancer drugs would not be available to you. Many antibiotics would not be there (good luck with your infections). There would be no vaccines to protect your children from the flu or menigitis. None of today's arthritis medications. Few drugs for allergies. No drugs for depression. The state-of-the-art heartburn drug would be Tagamet.

What was considered high tech in 1980 has a horse-and-buggy ring to it today. It has always been this way: if it weren't for the pharmaceutical industry, doctors would still be bleeding people with leeches.

We have a tendency to focus on the costs, while ignoring the benefits.

Of course, it is easy to be jealous of the Europeans, freeloading off the American system. They get the best medicines, at cut-rate costs.

But Americans follow their course our everyone's peril: somebody has to create the future.

And the innovators get stuck with the bills.


Meat is murder and other ponderables

Listening to an oldy but goldy on the way in, a reminder of my days as a college liberal: the Smith's "Meat is Murder."

It is a good song, but if you listen to the lyrics it is predictably all about the cruelty of eating meat ("It's death for no reason, and death for no reason is murder.")

I agree that it is cruel. I agree that humans could live a life of nothing but grain and beans (the flatulence would be overpowering). It's death, blood, gore, murder...whatever.

But meat is yummy.

I like the way it smells, I savor it's texture in my mouth, I love the fullness I feel after eating it. I love the crackle of fried chicken skin, and the sweet taste of pork fat, I love the way the juices from my steak meld so well with salt and pepper.....

If Meat=murder and meat=yummy, then murder is yummy.

Yep, I live fer killin.'

Enjoy your bulgher wheat-lentil cakes, Morrissey....


Yasir gives all for peace

A Year for Witches:
Before death tardily overtook another dispenser of death, Yasir Arafat, he received a letter from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - well, of animals other than people - asking him to stop using donkeys in suicide bombings. It was said that the death of this winner of the Nobel Peace Prize might make peace possible.

I don't know which looks worse:

The Nobel Peace Prize Committee, for giving this murderer a "peace" prize...


Yasir Arafat, whose death has done more for peace in Middle East than decades of on-again-off-again negotiating.

But all this noise about peace in the Middle East is truly a waste of time.

The central problem with the Palestinians has not changed: by large majorities, Palestinians continue to believe that Israel - 8 million, well-armed and motivated Jews living next door - has no right to exist.

Unless they have a massive change of heart, there will be no peace.

It is a simple as that.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The life of the cook

I just made some great soup.

Great 12-bean soup.

Carmelized onions and celery, deglazed with brandy, sliced tomatoes, homemade chicken broth, a touch of fresh herbs, a little cream, and beans, cooked in my pressure cooker.


The aroma fills the house, and the dog's eyes get wide. I only let the dog have a tiny taste. Just the precious stuff that I couldn't get from the pot into the bowl.

And, after eating it appreciatively, he decides that it is a wonderful time to lick his ass.

You flatter me, Titus.

I can't wait for the beans to take effect.

Beans + onions = killer, eye watering dog farts. The kind that cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.

And because the wife and kids are gone, he will be sleeping under my bed. (He usually saves such things for the boys' room).

Oh joy.

It will be a long night (and Titus might just find himself sleeping in the basement).


Funny products

Great Engrish needs no comment.....

Saturday, December 11, 2004

A new terror

There once was a time when my sons played noisily: yells, cries, cymbals crashing, toys thundering to the ground....

Many times I had wished that they would just play quietly.

This morning my older son went down the basement to play. It was quiet.

Too quiet.

Kids aren't quiet. Something was wrong...was he spraying bugspray in his eyes?!... Drinking the laundry detergent?!... Playing in the freezer?..What the hell is going on down there?

"Sean! What are you doing?"

"Just playing!"

I got up and went down to see. And he was. He was just playing with his toy tool set.


Back at my computer, I started wondering.

It's too quiet...Well I wonder what's he doing NOW?

Thursday, December 09, 2004


Who pays this guy: Professor studies the word 'dude:'
A linguist from the University of Pittsburgh has published a scholarly paper deconstructing and deciphering the word "dude," contending it is much more than a catchall for lazy, inarticulate surfers, skaters, slackers and teenagers.

An admitted dude-user during his college years, Scott Kiesling said the four-letter word has many uses: in greetings ("What's up, dude?"); as an exclamation ("Whoa, Dude!"); commiseration ("Dude, I'm so sorry."); to one-up someone ("That's so lame, dude."); as well as agreement, surprise and disgust ("Dude.").

Kiesling says in the fall edition of American Speech that the word derives its power from something he calls cool solidarity -- an effortless kinship that's not too intimate.

Cool solidarity is especially important to young men who are under social pressure to be close with other young men, but not enough to be suspected as gay.

In other words: Close, dude, but not that close.

I actually think he's right.

"Cool solidarity" has finally been defined.

By a guy who knows cool:

Look out Fonzie.

There's a new cool guy in town.



Santa's little health secret exposed

It looks like Santa is lactose intolerant.

This problem, apparently, makes for a bumpy sleigh ride: Christopher Kringle Heath Report 2004
As everyone is at this time aware, the largest day of North Pole Incorporated’s (NYSE symbol NPI) annual operation is quickly approaching....Our President and CEO, Christopher Kringle is, without a doubt, a private man, one who is so dedicated to his work that he personally oversees a majority of our annual production and the whole of our shipping process. This privacy has weighed greatly on our current discussion amongst the Board of Executives here at North Pole Inc, as to when and how to best distribute the following information.

Christopher Kringle first noticed a shift in his health following the 2003 Annual Product Shipment, with symptoms that ranged to the end of “general discomfort”. After consulting the North Pole Inc physician and performing a battery of test, it was determined that Christopher Kringle has a shortage of the enzyme lactase within his short intestine, more commonly known as “lactose intolerance”. This shortage results a range of symptoms including nausea, cramps, bloating, gas, and diarrhea.

No milk and cookies for Santa this year.

Don't even try that Lactaid milk. That shit's nasty.

In the Roger's household, we've found that Santa likes bourbon and chips.


Socialized medicine gets a test flight

HillaryCare in Tennessee: The disaster that might have been for the entire country.

We think it was Justice Brandeis who said the states should be laboratories for reform. Regarding health care, Tennessee tried a decade ago and the price is now coming due. Hillary Rodham Clinton should call her pollster if she plans on carrying the state in 2008.

In 1994, Tennessee passed what was then a very hot New Democrat idea--call it government managed care--a version of the reform the former first lady was also pitching nationwide. TennCare promised the impossible dream of politicians everywhere: Lower health-care costs while covering more of the "uninsured." They got the impossible, all right. After 10 years of mismanagement and lawsuits, TennCare now eats up one-third of the state's entire budget and is growing fast. Governor Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, is preparing to pull the plug and return the state to the less lunatic subsidies of Medicaid.

People like me oppose socialized medicine for a reason. And it's not because I'm an uncaring, ideological freak.

I oppose it because it doesn't work.

But don't they do it Europe?

Yes, but Europe is freeloading off the US: we pay the costs of their innovation and drug development. That is unfortuante, but we mustn't forget that we are a lot richer than they are (in part because most of the research and development occurrs in the US).

Health is a commodity, just like food or gasoline.

Politicians are eager to make promises about health care. Impossible promises:

1. Health care should universal.
2. Health care should be high quality.
3. Health costs should be kept low.

You can have any two of those those things, but not all three.

That is just a basic law, and it applies to ALL commodities.

Anyone who tells you different is selling something.


Those jokers at the National Review

If anybody had said that I (recovering liberal that I am) would someday find the cover of the National Review to be funny, I would have thought they were smoking crack.

Maybe I should pay more attentions to crackheads, because times and people change.

This is funny:

Poor George Soros. He's proven once and for all that money can't buy an election.

Don't get me wrong: money still helps.

But George could've spent twice as much and he would still only be stuck with a crappy t-shirt.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Familiar sounds

It is fitting on this day that we remember Pearl Harbor.

FDR's words on the day after that attack (which I saw at All Things Considered) ring true today:
Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounding determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.


Forget ideology. Let's save Social Security

A taxing idea for Social Security

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina startled the capital's conservative network last month with a speech on Social Security reform at the Heritage Foundation. His call for private accounts was sound conservative doctrine, but he proposed financing it with a huge payroll tax increase for upper-bracket Americans. This was heresy, conservatives said, by Strom Thurmond's successor.

Graham responds this is the only way President Bush's priority reforms will be passed. He states two axioms his fellow conservatives will not address. First, Social Security -- the government's most popular program -- cannot be saved without ''some sacrifice.'' Second, the personal accounts Republicans want cannot be passed without bipartisan cooperation -- meaning a high-profile Democratic co-sponsor.

Graham is proposing a bargain of historic proportions. To reform Social Security, each party must do something unthinkable. Democrats would have to swallow personal accounts declared anathema by the AARP, organized labor and every sector of the party. Republicans would have to go along with a tax increase falling heavily on their base.

I think this is the best way out of a terrible problem. To do nothing with Social Security is suicide, and it will devastate my future and (more importantly) my children's future.

Their ignorance of this threat has cost the Democrats my vote for for more than a decade.

I am loathe to raise taxes on anyone, but I don't see why the payroll tax only taxes the first $86K of income. In effect, Donald Trump pays the same payroll tax that a sales manager pays.

Democrats, naturally, should hate the payroll tax structure: it is a regressive tax that falls mainly on the poor and middle class. I have never understood why they haven't made an issue of this.

Republicans should also hate the payroll tax: it means that the poor pay almost no income tax, and thus, they generate no federal revenue. But the poor certainly seem eager to direct federal spending to themselves.

Private accounts are a good idea, but they will need to be financed. The payroll tax, justly levied, can do this.

Everybody loses, but in the long term, everyone wins.


More humor

From Tasty blog:

A great use for all those AOL CD's out there: the compact shortage is a real problem. Be resourceful, people!


Our universities have become echo chambers

Well said.
Academia is simultaneously both the part of America that is most obsessed with diversity, and the least diverse part of the country. On the one hand, colleges bend over backwards to hire minority professors and recruit minority students, aided by an ever-burgeoning bureaucracy of “diversity officers”. Yet, when it comes to politics, they are not just indifferent to diversity, but downright allergic to it.

Evidence of the atypical uniformity of American universities grows by the week. The Centre for Responsive Politics notes that this year two universities—the University of California and Harvard—occupied first and second place in the list of donations to the Kerry campaign by employee groups, ahead of Time Warner, Goldman Sachs, Microsoft et al. Employees at both universities gave 19 times as much to John Kerry as to George Bush. Meanwhile, a new national survey of more than 1,000 academics by Daniel Klein, of Santa Clara University, shows that Democrats outnumber Republicans by at least seven to one in the humanities and social sciences. And things are likely to get less balanced, because younger professors are more liberal. For instance, at Berkeley and Stanford, where Democrats overall outnumber Republicans by a mere nine to one, the ratio rises above 30 to one among assistant and associate professors.

“So what”, you might say, particularly if you happen to be an American liberal academic. Yet the current situation makes a mockery of the very legal opinion that underpins the diversity fad. In 1978, Justice Lewis Powell argued that diversity is vital to a university's educational mission, to promote the atmosphere of “speculation, experiment and creation” that is essential to their identities. The more diverse the body, the more robust the exchange of ideas. Why apply that argument so rigorously to, say, sexual orientation, where you have campus groups that proudly call themselves GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning), but ignore it when it comes to political beliefs?

This is profoundly unhealthy per se. Debating chambers are becoming echo chambers. Students hear only one side of the story on everything from abortion (good) to the rise of the West (bad). It is notable that the surveys show far more conservatives in the more rigorous disciplines such as economics than in the vaguer 1960s “ologies”. Yet, as George Will pointed out in the Washington Post this week, this monotheism is also limiting universities' ability to influence the wider intellectual culture. In John Kennedy's day, there were so many profs in Washington that it was said the waters of the Charles flowed into the Potomac. These days, academia is marginalised in the capital—unless, of course, you count all the Straussian conservative intellectuals in think-tanks who left academia because they thought it was rigged against them.

It is sad that because of group think, universties are no longer hatching great political ideas like they once did.

It is also telling that people in the universities simply cannot believe that Kerry truly lost the election. They are the ones who desperately want to recount the votes in Ohio.

Tellingly, they don't want to recount the votes in Pennsylvania, which also had documented corruption in the Philly area. The PA vote was closer than the vote in Ohio. Hell, for that matter, Kerry's win in Wisconsin was razor thin.

Maybe thy're not pressing for recounts because Kerry won both states.

I'm sure they really just want every vote to count.

Every Kerry vote.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Now the bad news

Republicans may someday look on the re-election of George Bush as one of the biggest disasters that has ever befallen their Party

Now that Bush has safely won, it is safe for me to begin bitching about him again….

Yes, of course I voted for him. I earnestly believe that his foreign policy approach is by far the nicest of all the options available to the United States. Assisting the cause of freedom around the world – and particularly in the Middle East – gives us the only chance we have of avoiding a larger and more catastrophic war. Unstable, nuclear-armed Arab countries pose a real threat to the existence of the West. Letting this threat ferment and strengthen was not much of option: It was suicide. This, admittedly, is arguable, but I think the weight of reason tips the scale in favor of intervening now rather than letting the Middle East develop newer and better-armed forms of tyranny. This is going to be messy, but it must be done.

I enthusiastically voted for Bush mainly for this reason.

Going into the booth, I was well aware of his faults – his protectionism, his indifference to an overbearingly large government, his comfort with the evangelicals, and his love of big ticket programs – but I, like most other voters, ignored them in favor of something that is vastly more important: national security.

But it was more than that: I think the Democrats have lost credibility when they talk about much of anything. They criticize Bush and the Bible thumpers, but they are in bed with forces that just as bad (and maybe worse): trial lawyers, unions and left wing academics who make careers of stoppering economic and political freedom. Their populist message can be reduced to “tax the rich to buy benefits for the middle class,” but its import is undercut by the basic unfairness of the tax code. Nearly all our federal revenue comes from the top 50% of taxpayers (the rich), but the super rich (like John Kerry and John Edwards) use clever manipulation of the code to avoid paying anywhere near their “fair share.” The Democratic Party has become increasingly protectionist (am I the only one who sees it as odd that a party so full of anti-business sentiment is eager to pass out trade perks to businesses?) and no one would ever accuse the Democrats of being the party of financial responsibility.

Yes, Clinton did balance the budget – so I’ve been told by Democrat after Democrat – but in the ‘90’s, doing that was simple: the economy was growing rapidly. With this growth, tax revenues exploded. The economy was growing because Clinton ignored his liberal impulses and practiced laissez-faire capitalism (I’m sorry to remind the Democrats who had blissfully forgotten this inconvenient fact): he decided that he wasn’t going to nationalize the doctors or destroy the health insurance industry. He signed NAFTA, and left business to do as it pleased. I salute him for it. The Democratic Party, though, has forgotten Clintonian policy while embracing him personally (watch his hands).

But back to Bush. I think there are many reasons why Republicans may someday look on the re-election of George Bush as one of the biggest disasters that has ever befallen their Party. Unfortunately for them, the Democrats may not be in much of a position to take advantage of it.

The problem is the dollar. It is not all George Bush’s fault: the Bush people are eager to blame others – they say that sluggish growth in Europe and Japan is helping to create a current account deficit (a trade deficit) that threatens the dollar’s value, and there is some truth in this. Indeed, in real terms, both Japan and Europe are poorer relative to the US than they were a decade ago. That is their problem and they seem loathe to do the things necessary to correct it (freeing up their labor markets, reducing government spending and liberalizing trade).

But the Europeans are also right to point the finger back at the Americans: the real problem is the explosion of federal spending that has occurred under Bush’s watch. This spending has cheapened the value of the dollar, and many foreigners are beginning to question why they are holding so much of a depreciating currency. The sell-off may continue.

Currency fluctuations like this tend to be self-correcting: when a currency goes down in value, that country’s exports are cheaper in foreign nations and more are purchased. Cheap currency often causes export-driven growth, which eventually drives up the value of the currency in the home nation.


The problem is that the US is the world’s largest debtor nation, and the dollar underpins the word economy. Foreigners could always be depended on to eagerly buy dollars.

Is that about to change? No one knows the answer to that question.

But if it does, the result for the US economy will be very painful. Bush –and the Republican Party – will be blamed.

What is to be done?

The good news – for fiscal conservatives - is that Bush now MUST reduce federal spending.

The bad news – for everyone – is that he probably can’t.

The sad truth is that Washington’s spending is out of control. Literally. Only about one third of government spending is discretionary. The rest of that spending is Social Security, Medicare, debt payments and other assorted benefit programs that Bush could not cut even if he wanted to.

It is going to be difficult to cut the remaining third enough to make a big difference.

Not while fighting a necessary war. And beginning the important – and expensive - task of reforming Social Security.

To make matters worse, the new Medicare drug benefit – which the stupid chimp himself signed into law in 2003 – will start taking effect in 2006. It will mandate hundreds of billions of dollars of new spending in that year, and the price of that new program will only go up.

For fiscal conservatives, the Armageddon that we have been warning about is here.

I will take no satisfaction in having predicted it.

Bush is in for a rough four years.

Now back to your regularly-scheduled, post-election Republican euphoria.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Embracing failure

Very well said.
"I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work." - Thomas Edison

Early in his childhood, Edison's school teacher called him a dunce. Later in life, Edison tried thousands of times before he produced the first electric light bulb. That says a lot about determination, but even more about triumphing over what would appear to be failure.

You've probably heard it said that "failure is the stepping stone to success." Edison and many others have proven that over and over again.

I'm convinced that people give up too easily. Their dreams remain dreams, rather than become reality.

Read the rest.....

Everything above was quoted from here. (I'm sorry for any confusion).


Arafat in Hell

From All things considered

Friday, December 03, 2004


Subtle Savant

"As a passed through the foyer by the stairs, I slowly noticed....

'hey, there's a lot of white people here...they're all dressed up? Why is there a dinner buffet? Is that a live band? Oooh, open bar.'

I then proceeded to the bar and helped myself to a glass of wine. And another. And another. Just as I was congratulating myself for having travelled amongst the Greenville elite long enough to grab some free snacks and drink, a woman in a really boss suit walks up to me. A really, nice intimidating suit.

'You're here with....?' She purred, really asking who the hell I was and why I was there. In my defense, the art department hosts art shows frequently, usually with free food floating around. I've gotten used to grabbing a little plate and a bit of drink as I pass through receptions.

'I'm with the community steering board. You must be Cheryl, we meet last time.' She walked off, after a few akward minitues of pretending to remember me.

Thank god for silly suited women who forget that they're wearing nametags.And open bars.

I have no idea what a community steering board is, or whether or not one exists in Greenville.

I grabbed one more glass of white and got the hell out of there."


Clueless file

Yahoo! News - Russia's Putin Calls U.S. Policy 'Dictatorial':



Those American oddballs

Commentary via Respublica:
It isn't just in religious matters that Americans are more likely to be believers: it's true in general. Americans, as a rule, believe. They believe in themselves, they believe in their ideals, they believe in their country. Or rather, they believe in their country because they believe in their ideals.

The American who salutes the flag, who tears up at the anthem, is not indulging in some cheap sentiment or mindless ritual. Rather, he is saluting "the republic for which it stands" -- not the state, as such, but the ideals it embodies: about the rights of the individual, about the prerogatives of society, about the relationship between the two. What is significant in this is not that he should invest so much of his ideals in the American state, but that he has so much in the way of ideals to invest.

This unique capacity for belief obviously owes much to America's origins, both religious and revolutionary. But in larger part, I think, it inheres in a sense of responsibility. As citizens of the mightiest power on Earth, on which the very freedom of the world depends, they do not have the luxury of cynicism. An American president could challenge his citizens to "ask what you can do for your country," to "pay any price, bear any burden," and expect them to respond affirmatively. The thought would not occur to a Canadian prime minister.

This is the major reason for the American disconnect with the world. Thoughts like this - as natural as breathing in the United States - would rarely occur to anyone in the rest of the world.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Taxes and saving the Democratic Party

I remember reading a story a few months ago about a Democrat paying her taxes.

When the accountant was done crunching her numbers, he proudly told her that - because of the new tax cuts - she would now have several thousand more dollars in her pocket.

She thought this outcome was immoral.

Without hesitation, he offered to recalculate her taxes at the old rate, so that she could pay what she felt was her fair share.

Outraged, she told him to leave the friendly calculations as they were.

The Democratic Party is currently searching for its soul, and it would do well to consider that people like that woman are doing it no favors.

I can't tell you how many times I've seen this sentiment in the papers and on blogs: what is with these dumb rednecks voting Republican, against their own interests?

A political party that is going down that road better get used to being the minority party.

Democrats are a fractious party united by a single idea: wealth redistribution. That is, it is right to take from the rich and give it to the poor, as long as the government does the taking.

This should be a winning message, they reason. After all, most of the nation is not rich.

So what's with the hicks in the sticks? These red state morons?

They have misdiagnosed the problem: the Democratic Party has a credibility problem when it comes to taxes. And there is a way to solve it and make the Democratic Party stronger.

First, the credibility problem. John Kerry proposed taxing the rich at a higher rate, to pay for expanded health care and benefits for the "middle class." At one point in a debate, he said that he felt that people like he and George Bush should pay more.

How noble.

But there is a problem: in his tax bracket, his "fair share" should be about a third of his income. John Kerry did not pay anywhere near that. He did what rich people usually do. He hired accountants to whittle his share down, using clever deductions and loopholes.

When all was said and done, John Kerry only paid a third of the taxes he "really" owed.

John Edwards was even worse: his devilish accountants declared Edwards a corporation, and paid him dividends - an astounding tax dodge that prevented the trial lawyer from paying his Medicare taxes.

It was all legal, and dodges like this are quite common among the rich.

And that is the problem.

When Democrats talk about making the rich pay their "fair share," people don't believe them: cynical voters know that our tax code has become such a mess that people who can hire full time accountants will find loopholes, and they will pay a lot less than their bracket would seem to indicate they owe.

The Democratic Party - if it wishes to save itself - should make rectifying this its primary goal.

Sure, it will do better in rural areas if it moves to the right on guns, crime and national security. But embracing a doctrine of true tax fairness could really energize the party and make it viable.

I don't think they'll do it. It means embracing a tax system with NO deductions or loopholes (once you create one, you open the path for more): no deductions for paying mortgage interest or building a home office or raising a child, no credits to farmers, no subsidies for your solar water heaters, your beehives, or your llama farm, or your second home. Payroll taxes, FICA, Medicare taxes would all be rolled into one thing called the federal tax, assessed at a flat rate. Nothing there for accountants to work with.

That's tax fairness: the rich and connected paying their share.

The Democratic Party could take an issue from the Republicans and make it their own. After all, the Republicans have fumbled an issue of clear moral power and nobody thinks they're really going to do anything with it.

The Democrats could put their own spin on it: no taxes on people below the poverty line, 23% on people earning up to $250,000 and 25% on everybody above that.

It would increase fairness and revenue in one step.

No more IRS? No more audits? No more sneaky tax dodges?

That's a winning issue.

It could be a winning issue for the Democrats - exactly why they'll never embrace it. The modern Democratic Party's platform is virtually unchanged from the days of Walter Mondale. They keep waiting for the public to come embrace their point of view, and it isn't happening.

Interspersing Dukakis-rhetoric with references to the Almighty is not going to do it.

Defeat after defeat, the Democrats have kept their moral vanity: they would rather be right than be elected.

If they keep with their same model, they will be neither.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

My company amuses me

I recently got notification that I must attend fire extinguisher training....

No big deal. It happens every year.

The funny part is the warning at the end:

"The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) does not permit you to operate a fire extinguisher at work unless you are trained annually. If you do not complete this training you are not permitted to operate the fire extinguishers."

Oh darn. Guess I'll just let the place burn down.

Here's a bet that OSHA has never cited anyone for an infraction on that one.



It's a Dan-derful Life

Selected excerpts from the new CBS News Holiday Classic

The neighborhood of Black Rock Falls, somewhere in midtown New York. The streets are deserted, and snow is falling. It is Christmas Eve. Over the above scenes we hear voices praying:

JOHN ROBERT'S VOICE: I owe everything to Dan Rather. Help him, dear Father.

MIKE WALLACE’S VOICE: Help my son Dan tonight.

ROBIN'S VOICE: Please, God. Something's the matter with Daddy.

MARY MAPES’ VOICE: I love him, dear Gaia. Ommna hoptep chothulu.

Camera pans skyward. Voices speak from the clouds.

CLARENCE'S VOICE: You sent for me, sir?

FRANKLIN'S VOICE: Yes, Clarence. A man down on earth needs our help.

CLARENCE'S VOICE: Splendid! Is he sick?

FRANKLIN'S VOICE: No, worse. His Neilsens have tanked. At exactly seven o’clock PM tonight, Early Earth prime time, that man will be thinking seriously of throwing away God's greatest gift.

CLARENCE'S VOICE: Oh, dear, dear… not his anchor desk! Sir ... if I should accomplish this mission –– I mean –– might I perhaps win my wings? I've been waiting for over two hundred years now, sir, and people are beginning to talk.

FRANKLIN'S VOICE: Clarence, you do a good job with Dan Rather, and you'll get your wings.

CLARENCE'S VOICE: Oh, thank you, sir. Thank you!


In the office of Mr.Blogger, the meanest man in Black Rock Falls.

MR. BLOGGER: Oh, confound it, Rather, are you afraid of the truth? I'm offering you the chance to verify these National Guard documents, starting today. Is it a deal or isn't it?

DAN: Well, Mr. Blogger, I ... I ... I know I ought to jump at the chance, but I ... I just ... I wonder if I can verify them after Sixty Minutes II?

MR. BLOGGER: Okay Rather, but I will be fact-checking it.

DAN: No ... no ... no ... no, now wait a minute, here! I don't have to talk to anybody! I know right now, and the answer is no! NO! Doggone it! You sit around here and you spin your little weblogs and you think the whole world revolves around you and your pajamas and your ‘evidence.’ Well, it doesn't, Mr. Blogger! There is a deeper truth! In the . . . in the whole vast configuration of things, I'd say you were nothing but a scurvy little non-journalist spider!


Back in Mr.Blogger’s office.

MR. BLOGGER: I see. I've suddenly become quite important. What kind of evidence do you have, Dan? Have you got any eyewitnesses?

DAN (shaking his head): No.

MR. BLOGGER: Matched Selectic fonts? Originals? Collateral evidence of any kind?

DAN (pulls out policy): uhh... I have this fax from Kinkos.

POTTER (sarcastically): Look at you. You used to be so cocky! You were going to go out and conquer the news world! You once called me a warped, insignificant rumor mill. Well who’s the rumor mill now? A miserable little forger crawling in here on your hands and knees and begging for help. No evidence –– nothing but a miserable little fax… in Times New Roman, no less. Why don't you go to the network riff-raff you love so much and ask them to verify your story? You know why? Because they'd as soon kill you for a rating point . . .But I'll tell you what I'm going to do for you, Dan. I'm going to post the evidence right here on the blogosphere… forgery –– manipulation –– malfeasance . . .

Dan turns and runs toward the Brooklyn Bridge as Mr. Blogger logs on to TypePad...

Read the rest.


Computer humor

From Dataste.com


The price of impotence

(No, it has nothing to with Viagra)...

James R. Rummel:
President Bush is visiting Canada right now, a country that's full of people who are angry at the United States. Our foreign policy is one of the many issues that has gotten Canada in a lather.

Some reporter in Ottawa actually had the spine to mention to Bush that opinion polls show many Canadians are unhappy with his decisions. The President answered in a very realistic, down to Earth way.

"We just had a poll in our country when people decided that the foreign policy of the Bush administration ought to stay in place for four more years."

Canada has gotten to the point where they can't bring anything to the table. They've allowed their military to rust away to the point that they can't project significant force outside of their own borders without help. They've traded in their main battle tanks for less capable systems, they've allowed their Navy to rust away to insignificance (even to the point that they're adding warships to the fleet that are already worn-out deathtraps), and it's Air Force would be able to hold it's own against a determined foe only if it was suddenly transported back in time to 1960 or so.

Canadians insist that they are still players on the international field because they've aligned themselves with the United Nations. This explains their enthusiasm for peacekeeping missions, but it doesn't explain their ignorance of the corruption that's endemic throughout the UN. It could be argued that their support of such an institution is doing more harm than good in the world.

(In all fairness, I should point out that Canada is just one of many countries that have allowed their influence in the world wane to an alarming degree. They also aren't the only people who think that their esteem is actually worth something without offering any benefit. They just happen to have been in the news today, is all.)

The bottom line is that there is a bottom line. If you're going to try and influence the American government's policies, then you have to provide a reason for the US to listen to you. Simply being loud and self-righteous doesn't cut any ice. Not anymore, at any rate.

It's true that Americans are, by and large, a friendly people who want to be liked and admired. But that doesn't mean that we can be treated like those pathetic losers you knew in high school who were desperate to have a buddy. Instead of offering to withhold their friendship if the United States doesn't obey their wishes, the other countries of the world would be well advised to think of ways to make their opinion matter.



Lava lamp left on hot stovetop explodes, killing man
KENT, Washington (AP) -- A man who placed a lava lamp on a hot stovetop was killed when it exploded and sent a shard of glass into his heart, police said.

Philip Quinn, 24, was found dead in his trailer home Sunday night by his parents.

"Why on earth he was heating a lava lamp on the stove, we don't know," Kent Police spokesman Paul Petersen said Monday.

After the lamp exploded, Quinn apparently stumbled into his bedroom, where he died Sunday afternoon, authorities said.

Police found no evidence of drug or alcohol use.

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