Thursday, September 27, 2007

Jesus in Jena

District Attorney Reed Walters, the prosecutor in the Jena 6 case, credited Jesus as the reason that the demonstrations taking place this week were peaceful:

"The only way — let me stress that — the only way that I believe that me or this community has been able to endure the trauma that has been thrust upon us is through the prayers of the Christian people who have sent them up in this community."

So what's the lesson here, Mr. Walters? That divine intervention is necesssary for a large crowd of black people to be peaceful?

"Well sure, haven't ya'll ever been to one of dem hip-hop shows?"

OK, that last one's not a real quote. But it might as well have been.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Virgin Mobile: taking advantage of teenage girls

Virgin Mobile took a girl's photo off of Flickr and used it in a series of ads with titles like "dump the pen pal" and "free virgin to virgin." (Get it?) It didn't, of course, ask for her permission, or inform her that it was doing so. The girl's parents are suing, arguing that she has a right to privacy. Apparently any photo on Flickr is under the Creative Commons license and can be used for anything, even an ad campaign. Watch what you put on there! Whether or not Virgin Mobile is actually breaking the law, it sure is being monumentally insulting. How would you like to have your face plastered on billboards with a caption that makes fun of you?


Monks march for freedom

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Ever tried to stuff 15 one-dollar coins into your pocket?

I have. I'm getting quite good at it, actually, because I get a lot of practice. Every school break when I return to Boston, I need to recharge my CharlieCard to ride the T. (That's Boston's public transportation system, for all of you who don't live near the Hub of the Universe.) Invariably, I'm too lazy to use my debit card to add five bucks to the card. That requires punching in about four more numbers. So I always put in a $20 bill and stare as 15 one-dollar coins in change pour out of the machine.

I was reminded of this tradition by this article on the new Presidential coins.

Barry Stuppler, vice president of the American Numismatic Association, said that in order for dollar coins to be widely used they must be accepted not just by the public but by everything from vending machines to traffic meters.

"If commerce doesn't prepare for it, [the presidential dollar] will become like the Susan B. Anthony dollar," he said.

Accepting dollar coins everywhere: that's one possible solution. Or, every major American city could install crazy subway machines like Boston's...

The Death of a Country

Belgium draws ever closer to breaking up.

Monday, September 17, 2007

No health insurance for children, gosh darn it

Whatever else you can say about President Bush, the man sure stands up for what he believes in. And, gosh darn it, he believes that providing health insurance to uninsured children is just one of those things that a freedom-loving, red-blooded American has to stand against:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 16 — Senate and House negotiators said Sunday that they had agreed on a framework for a compromise bill that would provide health insurance to four million uninsured children while relaxing some of the limits on eligibility imposed by the Bush administration.

The compromise, which resembles a bill passed by the Senate with bipartisan support, sets the stage for a battle with President Bush, who has denounced similar legislation as a step “down the path to government-run health care for every American.”

Sacrifices need to be made in the battle against government-run health care, apparently.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Alan Greenspan declares that the Iraq War was fought for oil

Greenspan doesn't just criticize Bush's economic policies in his new book. Check it out:

AMERICA’s elder statesman of finance, Alan Greenspan, has shaken the White House by declaring that the prime motive for the war in Iraq was oil.

In his long-awaited memoir, to be published tomorrow, Greenspan, a Republican whose 18-year tenure as head of the US Federal Reserve was widely admired, will also deliver a stinging critique of President George W Bush’s economic policies.

However, it is his view on the motive for the 2003 Iraq invasion that is likely to provoke the most controversy. “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil,” he says.

Greenspan, 81, is understood to believe that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to the security of oil supplies in the Middle East.

Britain and America have always insisted the war had nothing to do with oil. Bush said the aim was to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and end Saddam’s support for terrorism.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Industries Want Regulation

You know the administration has taken deregulation too far when American industries are actually seeking more regulations:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15 — After years of favoring the hands-off doctrine of the Bush administration, some of the nation’s biggest industries are pushing for something they have long resisted: new federal regulations.

For toys and cars, antifreeze and fireworks, popcorn and produce and cigarettes and light bulbs, among other products, industry groups or major manufacturers are calling for federal health, safety and environmental mandates. Some of those industries are abandoning years of efforts to block such measures, often in alliance with the Bush administration, which pledged to ease what it views as costly, unnecessary rules.
The corporations are, of course, motivated by self-interest. As the article makes clear, they're afraid of lawsuits and cheap (and unsafe) foreign competition, and they also want to preempt heavy regulation by the Democrats by putting lesser regulation in place now. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. We'll just have to see if the Bush administration will respond to these calls for more regulations. Wait, wasn't there a controversy about spinach a while back?

Last year, almost all of the nation’s spinach crop was destroyed after contaminated spinach from one 50-acre California farm sickened nearly 200 people in 26 states, killing a Wisconsin woman. It was the last straw for large growers, who now support mandatory safety standards. But the Department of Health and Human Services has been slow to endorse them, leading some proponents to conclude that the agency has objections.

“It’s a little unique when both consumer groups and industry associations are out there saying that we need new regulations, and the government doesn’t agree,” said Jenny Scott, vice president for food safety programs of the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

It'll be interesting to show how this all shakes out. The (obvious) lesson here is that, while over-regulation is bad for the economy, slashing regulations willy-nilly can have some serious downsides as well. Not that this is some brilliant new insight, but it's one that pro-business officials tend to forget.

Alan Greenspan lets loose

Alan Greenspan lets loose:

In a withering critique of his fellow Republicans, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan says in his memoir that the party to which he has belonged all his life deserved to lose power last year for forsaking its small-government principles.


Mr. Greenspan, who calls himself a "lifelong libertarian Republican," writes that he advised the White House to veto some bills to curb "out-of-control" spending while the Republicans controlled Congress. He says President Bush's failure to do so "was a major mistake." Republicans in Congress, he writes, "swapped principle for power. They ended up with neither. They deserved to lose."
Yes indeed.

UPDATE: Digby has a nice post on the subject, including this little tidbit:
I'm most interested in his take on the various presidents he worked with. For instance:

he believes that "Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton were the most intelligent, he wrote, while he found Ford the most normal and likeable. Ronald Reagan was the most devoted to free markets, though his grasp of economics "wasn't very deep or sophisticated."

$5 Swedish Meatballs

CNN reports:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Hungry attendees at Justice Department conferences have been enjoying millions of dollars in meatballs and other goodies courtesy of U.S. taxpayers, according to an inspector general's report released Friday.

The report cited $5 meatballs and cans of soft drinks each costing $4.55 among reasons 10 conferences during 2005 and 2006 cost nearly $7 million.

One four-day conference of 1,500 people in Los Angeles cost the Justice Department $394,000 in August 2005.
The 2005 Los Angeles event -- which was called the "Weed and Seed" national conference -- attracted particular attention from the audit's authors.

It "included a $53 per person two-entree and dessert lunch for 120 attendees, a one-hour $64,000 'Stars and Stripes' themed networking reception and a post-conference meeting for 30 DOJ employees who were provided a sandwich buffet lunch at a cost of $44 per person and an 'At the Movies' theme snack (candy, popcorn, and soft drinks) for an additional $25 per person," the report said.

I'm speechless.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Do Teachers Have First Amendment Rights?

Here is a case of a public school teacher getting fired for expressing political views. The teacher, Deborah Mayer, said in response to a student question, "I honk for peace," and "People ought to seek out peaceful solutions before going to war." Apparently some students (or their parents, more likely) were upset that Mayer was "bashing Bush," and Mayer lost her job.

This is a tricky topic, because it is difficult to say that public school teachers have complete free speech rights; they obviously shouldn't be politically or religiously indoctrinating children. But, can they express opinions in response to questions? The lawyer for the school board certainly doesn't think so. He argues that, "teachers don't have First Amendment rights in the classroom because they teach a curriculum decided by state and local officials."

This is also too extreme. This would imply that teachers are, more or less, robots that simply enforce the will of those who determine the curriculum. The only speech that is protected is that which supports the curriculum. The lawyer for the board noted, "If they disagree with the curriculum, they can go somewhere else." Real mature. That sounds like a redneck who says "hey you lib'rals! If you hate America so much, why don't you just leave!?" Of course, I don't think teachers should be able to ignore the curriculum, but teachers aren't just robots to enforce someone else's will (at least good ones aren't). They want to teach children, not just deliver government-approved information (the distinction is subtle, but I think the ability to see it is important for anyone interested in education/academia).

Again, this is tough. We don't want teachers to simply do whatever they want (although, a select few teachers would certainly put this freedom to great use), but at the same time, they shouldn't just be information spewing machines. I don't know where to strike the balance, but I definitely don't think Mayer should have been fired for simply responding to a question with her honest opinion.

So, anyway, the lower courts have so far sided with the school board, and now Mayer is appealing to the Supreme Court. It has not yet determined whether or not it will hear the case. Here's hoping it does, because while there are famous cases outlining students' speech rights in school, the area of teachers' rights is rather ambiguous.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Britain and Ireland can keep the pint

Common sense prevails:

BRUSSELS, Sept. 11 — Britons and the Irish can still down a pint of beer, walk a mile, covet an ounce of gold and eat a pound of bananas after the European Union ruled today that the countries could retain measurements dating back to the Middle Ages.

Under a previous European Union plan, Britain and Ireland would have been forced to adopt the metric system and phase out imperial measurements by 2009. But after a vociferous antimetric campaign by British skeptics and London’s tabloid press, European Union officials decided that an ounce of common sense (or 28.3 grams) suggested that granting a reprieve was better than braving a public backlash

Smart move by the EU. This plan had "public relations disaster" written all over it.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Hillary the "Realist"

Hillary Clinton is taking an interesting approach to countering her optimistic enemies, Obama and Edwards. She is painting herself as a realist. Rather than Edwards' "Let's take away the power from special interests!" approach, she says, "I want to work within the system... You can’t pretend the system doesn’t exist." Rather than Obama's "outsider" approach, Hillary emphasizes that she knows her way around the (possibly wicked) ways of Washington. I think there is something to be said for this sort of frankness, but at the same time, it slightly worries me.

The President is certainly an extremely powerful individual, but I also think a lot of the President's power is symbolic, so to speak. The President is not merely the Chief Executive (or the Chief Legislator, for those who consider him that), but also the Chief Moralizer, if you will allow me that phrase. Don't get me wrong; I'm not defending the backwards morals of the Bush Administration, but part of the President's job is to have some vague notion of "good" that America can (hopefully) rally behind. In other words, "here is what I think is worth fighting for." Not "here is what we can settle for."

Sometimes we do have to settle for less, but that doesn't really seem like something a Presidential candidate should be saying in her stump speech. So, I'm torn. Is this a refreshing use of honesty (or realism) in a stump speech? Or is it a frightening willingness to settle for less?