Friday, October 27, 2006

Politics Imitates Art

I'm always a little disappointed when a musician makes an overt political statement at a concert. (I find it less frustrating when it's done on record, but I prefer it to be subtle if it's there at all). To me, it comes off as a pretty lame play to the crowd's supposedly-predictable political sensibilities. Brian Doherty has an outstanding essay up at Reason on the intersection of politics and art, and (unsurprisingly) finds that we're all guilty of drawing far two many lines between the two. Especially the ongoing effort to assign every word written by Bob Dylan to a particular political viewpoint. I liked this perspective, which may help to explain the lasting respect Dylan commands:

...Dylan recognizes that it can only hurt an artist qua artist to be pinned down on worldly politics—that being held up as an exemplar of a specific political-ideological team may help the audience, but it's death to the artist.

Well worth reading. One of my favorite pieces of the year.

Worst. Campaign. Ever.

I can't begin to describe how much I hate politics. Any system that rewards, gives the perception of rewarding, or even encourages lowest common-denominator behavior like we're seeing now in the race for the Virginia Senate seat is beneath me. We've assured ourselves that the people who are most willing to lie, cheat, and steal in order to gain power over us will do so, and I want no part of it.

The story that has me absolutely livid and sad is the game being played by Republican George Allen's campaign attempts to smear Democrat Jim Webb as a woman-hating pedophile, based on a descriptive, scene-setting passage from Allen's novel about Vietnam that describes an accepted SE Asian ritual of kissing young children all over their bodies (including their genitals).

A summary:

While George Allen was discovering his love for the Confederacy in Southern California and at the University of Virginia, Jim Webb was fighting the war in Vietnam, finding himself wholly immersed in a completely foreign culture. Webb was obviously rather profoundly affected by that experience. Because he chose to write about it, in a series of books that have won widespread praise from politicians, from fellow Vietnam vets, and from literary critics.
But war-loving, flag-waving George Allen has decided to hold all of that against Jim Webb. Tonight, Allen took what was clearly a scene-painting, cultural passage from one of those books, grotesquely took it out of context and sexualized it, then slapped it on a press release in an attempt to cheapen Webb's well-received books as cheap porn with hints of pedophelia.

This isn't just a political attack. It's an attack on art. On writing. On expression. Hell, it's an attack on knowledge and learning. It's cheap and tawdry and cynical.

Perhaps if George Allen hadn't himself procured a student deferment from the Vietnam War, he'd be more familiar with the country's culture, and wouldn't bastardize the work of a man who did fight, and who saw to share his experiences with the rest of us -- Allen and his campaign of course announcing and advertising their own willfull stupidity in the process.

Just politics, I guess.

I didn't really give a shit about this race until now. But now, I might become a US citizen, move to Virginia, vote against George Allen, and then swear off politics forever. But since the first three are clearly impossible to accomplish in the next 10 days, I'll have to be content with the last one.

More disgusting behavior on the campaign trail from both parties, but especially the GOP, here and here.

Obvious hat tip to Radley Balko, who made an excellent and terrifying point after doing some research on the practice of the touching of children's genitals in other areas of the world:

Of course, I'm probably now going to jail for what I just typed into Google to find those articles.

Title reference here.

A Life-Support System

Much of the attention blogs have received has been for exposing scandals that result in getting someone fired or publicly embarrassed. So it's nice to be able to report on the blogosphere doing something positive.

This is somewhat old news that I've meant to blog about for awhile, but it appears that blogger Radley Balko (formerly of the Cato Institute, now with Reason Magazine) has essentially saved Cory Maye's life. The story, for those that don't know it: Maye was on death row in Mississippi for killing a police officer who was part of a botched home raid (the team mistakenly barged into Maye's home in the middle of the night with guns drawn, and Maye, thinking he was under attack, fired back in protection of himself and his infant daughter), and Balko has tirelessly worked to bring exposure to the case which have served to get Cory Maye a new trial. Balko's summary at the time went like this:

Cops mistakenly break down the door of a sleeping man, late at night, as part of drug raid. Turns out, the man wasn't named in the warrant, and wasn't a suspect. The man, frightened for himself and his 18-month old daughter, fires at an intruder who jumps into his bedroom after the door's been kicked in. Turns out that the man, who is black, has killed the white son of the town's police chief. He's later convicted and sentenced to death by a white jury. The man has no criminal record, and police rather tellingly changed their story about drugs (rather, traces of drugs) in his possession at the time of the raid.

The story only became more convoluted, with apparent discontinuities everywhere in the cop's story. And now, Cory Maye, rather than being killed, is going to live, in part because of Balko's tireless efforts. And at least get a fair trial.

In the words of Gene Healy, via Jim Henley: It sure beats getting Dan Rather fired, huh?

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ford Flap

There's a minor bruhaha going on in Tennessee (and it's spreading) over a new political ad that uses satire to criticize Democratic senatorial candidate Harold Ford. Because Ford is black, and a white woman appears in the ad referring to a Playboy party that Ford attended, the ad is being deemed racist in some circles. Sorry, but like Jacob Sullum, I just can't see it. The ad is kind of tacky and stupid, but it's altogether not half-bad and mildly funny. The line that made me laugh the most: "Canada can take care of North Korea, they're not busy."

As to the charge of racism, I had this to say over at H&R:

The reaction to this ad is what you'd expect, given that there is a significant number of people who seek out examples of racism and (surprise!) find it everywhere. I'd also point out that if it was a black woman who appeared at the end of the ad, you ALSO be hearing cries of racism, for making disparaging assumptions about the morals of black women. So there's no way to win, really.

UPDATE: The playing of the race card never they're saying this radio ad is racist because it has uplifting strings during the sections talking about Republican Bob Corker and ominous-sounding drums during the sections talking about Ford. I think it takes a fucking racist to infer some kind of "jungle drums" negativitity in this. I mean, I guess I want the Dems to take control of the Senate next month, but god they can be annoying sometimes.

Two Cheers for Jersey

On a more positive note, I'd like to commend the great state of New Jersey for two recent developments:

First, the state Supreme Court managed to strike a nice balance on the gay marriage issue and handed the ball to legislators to make a decision on the subject within the next 180 days. While not explicitly endorsing gay marriage, the judges, in a 4-3 decision, made it clear that some kind of equal-benefits opportunity must be available to homosexual couples, and whether that is civil unions, marriage or something else is left up to the lawmakers:

"Although we cannot find that a fundamental right to same-sex marriage exists in this state, the unequal dispensation of rights and benefits to committed same-sex partners can no longer be tolerated under our state Constitution."

Dahlia Lithwick has a nice piece at Slate on why this isn't an example of the much-maligned "judicial activism".

Second, the state has decided they won't be bullied by the federal government into accepting sex-education money that comes with thick strings attached. The strings being that taking the money would require the state to ban teachers from discussing contraception and force them to tell teens that sex within marriage is the "expected standard of human sexual activity".

It's about time some states stood up to the federal government's blackmail and thinly-veiled attempts to push an agenda by withholding money (that the feds have no business handing out, anyway). NJ is the 4th state to do so in this case.

Hat tip for both stories from To The People.

Making Me Sick

I've been trying to avoid getting worked up about politics this year, but new Reason-man Radley Balko's story about the internet gambling ban is enough to light a fire in the pit of my libertarian sensibilities. What's most disgusting about the bill is not just that it outlaws a perfectly consenual activity that causes no direct harm to others, but how it was passed:

In the wee hours of the last night of the last session of Congress, Majority Leader Bill Frist attached a ban on Internet gambling to a port security bill.

It was a dubious maneuver, which not only prevented any real floor debate over the ban, but also attached an intrusive, unnecessary, big government measure to a bill that addressed important national security concerns. This meant that any senator who held the position that what Americans do with their own money in their own homes on their own time is none of the government's business couldn't vote against the gambling ban, lest they risk being smacked about the head with the "soft on national security" cudgel.

How did we let it happen that THIS is how laws are passed in this country? I don't really give a crap about internet gambling per se, but the underhanded manner in which so many bills get through Congress removes any last bit of credibility the government had. Get them out.

Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ethanol: Brown, According to Greens

Even the enviro-mag Grist is criticizing ethanol:

Most environmentalists agree that the "green" case for corn-based ethanol is a sham: Even if the fuel's energy balance is marginally positive, that factor is probably outweighed by the vast environmental liabilities of large-scale corn production.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Quote of the Day

Steve Chapman, discussing the minimum wage:

"Economics was dubbed "the dismal science" because it is constantly at war with one of life's most pleasant occupations -- wishful thinking."


Reasonable, thoughtful members of Congress are few and far between, but it appears Barney Frank (D-MA) is at least on-target some of the time. He gives the proper response to the idiotic online gambling ban:

"People have said, What is the value of gambling ? Here is the value. Some human beings enjoy doing it. Shouldn't that be our principle? If individuals like doing something and they harm no one, we will allow them to do it, even if other people disapprove of what they do."

Can I get an 'amen'? My only quibble is that we shouldn't even think of "allowing" someone to do something that doesn't harm others. The right is not "ours" (aka the government's) to "allow".

The Great Ethanol Scam

I've blogged before about the dubious environmental benefits from ethanol, and the evidence seems to get more convincing all the time that this is NOT the solution it is touted to be. And because my friend Chubby is probably missing having to answer for my criticisms of ethanol, I think it's time for one more:

Consumer Reports has a cover story looking at the decrease in fuel economy that accompanies using ethanol rather than gasoline (due to a decreased energy content), as well as describing the perverse incentives that automakers have to produce the "flex-fuel vehicles" to run on E85, even if the car never acutally uses ethanol. The question of whether ethanol provides a net thermodynamic advantage when the entire production chain is factored in continues...of course if we got rid of all the subsidies to ethanol AND conventional fuel we wouldn't have to argue about it, the market would provide a ready answer. The information-hiding aspects of government subsidies are probably even more of a problem in the grand scheme of things than the offensiveness that they are spending our money to support certain companies and industries.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Their Fantasy is My Nightmare

This has been pointed out elsewhere, but my god, I can't believe that people are playing Fantasy Congress. It makes Fantasy Football look like the coolest way to spend your time...which is something I thought I'd never say.

Personally, I'm not thinking that encouraging "passing legislation" as a point-scoring test is quite the message we need to send to this, or any, Congress (or the people they represent, for that matter). David Boaz at Cato agrees.

My New Least-Favorite Basketball Player

Like Radley Balko, I'm speechless over reports that Shaquille O'Neal has helped out with police drug raids in Virgina and LA. It's not enough that he plays the most boring game of basketball that has ever graced the NBA hardwood? Now he has to participate in constitutionally-dubious home invasions? Here's a call for Ron Artest and Latrell Sprewell to foul Shaq extra-hard this year.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Unfortunately, that's not a headline from The Onion.

Continuing an effort to raise a bunch of couch-potato wimps with no competitive spirit, another school (this one near Boston) has banned games of "tag". Says one mother: "I've witnessed enough near collisions." WTF?

If I had a child at this school, this would cause me to pull them out immediately. Of course, since there isn't much of a competitive market for schools, you might just be stuck with crap educational environments like this that try to child-proof the world.

Via H&R.

Monday, October 09, 2006

A New Hobby

I think I've decided that my new hobby will be infiltrating Marxist-unionist protest groups. If this article is representative, these probably score about 17 out of 10 on the unintentional comedy scale.