Saturday, April 05, 2003

THE NORTH DAKOTA SEX POLICE

Courtesy of CalPundit comes the story of the North Dakota legislature's attempt to overturn the state's little-enforced anti-cohabitation law.

The attempt failed; as one Republican legislator put it, "Just because something can't be enforced, I don't think it necessarily means that we should feel compelled to take a position to take it off the books."

O . . . K! If a law can't be enforced, it's perfectly fine to keep it on the books just for the sake of appearances? What a brilliant idea! While we're at it, why don't we also outlaw poverty, influenza, and grouchiness? After all, decent upstanding citizens don't like those things, either.

Look, it's not like I'm in favor of cohabitation, but what's accomplished by keeping a law on the books when even its most ardent supporters don't think it will ever be enforced--and, as one proponent of the North Dakota law stated, they don't even particularly want it to be? It's the functional equivalent of suburban elementary schools declaring themselves "Nuclear-Free Zones"--yeah, that's all that's keeping the Air Force from building a Minuteman silo under the four-square court. Useless. Utterly useless.

Kevin at CalPundit has this to say about the matter:"Note to all libertarians: please remember this story the next time you say there's really no difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to privacy and civil liberties issues." He is, of course, correct. Apart from the Second Amendment, the GOP is profoundly soft in the civil-liberties department, just as the Dems are equally squishy on economic freedom. Still, this former Republican found the censoriousness of the GOP too much to bear. I'll live with more economic regulation in exchange for greater protection of personal freedom. Like I've said before, I don't know what the first civil liberty to go away will be, but the second will be religious freedom. There's already some folks who want to abolish Islam, after all . . .
PASSING THE BUCK

Last week saw the first time that one Catholic diocese sued another. This week comes this case in which a Franciscan order is suing the Archdiocese of Los Angeles over who will pay any award in a sexual abuse lawsuit.

I'm torn about how to react to this. It brings me no pleasure to see the Catholics going through this horrid period in their history, none whatsoever. But it's not like I'm ready to stand up in favor of child molestation, nor in favor of a church bureaucracy that sought to avoid scandal more than it sought to protect children. That is simply inexcusable, probably the worst ecclesiastical failure in the recent history of Christendom.

The question is, what's enough punishment? Consider this case from Duluth, MN in which a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation nearly lost its building as the consequence of a $644,000 award against it in a sexual abuse case. The church's insurance company only paid $215,000; the congregation raised $204,000 on its own, and the LC-MS district (equivalent to a Catholic diocese) kicked in $84,000. That's a tidy sum for a district; contrary to popular belief, most Protestant denominations do not hold title to the property of every congregation within their borders. So that $84 grand put a huge dent in their operating budget.

Of course, here's one key to what might have tipped the scales in this case:

[The victim] "had legally begun seizing the church and planned to
auction it off, but he offered in late May to stop the process and to
halve the amount if the church apologized to him for what he said were
'victim-blaming' actions and statements."


There was a happy ending in this case--nobody lost a building, the people who should have known better paid a severe price for their actions, and the involved parties got on with their lives as best as possible.

Of course, this was one congregation, and the LC-MS wasn't implicated, only the congregation. One or two major Catholic institutions will probably wind up bankrupted before the clergy sex abuse scandal is settled. Unfortunately, the greater good they might have done will be silenced by the greater bad they perpetrated on innocent, trusting children. It will be rough for the faithful Catholics, but this is what happens when there's a loss of institutional control. (Ask the SMU football fans what that phrase can mean.)
KEEPING A FINGER ON THE PULSE

Visit this site frequently to get a good idea of what's being talked about at the water coolers of America.
MOTHER NATURE: THE FINAL INSULT

The end result of yesterday's winter storm: 1/4" of ice topped off with about 1.25" of snow. I don't wanna go outside, not at all.

Friday, April 04, 2003

WHAT I'VE BEEN READING LATELY

Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller. I'll admit that, even though I was too young to watch the original show, I almost never missed it, catching it on the sly. (Well, not exactly on the sly: I had TV in my room.) And, even though I'm older than their target audience now, I still like the show, even though it misses far more often than it hits. This book is almost totally devoid of narrative; instead, the history of the show is told in one-to-three-paragraph snippets by the cast, hosts, behind-the-scenes personnel, and others connected to the show. You see the evolution of SNL from a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experiment to a carefully controlled franchise. (It's not at all surprising to learn that the early SNL was all sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll, whereas now the cast rarely indulges in any of those vices--or, at least, they've learned to keep their mouths shut about it.) It was a great read; I could hardly put it down.

The Commanders by Bob Woodward. The Washington Post journalist's look at the events leading up to the 1989 invasion of Panama and the first Gulf War. It's the same cast as in this Gulf War, except they're all playing different parts. Most startling revelation: the real architect behind "shock and awe" may be Colin Powell himself. In fact, the whole book is a great big Valentine to Powell--I almost wonder if Woodward set out to write a book about him but ran out of material. At any rate, George H.W. Bush is only a minor character in this story. Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.
WEATHER UPDATE

You can't see out any of the windows of our house. They're covered with about 1/8" of ice.

The chocolate chip cookies are wonderful, though!
WHAT SEASON IS IT AGAIN?

The Weather Dudes have decreed a Winter Storm Warning for this vicinity tonight, with 5 inches of snow on tap. On the weekend we go back to Daylight Saving Time. If any of you can explain this, I'm all ears. I plan to ride this one out in the kitchen making chocolate chip cookies.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

THE FIRST SUCCESSFUL USE OF THE "FAT GUY" DEFENSE

Who knows anymore if this is good news or not, but Kirby Puckett has been cleared of all charges in the sexual assault case against him.

Key to the defense's argument: Puckett couldn't possibly have done what is alleged because he's too fat to fit into the toilet stall and still have room to maneuver.

I have no comment on this story.
A TEAR FOR EDDIE

Pearl Jam may have just found out that its fan base likes the band's music, not its message. The band was roundly booed last night in Denver after indefatigable blowhard Eddie Vedder launched into an anti-Bush tirade.

The band, which hasn't been musically relevant for at least a half-dozen years, claims to "support the troops" but apparently hasn't learned (a) how they got the right to say what they say, and (b) just because you have the right to free speech doesn't mean anybody has to agree with you. I doubt they'll get the Dixie Chicks treatment, since they hardly get any radio play anymore, but repercussions are inevitable. After all, these were people who bought concert tickets doing the booing. Alienate the mainstream, you gain indie cred; alienate your most loyal fan base, and you'd better check if Subway is hiring in your neighborhood.

Wednesday, April 02, 2003

INCREASES ARE PERMANENT, DECREASES ARE TEMPORARY

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that one of Gov. The Body's most popular actions--capping Minnesota's confiscatory license plate fees--might get scrapped.

Money raised from the increased fees would be pumped back into Minnesota's roadway system. As a freeway geek, I can only approve, but I still remember what it cost to register a 12-year-old Crown Vic in the Gopher State. Yeeks.

Still, Nebraska was worse.
MEDIA BIAS: ALWAYS A BAD THING?

From a most surprising source--the San Francisco Chronicle--comes this column by Deborah Saunders regarding the question of whether the media is, ultimately, obligated to be free of bias in their reportage:

"There are certain issues on which thinking Americans don't disagree. Discrimination against minorities is bad. Period. (There are disagreements on how to achieve racial equality, but not whether racial equality is desirable.) A free press isn't optional -- who would want to live in an America without it?

The same bias should apply to U.S. victory in Iraq. Yes, serious people can disagree on whether U.S.-led forces should have gone into Iraq. But serious anti-war Americans understand the consequences of a U.S. capitulation. "


Saunders goes on to excoriate war critics at great length and with alarming precision. The brunt of her barrage is reserved for Peter Arnett, whom she skewers for having a dangerous double standard. Read this article. It's the last thing you'd expect in the Comical.
LETTER AND SPIRIT?

In what amounts to a public confession, student journalists under 21 at the University of Iowa bought alcohol at the University's Hancher Auditorium to show how easy it was.

Prosecutors are now pondering filing charges--against the students. They may have a point, but I think, in this case, the better part of valor might be to let this one slide. Though it would serve as a warning against participatory journalism, I guess.
CAR TRUBBLE UPDATE

The dealer called: It's a bad ignition cylinder. $281 plus tax. We get the car back tomorrow morning, probably.
IT ALWAYS SEEMS TO HAPPEN ON WEDNESDAYS

Some minor major problems with the Ford yesterday: the ignition switch locked up and you couldn't get the key inside it even with a hammer. So we had to have it towed to a dealer, and I had to leave work two hours early to sort out the whole sordid affair.

Did I mention this happened in Milwaukee? Of course it happened in Milwaukee.

So now, on Wednesday, my busiest day of the week, I'm probably going to have to make a late-afternoon dash back to Beer City to ransom our car from the grasp of the dealership. Wish me luck; I'll need it.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003

THE DAY THE HORNS WENT SILENT IN NORTH PLATTE

North Platte, NE no longer has any at-grade railroad crossings, so the sound of train horns has vanished from the city. According to the article, the town used to be subjected to (gasp) 1,064 train whistles per day, which works out to roughly one whistle every 83 seconds, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Having once lived a mere 100 yards from the Illinois Central tracks in Duncombe, IA, I can only imagine. And that was only about 12 whistles a day. I wonder what effect this will have on the hearing-aid industry in North Platte?
FROM THE 'WHAT DID THEY EXPECT?' DEPARTMENT

A number of Italian gays are upset at a new Vatican sex glossary that claims homosexuality arises from an "unresolved psychological conflict."

You could hardly expect the Vatican to give homosexuality a ringing endorsement.
NOT EVERY COLLEGE PROFESSOR IS AGAINST THE WAR, IT SEEMS

From them Mason City Globe Gazette comes an article about how the war coverage is playing with the faculty at North Iowa Area Community College. John Schmaltz, chair of the social sciences and humanities division, opines,

"I would get better coverage if I went to the Jerusalem Post," Schmaltz said. "You know why? Because Israel understands the threat" to democracy.

Ne'ertheless, I don't expect a mass exodus from Columbia to NIACC anytime soon.

Monday, March 31, 2003

MORE PROOF THAT THINGS AIN'T WHAT THEY USED TO BE

From the Fond du Lac Reporter comes the startling information that nine out of ten farm wives now work off the farm at least part time, mostly to cover the cost of health insurance. A quote from one farm wife gives a glimpse into the realities of rural poverty:

“There were times that I would work 24 hours straight between my two jobs. I did that for three years. The stress began to affect my health,” Maaske said. “But we had no choice. Between my husband and I, we were paying over $1,000 a month in health insurance premiums.”

I don't know how to react to this. Part of me thinks that maybe it's time for laws banning corporate farming to be lifted, to insulate farm operators from the onerous burden of having to finance increasingly-expensive farm machinery with ionospheric mortgages and operating loans. Yet another part of me thinks that, while the government intrudes into our lives in all sorts of areas where its interference is harmful, maybe--maybe--protection from catastrophic health expenses should be part of our basic "safety net." How horrible would it be if, say, the government capped individual liability for single-incident health costs at $50,000, and insurers knew they would only have to insure people for the lesser amounts?

Oh, who am I trying to kid? It wouldn't do any good, since the only thing that can save the health care system now is tort reform. And where's the politicians willing to fight for that hill?

Then again, we still haven't resolved the issue of whether we want our food supply to be a commodity or a utility, so I guess I'm not surprised that farmers are in the awful situation they're in.
I GUESS YOU'RE NOT SAFE ANYWHERE

From the AP comes this bizzare account of a shooting during a church service yesterday in the Detroit suburbs. Apparently it's the latest in a long blood feud between two Albanian families.
TWO DOWN, ONE TO GO

Now that Peter Arnett's been fired by NBC, and Geraldo has been shown the way to Kuwait, all that remains is one thing: How do we get Jim Rome deported to Iraq?

Sunday, March 30, 2003

WEATHER OR NOT

Strange doings tonight about sixish. Our gorgeous sunset was interrupted by a microblizzard so intense I couldn't see the lake 100 feet away. Then all I could see was a giant, creepy orange sun off in the distance. Suddenly, FWOMP the snow turns off like it was disconnected. Total length of winter storm: ten minutes. Accumulation: zero.