Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bob McDonnell Speaks to News Media in Charlottesville

After addressing supporters at a rally in historic Jefferson Hall on the grounds of the University of Virginia, former Virginia Attorney General Bob McDonnell, who is traveling around the state this week to kick off his campaign for governor, spoke to print and broadcast journalists. He had time to answer three questions.

The first question was about how he thinks the money allocated to Virginia in the federal stimulus package should be spent.



The second question was about so-called "card check" legislation, under consideration as the Employee Free Choice Act. McDonnell said he opposes the bill and supports Virginia's status as a "right to work" state.



The third question aimed to get McDonnell's assessment about the Republican party's chances for success in 2009. McDonnell noted that Virginia and New Jersey are the only states with significant elections this year, and that his focus is on getting elected as governor of Virginia.




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Monday, March 30, 2009

Challenging the Climate on Climate Change

Those cheeky folks at the Cato Institute are at it again, speaking truth to power.

Readers will recall how Cato brought together a large number of economists, including Nobel laureates, to challenge President Barack Obama's blanket assertion that "there is no disagreement [among economists] that we need action by our government, a recovery plan that will help to jumpstart the economy." Over two hundred economic experts disagreed with the President, and signed a statement that Cato published as an advertisement in the New York Times, Washington Post, and other newspapers.

In today's Washington Post is a full-page ad from Cato, this time bringing together climate experts, meteorologists, physicists, and other scientists who take issue with another blanket assertion of the President. This time he said:

"Few challenges facing America and the world are more urgent than combating climate change.The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear."
My question in regard to these types of generalizations is, if the science is "beyond dispute," then why are Northern Hemisphere temperatures today cooler than they were 1,000 years ago? Was the human-generated carbon footprint greater in the latter part of the first millennium than it is today and, if so, how? Did medieval factories spew more smoke? Were medieval automobiles unequipped with good exhaust systems?

Or could periodic climate change be generated by something larger than human activity, such as the sun?

But I digress.

The scientists gathered by the Cato Institute come from various institutions around the globe. They come from Argentina, Canada, Germany, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and other countries (as well as the United States). The list includes at least one Nobel laureate and several winners of other awards. This is their response to the President (footnotes omitted):
We, the undersigned scientists, maintain that the case for alarm regarding climate change is grossly overstated. Surface temperature changes over the past century have been episodic and modest and there has been no net global warming for over a decade now. After controlling for population growth and property values, there has been no increase in damages from severe weather-related events. The computer models forecasting rapid temperature change abjectly fail to explain recent climate behavior. Mr. President, your characterization of the scientific facts regarding climate change and the degree of certainty informing the scientific debate is simply incorrect.
One of the many the global-warming skeptics who did not sign Cato's statement is the respected Princeton University physicist Freeman Dyson, who was profiled yesterday in the New York Times. In the profile, correspondent Nicholas Dawidoff writes:
Dyson may be an Obama-loving, Bush-loathing liberal who has spent his life opposing American wars and fighting for the protection of natural resources, but he brooks no ideology and has a withering aversion to scientific consensus....

Dyson says he doesn’t want his legacy to be defined by climate change, but his dissension from the orthodoxy of global warming is significant because of his stature and his devotion to the integrity of science. Dyson has said he believes that the truths of science are so profoundly concealed that the only thing we can really be sure of is that much of what we expect to happen won’t come to pass. In “Infinite in All Directions,” he writes that nature’s laws “make the universe as interesting as possible.” This also happens to be a fine description of Dyson’s own relationship to science. In the words of Avishai Margalit, a philosopher at the Institute for Advanced Study, “He’s a consistent reminder of another possibility.” When Dyson joins the public conversation about climate change by expressing concern about the “enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations and the superficiality of our theories,” these reservations come from a place of experience. Whatever else he is, Dyson is the good scientist; he asks the hard questions.
Science is not decided by majority votes. Scientific fact is determined through experiment, observation, testing, discussion, and debate. Progress can be slow or it can be rapid. Scientists learn by their mistakes; they do not decide what is true by a show of hands.

That there is a vociferous group of scientists who are willing to challenge faddishness among the chattering classes -- and this includes the White House -- is a good thing to be treasured. These are the scientists who take seriously President Obama's admonition that we should "restore scientific integrity in government decision making."




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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Mr. Smoot, Meet Mr. Hawley

The Washington Post reports that the threat of trade protectionism is rising again as governments -- even industrial democracies -- retrench in the face of shrinking GDPs.

Egged on by fremescence around the globe, decisions aimed at reducing international trade will have, as they did in the 1930s, counterproductive results. The damage done by policies that restrict or deter trade among businesses and consumers across national boundaries will prolong the current recession.

Annys Shin wrote in the business section of Friday's Post:

In the latest WTO report, Director-General Pascal Lamy said that in just the past two months there has been "significant slippage" among the world's industrialized and developing nations toward protectionism. The report includes a lengthy list of examples.

"The danger today is of an incremental build-up of restrictions that could slowly strangle international trade and undercut the effectiveness of policies to boost aggregate demand and restore sustained growth globally," Lamy said.

A growing number of countries have raised tariffs, imposed import restrictions or reinstated subsidies. They have also been quick to defend home industries by filing complaints with the WTO over dumping -- the practice of flooding another country with goods at below-market prices. The WTO report also portrayed bailouts as potentially bad for trade because propping up operations of uncompetitive or insolvent firms "denies market share to more efficient producers including foreign suppliers."
A news release from the World Trade Organization that was supposed to be issued on March 25 but was prematurely published by a Dutch media outlet on March 23, addressed the issue of how economic decline follows protectionist trade measures:
“For the last 30 years trade has been an ever increasing part of economic activity, with trade growth often outpacing gains in output. Production for many products is sourced around the world so there is a multiplier effect — as demand falls sharply overall, trade will fall even further. The depleted pool of funds available for trade finance has contributed to the significant decline in trade flows, in particular in developing countries,” said Director-General Pascal Lamy.

“As a consequence, many thousands of trade related jobs are being lost. Governments must avoid making this bad situation worse by reverting to protectionist measures which in reality protect no nation and threaten the loss of more jobs. We are carefully monitoring trade policy developments. The use of protectionist measures is on the rise. The risk is increasing of such measures choking off trade as an engine of recovery. We must be vigilant because we know that restricting imports only leads your trade partner to follow suit and hit your exports. Trade can be a potent tool in lifting the world from these economic doldrums. In London G20 leaders will have a unique opportunity to unite in moving from pledges to action and refrain from any further protectionist measure which will render global recovery efforts less effective,” Mr. Lamy said.

Fortunately, some are fighting back against this incipient trend. In an online petition being circulated by the International Policy Network, the Atlas Economic Research Foundation and its Global Initiative for Free Trade, Peace and Prosperity, concerned citizens are speaking out and calling attention to the economic facts.

The petition says, in part:
... the fact that protectionism destroys wealth is not its worst consequence. Protectionism destroys peace. That is justification enough for all people of good will, all friends of civilization, to speak out loudly and forcefully against economic nationalism, an ideology of conflict, based on ignorance and carried into practice by protectionism.

Two hundred and fifty years ago, Montesquieu observed that “Peace is the natural effect of trade. Two nations who differ with each other become reciprocally dependent; for if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling; and thus their union is founded on their mutual necessities.”

Trade’s most valuable product is peace. Trade promotes peace, in part, by uniting different peoples in a common culture of commerce – a daily process of learning others’ languages, social norms, laws, expectations, wants, and talents.
The petition looks to the lessons of history:
Perhaps the most tragic example of what happens when that insight is ignored is World War II.

International trade collapsed by 70 percent between 1929 and 1932, in no small part because of America’s 1930 Smoot-Hawley tariff and the retaliatory tariffs of other nations. Economist Martin Wolf notes that “this collapse in trade was a huge spur to the search for autarky and Lebensraum, most of all for Germany and Japan.”

The most ghastly and deadly wars in human history soon followed.

By reducing war, trade saves lives.

Trade saves lives also by increasing prosperity and extending it to more and more people. The evidence that freer trade promotes prosperity is simply overwhelming. Prosperity enables ordinary men and women to lead longer and healthier lives.
There is more there to read and support, expressed more eloquently and completely than I can do. To sign the petition, go here: http://tinyurl.com/c5vb2l. Do it now.

Peace and prosperity depend on the ability of free people to trade among themselves without interference.


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Bet You Can't Eat Just One

For those who find themselves glued to the TV when it is tuned to the Food Network, or for those gourmand tourists who travel to culinary destinations, have I got news for you!

The 28th annual Oakdale Testicle Festival will take place next Monday in Stanislaus County, California, near Modesto.

You read it right. According to the Modesto Bee:

For years, the fete was called the Calf Fry as the largest fundraiser for the town's Rotary Club. But then the group joined forces with the Cowboy Museum and the more direct, more catchy Testicle Festival was launched in 2003. Since then, the festival has gone from fewer than 200 guests to more than 450 a year.

The evening is less a strolling, browsing around festival and more of a sit-down, chow-down dinner. Some 400 pounds of the unique dining experience are fried up in a secret recipe and served to guests for $50 a ticket ($65 if you wait and get it at the door).

The event fills Oakdale's largest hall, the FES Hall. Last year, it raised $28,000.
Bull testicles are also known by the (more?) colorful name, prairie oysters. They are considered a delicacy by some. The Bee's Marijke Rowland asked Christie Camarillo, executive director of the Oakdale Cowboy Museum, how they taste. Camarillo's reply:
"They kind of taste like chicken. I say it's between fried calamari and chicken liver," she said. "I've had them fixed all different ways, but you can't beat how the Rotarians do it."
What unusual fleshy food does not taste like chicken? And just how do the Rotarians do it?

However they do it, the Modesto Bee notes,
The organizers promise that you'll "Have a ball!"
If you're in the neighborhood of Oakdale (is this the town on the long-running daytime drama, As the World Turns? Has ATWT ever featured a testicle festival?), check out the festival and then come back here to leave your own impressions in the comments section (below). No bull.






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Thursday, March 26, 2009

DADT: Let's Look at the Polling Data

The current issue of C-VILLE Weekly carries a letter from Frederick W. Kahler of Earlysville, who identifies himself as a World War II veteran and Navy pilot.

Mr. Kahler writes:

Cathy Harding: In response to your “Read this First” in the March 17-23 issue, I pose the following, regarding your endorsement of Congressman “MORON’”s campaign to repeal DADT: What branch of the military did “MORON” serve in? What branch of the military did you serve in? Did you ever poll the military to ascertain their feelings about serving side by side with “gays”?

You talk about straining the military as if the repeal of DADT would greatly improve the morale of the “straights” serving.

I’ve got news for you: NO WAY!
Ignoring his undignified references to Representative Jim Moran (D-VA8), who does plenty to undignify himself, let's go directly to the question he poses to C-VILLE's editor about polling the military to find out their attitudes about serving with openly gay comrades.

As a matter of fact, there have already been polls done to find precisely the information that Mr. Kahler desires.

In December 2006, the respected polling organization, Zogby International, surveyed troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. One of its findings was that 73% of military personnel are comfortable with lesbians and gay men. It further found:
Of those in combat units, 21% said they know for certain that someone in their unit is gay or lesbian, slightly less than for those in combat support units (25%) and combat service support units (22%). One in five troops (20%) in other units said they know for certain someone is gay or lesbian in their unit. Overall, nearly half (45%) say there are people in their unit they suspect are gay or lesbian, but they don't know for sure. Slightly more than half (52%) say they have received training on the prevention of anti-gay harassment in the past three years. But 40% say they have not received this type of training, which is mandated by Defense Department policy.
Moreover, Zogby said:
Some troops believe the integration of openly gay and lesbian service members in the military could undermine cohesion, but those who know at least one gay peer are less likely to believe it would negatively impact morale. Of those who know a gay or lesbian peer, 27% said it has a negative impact on the morale of their unit. By contrast, among those who do not know of a gay or lesbian person in their unit, or are unsure of their presence, 58% said it would have a negative impact on their unit.

Prominent supporters of "don't ask, don't tell" have expressed concerns about privacy in the shower, Dr. Belkin said, but nearly three out of four troops said in the Zogby poll that they usually or almost always take showers privately [and] only 8% say they usually or almost always take showers in group stalls.
The Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania reported these findings in its 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey:
* 50% of junior enlisted personnel say that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military, up from 16% in 1992
* 29% of military personnel believe open service is an issue of equal rights.
* Service members surveyed “believe sexual orientation is unrelated to job performance,” Annenberg reported.
* Only 16% of believed lesbian and gay service members were “bad for morale,” while just 12% thought allowing gays to serve openly would be “bad for teamwork.”
If these surveys of active service members are insufficient to satisfy Mr. Kahler's curiosity, perhaps the views of retired military and naval officers would pique his interest.

According to an article at PageOneQ headlined "Admirals, generals call for 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal,"
A coalition of retired military generals and admirals has released a joint call to repeal 10 USC 654, better known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," in order to allow gay and lesbian members of the military to serve openly, without fear of losing one's military career. Over 12,000 people have been discharged under the policy since its inception in 1993.

Among the 104 signatories is retired Admiral Charles Larson, former Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy and a supporter of "Don't Ask" when it was signed by President Clinton. At the time, he thought that "Don't Ask" was a good step towards lifting a temporary blanket ban on gays in the military. Larson later saw how "Don't Ask" was being used for "witch hunts," depriving the military of talented individuals, and after working with gay people and speaking at length with his lesbian daughter, he now supports an end to the ban altogether.

"I think the time has come to find a way to let talented, young, patriotic Americans who want to serve their country serve," Larson said, "and let's enforce high standards of personal and human behavior for everyone."
(For the skeptical reader, that article includes a list of the names of all the signatories to the statement calling for DADT repeal. The story was also reported by the Associated Press.)

The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) argues that the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy is unkind to taxpayers while it is unfair to soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines:
* The Pentagon has spent over $200 million taxpayer dollars to replace service men and women discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” since 1993, according to a 2005 GAO report.
* A 2006 Blue Ribbon Commission Report found that the total cost of implementing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” between fiscal year 1994 and fiscal year 2003 was at least $363.8 million.
Given that information, it is no wonder that the general public, in multiple surveys spread over several years, has become increasingly opposed to excluding patriotic gay Americans from serving in the armed forces.

For example, a Fox News poll in August 2003 discovered that "64% of those polled support allowing gays to serve openly." In another example, a July 2008 poll by the Washington Post and ABC News found:
• 75% of Americans think homosexuals who publicly disclose their sexual orientation should be allowed to serve in the military
• 22% of Americans think homosexuals who publicly disclose their sexual orientation should not be allowed to serve in the military
• 3% had no opinion
Some people might be surprised by these findings. That's why it's useful to do research and to check the data against preconceptions.




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China Expands Pro-Abortion Policy

The shocking news from China, courtesy of the BBC:

Chinese authorities are using contraceptive pills to cut down the number of gerbils in a north-western province plagued by the rodents.

Forestry officials are leaving pills by the gerbils' burrows to try to cut back the rodents' exploding numbers....

Authorities are using the pellets - which prevent females getting pregnant and cause abortion in those already pregnant - disguised as bran feed, the state news agency Xinhua said.
There's sure to be more to this story. You don't have to be a Philadephia weatherman to know which way the wind blows.



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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dead End of the Cul-de-Sac?

Perhaps it was because I live on a cul-de-sac that the article in Sunday's Washington Post caught my eye. After all, it had this subhead: "Targeting Cul-de-Sacs, Rules Now Require Through Streets in New Subdivisions."

Even if I weren't in my current living situation, however, I would have detected something in the article that made me uneasy. Written by Eric M. Weiss, it describes a top-down, one-size-fits-all effort by the Virginia government to dictate zoning and planning requirements for new suburban developments, effectively prohibiting the option for creating cul-de-sac streets anywhere in the state.

Here are the opening paragraphs of Weiss's piece, which was featured on Sunday's front page:

Virginia is taking aim at one of the most enduring symbols of suburbia: the cul-de-sac.

The state has decided that all new subdivisions must have through streets linking them with neighboring subdivisions, schools and shopping areas. State officials say the new regulations will improve safety and accessibility and save money: No more single entrances and exits onto clogged secondary roads. Quicker responses by emergency vehicles. Lower road maintenance costs for governments.

Although cul-de-sacs will remain part of the suburban landscape for years to come, the Virginia regulations attack what the cul-de-sac has come to represent: quasi-private standalone developments around the country that are missing only a fence and a sign that says "Keep Out."
Well, yes. Neighborhoods with cul-de-sacs are much safer -- in terms of being protected against crime -- than other types of suburban (and urban) neighborhoods. They also are safer for children and pets because of the absence of fast-moving, through traffic.

The Virginia government's monolithic emphasis on transportation, which is more salient in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads than in other parts of the state, may have the unintended (or is it intended) consequence of making suburban neighborhoods less attractive to potential homeowners who are seeking refuge from the grime and crime of the cities.

Writing in Reason magazine in 2005, Stephen Town and Randal O'Toole told the story of one cul-de-sac neighborhood in England:
Burras Road was a pleasant cul-de-sac of 21 new homes in Bradford, England. Its residents were blissfully unaware that, just east of the site, approval for a proposed new shopping center required the breaching of their cul-de-sac by a bicycle-pedestrian path.

Planners favored this requirement because, they say, cul-de-sacs do not encourage movement and therefore are "auto-dependent" and "anti-urban." Opening up the site would connect residents to local services, and the path would promote walking and cycling.

The path connecting the shopping center to the cul-de-sac opened in 2000. Although there is no evidence that the path has led residents to drive less, it did have a profound effect on their lives. During the next six months, a neighborhood that had been virtually crime-free saw its burglary rate rise to 14 times the national rate, with matching increases in overall crime, including arson, assault, and antisocial behavior.

Because a secondary school was located west of the cul-de-sac, the pedestrian path opened the neighborhood to a constant stream of students and others going between the school and the shopping center. Crime and vandalism became commonplace. "The path turned our piece of paradise into a living hell," one resident complained.
Moving beyond this single anecdote to more thorough research, O'Toole and Town refer to architect Oscar Newman's 1972 book, Defensible Space,
which showed that the safest neighborhoods maximized private space and minimized common zones. Safe areas also minimized "permeability," that is, the ease of entry to and exit from the neighborhood or housing area. Cul-de-sacs are thus a crime-prevention device, and any breaching of cul-de-sacs will predictably increase crime.
Turning to government reports, Town and O'Toole note:
... the British Crime Survey, regarded by the U.K. government as the most reliable guide to crime, found that houses on main roads were at more than twice the risk of being burgled as those in a cul-de-sac. The Department of Justice's Closing Streets cites numerous studies in the U.S. showing that reducing connectivity reduces crime. It also finds that "most research supports the idea that burglars avoid houses in cul-de-sacs."
They also point to a real-world experiment where the conversion of grid arrangements to more closed systems led to a decline in crime rates:
When Dayton, Ohio, asked Newman to apply defensible-space concepts to a neighborhood suffering high rates of drug-related violence and property crime, his solution was to gate numerous streets--in essence, to turn a traditional street grid into cul-de-sacs. Within two years, violent crime in that neighborhood fell by 50 percent and overall crime by 25 percent, even as crime in Dayton overall increased by 1 percent.
While the chances of local governments in Virginia will destroy current cul-de-sac arrangements as well as prohibit new ones is small, planners should keep this information in mind. Do we want our suburban neighborhoods to become what British police refer to as "crimogenic"?

On the lighter side, it is just a wee bit ironic that "Cul de Sac" is the name of a syndicated comic strip by Richard Thompson, whose home base is the Washington Post (and who lives in Arlington, Virginia, one of D.C.'s inner suburbs). What will Thompson's readers think if the cul-de-sac goes the way of the buggy whip and spats?





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Pearls, Swine, and Celluloid

Fans of the comic strip "Pearls Before Swine" (I am one) will be pleased to learn that their favorite animal characters -- Rat, Pig, Goat, Zebra, the Crocs, and others -- may be heading to the big screen.

According to the MediaBistro blog, GalleyCat:

In an exclusive interview, Stephan Pastis told GalleyCat that he is in negotiations with an unnamed studio to create an animated feature about his popular comic strip, Pearls Before Swine....

Pastis explained more about his upcoming projects: "We are currently beginning negotiations with a film studio (which I cannot yet name) for a Pearls animated feature. Also, this month, Aurora is releasing plush versions of Pig, Rat, Larry the Croc and Zebra."
While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, for me "Pearls Before Swine" is one of the funniest things in the funny pages. Pastis' strip is about the only comic that makes me laugh out loud. (For real, not just LOL; sometimes it's more like ROFL.)

I am eager to see how "Pearls Before Swine" makes the transition to cinema.



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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Have You Found What You're Looking For?

Good news for those many readers who come here looking for "jesse eisenberg shirtless": the new movie, Adventureland, scheduled to open across the country on April 3, features Jesse Eisenberg not only shirtless, but in wet underpants. (Is that what one would call a "double feature"?)

It turns out that the search term, "jesse eisenberg shirtless," is the second-most popular hook that brings people to this blog, tied with "tyler whitney" and barely behind "douglas wilder." (Those rankings are based on the last 4,000 visits.)

A while has passed since I last looked at the weird search terms that lead people here. To be honest, there aren't as many odd or inscrutable or daffy search terms as there once were. It may be that people are learning better how to navigate the InterWebs, how to use the Google more effectively. It's sad, in a way, since the strange search terms have always been entertaining (if only to me).

Here are a few recent examples of weirdness that stand out:

abraham lincoln popstar

bob mcdonnell cannot remember oral sex

did ricky nelson have a large penis


gay themes in yiddish literature

"jockey shorts"(spanking) friend -kid -monkey

Representative "James P. Moran" Democrat of Virginia erectile dysfunction

there was a phrase said at the 2009 oscars what was it

what common household has been recently tainted with salmonella?
Here are a few with thematic links:
shirtless dan quayle
shirtless daniel bruhl
shirtless jason alexander
shirtless jesse palmer
shirtless pictures of jewish men
shirtless pictures of josh hutcherson
And, finally, here are a few focused on Charlottesville's own Trevor Moore, co-director of the new film, Miss March:
the trevor moore show
trevor moore cuddy
trevor moore movie
trevor moore scraps
trevor moore sexy
trevor moore shirtless
trevor moore, Brooklyn

What is the movie called with the boy who gets in a coma for four years and the girl he loved is a playboy playmate of the month for march
I hope the person with that last question found a satisfactory answer.

If not, come back soon. I'm sure you'll find what you're looking for.



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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Slip of the Tongue?

Catching up on my reading this week, I found a front-page story in the Washington Post about creationists who visit natural history museums to explore how real scientists display the evidence for their theories.

As reporter Steve Hendrix explains it, this is

part of a wider movement by creationists to confront Darwinism in some of its most redoubtable secular strongholds. As scientists celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, his doubters are taking themselves on Genesis-based tours of natural history museums, aquariums, geologic sites and even dinosaur parks.
About a third of the way through the article, one finds this curious statement by one of the creationists:
"Why should we be afraid to test our worldview against reality?" asked Bill Jack, a Christian leadership instructor who leads groups across the country for a company called Biblically Correct Tours.
I gave that paragraph not just a doubletake, but a triple-take. It looks like Mr. Jack, at least, acknowledges that the creationist "worldview" is at odds with reality.

His honesty is refreshing. I hope this represents the beginning of a trend.



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The Trevor Moore Movie Review

There are a number of words that work as simple descriptors of the new movie, Miss March.

Puerile. Sophomoric. Juvenile. Tasteless. Scatological. Formulaic.

Those are the words that first come to mind. On reflection, however, there are a few more words that also apply.

Touching. Heartfelt. Promising.

I will confess that were it not for Charlottesville celebrity Trevor Moore's involvement in this project (he stars, co-directs, and co-wrote the screenplay), I would not have felt an urge to see it. I would have expected more of Moore's local fans to have been similarly attracted, but the audience at the 9:50 screening on Friday night could not have numbered more than 20.

Then it occurred to me: The primary audience for Miss March can't be admitted to cinemas to see it. The movie is rated R, and the target demographic is 15-year-old boys.

Those boys will have to wait for the movie to come out on DVD, sometime next month.

Those boys will enjoy the story of two friends making their way across the country (from South Carolina to California by way of Chicago) to the Playboy Mansion. Why? They are seeking the high-school girlfriend of one of them (Eugene, who has been in a coma for four years), who turns out to be the Playboy centerfold in the magazine's March issue. (Hence the title, "Miss March.")

To be sure, Moore and his co-director/screenwriter Zach Cregger show a lot of promise. They seem to have absorbed many of the lessons learned by watching countless buddy flicks/road pictures. Hope and Crosby, they ain't -- but the final scene in Miss March (over the credits) suggests a sequel may be on its way. (That would depend on how much money this one makes, of course.)

The problem is, Miss March is an uneven product. While its set pieces evoke a few chuckles, it's not LOL funny. It even generally lacks the cleverness that Charlottesville cable TV watchers learned to expect from the old "Trevor Moore Show." (That sly sense of humor rises above the surface in a few places, but it's generally overwhelmed by predictable poop jokes.)

From my seat in the dark, it looked like Creggar and Moore aimed for Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle but only achieved Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay. All the hallmarks of a buddy/road picture are there, including a private meeting with an eminence grise (in this case, Hugh Hefner, whose presence was welcome but who appeared to be reading his lines off of cue cards) as well as the requisite number of obstacles, obstructions, setbacks, and pratfalls (not to mention numerous shots of naked breasts and buttocks).

One directorial shortcoming is the characterization of Tucker (played by Moore). While Cregger's character, Eugene, is portrayed exactly as he should be -- quiet and reserved, keeping a cap on Eugene's anger and anguish until just the right moment -- Moore's Tucker is just a bit too loopy and about as sharp as the corners on a round table. If he had toned it down a bit and let Tucker be more of a parallel to Eugene with an added soup├žon of sex obsession, Moore's character would have been more believable and, frankly, funnier. (Note to Moore and Cregger: go back and watch more Hope and Crosby. Really.)

I don't wish to dismiss Miss March entirely. I am confident that it will win guffaws from teenage boys across America. And that is as it should be.

I am also confident that this is the start of great careers for both Moore, a natural comic, and Cregger, a natural leading man -- careers in front of and behind the camera. Still, it's a start that will embarrass both a bit in 25 years, when they'll be faced with clips of Miss March at an AFI tribute dinner.



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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

New Carnival Roundup

Two of my recent blogposts have been featured in (even more recent) blog carnivals.

"Trends of the New Economy" was linked by the oddly-named ScreamBucket (motto: "Conveniently Located at the Corner of Now and Tomorrow") in its "LinkBucket -- Issue One." It was also linked by "A Carnival of Economics" at Kavmerica.com (motto: "Economics, Politics, Business, Finance…") and in the BoBo Carnival of Politics at the BoBo Files (motto: "Driving the loony left loonier").

Hosted by the Quisani League (motto: "The Voices of the People Dedicated to Preserving America"), the Carnival of Conservatives featured a link to my post "Virginia Is for Freedom Lovers," which looks into a new Mercatus Center study that compares levels of economic and personal liberty among the 50 states. (Doug Mataconis also linked to that post at Below the Beltway, but that wasn't a blog carnival occurrence.)



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Saturday, March 07, 2009

More Meddlesomeness

At Overlawyered.com, legal analyst Walter Olson points out (almost inadvertently) how Congress has, through well-meaning but misguided legislation, contributed to the deepening of the recession and the lengthening of unemployment lines.

Walter's post is about children's jewelry, but it signifies a far more serious problem in that every time Congress acts, American consumers or workers suffer.



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Wrong Answer

By my own conscientious choice, I am a lifelong non-smoker, but I am nonetheless disturbed that Virginia must now live with its freedom-eroding law to ban smoking in restaurants.

While the arguments for and against the legislation, which was negotiated by Governor Tim Kaine and Speaker of the House William Howell during the General Assembly session that just ended, focused largely on the effects on bars and restaurants with a broad-based clientele, there is (as with all new laws) an unintended consequence that affects a particular group of business owners.

I have earlier written about the financial losses incurred by restaurants in other jurisdictions that imposed a smoking ban. What those studies may have overlooked, however, is the extra burden taken on by restaurants that fill an unusual cultural niche.

What I mean is, among the casualties of this misguided legislation are various establishments that cater to ethnic groups (mostly, but not entirely, Arabs) and adherents to the Muslim faith (who are generally teetotallers) by providing facilities for hookah smoking.

As Brigid Schulte reported in the Washington Post just after the General Assembly voted for the "compromise" (what kind of blanket ban is a "compromise"?):

The vote left some, like Ramzi Iskandar, owner of Tarbouch Mediterranean Grill in Arlington County, wondering whether they could survive.

For three years, Iskandar struggled to run a Lebanese food takeout restaurant. Last year, he brought in hookahs, and business has never been better. Day and night, the air in his place is thick with smoke from the hookahs smoked by his mainly Middle Eastern clientele. To them, he explained, smoking hookah after a meal is as natural as Italians having a glass of wine with their pasta. "If hookahs go away, there's no reason for me to operate, for sure. I've already decided on that," he said. "The reason people are eating here is because I have hookah."
An article in the Washington Times several days later found more restaurateurs in situations similar to Iskandar's:
Maher Elmasri put little stock in talk that Virginia - a state with historic ties to tobacco - would ban smoking in bars and restaurants.

However, he now worries that his livelihood could be wiped out. Mr. Elmasri's restaurant, Lebnan Zaman, in Vienna, owes its popularity to the hookah, a water pipe popular in Middle Eastern culture. Virginia's newly passed smoking ban, which awaits the governor's signature, unlike some others across the country, makes no exception for hookahs.

He says the ban kills an old cultural tradition.

"It's not just about the smoking," said Mr. Elmasri, a Palestinian immigrant. "It's about people getting together, getting a sense of back home."
The fact that other jurisdictions that have imposed smoking bans have made exceptions for hookah bars raises the question of whether ethnic or religious prejudice is behind the legislation in Virginia, and whether Governor Tim Kaine's stubborn insistence that he will not amend the bill to allow the exception for restaurants whose clientele is largely Arab or Muslim is also motivated by bigotry.

Charlottesville is not untouched by the cultural blinders of this anti-smoking legislation. At least two local restaurants will be adversely affected once the law makes it to the statute books. Brian McNeill reported on the front page of Saturday's Daily Progress:
Two Charlottesville establishments may be forced to extinguish their hookahs once a statewide restaurant smoking ban goes into effect later this year....

As a result, hookah lounges in Northern Virginia and Richmond are reportedly in danger of closing.

In Charlottesville, hookahs are available at the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar on the Downtown Mall and at the newly opened Alhamraa restaurant in the Frank Ix Building.

Gwendolyn Hall, owner of Twisted Branch, said she is investigating the possibility of designating the entire front end of the restaurant as the smoking section, while a small back room would be the non-smoking section. Hall is skeptical, however, that her plan would fly with the state. If not, she said, she might be forced to cease hookah sales.

“It depends on how the regulations play out,” she said. “I’m hoping we can keep [hookahs]. It’s a pretty big part of our earnings here. I wouldn’t want to say goodbye to it. We’ll try to figure something out.”
What I find especially troubling in McNeill's article is the disappointing answer given by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58) when asked why he voted for the anti-smoking bill:
“I personally prefer to let the market determine these sorts of things, but my constituents were very clear that they wanted quicker action on smoking in restaurants,” Bell said. “A lot of work went into crafting a bipartisan compromise and I voted for it. It will require restaurants that want smoking to establish an entirely separate smoking area. It also allows smoking in private clubs and in outdoor areas.”
Bell claims to stand for certain principles, one of which is the superiority of free markets over government coercion (the Virginia Republican Creed says: "That the free enterprise system is the most productive supplier of human needs and economic justice..."), yet he yields to the pressure of his constituents rather than vote according to those principles.

More than half the restaurants in Virginia have already chosen, voluntarily, to go smoke-free. It is clear that the free market has been working in this regard. People who don't want to smoke in restaurants that allow smoking can already choose to eat in restaurants that don't allow smoking, just as vegetarians can choose to eat in restaurants that don't serve meat and those who choose not to drink alcoholic beverages can eat in restaurants (IHOP, for instance) that don't serve alcohol.

Delegate Bell has forsaken the principle of representative government that says elected officials should exercise their own best judgment rather than simply reflect the changing winds of public opinion when they shape and approve legislation. This principle was best articulated almost 250 years ago by Edmund Burke, in his famous "Speech to the Electors of Bristol":
Certainly, gentlemen, it ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him; their opinion, high respect; their business, unremitted attention. It is his duty to sacrifice his repose, his pleasures, his satisfactions, to theirs; and above all, ever, and in all cases, to prefer their interest to his own. But his unbiassed opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from Providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.

My worthy colleague says, his will ought to be subservient to yours. If that be all, the thing is innocent. If government were a matter of will upon any side, yours, without question, ought to be superior. But government and legislation are matters of reason and judgment, and not of inclination; and what sort of reason is that, in which the determination precedes the discussion; in which one set of men deliberate, and another decide; and where those who form the conclusion are perhaps three hundred miles distant from those who hear the arguments?

To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience,--these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.
Business owners should be free to decide for themselves whether to allow smoking on their premises or not. Customers should be free to choose whether to buy things from businesses that allow smoking or not. Legislators who claim to stand for free-market principles should choose to act on those principles, and not against them.

Delegate Rob Bell chose the wrong answer.



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Where Will All the Flowers Go?

Charlottesville Mayor Dave Norris, who recently announced his intention to seek re-election to the City Council, is pushing for a new initiative: a botanical garden costing as much as $50 million, to be located in McIntire Park near the soon-to-be-built Meadowcreek Parkway, which was first proposed more than 40 years ago and has been debated interminably since then.

The future of McIntire Park has also been the focus of a minor controversy that involves the building of a YMCA facility on the grounds of the park. That will result in the dislocation of some athletic fields and picnic areas, while the parkway will displace part of the public golf course now hosted by the park.

Reporting on a non-profit group, McIntire Botanical Garden, which is lobbying for the new project, Rachana Dixit wrote in Friday's Daily Progress:

The group held its first community meeting Thursday night on its proposal to create a 40 to 50 acre botanical garden inside the Charlottesville park, complete with trails, trees, flowers and possibly a conservatory within a few miles of downtown. With two of the nine holes in the park’s golf course falling to the Meadowcreek Parkway, advocates hope the garden could take its place.

“It’s just a gorgeous piece of property,” said Peter McIntosh, vice president of the nonprofit.

City leaders, including councilors, the parks and recreation advisory committee and city staff, have praised the idea.

“McIntire Park could be and should be the crown jewel of our parks system,” Mayor Dave Norris said at Thursday’s meeting.

While I won't comment on the merits of this embryonic proposal (except to say that that $50 million price tag should be paid for with privately-raised funds, not taxpayers' dollars), I will say this: Charlottesville (my new home town) should look to Milwaukee (my original home town) as a model. Once Charlottesville leaders see the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, they will either say "that is the goal we should pursue" or "we can never match that so let's try something else."

In his 2006 book of essays, Cream City Chronicles: Stories of Milwaukee's Past, local historian John Gurda wrote:
There are few places more welcoming in winter than the Mitchell Park Domes. Snow and ice may cover the world outside, but the show dome is filled with azaleas in full bloom, cactus plants are flowering in the desert next door, and the tropical dome is, as always, a jungle of sensory delights.

The jungle exhibit is my cold-weather favorite. You step from the bleakness of a Wisconsin winter directly into a pungent paradise of running water, birdsong, and exotic greenery. More than a thousand species crowd the meandering walkways: fragrant orchids, giant hibiscus flowers, date palms, coconut trees, and banyan, bamboo, and banana plants. The air is a musky blend of aromas ranging from pepper to chocolate, and the temperature is a constant eighty degrees even when blizzards rage on the other side of the glass.
After discoursing on Alexander Mitchell's original (private) botanical gardens of the 19th century, Gurda concluded by noting how the landmark geodesic domes in Mitchell Park came to be:
As the Mitchell conservatory faded into memory, Milwaukee’s Park Commission decided that the community deserved a public facility just as grand. In 1898, the Commission built an elegant glass palace overlooking the Menomonee Valley and filled it with horticultural specimens from around the world. It was Milwaukee’s very own zoo for plants, and the site was appropriate: a twenty-four-acre parcel purchased from the Mitchell family in 1890.

Mitchell Park has been the site of Milwaukee’s conservatory ever since, but the glass palace was replaced by the present Domes between 1964 and 1967. Strikingly modern when they were new, the conoidal beehives seem less exotic in the twenty-first century, but they continue to draw visitors from around the world.

Their appeal is obvious in every season, and Milwaukeeans can take special pride in the Domes. More than a century ago, our ancestors gazed in wondrous envy at the Mitchell greenhouses on Grand Avenue. Today those splendors are reincarnated in Mitchell Park, and this garden of rich man’s delights belongs to all of us.
Interestingly, the first proposal for botanical gardens at McIntire Park was in the middle of the 20th century, about 20 years before construction began on the Mitchell Park Domes. Dixit continues in her article:

A garden in McIntire Park has been floated before, and city parks and recreation advisory committee member Sallie Brown also noted that a bird and flower sanctuary was built in the park as a Works Progress Administration project in the 1930s.

“I think [the proposed garden] would be a very fitting tribute to the women and men who labored there 70 years ago,” she said.

A resident committee tasked with planning the east side of the park in 2004 recommended a conservatory or arboretum be built there, along with a recreational pond, which could also serve as a stormwater management system for the Meadowcreek Parkway. But in 2007, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected the pond idea.

(Mitchell Park in Milwaukee also has a large pond within it.)

Nearly two years ago, on a trip home for my high school reunion, I spent part of an afternoon inside the Mitchell Park Domes and took some video. Here it is:





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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Strict Scrutiny?

Local radio talk-show host Rob Schilling has an (intentionally) incendiary post on his recently launched blog, which asserts racially-based manipulation of Charlottesville's electoral system by the city's Democratic party establishment.

A supplement to a recent broadcast on WINA-AM on this issue, Schilling documents what he calls a "sordid" four-decade history of "engineered" nominations for City Council seats.

Schilling writes:

Since 1970, when the first African American was elected to Charlottesville City Council, whenever an African American was currently holding a City Council seat, Democrat African Americans who attempted to obtain a nomination from the Central Party leadership were denied. Recent examples of African Americans denied the Democratic Party leadership’s nomination during years when an African American either already was serving on Council or was running for re-election include David Simmons and Lelia Brown.

This strange pattern of succession does not appear to have happened by chance, and through the lens of statistical analysis, it seems engineered. In a March 12, 2004 discussion, a Democrat City Councilor stated that this curious pattern of succession was actually a designed “system of patronage,” wherein in 1980, after a two-year stretch of an all-white council, the local Democratic Party leadership made an agreement with the local African American community that assured one, guaranteed African American Council seat at all times.

Charlottesville Central Party Democrats’ partisan, at large elections scheme has made it easier for this “system of patronage” to occur as it enables white majority precincts to dominate and control electoral outcomes over the voting preferences of minority-majority precincts.
Schilling, himself a former City Council member (and one of only two Republicans elected to public office in Charlottesville in the past quarter-century) concludes:
The history delineated here should be a shame to all who have participated in and perpetuated racial manipulation in Charlottesville City Council elections. Sadly, iron-fisted, Byrd-inspired tactics continue to this day in Charlottesville.

The system can be righted rather easily, if not by ward-based elections, by non-partisan elections, which easily could be implemented by City Council through a change of the City charter.

The non-partisan election model, mandated for our Charlottesville School Board elections, has resulted in four African American candidates being elected in two election cycles, while only six African Americans ever have been elected to City Council in the nearly forty years since Charles Barbour first held office in 1970, under the (Democrat-favored) partisan nomination process.

The results of a non-partisan election process in Charlottesville would likely yield an all-Democrat City Council, but at least they would be the People’s Democrats, not the Party’s Democrats, unleashed from the fraud, corruption and racial manipulation that has characterized Charlottesville’s Central Party Democrats for decades.
Rob Schilling's blog entry includes a link to the podcast of the original "Schilling Show" exposition of these issues.



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Trends of the New Economy

The last major economic crisis to have a discernible effect on culture as well as politics was probably the one that started in the mid-1970s and reached its nadir during the Carter Administration. It is memorable for such fads as Pet Rocks (1975), leisure suits (c. 1976-77), and the "preppy look" as satirized (and, ironically, solidified) by Lisa Birnbach's illustrated guide, The Official Preppy Handbook (1980).

While the brief recession of 1991-92 might have stimulated memorable cultural trends, they don't pop easily to mind. What emerged in the '70s, however, has been embedded in popular culture through That '70s Show (the early years) and last summer's guilty pleasure, Swingtown.

Whether the current economic contraction leads to similar trends that will one day be recalled fondly (or with cries of "What were we thinking?") remains to be seen. But a few mini-trends have emerged that are worth noting.

The Economist, for instance, has discovered a spike in sales of books by Ayn Rand, the Objectivist philosopher/novelist whose major works, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, generally have continuously steady sales even though the author died in 1982.

According to the British weekly:

Reviled in some circles and mocked in others, Rand’s 1957 novel of embattled capitalism is a favourite of libertarians and college students. Lately, though, its appeal has been growing. According to data from TitleZ, a firm that tracks bestseller rankings on Amazon, an online retailer, the book’s 30-day average Amazon rank was 127 on February 21st, well above its average over the past two years of 542. On January 13th the book’s ranking was 33, briefly besting President Barack Obama’s popular tome, “The Audacity of Hope”.

Tellingly, the spikes in the novel’s sales coincide with the news (see chart). The first jump, in September 2007, followed dramatic interest-rate cuts by central banks, and the Bank of England’s bail-out of Northern Rock, a troubled mortgage lender. The October 2007 rise happened two days after the Bush Administration announced an initiative to coax banks to assist subprime borrowers. A year later, sales of the book rose after America’s Treasury said that it would use a big chunk of the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Programme to buy stakes in nine large banks. Debate over Mr Obama’s stimulus plan in January gave the book another lift. And sales leapt once again when the stimulus plan passed and Mr Obama announced a new mortgage-modification plan.
There is a chart accompanying The Economist's article that dramatically illustrates the ups (and downs, but mostly ups) of sales of Atlas Shrugged.

At CPAC last weekend, a number of speakers posed the question, "Has Atlas shrugged?" with an implied affirmative answer. The Economist notes the existence of a Facebook group with the name, "Read the news today? It’s like ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is happening in real life," one of 111 groups dedicated to loving (or hating) the Ayn Rand novel. The group's 828 members are spread across the globe, but I note a disproportionate number from Scandinavia.

While some people are asking, "Who is John Galt?," others may be more curious about what John Galt is eating these days. The New York Times has a partial reply:
The cube steak is suddenly one of the hottest cuts of beef in the country, according to figures from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. The amount of cube steak sold during the last quarter of 2008 was up by almost 10 percent over the same period a year earlier. The overall amount of beef sold went up only 3 percent.

It doesn’t take a wizard to figure out that the economy’s swan dive has much to do with the cube steak’s resurgence. But even before kitchen budgets became tight, the cube steak had its fan base.
No doubt some entrepreneurial cookbook writer (or publisher) is already preparing new editions of recipes our parents, grandparents (or, in terms of the Facebook generation, great-grandparents) remember from the Great Depression and World War II. There's nothing like an economic downturn to create business opportunities.



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