Monday, October 31, 2005

Government: United States Used Mustard Gas, New Jersey Garbage Receptacle, Sky Blue, Obvious Headlines Write Themselves

From the Allentown, PA newspaper, The Morning Call:

Millions of pounds of unused weapons of mass destruction were dumped in oceans before Congress banned the practice in 1972. The threat is still out there, and may be growing.

By John Bull

A clam dredging operation off the coast of Atlantic City, N.J., in 2004 pulled up an old artillery shell. The long-submerged, World War I-era explosive was filled with a black, tar-like substance.

Bomb disposal technicians from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware were brought in to dismantle it. Three of them were injured, one hospitalized with large, pus-filled blisters on his arm and hand.

The shell was filled with mustard gas in solid form.

What was long-feared by the few military officials in the know had come to pass: Chemical weapons that the Army dumped at sea decades ago had finally ended up on shore in the United States. While it has long been known that some chemical weapons went into the ocean, records obtained by the Daily Press of Newport News, Va., show that the previously classified weapons-dumping program was far more extensive than has ever been suspected.

The Army now admits in reports never before released that it secretly dumped 64 million pounds of nerve and mustard gas agent into the sea, along with 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, land mines and rockets and more than 500 tons of radioactive waste either tossed overboard or packed into the holds of scuttled vessels.

Ok, so let me recap here: Our nation, which I love dearly, used hundreds of thousands of tons of chemical and radioactive weapons of mass destruction. Then we dumped them in the ocean to get rid of them. We then sell the technology to make these weapons to other countries.


Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein shake handsDonald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein
agree to rent a timeshare condo in Hell together.


After that, we invade one of those countries on the pretext that they had weapons of mass destruction made from technology we sold them. And it turns out that they had destroyed their stockpiles before we ever got there.

We, as a people, have a really lousy sense of history when it comes to anything other then the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War II, and to a lesser extent the Civil Rights Movement and who's currently married to Jennifer Lopez.

And we have yet to grasp a fundamental truth about killing people, despite the fact that it is a central tenant of every major religion. Killing people is wrong. It is always wrong. How you decide to kill people or the circumstances under which the killing occurs does not make it any less wrong to kill. It can only make it more wrong. It is always wrong to kill people. The means we choose to kill just makes the act more horrific, never less.

And the sins that we condemn others for are sins that we have yet to do penance for ourselves. I don't know if I believe in divine punishment, but the things washing up on the Jersey Shore, where I spent many summers while growing up, seem to say yes.

YOU HAVE BEEN BAD MORTALS. BAD MORTALS! HOW MANY HURRICANES DO I HAVE TO SEND DOWN THERE BEFORE YOU FIGURE IT OUT?



Anyway, read the whole article, its a good one. And its a two part series, so I'll post the next part tomorrow.

Hat tip to Skippy for the news.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Demotivational Friday: Anachronism

Demoticational Poster Anachronism
This picture was blatantly stolen from my dear friend Yi Wei, who took it at the Maryland Ren Fair. The best comment on it comes from Takaal - who I've never met, but according to her live journal user info, have everything in common with, including a sense of humor:

"It's sad when the Imperial Tax Collector needs an armed escort."

The caption was by brilliant blog team killer kitten Le Femme Nikita, but other great suggestions came from Sneezy D and Qui Gonn Jesse:
Forsooth, set thine blaster to "shut up!"

A vengeful nerd is a sad sad thing.

Nerdiness ages like cheese, not wine.

When worlds COLLIDE...and neither contain girlfriends!

I know I'm not fitting in THAT suit...

Hey fatty - at least Middle Earth had billowy clothing.
So much dorky goodness, the head swells.

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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Article: The End of Federalism?

Just read an excellent article written by conservative John Eastman entitled, "The End of Federalism?"


The conservative coalition that elected Ronald Reagan in 1980 was always a bit of a three-legged stool. The anti-communist wing, or "Hawks," consisted of strong advocates of national power in the Cold War (and now the war on terror). The "Moral Majority" wing—let's call them "Doves"—wanted to reverse the declining moral trends in society, on issues such as abortion, homosexuality, pornography, and religion in public. The pro-business and free enterprise/personal liberty wing of the coalition—"Marketeers"—sought to roll back some of the more onerous government regulations, whether statutory, regulatory, or court-imposed via tort law, that were crippling the nation's economy. The glue that held these disparate groups together was an intellectual movement dedicated to recovering the original understanding of the Constitution—one that recognized the scope of federal power over matters truly national, such as national security, but that sought to revive the limits on federal authority in other areas of daily life, as the Constitution envisioned. The Hawks loved this theoretical formulation, of course, because it kept the national focus on national security. The Doves and Marketeers were comfortable with it, too. The doctrines of strict interpretation, limited government, and federalism promised an end to the judicial activism that had banned school prayer and imposed abortion as the law of the land, and it also meant (theoretically at least) less governmental regulation of the economy.
But now each of these groups finds that its policy goals are best accomplished by controlling and promoting their goals through the federal government - big government conservativism, epitomized by the current Bush administration. The only people left out in the cold are "the glue" of limited government intellectuals, libertarians, federalists, etc. And eventually, without any overarching philosophy or set of policies that everyone agrees on to act as glue, the coalition will fall apart (like the New Deal coalition fell apart in the 70's when white working class males left in droves for various reasons).

Great article from an intellectually honest right winger, a rarity these days.

It also makes me think - perhaps the Democratic party should be the party of federalism? Each state should be able to decide what it wants to do in terms of abortion, gay marriage, guns, etc. The Federal government focus on promoting economic well being and national defense, and would stay out of people's personal lives. Why shouldn't Alabama be able to post the Ten Commandments if 90% of Alabaman's support it? If the tradeoff were strong labor laws, environmental regulation, a living wage, and universal health care, I think a lot of people would take that trade. And we might even make much more headway on issues of gay rights, freedom from FCC censorship, stem cell research, and a host of other social issues.

Just saying.

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Government: Miers Withdraws, to be Replaced by Satan

As you no doubt already know, Supreme Court Nominee Harriet Miers has withdrawn because she is not sufficiently evil.

This has inspired a great deal of dancing and joyous maniacal laughter from both sides of the isle here in DC and across the nation. But for those of use who like having Constitutional rights, its a bad thing.

While clearly a conservative, Miers didn't seem particularly nutty, and wasn't particularly bright. So she wasn't going to be the source of any particularly compelling or lasting opinions. And more importantly, she's 60 years old.

Now Bush is going to nominate a clearly right wing judge. He'll face a tough confirmation fight from Democrats, but will eventually be confirmed. Thus adding someone who will always vote with Scalia, Thomas, and Roberts. And he'll probably be in his late 40's or early 50's.

Liberal lion John Paul Stevens is 85 years old. In all likelihood, he'll die in the next three years or be forced to retire because of illness. When Bush replaces him, there will be a five vote majority to overturn Roe, Griswold (contraception), Bakke (affirmative action), Abington School District v. Schempp (school prayer - that one is the easiest to remember because it has the name Schempp in it, as in the Three Stooges), Lawrence v. Texas (anti-sodomy), etc. etc. In addition, there is ALREADY a five vote majority (Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Kennedy, Ginsberg and whoever replaces her) who are very pro-business and have been screwing organized labor and environmentalists for years.

Bush Nominates Satan
So, while I join in the schedenfreude, I'm sad in that it will only be short lived.

Hat tip to This Modern World for the funny Satan pic.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Unions: Davis-Bacon Reinstated in Gulf

After suspending prevailing wages in the Gulf Coast region so that government contractors no longer had to pay a living wage to their employees, Bush has finally reinstated enforcement of the Davis-Bacon Act. Mmmmmm. Bacon.

Somewhere in there is a Fellowship of the Ring joke as well, but I can't think of it. (When they make bacon while being stalked by the nazgul).

A small but important victory for workers.

Hat tip to Talking Points Memo.

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The Future of FM


Like some of you, I've been wondering for years just what would happen to radio when Howard Stern left the airwaves. I mean, it was unfathomable! This guy's been on the air since before I started listening to radio. What could they possibly do to replace him? Yes, I'm a fan, it's obvious. But people on both sides have to admit that a huge, six-foot-five hole will be left on the air when he leaves in a couple months. And I guess I never thought of what they've come up with - but when you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. Rather - I would've expected the radio stations to do something this transparent, and disloyal to their staff members, not to mention their listeners.

Like many big stations across the country are doing right now, 94.1 WYSP has now become 941freefmWYSP. The "freefm" is to remind you that you don't have to pay to listen to their station, while you'll have to pay a monthly fee for "ainh-ah-ainh". (Howard fans, you know of what I speak). Meanwhile, with the way Howard's program is likely to sound, it'll be like radio-HBO - something we all think nothing of paying for.

And radio execs are whining like an ex-husband when his old wife has found a new love. Instead of shining a light on their new talent, they've been running around dumping on Howard Stern - who is (was) FM Radio's cash cow.

But they haven't just added the free to the name - they've dumped their format. They're no longer the Rock Station. They're no longer about how much they rock, and how their rock is more than other stations' rock, according to some scientific study from Arbitron. (Yeah, I thought that was kinda corny, too...) They're moving from rock to hot-talk, a new format name for a series of irreverent DJs talking instead of playing records. Gee, sound familiar?? Which just goes to show that FM, and 94.1 in particular, can't fight Howard Stern with the weapons that are in their current arsenal. They're finding out that "boy, I'm glad he's on our side" doesn't quite work when their own generals drive Howard to the point of leaving the industry he revolutionized. (Yes, I know Wyspy doesn't run Howard, Infinity does, I'm speaking about the execs and the FCC in general.) They're so concerned with copying Stern's style, and making it an all day thing, that they'll completely ignore all the music fans that turn to 94.1 for their rock fix. Last night, I heard a pair of DJs say they know people will miss the rock, but will find this much more entertaining. I won't agree or disagree with this - it's up to the listener. But they wouldn't be saying that if they weren't part of the new regime. If 93.3 was doing it, these guys would be screaming "traitor". Since that's what 93.3 did when Wyspy went rock/talk a couple years back.

Not to mention the hypocrisy that is now running rampant - these same two DJs blasted the other radio stations for playing the same ten songs, over and over again. That might be a welcome comment, if that exact method of jukeboxing wasn't a staple of 94.1's programming. When I worked there, back in 2000, I was there on Fridays, from 9 AM to 5 PM. During that time, and not counting my lunch break, I heard Limp Bizkit's "Nookie" no less than three times, every Friday. Being that the weekday schedule matches Monday to Friday, that means that during the workweek alone, "Nookie" was played 15 times, or every 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Also, don't forget that this sudden change of heart is coincidentally happening just as Howard Stern leaves FM. Again, pointing out that Wyspy doesn't think it can hack it just playing music. What's particularly disheartening is that the hot-talk format is going to feature content that Howard Stern has done in the past and been fined for, fired from stations for, and generally crucified for. But all of a sudden, it's going to be ok. Now that Howard Stern is gone. The same free airwaves that he was on, and got in heaps of trouble for doing his programming, is going to put that same content on the air, and not get nailed for it. This further proves that the FCC, and people everywhere without a sense of humor, were personally targeting him for his work. (I might also remind folks that the FCC was initially created to govern the technical aspects of the burgeoning telecommunications technology - making sure signals don't interfere with each other, screw up pacemakers, etc.)

Don't forget that Wyspy did the hot-talk thing before, back in 2001-02. Opie & Anthony, and Don & Mike were on during the day. The schedule went like this: Howard, an hour or so of music, commercials and general hoo-hah, then O&A, then Don & Mike. Numbers tanked. O&A was ripped off the air nationwide, over a last-straw incident involving public displays of inappropriate acts at a New York cathedral. Don & Mike, admittedly a bit tamer than O&A, also left Philly when people stopped listening. (Personally, this saddened me - I was happy as anything to listen to Wyspy all day when these three programs were on. I love hot-talk.)

So, to sum up -

FM blasts the up-and-coming satellite radio revolution by reminding us that FM is still FREE, which is akin to reminding people that walking is still free in terms of efficient modes of long travel.

FM drastically changes its format of repeat-ad-nauseum, blasting its brethren that don't "change with the times", conveniently just as Howard Stern gouges its morning timeslot.

FM dumps music for hot-talk, and will begin espousing the style that Stern was punished for, without having all the trouble he went through, proving that the FCC just had a grudge against Stern, and also proving that the current FM M.O. is antiquated and needs a tune-up, no pun intended.

I'm reminded of a scene in the movie "Can't Hardly Wait", in which Jennifer Love Hewitt's newly dumped boyfriend, after lamely trying to get her back, hits her with this gem after she refuses to date him again:

"Oh yeah, well... who's gonna want you now... Aman-DUH!"
(arms up in triumph, face scanning the crowd for approval)
(oh, and, didn't he look like a young, bizarro Tom Cruise?)

The way we listen to radio is undergoing a revolution as we speak, and the incumbents are refusing to die with dignity.



This just in:

AP, Philadelphia - Weevils wobble, but they don't, in fact, fall down.

In reference to Some Guy's Tuesday Blog about Plame


In reference to Some Guy's blog on the 24th about the Plame affair... L'homme and I were just watching a segment about this site on Meet the Press this past Sunday. I heart Tim Russert! The people on the show were talking about just this topic!


Anywho, apparently Prez. Bush said that if the investigation finds something, that person or those persons responsible would be brought to justice. And the White House press secretary said that Karl Rove told him personally that he (Rove) wasn't involved. But this was before Fitzgerald was appointed special prosecutor, and Russert was supposing that the President was confident that nothing would be found. Since Fitzgerald's on the case, and is widely regarded to be an impartial prosecutor, it will be interesting to see what happens if he brings indictments.

Also on Sunday's Meet the Press, Sen. Kay Hutchinson of Texas said basically that indictments don't prove guilt, that people are innocent until proven guilty, and that perjury and obstruction of justice charges alone would show that the special prosecutor had it out for (specifically) Karl Rove, proving a sort of "gotcha" mentality (her words about the "gotcha mentality").

L'Homme and I almost laughed out loud at the television - that's exaclty what Ken Star and the Republicans did to Clinton! That's not to say that what Clinton did (re: lying under oath) was okay, but rather that if it is wrong in 1999, it's wrong in 2005. Here is an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle which gives an opinion about the Senator's comment which is close to my own opinion.

While I would agree that both sides of the aisle can be equally good at tossing the mud, I find it decidedly delicious that Republicans are being smeared with the same sort of muck they painted on Clinton. And, while yes lying is never the correct way to go, Clinton lied about getting a BJ, not about committing TREASON.

See last Friday's Demotivator: Schaedenfreude. What goes around comes around. :)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Statistics: Presidential Approval Rating

In case you're wondering what the President's public approval rating is or was, I present Professor Pollkatz Current Approval Index. It's presented in statistics dork format (i.e., me) but its easy to find the current approval index in a box at the top of the chart. Today, it's 38.74%.

If you're dorky enough to care, it also shows the upper and lower limit within the 95% confidence interval. For example, on 10/20/05 the average approval rating of all the polls out there is 38.7%. It has an average margin of error of plus or minus 5.6%, so there is a 95% chance that the real approval rating could be anything between 33.14% and 44.34%, with a 5% chance that the number could be anything (I'm not going to bore you further by explaining confidence intervals).

Translating this into reality, if Bush's approval rating stays below about 44% for the next 12 months, we can confidently expect minor gains in the 2006 midterm elections. (Remember, there is no national election - only a series of gerrymandered Congressional districts and one third of the Senate, which only gives us about 30 competitive Congressional races and 8 competitive Senate races, some of which Democrats already hold and have to defend). If it stays like it is now - below 40% - Democrats can be expected to take back Congress. But that's an obscenely big if.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Distraction: Lightsaber Game

In case you're bored and want to kill ten minutes, here's a fun little lightsaber training game. It requires Flash. Yeah.

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Government: Plame Happenings

The U.S. Department of Justice has set up a web page for the Office of the Special Counsel with nothing on it but Patrick Fitzgerald's name and a few press releases.

But this is strong evidence to suggest that something important is going to happen.

If some real indictments get handed down, all hell is going to break lose. I feel for my fellow government workers who will have to vet thousands of phone calls from all over the earth while trying to do their normal jobs. Government moves at the speed of a snail crawling on broken glass covered with salt and hungry Frenchmen. The fact that someone took the time to set up this website means they're expecting that hell to come, and that someone at Justice is foresighted enough to try and head it off with a website where they can point reporters to for the latest documents and press releases.

Huzzah for government efficiency.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Article: Housing Market to Suck Forever

There was a great article in the NY Times Magazine this past weekend by Jon Gertner about the future of the housing market. While long, you should read the whole thing. Its very well written and has reminded me that I may never own a home, and that if I do, it will be small and crappy. So, lots of interesting stuff...


First, its nice that it references West Windsor NJ, where I went to high school (though I lived on the "wrong side of the tracks" in Plainsboro), and the Philly area, where bunches of my friends live.

Now getting on with the summary and commentary stuff:

As population increases, the number of houses increases. But as the land available fills up, municipalities have passed stricter zoning laws and made it much more difficult and costly for anyone to build anywhere. Traditionally, when a population center reaches a certain tipping point, people stop moving there in large numbers and start moving to other smaller localities where land is more abundant and costs are lower. But now, at least on the coasts, there's almost nowhere left to go. So population centers just keep growing, municipalities regulate heavily to try and limit growth/sprawl, and housing becomes exponentially more expensive.

Currently, the market is controlled mostly by local firms, who have a built in advantage of knowing all the local officials, knowing the area, being able to build on smaller plots of land, etc. But increased regulation has brought vastly higher costs. Corporate firms have the time and resources to invest (generally between 2-5 years, and millions of dollars) in fighting zoning laws, and smaller firms don't. I predict that this will also lead to the further homogenization of housing styles, and that new houses will continue their trend of being built out of the lowest cost/lowest quality materials. It will also lead to even higher costs, as fewer firms means less competition - as a market trends towards oligopoly, prices rise. (Think Microsoft and Mac).

As I've written before, it is unlikely that housing prices will ever come down, though they are likely to level off.

It's simple economics - limited supply of land and housing - growing demand of natural population growth, immigrants, and Baby Boomers who are living longer then any generation in recorded history.

Throw this together with increased regulation and corporate takeover of an industry formerly dominated by small businesses, and we get something quite scary that I hadn't considered before. The U.S.A. housing market is likely to become much more like the European housing market:

In the past couple of years, Toll and his deputies have begun analyzing European housing data to see if they hold any lessons for a maturing American housing market. Toll has been talking up the research to stock analysts and the financial press for the past year. His conclusions carry a whiff of new-paradigm thinking, but he nevertheless seems convinced that Europe's present-day reality is America's destiny. I asked Toll what our children - my kids are both under 8, I told him - would be paying when they're ready to buy. "They're going to live with us until they're 40," Toll said matter-of-factly. "And when they have their second kid, then we'll finally kick them out and make them pay for the house that we paid for. And that house will cost them 45 to 50 percent of their income."

I grew alarmed. Was he kidding? He assured me he was not. "It's all just logic," Toll said. "In Britain you pay seven times your annual income for a home; in the U.S. you pay three and a half." The British get 330 square feet, per person, in their homes; in the U.S., we get 750 square feet. Not only does Toll say he believes the next generation of buyers will be paying twice as much of their annual incomes; in terms of space, he also seems to think they're going to get only half as much. "And that average, million-dollar insane home in the burbs? It's going to be $4 million."

Holy crap.

Some of you might remember this post, where I wrote about the annual costs of living in the world's most expensive cities. I looked at the numbers again, and its scary. If we expect New York City to become more like London, and Washington DC to become more like Paris, we can expect a 20% increase in the cost of living. Now, part of this may already be occurring in our current housing and gas prices. But this data strongly suggests that, even with a tight monetary policy, that inflation is going to be a huge problem in the coming years. And since wages have been stagnant for the bottom 50% of Americans for the past 30 years, we can look forward to a drastic reduction in our national standard of living.

Unless, of course, there is a major change in government policy coupled with technological innovation. The 90's would have sucked royally if not for balanced budgets and the internet. But its hard to envision a technological innovation that will alleviate housing needs. Underwater housing? Improvements in digging technology that allow for cheaper underground housing? Shrinking ray gun technology? There are rumblings of change on the horizon. Let's hope that its not giant ants that are born of a horrible housing experiment gone wrong.


Other huge problems of the 21st century.

Demotivational Friday: Hopelessness

Demotivational Friday Hopelessness
The beautiful photograph was taken by Stephane Riess of France. I found it here on trekearth.com, a great photo enthusiast site.

When I saw this photo, my immediate reaction was that it was wonderous - like watching a sunrise over the desert. Then I thought about how dumb birds are and how easily the woman with bread could crush them - like watching the sunrise over the desert and then realizing you're miles from civilization without water. Then I realized that most of us are birds, and that I should head for the bush.

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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Meta-blogging: Blogger Hates Me

Template issues, can't catagorize posts by subject, comment spam, problems posting pictures, problems posting at all! Blogger hates me, and I'm fed up with it.

Now Blogger is a free service, and you get what you pay for. I'm going to start researching how I can get my own url and other blogging tools. This one sucks. The real question is, how the hell do I migrate all of my old stuff onto my new site, and how do I get a new site without paying an arm and a leg for one?

Suggestions anyone? Anyone?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Distraction: Baby T-Shirts

Long ago I decided that if I ever have children, that I will embarrass them mercilessly. I will also laugh maniacally while doing it. But since I'm single, I'm reduced to spreading the tools of embarrassment on the internet, in the vain hope that my friends will torture their spawn for my amusement. And so I present to you, political t-shirts for babies. This is my favorite:





I know it means I'm sappy, but I would totally vote for the Teddy Bear party. I wonder if they support universal health care for boo-boos?

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Distraction: Locksley

Against my better judgement, I went out last night to the Velvet Lounge with a couple friends to see a random indy group called Locksley. I'm glad I did, for a variety of reasons:

1) The band is awesome. Locksley sounds like The Monkees on crack - but with talent. I expected Ed Sullivan to walk onto the stage at any moment to tell them how big they're going to be.

2) Got to hang out with my friends and the band beforehand. Fun, down to earth people. Since it was Monday night and the Velvet Lounge is about the size of a postage stamp, they played for a crowd of maybe a dozen people. But they played their hearts out and put on a damn good show.

3) They handed out free cd's afterwards. In fact, the drummer ran to their van to go get them when I asked for one. Unlike a lot of other bands, these guys want as many people as possible to hear their music, because they know that once you do, you'll come out to their shows.

4) Independent artists who live in Brooklyn = Cool.

So I've added a link to them under "Music" to this blog. Check out their website and go see their shows.

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Distraction: American Conservative Drag Queen

Pat Buchanan's magazine, the American Conservative, has a new issue out:



Thanks to Page Six of the conservative rag New York Post (widely viewed as one of the best backstabbing gossip columns in the world) we learn:

The cover photo on the latest issue of Patrick Buchanan's American Conservative magazine, bearing the cover line "After the Storm," is not that much different from many of the pictures coming out of the hurricane-stricken areas of the South. It shows a family of four children slogging through knee-deep water with two adult women. However, the "woman" on the far right is none other than well-known New Orleans drag queen and bartender Jack "Lady Charles" Nicholson. Kara Hopkins, the magazine's executive editor, had no explanation other than "it was a good photo."
I guess Pat Buchanan has finally accepted that, especially in times of national emergency, Americans are pretty accepting of or don't care about sexual or gender orientation. The passengers of Flight 93 certainly didn't care that fellow national hero Mark Bingham was gay.

Or the American Conservative doesn't bother to check even the most basic information about their stories. Or perhaps a little of both.

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Friday, October 14, 2005

Statistics: Polling on Bush

In a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, the President's approval rating is down to an all time low of 39%. The poll also revealed overwhelming opposition to Bush from African-Americans. Only two percent of African-Americans said they approved of his performance as president.

Two percent.


As far as I know, this is the lowest approval rating of any president from any sub-group in the history of polling. FDR, who supported segregation, always scored higher. So did Nixon, who ran on the Southern Strategy devised by Strom Thurmond. And let's not forget Bush senior, who ran the Willie Horton ads against Ducacus and portrayed black women as "welfare queens," but still managed to regularly get around 8-12%.

Of course, there is a 3.4% margin of error on the poll, so it's possible that the unborn disapprove of George W. Bush's performance as president.

Hat tip to Think Progress, which has a much more interesting post on this.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Demotivational Friday: Schedenfreude





I've had a really lousy and depressing week, so this Friday's Demotivation is particularly bitter. Initially I just did the Republican pain montage. Then I remembered the horror of the Smurf bombing, and needed to make fun of that as well. Humor - the world's best defense mechanism!

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Statistics: Marriage, Fertility, and other SES Characteristics

The Census Bureau has a new report out, "Indicators of Marriage and Fertility in the United States From the American Community Survey, 2000 to 2003." You can read their press summary here. There's nothing particularly new or interesting to me, but I study this kind of stuff for a living.

The report isn't scholarly - rather, its a series of charts updated with some new data and put into PowerPoint. I hate PowerPoint. But no doubt I'll be stealing some of their slides for a presentation one of my bosses wants me to do eventually, so I thought it best to post it.

Some pseudo interesting findings...

  • There is currently no reliable government data on marriage or cohabitation - only sporadic studies/reports, like this one.

  • The median age of first marriage continues its slow rise - to age 27 for men and age 25 for women.

  • Men and women in the Northeast marry later, on average, than their counterparts in the rest of the United States.

  • The likelihood of cohabitation has increased, most likely due to the increased delay in marriage.

  • 50.6% of the households in the United States are composed of married couples. 5% of the households are unmarried cohabitating couples.

  • There are no questions about cohabitation on birth certificates or marriage certificates. So its extremely difficult to reliably track the number of children being born to cohabitating parents, or the number of married couples who cohabitate before marriage.

So roughly half of the country physically lives outside of the traditional nuclear family. And the extended family - once common - where grandparents and unmarried relatives all lived in the same household, pooled resources, and helped in child rearing, is all but extinct outside of immigrant communities.

This report reinforces a lot of the stereotypical views. Marriage is declining, the family is declining, blah blah blah. Where are we going and why do I have this hand basket?

But as I've written before, there are a great number of myths and misconceptions about marriage, divorce, and cohabitation. There are mountains of books on relationships, psychology, counseling, communication, child-rearing, etc. But all of the sociological, statistical, political, and cultural writing on the subjects are based on very, very spotty and misunderstood data. This report is just a tiny point in a constellation of data.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Statistics: Census Factfinder

The Census Bureau has recently uploaded all of the most recent 2004 poverty data on to the Census Factfinder. It's a very nifty tool that lets you type in a state, city, or zip code, and find out all of the basic demographic information about it for 2000 or 2004.

If you dig into the data through the hyperlinks, there's a ton of more detailed data as well. Want to know the total number of houses in your city and the years they were built? Or maybe the home heating costs by utility type? Or perhaps you want to know the average commute length?

Anywho, if you're a dork like me, you might find it interesting or helpful. I've also added a link to it under "Polling and Statistics" on the right hand side of the blog.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Economics: Annual Cost of Living Survey

A global ranking of the world's costliest cities has been released. A full chart of the rankings can be found here. My native home of New York City is the "baseline" - with a score of 100 - which all other cities are ranked against. (More proof for my theory that there are precisely two places on this earth - New York City, and everywhere else).

The most expensive city in the world is Tokyo, with a score of 130.7. My adobted home of Washington, DC is ranked way down at number 78 in the world, with a score of 77.4.

What are the most expensive American cities, and what does this say about America...


cost of living in US cities
Note that White Plains NY and Morristown NJ are both suburbs of New York City.

Based on various news stories, I had been under the impression that Washington DC was the third or fourth most expensive place to live, after NYC, Los Angeles, and maybe San Francisco. But it turns out that Chicago, Miami, and Honolulu are consistently more expensive then DC, and Houston is on about the same.

This is nuts. Right now, it costs at least $500,000 for a three bedroom condo in an edgy part DC. If you want to live in a nice part of town, it can easily cost you over $1,000,000. It is now utterly impossible for a family earning less then $100,000 a year to buy a home and live in DC, unless you want to live in the most crime ridden neighborhoods with the worst school districts. If NYC is 22.6% more expensive, how does anyone afford to live there any more?

Keep in mind that median household income in the U.S. is around $40,000.

Once upon a time, there were exclusive neighborhoods where only the rich could dwell - Georgetown, Bethesda, the Upper East Side, or Bayside. Then whole subdivisions of the major cities became unaffordable - all of Northwest DC, all of Manhattan. Now, entire cities have become gentrified - all of New York City, all of DC, all of San Francisco. It's only a matter of time before the ghettos, the last vestiges of low income housing within these cities, are chased out of existence. Perhaps that's a good thing. I'm certainly no fan of concentrated poverty. But income levels are NOT RISING. Quite the opposite is true - poverty is rising. So where does the working class go?

My guess - the inner suburbs. This could radically shift the politics in this country. States like Illinois and New Jersey have gone from swing states to deep blue, as the "collar counties" around major cites have seen expanding numbers of minorities and had to come up with collective, government oriented solutions to poverty, education, transportation, health care, etc. The Southern and Western states, with far more physical land to spread people out over, are now ruled by the deep red exurbs. They care about lower taxes, limited infringement on property rights, and deregulation of local environmental laws so that they can develop further outwards.

If my theory is true, the smaller crowded states, the Northeast, Pacific Northwest, and perhaps surprisingly, parts of the old South - Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia - will drift toward liberalism. Whereas the large, more spacious states, the West, Midwest, Biblebelt, and perhaps surprisingly, the Southwest - where Democrats have recently pinned their hopes on the increasing immigrant population - will drift towards conservativism.

We'll see.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Most Disconcerting Video Ever

UNICEF, the United Nations Agency dedicated to protecting children, has made the world's most tasteless commercial.

You can see a brief news story about the video here. Seriously, don't download this at work. It's not snuff, but its very inappropriate for a lot of different settings.

It starts out with an interview of children who have lost limbs in and otherwise been injured by war. It then moves onto the Smurf village, which is bombed. We then see a picture of Baby Smurf sobbing, surrounded by the dead bodies of other Smurfs. It then flashes a "United Nations blue" screen with white text that reads, "Don't let war affect the lives of children." After this we see a pamphlet using an image of the war ravaged Smurfs, and then a press conference and an interview with UNICEF officials, explaining what they've done.

Luckily, the entire video is a series of still pictures, and its in Dutch - so I won't be having nightmares about it this week. Even then its profoundly jarring - and no doubt that's the point. But I think this video clearly goes too far, however noble UNICEF's intentions might be.

You can read an article about it at the conservative Washington Times, which as far as I can tell, were the first to pick up the story in the U.S. (Presumably to discredit the U.N.)

Hat tip to MetaFilter for the link.

UPDATE: Another video with more of the Smurfs is here. Again, it freaks me out.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Picture





I have to upload this picture to get it to stay on my blog. Move along, nothing to see.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Demotivational Friday: Self-Deception


Inspired by the good people at Despair.com. I posted this picture earlier in the week, but it screamed out to me to be used again for a Demotivational poster. I guess this photo shows the one guy in the crowd who is NOT lying to himself - but I think my readers are intelligent enough to know that I altered the photo, so in reality, he is lying to himself.

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Thursday, October 06, 2005

Distraction Roundup

I have nothing particularly witty or interesting today. Here are various amusing links and whatnot that I came across this week while procrastinating, which is odd, because this has been a particularly busy week and I've been staying late at work most nights. Oh well, enjoy...

  • A Flash cartoon - "War of the Worlds" in 30 seconds, as performed by bunnies. From a website dedicated to recreating movies in 30 second Flash cartoons performed by bunnies.


  • A slightly amusing article - about how breathalyzers installed in bars are encouraging more drinking because they inspire bar patrons to have drinking contests with the breathalyzers as the referee.



  • More government stupidity - The new Medicare Handbook mailed out to millions of seniors inadvertently socializes the new Medicare drug plan. Really just jerking seniors around.

  • Google search tips - helpful for when you want to find something very specific in the baleful sea of the internet.

Also, go see Serenity. It's the best movie I've seen in years. I won't write a review right now, because I don't want to spoil it. If you haven't watched the tv series that inspired it, you should before you go see it, as it makes everything ten times better. Email me, you can come over to my place and watch it on dvd.

Hat tip to Fark for at least one or two of these.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Government: Welfare Records to be Used to Find Jurors?

This link was sent to me by a friend. Apparently, Pittsburgh is going to start using welfare records and income tax returns to get more jurors.

Allegheny County's top judge supports a proposed state law that would give local courts names and addresses from state income tax and welfare records to cover gaps in the lists they now use to find people for jury duty.

"I read this bill and I'm thrilled. ... It's a great idea," Joseph M. James said Monday at a public hearing of the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee in Oakland to consider ways to get more blacks and other minorities on juries.

Democratic Sen. Jay Costa Jr., of Forest Hills, the bill's chief sponsor, said the legislation was prompted by a 2002 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review report that showed adults in the county's black neighborhoods were half as likely to be summoned for jury duty as those in white neighborhoods.


My friend who sent me the link questions whether this is the best way to construct a "jury of your peers." Certainly, having full and equal access to the jury pool for all citizens is of the utmost importance. But does a jury of your peers require a certain racial makeup? Should all misdemeanors by poor people be judged by a jury of poor people off the welfare rolls? What about white collar crimes - should Martha Stuart be judged by 12 overweening millionaire housewives? I'm not quite sure...

Reading it also reminds me of the ignorance that still pervades the public when it comes to human services. What exactly do they mean by "welfare records?" There is no "welfare" list where you can find the names of all the poor or black people in a community, though that is often the racist and classist perception. There are discreet Federal and State programs which serve people with specific, verifiable needs.

Do they mean the "welfare list" of people on Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), workers who are so disabled they cannot work anymore, and have serious mobility, heath, and often mental health issues?

Or maybe they mean Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), which serves mostly single mothers, required to work for 20-30 hours a week in return for $200-$400 a month. Their benefits are time-limited, and they often have serious education and child-care barriers.

Perhaps they mean Unemployment Insurance, which are individuals who recently lost their job and only have a few weeks or months before their checks run out. Having to spend a few weeks on a jury would not only prevent them from looking for work, it would prevent them from receiving their weekly check, as you are required to look for work every week you receive Unemployment Insurance payments.

There is no list of people sitting around on the government dole, with nothing better to do then sit on juries. Most people in America who are poor are work, but cycle into and out of crappy, low-wage jobs. The plain fact is that few people want to be on juries. And since they have fewer drivers licenses and register to vote less often, poor people are better at escaping jury duty. Is there a clear reason why we should promote some sort of convoluted affirmative action for the jury pool? I don't know.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Government: Energy Policy

I've previously blogged about some good ideas to promote a sane energy policy.

Obviously, no one in the administration reads this blog. For yesterday, the Dept. of Energy unveiled its new conservation program, spearheaded by, wait for it, the "Energy Hog."



Like McGruff the Crime Dog and Petey the Sexual Harassment Panda, I'm pretty sure that the Energy Hog will be ignored and ridiculed.

But wait, there's more! The Energy Hog has its own website! It requires Flash, which I hate. It's also mind-bogglingly useless and infantile, with little information on how to actually conserve energy, suitable perhaps for a second grader that sniffs glue and likes to eat Transformers.

They also made the marketing blunder of not giving the Energy Hog a name. Without a distinct name and a catch phrase, there is almost no chance of creating a recognizable "brand." Instead, the have a menagerie of different "half human, half Hog" abominations.


There are even commercials, here and here! What sad irony - we're wasting a colossal amount of our money and energy trying to preserve money and energy.

Will the pain never stop!

Hat tip to Oliver for the initial picture and link to the Reuters story, though sadly, I heard that this was in the works weeks ago. I guess some small part of me wished that it was just a massive, inside the Beltway joke. Wait, sorry, it still is.

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Government: Supreme Court Happenings

By now you know that Bush has nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

What you may not know is that conservatives are pissed about it, for a variety of reasons. Apparently, she's...


  • A women replacing O'Conner, which can be viewed as an "affirmative action" pick.
  • In the 1980's, she supported Al Gore, Llyod Benson, and other Southern Democrats.
  • At age 60, she's too old, because she'll only get twenty or thirty years as one of the most powerful people in the world, and not forty or fifty years like Thomas or Stevens.
  • She's single and always has been, thus opening her up to rumors of being gay.
  • She has no record of being a social conservative or supporting socially conservative causes.
  • As a close Bush friend, who is open to the "cronyism" line of attack, and not an independent "movement" conservative.
  • She is not as experienced as other possible candidates. She has no judicial experience.

The first four criticisms seem pretty vacuous.

O'Conner was the first woman named to the Supreme Court. Obviously, Bush can name whoever he likes. But not naming a woman to O'Conner's seat after naming another white male to be Chief Justice would ignite a huge debate over diversity and gender issues, which are a weak suit for Republicans.

People forget that in the 1980's, 90% of elected officials in the South were Democrats, so if you lived in the South and were active in politics, you were a Democrat. (Al Gore was also pro-life, pro-gun, and fiscally moderate, but that's another story). Trent Lott, Jesse Helms, Phil Grahm, and even Ronald Reagan were all Democrats.

The age criticism is dumb. Without knowing exactly who a candidate is, wanting 5-20 extra years of service from them before they are confirmed is short sided.

The sexual orientation criticisms is unfounded. This is Washington. If she's gotten off with anybody in town in the last 20 years, it will come out within the next two days and the woman she was with will have a book deal. Meirs must know this. And she must know that a Republican Senate would never confirm an outed homosexual, just like they would never have a homosexual Majority Leader. It is therefore reasonable to assume she would not have put herself forward if she was gay.

The last three are criticisms are more compelling, and I find it refreshing that conservatives are making these criticisms.

I believe that movement conservatives want to avenge the rejection of Robert Bork. Bork, as you may remember, was rejected by a Democratically controlled Senate for being an open advocate for originalism (i.e., very, very conservative, like Thomas or Scalia).

Conservatives feel that Bush should nominate a proud, proven originalist/conservative with a clear record, and that he should make the argument to the country and to the Senate as to why this is good. I agree, but probably not for the reasons you think.

I have a great deal of faith in democracy. While it is clear the George W. Bush is an utter failure, he did win at least one election to be President of the United States. He has the right to nominate anyone he wants, and should nominate someone experienced, with a clear judicial record.

If that record holds up to public scrutiny and the Senate votes to confirm the nominee, so be it. That's democracy.

But I have a feeling that the American public would not allow someone who wants to overturn Griswold v Connecticut, and thus the right to birth control, the right to interracial marriage, the right to have an abortion, the right to private email, and many other rights that come from the generalized right to privacy, to be destroyed.

Nominating "stealth candidates" who are secretly conservative or liberal or rastafarian or whatever, is deleterious to the democratic process. Democracy is, or at least should be, about an informed public making informed decisions. And if the Bush administration thinks that they can overturn the right to privacy through ignorance and obfuscation, I think they are sorely mistaken.

Don't you wish more people just told the truth?

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