May 18, 2007

It’s Time to Make the News

A few weeks ago I wrote a few paragraphs questioning the legitimacy of traditional media outlets (e.g., television news, print newspapers, print news magazines, etc.) when compared to newer outlets (e.g., blogs, Internet-only news outlets, etc.). The argument has been that the bigger outlets are “professional” when compared to amateurs with blogs and have more access to getting to the bottom of a story.

...Today during lunch I was discussing the state of television news with my friend ***** (I’m protecting his identity because I don’t want his reputation to be sullied if it should become known that he associates with me) and, given that his line of work is behind-the-scenes stuff for television production (i.e., video, sound, production assistant work, etc.) we found ourselves discussing the current state of television news: Is it information or infomercial? I made the argument that while the best description would be “infomercial,” we have to place the blame for it being this way on the consumers. After all, if more people were demanding informative, in-depth investigations on major stories, the networks would adjust their presentations to reflect this.

...Instead, the majority of television news viewers are tuning in to be entertained. They’re more interested in Paris Hilton’s jail sentence than the estimated 300,000 barrels per day that have disappeared over the last four years in Iraq.

...This isn’t anything new, though. As far back as the late-1800s the country had to deal with yellow journalism, in which the news was essentially invented. From journalists like Joseph Pulitzer to newspaper owners like William Randolph Hearst, we saw fiction pushed as fact in an effort to sell a few more papers.

I hadn’t planned on defending conservative radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh, considering that when I was posting on my old blog I lambasted him for railing against drug users while he himself was addicted to prescription pharmaceuticals, but I’m quite concerned when “professional” news services prove to be more amateurish than true amateurs.

...A few weeks ago, in what was either a sign of incompetence or intentional deceit, neither of which can be defended if one is passing oneself off as being “professional,” a television news station in California arrived late to the party and ran a story about a parody song entitled “Barack the Magic Negro” which was sung to the tune of Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “Puff the Magic Dragon” and was aired on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. A news story on CBS 13 about the song was chock full of errors, including failure to explain the origins of the tune (which were comments made by Al Sharpton, Senator Joe Biden, and an L.A. Times column from David Ehrenstein using the term “Magic Negro”) and the use of a homemade video for the song found on YouTube that was presented as an officially-made video (in reality no officially-made video for the parody exists).

...Fast-forward to yesterday: The Houston Chronicle ran a piece from Andrew Guy, Jr. entitled “Is Limbaugh Above the Law?” in which he questions why Don Imus and other disc jockeys have been fired for racist remarks, but Limbaugh hasn’t for the “Barack the Magic Negro” parody. In the column, Guy ponders why there are no protests, prepared statements, press conferences, apologies, or even outrage from the public. He also perpetuates the CBS 13 error by referring to the homemade YouTube video as “Shanklin’s video” (Shanklin being Paul Shanklin, who wrote the lyrics to the parody).

...More humorous in the piece is Guy’s interview with Ehrenstein, whose column helped to inspire the parody in the first place. Ehrenstein says that he’s “not sure why no one else has really talked about it.” Perhaps it’s because the song was inspired by actual remarks by Ehrenstein?

As I had mentioned earlier, I don’t consider myself a follower or an apologist for Rush Limbaugh. I do, however, question why and how stories that could be easily investigated by major news outlets are falling prey to slipshod reporting and armchair journalism (i.e., if one outlet reports something—erroneous or otherwise—another outlet simply picks up the story and runs with it; if it’s sensational, it must be good).

...Moreover, keeping with the notion of ideology, I find myself wondering if ideology has become a determining factor in reporting, similar to the yellow journalism of the 1890s. While I don’t buy into the idea that there exists some kind of giant “liberal media” or “conservative media” conspiracy (I’m of the belief that people will find an enemy whenever they hear something that they don’t like—no matter if there is factual basis to the story or not), I do think that the possibility exists that some people are willing to misrepresent facts in an effort to promote their own beliefs. Several years ago author Michael Bellesiles showed us that you can actually garner support for fraud so long as your supporters believe that your overall message is a just one.

In the end, it’s my firm belief that Limbaugh isn’t getting a free pass on this issue in the way that Guy suggests in his column, simply because a parody based upon actual remarks from politicians, so-called civil rights leaders, and newspaper columnists is vastly different than a stereotyped comment about looks à la Don Imus or a stereotyped prank phone call to a Chinese restaurant à la Jeff Vandergrift and Dan Lay.

...Had Al Sharpton never questioned Barack Obama’s blackness, the parody might be a true controversy. Had Joe Biden never called Obama “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean,” the parody might be a true controversy. Had David Ehrenstein never written that “it’s clear that Obama also is running for an equally important unelected office, in the province of the popular imagination—the ‘Magic Negro,’” the parody might be a true controversy. Unfortunately for Guy, those things actually occurred.

...I’d sooner argue that the biggest controversy of this story is the willingness of a professional news outlet to hype a story and include inaccuracies in an effort to sensationalize something that wouldn’t otherwise be as sensational.

...Then again, as William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer showed us, sometimes you have to lie a little to sell a few more papers.

Houston Chronicle (screenshot 1; screenshot 2)
International Herald Tribune

May 17, 2007

More Bipartisanship

Does this make them Demopublicans or Republicrats?

The Politico

May 15, 2007

The Right to Complain

It’s primary election day in Pennsylvania and, since I refuse to register as either a Democrat or Republican, I won’t be visiting the polling station today. Yes, as a registered voter I could still have my say on our Act 1 property tax ballot question, but two things made me hesitate: (1) if I vote for it today—and if it passes—I’ll find myself fighting against it as soon as I retire; and (2) considering our legislature’s history of having problems with ethics—from 2005’s illegal pay raise to the PHEAA scandal and cover-up—there’s no guarantee that any of these politicians would actually implement “property tax relief” for anyone once they find themselves with millions of dollars with which to play.

...Yes, it’s frustrating to have a primary situation such as this, but it’s even more frustrating to hear the trite locution that usually accompanies any discussion pertaining to wretched ballot choices in the general elections: “If you don’t vote, you shouldn’t complain about the government.” On’s “teen advice” page, Mike Hardcastle provides a good example:

If you don’t vote you really have no right to complain about government decisions you don’t like (no matter how much they actually suck).

OK, if there is one thing that is really annoying to us actual voters it is the endless ramblings on the bad political policy of a current government spewing from the mouths of eligible voters who never bothered to cast a ballot. If you don’t vote it is like saying you don't care how your country is run, so if you don’t care where do you get the idea that you can complain when something happens that you don’t like? If you don't vote you really have no right complaining about anything the government does and if your [sic] like most young people you like complaining and have it down to a fine art. Want the right to complain when TPTB (the powers that be) make a truly heinous decision? Then you must exercise your right to vote.

...It’s unfortunate to see widespread use of such a philosophy—especially on a Website that is supposedly “advising” young people—because when we analyze it, we can easily see that there’s no logic to such a statement. If anything, the concept is actually contradictory; if one is aware that it’s election day but one refuses to vote, it’s a sign that one is not satisfied with the choices. If one did vote, one wouldn’t—or rather shouldn’t—complain because one would be helping to promote the politician and governmental system in question. For instance, if Voter X casts a vote for Politician X, what logic would there be in Voter X complaining about Politician X being in office?

...In a November 2004 Reason piece entitled “Not Voting and Proud,” Brian Doherty expresses a similar view:

Defending non-voting in bars across this great land, I often hear the ultimate “shut up”—that if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain about politics or society. The reality is the exact opposite: By voting, you are playing a game whose rules are that the majority vote winner gets to control the reins of government, in all its unspeakable power. If you complain about the results of the game you chose to play, you’re just being a sore loser—or winner.

...The argument might then become this: Those who are dissatisfied should attempt to join the system and change it from within. I would agree; such an argument is quite valid but has alas been met with difficulties. Last year a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Pennsylvania’s signature requirement for commonwealth-wide ballots: Republicans and Democrats need 2,000 signatures on their nominating petition; independents and third parties need 60,070 signatures. Aside from such a disparity, if such high numbers are required to simply be on the ballot, the issue is almost a moot point. After all, wouldn’t the majority have to be something other than Republican or Democrat and wouldn’t the issue quickly disappear?

...My purpose for writing this isn’t necessarily to change the two-party mentality which has permeated our country since the 1800s. To think that I could pull that off in a few blog posts would be unreasonable. Hell, I’m still surprised with how many votes H. Ross Perot received in 1992.

...My purpose for writing this is to defend a legitimate reason for voter abstention in general elections. Moreover, I’m defending abstainers’ “right” to complain when a politician does something that they find abhorrent. Suggesting that non-voters are simply apathetic or saying that critics of a particular candidate must first vote for that candidate in order to gain a right to complain (too bad that Justice Douglas didn’t get to find this one) is borne of a mentality that might win debates in bars or on playgrounds, but the argument doesn’t have any weight anywhere else.

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

May 12, 2007

Second Life Strife

I have too much going on in real life to take time to play the virtual reality game Second Life. Others—several million—have joined, though, and as with other Internet-based trends (e.g., chat rooms and MySpace) it has developed a following among pedophiles. It wasn’t designed to be this way but whenever you have a large population you have a playground for predators.

...With that being the case, German police are investigating the site because some of Second Life’s “residents” have created images of virtual child porn. While the images in the game aren’t of real children, Germany has laws against child pornography in any form—even if the “victim” is nothing more than a manmade pixilated image on a monitor. The United States doesn’t have such a law, and it’s creating quite a debate—well…okay, not really a debate; more like lots of jumping to extremes, but this is America and that’s how Americans debate nowadays.

...In 1996, Congress passed the Child Pornography Prevention Act, which was said to be designed to help fight against the sexual exploitation of children, but the law’s language was severely broad and in 2002 the United States Supreme Court ruled in Ashcroft v. The Free Speech Coalition that virtual child pornography can’t be criminalized because no real-life child was abused.

...Critics of this ruling have said that virtual child pornography helps to encourage pedophiles and as such the potential for preventing a future crime should trump the existence of a real-life victim. (For a better look at the CPPA and Ashcroft v. The Free Speech Coalition, read Danielle Cisneros’s “‘Virtual Child’ Pornography on the Internet: A ‘Virtual’ Victim?” made available from the Duke Law & Technology Review.)

...The debate—and I use that term loosely—over this issue has increased in recent weeks as federal law enforcement officials have increased criticism of the Supreme Court ruling. An ABC News story reported that an FBI agent was “devastated” by it and that “[a]ll virtual porn does is satisfy [sic] them until they can find their next victim.”

...Comments left on threads pertaining to the story run the gamut, ranging from support for the Supreme Court ruling, citing the fact that “victims” aren’t real, to those who say that “[t]he whole internet should be shut down till this is sorted.” In between are those who refer to virtual child porn as a “gateway drug” and those who blame the whole thing on George W. Bush being in the White House. There are also a few who really aren’t sure what Second Life is but want it shut down anyway.

...Before I continue with my point of this post, I feel the need—in an effort to explain my position to those who quickly jump to conclusions—that I’m adamantly opposed to child pornography and child molestation of any type. I’d actually like to see laboratories use convicted child molesters in cosmetics and household products testing instead of innocent animals; not only would it give us a better idea of what it would do to humans but it would also spare the lives of innocent animals.

...With that out of the way, the point of this post is this: For those who are supportive of criminalizing virtual child pornography, you have to be aware that you’re opening the floodgates for the criminalization of many more fictionalized criminal acts. If we determine that a crime is a crime, no matter if it’s a pixilated image on your computer screen or on the corner of your block outside your door, we have to be ready to criminalize many more things that are currently accepted as being “just make-believe.”

...For instance, games like the Grand Theft Auto series and even the Medal of Honor series will have the potential for being outlawed. This is because in these games—as well as others, but I’m using these as popular examples—the user has the ability to kill. While the “killing” is nothing more than virtual killing, we’ll have already established a precedent saying that there is no difference between the two. Did you run down a pimp in Grand Theft Auto III? If so, and if we apply the concept that virtual crime is akin to real-life crime, we’ll have no choice but to charge the user with murder. Did you play a Medal of Honor game and kill a Nazi? If so, your intentions might have been noble, but you still committed murder and as such will need to be charged.

...We shouldn’t, however, stop there. If we establish that fictionalized crime is still crime, we have the possibility of investigating charges against those in the movie industry, too. Did Robert Englund really kill dozens of people in the Nightmare on Elm Street movies? No, but it wouldn’t matter because we could argue that it had been established that fictionalized crime was equal to real-life crime.

...What about Murder-Mystery Weekends? The argument easily could be made that while a real murder hasn’t been committed, the act could still be punishable because fictionalized crime is still crime.

...In an effort to defend myself from those who quickly misinterpret things, I must reiterate that this post isn’t to defend virtual child pornography. I’d be more than happy to see those who look at virtual child porn removed from our society (having seen no scientific evidence to suggest otherwise, I’m a firm believer that child molesters can’t be rehabilitated). This is why I applaud Linden Lab, which created Second Life, for being willing to remove the user-introduced child porn—virtual or otherwise—from their site. Their blog states: “Linden Lab has absolutely zero tolerance for depictions of child pornography within Second Life.”

...The purpose of this post is to remind those who oppose the 2002 Supreme Court ruling—from those in law enforcement to soccer moms and dads—that while your intentions are more than noble, you’re failing to consider the consequences of criminalizing depictions of crime. Even if you want it to begin and end with virtual child pornography, it doesn’t mean that it must.

ABC News
ABC News (comment thread)
BBC News
Duke Law & Technology Review
Second Life blog (comment thread)

May 8, 2007

That’s Hot Pathetic

I’m happy to report that my life isn’t so mundane that the only thing keeping me going on a daily basis is reading about what Paris Hilton is doing on a daily basis.

...I’m referring to a letter sent to California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger by a Hilton fan named Joshua, who, hoping to persuade the Governator to pardon Hilton from her pending 45-day stay in the pokey, wrote: “She provides hope for young people all over the U.S. and the world. She provides beauty and excitement to (most of) our otherwise mundane lives.”

...Paris Hilton gives young people hope?! Hope to do what? Oh—right; she gives others hope that they can be beautiful and exciting by doing whatever she actually does.

...Since I’m the nice guy that I am, I’ve decided to translate this post for Paris Hilton’s fans: hapy 2 report dat mi lif isnt so mundan dat da unly ting dat keep me goin on a daley basis is reeding bout wat paris b doin.

...wat hope b paris givin? gotcha. she b givin da hope a doin wat she do.

Paris Hilton’s MySpace Blog

May 7, 2007

Changing of the Guard

Over the last few years, the possibility of the “alternative media” (read: blogs) becoming rivals to the traditional mainstream media has been discussed quite a bit. Given some of the incidents from the traditional media over the last few months, I’m thinking that blogs should be considered legitimate rivals. Consider these:

...A little over a month ago, ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd, who ironically stole material from blogs last year and passed it off as his own on his show, felt threatened by bloggers so much that he urged his listeners to visit a sports blog called “The Big Lead” en masse, thus crashing its server for two days.

...Not surprisingly, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy illustrated similar childishness and suggested in a March 25, 2007, column that bloggers are just Star Trek and comic book addicts who live in their mother’s basement, eating Domino’s pizza and “living the dream.” If Shaughnessy views bloggers as being insignificant cellar dwellers, why would he feel the need to dedicate an entire column to bashing them? It reminds me of people who say that teaching is the world’s cushiest job, but they themselves won’t enter such a “cushy” field.

...These are just examples of people in traditional media fields who are facing the threat of the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, some other traditional media outlets have simply made us wonder if they’re willing to change news stories in a concerted effort to make things more sensational than they really are. Two recent cases can be used as examples:

Don’t Bee Fooled
The issue of colony collapse disorder (CCD) has been gaining attention over the last few weeks, and rightly so. Bees are disappearing in large numbers all over the globe but scientists don’t know why. The world’s food production could be affected because bee pollination plays a major role in fruit and vegetable growth.

...A German scientist, Stefan Kimmel, suggested that cell phone waves might have something to do with the bee disappearance but that his small study shouldn’t be generalized to the world’s bee population as a whole. No matter; headlines like “Are Mobile Phones Wiping Out Our Bees?” accompanied by lines such as “Scientists claim radiation from handsets are to blame for mysterious ‘colony collapse’ of bees” quickly spread like wildfire.

...In addition, this story spawned a hoax about Einstein saying that if bees disappeared from the Earth, humans could survive for only four years. Einstein researcher Alice Calaprice, who has authored six books on Einstein, has said that she’s never come across his views on bee pollination and human survival. Moreover, Jeff Pettis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture pointed out that the four-year survival theory is scientifically incorrect because some food—enough to survive—comes from wind-driven pollination.

Pulling a Video from Your Hat
More recently, a television news station, CBS 13 in Sacramento, highlighted a parody song called “Barack the Magic Negro” that first aired on the radio show of conservative blowhard and noted prescription drug aficionado Rush Limbaugh. The song was to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon” and was inspired by comments from liberals who are questioning Senator Barack Obama’s “blackness.”

...Democrat Joe Biden said of Obama, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” Obama correctly called Biden’s comment “historically inaccurate.” Biden later took the usual route and said that his comment was taken out of context.

...We shouldn’t be surprised, though, because Biden is no stranger to making ethnically-stereotyped comments. With regard to Indian-Americans in his home state of Delaware, Biden once said, “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.” (Click here to see the video and read comments left by his supporters. It’s proof that conservatives don’t have a monopoly on stereotyping.)

...In addition to that remark, Limbaugh’s parody song also took remarks from Los Angeles Times columnist David Ehrenstein, who referred to Obama as “the Magic Negro”—a reference to “a cultural figure who emerged in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education” who “has no past” but “simply appears one day to help the white protagonist.”

...Anyway, the story behind the parody song wasn’t sensational enough for CBS 13—or were they just ignorant to it?—and they posted a homemade video found on YouTube to accompany the song, thus making it look as if it were a shocking official video from the Limbaugh camp.

Due to so many incidents of questionable content (the aforementioned examples are the most recent ones; going back a few more years we could include bigger stories like Newsweek’s fictional Koran-flushing incident and the New York Times incident in which Jayson Blair was caught plagiarizing and fabricating information), we need to ask if we’ve finally reached the point where the “alternative media” or the “new media” is now equal to the traditional media in terms of information, intelligence, and creativity.

...Judging by some of the blogs on the Internet and comparing them to “official” media outlets, I’d say “yes” without hesitation.

Boston Globe
The Independent
Seattle Times
Penn State University
CBS 13
Los Angeles Times
Washington Post
New York Times

Updated Section:
With regard to the parody on Limbaugh’s show, I forgot to add Al Sharpton’s comments, whose voice is impersonated on the song. In March, Sharpton criticized Obama and asked, “Why shouldn’t the black community ask questions? Are we now being told, ‘You all just shut up’?” An unnamed black Democratic activist was then quoted as saying, “It’s driving Al crazy that Obama is as impressive and popular as he is, and he’s not happy about it.” (Chicago Sun-Times)

May 6, 2007


Because my job requires me to work with information and research, I find myself dealing with the issue of Wikipedia on a regular basis. It seems to be an ongoing debate among those within the education community: Of what value is Wikipedia in legitimate research?

...Some of my colleagues share my view that it’s not a legitimate academic resource, citing its history of entries that have not only been inaccurate, but legally libelous. Other colleagues take the opposite position and view it as being the best thing since sliced bread. What I’ve come to notice is that the sides involved have vastly different ways of defending their positions.

...Those of us who look at Wikipedia as being a pop culture Website for pseudo-scholars almost always point out the incidents which have left us with a sour taste in our mouths, namely the number of libelous entries, the questionable credentials of the “writers,” and the ease of creating the libelous entries. (In defense of Wikipedia, it’s been said that they’re making attempts to alleviate the third problem.)

...Fans of Wikipedia, however, appear to take the approach that has been used by those who defended alcohol prohibition during the 1920s and currently defend the war on drugs: The intentions are good, so let’s run with it. The outcome might be undesirable, but the concept is for the public good, so that trumps reality.

...Some go even further and question the accusations of inaccuracy (I highlighted the inaccuracies—which went far beyond basic errors and fell into the realm of libel, which is a crime—in this post, so I feel confident in my stance). A recent blog entry by Wesley Fryer on is a good example. In it, he states, “Many people falsely perceive that WikiPedia is usually factually inaccurate.” Granted, the use of the word “usually” can suggest that, as a percentage, most of the time Wikipedia is accurate. Unfortunately, that could run from 51 percent to 99 percent; that’s too wide a range for a so-called legitimate research resource, in my humble opinion.

...Fryer also states: “To address and remedy these misconceptions, I know of no better approach than listing [sic] to Jimmy Wales, the founder of WikiPedia, discuss these and other issues in an April 2006 speech available on”

...Aside from this being akin to telling critics of the Bush Administration that their misconceptions of Bush and Cheney can be remedied by listening to Karl Rove, the site offers evidence of my assertion, via a description by The Long Now Foundation, that Wikipedia’s concept is the most important aspect of its existence.

The free licensing of Wikipedia content means that it is free to copy, free to modify, free to redistribute, and free to redistribute in modified forms, with attribution links. This is in service to the Wikipedia vision “to create and distribute a free encyclopedia of the highest possible quality to every single person on the planet in their own language.” One byproduct is that Wikipedia’s success is helping shift the terms of the copyright debate, in a public-good direction[.]

...Shifting the terms of the copyright debate in a public-good direction? I’d venture to say that it’s not a good direction for those who actually took the time to do the research.

...Indeed, such a comment not only solidifies the view that intentions are key, but it goes one step further and makes me question the intentions altogether. Shifting the terms of the copyright debate will no doubt make those who oppose intellectual property rights salivate, but when the advancement of an ideology becomes a point of contention for defending a “research” resource, how legitimate can that resource be? Shouldn’t an encyclopedia be agenda-free?

...Moreover, the promotion of theft isn’t something that I’ll be supporting anytime soon; I’m not afraid to say that I support intellectual property rights. I like seeing credit given to those who create things, from books to movies to music to photographs to academic dissertations to news stories. If I use a story or image, I give full credit for it. Why? It’s because someone took the time and had the imagination to create it.

...There’s no doubt that this debate will be an ongoing one. My concern is how vastly different the three sides of the debate seem to be. One faction is critical of Wikipedia and cites examples of gross negligence (read: incidents of libel) as evidence. Yes, other encyclopedias have had errors, but they haven’t been illegal, such as accusing people of having played roles in assassinations or being drug addicts and wife beaters when no evidence exists to support the accusation.

...The second faction is supportive and likes the idea of the community coming together in the name of information as being the most important aspect of the site. Errors are to be expected and victims of libelous entries appear to be viewed as nothing more than collateral damage.

...The third faction is supportive but seems to be more radical than the second group, viewing the site as being an implement to wage war on intellectual property rights within the world of academia. Essentially, what’s yours is mine if I want to take it and use it however I see fit.

...You have my permission to adopt the viewpoints in this post and call them your own.


May 4, 2007

Where There’s Smoke, There’s a Nanny State

I’m a huge proponent of safety and personal security. I lock my doors and windows at home; I lock my truck when I’m not in it; I wear my seatbelt while driving; I don’t talk on a cell phone while driving; and I have two smoke detectors with the purchase of a third one imminent. If I rode a motorcycle, I’d wear a helmet.

...What I’m not a proponent of, however, is the incremental nanny state that is spreading across the land—all in an effort to save us from ourselves.

...Rush Township in Pennsylvania has recently passed an ordinance making it illegal for both apartments and privately-owned homes to be absent of smoke detectors. If you don’t have a smoke detector, you’ll be hit with a $300 fine. The move seems to have support from some locals, since it’s in the name of safety, after all. One resident called it a “fair idea” since it involves saving lives. The township’s supervisor said that officials won’t be “knocking on doors” to check if residents have the smoke detectors installed, but that “there are ways to enforce it.”

...I can envision school children being asked questions like, “Does your mommy and daddy have a smoke detector at home?” That aside, this seems to be another move to essentially save us from ourselves. Gone is the potential for residents to take the responsibility and install the smoke detectors on their own, and in its place is the idea that if you’re supposed to do something in the name of safety, your local government will just let you know by way of an ordinance.

...Such a situation would give credence to something that was said by Scottish history professor Alexander Fraser Tytler in his description of democracies:

A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising them the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.

...Those in a democracy follow a path:

From bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back again into bondage.

...While I’d sooner argue that as a nation we’re in the “selfishness to complacency” phase, we’re beginning to see dependency creeping in; motorcycle helmet laws and smoke detector laws are prime examples.

...“But James, but James,” you say, “these laws are being passed for safety.” Of course they are, but if we draft laws and ordinances that are designed to control personal responsibility—laws that have nothing to do with keeping Person A from harming Person B—we could quickly create the perfect nanny state. We could pass a law to prohibit eating too much junk food in one sitting; we could pass a law mandating what kind of clothing people wear in extreme temperatures; we could pass a law saying how loud a person can have their music volume if they’re wearing earpieces or headphones. Each law or ordinance could be easily defended by saying that it’s “for safety.”

...Then again, perhaps these laws are next. Perhaps my attempts at being absurd will eventually be adopted under the guise of personal safety.


Strike Two

Having been a St. Louis Cardinals fan since I was a kid, I was hoping that the news reports about pitcher Josh Hancock’s car crash wouldn’t be what they are. Now that they are, however, the question needs to be asked if there are problems within the St. Louis clubhouse which need to be addressed.

...A medical examiner’s report on Hancock’s death stated that his blood-alcohol level was 0.157 in addition to marijuana being found in his SUV. This comes only weeks after manager Tony La Russa was picked up for DUI in Florida during spring training after he was discovered passed-out at an intersection.

...I’m well aware of what the cry will be: “What happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse.” I’d have no problem with that if it weren’t for the fact that neither of these recent incidents has occurred in the clubhouse; they’ve occurred on public roads.

...Whatever substance problems are running throughout the Cardinals clubhouse are now beginning to spill out into the street—literally. As such, it opens the door for public scrutiny and makes us wonder about not only what might be happening, but whether or not they’re taking steps to alleviate the problems. They’ve gone from being personal health issues to public safety issues.

Yahoo! News (AP)
▪ SUV photo is © Associated Press

May 3, 2007

Spare Change

The cost of the recent California tanker-truck inferno is currently said to be $14.3 million and rising.

...There’s no word yet if the guys who made the conspiracy theory classic Loose Change are investigating this incident, since they pushed the idea that fire can’t damage steel. If they need some help in forming a conspiracy theory for this, I’ll offer one:

...California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had explosives planted on the freeway and the tanker crash was just a ruse because, as Loose Change showed us, metal would never lose its structural integrity in fire. In addition—in order to ensure the freeway’s collapse—Arnie had a missile fired at the overpass. Witnesses might suggest otherwise, but we can’t believe them because they’re part of the conspiracy.

...Schwarzenegger planned this incident because he’s planning on garnering more votes from union workers who will now get work in rebuilding the destroyed freeway.

...Maybe I’ll do my own documentary on this. I’ll call it Spare Change.

San Jose Mercury News
▪ Freeway photo is © Associated Press

May 2, 2007

Today’s Share the Wealth Award

Last year I conceived the idea of handing out the “Share the Wealth Award” for men who are lacking manliness and all-around testicular fortitude. It’s to be handed out whenever necessary and was inspired by a story about an Indian businessman who was born with not one but two penises. His fiancée didn’t like the idea of having two phalluses at her disposal, so she ordered him to have the extra one surgically removed.

...Today’s Share the Wealth Award goes to Roy Pearson, a Washington, D.C. judge who is suing a dry-cleaning establishment for $67 million after they lost his trousers. The pants are said to be worth $800, but his “mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort” are worth much more.

...Pearson was actually offered $12,000 as compensation by the owners of the dry-cleaning shop, but he wanted more after calculating that his pain and suffering should be multiplied per day—$1,500 per day to be exact. It breaks down into $500,000 for emotional damages, $542,500 for legal fees (although Pearson is representing himself in court), and $15,000 for 10 years’ worth of weekend car rentals.

...Yes, Pearson wants the dry-cleaners to pay for his weekend car rentals, too.

...Pearson also tried to persuade other customers and even his neighbors into joining him in a class-action suit against the dry-cleaners, but it wasn’t allowed. Oh, and did I mention that the pants were eventually found? Yes, Pearson is suing for $67 million over a pair of lost pants that aren’t even lost.

...Thus, Judge Roy Pearson is today’s recipient of the Share the Wealth Award, because it’s quite obvious that he’s in desperate need of some manhood.

ABC News

May 1, 2007

More War for Peace

After having been on the face of the planet for quite a few years, I’ve found that I’m part of a minority of people who are willing to suggest that both liberals and conservatives are similar: both want their ideology to reign supreme and both are willing to use the same tactics to do so.

...I’m not necessarily as offended that both are willing to use similar techniques so much as I’m offended that neither side is willing to acknowledge how similar their extremes really are. Case in point: Rage Against the Machine.

...The influential punk band (and I use the term “punk” in a classic punk sense—not in a way that it eventually became known, like “pop punk” à la Blink 182, Sum 41, and the like) reunited recently for a concert at Coachcella and during the song “Wake Up” front-man Zach de la Rocha called for George W. Bush to be “tried, hung, and shot.”

...Now, don’t get me wrong. If something like that were to happen to W, I probably wouldn’t be shedding any tears—then again, we’d have Dick Cheney take over, so maybe I would. Anyhow, de la Rocha shows us a prime example of how the left is just as rabid as the right. You don’t hear him calling for diplomacy or talking things through in a civil manner, which is the image that the left is always trying to illustrate. This is similar to an incident last year in Australia in which Nobel Peace Prize winner Betty Williams proclaimed—to a group of grade-schoolers, no less—that she “would love to kill George Bush.”

...Let’s stop pretending and be honest by saying that both sides are full of hate, vitriol, and are willing to kill to see their views win the hearts and minds of the populace as a whole.