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Wednesday, May 28, 2003
Who will Mitch Berg be mad at now?

Just days after Mitch Berg lit up anti-gun folks for suggesting the new concealed carry law might have had a few flaws, Governor Timmy has agreed, calling on the legislature to amend the law he signed just a few weeks ago to liberalize notification requirements for private entities that wish to ban guns on their property.

But the move may open a Pandora's Box for the GOP. Once amendments to the conceal and carry law are taken up as part of the Session Revisor, Democrats are sure to start bringing up GOP-opposed (and politically popular) amendments, such as banning weapons from churches, parks, and county buildings, all places that are presumed to allow weapons now.

Pawlenty called parts of the new law, which he signed into law just minutes after final passage, "unwise," a sentiment echoed by his Chief of Staff, Charlie Weaver.

Democrats were gleeful in pointing out the rush in which Gov. Timmy signed the bill, suggesting he should have been more patient before signing it.

Concealed carry is not a very popular measure, especially in the suburbs, but it has strong support in the rural areas of the state and among the NRA core constituency of the GOP. When handling issues like that, parties must be very careful, lest they hand their opponents a potential wedge issue. That is precisely what the GOP has done in this case. Now the Democrats get to go on the stump next year and ask: Why should we allow guns in churches? In parks? In courthouses? Why don't we require picture IDs for permit holders? Why no residency requirement? And now: why did you rush through a bill with provisions that your own Governor later admitted were unwise?

Now, I've stated that I am slightly for concealed carry; I don't think it will make much difference either way, and my libertarian streak tells me that if it doesn't matter much, then it should be allowed.

But most Democrats--and most suburban Republicans--are not of my libertarian ilk. They are more than a little worried about what will happen now that this is law. The botching of this by the Republicans is a major Democratic political victory, handing them not just the concealed carry issue, but all sorts of ancillary issues that center around one fundamental question: if the Republicans show this little care in crafting a bill that is important to them, how can we trust them to run the government? It's a question the Republicans will have to answer, and soon.

(Oh, and by the way, Mitch is mad at the Democrats. Sorry, Mitch, but this one is all on the GOP. If you don't want the other party going after you on minor points of law, write your bills more clearly. That goes for both parties, of course.)

Tuesday, May 27, 2003
It was only a matter of time

Well, the Republicans, not content to let the Dems look like idiots, have come up with their own DFL Deck of Cards. All you need to know about the Republican party in Minnesota is that one of the cards represents former Gov. Arne Carlson (R-MN).

Ah, but he doesn't count. He's a RINO. He's not virulently anti-gay or pro-life, so he must be a Democrat. Also represented: former Gov. Jesse Ventura (IP-MN) and former Rep. Tim Penny (a former Democrat, but the '02 Independence candidate for Governor). If you're going to come up with a list of Democrats, make it a list of Democrats. Hey, the GOP cards were stupid--but you didn't see Sen. Breaux on the list.

Sunday, May 25, 2003
I swear, I was kidding!

When I wrote my little article on the big American Idol finale, I thought it would be funny to report on a fake voting controversy. Bur it seems a real voting controversy may have erupted.

Oh, for crying out loud. Don't you have anything better to do? Read a book, take in a movie, become politically active. It's a damn TV show. Clay Aiken is going to be just fine.

I liked American Idol as much as the next guy. But it's not like there was a controversy about an important office, like, say, President of the United States or anything. Move on, folks. If Al Gore can deal with not being President, I think Clay Aiken can deal with having to settle for a recording contract and a #1 record.

Flagrant Violations of the Geneva Convention in Iraq!

Of course, it's by us. Do you think Rumsfeld will note this on "Meet the Press"?

Seriously, come on. Let's be gracious winners. Why are we denying the Red Cross access? (I can think of many reasons--none of them good). And don't try to argue these are illegal combatants. Unless the war in Iraq was not really a war.

The peace, folks. We have to win the peace. And we just aren't right now.

Saturday, May 24, 2003
Campus Radicalism 2003

Glenn Reynolds notes an article on the rise of righty campus activism at the same time lefty campus activism is falling apart. He notes this New York Times article about why the right has risen. For example:

Here's where the left has unwittingly helped to energize the conservative movement. Visit any college campus today, and you're struck by the forces of what the conservatives call overweening political correctness that have seeped into every corner of life. Same-sex hand-holding days, ''Vagina Monologues'' performances, diversity training seminars, minority support groups, ''no means no'' dating rules, textbooks purified of gender, racial or class stereotypes -- for all their good intentions, these manifestations of enforced tolerance can create a stultifying air of conformity in college life. Hence the cries for ''individual responsibility'' and ''freedom of speech'' that are the leading slogans of today's campus conservative movement -- a deliberate echo of the left-wing Free Speech movements of the 1960's and a direct appeal to the natural impulse, on the part of young people, to rebel against the powers that be.

I couldn't have put it better myself.

In 1992, I was a young, naive freshman at the University of Wisconsin--Madison. I would later spend myself out of Madison, but that's not the point of this story.

I came to Madison as a solid Democrat. I was strongly behind Clinton, I idolized Paul Wellstone, I had a United Nations flag hanging in my room. I was so solidly in the Democratic camp that I couldn't imagine wanting to vote for any Republican.

But I found out something quickly on the UW campus: that made me a conservative.

I had the natural reaction to the overwhelming weight of liberal dogma: f*** 'em.

I ended up an editorial writer for the Badger Herald, which started in the Vietnam era to counterbalance the radical Daily Cardinal (which ran a 72-point "Victory!" headline after the fall of Saigon.) I met a number of people on campus who were generally democrats, but believed in such heretical things as free speech, including offensive speech, or a balanced budget even if that meant cutting social spending, or the idea that maybe abortion wasn't as black-and-white an issue as it seemed.

By the end of that year, I was a full-fledged independent, and I had started my wandering that would lead me to be a card-carrying member of four different political parties (they are: Democratic, Libertarian, Reform, and Independence, for those of you out there keeping score). Of course, life has mellowed me into a Tim Penny-style democrat/independent, but I point to Madison, 1992-1993 as the genesis.

Perhaps no issue from that year sums up the liberal problem as this: a liberal cartoonist for the Herald drew a cartoon in which he criticized the Cleveland Indians' mascot, Chief Wahoo. He did this by comparing Wahoo to the ugly caricature Sambo. The comparison is apt; while I find little offensive in the name "Indians," the smiling caracature of Chief Wahoo is more than a little offensive.

This cartoon stirred up passion, naturally. Passion by liberals who decried the cartoonist's depiction of Sambo.

And so the liberals, as they are so often wont to do, turned their sights on their own, deciding to take out someone in the name of ideological purity who no doubt agreed with them.

And then the left wonders why fewer students become activists; they wonder why the Young Republicans seem to have the momentum. They wonder why those young liberals who might turn into suitible recruits seem to be drifting to the Greens.

Of course, campus politics is not all of it; the Democrats also have run through two electoral cycles focusing on the issues of the elderly (lockbox, anyone?), while paying little more than lip-service to education. You can't attract the youth of America with a platform of more drugs and more money for the richest generation of people our nation has ever seen--and oh yeah, maybe we'll spend more on education.

As I've said before, the Republicans have a vision. I think it's the wrong one, but they have one. The Democrats must come up with what they believe in--and soon. And they must recognize that it's okay to disagree, it's okay to fight, it's even okay to be offended by your allies, as long as you're pushing towards the same goal.

That last one, though, could be the Democrats' undoing.

Friday, May 23, 2003
The Party of Fiscal Responsibility.... the Democratic party! Who says? Why, that notorious lefty Andrew Sullivan. So if the Democrats are more fiscally responsible than the Republicans, and the Democrats are more socially tolerant than Republicans, are they libertarians? Well, at the very least, they're aware of the future.

Now, will somebody pass this message along to suburban voters? Because the Democrats sure aren't.

But of course, if he filed a false report, that would be a crime, and he'd have to be impeached, because....

I've neglected posting about the Democratic walkout in Texas because I'm a Minnesotan, and had little relevant to say. It's a cheap trick (although a similar cheap trick kept the capital of Minnesota in St. Paul; it's a part of the legislative process as old as parliamentary procedure.) But of course, trying to re-redistrict after districts have already been settled is also a cheap trick, so both sides are unclean in this case. Had that been the end of it, the GOP probably would have scored a few points and that would be that.

But as Joshua Micah Marshall reports, this is now starting to become something bigger, thanks to the pig-headed incompetence of the Texas GOP. Indeed, this may be becoming a criminal matter. What wild-eyed lefty says that? Tom Ridge.

The person with his ass in a sling is House Majority Leader Tom "The Hammer" DeLay (R-TX), at whose behest the Texas GOP tried to re-redistrict, and who apparently started the whole chain of events that led to Texas law enforcement deliberately misleading the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to locate wayward Democratic legislators. The saga has led to destruction of all documents related to the request by the Texas Department of Public Safety (ostensibly due to federal regulations that don't seem to say what DPS says they say), a Class A Misdemeanor under Texas law.

Of couse, Tom DeLay was a chief moralizer during Fornigate; it will be interesting to see if the law will be turned on DeLay himself. After all, he has violated the public trust, and may even have lied(!) to the public. But of course, I'm sure the standards he's judged by will be exactly the same as a certain former President.


Operation Reelect Bush: A Failure?

It's far too early to tell whether Operation Iraqi Freedom will be a success or failure, but the early line on Operation Reelect Bush shows shaky results.

Bush still enjoys strong support--62% approval. But that's a nine-point drop in just a month since the end of Gulf War II: The Vengeance. Interestingly, 64% of respondents indicated that they felt there were better ways to stimulate the economy than tax cuts, and more than half--55%--said they'd rather the federal government fund health care programs than tax cuts.

That Bush's numbers would drop after the war was inevitable. That they'd drop so precipitously was not. Bush's continued mishandling of the economy can't help. (Nor can the fact that we have yet to find WMDs--a story that will keep chipping away at the cold certainty America felt immediately after the war's resolution).

More important, Bush's numbers are now down around some of the more optimistic pre-war polls. Will we have to invade Syria soon to save George? We'll see soon enough.

We'll all be Kansas by and by

After an eternity of hand-wringing, Minnesota has finally approved a 2 A.M. bar time. Unfortunately, my good friend Andy Crouch (he's not just a beer jouranlist, he's also a lawyer) will be visiting in July, so he won't get the joy of staying at a bar until the sinful hour of 1:30 in the morning.

This, of course, is long overdue. Thanks to our lovely weather and early bar close, Minneapolis/Saint Paul has been unable to land many major conventions (save Alcoholics Anonymous, which of course could care less when bars close...we hope.) More to the point, this will make I-94 out of Hudson a much safer road between the hours of two and three A.M., as we join our nearest neighbor in extending bar time.

Now, if we could extend liquor sales hours to ten during the week, and alow them to open on Sundays, we'd finally abolish the blue laws surrounding liquor in this state. One at a time, I suppose. Then, we can move on to allowing car dealers to sell cars on Sunday--a radical suggestion, I know.

This is just lame

Okay, the Saddam playing card thing was foolish and stupid, but this typical piece of lefty kerfluffle is just moronic. "Assaulting the New Deal"? Uh, are you arguing that the controlling Democratic economic policy is seventy years old? (At least say they're assaulting the Great Society.) "Being a partisan hack"? Pot to Kettle: Black.

Come on, folks. Is this the best we can do? Please tell me we have more than this. Playing cards that make fun of Sean Hannity? Come on.


Thursday, May 22, 2003
My Precious, Precious Gun

I've refrained from commenting on the concealed carry legislation that passed through the legislature, primarily because I don't care. I doubt this is going to turn Minnesota into the nirvana that conservatives claim, and I doubt that it's going to turn us into Deadwood, S.D. circa 1885 as the liberals claim. I do think it's a bit of a political miscalculation by the Republicans (when you're cutting the Gang Task Force, it's not good to espouse a policy that over half of Minnesotans think will make the state more dangerous), but by the same token, it's only a slight miscalculation; most of the people who really care about this are the crazy liberals who wouldn't vote for Tim Pawlenty over Satan, if that was their choice.

For my money, I don't think it will make much of a difference, so my libertarian instinct is to allow concealed carry; the government doesn't need a reason to allow things, it needs a reason not to allow things. Absent a reason, legalize it. (Of course, this should hold true for everything from marijuana to prostitution to gay marriage, but we'll get there bit by bit.)

One little side item, however, has drawn my attention--as well as Mitch Berg's. A church in Edina has decided to file suit against the state, because they object to provisions in the law. Notably, they object to the requirement that they allow guns in their parking lot, and that they post a sign of a specific wording and size if they want to ban guns from their sancutary.

Mitch Berg--a huge fan of concealed carry--goes ballistic (pardon the pun). He blasts the church, and all others that would join the suit:

For the "crime" of deeming myself competent to see to the defense of myself and my family, and for choosing (soon) the one means of self-defense that actually, consistently, reliably WORKS when the chips are down, your church has opted to discriminate against me and people like me; people who are rigorously law-abiding in every way, people who are arguably better risks than anyone else in your congregation. You are engaging in prejudice. You are choosing evil over good. You are engaging in faulty and specious theology; Christ never overtly called for self-defense (although there are some muted references), but then he was speaking to people who lived in a totalitarian Roman dictatorship that didn't recognize the concept of lawful self-defense, either (so odd, isn't it, that tis is the only issue on which most of these inevitably-liberal churches see fit to read the Bible as an absolutely literal document?).

Now, I like Mitch. I don't agree with him much, but he writes well and he seems to have his head screwed on straight. But on this particular facet of this issue, he's just wrong.

I've stated my lukewarm support of concealed carry based on a libertarian ideal that the government must allow society-neutral behavior. But the keystone of libertarian philosophy is the concept of property rights--the idea that you are sovereign over your own property, and so long as you do not interfere with anyone else's right to their property, you are free to do with your own property what you will. Inherent in that concept is the idea that you can allow--or prohibit--actions on your property that you deem offensive, wrong, or just annoying.

A failure of the gun law is that it turns the tables on private actors; it declares the right to carry a concealed weapon to be superior to the right to bar such weapons from your own property. It sets limits on what an organization can do to ban weapons, and limits where weapons can be banned.

It is this provision to which I object. Any property owner should have the right to prohibit weapons (or cigarette use, or cell phone use, or talking, or whatever) on their own property. So long as notice is clear and unequivocal, a property owner must remain sovereign over their own property. Simply put, your right to carry a gun does not trump my right to keep guns out of my home--and by the same token, my right to keep guns out of my home does not trump your right to carry a gun elsewhere.

Mich states angrily, "Mark my words; I will attend no church that bans the law-abiding permit holder." Indeed. This is simple libertarianism at work. The church, a private entity, chooses to ban weapons. Mitch, a private entity, decides he will not visit a church that bans weapons. Neither church nor person has their rights infringed, and everyone can go on with their lives. That's a rational system. I do not expect the Edina church to win outright revocation of the law, but I hope they earn modifications that balance everyone's rights equally. That's the only fair outcome one can hope for.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Revote or Revolt!

American Idol Election Shocker!
Katherine Harris: Vote on the Up and Up

A nation struggled to determine who would serve as the 2003-2004 American Idol, as a voting controversy dogged the election.

Ruben Studdard, the soft-spoken candidate from Alabama, eked out a 1,335 vote victory over North Carolinian Clay Aiken in the race to succeed Idol Kelly Clarkson. But the voting was marred by confusion over the "rotary ballot," used primarily in rural areas.

"This ballot is 1940's technology. It's completely confusing," said Bill Schneider on CNN. "In order to operate it, you need to actually turn this dial around and around. The elderly get easily confused, which explains the significant and surprising votes cast for Pat Buchanan."

Ari Fleischer, in his new job as spokesman for Studdard, pooh-poohed suggestions of a recount.

"We are getting down to the business of preparing for the transition between Idol Clarkson and Idol-Elect Studdard. It's time for Americans to unite behind their Idol."

But Paul Begala defended Aiken.

"Shouldn't every vote count? Isn't that what democracy is all about?"

Confounding matters were absentee ballots sent from Iraq, which overwhelmingly favored third-party candidate Clay Aiken.

Pundits were split over the prospects of a recount.

"Ruben Studdard kept it real. He brought it every night. He did his thing. What's up, dawg?" said Judge Randy Jackson, part of the three-judge panel that heard Aiken's initial legal challenge.

Judge Paula Abdul, however, seemed more sympathetic, stating that "It's a shame both Ruben and Clay can't win. And Kimberly Locke. And that one guy who sang 'Like a Virgin.' Heck, I love everybody."

Mercurial Chief Judge Simon Cowell may be the swing vote. During oral arguments, he stated simply, "I think you're both dreadful, and you're lucky to have gotten this far."

Americans were distraught by the possibility of not knowing the winner of American Idol for several weeks.

"This is ridiculous," said Jon Degner of Washington, D.C. "I mean, how can we not know who won? If we can't get it right with something as important as American Idol, how can we have any faith in democracy, mister?"

Does Blair Care?

I've resisted commenting on the Jayson Blair case because frankly, I just don't care. The usual suspects are reveling in yet another black mark against Howell Raines, and certainly, this is tremendously embarassing for the Times, but really, we've been through this with Stephen Glass and Ruth Shalit before. When your whiz kid reporter keeps getting stories that nobody else can get, it should ring the alarm.

But you can't ignore the narcissistic, pathetic comments from Blair himself. If I had just been caught falsifying dozens of articles for one of the world's flagship papers, I would hope I could comport myself with enough dignity not to immediately whine about how badly I'd been treated by my former employer and the world in general. A sampling of his wit and wisdom:

"I don't understand why I am the bumbling affirmative action hire when Stephen Glass is this brilliant whiz kid, when from my perspective, and I know I shouldn't be saying this, I fooled some of the most brilliant people in journalism. He's so brilliant and yet somehow I'm an affirmative action hire. They're all so smart, but I was sitting right under their nose fooling them. ...If they're all so brilliant and I'm such an affirmative action hire, how come they didn't they catch me?"

Well, first of all, Jayson, they did catch you. Only what appears to be willfull ignorance of your actions prevented you from being caught before you were. As for Stephen Glass being a whiz kid...well, had that Church of George Christ story turned out to be true, he would have been. I tend to think of Stephen Glass as a liar and a charlatan. Finally, cut the poor me act. Jayson, you got a job right out of college at the New York Times. You know how many journalists can say that? Approximately one. Most start out at the Pembina Gazette covering cattle futures. You got to cover the Beltway Sniper. Nobody forced you to keep the job. Shut up.

Of course, the pressure was so bad:

"I was either going to kill myself or I was going to kill the journalist persona. So Jayson Blair the human being could live, Jayson Blair the journalist had to die."

Hey, Lexapro worked for me. Check it out.

More to the point--this horriffic pressure you had working for a big paper? Hey, quit. Go work for City Pages or the New York Observer or Manga Zine! Nobody was forcing you to take the big job at the New York Times.

Of course, Blair is really learning his lesson. His story is already being shopped to Hollywood and publishers alike. He's expected to get a six-figure advance. Hey, I'll pretend to file stories for the Times for four figures!

It's pathetic, and it's sad. Though of course, as Aaron Daily noted in Boondocks, Blair is hardly the first person to lie in print. Why, you can find a number of lies from that one know, George Bush.

Sunday, May 18, 2003
Gov. Timmy Wins Big! (Or Does He?)

Well, the Republican Party has won. The DFL is conceding that they will never get any taxes past Gov. Pawlenty (R-Taxpayers League of Minnesota). Despite 75% support for tax increases--a figure that implies massive, broad, and overwhelming support--Pawlenty stood firm, and the DFL, recognizing that a 3-vote majority in the Senate is hardly equal to a 30-odd seat majority in the house plus the Governor, decided to file this one away for Campaign '04.

(And yes, Republicans: I know tax cuts had 83% statewide support. That just proves the vast majority of Minnesotans are smart enough to realize that when you're running a $4.3 billion deficit, you really should probably raise taxes and cut programs. That's not fiscal liberalism or conservatism, it's fiscal pragmatism.)

Of course, the seeds of this were planted when the Democrats, in their infinite wisdom, chose Roger Moe as their standard-bearer. I have a hard time crying for the DFL--as ye sow, so shall ye reap. But no matter what Gov. Timmy says, this budget represents a cut--his "increase in spending" is primarily due to the Ventura-era shift in responsibility for education from local governments to the state. If you norm for that, this budget represents a 0.4% pre-inflation cut in spending. But hey, nobody will get hurt by that, right?

Now, I'm not a crazy leftist. I believe that if the government is going to take my money and spend it on other things, it better have a darn good reason. But it's not like the state is throwing money at crackheads. Most of our state budget is education and roads. Those are two things I am okay with spending far more of my own money on.

But as Pat Kessler on WCCO once said, elections have consequences. The DFL chose to run a lukewarm candidate for Governor, hoping that a dynamic Senate candidate would pull him along. Then, when that dynamic Senator died, they decided to so badly mismanage his funeral that they cost themselves dearly statewide. The GOP won in '02. They earned the right to try their philosophy out. I don't think the citizens of this state are going to be too happy with the results, but that's how democracy works. Come '04, come '06, come '08, we'll find out what the citizens of Minnesota think of the decisions of this Governor and this legislature. If they like those decisions, they will reward the Republicans. If not, woe betide Gov. Timmy and his merry band.

Thursday, May 15, 2003
But I thought the world was safe from terrorism now!

Well, I'm sure glad we got Saddam. Now, there's no chance that Osama bin Laden will...

Golly gee, an attack on Westerners in Saudi Arabia? (Everyone, with me: "No way!") I mean, I'm sure since the Saudis are our best friends they'll be really help us out.


So, yeah, I'm just thrilled that we spent our diplomatic capital getting Saddam. I'm thrilled our military focus has been toppling a guy who may have wanted WMDs, but sure didn't seem to have them. Because after 9/11, our nation's top priority was absolutely getting a guy who had a tangental relationship to al-Qaeda, or maybe not, whatever.

Hey, he tried to kill Bush's dad!

At least we're doing a good job in post-war Iraq.

Or not.

But at least our President got to be on an aircraft carrier. Whee!

You all remember when I was saying that it wasn't the war in Iraq I feared? When I said the true test would be what happened after?

Guess what, folks? It's after. And guess what else? Things ain't looking so good.

Thanks, George. Thanks a bundle.

42!=1.4050061177529 x 1051

So anyhow, I asked a metaphysical question the other day. You know, whether if there are an infinity of yous, you can truly be said to have free will, or whether you simply represent the you that, based on probablility, had to pass on the Microsoft IPO.

The short answer? You have free will.

Here's my long answer. Yes, it appears there are, indeed, an infinity of us-es (and near us-es who live in worlds where a blade of grass in Namibia has one extra cell, etc.) They are all doing exactly as you are, until life opens up a possibility--do we pick up pie on the way home? Do we have kids now, or wait? Do I really want to try to run the red light with that semi bearing down?

There's a possibility with any decision that you'll make one or the other; that's why it's called a decision. And in an infinity of yous, some of you will make different decisions than others. At that point, your destinies separate, never to perfectly sync again.

But you still have free will, and here's why: you made a choice. You inhabit the universe where you did have kids now, where you did pick up pie, and where you did stop at the intersection. Those were your choices, for good or ill. That your counterparts may have chosen differently simply proves that they are not you, not exactly.

My daughter exists exactly like she does in an infinity of universes. And yes, I exist in an infinity of universes too. But my daughter does not exist in every universe that I do. I am not married to my wife in every universe that I exist. And those things make me glad I ended up here, in this universe, defined by my choices. I suppose the me that ended up working in congress for Senator Ventura probably thinks he did pretty well for himself, too, but he's just plain wrong.

In the end, though there are others exactly like me, they are so exactly like me that they are me. If there is another Jeff Fecke sitting 10 to the 1028 meters away, typing the same thing I am, suffering the same headache I am, thinking about going to bed like I am, he is me and I am him and there is no difference. The Jeff Fecke who just turned off the computer and went to bed without writing? He is not me. He was until a few minutes ago, but we aren't the same anymore. We're brothers. If I met him, I bet I'd get along with him, but he is not me.

Of course, this all could be swept away by physics. Another generation of physicists may find there is but one universe, and what appears now to be proof of many worlds is just the opposite.

But regardless of the future of physics, all of those mes and possible mes do exists. Whether there is a literal Jeff Fecke who is homeless and destitute or not; whether there is a state Rep. Jeff Fecke (DFL-St. Paul) or not; whether there is a Jeff Fecke, esq. or not; whether there is any me but me out there, all the possibilities, all the might-have-beens, all the could-yet-bes are out there, the ghosts of possibility.

But none of them are me. I am I, now, here in Lakeville, having come in from looking at the lunar eclipse and feeling at peace with myself for the first time in a long time. I don't care whether the almost-Jeffs out there get it right in the end or not; I know I'm going to.

Wednesday, May 14, 2003
6 x 9=42

Every so often, you've got to step away from politics, step away from cultural issues, step away from the humdrum of everyday life to ask the big questions. What is the universe? How is is structured? Is there more than one? What is the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and everything?

The late Douglas Adams answered the last question: 42. But the others have been in the realm of metaphysics since time immemorial. Many people have tried to answer them; many people have been killed because their answers didn't fit with the established worldview. C'est la vie.

But one thing has been clear to everyone thus far: each one of us is unique. Each man, woman, and child on Earth is singular. There is nobody anywhere exactly like you.

Except, well, it now appears that there is.

In an exceptional article in the May Scientific American, Max Tegmark demonstrates rather effectively that cosmologists now believe there is an infinity of space out there. In that infinity of space, there are an infinite number of possibilities. But like the infinite monkeys with infinite typewriters, an infinite space is bound to replicate itself now and again; in fact, it will replicate itself infinitely.

What does this mean? It means that right now, as you read this, another you is reading another version of this that looks exactly the same, and that you is no more than 10 to the 1028 meters away from you.

Okay, that's a really long way. That's a billion billion billion billion...well, it's a lot of billions of meters away. But somewhere, out there, there's another you exactly, exactly like you.

But don't stop there. There's also another you that has quit reading this article and gone onto Instapundit; another you that decided to work instead of goofing of on the 'net; another you that decided back in '94 that you didn't want to be a salesperson, but rather, you wanted to become a computer programmer. And moreover, there's another you that's not you at all, but a chimera; your parents' child, with your name, born on the same day with different genes. Your twin, but not you.

What does this mean? Well, I'm going to expand on this tomorrow--so I'll leave you with this imponderable: if there are an infinity of yous, all of them making decisions that you didn't, but could have, does that mean we have free will? Or are we all just folks who happen to occupy that part of space/time where we became a garbage man?

I'll give my answer tomorrow; you will have to come up with yours.

Tuesday, May 13, 2003
Commercials that Anger Me

From time to time, a commerical comes along that I just despise. One in particular is the commerical for Luvs. For the record, we open with a typical mom saying that when her child was younger, she was worried about others holding her child. As this voiceover continues, we see dad come up, wanting to hold his daughter, and mom turns her away like he's a child molester. I don't know what else happens, because I start swearing at this point.

Guess what? It's the twenty-first century. This Saturday, I bought my daughter diapers while mom stayed home. Guess what else? Babies aren't property of Mom. They're individuals, who happen to have two equal parents.

And finally, I can't think of any time that my wife wasn't happy--nay, thrilled--to have me take my daughter off her hands. Not that my girl isn't a joy. It's just that she's a baby, and she's a lot of work. Mom and Dad, working together, work out pretty well.

A Celebration of Mother's Day, Star Tribune Style

Every so often, I stumble across an article that just flabbergasts me. An article so hell-bent on making whatever point it feels needs to be made that it ignores basically anything it can--including elementary truth--to make the point. H.J. Cummins' 'Mommy wage gap': It's real, but is it fair?, published in Sunday's Star Tribune, is just such an article.

Cummins starts off strong, telling us of Meghan Cooper, a woman who managed a Gap store until she woke up one morning and decided that instead of working constant overtime, she'd rather spend time with her kids. She asked for a demotion to Assistant Manager of another store, a job that guaranteed forty hours a week with no overtime. It also came with a 21% pay cut.

Now, most of us out there are thinking at this point, "Well, that makes sense. She wanted to spend more time with her children, and was willing to sacrifice some pay to do it. That's admirable. More people should follow her example. Bravo, Meghan Cooper."

But we are sternly warned immediately: this represents a gap--no pun intended--between mothers who feel a need to care for their kids and everyone else. Not just a gap, but a "clear and deep" gap! Washington D.C. labor attorney Joan Williams tells us that this has created "an economy of mothers and others." Ha, ha! Nice one, Joan!

Then we get to the thesis of our little grad paper--erm, article:

There's growing sentiment that behind that gap, as in Cooper's case, are all the compromises mothers make for the benefit of their families. There's growing disagreement over whether that's fair.

I don't even know what that paragraph means. I've reread it a few times, and I just don't get it. Maybe I'm stupid, but I don't think so.

What I think H.J. is driving at is that because mothers choose to work lower-status job and pass up promotions, they make less money. Okay, so far, so good, and so fair.

My wife is a woman of supreme talent and intelligence. She has two postgraduate degrees (M.S. in Gerontology, and Juris Doctor). She is a licensed attorney. She has had success in every job she's ever had. She could do anything.

For the past few years, she's worked as an attorney for a legal publisher. She has had the opportunity to seek promotions during that time; there was no guarantee she would have gotten them, but she had a good shot. Certainly, she was a valued full-time employee, and she would have continued in that role at least had she wanted to.

She didn't want to. She worked closely with management in her department to let them know that she would be interested in part-time opportunities. She active sought out those positions when they became available. She took a position with sixty percent of the hours she had previously had, with sixty percent of the pay--and 100% of the benefits.

Unfair? Are you out of your mind?

My wife could be anything she wanted to be, and right now, she wants to be a mother to our daughter. That's what she wants to focus on. That's what she wants to do. She's making less money than she would have otherwise, yes. So what? It was her choice to pass on those promotions because she knew it would preclude her from seeking part-time positions. It was her choice to go part-time. If she walked in tomorrow and asked to go back full-time, she'd be full-time.

It was her decision. And it was completely fair.

Oh, H.J. gives lip service to this blindingly obvious fact. She buries the lede--that recent studies have shown that women who have no children make 95-98% of what men make. This would be cause for rejoicing for most people--the wage gap is really only two to five cents on the dollar! (Yes, it should be zero. Of course it should be zero. But 2-5% is a blip away. Wait twenty years, and childless women will be making 104% of what men make. But I digress).

The obviously intelligent and well-named Margaret Carroll notes that "Men who make the choice not to take time off sacrifice time with their families. To think that women's wages . . . when they've taken a few years out of the work force and then prefer jobs with flexible hours . . . should be as high as men's who have been working nonstop in a field for 20 years is unfair."

But then H.J. wanders into the world of advocacy, noting that "some employers" see mothers as less hard-working.

No evidence is presented; it is simply asserted.

However, one advocate speaks sooth:

"A woman who has a baby is incurring enormous loss of income and huge financial risk," said Ann Crittenden, author of the book "The Price of Motherhood."

"It's the biggest financial reality for anybody planning to have a baby that they aren't even thinking about," she said.

Okay, as a father of all of nine months, let me make clear to everyone this fact:

Children will suck every spare second, and every spare dime, that you have. They will affect your social life and your career. They will affect everything you are, and everything you do. They are still worth it, worth it and far more. But anyone who tells you that you are not making sacrifices by having a child is flatly lying.

Okay? Got it?

Now, there are some nice ideas advanced in the article. Deloitte and Touche is noted for their generous flex time policy. Well, that's all well and good. More companies should be flexible. Not all can. That's reality.

But to pretend that this is a problem caused by evil companies is ridiculous. Women--and men--who choose to put their families over their careers should be lauded. But they shouldn't get more money for less work just because they're good people. The free market doesn't work that way. As long as women and men are equally free to choose--career or children or poetry or life as a bum--then it is more than fair. You can't have it all. So quit whining, and just be happy that you have a family that loves you, and that you get to be with. That's more than worth 21%, or 50%, or 100% of your salary.

Sunday, May 11, 2003
The State, The State of Hockeeeeee....

Okay, the Wild lost game one. As Chad Hartman noted on KFAN, let's just spot the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim a 3-1 lead and start in Game 5. Hey, it's worked so far.

But my big news is this: thanks to hanging on . . ., I found this link, which took me to a site where they had--yes!--the Minnesota Wild Anthem! Without further ado, here are the lyrics to the cheesiest/greatest song ever recorded:

The State of Hockey

We were raised with a stick and a pair of blades
On the ice we cut our teeth
We took our knocks in the penalty box
Our mother was the referee

The sport was here before we came
It will be here when we're gone
The game's in our blood and our blood's in the game
Lay us down under a frozen pond

We will fight to the end, we will stand and defend
Our flag flying high and free
We were born the child of the strong and wild
In the state, the state of Hockey

A big blue line runs around our state
A line that can't be crossed
The day they try to take this game
Is the day the gloves are tossed

We will fight to the end, we will stand and defend
Our flag flying high and free
We were born the child of the strong and wild
In the state, the state of Hockey

Yeah, the Wild lost game one. Their backs are against the wall. That's just the way they like it. Let's Play Hockey!

Bill Bennett gambling? Yo, I gots to get in on this.

Peter Beinart thinks libertarians and pro-privacy folks (like me, only, you know, richer and more famous) should leave Bill Bennett alone. After all, writes Beinart, by going after Bill Bennett's personal life, aren't we just stooping to his level--using the personal to destroy a politician?

Well, yes, yes we are. And I know, I shouldn't attack Bill Bennett. After all, I could give a Fig Newton what he does in his personal life. If he wants to gamble at a high stakes slot machine while guzzling Jaegermeister, smoking weed, and snorting coke off the neck of a transsexual prositute named Svenska, I say fine--as long as he doesn't involve me. In general, I don't care what another person does in their personal life, so long as it doesn't hurt me.

But Bill Bennett has shown no such tolerance. According to Bennett, if you're gay, alcoholic, a marijuana user, or a viewer of The Simpsons, you are contributing to the downfall of American civilization. Compulsive gambler? Um...well, I'll get back to you on that.

Bennett has built his career by telling everyone else that we can't do the things we enjoy, because they're wrong. Who says they're wrong? Bill Bennett! And he's right, because, um...well, he was a quarterback. No, no, that's Jack Kemp. But he was a Secretary of Education, or HUD, or maybe Defense. Or something. Under Bush, or maybe Reagan, or possibly Carter.

Who better to decide the moral standards for America?

Of course, the one thing that Bennett liked to do--gamble millions of dollars--that's okay. Why? Well, he isn't hurting anybody.

But here's the thing--and here's why I have no problem going after Bill Bennett.

He was hurting people.

By attacking gays for being gay, pot smokers for smoking weed, and fans of The Simpsons for appreciating irreverent, literate humor, Bill Bennett was causing non-gay, non-pot smoking, non-Homer fans to hate. He was inciting the culture war, and taking a leading role in promoting goals that have led us to DOMA, Barry McCaffery, and According to Jim.

If that's not causing damage to society, I don't know what is.

All the while he looked down on the sinners, Bennett was sinning himself. But of course, his sins weren't hurting anybody, right?

But how does my friend Brian hurt anyone by being gay? (Promiscuous sex? Hey, at one point he was a gay virgin. Who was he hurting then?)

How does my friend Anonymous hurt anyone by smoking weed?

How do I hurt anyone by laughing at Homer Simpson?

I don't point fingers at others. But I also don't roll over and play dead. When someone accuses me of being black, I suggest that they might check themselves out to see if they are, themselves, a pot. Bill Bennett has turned out to be a sinner, just like the rest of us. I don't suggest that he be flogged, or deported, or punished in any way. It's his business. And I'll tell you what, Bill--I'll stay out of your business as long as you stay out of mine.

Until you do, though, I'm not going to ignore your foibles. That would be surrendering unilaterally, and nobody has ever won by surrendering.

Back in the Saddle

Yeeks. It's been a while since I posted anything here. Guess that's what happens when your daughter is breaking four (yes, four) teeth, and your cat is at death's door (she's fine now, thanks for asking), and you're in week four of the new job and still have to pretend to care (hey, anyone at RMA--I'm kidding! I love the job! No, really!), and the Wild are in the freaking Western Conference Finals!

Anyhoo, let's see what's going on in the world. Hmm...oh, yes....

Where the @#(&% are the WMDs?

Well, our friends in the military are winding down the search for WMDs. Funny, but they didn't find any.

They didn't find any

Yes, yes, I know, we brought peace and freedom to Iraq, blah f*ing blah. All sorts of countries on Earth deserve peace and freedom and don't have it. China does. North Korea does. Iran does. Saudi Arabia does. Kenya does. Somalia does. And so on and so forth. None of them have it, and since we're unlikely to invade any of these countries anytime soon, none of them are likely to have it any time soon.

We didn't invade Iraq to bring peace and freedom--that was a nice side-benefit. We invaded Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction, and destroy them.

Guess what? We haven't.

Spin it any way you want, but this is starting to become troubling. To me? Well, try Army Colonel Richard McPhee, who serves on the task force:

"My unit has not found chemical weapons," he said. "That's a fact. And I'm 47 years old, having a birthday in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces on a lake in the middle of Baghdad. It's surreal. The whole thing is surreal.

"Am I convinced that what we did in this fight was viable? I tell you from the bottom of my heart: We stopped Saddam Hussein in his WMD programs," he said, using the abbreviation for weapons of mass destruction. "Do I know where they are? I wish I did . . . but we will find them. Or not. I don't know. I'm being honest here."

Later in the conversation, he flung the unfinished cigar into the lake with somewhat more force than required.

A buried lead in the Washington Post story: the Rumsfeld school of small forces moving fast may have doomed any chance to find WMDs (if any were out there to be found). As McPhee notes, "You've got two corps commanders being told, 'Get to Baghdad,' and, oh, by the way, 'When you run across sensitive sites, you have to secure them. Do you secure all those sites, or do you get to Baghdad? You've got limited force structure and you've got 20 missions."

So let's see...we haven't found WMDs. Army officers--certainly not your most anti-American folks out there--are expressing despair that we ever will. Not even the Bush Administration can offer anything more than conflicting reports on whether the Iraqis captured are providing useful information. It doesn't take a chemical weapons scientist to start drawing the lines...and the result is not pretty.

We may have sent our soldiers to Iraq, killed hundred of them and tens of thousands of Iraqis, spent billions of dollars, destabilized a region, and damaged our prestige worldwide to take over a country that was pretending it had WMDs.

Now, I don't want to say yet the Iraqis didn't have WMDs. They may have. They may still. But as each day passes with no results, we must question whether our government was completely honest about our reasons for going to war in Iraq--and we must question a government that would put our soldiers in jeopardy for no reason.