Sunday, July 31, 2005

New Meyer Pictures

Thanks to Mike Mullins, I've posted some new pictures of my one-year-old, Meyer, at his website, Meyer

Is the Stem Cell Debate a Distraction?

I don't know what to make of my senator going against the President and the religious Right on the issue of embryonic stem cell research. Has his medical background led him to endorse such research, or are his motives more political? (Of course, during the Terri Schiavo debacle, we learned that Senator Frist doesn't shy away from politicizing his medical credentials.) On one hand, the majority of Americans favor embryonic stem cell research, so Senator Frist's presidential aspirations may have played a role in changing his mind. On the other hand, he risks losing his base.

I suppose I support increased federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, though I don't know enough about the subject to take a strong stand one way or another. I fear, however, that the stem cell debate has distracted us from more important health-related issues. While increased funding for research offers new hope for the future, many Americans are suffering right now due to poor healthcare, no healthcare, or environmental health risks. I don't think that the federal government needs to become a healthcare provider, but I do think that the federal government needs to help states and localities find ways to meet people's healthcare needs. Aside from providing much needed revenue, congress and the administration could help state and municipal governments by passing stricter environmental legislation. Many illnesses are caused or exacerbated by pollution and other environmental conditions.

So I commend Frist for breaking with his party. (Too few politicians break with their parties these days.) But I think we need a more serious and comprehensive debate about health-related issues in America.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Another UM Homosexuality Controversy

(From UM News Service.)

A United Methodist pastor in Virginia has been placed on "involuntary leave of absence" for refusing to allow a homosexual to become a member of his congregation.

The disciplinary action is positive; but we need to keep the pastor, the person denied membership, and the congregation at South Hill United Methodist in our prayers, that God might bring healing to this situation.

Personally, I have no tolerance for homophobia or what I consider social and psychological violence toward homosexuals. And while I understand that United Methodists disagree about homosexuality and that the church officially says that homosexual behavior is contrary to "Christian teaching," we shouldn't be in disagreement about hospitality.

"Everything Here is Eat-able. I'm Eat-able . . .

". . . but that my children is called cannibalism, and it is frowned upon in most societies."
—Willy Wonka

I enjoyed seeing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last night. The music was fun, and Johnny Depp was excellent as Willy Wonka. Seeing the film probably isn't worth the full evening admission price—$8.50 around here—but few movies are. It is certainly worthy of a matinee ticket or a rental.

Rating: 23π/16 out of

If You Snort Powdered Glass . . .

A list of unusual and unanswerable queries sent to Snopes Urban Legend Reference Pages.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Black Diamond: An Unreal Neil Diamond Experience

(Tip: Six Foot 6)

This guy (an African American Neil Diamond impersonator) is awesome. Listen to his version of "Sweet Caroline." He's got the voice down.

Marketing Messages

Nav Press's youth-and-young-adult imprint, Th1nk (is it think? th-one-k?), has released Eugene Peterson's The Message Bible (actually The Message Remix) in a lunchbox. I'm not sure why. The lunch box is not actually large enough to hold one's lunch, and seems to make the paperback Bible more cumbersome (especially if one were to toss it in a backpack or handbag).

The Message is a wonderful translation andor paraphrase of Scripture, but it has also become a cash cow for Nav Press and Th1nk. The Message actually pre-dates the Th1nk imprint, but when Nav Press launched its youth-and-young-adult label, a new version, The Message Remix, was published under Th1nk. As far as I can tell the only difference between the original version and the remix is that the original does not list verse numbers (only chapters), the remix does. As someone who must regularly cite The Message in my professional life, I prefer the remix; as a reader, I prefer the original.

Nav Press publishes over 30 variations of The Message and The Message Remix that vary primarily in packaging, not in content. The packaging ranges from simple, to fancy, to silly. I'm glad that Nav Press is having such success with Peterson's version of the Bible, but the lunchbox makes me worry that they are exploiting the Bible for profit. I shouldn't judge them; maybe there are people out there who won't read the Bible without a gimmick, but the lunchbox caught me off guard.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Look, An Octopus!

My life suddenly got better when I realized that Wikipedia is loaded with photographs and diagrams that are in the public domain. The free open-content encyclopedia is a source of thousands of images that one can use free of charge to enhance personal or work-related projects without having to worry about copyright laws.

Check out this free, public domain picture of Otto Lilienthal and his early attempt at a heavier-than-air flying machine:

Santorum on The Daily Show

I was nervous about watching The Daily Show's Jon Stewart interview Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Senator and author of It Takes a Family. Fortunately, the two managed to have a polite and thoughtful discussion about the role of family in American society. While Santorum did not budge from his fifteenth-century notion of family, the two managed to find common ground despite key points of contention.

(Video from Crooks and Liars, which has a less favorable review of the segment. The interview originally aired Monday evening.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Genetic Flaw Leaves Felines Without Sweet Tooth


I am by no means qualified to dispute research done by professional scientists, but as a parent of four cats, I have observed that the felines in my family have an affinity for Redi-Whip® that they do not have for other dairy products or other foods intended for humans. Since Redi-Whip® is probably the sweetest food product that my cats have ever tasted and is also their treat of choice, I can only conclude (albeit unscientifically) that the sugar has something to do with it.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Big News for Slack

Nashville rock outfit Slack will be the second band to record in Dave Grohl's Studio 606. The project will be produced by Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age producer Nick Raskulinecz.

More info:
Nashville Zine

Your Assignment for the Day

1) Read United Methoidst Bishop Kenneth Carder's quote on church growth movements at St. Phransus.

2) Read Shane Raynor's thoughts on church growth and Adam Hamilton's new book, Selling Swimsuits in the Arctic, at Wesley Blog.

3) Spend time reflecting on church growth as it relates to personal and communal spiritual development.

4) Make a commitment to be careful about using "grow" as a transitive verb. One does not "grow churches" the way that one grows tomatoes.

Disturbing News From Iran: Where's the Outrage?

I should have linked to this earlier. Cole Wakefield draws attention to the story of two boys in Iran who were executed for being homosexual. Apparently, the boys were imprisoned for 14 months and "given the lash 228 times." I wonder how many nations prosecute and punish their homosexual and bisexual citizens. And why isn't the rest of the world saying or doing anything?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Investing Your Values

The lead story on the business page of this morning's Tennessean is about PK Values, a "values-based investing service." PK Values Trade is a collaboration between Promise Keepers (the evangelical Christian men's group), a Florida-based investment firm, and two Nashville-area companies: Faith Financial Planners and the Research Institute for Corporate Accountability. According to the company's website:

Values-based investing is the attempt to reflect your Christian values in the way that you invest your money. As Christians, we know that our lives are not our own, because they were bought and paid for by Jesus Christ on the cross. Consequently, all that we have belongs to Him.

No problems there. PK Values Trade researches seven "major issues" to determine whether a company's policies reflect Christian values:

Abortion; Institutionalization of Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, and Transgender (GLBT) Causes; Pornography; Alcohol; Tobacco; Gambling; and Affirmative Values (positive actions that a corporation might do that are congruent with Christian values).

Now I have a problem. As someone who has moral reservations about investing in companies that profit from gamblihg or pornography, I appreciate the idea of values-based investing. However, notably absent from the above list of major values issues are wages, treatment of workers, healthcare benefits for workers, responsible use of God-given resources, and pollution. (From what I can gather from PK Values, these concerns are not included under "Affirmative Values.")

I also take issue with what policies and procedures warrant a red flag. Adobe Systems (makers of Photoshop and Acrobat) earned a flag because its matching gift program allows employees to make charitable contributions to any IRS-qualified 501(c)3 nonprofit organizations. Planned Parenthood happens to qualify as such an organization. So, Adobe gets a red flag for supporting abortion. And, unfortunately, companies get the red flag if they provide health andor pension benefits for same-sex domestic partners. So making sure that all employees' families have health coverage gets a red flag, but paying people in developing nations less than one dollar per day to work full time in a sweatshop reflects Christian values. Nice. The Bible says far more about wealth and poverty than about abortion, homosexuality, pornography, alcohol, tobacco, and gambling combined. (Granted, tobacco use was a non-issue in the ancient Near East.) And I would argue that the above-identified "major issues" are minor compared to the issues of health and economic justice.

To clarify, I agree with PK Values Trade that one should not invest in companies whose policies and practices one considers immoral. And I think that a service that holds companies morally accountable is a good idea. However, I feel that PK Values Trade's understanding of "Christian values" is shortsighted and even unbiblical.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Andor: In the Interests of Improving the English Language . . .

. . . I have decided to cease using the construction "and/or" in my unpublished and self-published writings. One should not have to use a slash (also known as a solidus or an oblique) in formal writing. Unfortunately, written English provides no reasonable alternative for expressing the sentiment, "both or one or the other." ("And or or," for instance, is even more awkward than using the slash.) Thus I would like to suggest a closed spelling: andor. For example:

  • Would you like cheese andor onions on your chili?

  • After dinner we could see a movie andor go out for dessert.

  • I feel that written English needs gender-neutral, personal, third-person pronouns to replace "he or she," "her or him," "his or hers, "herself or himself," and so on. All of these constructions are functional, but they become cumbersome if you must use two or more in the same sentence. For the time being removing the slash in andor is a more urgent matter.

    Friday, July 22, 2005

    Who Knew Winning the War on Terror Could Be So Easy?

    Former NYPD detective Bo Bietl on Fox News (Your World With Neil Cavuto) lays out a can't-miss plan for winning the War on Terror. (Click on the link for the clip. This is definitely worth watching.) My question is, What qualifies one to provide commentary on a cable news show?

    Tip: Crooks and Liars

    Thursday, July 21, 2005

    A Couple New Meyer Pictures

    A couple new pictures of my one-year-old, Meyer, have been added at Meyer

    By 6:00 a.m. This Day Had Already Gone Down the Drain

    I awoke this morning, still frustrated by my lack of productivity yesterday (which was the result of getting only three hours of sleep the previous night, which was the result of my need to finish the new Harry Potter book before going to bed Tuesday evening). Shortly after hitting "snooze" a couple times, I got up to find that one of the toilets had not filled back up following its last flush. This problem is usually easily remedied by opening the tank and briefly jiggling a particular part of the commode's inner mechanics. This morning, unfortunately, the toilet resisted and a great deal more jiggling was required.

    Once I was confident that the toilet was filling back up, I went to the kitchen to work on breakfast. After filling the coffee pot and the cats' water bowls, I found myself fighting with the faucet, which wouldn't stop running water. My lengthy struggle with the kitchen sink ended in my turning off the hot water. Now, the water isn't constantly running, but it is constantly cold.

    When I showered a few minutes later, I noticed that, during much of my shower, I was standing in a small pool of water. Since I'd already done some plumbing this morning, I decided to pull some hairballs (held together by soap-and-shampoo residue) out of the drain. I wasn't able to clear the drain as much as I had hoped, but I did get a close look at just how filthy the tub in the master bath has gotten.

    Wednesday, July 20, 2005

    The Half-Blood Prince (Contains Spoilers)

    I've had nearly a full day to reflect on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which I finished late Tuesday night. I hope to post my theory about Professor Snape in the next few days, but I need a little more time to do research.

    I found no significant flaws in the sixth Harry Potter novel. I'm sure I could come up with some minor complaints (e.g. Gryffindor winning the final Quidditch match by such a large margin without Harry and with Ginny playing seeker instead of chaser), but the book was so good that I don't want to spend time on the negative.

    I can now say, without any doubts that Harry Potter is better than Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, or The Chronicles of Narnia. Why? Because I care more about the characters, and there are more characters that I care about. Rowling's heroes and villians are realistic; you can relate to them. She tells a story of good versus evil without falling into the trap of creating characters that are entirely virtuous or entirely vicious. When I read the Harry Potter novels (especially years 3 through 6), I sometimes find myself sympathizing with the bad guy or getting fed up with the hero. I love what Rowling did with Draco Malfoy in The Half-Blood Prince; and I love the treatment of the young Voldemort. George Lucas devoted three two-and-a-half-hour movies to making Darth Vader into a sympathetic character. But in only a handful of chapters in her new book, Rowling outdoes Lucas, making the young Tom Riddle (who is never as innocent as Anakin Skywalker had been) far more interesting and sympathetic than Lucas's tragic hero. (On a related note, I think that the lack of strong villians is The Lord of the Rings' biggest flaw.)

    I will also say that Rowling does teenage romance as well (and probably better) than John Hughes or The Disney Channel. Somehow she truly understands what it is like to be a teenage boy in love: the jealousy, the guilt, the shame, the doubt, the complete lack of tact. Yet, unlike most teen movies and television dramas, Rowling doesn't assume that all sixteen-year-olds are into cheap beer and casual sex. She deals with sex and relationships in a way that the teenage me would have understood. No other major sci-fi/fantasy franchise (with the possible exception of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) compares to Harry Potter when it comes to romance. Rowling made an excellent point in this week's Time:

    There's something about [Narnia author C.S.] Lewis' sentimentality about children that gets on her nerves. "There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She's become irreligious basically because she found sex," Rowling says. "I have a big problem with that."

    Having read all seven Narnia books before re-reading the first five Harry Potter books then the sixth, I agree. The article adds:

    Rowling certainly isn't afraid of sex, as Order of the Phoenix--which had Harry making out with the beautiful, grieving Cho Chang--ably demonstrated. Harry and his friends are now 16, and it would just be weird if Harry didn't have more on his mind than wands and snitches. "Because of the demands of the adventure that Harry is following, he has had less sexual experience than boys of his age might have had," Rowling allows. "But I really wanted my heroes to grow up. Ron's hormones get fuller play in book six." Cue the throaty alto laughter. "Basically it dawns on Ron that Hermione's had some action, Harry's had some action and he's never got close!"

    It's precisely Rowling's lack of sentimentality, her earthy, salty realness, her refusal to buy into the basic clichés of fantasy, that make her such a great fantasy writer. The genre tends to be deeply conservative--politically, culturally, psychologically. It looks backward to an idealized, romanticized, pseudofeudal world, where knights and ladies morris-dance to Greensleeves. Rowling's books aren't like that. They take place in the 1990s--not in some never-never Narnia but in modern-day Mugglish England, with cars, telephones and PlayStations. Rowling adapts an inherently conservative genre for her own progressive purposes. Her Hogwarts is secular and sexual and multicultural and multiracial and even sort of multimedia, with all those talking ghosts.

    When I feel better prepared, I'll let you in on my thoughts about some of the plot points.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2005

    Another Depressing (and Disgusting) Story

    I heard about this a couple days ago, but hadn't been able to verify it. Anyway, this is from The Tampa Tribune, and it is horrible.

    Josh Has a Plan

    Thanks to Brittney from Nashville Is Talking for generating some positive publicity for my Abortion Plan.

    Monday, July 18, 2005

    More on Abortion

    Here are some CDC statistics about abortions in the United States. The most recent stats are from 2001.

    Statistics of note:

  • 24.7% of pregnancies in the U.S. end in an induced abortion; this percent peaked at 36.4 in 1984.

  • 59.1% of abortions in 2001 were performed during the first 8 weeks of gestation; 1.4 were performed after 21-or-more weeks of gestation.

  • 18.1% of women seeking abortions in 2001 were teenagers.

  • The percent of women who have died as a result of an abortion has decreased from 4.1 in 1972 to 0.6 in 1997, the latest year on record.

  • The report lists no statistics on economic level.

  • See also The Abortion Plan

    Sunday, July 17, 2005

    Will South Carolina Secede Once Again?

    This is a little scary (see the link, above). A group called Christian Exodus plans to turn South Carolina into a fundamentalist Christian state by moving thousands of people there. They hope that the combination of religious-conservative migrants, the current fundamentalist population of South Carolina, and the state's strong state's rights tradition will enable them to establish a government that conforms to their values (which, I should add, are not necessarily values shared by many Christians nor many current residents of the Palmetto State). If the Federal Government (which this group detests) interferes with the state's new political agenda, Christian Exodus and its hypothetical puppet government of South Carolina are prepared to secede from the Union. I don't think this group has the numbers to pull this off; but American politics would get really interesting if they were to do so.

    Josh Official Nick Hornby Novel Ratings

    Ratings are in radians (one complete revolution, 2π, being the highest possible score, 0 being the lowest).

    1. A Long Way Down (2005): 31π/16

    2. High Fidelity (1995): 15π/8

    3. How to Be Good (2001): 29π/16

    4. About a Boy (1998): 7π/4

    Josh Official Star Wars Movie Ratings

    Sorry it's taken me so long to get around to this. Ratings are in radians (one complete revolution, 2π, being the highest possible score, 0 being the lowest).

    1. Empire Strikes Back (theatrical release, 1980):

    1. Empire Strikes Back (special edition, 1997):

    1. Empire Strikes Back (DVD, 2004):

    4. A New Hope (theatrical release*, 1977): 31π/16

    5. Return of the Jedi (theatrical release, 1983): 29π/16

    6. Revenge of the Sith (2005): 7π/4

    7. Return of the Jedi (special edition, 1997): 13π/8

    8. Return of the Jedi (DVD, 2004): 3π/2

    9. A New Hope (DVD, 2004): 11π/8

    10. A New Hope (special edition, 1997): 21π/16

    11. Attack of the Clones (2002): 9π/8

    12. The Phantom Menace (1999): 3π/4

    * Of course, A New Hope was simply Star Wars during its first theatrical release. "Episode IV: A New Hope" was added after "Empire" came out.

    Josh Official Beck Album Ratings

    Major label releases only. Ratings are in radians (one complete revolution, 2π, being the highest possible score, 0 being the lowest).

    1. Midnite Vultures (2000): 7π/4

    2. Guero (2005): 13π/8

    3. Odelay (1996): 25π/16

    4. Sea Change (2002): 3π/2

    5. Mutations (1997): 9π/8

    6. Mellow Gold (1994): 7π/8

    Friday, July 15, 2005

    A New Voice for Animal Rights

    George Will's column in this week's Newsweek tells of Matthew Scully, a self-avowed conservative and former speechwriter for President Bush who has taken up the cause of animal rights. Like me, Scully does not advocate moral vegtarianism (though I am a vegetarian for related reasons) but does call for a stop to unnecessarily cruel factory-farming techniques.

    For Scully, the fact that some animals are legally protected by felony-level penalties while other animals can be mercilessly tortured for the entirety of their lives is a matter of moral relativism, something that many conservatives can't stand. From the column: "Why, Scully asks, is cruelty to a puppy appalling and cruelty to livestock by the billions a matter of social indifference?" He also makes a biblical argument, saying tht the logic behind Judeo-Christian morality is "one of gracious condescension, or the proud learning to be humble, the higher serving the lower, and the strong protecting the weak."

    Thursday, July 14, 2005

    The Abortion Plan

    For reasons I will not disclose, over the past few days I have had to do a lot of thinking about abortion. (To clarify, no one I know is considering having an abortion. I am dealing with the subject on an entirely theoretical level.) Normally, I try not to think about abortion, but since I've had to, the following is my vision for reducing the number of abortions in the United States without making abortion illegal. I don't know if any of these recommendations would actually make a difference, but I've done my best.

  • Restrict late-term abortions. In my opinion the matra that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare" is lacking. I would change it to "safe, legal, rare, and as early as possible." Late-term abortions are gruesome and, in some cases, border on infanticide. Of course, any legislation restricting such abortions needs to make provisions for when the life of the mother is at risk. Otherwise the law will (and should) be ruled unconstitutional.

  • The "morning-after pill" is a difficult subject, but an important one. I personally feel that terminating a pregnancy before one knows whether conception has taken place is morally preferable to terminating a pregnancy after, say, 18 weeks. If you were to ask me, "Josh, when do you think human life technically begins?" I don't know that I could answer you. But I would argue that, ethically, not allowing a clump of cells to develop into a baby is significantly different than ending the life of a fetus that has developed human attributes and a relationship (of sorts) with its mother. For this reason, I feel that the "morning-after pill" should be readily available and easily accessible. On the other hand, post-coital contraceptives should not be recommended as a means of birth control. Moral questions aside, the "morning-after pill" is not as effective as other methods of contraception and, obviously, does not prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

  • Educate the public about the early stages of pregnancy. In many western countries the "morning-after pill" is not considered a means of aborting a pregnancy, but a means of contraception. Why? Because, while post-coital contraceptives do not prevent eggs from being fertilized, they do strip the lining of the uterine wall, often preventing fertilized eggs from implanting. So, fertilization and implantation are two distinct steps that must take place for an egg to become a baby. Some people feel that conception takes place when the egg is fertilized; others feel that it takes place when the egg is embedded in the womb-lining. Educating the public about these matters will enable women who fear that they have been unintentionally impregnated, as well as voters and policy-makers, to draw informed conclusions about when life begins (though these conclusions will vary from person to person).

  • Strictly define and condemn date rape. Some sources say that only one percent of abortions are sought in response to rape. I question this statistic, only because different people have different definitions of rape. Some women who have been forced into sexual intercourse against their will by a husband or boyfriend do not consider themselves rape victims. Some women who, by my standards, are clear victimes of rape, blame themselves for an unintended sexual encounter, feeling that they "led on" the rapist. I suspect (and I have no hard evidence to back myself up, so I could be completely wrong) that most instances of date rape go unreported and that many are not even considered rape by the victim herself. I have no information about the number of pregnancies resulting from date rape, but date rape is certainly responsible for some unwanted pregnancies. As a culture, we need to strictly define and condemn date rape and educate American youth about the subject. Those who feel strongly that women should not dress in a manner that is sexually suggestive need to be clear that, regardless of how a woman dresses, she is not guilty if she is raped.

  • Take measures to eliminate poverty. Poor women are three times more likely than affluent women to have an abortion. Though there is no direct link connecting poverty to abortion, poverty affects education, healthcare, self-respect, means of escaping abusive relationships, and other factors that may influence one's response to an unintended pregnancy. For one idea on fighting poverty in America, see my "Fair Wage Plan".

  • Admit that abortion is too common. According to some estimates, over one-fourth of pregnancies end in abortion. Advocates of reproductive choice need to be able to say that abortion is too prevalent without worrying about sliding down a slippery slope toward government control of women's bodies. One can support reproductive choice and, at the same time, see a need to reduce the number of abortions in the United States.
  • Zimbabwe Track Athlete Jailed for Running as Woman

    This is the type of article that really needs an accompanying picture.

    Wednesday, July 13, 2005

    I Enjoyed This Get Fuzzy . . .

    . . . if only because last night I dressed one of the cats, Curtis, in one of Meyer's T-shirts.

    On the Debilitating Effects of [Diet Coke] Welfare

    From Tip to Six Foot 6.

    Tuesday, July 12, 2005

    Focus on the Family Can Always Find More to Complain About

    I hate to be negative about this, but gay people get headaches, too.

    Invisible Genocide

    Think Progress has a good post about the media's silence about genocide in Darfur. I admit that I have payed little attention to the ongoing massacre in Sudan, paying more attention to Star Wars movies, Weezer albums, and Nick Hornby books. In so far as this blog (with a readership approaching double digits) counts as "the media," I am a part of the problem. That our culture is mesmorized by reality television and the saga of the runaway bride but cares not a lick for the systematic murder of hundreds of thousands of people is disturbing. But, again, I can't say that I'm helping.

    Monday, July 11, 2005

    If You Come Across a Copy, Let Me Know

    A few copies of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince were accidentally sold in Vancouver, over a week before Saturday's official release date.

    Actually, if you have a copy, don't tell me about it. I'll need until Saturday to finish re-reading the first five books in preparation.

    The Day's Most Depressing Story

    (See the link above.)

    The baby that was shot was 17-months old, which is only a few weeks older than Meyer. While I am angry with the gunman (who also died) for using the baby as a human shield, I think I am even angrier with the LAPD, because the bullet that killed the baby was one of the hundreds that came from their guns. The entire situation is sickening.

    Recommendation: Black Cherries

    I don't know why I haven't before realized how good they are. Ashlee and I are saving the pits and trying to get them started in flower pots so that, one day, we might have our own source of black cherries.

    Saturday, July 09, 2005

    An Interesting Pair of Articles From The Tennessean

    Former Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist has been appointed to lead a national advisory commission on improving Medicaid by Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt. Sundquist, though not guilty of mercilessly cutting hundreds of thousands of people from the TennCare program (Tennessee's expanded version of Medicaid), he did leave the healthcare system he inherited millions of dollars in debt. Now his successor, Governor Bredesen, in a less-than-creative attempt to clean up Sundquist's mess, will soon be guilty of mercilessly cutting thousands of people from TennCare.

    In other news, a federal judge says that Governor Sundquist was the " 'impetus' for the federal investigation into state contracts that has led to the indictments of two of his friends."

    Given the rampant accusations of corruption, the indictments of those close to Sundquist, and the former governor's mishandling of TennCare, I don't know that he is the best choice to head a team to look at reforming Medicaid nationwide.

    Friday, July 08, 2005

    Making Weather

    Think Progress points to a government report that implies a connection between human-induced climate change (as was the subject of a contentious debate at the G8 Summit) and the unusually early beginning of this year's hurricane season.

    Video Game Sweatshops

    This is incredible. Workers in developing nations are being paid sorry wages not to make video games, but to play them.

    Don't Click It

    This is an experimental site that one navigates without ever clicking a mouse button. Browsing the site is infuriating at first, but I suppose setting aside one's button-clicking tendencies takes time and practice. If nothing else, Don't Click It is a neat idea. I'm curious to see whether it catches on.

    (Thanks to Six Foot 6 for the link.)

    Tony Blair's Speech . . .

    . . . toward the conclusion of the G8 Summit was very encouraging. He suggested that the leaders were able to agree on plans to relieve the debts of Africa's poorest nations and to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developed nations and, eventually, in nations with "emerging economies."

    (I'll provide a link when one is available.)

    Thursday, July 07, 2005

    Rehnquist to Follow O'Connor?

    According to Kos, rumor has it that Chief Justice Rehnquist will announce his retirement tomorrow morning. What will Bush do with two nominees? Will he try to elevate Thomas of Scalia to Chief Justice?

    I'm still scared by these SCOTUS vacancies, but I'm less anxious about Rehnquist's (presumed) retirement than I was about O'Connor's.

    The War on Terror

    650 significant terrorist attacks took place worldwide in 2004. That's a 272% increase from the 175 major attacks in 2003, which had been a 20-year high.

    Are the war in Iraq and other administration policies responsible for this sharp rise in terrorist incidents? From what I can gather, not entirely. Still, especially in the wake of what happened in London this morning, I think it's time to question the efficacy of the War on Terror.

    If you're just waking up . . .

    you will need to catch up on what's going on in London.

    Oh Yeah, Work It

    My son, Meyer, models the new sweater that grandma and grandpa brought back for him from their trip to Peru.

    Wednesday, July 06, 2005

    The Fair Wage Plan

    As I have reflected on the Live 8 effort to end poverty, I've come to the conclusion that we must fight poverty on three levels:

    1) Wealthy, industrialized nations (particularly the G8 nations that were targeted this weekend) must craft economic policies that benefit developing nations. These policies would include fair trade, debt relief, and so forth.

    2) Every nation must evaluate how its domestic policy affects the poor within its borders.

    3) Community organizations (particularly religious congregations) must continue and increase their efforts to serve the poor and fight the causes of poverty on a local level.

    I want to focus on #2 as it pertains to the minimum wage in this country. The federal minimum wage in the United States is currently $5.15 per hour. If you have ever tried to maintain a household on minimum wage in this country, you know that doing so is impossible. Some cities have passed living wage laws that require the city government, companies that are contracted by the city government, and/or all employers within the city limits to pay all of their full-time employees a wage that will cover their basic living expenses (usually around $10 per hour). I support these efforts.

    Opponents of raising the minimum wage fear that higher wages will hinder businesses' ability to grow and create new jobs. Some also contend that many low-wage employees are teenagers and unskilled workers who need to gain experience to break into the labor force.

    I am proposing the following plan to raise wages in the U.S. that, I think, takes seriously the concerns of those who oppose increasing the minimum wage.

  • Establish a wage ratio. The wage ratio is the cornerstone of the Fair Wage Plan. The ratio of a company's largest annual salary to its smallest annual salary for a full-time worker would be fixed. I will need to do further research to determine what a reasonable wage ratio might be, but say it's 10. If a company's least-paid full-time worker earns $15,000 per year, the best-paid executive would only be allowed to make $150,000 per year. Thus a company's labor costs and capacity to create new jobs would have less to do with how much the company is required to pay its entry-level workers and more to do with how much the company chooses to pay its executive staff. My hope is that the wage ratio would have one of two results: a) workers' salaries would increase drastically so that a company could satisfy its executive staff; or b) executive salaries would come down, giving the company money to create more jobs. Sure, the wage ratio is not a perfect idea,and several problems could arise, but the ratio would shift the focus of the wage debate from the least-paid Americans to the best-paid Americans and would give all employees a stake in their company's success or failure.

  • Set a minimum wage for employees abroad. Given differences in cost of living, the wage ratio could not reasonably apply to workers outside of the United States. However, the Fair Wage Plan would require companies that are based in the U.S. or that do significant business in the U.S. to pay their employees abroad a fair wage. This wage may vary from country to country. Employers may still be able to save money by outsourcing jobs, but: a) Outsourcing would become less lucrative, keeping more jobs in the United States; and b) companies could no longer benefit by paying international laborers inhumanly low wages.

  • Current minimum wage laws would act as a safety net, protecting employees of small businesses whose best-paid employees would still make modest salaries. In the interst of these workers, I would advocate at least a small raise in the current federal minimum wage.

  • An exception to the wage ratio could be made for seasonal workers under the age of 18, though this exception would have to be strictly defined and enforced.

  • I am not an economist and do not know if this Fair Wage Plan truly has merit. But I do hope that it raises important questions and introduces some fresh ideas into the debate over wages.

    Hamster Thrown From Remote-Control Monster Truck

    From this week's The Onion.

    Tuesday, July 05, 2005

    Now That's Just Childish

    A man in Plattsmouth, Nebraska, represented by the Nebraksa ACLU, had filed a suit in 2001 challenging the placement of a statue of the Ten Commandments in a Plattsmouth city park. Concerned for his security, his lawyer asked that the man be identified as "John Doe," the city attorney did not object, and the case became "ACLU Nebraska and John Doe vs. City of Plattsmouth."

    The Omaha World-Herald felt that it was their journalistic responsibility to reveal not only the man's name, but also his picture and a picture of his license plate. Basically the World-Herald is telling the people of Nebraska to "go egg this guy's car."

    Personally, I think Mr. Doe's suit is, for lack of a better word, frivilous, though I support his right to file it. My inner Republican supports the right of localities to express their cultural and religious heritage (within reason), particularly if these celebrations are not funded by the tax-payer. (The monument in question was provided by the Fraternal Order of Eagles.) But the action taken by the World-Herald is irresponsible and childish. The guy filed a suit about a statue in a park in Plattsmouth, Nebraska; his identity isn't exactly newsworthy, especially if making it known means compromising his safety.

    As an aside, I'm not sure that the Ten Commandments adquately represents the Christian or Jewish faith or ethos; and a statue of the Decalogue is hardly an effective means of evangelism. Moreover, a true faith in God should not be threatened by the removal of a piece of rock.

    Monday, July 04, 2005

    Recommendation: A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby

    I'm only about a third of the way through it, but it could be Hornby's best novel yet.

    Building for the Sake of Building

    The Tennessean reports that another 140 housing units are scheduled to be built in Bellevue, the Nashville suburb where I reside. (This article is in the Bellevue/West Nashville section of the paper and is not available online.) From what I can gather, these homes will be pretty swanky.

    New residential properties have been built in Bellevue constantly since I moved here five years ago. In 2000 much of the drive on Old Hickory Boulevard from Interstate 40 to Highway 70S was wooded. Now it's all condos and townhomes. But thinking back over the half-decade I've lived here, I can't think of a time when housing of any kind in Bellevue was lacking. One might struggle to find the ideal rental home, but apartments, townhomes, condos, and houses for all price ranges have been readily available. And while Bellevue has grown some, people are not exactly flocking to area and fighting over high-demand properties.

    Obviously, someone is profiting from the Bellevue housing market, but I wonder who's losing out. I don't know if apartment complexes are having trouble filling units or if homeowners are struggling to sell their houses when they move. Maybe a housing surplus will bring down prices in a part of town where residential space is currently overpriced; current Bellevue homeowners (like me) would lose out, but Nashville as a whole might benefit. But regardless of the long-term economic ramifications, I miss the trees.

    Saturday, July 02, 2005

    Some History on Bipartisanship and Supreme Court Nominations

    From Think Progress.

    "This Guy Has No Business Being on the Road"

    The triumph I felt as I was nearing the end of my longest bicycle ride ever was compromised by the realization that I had been wearing my helmet backwards. I can only imagine what passing motorists thought.

    Friday, July 01, 2005

    I'm Scared

    Justice Sandra "Swing Vote" O'Connor just announced her retirement. I would guess that the first question on the mind of most casual observers is the status of Roe vs. Wade. I haven't really been a participant in the abortion debate, as I would not place myself in either the pro-life or pro-choice camps. (For the record, I hate the terms "pro-life" and "pro-choice.")

    I am worried, not necessarily about the future of abortion rights, but the future of political discourse in our nation. I forsee some ugly battles in the Senate, a renewed and more passionate debate over judicial filibusters, and some future court decisions that will divide the country. (Of course, much of this would come to pass even if Justice O'Connor weren't to retire. Such is the state of American politics.)

    CNN has a cute little slide show of potential nominees.