Monday, October 31, 2011

Reason #56: Counting

If the reports today about the world population hitting seven billion--only twelve years after six billion--are freaking you out a bit, well, good. But you may only have to freak out about 99.95% as much as you are, because the number everybody's referencing today comes from the UN, whereas the US Census Bureau's official estimate is 28 million lower. That would mean we've still got as much as four months before reaching the dreaded round number.

If that still freaks you out, well, again - that's good. But maybe take a moment and read The Coming Population Crash by Fred Pearce; there's substantial evidence that we may not continue for long on the skyrocketing path of the last hundred years or so.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Reason #55: Enormous Metal Chicks

I wanted very badly to write about the Statue of Liberty for Reason #11.5, but alas - she's French. Now that the old girl is celebrating her 125th birthday, though, I can proudly mention today's Liberty Island naturalization ceremony bringing 125 new citizens into the US. For a ceremony in NYC, though, I wonder how many of those immigrants were from Mexico.

And what do you suppose they told Immigration Applicant #126?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Reason #54: No, You Can't Have Your Leopards Back

Of the fifty-something animals Terry Thompson released on his property last week, there are six still alive - three leopards, an ape, and a bear. And now his widow is trying, unsuccessfully, to get them back.

I understand that the zoo, which has been taking care of them so far, doesn't necessarily have a legal right to them, but if the legal owner of a handgun shoots a bunch of people with it, does his family get the gun back afterward? Legally these animals are evidence now, so the obvious answer is to keep them in little plastic bags in a police station basement.

Side note: while there was a lot of talk last week about how lax Ohio's animal ownership regulations are, it turns out that there actually was a law on the books banning the sale of exotic animals, and Ohio's brilliant governor John Kasich let it expire earlier this year. Damn that big government getting between me and my grizzly bears.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Reason #53: Busting Bunker Busters

Per Rachel Maddow last night (and this article), Tuesday marked the completion of the disassembly of the last existing B53 nuclear bomb. The B53s were all retired from active service (can't imagine what active service for a nuclear bomb would entail) as of 1997, and they've been navigating a tricky disassembly process more or less since then - Tuesday's bomb, for example, took three years to safely deconstruct, which is even more nuts when you discover that it was supposed to take seven years.

One of the reasons it took so long is that the bombs--which I'd remind you were still in active service until 1997--were built so long ago that the original engineers had died.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Reason #52: Good Old-Fashioned Cocaine Farming

Last week, police in Michigan caught 87-year-old farmer Leo Sharp (pictured above) with 229 pounds of cocaine in the bed of his truck - almost $3 million worth. In keeping with my comments yesterday, I would just like to say that if you're north of 85 years old, you should be able to do whatever you damn well want with as many drugs as you damn well please. If anything, it should carry the same penalty as when your dad catches you smoking - he should have to do all that coke himself.

Incidentally, his defense was that he'd been forced to transport it at gunpoint. But c'mon, look at that son of a bitch - nobody's making him do shit.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Reason #51: Welfare for Everybody!

A month or so ago, I came a hair's breadth away from talking about a new law in Florida that requires all welfare applicants to pass a drug test. No one wants people using government assistance to buy drugs, certainly, but it still seemed stupid to me in a sort of indefinable way, and this blog is supposed to be about good things the government is doing, so I let it go.

In retrospect, it's much more clear to me why it's a stupid law, so the news that a federal judge has blocked the law in response to a lawsuit brought on by the ACLU gives me cause to finally bring it up.

First of all, not only has no one proven that implementation of the law actually saves money, but some figures (I would link to something but this was something I saw weeks ago and I forget where) suggest that the cost of implementing that many drug tests--applicants pay the $35/40 fee themselves but are reimbursed if they pass--far outweighs the money saved by denying benefits to the 2% or so who test positive.

Secondly, I know a lot of people hear "ACLU" and want to kill the discussion right there, so I should point out that the suit was brought by an ex-Navy single father who wanted the money so he could finish his degree. What really brought me around on this one wasn't the fiscal questions, it was the notion that this guy shouldn't be allowed to get high once in a while if he wants to.

Maybe weed isn't the best possible use of one's welfare benefits, and maybe there are other people with serious addictions that would genuinely abuse the system given the opportunity, but unless we want to have a conversation about policing all of welfare recipients' spending habits--beer? Movie tickets? Candy bars?--I see no fair reason to single drugs out.

And if it doesn't really save the government money anyway, why even waste our time having the conversation?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Reason #50: They're Electric Cars, For Christ's Sake

In what some are already saying (hoping?) is Solyndra 2.0, the Fisker car company has announced that they will be building their new government-endorsed 100% electric cars at a factory in Finland, because they were unable to locate a suitable facility in the United States.

The problem, aside from the fact that this is normally business as usual, is that the aforementioned government endorsement came in the form of a $529 million federal loan - specifically designed to spur green manufacturing jobs in the US.

While yes, it would be nice if the cars were being made here, and yes, it makes Joe Biden look dumb for having touted Fisker as the potential source of thousands of new jobs, what bugs me about this is the implication that if an electric car company can't promise thousands of new American jobs, well - fuck 'em.

The bigger picture here (disregarding entirely the issue of climate change and electric cars' potential benefit thereto) is that manufacturing as a whole is moving inexorably to other parts of the world. Maybe if Congress didn't quake with existential horror at the thought of even discussing new infrastructure spending, we could get some more appealing factories up in this bitch, but as it is, you can't really blame companies for building their crap elsewhere.

Well, you can blame them, I suppose, but you certainly can't seem to stop them.

The dirty unspoken truth of the whole outsourcing argument, as I see it, is that sometimes other countries actually deserve to take our jobs. Gen-u-wine electric (pronounced eeee-lectric) cars are something that seemed like a pipe dream not too long ago, and the more people are making them, the cheaper and more prevalent they'll get, and the cheaper they get, the easier they'll be to make, and eventually the huge car companies that still do manufacture here (there are still some, right?) will get the message and make the switch to electrics themselves, at which point everybody will have won.

Well, except maybe Obama.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Reason #49: Someone's Got To Alphabetize All These Corpses

As I don't really keep tabs on such things, I was unaware until today that the terms of Lindsey Lohan's current stint of probation are to work at least two eight-hour shifts a week at the county morgue.

Yeah, I can't really top that.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Reason #48: Private Tigers

So apparently there was a guy in Ohio with his own private wildlife preserve. Despite having been on the loval sheriff's radar for years, there are almost no federal laws regarding the private ownership of exotic animals, and state-by-state laws can be vague and inconsistent, so they hadn't managed to do much about it. He did manage once to get sentenced to a year in prison, but--and this is where the picture starts to fill in nicely--it was for possession of unregistered firearms.

He just got out of prison about a month ago, and sometime yesterday, he released his animals (all 51 species of them, including cheetahs, giraffes, and eighteen fucking tigers! I've never even been to a zoo with eighteen tigers) and promptly shot himself.

As much as my gut reaction to this story is to laugh at the guy for being a moron, and at the notion of tigers and giraffes invading downtown Columbus, it's actually pretty messed up when you consider that police had to shoot the vast majority of the animals rather than risk them getting into populated areas.

According to this article, Ohio has some of the nation's weakest exotic pet restrictions, and therefore, some of the worst animal-related fatality numbers, because really, what else do you expect eighteen tigers (and seventeen lions!) to do when forced to live on some shitkicker's farm in rural Ohio? Maybe it's time for (gasp) more federal laws? They could call it the "No, You Can't Have a Goddamned Tiger" Act of 2011.

Side note - I apologize for the sucky photo at the top of this entry, but it was the least graphic one I could find related to this story.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Reason #47: Soldier Bling

Wouldn't you know it - they end Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and a month or so later, they're letting 'em wear jewelry!

Apparently wearing bracelets commemorating friends who've been killed in action is a pretty widespread practice in the Marine Corps - so widespread, in fact, that the Corps naturally had no choice but to ban them outright because of their negative impact on, and I'm quoting here, "standardization and uniformity".

While this is a totally reasonable notion and is in no way a microcosm of everything I object to about the armed forces, Commandant Gen. Jim Amos has now decided to allow the bracelets after all. Whether this means the terrorists have finally won remains to be seen.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Reason #46: The Reverse Perry

HB 56, Alabama's papers-please bill, has met with a lot of skepticism regarding its constitutionality (see Reason #9) and enforceability. Now, upon appeal by the Justice Department, an injunction has been issued against the implementation of its harshest provision, which would've required public schools to look into the immigration status of their students (amusingly kind of a reverse of Rick Perry's position) - because if you're gonna be here anyway, you should be educated as little as possible.

Other provisions still officially on the books:

- any contractual agreement an American citizen knowingly enters into with an illegal immigrant in invalid and unenforceable. Therefore giving employers more cause to screw over any illegals they are paying.

- an illegal immigrant who attempts to obtain a legal driver's license is now committing a felony. Because if you're gonna drive anyway, there should be as little oversight as possible.

- if police catch you driving without a license, they must bring you immediately to the nearest magistrate and you cannot be released from custody until it is proven you're here legally.

Interestingly, while several states have now passed papers-please laws or some sort, every one of them has been blocked at least partially upon federal appeal. So there's that.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Reason #45: Flying Garbage Cans

I've established already my very conflicted feelings about the Occupy Wall Street movement. In light of their increasing prominence, and a new clash with NYPD this morning, some random thoughts:

- The cover story in TIME this week is comparing them to the Tea Party - but, y'know, in a good way. While slightly horrifying in a sense, this is a much better comparison than Tahrir Square, which some of the protesters seem to prefer.

- The impetus of today's skirmish was the news that the owners of Zuccotti Park, where they've been camping out all this time, was not going to try and force everybody out in order to clean the park (which they had viewed as a plan to get rid of them completely). This resulted in a large celebration, which of course (?) resulted in a police crackdown, which resulted in protesters getting hurt by police scooters and police getting hurt by thrown bottles, and at least once, a garbage can.

- There is no acceptable reason for throwing shit at cops, unless they are preparing to literally open fire on you (and in that case bottles proabably wouldn't accomplish much). It just pisses them off more, and makes you look like dipshit anarchists who deserve to be arrested, which those particular people probably were.

- I'm not entirely sure what the "National Lawyer's Guild" is, but if you're going to run somebody over with your scooter, it probably shouldn't be one of them.

- Not wanting to get muscled out is understandable, but let's be honest, guys - that park probably smells like rotting hippie and you should let them clean it.

- While we're being honest - is it me, or does the guy in that photo look a little bit turned on?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Reason #44: Discretion, Valor, Etc.

Seattle-based superhero Phoenix Jones was arrested over the weekend while intervening in an alleged street fight. He posted bail after about seven hours behind bars, and after showing up for his court hearing today in costume, prosecutors amazingly declined to file charges against him - for now, at least.

The first thing I want to say is, where does a dude with this kind of time get $3800 bail money that fast? The second thing I want to say is that I absolutely love the fact that he showed up to court in costume, took his mask off for the court proceedings, then put it back on, just so he could go out and unmask more dramatically in front of the press outside.

Also, his power is apparently the ability to fit a huge-ass high top under a skin-tight cowl.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Reason #43: Downblending

Per Rachel Maddow last night - the US National Nuclear Security Administration, whom I had never heard of, has just completed a top-secret 7-week project to, um, de-enrich 72 pounds of heretofore-highly-enriched uranium.

In other words, a bunch of nuclear material that had previously been weapons-grade has been rendered unusable for weaponry ("downblended"), and will now be distributed to small children shipped out of the country for use in various research capacities that I probably wouldn't understand, but which probably involve giant Communist super-robots.

Despite being conducted completely under the radar, the operation was, impressively, a joint effort between the NNSA, the government of Kazakhstan, which has loads of the stuff just lying around, and the IAEA, which is fun to pronounce phonetically.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reason #42: The Soup Nazi Is Through Fucking Around

In news that seems to have broken all of four seconds ago, the FBI and DEA are said to have foiled a plot by an Iranian-American named Manssor Arbabsiar to assassinate the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the US, and/or bomb the Saudi embassies here (and in Buenos Aires for some reason).

He claims to be working on behalf of high-ranking Iranian officials, which of course means people will be breathing pretty heavily down Ahmadinejad's neck for a while, but would he really give his bosses up that easily? If I was an Iranian spymaster setting up terrorist acts on American soil, I'd make damn sure they couldn't be traced back to me - or the government at all.

Am I wrong?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Reason #41: Til 2013 Do You Part


Sadly, I can't credit this one to the US government, but it was too cool to pass up - officials in Mexico City have proposed the development of marriage licenses with a two-year expiration date.

Which is to say, the terms of a theoretical future separation are built into the initial marriage contract, so if after two years it's decided that things aren't working out, no messy divorce to drag on for months and further alienate the couples involved. If things are still hunky-dory after two years, then you just renew it - no muss, no fuss.

I think this is a brilliant idea.

It's cynical, perhaps, but so is any sort of prenuptial agreement whatsoever, and nobody is arguing against those. This just streamlines things and saves a lot of time, acrimony, and lawyer's fees. Like gay marriage if it were legal, it would only be a bureaucratic recognition of the societal reality we're already living in, without doing a shred of damage to any happy long-term couples.

And not only would it be good for the court system by eliminating a lot of legal mess, but damping the commitment pressure associated with marriage might actually encourage more of them in the short term - and nothing boosts consumer spending like a shit-ton of weddings.

Which, now that I think about it, is another good argument for gay marriage, as well.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Reason #40: Unintentional Reverse Psychology

In keeping with #46 - another way to make me feel more sympathetic toward protests like Occupy Wall Street is for prominent Republicans like Eric Cantor to go around calling them "mobs", and suggesting they're acting at the behest of Obama.

Oh, and Mitt Romney using the "class warfare" criticism against not just Democrats generally, but the protesters specifically. Yeah, you're definitely going places with that argument, Mitt.

Speaking as someone who has a lot of trouble taking "mass" demonstrations in America seriously - if you're trying to diminish their influence, the best thing to do is treat them as silly and irrelevant. Taking them seriously is the same as taking their complaints seriously, and that's the last thing a conservative Republican should want to do right now.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Reason #39: Broadband

The Department of Agriculture is currently offering $103 million worth of grants for bringing broadband internet access to rural areas around the country. My first reaction was "what the fuck do farmers care whether they've got high-speed internet?", but upon further research, it's apparently strongly desired - among actual farmers and ranchers, too, not just in rural residential areas.

And lest the USDA seem half-hearted, the grants (which require matching private contributions) are coming along with almost $300 million in more straightforward "Telecommunications Infrastructure" loans.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Reason #38: Taking a Bullet

Michelle Obama visited Secret Service headquarters today, just to say thanks and dip her toes slightly into their specific efforts to keep the first family safe - turns out she's happier not knowing anything beyond "where to run". She also joked about how they fight over who gets which agents from day to day.

If Obama gets a second term, the kids will be 15 and 18 by the time they leave the White House - imagine being the first high school kid to try and ask one of them out.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reason #37: Other People's DNA

I swear; I could make a daily blog dealing with nothing but Texas felony convictions.

This one was going to be about DNA evidence finally freeing 57-year-old Michael Morton after serving 25 years of a life sentence for the murder of his wife (which prosecutors claimed was the result of her refusing to have sex with him on his birthday), but then I sat down and did the math - the murder occurred in 1986, and Morton's been in jail for 25 years. Now I'm mostly just impressed that the American justice system actually managed to prosecute somebody within a year of the crime.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Reason #36: Pepper Spray

While I'm generally on (or near) the same page as big liberal protests like this current "Occupy Wall Street" business, I tend to roll my eyes at the demonstrations themselves, whose messages always seem to get mired in random hippie bullshit and anticapitalist gibberish. And if they can't win a sympathetic ear from a Commie socialist like me, I can only imagine what the mainstream American public thinks of them.

So kudos to the New York City cops who made a big show of citing and arresting literally hundreds of them the other day - because nothing draws media attention, and public sympathy, to events like this better than perceived governmental overreaction. Here's hoping the protesters can keep their act together now that people are paying a little more attention.