Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Heads Up, incoming

As an American I can’t help but be thrilled, as I am sure you are, by Lance Armstrong’s incredible win, for the seventh straight time, of some French contest or game or something, in their Frenchy country. But, I wonder, is that news I can use? Or not?

What the heck is news we can use, anyway? This is supposed to be a community newspaper. But what is community news, anyway? Is it just news that happens around here, in the local community? Is it news that makes our community feel good, like the Lance thing? Or is it news that tells us something that we can really use, such as an announcement of “heads up, incoming?”

I say it’s the “heads up, incoming” thing. Let’s take an example. About two weeks ago some terrorists set off three bombs in London, a city in another one of those unpatriotic countries where they don’t recite our Pledge of Allegiance. In fact it’s just above France on the map. Anyway, a week later, on account of those bombings, you had New York police randomly searching the bags of subway users.

Now, I don’t know much about geography. I don’t know the price of tea in China, now that their currency is no longer pegged to the dollar. I don’t know how much wool they mine in Australia, or whether or not they use modern synthetics instead. I’m a good American, so I prefer to mind my own business. But I can look at page 5 of my Funk & Wagnall’s Hammond World Atlas, as I’m doing right now, and I can tell you that Seattle is only an inch from New York, while New York is a whole inch and a half, about, from London!

What that tells us is this: the effects of three London bombings were able to travel, uh, three-fifths of the way here in just one week. So: Heads up! Incoming! You’re only two London bombs away from random searches of your own! Run and hide!

Let’s take a related example. Since the bombings the London police have taken to wearing all black, going around like ninjas, carrying guns, and shooting foreign looking guys who run away from guys that look like ninjas with guns. I would like to say it can’t happen here, but, HOLY-MOLY, our cops ALREADY carry guns, so ANYTHING could push them over the edge! Heads up! Incoming!

If you don’t believe me you should watch your local TV news, like Channel Nine and a Half News at Nine and a Half or whatever. Some guy named Greg or Steve will be talking to some woman named Nancy, say, and he’ll say, “So, Nancy, say, is there something the viewers here in Seattle can do to avoid being shot by men who look like ninjas with guns?” And Nancy, who plays the smart one, will say, “Yes there is, Greg or Steve. Experts around the world all agree that if you are confronted by men who look like ninjas and if they appear to have guns, you should NOT look foreign to them, and whatever you do, do NOT run away.” “That’s good to know, Nancy!” “It sure is, Greg or Steve!”

In fact the House of Representatives, a legislative body that often meets 3000 or so miles from here, has just decided it wants to renew the PATRIOT Act for another ten years. That could help pay for those cool all-black ensembles for our local police, not to mention more guns. I’m betting this is important to my homeless or formerly-homeless, mostly foreign looking, poor to middling-poor, already kicked-down & beaten-around community.

And for those of you who don’t look foreign, I want you to look around you at the foreign-looking people and say, out loud, so loud they can hear you, “There but for the Grace of God go I,” because I’m an incorrigible trouble-maker.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Profiles In Irresponsiblity

Let’s NOT talk about horses in Enumclaw!

When my readers speak, I listen. I did a quick reader survey this week and two out of three readers agree that I should never in any column whatsoever discuss non-veterinary procedures involving horses on Enumclaw farms, as to do so may offend. The third reader was a sick bastard. Therefore I’m going to talk about something sure not to offend, namely infant death, imprisonment, and professional misconduct.

What I want to talk about is Sir Roy Meadows and his troubles. This is a story with a moral, having to do with the idea that everyone is entitled to his or her opinions and everyone has a right to be wrong sometimes. Well, sometimes, maybe, but not always! As Sir Roy has recently learned.

Roy Meadows is a British pediatrician whose testimony in British courts has sent several mothers to jail for murdering their infants, based on the idea, known as Meadow’s Law, that “one sudden infant death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder until proved otherwise.” That was in turn justified by his calculation that the odds of SIDS occurring twice in an affluent family were around 73 million to one.

Here’s a law of my own, I call it Browning’s Supposition: any statistic that’s more accurate than the raw data it could be or is supposed to be based upon is bogus on its face. My law tells me for example, that in Star Trek’s “Errand of Mercy,” when Spock says that his and Kirk’s odds of surviving are approximately 7824.7 to one, and I know the Vulcan smart-ass can’t even see around the next corner, I can safely conclude Spock is up to his pointed ears in BS.

Meadow’s calculation is even worse than that. He started with the odds of one case of SIDS occuring in a family and simply squared it to get the odds that it happens twice in the same family. In doing so he tacitly assumed that each non-homicidal instance of sudden infant death was independent of every other such instance.

In fact though, there may be genetic factors, or environmental factors, or innocent childcare practices that could result in SIDS. Meadow’s disregarded all those possibilities.

You’ve probably seen the signs that say, “Back to Sleep.” It’s been shown that putting babies to bed on their backs dramatically reduces incidents of SIDS. That one discovery alone proves that SIDS isn’t wholly random and that there are causes that can run in a family.

Which wouldn’t matter if Meadows’ opinion were just the opinion of a crank doctor who also believed, say, that cows could fly provided only that the air they stepped on could be made hard enough. We would call that quaint, and we’d knight him, and we’d expect him to live like one of those old codgers in every episode of The Avengers, walking around in their mansions in the country sipping tea out of a hose attached to a robot filled periodically by a loving maid, who turns out to be the real villain, so we can see her and Mrs. Peel fight it out at the end.

Meadows ‘expert’ testimony in courtrooms, and his popularized Law, and his bogus calculation of odds were all used to convince juries to convict at least hundreds, perhaps thousands, of parents for the murder of their own children over the last decade. But a lawsuit in Britain that began in 2003, charging him with professional misconduct, has finally concluded that his testimony was false, that he abused his position as a doctor, and he has been banned from practicing medicine in Britain.

Hmm. Reckless expert opinions by crank experts only seeking power and influence, leading to tragic consequences – who might I be really talking about, I wonder? And can I work in an ancient TV reference? We’ll have to find out some other time.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Hold Still, I'm Aiming

This week’s column is dedicated to the cliché “Low-Hanging Fruit” on account of my having heard it used in sentences no less than five times last week, and, since I can’t chew out my own ear drums, I have been driven mad.

When I think of low-hanging fruit I don’t think of easy things I can do to save money for a corporation. We had apple trees in the back yard when I was eight years old, and stupid kids next door, and so when I think of “low-hanging fruit” I think of stupidity and flinging apples at people’s heads. Not that I would do such a thing, but it feels good to think it.

The biggest stupidity of today, one that can’t go unmentioned, is the stupidity of Al Qaeda in Britain. Let’s reflect on this a minute. These guys have attacked Britain by bombing London. They bombed London! Gee, let me think, now, hasn’t someone tried that before, I’m sure I’ve heard of it, maybe I can find it in, I don’t know, a BOOK somewhere. Oh, yes, here’s this book that says if you bomb London, the first time they say, “Pardon?” It says the second time you bomb them they tell a cutting joke about you that you can’t get because you’re not smart enough. Then the third time you bomb them it makes them angry. So my first apple is for the Al Qaeda cells in Britain who claimed responsibility for last Thursday’s bombings. Stupids!

My second apple is for the members of the city council of Atlanta, Georgia, who are giving serious consideration to a plan to rid downtown Atlanta of panhandlers with a law that states that their presence “contributes to negative perceptions” of Atlanta. That’s right, I’m supposed to think badly of Atlanta if they have panhandlers, like every other city in America or the world, but if they chase their panhandlers down, lock them up, beat them, or send them to someone else’s city I’m supposed to think Atlanta is heaven on Earth.

I can hear the tourists now. “Why look, Martha, this city’s got no poor people! I wonder how they do that?” “Probably it’s because everybody who lives here gets a big cash Christmas present from Ted Turner himself, every year! I’ll bet it’s as much as a thousand dollars!” “You’re probably right, Martha! Hey, let’s sell the farm and move here so we can enjoy the fabulous wealth that oozes up out of the streets in Atlanta!” “Let’s!”

The rest of my apples, for this week, are mushy rotten apples up-side the head for every single local government out there that has instituted or is planning to institute a massive plan to house homeless people without taking the shortage of housing that causes homelessness into account as part of the plan.

It always happens like this: a city official says “Our city can solve homelessness. We will first put the homeless into housing, paying their rent for them to start with. Then we will treat any addictions they have, give them needed training, and they will get jobs, and they will be able to start paying their own way.”

And every time it goes wrong exactly the same way: the affordable housing (what the government is able to bear the cost of) doesn’t exist. One stupid government after another installs these liberal sounding compassionate programs, and one stupid government after another finds out that even a city government can’t find the cheap housing that the homeless people couldn’t find. Because it isn’t there to be found! That’s why so many were homeless, stupids! Have an apple!

Disclaimer: no actual apples were thrown during the writing of this column. The author has in fact never smacked anyone at all with a rotten apple, even including Johnny No Brain and his sister, What’s-Her-Name No Brain, and his half-brother, Big Lips Little Brain, 48 years ago, no matter what they say. Besides, they started it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

Talk Is Free

Gee, I don’t mention a certain Supreme Court justice once for almost ten years here. Then when I finally bring her name up and make one little paragraph of cracks about her, she resigns. Maybe I should have made fun of Scalia or Thomas instead.

The good news: her resignation is only effective upon the nomination and confirmation of her replacement, so we won’t have to make do with just eight justices for the duration of the filibusters. If all goes as expected, the filibusters should end in time for Jeb’s swearing in as the new Caesar.

Speaking of Jeb Bush’s future, I am one so-called liberal who is ready to back the repeal of the 22nd Amendment and end term limits for presidents. It just makes good democratic sense. We won’t be able to pass and ratify the repeal (which by the way was initially proposed by a Democrat, Steny Hoyer, the House Minority Whip) in time to keep George president another four years. But we’ll have it ready for Jeb.

Here’s my thinking on this. What sense does it make to pervert the American will by, every eight years, forcing the people to find a new Bush family member to elect, when all they want is the one they have at the moment? Why make America go to all the trouble of getting used to a new style of sneering and winking, when we have a perfectly serviceable Bush already in place, with all the sycophants he requires, and a fashion of arrogance a majority of us can already get behind? What with the resignation of Sandra Day O’Connor we’re screwed anyway. Why not stick to the one assailant you know? Why ask for a serial gangbang?

While I’m on a roll taking up conservative-looking positions, allow me to offer reasons to support the proposed Anti-Flag-Burning Amendment.

First of all, freedom of speech is vastly overrated. I distinctly remember, for example, using my own freedom of speech to point out that a war on Iraq would be illegal, immoral, and ill advised. Maybe I wasn’t as clear about it as I could have been, but I wasn’t the only one saying it at the time, and some of the others were clear as a bell. But the American people went right ahead and supported the invasion anyway.

Be honest. When was the last time you persuaded a conservative to renounce his convictions and convert to your Blue State ways, with your hippie flag-burning Liberal rhetoric? Have you ever burned a flag in front of a conservative and heard him say, “Well, now that you put it that way, I find myself opening up to the Marxist critique of capitalist power and its role in history, although I am not ready to accept all of his conclusions, leaning as I am to a more democratic approach, similar to that favored by modern European socialists for example?” It just doesn’t happen.

Also, some of you may recall that the whole notion of the flag being a sacred icon arose in the forties when the Jehovah’s Witnesses sued for the right not to be compelled to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, on the grounds that it amounted to making them worship the idol of a state religion. Well, they were right then, and they’re right now. And a state religion is just what we need now to make this country the world empire the majority of its voters dream of living in.

Again, why should the people be denied their dream? That’s not the American Way. The American Way is to let the majority of Americans coerce the rest of us to worship the little pieces of cloth and the little emperor who draws His Glorious Power from them.
In the future I plan to present arguments for criminalizing A) the granting of non-Christian names to newborns, B) consuming generic packaged foods, and C) humming in public without a license.