Is the writer of this tweet willing to concede that religion is nothing but a tool?

Take a look at this Twitter post.

AdolfJoeBiden TweetThe writer here — AdolfJoeBiden — is mocking Obama, supposedly on his position for limited control of firearms in the United States.  Implied here is the argument that we should hold people responsible, and not blame guns, which are strangely innocent in the gun control debate, for the harm they cause.  But to make this smug observation, the writer has to take contradictory positions.  Let me explain.

AdolfJoeBiden clearly disagrees with Obama not holding Islam responsible for terrorism.  Perhaps Obama is straining too hard to distance himself from drawing a parallel between Islam and terrorism.  Let’s face it, the terrorists identify with Islam.  ISIS (or ISIL) declares itself an “Islamic State”, an Islamic caliphate.  So it isn’t true that there is no connection.  There clearly is.

But do we really think Obama is saying there is no connection?  For politically and socially pragmatic reasons, he isn’t even going there.  Instead he is saying something very different.  He is saying “no religion is responsible.”  He has not said terrorists are not acting in the name of Islam.  They are, and these are very different points.

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Do We Have a Useful Free Rider Experiment Here?

100113mmattMAGWhen a public program is proposed such as free mass transit or free medical care, the idea gets attention, for both good and bad reasons.  Some people get optimistic, some get alarmed.  There will be arguments for and against, of course, but at the core of these opposing positions is something like a free rider problem.  The opposing sides will have different perspectives.  Does the proposal get enough support on the one hand and does it deserve support on the other, for example.

A true free rider problem comes along when people are voluntarily asked to pay for something like a public good, park admission, perhaps.  It is presumed that enough will pay to support the park, but if everyone volunteers not to pay, then the project fails.  Again, you will have different views on this.  Some will fine if some people do not — or cannot — pay, others will see this as an injustice or an abuse.

People tend to be petty — some more than others — when they believe someone else might be getting something free for which they have to pay.  People who primarily drive on highways lament subsidies for mass transit.  People who ride buses complain about the priorities for roads.  Never mind that smart investment in both roads and transit have beneficial externalities that serve both.

There is an ethic, especially in the United States, that you should earn and pay your way.  Even in matters of life and death such as health insurance, there are millions of people unwilling to support even the most basic health care subsidies for people who need them.  I think that is the dark side of our nation that people like to believe is based on so-called Christian values, but that’s a different discussion.  That is a moral argument.

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Gun, Violence, and Rape or Gun Violence and Rape? There’s a Difference

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

Much has been said and written about a recent story in the New York Times that describes a trend among gun rights advocates to use defense against sexual assault as a reason for legalizing gun possession on college campuses.  Obviously some people support it — it is being proposed by state political leaders, after all — and some people don’t support it.  For my part, I think the proposition at best is obviously naïve.  But even if you find yourself in agreement with these pro-gun arguments, there’s something about it that is chilling.

Let’s take a look at just one supporter’s rationale.

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“Hail to the Chief” Cures Earworms!

Hail to the Chief

Who knew there were words?

Yeah, I know…You expect bright and pithy things from me here.  And I try.  So let’s take a break from all of that and address something you can put to good use now, and I mean right now, especially if you presently have an earworm coursing though your bright and pithy brain.

An earworm — for those of you who unbelievably don’t know — is a piece of music that repeats endlessly in one’s brain.  It is an ironic sort of nuisance.  It is silent, but still plainly “audible” as it torments in its seemingly never ending loop.

For me, Todd Rundgren songs invoke the curse.  Quirky, sappy Todd Rundgren — the guy that sings (endlessly, in my case) about unrequited love and the desire to “just be friends” — gets stuck in a place in my head where it won’t let go.  Over and over and over and over…

It could drive you to the VFW karaoke stage if you’re no careful.  (And it has.  Regrettably.)

The cure?  Hail to the Chief!

It works 100% of the time, every time and all the time.  You have a little too much Boy George swaying in your dreams, maybe more than you can handle from Abba?  Hum a few bars of Hail to the Chief.  It works!

And it is fun, too.  You can pretend the music is being played for you.  I picture myself in double-breasted suit, straw hat, and a cigar burning to stub.  “And now, ladies and gentleman, the President of the United States!” and I rise up on the stage, waving and thanking my way to the podium.  I also imagine marching high school bands, too — that’s always something fun to do even if you don’t have an earworm — although I’m not sure it is proper for the music to be played anywhere other than official Presidential appearances.  Ho hum.  You don’t have to worry about that.  You are trying to eradicate an earworm!  And that isn’t yet a Federal crime.  (Right?)

I have tested this cure more than once.  I have intentionally played a Todd Rundgren hit, let the music sink in and fester, then when I have had enough I simply drum out four trumpet “ruffles and flourishes” — I have put a link here — and hum the march or melody or whatever it is.

As a matter of fact, I just played “Hello, It’s Me” …just now, really…and squelched the redundant tendencies that song has on me with only a few a bars of “Hail to the Chief.”  It is that effective.

Try it.  It might save your sanity and you are welcome.

Tacky Here, Tacky There…Tacky, Tacky Everywhere

Minnesota State Capitol

Abandon All Hope, All Who Enter Here.

A friend who serves in the Minnesota State Senate posted “Made a little headway today…” on her Facebook feed.  Was she commenting on legislation to fund schools, build roads, reform cockeyed tax codes?  Nope.  She’s commenting on fighting against Governor Mark Dayton‘s decision to bring the salaries of his state commissioners inline with comparable work elsewhere in politics.  (Never mind the private sector.)

Minnesota commissioners are poorly compensated as measured against similar positions in other states.  They are underpaid compared with other public officials in Minnesota.  (Meanwhile, rumor is our highest paid public official — a football coach — is likely getting another raise this year.  Oh, and our largest public infrastructure investment — a football stadium — is over budget, now officially over $1 billion.)  So when someone finally has the backbone to do something about a pay increase for public commissioners — god knows no other politician has the guts to do it — the flimsy politicians go nuts.

To watch their self-serving head shaking and feigned concern for the public good disgusts me.  But, alas, this has become the cool thing to do.  Complain, whine, and repeat.  If it involves a government paycheck, it is couched as “your money” being abused.  Poppycock.  What’s being abused is the decency of public service.  If elected officials really cared about “your money”, they would be doing something about investing it so you got something in return from your government.

Instead…well, we know the routine…cut here, blame this, delay that…and back again to complain, whine, and repeat.  Right?  Right.

Where’s the pride?  Seriously.  Haven’t we any ideas or any goals that go beyond tacky battles over whether someone is worth a salary they deserve?

Mark Dayton is showing some energy and style in contrast to the pouty slog of petulance that’s come to define public service.  He’s got guts.  People don’t like guts.  Public officials are supposed to whimper and hide from issues.  They’re supposed to pretend that government is out of control and nothing can be done about it other than complain and whine.  (And repeat.)  Complain enough — the “strategy” goes — and people will toss up their arms and forgive leaders for doing little if anything.  After all, what can be done, right?  Government is a free-for-all wheeling out of control!  Government!  Freeloaders!  Lazy government freeloaders…hijacking your freedom, ruining your life, endangering your future!  A raise?  For those people?  God, please!  No!

So fighting the petty fight — being tacky — somehow equates with “making headway.”  That’s pathetic.

Go do something.  Go get something done.  Please.

Biofuel Absurdity

Ethanol PlantWorld Resources Institute, an environmental think tank, published a report this month showing the inefficiencies of biofuel use and production.  The report focuses largely on land use trade offs and cautions against the negative impacts that has on food production.  However living in Minnesota — where ethanol is popular with farmers, rural communities, and politicians of nearly every stripe — biofuels have always struck me as absurd from the get-go.  Land use is one consideration, but what about the science and simple economics of biofuel production?

I found the World Resources Institute report in a story published today in the New York Times, but this sort of critical assessment of biofuels is hardly breaking news.  Other reports generally raise similar concerns about the trade offs between dedicating land for food versus land for fuel.

I agree with these concerns, however I see another issue, something you might call a political ethanol boondoggle.  Perhaps the entire is idea is flawed from an economic and environmental as well as a policy issue.  Ethanol is hailed as a green energy solution, a viable industry that will help ease our dependence on expensive, dirty fossil fuels.  But what if it isn’t any of that?

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