Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Archive for July, 2009

Quote of the Week

Posted by sanityinjection on July 29, 2009

“I think we need more adult supervision in Congress.” – Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), “Blue Dog” Democrat

Cooper’s quote is an open shot at the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives, which he feels has done more to harm the goals of the Obama Administration than to help them.

http://www.thetakeaway.org/stories/2009/jul/29/agenda-health-care/

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Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Singers wanted, talent not required

Posted by sanityinjection on July 29, 2009

Have you ever been listening to a singer on the radio and heard something that didn’t sound quite natural? As if, instead of singing a different note, the pitch of the note had been artificially changed by a computer?

If so, you’re not hearing things. You’re hearing something that has become widespread in the music industry over the last ten years, a piece of technology called “Auto-Tune”. It’s a piece of equipment that can digitally correct a singer’s pitch in real time – allowing its use during live performances as well as in the studio.

Depending on how it is used, the effect can be very obvious or subtle. Recall Cher’s 1998 hit “Believe”, in which the technology is used very notably as a special effect on Cher’s voice during the verses. It was also prominent in the Janet Jackson song, “All For You”. When used in this way, Auto-Tune is really no different than Peter Frampton’s vocoder or other special effects used in modern music.

However, it’s not always as obvious that legions of pop, country and other artists routinely use Auto-Tune to fix their vocal mistakes. A careful listener can hear it in songs by artists such as Avril Lavigne and Taylor Swift, and major country stars like Faith Hill and Tim McGraw have used it in performance.

This is troubling because it threatens to eliminate the need for a singer to stay on pitch at all. All of the above mentioned artists are talented and can certainly carry a tune without requiring artificial help.  But it would be easy for a studio to sign some pretty face with no pitch at all and Auto-Tune them into a recording star. In fact, I’d be willing to bet it’s already happened and continues to happen. (Britney Spears is one of my prime suspects.) Certainly the idea has been around for decades – remember the Brady Bunch episode where Greg becomes a pop singer only to find that the secret of his success is that he “fit the suit”? And let’s not forget Milli Vanilli.

One need only look at the massive popularity of American Idol to understand the appeal of authenticity in vocal performance. A pitch wobble in the studio should be fixed by having the singer redo the track; a pitch break in performance reminds the audience that they are witnessing a real live performance, as well as proving the artist isn’t lip-synching. Auto-Tune as a toy for special effects is fine, but as a sneaky way of compensating for a singer’s flaws, it’s essentially pulling a fast one on the public.

Some artists have spoken out against the use of Auto-Tune, including Vince Gill, Death Cab for Cutie and Jay-Z. Hopefully the waning power of major record labels and the increase in independent and self-published music will help to discourage its use.

Posted in Current Events | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 9 Comments »

Another bad idea: Tax junk food and soda

Posted by sanityinjection on July 28, 2009

“If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street, / If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat, / If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet. ” – George Harrison, “Taxman”, The Beatles’  Revolver, 1966

“I’d like to teach the world to sing / In perfect harmony

I’d like to buy the world a Coke / But the tax is too high for me.”

-adapted from “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”, from the Coca-Cola “Hilltop” TV ad, 1971

In the context of the current debate over health care and how to pay for it, something sneaky is going on. First, a number of media outlets reported that obesity-related conditions account for a significant percentage of health care expenditures, with figures such as $147 billion and 9% of overall health spending thrown about. Then today, two major media outlets – CBS News and the LA Times – both “coincidentally” published blog entries on paying for health care by taxing items that cause obesity – sugary sodas and fattening foods, respectively. If you think it’s a coincidence that this drum is only being beaten after the attempt to soak the rich to pay for ObamaCare backfired, think again. The focus is now being turned from one group it’s OK to hate – the rich – to the only other one – the fat. (Disclosure: Sanity Injection is personally about 17 pounds overweight.)

To be sure, the media isn’t the prime mover behind this conspiracy, just a happy helper. The “data” is coming from think tanks and government agencies that are part of the ObamaCare advocacy team. The logic works like this: Evil junk food makes people fat, and fat people cost everybody money. So we should tax junk food, which will raise money to pay for fat people’s health care while also encouraging people to eat healthier and thus lose weight.

Anybody see a flaw here? How about this: Fat people aren’t fat just because they eat sugary or fatty foods. They’re fat because of their overall lifestyle, which includes diet and (lack of) exercise. Some have other medical conditions that contribute to obesity. So let’s say the tax works and everybody stops eating  junk food. No major revenue stream is generated, but fat people are still fat and we still have to pay for them. Alternatively, the tax doesn’t work and people still eat unhealthy foods, so a bunch of money is raised. How much do you want to bet that money gets raided by the government to pay for other things besides health care? Meanwhile the fat people have less of their income they can save to help pay for their own care.

Those are economic arguments, but how about the philosophical arguments? Is everyone who drinks a Coke contributing to obesity? Arguably not, if you’re eating healthy and getting exercise. Yet you’ll still have to pay the punitive tax. More fundamentally, what right does the government have to tax you in order to get you to live your life the way *they* want you to? If we believe that the obese should bear the responsbility for their extra health care expenses, then charge them higher premiums, or offer them lesser coverage due to their pre-existing condition. That’s the free market solution. Instead, the Democrats’ health care bill would force insurers to not only cover pre-existing conditions but at the same premium paid by healthy people!  And so the serpent of Leftism continues to gnaw on its own tail, planning an economy that is in inherent contradiction with itself and telling us all that it will work.

If this all sounds familiar, it should: we’ve been through the same nonsense with cigarette taxes. In fact, you could replace the words “fat people” and “obesity” with “smokers” and “smoking” above without any further alterations necessary. The result is a regressive tax that hits the poor hardest – precisely what the Left always says they don’t want.

Frankly, I am sick and tired of the search for scapegoats to blame America’s health care problems on and punish them with targeted taxes. With apologies to Martin Niemoller:

When they came for the smokers, I did not speak out, because I was not a smoker.

When they came for the rich, I did not speak out, because I was not rich.

When they came for the fatties, I did not speak out, because I was not a fatty.

When they came for me, there was no one left to speak for me.”

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Redistricting reform is long overdue

Posted by sanityinjection on July 24, 2009

Continuing my series on Democrats with common sense and good ideas, meet Congressman John Tanner (D-Tennessee). For the third time, Rep. Tanner has filed legislation to change the way Congressional districts are drawn, taking the power away from partisan state legislatures and giving it to independent bipartisan commissions.

Every ten years after the national census is held, Congressional districts must be redrawn to reflect population shifts. (This also happens for state legislative districts.) However, through a process called “gerrymandering” (after Vice President and Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry), state legislatures design the districts so as to protect the party in power, often creating bizarrely shaped districts grouping communities that have little in common. Often race has been an issue, with legislatures being sued by those who claim that the gerrymandered districts are designed to benefit or harm voters of one race or another, causing courts to throw out some states’ redistricting plans.

More broadly, what gerrymandering does is protect incumbents by ensuring that their districts contain as many supporters from their party or demographic group as possible. This makes it harder for newcomers to challenge a sitting Congressman, on top of the advantages incumbents usually enjoy in fundraising and media coverage. Tanner also argues that, by creating “safe” Republican or Democrat districts, gerrymandering benefits candidates who appeal to partisan extremes rather than to the center – contributing to the sense of increased partisan antipathy in the House of Representatives (The Senate has always been less partisan and this is one reason why.)

Rep. Tanner’s proposal would require the legislatures to nominate independent commissions with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats. The commissions would then redraw the maps, but would be prohibited from taking politics into account in doing so. Unfortunately, Tanner’s bill probably stands a zero chance of passage because so many of the people who will vote on it depend on their gerrymandered districts for re-election. That’s too bad, because it’s a common sense reform and one that is long overdue.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Atheists demand a God-free Capitol visitors center

Posted by sanityinjection on July 23, 2009

I was thinking about posting on this but The Future American beat me to it:

http://thefutureamerican.wordpress.com/2009/07/15/atheist-groups-lawsuits/

It’s amusing when we must rely on our Canadian friends like this blogger for some perspective on separation of church and state in America. But as she seems to understand, America was founded on the principle of freedom *of* religion, not freedom *from* religion. On the other hand, it does not strike me as an injustice if the Capitol visitors’ center doesn’t happen to mention God, either. Both sides are playing games here. If the Capitol architect is really clever, he’ll sell McDonald’s the right to cover the place with advertising and welcome visitors to the “McCapitol Visitor’s Center”. Both sides will be so outraged that they’ll forget all about the God issue 🙂

Posted in Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Severed head opportunity for politically correct historical rewrite

Posted by sanityinjection on July 23, 2009

This is an odd and interesting story and a good example of how PC nonsense is nowadays accepted at face value, even when it’s historically false.

Our story begins with a Dutch author named Arthur Japin. Mr. Japin was working on a historical novel and happened to pay a visit to Leiden University in 2008. While there, he discovered something unusual in the university medical center’s anatomical collection: a severed human head in a jar of formaldehyde. Even more interesting, the head was that of a black man. It turned out that the head belonged to Badu Bonsu II, chieftain of the Ahanta tribe in what is now Ghana. Bonsu was decapitated in 1838 by a Dutch officer, Major General Jan Verveer.

When the discovery was announced, the Dutch government was very embarrassed. The Dutch, you see, had been in Ghana as missionaries, traders, and colonists, but also very significantly as slave traders, and Bonsu’s head was a stark reminder of  a part of Dutch history that modern Netherlanders are not proud of. On behalf of the modern members of the Ahanta tribe, the government of Ghana demanded the return of Bonsu’s head, and the Dutch government agreed. So Ghana sent elders of the Ahanta tribe to the Netherlands to bring the head back. There was a formal handing-over ceremony between Dutch officials and the Ahantas.

Nothing wrong with any of that. So far, so good. But here is where it starts to get silly.

You see, the Ahanta take the position that the beheading of Badu Bonsu was a terrible injustice. And the Dutch government seemed to accept that position, further casting the incident in the context of the Dutch slave trade and using the occasion to fall all over itself to apologize for slavery, Bonsu’s killing, and for just generally existing. The Ghanaians are now asking the Dutch to atone for their misdeeds by building schools and hospitals for the Ahanta.

What’s wrong with that, you may ask? Well, lemme ‘splain.

There is certainly nothing wrong with the Ahanta leaders being sad, angry, and embarrassed by the violent death of their ancestor. Nor is there anything wrong with the Dutch nation regretting the role it played in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, one of the most vile and atrocious institutions in the history of mankind.

But as usual, political correctness whitewashes the considerable moral complexity of historical fact. Consider these facts:

1. Slavery was a traditional practice of black tribes in Africa before the Dutch ever got there.

2. It is documented that the Ahanta chiefs sold African tribesmen captured in war as slaves to Europeans.

3. By 1838, when Bonsu was killed, the slave trade had dwindled to the point that many Dutch in Ghana were there as colonists, not slave traders.

4. The Dutch had sent two emissaries to Badu Bonsu, who had them executed and their heads displayed as trophies. Bonsu’s own killing by Verveer was in retaliation for this act.

Armed with these facts, we can conclude that Bonsu’s killing was not a one-sided atrocity committed by evil Dutch slave traders against an innocent African chieftain. It was a retaliatory measure, using the same methods used by Bonsu himself, that cannot be linked specifically to the slave trade at all.

Now, if the government of the Netherlands wants to build schools and hospitals in Ghana out of the goodness of its heart, fine. But there is no basis for them to be extorted over the affair of Bonsu’s head. The Ahanta were not helpless victims of the Dutch; they were active participants in the slave trade who profited from it. As for Badu Bonsu, he reaped the justice that he himself exactly sowed. Today, we would never condone his killing, but neither would we condone the killings of others that  he ordered. Is one more blameworthy than the other?

If you read the AP news article on this carefully, you will note that the Ahanta leaders even tried to con a second free trip to the Netherlands out of this – unsuccessfully.

The moral of this story is simple. History is written in shades of gray. No nation or tribe has a monopoly on good or evil. For nations to spend time and money apologizing for things that happened over 150 years ago is an exercise in futility at best and fraud at worst. But there is no shortage of people in many countries eager to exploit Western feelings of guilt for their own profit. Badu Bonsu, who would have wasted no opportunity to enrich himself and his tribe, would be proud.

Posted in Foreign Affairs, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

Questioning the sacred cows of health care reform

Posted by sanityinjection on July 22, 2009

Thomas Sowell weighs in on the health care debate with a typically well-reasoned piece questioning some of the basic assumptions behind the Administration’s push for health care reform:

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2009/07/21/medical_care_confusion_97543.html

I don’t think I’ve encountered anyone who thinks that our health care system is perfect the way it is. But as Sowell notes, the fact that there are things that need to be improved is not necessarily sufficient to hand the Administration a blank check for generic “change”. Democrats’ proposals for health care reform are an exercise in doublethink because they would have us believe that we can simultaneously expand coverage and cut costs at the same time, which defies logic. In fact, they know better: they are paying lip service to the idea of reducing costs in order to win support for universal public health care which is what they have wanted all along – to give the federal and state governments complete control over every aspect of the medical care of all Americans.

The health care reform I could support would focus instead on reducing the cost of medical care so that Americans can afford to purchase health insurance. That could involve several ingredients including malpractice liability reform, promotion of catastrophic as opposed to comprehensive health insurance, taking the burden of the free care pool off the backs of hospitals, and an end to pharmaceutical and medical tech companies profiteering off of no-strings-attached government R&D funding. If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard about *any* of these ideas being talked about in the current health care reform debate – good! So am I.

Instead, we’re going to get another dose of the line of arguing that gave us the trillion dollar stimulus package: “Our solution is the only solution so it’s either this or nothing at all. And we have to do it immediately so there’s no time for discussion. Either you support doing it our way, right now, or you’re part of the problem.” To the extent that this has become the operating dynamic of politics in the Obama era, it is a most unwelcome change. So much for reducing partisanship and reaching across the aisle.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , | 7 Comments »

Black and white bigots have more in common with each other than with us.

Posted by sanityinjection on July 21, 2009

My inspiration today comes from this story about opposing protests by black and white racists in the town of Paris, Texas. The New Black Panther Party protest was allegedly over the dragging death of Brandon McClelland. That in turn motivated about a dozen Klansmen and skinheads to counterprotest.

Reading about McClelland’s death, I search in vain for a racial motivation. The mere fact that McClelland was black and the suspects (against whom charges were dropped because of lack of evidence) were white does not make it a racially motivated event, especially since the victim and the suspects were friends who had been drinking together. But it made me ponder the fact that both the black and white racists are more similar to each other than they are to the rest of us. For starters, they both see race and conspiracy  behind absolutely everything. They both have an interest in causing controversy and making mountains out of molehills in order to draw attention to their causes. They even share the same goal of separating whites and blacks.

The idea of this commonality was suggested decades ago in the novels of Allen Drury. In the sequels to his Pulitzer prize winning novel Advise and Consent (still required reading for anyone who wants to understand how Washington really works), Drury wrote of an uneasy alliance between black and white extremist groups, together with a pro-Soviet peace-at-any-cost outfit, all working to undermine a strong American foreign policy. While the grouping was arguably far-fetched, the speeches made by the leaders of the groups revealed that they were in fact flip sides of the same coin.

It’s enough to make one fantasize about marooning them all on a desert island together.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

The time for flyers’ rights is now.

Posted by sanityinjection on July 21, 2009

I’ve been beating up on Democrats a lot here lately. I feel that it’s important, though, to acknowledge them when they get something right. So the hero of this post is Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). Rockefeller is the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee which also covers transportation. His committee is set to vote on a budget bill to fund the Federal Avaiation Administration (FAA) for two years. Included as part of that bill is a measure which would require airlines to let passengers off of any plane that is delayed for more than three hours.

Naturally, the airlines are fighting that requirement because it will lead to more delays and cancellations and cost them money. And normally, I would be sympathetic to an industry opposing heavy-handed federal meddling.

However, in this particular case, what the airlines are stubbornly refusing to acknowledge is that this is a basic health and safety issue. Airplanes’ life safety systems – ventilation, sanitation, climate control –  are not designed to function for long periods of time sitting on the ground. We would not allow criminal prisoners to be restrained in a chamber the size of an airplane under similar conditions for three hours, yet the airlines can force paying customers to suffer those conditions to preserve their bottom line.

The only reason we do not already have such a regulation is that until recent years it never occurred to anyone that an airline could treat its paying customers in such barbaric fashion. That is, until the horror stories of 2006-2007 in which passengers were kept on board some flights for as long as 10 1/2 hours. (At that point, as a passenger I would happily create a disturbance in order to get arrested and be removed to more humane conditions such as a holding cell!)

According to the Department of Transportation, in the 8 month period from November through May, 578 flights sat on the tarmac for more than three hours. While that is a tiny percentage of the millions of flights over that period, that is small comfort to those who were passengers on one of those flights.

I commend Senator Rockefeller for including this provision in the budget bill and hope it will become law as soon as possible.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

This is not a civil rights issue, it’s a civility issue

Posted by sanityinjection on July 20, 2009

Salt Lake City is abuzz over yesterday’s protest by gay activists and their supporters against the Mormon Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Readers may recall that the gay community was already furious with the Mormons for bankrolling the anti-gay-marriage ballot question in California. However, yesterday’s protest was in reaction to the arrest for trespassing on church property of a gay couple two weeks ago. The couple claims (probably accurately) that the real reason for their arrest in an area where the public often roams freely is that they were kissing.

So yesterday, gay activists staged a “kiss-in” – first on the sidewalk, then on church property in the area where the arrest took place. Of course, counter-protesters showed up. Fortunately, no real fights took place.

Here’s the problem: You don’t have a right to do anything on someone else’s private property. If the LDS Church doesn’t want to allow kissing on its property or a particular area of their property, they’re entitled – although I would argue that prohibition should be applied equally to heterosexual as well as homosexual couples. There is a difference between exercising your civil rights, and deliberately thrusting them in the face of those you know will be offended. If anybody thinks that the gay couple that was arrested just spontaneously happened to kiss while strolling the grounds of a notoriously anti-gay religious group, and weren’t deliberately making a statement by doing so, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you.

Meanwhile, of course, the US Senate has tacked on a hate crimes amendment to the defense budget which will practically make it illegal to think anything critical about homosexuals, transgendered people. I am not anti-gay at all, but you cannot legislate prejudice out of people’s minds. Nor should you punish a murderer more severely if he killed his victim for racial reasons – that’s like saying that the life of a black victim of a black murderer is less valuable than that of a white victim.

All of this is part of a disturbing trend in which a significant group of people or even a majority declares, “I do not like X, so the government should put a stop to it.” Gone is the idea that government should only become involved when there is a compelling need. Instead, government has become simply an effective tool to accomplish a progressive social agenda whose righteousness is not open to question.

Posted in Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments »