Random stuff and Open Thread

Victorian posy of pansies(I actually wrote this post yesterday, and thought I’d published it. When I looked at my blog just now, though, I saw that it never got out of the draft phase. Still, there’s enough interesting stuff in it that I’ll publish today anyway.)

I discovered two things to help with my email:  Boomerang and The Email Game.  Thanks to these two, I reduced my email from 150 emails to 4 emails in 45 minutes, all while having fine and feeling in control.  This is, naturally, very exciting.  It’s also interesting how turning a task into a game is so much more fun, even when you’re basically going through the same motions you would in any event.  I guess it’s an example of good mind games.  For other email advice, check out this article.

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It can be a good thing when married men date.  No, I’m not kidding.  Read here and learn why.

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Mollie Hemingway has noticed something very interesting about MSM movie reviewers’ approach to movie violence:  In 12 Years a Slave, violence is meaningful and important; in The Passion of the Christ, it’s disgusting and overboard (their view, not mine).  I’ve noticed a similar attitude towards cigarettes and birth control pills.  Cigarettes have known health risks and are especially damaging in growing children.  Leftists will do anything to destroy them and they cannot be sold to children.  Birth control pills have known health risks (cancer, blood clots, strokes, etc.) and, while nobody has studied it, it’s entirely reasonable to believe that pouring toxic hormone doses into young girls’ bodies is not a good thing.  Not only do Leftists approve of the Pill, though, they pass laws ensuring that parents, who are the people most likely to have their daughter’s physical and emotional interests at heart, can have no say in the matter once their daughters are 12 or 13 years old.  Parents know that a 12 or 13 year old girl, no matter how physically developed she is, is still a child.

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Keith Koffler noticed that Obama just announced that he’s going to violate the Constitution.  Koffler is deeply offended, as all Americans should be.  Republicans in Congress don’t seem to care.  Nor do Democrats, although they should care too because history has shown that they’re unlikely to control the White House forever.

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This story is slightly out-of-date, but it amused me.  You remember, of course, when school kids all over America complained that they weren’t getting enough calories thanks to Michelle Obama’s interference with the menus, ostensibly to make them more healthy.  The USDA has now backed off the new policy.  Why?  Because “more kids decided to brown-bag it and bring their own food to school.”  Why is this amusing?  Because government food programs have always been premised on the fact that they are there to feed children whose families are too poor to feed them.  This little USDA minuet exposes this reasoning for the lie it is.  Federal food programs are there to exert further government control over young people.

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If you need cheering up, or you’d like to know that there are other people in the world who, like you and me, love to dance but don’t do it very well, check out this delightful video at Noisy Room.

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I sometimes find the proliferation of New Age religions gin America both maddening and sad.  The Left has driven so many lost souls away from traditional faith, which gave meaning and purpose to life, and given them nothing in return.  They’re now adrift and searching.  Of course, sometimes once they’re done searching what they find may be good for a laugh.

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Someone who was there in the aftermath says that Lone Survivor is a good movie, but bemoans the fact that, being Hollywood, it couldn’t resist gilding the lily.  With a movie such as Lone Survivor, doing so somehow dishonors the dead.  Mr. Bookworm likes to introduce movies such as Spielberg’s Lincoln to the children with the phrase “This is history.”  He’s always irked when I add, “It’s not history.  It’s Hollywood’s version of a true story.”

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Texas. Rep. Scott Turner definitely shows signs of being a rising star in the GOP.  I’m just not going to give my heart away immediately.  It’s been broken too many times.  I will however keep my eye on him and hope for the best:

Ask Bookworm — the legalized pot edition

Obama smoking potA friend emailed me this question:  “Explain to me the hypocrisy of a nation that denigrates tobacco use while simultaneously legalizing marijuana?”

Silly friend!  It’s very simple really.  If you know the facts, you’ll know that there’s no hypocrisy.  Marijuana is totally different from cigarettes.  Here goes . . . .

Marijuana makes the smoker feel good.  Cigarettes, by contrast, make the smoker feel . . . uh, good.

Okay, ignore that one.  This next one is the real difference:

Cigarettes release a foul stench when smoked.  Marijuana, by contrast, releases . . . uh, a foul stench when smoked.

Hmm.  This is harder than I thought.  Okay, here’s the real reason:

Our totally cool president smoked reefers.  By contrast, our totally cool president never . . . oh, wait.  Never mind.  He also smoked cigarettes.

Let’s just ignore those irrelevancies.  This is the real reason behind the different treatment:

Second hand marijuana smoke merely makes your clothes smell.  By contrast, second hand cigarette smoke . . . uh, merely makes your clothes smell.

Wait!  Wait.  I think I’ve got it:

Cigarette smoke causes all sorts of lung problems and cancers.  By contrast, marijuana has no known health . . . oh, forget that.  Actually, although studies have been limited, it turns out that marijuana has a lot of negative health effects, especially in young people’s developing brains.

You want to know the honest-to-God truth about the difference between marijuana and tobacco?  Here it is:

Although cigarette smoking gives people a pleasant buzz, it doesn’t impair their cognitive functions.  When it comes to marijuana, the whole purpose is to impair cognitive functions.  (Just think about whether you’d rather get in a car driven by a smoker or a stoner.)  When a political party is working hard to undermine a country’s social and economic strength, there’s nothing better than having on hand a true opiate of the masses, especially one that leaves the young generation sufficiently unambitious (which is arguably pot’s most deleterious effect) not to care about the fact that their future is vanishing before their eyes.

The other reason is that cigarettes have been around long enough that their production is a corporate endeavor.  Leftists hate corporations.  The best way to kill the Leftist love affair with marijuana is for Big Tobacco to start producing it and take over the market.

If I had my druthers, nobody would smoke anything.  I hate the smell of the stuff — all of it, whether cigarettes or pot or cigars or car exhaust — especially when it infiltrates my clothes and my hair.  When I lived in England, after a night out I’d always shower off from head to toe to get rid of the ubiquitous smoke smell, and that was true even in the depths of winter when we had no hot water at 3 a.m.  I hate cold showers, but I hate the smell of smoke even more.  That smoke spreads beyond the smokers person is a good reason for following the old-fashioned approach of having smokers’ cars in trains or in private clubs, but it’s absolutely no reason to demonize one kind of smoke while lavishing love on another.

Is this the most regressive tax in America?

My mother lives in a very nice retirement community.  Typically for an affluent suburb, the residents are rich and white, while the employees are low-income and represent a variety of races (white, Asian, black, and Hispanic).  They’re not downtrodden employees.  Many have been there for decades and have strong bonds with the elderly in their care.  But they’re definitely not middle or upper class.  Economically, they’re working or lower class.

Man smoking

Here’s another broad statement I can make about the community in which my mother lives:  Almost none of the affluent residents smoke cigarettes, while a high percentage of the poorer employees smoke.  I know that my statement about the employees is true because I’m there often and I always see a rotating crop of employees hunkered down in the garage or standing out on the streets smoking.

I have to admit here to hating cigarettes.  (And yes, I know that “hate” is a very strong word.)  I have an unusually sensitive sense of smell, and cigarettes are very high on my list of unpleasant odors.  Just to give you an idea how much I hate the smell, back in the early 1980s, when I’d return to my flat in England after a night of dancing (not drinking, just dancing), I was so repulsed by the cigarette smell that clung to me that I’d instantly take a shower.  This doesn’t sound like a big deal until you realize that I was doing this between November and March, when the flat had no hot water after 10 p.m., and the shower water was probably just above freezing.  I hate cold water, but I hate the smell of cigarettes even more.

My loathing for cigarettes means that I’ve always had two thoughts when I’ve seen the employees puffing away.  My first thought is, “God, I hate that smell.”  My second thought, always, is “They must be spending a huge percentage of their income to support that habit.”

Cigarette pack

Today, my thoughts went one step further.  Yes, they are spending a huge percent of their income, but they’re not actually spending it on the cigarette.  Instead, they’re spending it on the taxes for that cigarette.  Here in California, cigarettes are taxed at a very high rate:

Cigarettes are subject to both the cigarette tax and the cigarette and tobacco products surtax. The tax and surtax are paid by distributors through the use of tax stamps, which are purchased from the Board of Equalization (BOE) and affixed to each package of cigarettes before distribution. The cost of the stamp includes both the cigarette tax and the surtax. Currently, each stamp costs 87 cents per pack of 20 cigarettes, comprising 12 cents for the cigarette tax and 75 cents for the combined surtax.

Tobacco products, not including cigarettes, are subject only to the cigarette and tobacco products surtax. Tobacco products include all forms of cigars, smoking tobacco, chewing tobacco, and snuff, as well as other products containing at least 50 percent tobacco. Effective July 1, 2011, through June 30, 2012, the rate is 31.73 percent.

I don’t know whether the consumer has to pay the usual county sales tax on top of all those state taxes, but I assume he (or she) does.  If that assumption is correct, you can add on an additional 8% or so to every cigarette pack sold in California, depending on the sales tax rate.

Shake down for money

This is a staggeringly high tax rate.  Worse than that, it’s a hugely regressive tax rate, meaning that it falls most heavily on those who can least afford it.  The regression is hidden, because it looks as if everyone who purchases cigarettes, rich or poor, pays the same “sin” tax for the product.  In fact, though, rich people in California have mostly given up on smoking.  This particular sin tax is passing them right by.  Poor people, whether they smoke because of peer pressure to smoke, or because they’re immune to government pressure to quit smoking, or because it’s a real pleasure in a life too financially constrained to have many pleasures, end up paying that tax.  Worse, because the government relies on this sin tax to fund health programs and education, as people quit, they keep raising the tax to stabilize revenue.

I hate cigarettes.  What I hate even more, though, is a government that funds itself by using regressive taxes.  It’s a sleazy practice.  How much better, of course, if we would fall back on a non-religious version of tithing, as Dr. Carson so gracefully suggested in the speech he gave before a manifestly bored and uncomfortable President Obama.

In a failure of Progressivism, San Rafael allows people to smoke in their single family homes

I hate the smell of cigarette smoke.  Hate it!  Hate it!  Hate it!  That hatred is entirely separate from hating the way cigarettes harm people’s health. Even if they were healthy, the smell would disgust me.

Having said that, I hate even more ordinances that prevent people from smoking cigarettes in their own homes.  The town of San Rafael, just north of San Francisco, has gone ahead and passed just such an ordinance.  If the news story is correct, the only serious exception to the new ordinance is for single family homes.  Otherwise, if you’re a smoker (and you really shouldn’t be, because it’s bad for you and rude to others), you are seriously out of luck:

San Rafael officials approved the county’s toughest anti-tobacco ordinance to date on Monday, banning smoking from all apartments and condominiums, in addition to parks, bus stops, restaurant patios and many other outdoor spaces.

The measure is aimed at protecting people from secondhand smoke, officials said.

“What we are really considering is the impact of others,” Mayor Gary Phillips said Monday before voting with his four city council colleagues to approve the ordinance.

The ordinance includes special restrictions for the downtown area, banning smoking from sidewalks and plazas except while smokers are “actively passing on the way to another destination.”

The new rules are similar to those adopted by the city of Larkspur, the county Board of Supervisors and other Marin agencies. However, San Rafael is the first to ban smoking in all apartments and condos; others allow designation of some units for smoking.

In San Rafael, landlords, condo boards, employers, public event organizers and the city manager could still designate some outdoor smoking areas, with restrictions. The areas would have to be 20 feet away from places where smoking is banned and 100 feet away from children’s areas or recreation areas such as playgrounds and swimming pools.

The San Rafael ordinance spells out some indoor areas where smoking would still be allowed including single-family houses, vehicles, up to 20 percent of hotel rooms and tobacco shops that are not attached to other structures. Actors in theater productions may smoke onstage if “smoking is an integral part of the story and the use of a fake, prop, or special effect cannot reasonably convey the idea of smoking in an effective way to a reasonable member of the anticipated audience,” according to the ordinance.

Let me say again that I hate smoking.  If I was a landlord, I’d include in my lease a clause prohibiting tenants and their guests from smoking on the premises.  Then I’d willingly face the marketplace, which might favor my smoking prohibition (so that I could charge higher rents) or might leave me with vacant units.

I also don’t have a problem with designating certain areas in public spaces as smoking or non-smoking.  Just as smokers should be able to smoke (despite the fact that it’s a foolish and costly habit), non-smokers in public areas should have a chance to be free of smoke.

What I don’t like is having a police state tell me what I can do in my home — and during the term of my lease, that apartment or whatever else is mine.  If the landlord doesn’t want smoking going on, that’s one thing.  For the government to interfere is an unconscionable intrusion on freedom.

As for smoking’s harm, the best we can and should do is to keep educating people.  More importantly, make it socially unacceptable, especially amongst teens.  Right now, because adults are so anti-smoking, more and more teens seem to be smoking to prove how cool and rebellious they are.  And as we know, all the regulations in the world won’t stop a teen determined to break the rules.

And while I’m ranting libertarian, if you live in California, vote NO on Prop. 29

One of the hardest fought propositions on the California ballot this June is Proposition 29 which is described on the ballot as a new law that “imposes additional tax on cigarettes for cancer research.”  Doesn’t that sound nice?  Those who smoke have to fund cancer research.  It’s an indirect version of “smoker heal thyself.”  Even better, because it makes cigarettes more expensive, maybe people will stop smoking.

The only problem is that things aren’t always as they seem.  First, the tax is $1 a pack, which is insufficient to deter any but the most poverty-stricken smoker.  Most smokers will just suck it up (figuratively and literally, I guess).  What the proposed tax would do is impose more costs on smokers . . . and, get this, it imposes the greatest cost on poor people.  In California, as elsewhere, smoking is a class thing.  The middle and upper classes don’t smoke.  Working classes and lower classes are being taxed for engaging in a sin that their economic betters frown upon.

One could still argue that, since the poor smoke, and are most affected by smoking’s harm, it’s appropriate that they pay for their sin by funding cancer research.  Except you can bet your bottom dollar the money is just going to get sucked into California’s financial black hole.  As those who oppose Prop. 29 explain, the loopholes in the initiative (and it’s a really, really long piece of proposed legislation, which nobody but fierce partisans will read) mean that most of the money, assuming it stays in state, goes to more bureaucratic infrastructure.

Here’s what the initiative’s opponent’s point out:

Prop. 29 is a $739 million annual new tax and spending mandate that creates an unaccountable, government bureaucracy filled with political appointees.

Doesn’t require new tax revenue be spent in California to create jobs.  Money can be spent out of state or even out of country.

Provides no new funds to treat cancer patients.

Spends $125 million annually on overhead, bureaucracy, buildings and real estate — money that could be used for cancer treatment.

Permits “conflicts of interest” by allowing organizations represented by Commissioners to receive taxpayer funding.

Allows for-profit corporations to receive $500+ million in taxpayer dollars annually.

Duplicates existing programs that already spend $6 billion annually on cancer research.

Establishes another flawed auto-pilot spending mandate like the High Speed Rail Commission — more waste, no taxpayer accountability.

Prohibits the Governor and Legislature from making changes to the initiative for 15 years, even in the case of fraud or waste.

(California Presidential Primary Election, Official Voter Information Guide)

Just how bad is Prop. 29?  It’s so bad that even the ultra-liberal Los Angeles Times came out against it.  After going on for a while offering general praise to taxes that penalize behavior by making the behavior too costly, and after lauding anything that stops smoking, the Times editors fess up:

Nevertheless, we oppose this ballot measure. The problem with Proposition 29, which would raise $735 million a year at the outset (gradually dropping off as more smokers quit), isn’t the tax but how the money it raises would be spent. Most of it, more than $500 million a year, would be directed to a new, independent quasi-public agency that would award grants for research on cancer and other smoking-related illnesses, such as heart and lung diseases. (The research itself would not need to be tobacco-related; a grantee could study, say, the effects of obesity on heart disease, or malignant melanoma caused by overexposure to the sun.)

Proposition 29 is well intentioned, but it just doesn’t make sense for the state to get into the medical research business to the tune of half a billion dollars a year when it has so many other important unmet needs. California can’t afford to retain its K-12 teachers, keep all its parks open, give public college students the courses they need to earn a degree or provide adequate home health aides for the infirm or medical care for the poor. If the state is going to raise a new $735 million, it should put the money in the general fund rather than dedicating it to an already well-funded research effort. Funding priorities shouldn’t be set at the ballot box.

It’s worth reading the rest of the editorial, because it does a good job spelling out what a foolish, redundant idea Prop. 29 is — and all of it on the back of California’s poorest citizens (and, this being California, non-citizens too).

What’s fascinating, too, is the way in which these liberal columnists freely acknowledge that financial rewards and punishments guide behavior — but they won’t acknowledge that these same rewards and punishments work best in the private sector.  To them, the only hand that should be doling out or withholding money is Uncle Sam’s (followed closely by Aunt California’s).

I hate smoking.  I think it stinks.  I know it’s unhealthy.  It accounts for a lot of litter.  If I had a magic wand, I’d make tobacco and the desire for tobacco vanish from this earth.  But I don’t have a magic wand.  If people want to be stupid, let them.  I do support laws that require smokers to stay away from me.  To the extent that smoke causes a positive harm — sending stinky, unhealthy particles my way — it seems to me I have more right to say to them “Don’t smoke around me,” than they have to say to me “I want to smoke and you have to put up with it.”  But as long as I’m protected in my right not to suffer from vicarious smoke, let ‘em smoke.