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  • Politics Nerds Rejoice

    October 23, 2006 12:00 PM

    Students at my alma mater, Claremont McKenna College, have created a very wonky alternative to the season's popular fantasy football leagues: fantasy Congress. As The New York Times reports today, hundreds of people have already joined the fun:

    Just as in fantasy football or baseball, each player picks a team — in this case, 4 senators and 12 House members of varying seniority levels — and competes with other players in a league typically managed by a friend or a co-worker. Members determine whether to play for money or the thrill of victory. But that is where the similarities end.

    On the Fantasy Congress Web site, www.fantasycongress.us, leagues have names like “We the Peeps” and “Foley4Prez,” in addition to the usual school and workplace affiliations.

    Players accumulate points as the legislators they have chosen go about their business on Capitol Hill. A House member or senator earns five points for introducing a bill or an amendment, and more points for negotiating successfully each step in the legislative process.

    Players can change their team members once a week, so if a scandal-plagued lawmaker resigns there is an opportunity to pick someone new. As of now, legislators can be on multiple teams within a league, but the site's creators plan to introduce an exclusivity rule that would limit a legislator to playing for only one team.

    Just remember, as Mark Foley has taught us, unrestrained congressional fantasizing can be hazardous to one's career prospects.

    --Richard Morrison

  • Big government tattoo artists

    October 23, 2006 11:24 AM

    CEI has nothing against tattoos. Some of our staffers proudly sport them. And we generally have a live-and-let-live, libertarian philosophy.

    But now, in a twist, it seems the tattooed are the ones displaying intolerance. Over at WorldNetDaily.com, editor Joseph Farah reports that firms that don't allow employees to sport tattoos or body piercings may now face discrimination “lawsuits from members of a new activist lobby representing the ever-growing population of those into ‘body modification.'”

    CEI recommends this article even though we don't necessarily agree with all of Mr. Farah's opinions against tattoos. The article reports that some cities in California have vaguely-worded laws prohibiting discrimination “based on appearance and behavior.” A wholesale club was sued was recently sued by a member of the “Church of Body Modification,” who griped that she should not have been required to remove a facial piercing as a condition of employment. The company wanted the piercing removed for both appearance and sanitation reasons. Mr. Farah quotes employment attorney David Barron as saying, “This time, the company prevailed in the action, but employers in a non-food handling workplace might not be so lucky.”

    But as the article notes, there are plenty of other reasons why an employer would not want tattoos or piercings. It could clash with the atmosphere at an “upscale department store” or “fashionable restaurant.” Bottom line, it's the employers money, and he or she should be have the freedom to make those calls. If the tattooed don't like it, they should open their own stores and restaurants. Employers' freedom to control run their businesses as they see fit is just as important as the freedom to get tattoos in the first place.

    Makes me want to get a tattoo of the famous snake that says, “Don't Tread on Me.”

  • Maybe That's Why the Lacrosse Scandal Disappeared from the News

    October 20, 2006 4:37 PM

    Scientists at Duke University and Imperial College London have reportedly developed a cloaking device for solid objects. All of the relevant Romulan and Harry Potter jokes have, naturally, already been made. The military applications are obvious, but I'd like to hear anyone's ideas for civilian, consumer applications. Making your car invisible to vandals? Hiding that pile of unwashed dishes in your sink from party guests? Personally disappearing when activist canvassers come to the door?

  • "The politics of relative position is the egalitarian welfare statist’s new favorite game"

    October 20, 2006 2:20 PM

    Cato's Will Wilkinson has an interesting, if slightly econ-jargon filled, article in Policy magazine on egalitarianism, class resentment and "zero-sum positional conflicts." Published by Australia's Centre for Independent Studies, link from Arts & Letters Daily.

  • The Latest Wal-Mart Scandal

    October 20, 2006 2:10 PM

    Well, they've gone and done it again. Wal-Mart, that is. Even with all kinds of labor and activist pressure on them to change their ways, they go right on and charge ahead with business as usual. That's right, that shameless corporation created another 8,600 new jobs in October. Will they never learn?

    Also, for a great, wide-ranging discussion on the economics of Wal-Mart, check out the Econ Talk podcast "Legislators vs. Wal-Mart," with Russ Roberts and his guest, the brilliant Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago.

  • Ralph Harris, RIP

    October 20, 2006 11:21 AM

    Ralph Harris, guiding light of the UK's Institute for Economic Affairs, has passed away. The Times has an extensive obituary:

    For three decades at the epicentre of free-market thinking, Ralph Harris was decisive in converting the British political consensus back to liberal economics. He did this chiefly by informing — and often inspiring — an ideological underpinning for Margaret Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph as they remodelled the Conservative Party after 1975.

    Supplying the motivating energy (as its general director, 1957-87) behind the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), the most enduring and intellectually substantial of the think-tanks made famous by the Thatcher phenomenon, Harris had exhibited great character in maintaining his viewpoint while government by dirigisme dominated political fashion.

  • Cars, Women and Minorities

    October 20, 2006 10:25 AM

    The magazines Black Enterprise, African American Golfer's Digest and Divas On-The-Go are hosting the African-American Empowerment Weekend here in Washington this week. We've talked a lot in the past about how free market ideas can do just that - provide economic empowerment to members of historically disenfranchised minority groups - and how any number of government policies have done just the opposite.

    One of the most interesting of these examples is the role the privately owned automobile has played in expanding economic opportunities for women and minorities. Transportation policy analyst Alan Pisarski wrote an excellent paper for us in 1999 on the democratization of mobility that tells the story. Here's a summary:

    Disparities in mobility between men and women, and among various racial groups, have declined in recent decades, and the indications are that they will continue to decline. But automobility is under increasing attack, on grounds ranging from resource and environmental concerns to arguments over “urban sprawl.” If restrictions on car use are imposed, their impact across our national landscape will be far from uniform. Their most severe effects will fall on those groups that either have recently attained mobility or are just now on the verge of attaining it. By undermining the “democratization of mobility,” such restrictions would weaken a key attribute of the American Dream.

    You can read the whole thing in PDF here.

  • News of YouTube's Death Has Been Greatly Exaggerated

    October 19, 2006 1:59 PM

    An argument from Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle on why big business can never be cool, even when it acquires something that is:

    The circle of life on the Internet is very cruel: When giant corporations take interest in online cultural phenomena, they instantly become exponentially less cool. From Napster to MySpace to "Snakes on a Plane" -- all stopped being a good thing once the Man showed up in the room.

    In the wake of Google's acquisition of YouTube, parents groups are already calling for a safety czar to regulate the user-built video library, much like the one that MySpace appointed when News Corp. purchased that site. And is there anything that kills a party faster than a safety czar?
    In a sense, Google's purchase of YouTube will almost certainly kill YouTube.
    Of course, the declining edginess of aging cultural phenomena is exactly what inspires people to create something new in the first place. If Hartlaub is right, we can expect the next big Internet
    thing any day now.

  • Small Government Hate Speech?

    October 19, 2006 12:28 PM

    Craig Bannister of CNSNews just passed on a story out of Marquette University in which graduate student Stuart Distler was banned from displaying the following Dave Barry quote on his office door: "As Americans, we must always remember that we all have a common enemy, an enemy that is dangerous, powerful and relentless. I refer, of course, to the federal government."

    Lots to agree with there if you're a fan of smaller government. The chairman of his department disagreed, however, and removed the quote from Distler's office door, saying that the quote was "patently offensive," and that "hallways and office doors are not 'free-speech zones.'"

    One wonders where on Marquette's campus one can express one's ideas freely. Perhaps, like some modern airports do with smoking, there will be a seperately-ventilated, soundproofed "free speech lounge" where the despised few free thinkers still left can retire to throw around comments related to their patently offensive dislike of intrusive and overbearing government.

  • Frank Luntz, Save Us!

    October 19, 2006 11:58 AM

    The Powell's Books website has an interesting review (via The New Republic) of George Lakoff's latest book about politics and language, Whose Freedom? Lakoff argues, as many others have, that framing political issues with the proper metaphors goes a long way toward winning the debate:

    Political debates, according to Lakoff, are contests between metaphors. Citizens are not rational and pay no attention to facts, except as they fit into frames that are “fixed in the neural structures of their brains” by sheer repetition. In George W. Bush's first term, for example, the president promised tax “relief,” which frames taxes as an affliction, the reliever as a hero, and anyone obstructing him as a villain. The Democrats were foolish to offer their own version of tax relief, which accepted the Republicans' framing; it was like asking people not to think of an elephant. Instead, they should have re-framed taxes as “membership fees” necessary to maintain the services and infrastructure of the society to which they belong. Likewise, the lawyers who are said to press "frivolous lawsuits" should be reframed as “public protection attorneys,” and “activist judges” who “legislate from the bench” rebranded as “freedom judges.”

    I wonder, though, if some of his recommended phraseology will really catch on. Will freedom judges get any more of a respectful response that freedom fries did? TNR reviewer Steven Pinker seems to share my skepticism (while getting in a quick, dismissive dig at Objectivists):

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