Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff 42

Ashby Developers Seek Justice
Last week Buckhead Development (of Ashby High Rise fame) sued the city for $40 million. One of the principals, Kevin Kirton, was quoted in the Chronicle:
The city must learn that it cannot misapply the law to please a select few or to achieve de facto zoning regulations that our community has consistently rejected.
While I agree with his statement, I would have preferred him to say something like:
I have a moral right to use my property as I choose, so long as I respect the mutual rights of others. The purpose of city government is to protect that right, and the city has blatantly and egregiously done the opposite.
Regardless, I applaud Buckhead's lawsuit and efforts to gain justice, even if it will mean an increase in my taxes. The harm done to them was perpetrated in my name, and I want no part of it. And perhaps (though I doubt) the city will learn a lesson.

They're Not Nationwide, They're H-BAD*

The Houston Black American Democrats (H-BAD)--a local Democratic "club"--has apparently been trading endorsements for cash. Of course, such "you scratch my back" deals have been going on for a long time in politics, but the targets of these shake downs are judicial candidates. According to the Chronicle, some have wondered if such "donations" might violate ethics laws:
One candidate asked too many questions. Priscilla Walters, a candidate for Probate Court 3, said when an e-mail she wrote to a friend, asking if the amount was too pricey, got back to H-BAD members, they rescinded her endorsement in a name-calling missive broadcast over Carl Whitmarsh's extensive e-mail list.
While an H-BAD spokesman said that Walters was trying to "sabotage" the "club's" efforts to get out the vote, apparently H-BAD thought so little of her candidacy that they were willing to revoke their endorsement. It makes one wonder which is more important to H-BAD: qualified candidates or raising cash. I think that their actions tell us.

*Apologies to Houston's ZZ Top for paraphrasing the lyrics from their song "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide".

Humiliating Algore
I don't like the entire premise behind the Nobel Peace Prize. But an effort to strip Algore and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change of their prize from 2007 is worth supporting. (HT: Barry Klein) I seriously doubt that this petition will have any impact, but the thought of humiliating Algore was too much to resist.

The petition includes a request that the prize be awarded to
Irena Sendler, a woman who risked her life during WWII to ultimately rescue more than 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis. Sendler was a candidate for the prize in 2007 that Gore and the IPCC won. Other nominations can be made in the comments section. I nominated the Ayn Rand Institute, which, in advocating reason, individual rights, and capitalism, has done more to promote peace in the past 2 decades than any other organization or living individual.

The Texas "Pole Tax"
The Texas Supreme Court will review the constitutionality of the state's "pole tax" which charges patrons of strip clubs $5 to fund a program for victims of sexual offenses. Interestingly, the strip clubs are claiming that their First Amendment rights are being violated by the tax. I am not an expert on the activities that occur in a strip club, but I doubt that a lot of speech is involved.

In an example of non-objectivity in both science and journalism, the Chronicle reports:

To defend the law, the government has been forced to argue that strip clubs lead to greater violence against women, a claim for which there is no evidence, Furlow said. Under such logic, he added, R-rated movies could be taxed because of the violence sometimes depicted in them.

Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin who teaches media law and ethics, acknowledged that it is difficult to prove a link between strip clubs and violence against women.

“But the fact that research doesn't allow for those causal links doesn't mean that the sexual exploitation industry is not part of an environment that supports and undergirds sexual violence,” he said. [emphasis added]

Even though research does not show a causal connection strip clubs and sexual violence, defenders of the law insist that one must exist. Why? Because "justice" demands it, because they want there to be such a connection. And when the facts do not support their desires, the facts are to be discarded.

This is not surprising, given the fact that Jensen has called for a new model for journalists--"journalism for justice":

Mass media have a moral responsibility to produce journalism for justice and storytelling for sustainability...

In a healthy educational institution with real academic freedom, we should encourage a diversity of approaches to complex questions.

According to Jensen, journalists should not simply report the facts. They should also promote a particular agenda, an agenda that Jensen declares should be animated by questioning and opposing the rich and powerful.

Certainly journalists must be selective--they cannot report every fact connected to a particular story. But that selectivity must be guided by reality and and reason--it must be objective--not one's whims or political agenda.

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