Did Pat Robertson move to Montana?

Pat Robertson rarely says things I agree with. (I don’t think voodoo worship led to the Haiti earthquake or that the ACLU and gays prompted the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S.)

But he recently denounced the criminalization of marijuana on his show, “The 700 Club,” saying it “is ruining young people.”

And his point is valid. By criminalizing small amounts of marijuana, the justice system puts people in jail and turns otherwise law-abiding citizens into hardened criminals. This is essentially what prospective jurors in Montana were saying earlier this week, when they said they would refuse to convict someone for possessing 1/16th of an ounce of pot.

Montana isn’t a state of raging liberals, and you’re not going to find Pat Robertson holding a spliff, listening to reggae music. Something is happening, where people are just saying “No” to inefficient drug laws.

Spontaneous Christmas songs

Last month, folks having lunch in the food court at the Seaway Mall in Welland, Ontario, found themselves in one of those moments you only see in a Hollywood musical.

As they were munching on Subway’s sandwiches, Arby’s roast beef and Dunkin’ Donuts, some of the diners put down their food and started doing this:

Notice how as the last strains of “The Hallelujah Chorus” waft away and the applause ends, everybody goes back to eating, like nothing happened. That’s really impressive.

The video (which I spotted on Crooks & Liars) reminded me of a story I read a few years back about another spontaneous holiday performance.

Back in 1999, a bunch of young carolers were at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles just before Christmas, when someone pointed them to an older fat guy sitting alone at a table and told them that he wrote “The Christmas Song.” So first the singers ask, “What’s ‘The Christmas Song.'” When they find out it’s “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” they walk over to the table and start singing. The old man smiles, then signals he’d like to do a solo on one of the verses. They reluctantly let him.

By now, everyone of a certain age in the area knows the fat guy is Mel Torme, one of the great jazz vocalists of all time. The carolers are oblivious to the fact but are impressed by his singing. At the end of the song, one tells him he has a pretty good voice. Torme says “thanks” and adds he’s done a few records in his time. The caroler asks “How many,” and Torme says 90.

Ideological whiplash

President Obama signed the repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” into law today, pretty much ending the ban on gays serving openly in the military. This elates his progressive base and enrages the folks on the right.

Last week, he signed a bill that retained tax breaks for America’s wealthy. This elated the folks on the right and enraged his progressive base.

I am now suffering from ideological whiplash.

But DADT is now history. Here’s the speech he just gave as he signed the law.


Big sky high country

If you were called to jury duty and asked if you would convict someone for possessing a 16th of an ounce of marijuana, how would you answer?

Well, potential jurors in Missoula, Montana, were asked that and answered with a resounding, “What? Are you high?” According to the Missoulian newspaper the response of members of the jury panel was: No way would they convict somebody for having a 16th of an ounce.

After getting this response numerous times, the judge asked for a show of hands to see how many people would consider convicting on the charge. Of the 27 people remaining in the jury pool, five raised their hands. This was after other potential jurors had already been dismissed after saying they wouldn’t convict.

As a result, the defendant, who was also charged with criminal distribution of dangerous drugs, agreed to a plea bargain.

This says two things:

First, the guy was guilty of something drug related. He wouldn’t have taken the deal if he wasn’t, seeing as how he was in the courtroom when the jurors kept saying they wouldn’t convict on the small possession charge.

More important, though, people see that current U.S. marijuana laws are absurd. If you’re going to convict this guy for that amount, that means you have to convict a high-school kid who’s carrying around a joint. Since a criminal conviction pretty much sticks with you for life, especially a drug conviction, to be scarred by something so petty is in itself criminal.

The “just say no” crowd won’t see it that way. It’ll say this is the first step toward total chaos. But there are places in the world where marijuana use is regulated, and those countries haven’t collapsed.

Take a look at the Netherlands. “Coffee shops” in Amsterdam are places where people ask for a menu and get to select various types of pot or hash. According to the Amsterdam Coffee Shop Directory: Dutch coffee shops are licensed to sell small quantities of cannabis to adults over 18.

Here’s a typical menu:

Now if the Dutch have legalized this, logic tells us that it’s a country of wasted stoners. But back in 2008, CBS News had a report that said: in the Netherlands, which has more liberal drug policies than the U.S., only 1.9% of people reported cocaine use and 19.8% reported marijuana use.

So if the Netherlands doesn’t lead the world in drug abuse, who does?

Americans were four times more likely to report using cocaine in their lifetime than the next closest country, New Zealand (16% vs. 4%),

Marijuana use was more widely reported worldwide, and the U.S. also had the highest rate of use at 42.4% compared with 41.9% of New Zealanders.

Are you really surprised?

By the way, for all you wealthy U.S. potheads who think you can let things stay the way they are in American while you fly across the ocean to puff away, the European Court of Justice has ruled  that Dutch authorities can ban coffee shops from selling to marijuana to tourists. Seems people who jet to Holland to fly even higher can’t control themselves.

Another reason to change the laws here. The good folks in Missoula already understand this is a matter of self control, not government control. Apparently, a certain newly elected U.S. senator who did bong hits before the Aqua Buddha understands this as well. Time for everyone else to  get their heads out of the clouds.

Oh, my god!

The Council of Conservative Citizens is calling for a boycott of the movie “Thor” because one of the actors is black, according to Talking Points Memo.

OK, you’re asking what does this mean and why should you care. Actually, it doesn’t mean much, and you shouldn’t care. No one should. Not even the Council of Conservative Citizens.

For those of you who don’t read comic books and don’t know Norse mythology, Thor is the god of thunder. Marvel Comics is preparing a movie for a May release on the character involving his banishment from the capital city of the Norse gods, Asgard. If you sat through to the very end of “Iron Man 2,” you saw the teaser to this when S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson found a huge hammer in a remote area. That was Thor’s hammer, a source of his power.

Anyway, since it’s a story about a Norse god, the Council of Conservative Citizens is pissed because “It seems that Marvel Studios believes that white people should have nothing that is unique to themselves,” the group’s Web site says.

As you can see in the above trailer, there’s an Asian and a black guy in the palace of the gods. The Council is against diversity, especially in Norse mythology.

Anyway, here’s a full analysis of the official trailer (tells you all you need to know):

The mood of the nation

Over on YouTube, a guy named David Sparks took a map of the U.S. and did the following:

Using county-level data, I spatially and temporally interpolated presidential vote returns for the two major party candidates in each election from 1920-2008. The result illuminates the sometimes gradual, sometimes rapid change in the geographic basis of presidential partisanship.

What you end up with is a map shifting between blue and red, sometimes dramatically.

So look at America as a person. When it turns blue, that shows it’s gone to the Democrats and is holding its breath because it has no idea what’s going to happen next. When it turns red, it’s with the Republicans and is blushing because it’s so embarrassed over what it has done.

Hopefully, he at least got good seats

New York Gov. David Patterson was fined $62,500 for hitting up baseball’s New York Yankees for five free tickets to the first game of the 2009 World Series between the Yanks and the Philadelphia Phillies.

The New York Times story never gives the tickets’ face value, but the fine makes it $12,500 per.

The governor solicited the tickets from a registered lobbyist, and there was a big conflict of interest since the Yankees have a number of “issues before state government, including real estate, stadium development and tax matters,” the Times says.

But something doesn’t follow. He’s the governor and a team from his state was in the World Series. Don’t politicians routinely go to major sporting events when a local team is involved? If so, judging from this fine, they pay for their own tickets. Patterson makes $179,000 a year as governor, so all things considered, the tickets weren’t worth it.

Not to mention, the governor is pretty dim. Why ask for a $12,500 ticket when you can’t see the game? Patterson is legally blind. Just sit in front a big screen TV with a bunch of cronies. It would have been a lot more comfortable and more affordable.

So you want to be a journalist

Those cute little bears at xtranormal.com are at it again. This time, they capture the wonders of journalism.

Everything they say is true. Kids get out of school and immediately want to work for the New York Times. But the chance of getting there directly out of school is minuscule.

Well, actually, that isn’t true. I worked for the New York Times when I got out of school, but I didn’t work for “The New York Times.” The New York Times company has a chain of more than a dozen small papers in the south and west. I started out at one of them, and here was my reality: living in a trailer park next to an Interstate highway in central Florida. Not much pay. Tons of hours. All the profits the paper made went to corporate headquarters, so while the Times people in New York took home the big bucks, the folks in the south scraped by, paycheck to paycheck.

The heavy topics were city council meetings on sewers and county meetings on airport runways. The president never showed up. Neither did the governor or any U.S. senators. And local politicians can be the most unimaginative people in the world.

But I did get to do everything: writing, editing, layout, photographs even paste up.  It was a good way to quickly learn about the mechanics of newspapers.

Eventually, after many detours (including the Columbia Journalism School). I went to a paper that was better than the Times, and I did get to hire college grads for beginners jobs. But those kids had extremely strong resumes: high grades, extensive work at their college papers, multiple internships with major news organizations and even overseas reporting experience. There are more graduates like that than you can imagine, but only a handful get a shot at the big leagues immediately after college.

One other thing the bears point out: Newspapers are in trouble. Their last line sums up the industry’s dilemma. If no one is paying for the paper, it isn’t going to exist for long.

Band on the rail

A group of musicians in New York lost their instruments to thieves, but they all had iPhones. So the band, Atomic Tom, hopped on the subway from Manhattan to Brooklyn, and performed the following song using apps they downloaded to their phones.

I was skeptical on the ability to perform a complete song between two subway stations, but this is the line I used to take when I lived in Brooklyn, and I see they’re going over the Manhattan bridge, so this is doable.

The performance was captured by their friends, who were using iPhones. It would be interesting to know if some Apple PR guy was behind it all.

One other thought: This is also the disadvantage of living in New York. You’ve had a rough day at work. You just want to get on the train and chill on your way home, then some band gets in your subway car and starts performing. I was in the city a couple of days ago and three breakdancers with a boom box got in my subway car and started spinning on the floor. It’s a wonder I didn’t get kicked in the mouth.

Paving the way to stupidity

The following University of Maryland survey tells us what we already know:

In most cases those who had greater levels of exposure to news sources had lower levels of misinformation. There were, however, a number of cases where greater exposure to a particular news source increased misinformation on some issues.

Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that most economists estimate the stimulus caused job losses (12 points more likely), most economists have estimated the health care law will worsen the deficit (31 points), the economy is getting worse (26 points), most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring (30 points), the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts (14 points), their own income taxes have gone up (14 points), the auto bailout only occurred under Obama (13 points), when TARP came up for a vote most Republicans opposed it (12 points) and that it is not clear that Obama was born in the United States (31 points). The effect was also not simply a function of partisan bias, as people who voted Democratic and watched Fox News were also more likely to have such misinformation than those who did not watch it–though by a lesser margin than those who voted Republican.

There is information, and there is propaganda. This is the network that focuses on the latter, and as a result, undermines public discourse. Or maybe their reporters are just stupid and don’t know any better?

Check out the full report here.