Thursday, August 23, 2007

Touches of gray

Nuance is not an Alabama tradition.

Things here tend to be classified, more so than in many other places, into simple dichotomies. It's good or bad, right or wrong, black or white, from the Lord or from the devil, Alabama or Auburn. (Pre-emptive strike for Auburn fans: No, I'm not saying your team is from the devil.) It's a view of the world that has the benefit of enabling quick judgments that lead to decisive actions. But it also has the drawback of those actions often not being the best choice available to solve the problem.

Once again, another complex issue will come before an Alabama decision-making body today, when the state school board will tackle "double dipping" by legislators who moonlight as two-year college employees, a practice that led to a seemingly never-ending series of troubling newspaper headlines and brought a Pulitzer Prize to downtown Birmingham this year.

Several proposals, or a combination of them, could address the concerns raised in the stories. The two-year system could seek to cut ties with the legislators to whom it no longer should be attached. The state could keep legislators from working in jobs where the duties include lobbying the government for funding. Alabama also could bar lawmakers from gaining employment with the state after their election or within a limited time beforehand.

Or in a systemic reform, the state could bar outside employment altogether and make legislative service a full-time job, which is the best solution for a host of reasons I addressed earlier. (To quote myself, "If all lawmakers have to surrender all other employment for the duration of their time on Goat Hill, no profession would face disincentives to serve that the others didn't. More importantly, we could alleviate concerns about conflicts of interest in both the public and private sectors.") And the options mentioned in the last two paragraphs are far from the only ones.

Instead, the state school board is likely today to impose a broad policy that, despite some last-minute modifications, effectively would bar anyone who works in the community college system from serving in the Legislature after 2010. And that move likely will prompt a barrage of lawsuits from the Alabama Education Association and other groups worried about losing influence, based on concerns over civil rights, separation of powers, and who knows what else.

A blanket ban and costly litigation? That is an Alabama tradition.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Well, you know his name is Saban...

Are you looking at Nick Saban's bum? Are you? Bum-looker!

(For proof I don't belong in a mental institution, click the ESPN link and scroll to, um, the bottom. Pun mostly not intended.)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

If, and, and but

When you want to be president, polling in the low single digits in your party's primary has to be discouraging. Now imagine not even being the first choice among candidates with your last name.

That, in a nutshell, is why former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson abandoned his efforts to grab the Republican presidential nomination earlier this week, ceding the mantle of "GOP White House hopeful named Thompson" to former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.

So when might the old Law & Order regular might stop the countless months of exploratory footsie and officially enter the race? Let's get a clear and concise answer from Thompson himself: "We are going to be getting in if we get in, and of course we are in the testing the waters phase. We're going to be making a statement shortly that will cure all of that. But yeah, we'll be in traditionally when people get in this race."

Bold and decisive. Eventually. Maybe.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Coke machines in the desert

To say the last two weeks have been "hot" would be to call the Hundred Years War "a brief misunderstanding," or the Pacific Ocean "a place to store some water," or the Devil Rays "not the best team in baseball." It's been humid day after triple-digit day of an unspeakably dense, choking heat, the kind that permeates your very being and saps your ability -- and sometimes even your will -- to move, or think, or breathe.

Apparently it plays tricks on your senses, too, because I've had some strange visions lately:
Just imagine the hallucinations we'd have if global warming were anything more than an excuse for lazy polar bears that refuse to take personal responsibility and learn to swim.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Your call is important to us

Hello! Thank you for calling the federal government, America's No. 1 source for government service-related program activities for more than 200 years. Your call may be recorded to ensure quality control. Or to monitor you for signs of terrorist ties. Or because we have some free time and a spare audiotape.

For English, press 1. For all other languages, learn English.

Please select from the following options. To cut taxes and increase spending, press 1. To pay out more than we take in, press 2. To break up our spending into smaller pieces instead of one big annual chunk in the hope you won't notice it as much, press 3. To spend money like a hungry toddler with an endless supply of $20 bills in a candy store, press 4. For more options, press 9.

Just kidding. There are no other options. To pray that the budget deficit magically disappears, press 1. To make these prayers mandatory in all public places, press 2. To privatize all public places, press 3. To stay in Iraq forever no matter what, press 4. For more options, press 9.

Thank you for pressing 9, which also counts as a 4 because it looks like one if you squint really hard. To report a suspected foreigner, press 1. To report a predictable, region-crippling natural disaster for which we are grossly unprepared, press 2. To report an alleged "global warming" trend before all possible scientific experiments have been conducted in all possible galaxies to prove your theory, press 3. To defeat the terrorists in their war on freedom by chipping away at civil liberties, press 8. To beg for substantive change in your nation's direction, press 9.

Thank you for pressing 9, which is an 8 that used to be confused about its attractions, but is cured now and no longer demands special rights. We will neither confirm nor deny that someone may or may not arrive at an undisclosed location between the hours of now and forever with or without what may or may not be a warrant. Or not.

If you'd like to clear up any lingering confusion with a large donation sent through a campaign finance loophole, press 1. If not, thank you for calling the federal government, and have a nice day. You look like you could use one.