Various things that have been piling up in the “Bloggable” folder. But together they tell their own story.
Part of the stimulus package includes money for high-speed rail. That’s good — if the government is going to be spending piles of money in an attempt to kick-start the economy, it would be nice to get something of lasting value in return, and mass transportation connecting distant cities is certainly of lasting value. Of course opponents are playing politics with it, which is to be expected. And here is their fun strategy: to highlight on such proposed high-speed rail line, between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and label it the “Sin Express.” Get it? Real Americans don’t travel between those two dens of iniquity, only shady reprobates who want to divert stimulus dollars from hard-working blue-collar Midwesterners who would never step foot inside a shiny Vegas casino.
Unfortunately, it’s not even true — there is no money set aside for high-speed rail between LA and Vegas, and it’s not listed as a high priority on the Federal Railroad Administration’s list of officially designated high-speed rail corridors. Which is too bad, as I’ve driven along several of those hypothetical routes, and the one between LA and Vegas is certainly one of the more useful places to plunk down some high-speed rail.
Read Jessica Valenti on “hook-up culture.” In case you don’t know what that is, it’s a catchphrase invented by cultural conservatives who would like you to believe that kids today are disrespecting America’s Puritan heritage by having sex with each other. And they may be right! I suspect that some kids are having sex with each other. Sex is fun. But it is also something to be careful about, with possible unintended consequences ranging from emotional pain to disease to unplanned pregnancies. So we might hope that responsible cultural conservatives would want to equip young men and women with the knowledge necessary to avoid those pitfalls while enjoying the fun parts of sex. But that agenda seems to be well-hidden under a campaign to shame people, under the theory that other people having sex is a dirty and disgusting thing.
You may have heard that Michael Phelps, former paragon of American purity and might and speediness in water, has been uncovered as a shocking moral degenerate. Apparently he intentionally inhaled the fumes from a slowly-burning psychoactive herb, funneled through some sort of device designed expressly for that purpose, while “chilling” with his “buds.” Now all of his recent success at the Beijing Olympics must be called into question — how do we know that his fantastic performances in competitive swimming weren’t artificially aided by “toking” on a “doobie” before hopping in the pool? Naturally, Phelps has been suspended from competition, stripped of lucrative sponsorship deals, and forced to wear a sackcloth and ashes while parading around the town square with a giant scarlet “M” hanging around his neck.
Here is the letter Michael Phelps should have written. If only.
This is Annette Obrestad from Norway, one of the best poker players in the world. She is also a young woman, and a great role model for girls in what has traditionally been a boy’s game. She burst on the scene when she was only 15 years old, winning online tournaments in Europe. At the age of 18 she proved that her prowess extended to live play, winning $2 million by taking first place at the World Series of Poker Europe Main Event.
But Obrestad can’t legally play poker for money in the United States. She’s too young, and will have to wait another year until she turns 21. You can join the army, or vote, or sign multi-million-dollar basketball contracts if you are 20 years old, but you can’t play poker for money. (Michael Phelps participated in the 2000 Olympics at the age of 15.) America is afraid of poker. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, smuggled through Congress in 2006, led many online poker sites to stop accepting money from U.S. players, no matter how old they are.
I’m not sure what it is that makes America so puritanical, compared to Western Europe. (It’s also substantially more religious, but the direction of the causal arrows is not clear.) Hopefully we can scold the country into taking a more grown-up attitude toward sex, drugs, gambling — maybe even, someday, rock and roll. A few more blog posts like this one should do it.