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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Printed in the RedEye Again!

Chicagoans - pick up a copy of the RedEye today (May 29th) if you're interested in seeing my name printed in the paper. I usually try and let you all know when I get printed by posting here when I SEND the letters to the editor, but this time was a little different.

To be honest, it was more of a personal response and I decided I wouldn't post here until they actually printed it.

I submitted the letter on Thursday, May 15th upon reading the article about people in relationships parting ways and "wanting to stay friends". They replied later that day with:

Thanks for writing Aaron. Will publish your letter in Friday's RedEye

Friday, nothing. Saturday, nothing. This continues for a while. On Monday, May 26th, they replied again with:

Thanks for writing Aaron,
We'd like to publish your letter in RedEye. Please email back to confirm that the following info is correct. Thanks

Aaron Samuels, 24, Bridgeport

I replied that it was correct. Nothing on Tuesday, Wednesday, and finally today - they printed it. Obviously not in its entirety, so I'm going to do my usual. Italics is what they didn't print, and boldface is what they did print.

One of my ex-girlfriends and I did not actually end things with those five little words of "I want to stay friends," but circumstances led to that happening anyway. After we did what we were supposed to do and broke up, moved on, and ceased communication - she wound up dating one of my friends and the two have been in a relationship for a while now. This led to a bit of awkwardness at parties when we were both invited by mutual friends, especially when those friends changed their tune from a post-breakup "we've got your back" to "you have to accept this and get along," which is what we did. I wouldn't say we're friends now, but we've agreed to be amicable acquaintances.

Of course, my other ex-girlfriend and I did end things with those five little words - and after several years without communication (I guess we weren't THAT good of friends), we found each other again after a random series of events and we've been together again for five months. She's actually moving in with me this weekend, and I couldn't be happier.

--Aaron Samuels, 24, Bridgeport
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Monday, May 19, 2008


It doesn't take a Master's degree from an upper-class business school to know the simple fact that sex sells. It's practically an age-old mantra of "if you make it sexy, they will come" - usually referring to females on the sexy side and males as the prospective clients trying to be driven in. And it's not just about selling products; some groups try to use sex to sell their ideology. PETA, for example, has been exploiting this tactic by having females wear very little or going fully nude during protests in order to lure in new followers (and new donors).

In Snohomish County, Washington, you'll find a large number of drive-through espresso/coffee stands. But if you see a coffee stand featuring scantily-clad baristas, you might be at Grab 'N' Go Espresso on Highway 99. Owner Bill Wheeler decided to bring a little bit of Las Vegas to his Washington company last year, and business has been booming for him. He plans on expanding to a dozen stands in Washington as well as Nevada, including one location hiring male baristas in Speedos and bowties, possibly imitating the fashion of the famous Chippendale's dancers.

Of course, for every sexy action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Among the complainers is Kimberly Gainza, who says, "I'm not against people making money. What I'm against is how they're going about doing it. It's not right -- on a road where everybody can see."

The law of the land says that as long as nipples and genitals are covered, there are no public indecency laws being broken. Health officials and state Labor and Industries officials say there are no clothing requirements for baristas, so there's no argument there either. Of course, this means that the complaining parties are trying to take these issues to the government in attempts to further regulate the industry and shut down the sexy espresso-pushers.

Obviously, another group of nay-sayers is comprised of rival coffee businesses. Tina Taylor, who has owned Giddy Up 'N' Go Espresso for eight years, says that her traffic to her business is clearly dipping. While at times her stand doesn't see a single customer in over a hour's time, rival sexy-stands always have cars lined up and ready for business. Ruth Oliver, who has owned R & R Espresso in Bothell for 17 years, said that she'd rather close her business down than turn it into a "strip club" just because of the popular trend.

(To be fair, at strip clubs you have to wait until they remove clothing - at these places, what you see upon entry is all you're going to get.)

And of course, just as these businesses are using sex to sell more coffee, other businesses are trying to profit from the clash without resorting to those tactics. They are using signs like "We Make it Hot with our Tops On," "R-rated Coffee; PG-rated Girls" and "Known 4 Coffee Not Cleavage!" to lure customers their way.

Others are just snippy. Sara Barnfather, 22, a barista with Stars and Stripes Espresso, says she's "proud to be classy, not trashy. If you like nipples and third-degree burns, go for it. But it's not my cup of tea."

And not surprisingly, a lot of male customers DO like nipples. A barista at one of these sexy-espresso stands claims that after working there for three months, she's been making twice the tips that she used to make at another coffee chain store. Baristas at these sexy espresso stands say they consistently fetch more than $100 a day in tips.

Meanwhile, the other coffee stands are slowly understanding that in this particular market and location, there's a real "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" type of atmosphere.

John Ferguson, who owns an espresso stand in Edmonds, said the combination of corporate outlets and bikini stands along the Highway 99 corridor forced him three months to adopt a "sexy espresso" theme or go out of business.

"We saw our male clientele dwindle to next to nothing," he said.

Carrie Smith, owner of the Mocha Boat in Lynnwood, said she switched themes six months ago after a competing stand hired young women to stand on the corner with pasties and tight shorts.

Business tripled after her employees started wearing more revealing outfits, she said.

"We had to close the stand or roll with it," Smith said.

While there have been a few reports of inappropriate comments made to the girls working the sexy espresso stands, the baristas agree that this can happen anywhere and it's not much more often than working elsewhere.

From the chain that probably started the trend as a whole, Hooters, there has been clear evidence that business has been thriving in spite of any critics who seem to take offense.

Frankly, I don't drink coffee. But I bet they'd make a mean cup of hot cocoa all the same, and I'm probably not the only guy out there who'll admit that it's okay to sacrifice a little bit of quality if it's being served by a team of scantily-clad female baristas.

After all, sex sells.

What do you think? Is this a trend of sexiness that's just expanding to new markets? Do you side with the businesses who are raking in the profits, or the businesses that refuse to "exploit" their employees and thereby are NOT raking in the profits? Would you buy a "sexpresso"?

(The 'sexpresso' article)

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No Illegal Immigrants in NC Community Colleges

(You can also view this post at Associated Content!)

A 1982 Supreme Court ruling says that illegal immigrant children are entitled to an education in the public U.S. system through high school. Somehow people got it in their minds that this automatically meant that illegal immigrants are welcome in public community colleges and state universities as well.

In North Carolina, the state attorney general has passed down new guidelines to all 58 of the state's community colleges barring the enrollment of illegal immigrants. The new rules go into effect on Tuesday. Students who are illegally in the United States and will be graduating from high school this month (after leeching from the public school system for numerous years) will no longer be admitted into North Carolina community colleges.

These guidelines do not effect the 16 public universities located in North Carolina, so those are still legal options for the illegal immigrants - for now.

Of course, Hispanic advocacy groups are up in arms and outraged. This is the first decision of its kind, which means that it will likely be challenged in court after the inevitable parade of protests and petitions.

As for those who are undocumented but have received their acceptance letters before the cutoff date of Tuesday, they will still be allowed to attend the community college. The summer session will be starting in just a few short weeks.

As for the 16 public universities that will still accept illegal immigrants, many undocumented prospective students are complaining that they can't afford the out-of-state tuition bills (since they obviously don't have legal residence in the state or the United States in general) and are not eligible for state or federal financial aid (since they obviously don't deserve to leech any more of the government's money after so many years of federally-allowed public school attendance).

So, why don't undocumented students apply for citizenship? Some say its a lengthy and expensive process.

You know what else is supposed to be a lengthy and expensive process? COLLEGE! If you can't hack the tedium and annoyance and price of going through the process to be a legal citizen, why should you deserve the right to attend the tedium and annoyance and price of higher education?

(1) Anti-illegal-immigration groups argue that illegal immigrants are stealing U.S. jobs from legal American citizens.

(2) Pro-illegal-immigration groups argue that most illegal immigrants are doing jobs that most Americans don't want to do in the first place, like picking fruit and janitorial services and menial tasks.

If (2) is true, then why would illegal immigrants need higher education? The only reason for getting higher education (other than "bettering yourself") is to get a better job that is higher up on the corporate ladder - jobs that legal American citizens are already struggling to fight for in the marketplace today.

This just proves that (2) is false and (1) is true.

I just don't see any possible other explanation. It's probably because I'm biased against illegal immigration, but look at the logic. The ONLY reason why you go to college or basically any higher education than high school - is to get a better job with better pay. And the definition of "better job" is almost certainly the subset of jobs that are NOT these "degrading" jobs to which American citizens would supposedly turn up their noses. Which means that illegal immigrants want to take away jobs from American citizens.


I think that it's frankly a brilliant idea on North Carolina's part, and that it needs to take effect in the public universities as well and then spread to the other states. They are totally allowed to do so, given that the Supreme Court only mandates allowing criminal illegal immigrants into our public schools until high school.

I want to see the looks on protesters' faces when their tirades against such laws are faced against this plain and simple argument. And for those of you who, like me, are attacked with the "they're only taking away jobs Americans don't want to do" argument over and over, now you have this bit of weaponry in your arsenal.


(The article about the decision)

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Chicago vs. PETA: Chicago Wins!

Before reading this, you might want to catch up by reading the previous parts of this Chicago vs. PETA series:

PART 1: Chicago Bans Food and PETA is to Blame
PART 2: Chicago vs. PETA: The Foie Gras Debate!
PART 3: Chicago vs. PETA: The Lawsuit!
PART 4: Chicago vs. PETA: The Uprising!
PART 5: Chicago vs. PETA: The First Offense!
PART 6: Chicago vs. PETA: A Step In The Right Direction?
PART 7: Chicago vs. PETA: Offenders on the Offense!

And join us in the eighth and hopefully final installment of a series of posts that (in the opinion of the writer) should never have come to be. And PETA is to blame; they shock-videoed the Chicago City Council into agreeing to sign a law banning foie gras from the city. In the second part, I discussed the studies and FACTS proving that the reasons BEHIND the law are unfounded and not based on any facts at all. In the third part I got to speak of the Illinois Restaurant Association (IRA) who believes so strongly in this cause that it's practically paying for both sides of the legal battle, based on the fact that it's unconstitutional to make a city law overturning something the federal government approves, let alone deciding what people can/cannot eat. In the fourth part I got to talk about the restaurants fighting back and how more were serving foie gras than ever once the law took effect. In the fifth part, we learned about the first victim of the law and how little the city even cared, other than the media. In part six, the mayor decided to reconsider his stance on the issue. Part seven revisits the restaurants, several months after the ban went into effect. In part eight, the ban has finally been repealed!

With Mayor Richard Daley running the vote, the Chicago City Council repealed its controversial ban on foie gras today, May 14th, 2008.

It's been a grueling two years that Chicago has been a laughingstock for enacting the "silliest law" (according to Mayor Daley) that banned the sale of foie gras here in Chicago. The council used a parliamentary procedure to call to vote a repeal of the ban.

Alderman Joe Moore was strongly against the vote, having sponsored the ban in the first place. The call to vote was started by Alderman Thomas Tunney, who actually owns a restaurant.

The vote was a clear 37-6 in favor of repealing the ban, more than enough to officially make it so.

(The official article from the Chicago Tribune who was on the scene of today's City Council meeting)

Hopefully this is the last of the Chicago vs. PETA series - a series we wouldn't have had in the first place if it weren't for PETA sticking its nose in YOUR dinner plate.

Read more!

Pro-Gay T-Shirts

Maybe it's just me, but I read this article and had to stop what I was doing (other than reading the article) just so I could pause and reflect and shout (in my head), "Am I the only one who can see what's going on?!?"

In Holmes County, Florida, a high school student is suing the School Board for suppressing her right to express in-school support for gays. U.S. District Judge Richard Smoak may return soon with a decision as to whether she has that right or not.

Heather Gillman, a 17-year-old junior at Ponce DeLeon High School, wants the right to wear T-shirts to school that have gay pride symbols and/or slogans supporting gay rights. She claims that last year, she wore a T-shirt to school with a pro-gay message and no administrators asked her to remove the shirt, nor did she get into any trouble. This year, between September 21 and 24, several students were suspended for wearing similar T-shirts. Gillman claims that her wearing of the T-shirts was not just about the message, but that she specifically did it to oppose the principal's suspension of the 10 students.

Gillmann was instructed through a School Board letter that shirts with messages on them are not acceptable. Now she fears that she will be suspended too if she continues to wear them, claiming that it is a suppression of her right to free speech.

The School Board contends that it does have the right to suppress free speech if it could lead to disruptions in learning.

Judge Smoak decided that this needed to be settled in a trial - including whether or not the messages Gillman wants to convey are appropriate for the age of the students that would be exposed to them, as well as whether of not they would be deemed "vulgar". Also, Smoak wants to see if there is a clear connection between the slogans and disruptions in school activities. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that free speech in schools cannot be suppressed unless it causes disruptions in the learning process.

Am I the only one who notices the disruption?

The student is in court, rather than in school! The principal is in court, rather than at the school! Members of the School Board are probably in the courtroom, rather than presiding over School Board issues!

Clearly this is a disruption! The argument can be made that this disruption wouldn't have occurred if there hadn't been an argument over whether or not the T-shirt slogans caused disruptions in the first place - but one can just as easily make the argument that the T-shirt slogans caused disruptions in the first place because the student did follow the School Board's advice in the first place and stop wearing them.

Frankly, I'm still a little perturbed that students can even wear T-shirts at school - but that's a result of attending a private high school with dress codes including rules that all shirts must have collars and must be solid color and cannot contain writing/logos larger than a standard business card and must also be tucked in at all times. That's right - we could get suspended just for having untucked shirts too many times - and she's fighting to wear pro-gay slogan T-shirts?

I side with the school, and encourage them to set up stricter and more-regulated dress codes. The blurrier and less clear the lines are drawn, the more problems like these are going to arise. I still like the notion of uniforms for all schools - students should be worrying less about what they are going to wear and more about LEARNING. Maybe if we had fewer students trying to challenge "the man" with lawsuits and freedom of speech, our test scores wouldn't be in the toilet and we'd have high school seniors who could actually READ and DO MATH.

Seriously, open up a newspaper any day of the week and you're likely to find at least one news article about our failing education system and graduating students who can't even read well enough to get by or do the simple math that would allow them to be a functional cashier at a fast-food restaurant.

I'm not anti-gay. I'm not anti-freedoms. I just think that there's a time and place for it all, and a high school classroom is not the place for it. I would have the same opinion if the slogans were on either side of the gay rights agenda, political candidates, or even illegal immigration. If this were about a student arguing the right to wear a T-shirt saying "ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION IS ILLEGAL", I'd still favor the School Board telling that student to take the shirt off, sit their ass down in the classroom and fucking LEARN things.

Do you agree? Or are you going to call me an anti-gay hatemonger for trying to argue that school is for learning and arguments over what is distracting are just as distracting as the items that are being argued about?

(The actual article, if I didn't paraphrase it well enough here)

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New Show Idea!

I'm always trying to come with horrible new TV shows, in hopes of one day landing one with a TV exec and getting paid a decent amount of money (not "retirement" money, but "living comfortably while keeping my job" money) and getting to appear in the credits or something. You know, a legacy. And more bad TV!

In the past, most of my efforts have gone to a FOX-style TV show called "V.D. Island" which would have honestly fit in perfectly with the FOX steaming pile of reality crap television. It's basically "The Mole" meets "Tempation Island", in which you basically have 10 males and 10 females all with clean bills of health except for one who secretly has a venerial disease. I'm thinking it would be best to do this show with an STD that can be fought with antibiotics, but it's up to the producers. It's basically a show where contestants have to have sex with someone at least once a week and try not to get the disease. The real fun comes in when people realize they've GOT the disease and since nobody's booted off the island, they get to trick other people into having sex with them just to screw them out of the prize. Would it come down to rape? Who knows! It's FOX programming at it's finest, no?

The real FOX-style twist would be when on the final episode, as the host is announcing the winner who does not have the VD that everyone else has...

...the host stabs the winner in the arm with a syringe and screams "YOU'VE GOT VD!" and hope on a helicopter as all of the signs flip-change to read an extra "ESCAPE FROM" over the "V.D. ISLAND"! Now it's a NEW reality show where 20 people with V.D. have six weeks to escape from V.D. Island! Plus, as an incentive, for every week they DON'T escape, they airdrop in a ravenous lion - who also has V.D.! The show would only obviously last two seasons (or whenever they get cancelled due to death-related lawsuits), but I think that's enough to get the ratings and merchandising enough to turn a profit.

I'm off the toppic - I have a NEW show idea. It's certainly not good enough for FOX (and by that, I mean "not profitable or horrendous enough") but it would do well on a network like maybe Food Network, given the nature of it.

I'm still working on a title.

Here's the premise:

A crew goes to a fast-food place, somewhere that has those deceptive-looking pictures of menu items (I've found them mostly at Chinese places, but most fast food locations would work just as well) and you basically tell the cashier that you will pay $100 if they can produce in ten minutes the equivelant food item that is represented in the picture. The footage would show the crew scrambling to adjust things or maybe make something fresh for a change just to try and piece together all of the elements of the picture in order to satisfy the judge. The end result would be a photo match showing the picture and the item, and if it comes close enough they get the money to be split among the crew, otherwise they get paid the regular value of the item.

Since the ten minutes of time they need to make the item is obviously not long enough for one full half-hour episode (I doubt that even with minimal editing, there isn't even going to be ten full minutes of footage that's airworthy), Food Network might have the classier programming to maybe take a few minutes to do some background on the location, or air the letter or video send in requesting that their team tackle this location. I can't wait to see angry patrons showing video of the picture on the menu and the pathetic excuses for food that are served, demanding this kind of satisfaction to be televised. Maybe as a bonus, they have that patron who sent the request actually show up at the location to eat the end results and maybe give a food rating or just a statement of gratitude.

Maybe as a show-off, they could have a moderately-famous chef as the host and after the ten-minute judging, the chef would get behind the counter and use their ingredients to try and out-do them in making the visual masterpiece? The possibilities are quite extensive. I think it would make for great bad-TV, something you flip to and wonder what it is long enough to stay tuned, like a car accident that piques your interest.

What do you think? Would you watch this kind of show? Should I create a real pitch for it? Do you have restaurants screwing you over with inaccurate visual representations of their food? Should I just stick to "V.D. Island"-type shows?

(Fact: My dad used to order burgers from Carl's Jr. with the phrase "extra messy" because he wanted them to accurately represent the sloppy claims made in the TV advertisements. For those of you not familiar with one of Carl's Jr. or their slogans, "If it doesn't get all over the place - it doesn't belong in your face.") Read more!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ethical Meat: Squirrel?

Maybe I'm "ahead of the times", but I recall spending many an hour on the APPLE II at school playing Oregon Trail and testing my hunting skills by shooting every moving critter - including the squirrels. Sure, it wasted some bullets, and sure, it only netted me 1 or 2 pounds of meat with each kill, but I knew that squirrel meat must have tasted yummy, and I like to think it led to my family staving off the cholera and dysentery until I slammed the wagon into a rock on the last river just to be a jerk. Then again, I'm he type of jerk who would name their family members after the various health problems just to see messages like "Cholera has a broken leg" and "Broken Leg has cholera" flashing on the screen.

I digress. As it turns out, squirrel meat isn't just a hilarious appetizer on an old-school computer game. It's turning up as a delicacy in England. That's right, I've been able to bring you stories of dogmeat in Korea, Aussies eating feral cats, rat buffets in China and now of Grey Squirrel Pasties in merry ol' England!

Once again, I have to state: I've always advocated the notion that things made of meat (other than humans) can be eaten. I will admittedly draw the line when it comes to humans - not out of any ethical or moral reasoning, but because that would mean that I could be eaten and that doesn't benefit me in the least. I'm also not that hugely in favor of eating things that could become extinct. However, I do believe that those animals should be bred in captivity like you would on any farm, just to keep the numbers up and set aside a nice fat percentage for consumption.

The grey squirrel - not to be confused with the red squirrel, an endangered British creature - is apparently low in fat and high in flavor. Since they're free-range and have low "food miles" (which I believe is a term describing the distance between the kill and the store), grey squirrel is being declared an "ethical meat". Butchers can't keep them on the shelves, either.

"We put it on the shelf and it sells. It can be a dozen squirrels a day - and they all go," said David Simpson, the director of Kingsley Village shopping centre in Fraddon, Cornwall, whose game counter began selling grey squirrel meat two months ago.

There's no disagreement on whether or not the meat should be sold and consumed - since customers have been gobbling them up ever since they appeared in the shops - but there is some disagreement on the taste. Some say it's a taste like wild boar. Others would liken it to duck or lamb. All in all, everyone agrees that it's tasty - possibly because the squirrel's diet consists of nuts and berries which leave the meat tasting sweet and moist.

Butchers are even selling them as patriotism, that for every grey squirrel being killed and eaten, that's food and shelter that is now available for the endangered red squirrels. The motto is, of course, "'Eat a grey and save a red." Of course, it's pretty obvious that most British squirrel-buyers aren't really doing it to "be green" or patriotic or anything like that. It's probably purely the novelty of eating squirrel meat. And even though it's a niche market in the meat world, there's plenty of room to expand. After all, there's about five million grey squirrels in England and they've been selling at 3.50 Euro (about $5.25 USD) apiece.

The meat itself is akin to rabbit, with most of the meat coming from the rear legs. So far, the meat has been used to popularize recipes such as Southern-fried squirrel, tandoori-style squirrel and fricasseed squirrel with Cornish cream and walnuts. The most popular seems to be Cornish squirrel pasties. Thanks to Kevin Viner, former chef-proprietor of Pennypots who now runs Viners bar and restaurant at Summercourt, we have a recipe for this squirrely dish:

Squirrel Pasties


140g squirrel meat cut into 1cm cubes;

100g sliced potato; 100g sliced swede; 50g diced onion; 30g smoked bacon;

15g chopped hazelnuts; 75g butter;

5g chopped parsley; a good pinch of salt and pepper


· Egg wash edges of pastry circles.

· Place the potato, swede, hazelnuts, parsley and seasoning on to each circle followed by the bacon, squirrel meat and, finally, the onion.

· Place butter in each pasty, then fold over the pastry and crimp the edges.

· Put the pasties on to a greaseproof baking tray, egg wash both pasties well, place in a pre-heated oven at 180C or gas mark 5.

· Bake for 45-50 minutes. The juices should start to boil and the pasties should be able to move on the tray with ease.

So we've now got yet another country willing to eat meat from animals that we in America still shun the idea of consuming.

When are we going to be able to eat horse, dog, cat, squirrel and rat meat? It's working in other countries! They're not riddled with such a huge hunger problem because they have all of these viable options for meat! Maybe it's because other countries don't have our problem of huge uprisings of uppity PETA members getting in our faces and shoving their noses on our dinner plates!

What do you think? Is it finally time for the U.S. to stop turning up our noses at the thought of other edible critters on our plate? Don't you just hate PETA?

(The squirrelly-tasty article from the UK)

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Penny Problems

The rising price of metals means that the government is losing money by making pennies and nickels - about $100 million last year alone, according to Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois, whose subcommittee oversees the U.S. Mint.

By my calculations, it's different - but the validity of either figure depends on the accuracy of the rest of the information provided in the article.


A penny, which consists of 97.5 percent zinc and 2.5 percent copper, cost 1.26 cents to make as of Tuesday. That's down from the end of 2007, when even higher metal prices drove the penny's cost to 1.67 cents, according to the Mint. In 2007, the Mint produced 7.4 billion pennies. Even at the lower current price of 1.26 cents to produce a penny worth 1 cent, if you multiply that loss by the 7.4 billion pennies produced in 2007, that's $20,280,000 that the government is losing just by MAKING the coinage for pennies. I realize that this 1.26-cent cost is NOW, but at end of 2007 it was even more and I'm sure there were fluctuations along the way for 2007.


A nickel -- 75 percent copper and the rest nickel -- cost 7.7 cents, based on current commodity prices, according to the Mint. In 2007, the Mint produced 1.2 billion nickels. With that 2.7-cent loss, you're looking at another $32,400,000 in loss for the US Government at the hands of the US Mint. So in total, it looks like the estimate of $100 million by Gutierrez is about $47 million high, but it could be that these figures are just regarding the price of the METAL and don't take into account the cost of STRIKING these worthless coins. Upon further research, I learned that this is not the case. The costs listed in the article are indeed metal and production and shipping fees.

Other Coinage?

Luckily, not all coinage here in the United States is screwing us all over financially (after all, taxpayers pay for the government's mistakes like these). Dimes still cost a little more than 4 cents each to produce. The quarter costs a little less than 10 cents to produce. The dollar coin, which might actually have a lower approval rating than the penny (if you asked random people on the street which we should get rid of), costs only about 16 cents each to produce.

So what can we do?

Well, my first thought was that if the materials used to make pennies are worth more than a penny, the next logical step would be to melt down pennies into those two materials and sell them and profit. It should be as easy as that.

And it WAS.

The real issue is that in reality, the metal content of pennies now being produced is actually NOT more than one cent. In 1982 there was a shift in the composition of pennies from 95% copper and 5% zinc to the current 2.5% copper and 97.5% zinc, obviously due to the price of copper. With the current prices of zinc and copper, post-1982 pennies are worth (from a strictly-metal standpoint) about .7 cents each. The pre-1982 pennies are worth about 2.6 cents each. So what's to stop someone from sorting through pennies, finding all of the pre-1982 pennies and melting them to turn a 160% profit?

That's what went through the mind of Walter Luhrman of Ohio. This metallurgist created a new company, Jackson Metals, which purchased truckloads of pennies from the Federal Reserve. He developed a system to rapidly sort the pre-1982 pennies from the less-valuable post-1982 pennies. The copper pennies were melted and turned into ingots to be sold, while the zinc pennies were returned to circulation in cities where pennies were scarce, thereby saving the U.S. Mint the hassle of making fresh batches of zinc pennies to service these locations. One would think that the U.S. Mint would be happy with these results.

On December 14th, 2006, the United States Mint implemented new regulations that made the melting of pennies and nickels a crime (as well as limited the export of these coins) that has a punishment of up to a $10,000 fine and/or up to five years in prison.

So my dream of profiting as such is now gone. As I'm sure is yours, as you were no doubt rifling through your pockets or nearby change jars for pennies from before 1982 just to at least see the difference, if not scheme about profiting from these otherwise-useless bits of metal.

And the truth is that pennies are useless. So many countries have eliminated small-denomination coinage for similar reasons. New Zealand has even eliminated its five-cent coinage, not to mention reduced the size of the ten-, twenty- and fifty-cent coins. Canada also has plans to eliminate their pennies, which will lead to their plans to eliminate the five-cent pieces as well - following in New Zealand's footsteps. So why isn't the US trying to do the smart thing and rid ourselves of the accursed one-cent coin?

We tried. Several times.

In 1989, Rep. Hayes of Louisiana and Rep. Kolbe of Arizona proposed the Price Rounding Act, which would require all cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest five cents, thereby eliminating the need for one-cent coins. But of course, for every seemingly-good idea that would counteract a seemingly-bad idea already in place, there's a powerful group or lobby that became powerful by profiting from the seemingly-bad idea. In this case, it would be the Americans for Common Cents group.

The group receives its financial support from Jarden Zinc Products, which is one of the nation’s largest producers of zinc, and which has supplied the U.S. Mint with penny planchets since the copper-zinc crossover of 1982. For the non-financial power, they enlisted the services of an economics professor to claim that this "rounding" of transactions would ultimately mean the public would wind up spending more as a result of all their cash transactions, which he deemed a "rounding tax" that we all would wind up paying over time with each transaction. And once you call something a "tax", it doesn't fare well.

The Price Rounding Act was quickly killed. In July of 2001, Kolbe made a solo attempt (since Hayes had retired) to kill the penny through the Legal Tender Modernization Act. The bill itself was a failure, but it at least got some notariety thanks to the TV show "The West Wing" where it was featured in an episode and also resulted in failure.

There are only three machines in the United States that accept pennies:
1) Coin-wrapping machines that are used to get rid of pennies
2) Coinstar machines that are used to get rid of pennies
3) Automated tollbooths, but only in Illinois

Why only Illinois? Because it's the birth state of Abraham Lincoln, the man whose face resides on the obverse of the penny. (That's right, the head of a coin is the "obverse" and the tails side is the "reverse" - you may have just learned a new word!) In fact, Illinois nutjobs are some of the only proponents of keeping the penny alive, aside from the A.C.C. and their monetary sponsor, Big Zinc. Other nutjobs who are in favor of keeping the penny are groups that hold "penny drives" for charity (another way for people to get rid of pennies) and people who just plain don't like change. (I mean 'change' in the sense of nothing being different than it is right now.)

Kolbe made one final attempt in 2006 to bring down the penny, when zinc prices were at a record high and the penny's purchasing power was therefore at a record low. He was once again unsuccessful, and retired the next year. There is currently nobody in Congress left who loathes the penny enough to take up the fight.

That is why I vow that if I am elected to the Chicago City Council as an alderman in 2011 (the next election), I will do everything in my political power to fight the penny and work with elected officials next-in-command to do the same. I don't care that I live in the Abraham Lincoln birthstate - the penny is useless and it's time to take it down for good. And for the Lincoln-lovers out there - pipe down.

He's still got the freakin' $5-bill!

Do you agree that it's time to get rid of this useless coin once and for all? What are your thoughts??

(The article about the penny's current uselessness)
(An article about the history of the penny's uselessness)
(Wikipedia page on the "Cent" - the actual name for the U.S. penny)

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Addicted to Prostitutes?

On Wednesday, a study will be released that involves 200 Chicago men who have used prostitutes and were willing to answer questions about their experiences. I try to be objective when it comes to research methodology, but some things make me admittedly biased. For one thing, it's my personal belief that prostitution should be legal. There are a number of five-second arguments that one can make which would try and sway you to this point of view, but I'll try and limit myself to just one and get it out of the way early:

It shouldn't be illegal to sell something that you can legally give away for free.

That out of the way, I have to point out that this research survey "was designed by anti-prostitution activist Melissa Farley, who is controversial because academics have accused her of tilting previous research to support a political agenda. The Chicago study is part of an international project that includes surveys in Scotland, India and Cambodia. Critics of the Scotland survey called Farley's methods unscientific."

So right off the bat, not only should you take all of the results with a grain of salt, but you might want to think twice about putting that grain of salt in your mouth. I also want to add that Farley is based in San Francisco, which means that she's probably one of those misguided bleeding-heart "liberals" who really wants to take away liberties instead of protect them.

The main result of the surveys and interviews with the 200 men who frequent prostitutes is that they are conflicted about their behavior. Most of the men obviously said they believe there is nothing wrong with prostitution, but 83% of the interviewees viewed buying sex as a form of addiction. Most of the men believed that women became prostitutes of their own free will, but also acknowledged that the sex trade can be devastating to the women involved. 57% suspect that their prostitutes were abused as children. Almost a third said that they viewed prostitutes' relationships with pimps as "harmful". 40% of men said that they are usually intoxicated when they buy sex.

I'd like to discuss some of these results with my own worldviews.

You already know my stance on there being nothing wrong with prostitution - other than the fact that it's still illegal because it shouldn't be.

Believing prostitutes enter the profession of their own free will? I can side with that argument. After all, the root nature of prostitution is just payment and sex. Both of those acts have to be agreed upon in order for it to be prostitution. Without consent to be paid, it's not prostitution. Without consent to sex, it's rape.

Acknowledgment that the sex trade can be devastating to the women? Of course. I admit that it has the potential for destroying livelihood - and that it probably has. The way to stop that is by making it legal and being able to enforce safety issues and monitor things like any other business. Legalizing it as a profession would mean the possibility for health insurance and other medical benefits.

That prostitutes were abused as children? I can see that there could be a psychological standpoint of being abused as a child leading to sexual promiscuity and the possible increased risk of becoming a prostitute, but to make that assumption? I would think that there are more cases out there of other reasons to becoming a prostitute than child abuse. I would also think that prostitutes might use a sob story like one of child abuse to get more money from clients who might "want to help" and ease their possible guilt from what they've done. It can go either way.

That the relationship between prostitutes and pimps are harmful? I would have to agree, but mostly based on the fact that it's not legal, which means there's no laws protecting the girls. If you went to your office job and your boss beat you with his "boss cane" because sales projections weren't up for the quarter, there would be lawsuits and settlement money abound. A prostitute should be entitled to the same benefits if her pimp decides to beat her with his "pimp cane" because she's not pulling enough tricks or making enough cash. Imagine your job if there were no laws about what your boss could or couldn't do...

40% of men are intoxicated when they pay for sex? That's a no-brainer. Alcohol and other drugs lower inhibitions. Inhibitions are what keep you from doing things that you know you shouldn't do. Like break the law. By paying for sex. I'm shocked that this number isn't higher, but then again I'm sure that a number of these men have long since lost those inhibitions by rationalizing that 1) the law is wrong, so why worry about breaking it or 2) the need for it supercedes the reasoning against doing it.

I lastly need to touch upon that large 83% of men who said that they viewed paying for sex as an addiction. A lot of psychologists will agree that the difference between a compulsion and an addiction is that no harm is being done to the person or to a third party. Alcohol hurts the body and drugs hurt the body - so it's safe to call a compulsion to use those substances an addiction. Does a compulsion to have sex hurt people? Perhaps in an instance of rape or molestation, yes. Paedophiles and rapists would be considered, in my mind, as having deviant sexual addictions. But for run-of-the-mill sexual intercourse (or mild variations of kinkiness that may be involved in prostitution for extra fees)? I think it's a compulsion, and one that shouldn't be shunned or blocked off with laws.

Also, it's hard to define what the potential addiction is: the act of having sex, or the paying for it? Actually, it would be the act of having sex and the act of breaking the law. The rush of adrenaline that some people get when they break a law - THAT can be considered addictive. Which means that by making prostitution legal, those addicts would have to get their fix somewhere else - like robbing liquor stores and probably getting caught. Would I feel bad if making prostitution legal led to a rise in gun violence? Not really. It would take some pretty hard work to ever tie someone to gun violence as a direct result of legalizing prostitution. I mean, proving it in a court of law.

The last statistic brought up by this survey is what the anti-prostitution creator wants to tout as the best result of the survey: 90% of the men said that they would stop if they felt there was a likely chance they would be caught and prosecuted. I think that's just bad news. She wants to make it a logical reason to make the penalties harsher as a deterrent to these men. I think that the end result of that would be MORE suffering for the prostitutes that this woman is trying to "help" - as well as a potential rise in violent sex crimes.

The full results will be made public on Wednesday, May 7th, 2008. I really think that the only way to make these results valid is a complimentary study asking similar questions to the actual Chicago prostitutes. Otherwise, you're only hearing one side of the story, and that's not enough to make a fully-educated decision either way.

And I guess I should wrap up this post by saying that: Yes, I am a Chicago male. No, I have never paid for sex. Yes, I have actually known a Chicago prostitute. No, she didn't give "freebies" to friends. Yes, I still side with her anyway that it should be legal.

What do you think? Do you think that prostitution should be made legal in order to protect these girls - or do you think that prostitution should have harsher penalties in order to protect these girls?

(The article about the potentially-biased study)

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Monday, May 05, 2008

PETA Blames Clinton For Horse Death?

Okay, apparently during the Kentucky Derby (or rather AFTER the Derby), about a quarter-mile past the finish line, the horse Eight Belles broke both front ankles and collapsed on the track and had to be euthanized in front of thousands of spectators. It was handled as quickly as possible to end the pain as quickly as possible. And of course, PETA is in an uproar.

First, they call for the suspension of the jockey, Gabriel Saez. I can at the very least understand this branch of idiocy. The last one touching Eight Belles was obviously the rider, so PETA gets to blame him. After all, you know that jockeys use their little horsewhip to spur the horses faster down the straightaways. So I could totally agree with this statement - if the jockey were whipping the horse's ankles at the time of their shattering and collapse. This didn't even occur while the horse was straining to run fast - the race was already OVER. The horse was, if anything, slowing down with no aggressive actions by the rider. And then the tragedy struck.

"What we really want to know, did he feel anything along the way?" PETA spokeswoman Kathy Guillermo said. "If he didn't then we can probably blame the fact that they're allowed to whip the horses mercilessly."

Did he feel anything?? I'm pretty sure that if you're riding a horse and it shatters its ankles and had to be put down, you feel something. You may not necessarily feel GUILTY or RESPONSIBLE, but you would probably be SAD about the whole thing. Hell, even if you were in a street race and you're gunning it and a quarter-mile past the finish line the front wheels snap at the axle and your car is a goner - you FEEL SOMETHING. With the money that goes into street-racing cars, they might even feel MORE than this jockey, but that's not to say the jockey felt anything less.

But even if your car breaks after the finish line, you still win and you get your prize. PETA is calling for the 2nd-place prize money of $400,000 to be revoked if Saez is "found at fault." Which I'm pretty sure is not possible, since the horse was fine and happy until after the race when it happened that both front ankles got shattered.

The fucked-up part is that not only did they obviously write a letter to the Kentucky Horse Racing Association, but they wrote a letter to Hillary Clinton and BLAMED HER for the horse's death!

I won't print the entirety of the letter, but here's how it starts:

Dear Senator Clinton:

As a high profile political figure with the esteem of many women, I regret to say that your public support of horseracing — and specifically betting on Eight Belles — makes you culpable in her destruction.

Not only are they bat-shit crazy for this stunt, they've kind of screwed their case against Gabriel Saez, haven't they? How can you claim that TWO PEOPLE killed ONE HORSE? They just PUBLICLY told Hillary Clinton that she is culpable for the horse's death.

culpable: (adj) deserving blame or censure; blameworthy.
(Origin: culpare, Latin, "to hold liable")

What pissed me off (okay, the blame Clinton thing amused me more than pissed me off) was that later in the letter, after the scathing list of other horses who have had to be euthanized (also pissed me off that when PETA does it, it's "euthanized" or "put down", but when a medical professional does it, it's "destroyed") - PETA compares attending the Kentucky Derby to attending a dogfight.

Hey, Newkirk! Apparently you don't understand the fucking point of EITHER sport, or you wouldn't have made such a ridiculous comparison! Dogfighting is... FIGHTING DOGS. Two dogs enter, one dog leaves. Horse racing is... RACING HORSES. Many horses enter, and almost 100% of the time, they all leave. Once in a while, tragedies occur. Races go on many times every day, and the number of times it directly leads to a horse death as a result of a race is a small fraction. Dogfighting is illegal, as is attending one. Horse racing is legal, as is attending one and BETTING on one!

I still fail to see the logic of one woman betting on a horse who happens to die AFTER running the race, and that makes this woman responsible for the horse's death. Are they suggesting that maybe if Hillary Clinton didn't bet on Eight Belles, someone could have convinced the horse to not compete? I mean, she already probably feels bad for betting on a horse that didn't win - now she has to feel responsible because it also died after not winning?

It makes no sense. PETA makes no sense.

Of course, my first thought on hearing that PETA was writing a letter calling for certain sanctions of the horse-racing industry was, "wait, PETA's not outright calling for an end to horse-racing? It's just making demands for 'less-suffering' sanctions?" Turns out that the full letter sent to the KHRA makes the demands, then admits that the sport should be banned, but failing that, at least it should do these things.

I'm just surprised that PETA would threaten Hillary Clinton with the culpability of the horse's death and comparing her to a criminal attending a dogfight, but avoided the obvious threat of "we hope that you suffer the same fate as Eight Belles: come in second place in the election, break both your ankles, and get then killed by lethal injection."

What do you think? (I mean about PETA's craziness, not the whole "Hillary Clinton coming in second place" comment.)

(The article about Eight Belles)
(PETA's letter to Hillary Clinton)

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Smoking Ban Closes Bars

Exactly one year ago (from May 1st), Northern Ireland was the victim of the wave of smoking bans as theirs took effect. And the effect has been great - but not in a positive way at all. It's led to the closing of 100 bars. That's 7% of Northern Ireland's pub count, according to the Federation of Retail Licensed Trade, which represents about 1,100 pubs, hotels and restaurants in Northern Ireland.

The whole reasoning behind the smoking ban was so that non-smokers would be rushing to these locations now that they contained a smoke-free environment. That is obviously not the case, as 100 locations have gone out of business and Steve Kelly, the chief executive of the Federation of Retail Licensed Trade "expects another 100 to close next year."

Isn't this proof-positive that the smoking ban is USELESS, especially in bars?

I mean the whole "argument" (if you can call it that, since there are scientific studies that support it and scientific studies that counter it) was that non-smokers wanted to cease the attack of secondhand smoke on them while they were trying to get a pint. So now that they got their wish and the smoke is gone, they're not drumming up enough business for the pubs to keep them even afloat!

This is just an obvious example of people who shouldn't have a say in the OPERATION of a business because they aren't CUSTOMERS of that business. If there were a bar with 100 regular customers and 50 of them were planning to stop coming because of an establishment policy (or lack thereof), the business can decide to do what it must in order to maximize their customer satisfaction or their profits (maybe the other 50 are twice the profit as the complaining 50). It's when people who are NOT customers start raising a fuss that problems occur. Changing the business' practices and policies won't mean a thing unless the result is more patronage or more profitability!

Sure, you can argue all you want that the protesters who caused the smoking bans to come into play were "thinking about the greater good" and "wanting to protect your lungs" or something. I still don't understand why it's a "libertarian" view to take away the business's liberty of choosing policies in favor of the potential customer's liberty of not breathing secondhand smoke. If you ask me (and you didn't, but I'm telling you anyway), the REAL libertarian view should be that the potential customer DOES have the liberty of not breathing potentially-harmful secondhand smoke - and that businesses should have the liberty to say that those potential customers have every right to find somewhere else to enjoy that liberty, because that business has chosen to protect the liberty of those who want to smoke.

Northern Ireland bar owners lost that liberty to choose their own smoking policy. And the result was that 100 of them also lost their businesses. And 100 more are probably going to lose their businesses next year.

If we can't even get enough IRISH people into PUBS to keep them in business with this smoking ban, what chance do any bars have in general to survive this idiotic smoking ban?

Once again, I am NOT a smoker. And yes, I find smoking to be a disgusting habit and I hate the smell of secondhand smoke. But I also think that smokers have the right to EXIST and to SMOKE - especially in bars.

What do you think?

(The sad story about the pub closings)

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