The musings of one Andrew Langer - defender of liberty, passionate protector of individual rights, foodie. (Note: Said Musings of Andrew Langer are his own, and the views represented herein are likewise his views, and not the views of any other people, entities, foodstuffs, etc [unless otherwise specifically and explicitly noted].)

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

No Hypocrisy Here, Eh Senator Dorgan?

Those of you who know me know that there are two things in life that I cannot stand: bullies and hypocrites. I have a special disdain for hypocritical bullies (or bullying hypocrites) – those who attempt to throw their weight around despite the clear double-standards that this might uncover. This held true when I was writing on Usenet, where bullying by hypocrites seems to run rampant, and it holds true today, in the real world.

Today, I’d like to turn to Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND). The good senator joined with his colleague, Senator McCain, in attempting to expose corruption in Washington, DC, though a series of hearings investigating the activities of superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. Senator Dorgan expressed incredulity that Italia Federici, President of the Coalition of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy, could have received monies from Jack Abramoff and his clients in return for nothing.

I'll say nothing more, except to offer a story from the AP (and the Grand Forks Herald), which states that Senator Dorgan apparently received some $95,000 from Abramoff and his clients - something not disclosed before the hearings:

Posted on Fri, Nov. 25, 2005

WASHINGTON: Tribes obtain school dollarsLawmakers helped Abramoff-aided tribes get money, collected donationsBy John Solomon and Sharon TheimerAssociated Press
WASHINGTON - More than a dozen members of Congress intervened to help Indian tribes win federal school construction money while accepting political donations from the tribes, their lobbyist Jack Abramoff or his firm.

The lawmakers hailed from both parties, including House Appropriations subcommittee Chairman Charles Taylor, R-N.C., and Sen. Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, the top Democrat on the Senate committee currently investigating Abramoff.

Most wrote letters that pressed a reluctant Bush administration to renew a program that provided tribes federal money for building schools. Others worked the congressional budget process to ensure it happened, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
And most received donations, ranging from $1,000 to more than $74,000, in the weeks just before or after their intervention. One used Abramoff's restaurant for a fund-raiser a month after a letter.

As a group, they collected more than $440,000 from Abramoff, his firm or his tribal clients between 2001 and 2004, when Abramoff represented the tribes.

In Washington, special interests with business before Congress commonly provide donations to lawmakers as they lobby.

But ethics rules require lawmakers to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest while performing official duties, a requirement that became famous a decade ago during the Keating Five scandal when several got in trouble for pressuring regulators on behalf of Charles Keating while taking donations from the savings and loan operator.

Lawmakers said their letters had nothing to do with Abramoff and instead were prompted by their desire to keep the government's Indian school building program alive so tribes in their own states might one day benefit. The timing of donations, they said, were a coincidence.

"It really had nothing to do with Jack Abramoff. Senator Dorgan had a personal interest in the program and how it benefits tribes at large and the Three Affiliated Tribes in his state," Dorgan chief of staff Bernie Toon said, echoing comments from many lawmakers.

A former federal prosecutor said the size of the donations and their close proximity to official actions could impact the current Justice Department investigation of Abramoff. The lobbyist has been charged with fraud in a Florida case, and an associate has pleaded guilty in Washington and is cooperating with investigators.

Dorgan, along with Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., signed a Feb. 11, 2002, letter asking the Senate Appropriations Committee for a "long-term extension" of funding for the Indian school building program.

One of Abramoff's client tribes, the Mississippi Choctaw, was using the program, and his team was lobbying furiously to extend it for other tribal clients, including the Saginaw Chippewa of Michigan. The Saginaw prevailed the next year. The Burns-Dorgan letter specifically mentions the Choctaw.

Nine days later, Dorgan's campaign got $2,000 from the Choctaw, and by late spring had received $17,000 more from three other Abramoff tribes and his firm. In all, Dorgan got nearly $95,000 in Abramoff-related money between 2001 and 2004.

Asked whether Dorgan should have disqualified himself from the Senate investigation of Abramoff, Toon said the senator had pursued the investigation in an "aggressive and bipartisan way" and didn't need to step aside.

Burns also benefited handsomely. In the quarter he sent the 2002 letter with Dorgan, Burns collected $70,000 in Abramoff tribal donations to one of his political groups, Friends of the Big Sky PAC, and an additional $2,000 to his campaign.

© 2005 Grand Forks Herald and wire service sources

Begs a few questions, doesn't it?

- Andrew Langer

Friday, November 25, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving (Belatedly....)!!

I know, I know, I've been a bit absent. In my defense, things have been supremely busy on the NFIB front - a lot of writing. I've been working on a piece about Senator McCain, but have been going back-and-forth about the overall subject matter. Essentially, the good Senator's been busy, and in the last few weeks has done a few acts worthy of notice on the Liberty Blog.

But that's all for another time. In the meantime, I hope you all had a nice Thanksgiving. The Langer clan all gathered at our house this year, as well as a few added guests.

The turkey was excellent. I followed the Cooks' Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen recipe for "turkey for a crowd", though I did brine the bird myself. I was astounded as this 23-pound giant finished right on time. The combination of the brine, the initial blast of high heat, and then the flip from back to front-side-up produced marvelous results.

I dismembered the bird using some poultry shears, and then carved up the meat with an electric knife (thanks to Alton Brown and "Good Eats" for inspiring me to invest in an electric knife. Shades of Thanksgiving Dinners at my Uncle Arnie's in the Bronx washed over me as I ran through slice after slice).

In the future, I've gotta keep track of just how many people are coming to dinner. I wound up making enough stuffing to feed the 6th Fleet, I think. Actually, it's more accurate to call it dressing, as I don't "stuff" the bird.

My thoughts have centered around our those Americans who spent their holidays engaged in the voluntary defense of this nation, and those who are sacrificing to engender this nation's goodwill around the globe. That and, as has been on my mind a lot lately, tolerance. The idea that folks need to be respectful enough to listen to ideas of all kinds, not just those that fall within their comfort zone.

Anyhow, the blog returns to normal publishing this weekend.

And so the holiday season begins!!!!

- Andrew LAnger

Friday, November 11, 2005

One Degree of Separation - The Link Between Kelo and Intellectual Property Rights

So, last week I linked the passing of civil rights icon Rosa Parks to the struggle for the protection of private property rights. This week, I offer a link between the struggle to protect intellectual property rights and the Kelo decision. The following article was written by my friend and colleague, Jim DeLong, for the Progress and Freedom Foundation:

One Degree of Separation: Kelo & H.R. 1201
Progress Snapshot Release 1.7 August 2005
By James V. DeLong*

Everyone knows the game Degrees of Separation, where one finds the connection between two seemingly distant people.

The same game works for seemingly unrelated policy issues. For particular example: it takes only a single hop to get from the recent eminent domain case Kelo v. New London to H.R. 1201, a bill on intellectual property and technological protection measures (TPM) in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution says that private property may be taken for public use only if just compensation is paid. The phrase "public use" has always been assumed to be a limitation, meaning that a state cannot take for a strictly private use, simply transferring property from A to B, even if it compensates A.

In Kelo , the Supreme Court addressed the issue whether this long-standing assumption has any real content, and its answer was "not much." New London took Ms. Kelo's house because it wanted to transfer the property to a redevelopment authority, which had some grandiose plans for the area. This was good enough to meet the public use requirement, said the Court, since: "For more than a century, our public use jurisprudence has wisely eschewed rigid formulas and intrusive scrutiny in favor of affording legislatures broad latitude in determining what public needs justify the use of the takings power."

Of course, it would be pretty hard to fail a test that requires nothing but some sanctimonious verbiage. As Justice Scalia said in an earlier case: "Since [a harm-preventing] justification can be formulated in practically every case, this amounts to a test of whether the legislature has a stupid staff."

Kelo has been met by a rush of criticism from both left and right, most of it refreshingly Adam Smithian. The gist is that it is simply not a proper function of government to decide that B can make better use of property than A. If this happens to be true, then the free market provides the perfect remedy - let B buy it.

Perhaps there is also a growing sense that the government raven for pork to distribute to favored constituencies is already out of control in spending tax money, and that giving it carte blanche to redistribute property in general is the road to perdition. (If this sense is not growing, it certainly should be.)

But at least Ms. Kelo got paid for her property. Pending before the U.S. Congress at this very moment is a bill designed to take property from a bunch of As and give it to a bunch of Bs, only without paying a cent to the As. And it, too, relies on a test composed of sanctimonious verbiage that could be failed only by the deeply stupid.

The bill is H.R. 1201, the Digital Media Consumers' Rights Act of 2005, and the background is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which is section 1201 of the Copyright Act (hence the H.R. number). The DMCA makes it illegal to crack technological protection measures (TPM) - commonly called encryption - used to protect copyrighted content. The DMCA also makes illegal the distribution of code cracking tools.

H.R. 1201 would repeal this ban insofar as the code cracker or the toolsmith wanted to obtain, or help others obtain, access for purposes of making "noninfringing use" of a work.

There are indeed lots of noninfringing uses of copyrighted works, most of them created by the courts under a doctrine called "fair use." The doctrine is a grabbag - it includes such uses as excerpts for book reviews; some transformative uses, whereby a work forms a foundation for broader efforts; political commentary. There is a dash of transaction cost thinking - it can be fair to photocopy an article for educational purposes if getting permission is a long and arduous process.

Because of the variety of purposes crowded into the doctrine of fair use, it would be is a dull code cracker indeed who could not attach a plausible claim of fair use to almost any work. Want to write a class essay on "Images of the Mafia in American Art?" Surely this commentary entitles you to get The Sopranos by hacking into the encryption that protects HBO. Want to compose "Variations on a Theme of the Grateful Dead"? Then hack your iPod to access the raw code of their music.

Note that such arguments would justify not just hacking by the nerd elite, but mass distribution of code-cracking tools. And, of course, once the tools are available, or the decrypted copies are available, then there is no way of controlling them. And the IP involved has then, for all practical purposes, been seized from all the As who used to own it and redistributed to all the Bs.
No one, including the backers of H.R. 1201, is so dumb as not to know that this would be the effect. Their precise goal is to abolish IP rights in favor of some mystical commune wherein all IP is free as the air and creators are compensated by government. Like the New Haven Redevelopment Authority, they have a grandiose plan.

Current fair use doctrines were invented in a different technological age. They need to be rethought to fit contemporary circumstances, and this is indeed happening in the marketplace. Consumers are making known that they want some ability to copy CDs, for example, and the TPM people are setting up systems that allow it, to a limited extent.

Other new divisions of property rights between creators and consumers are being negotiated out through marketplace experimentation. The last thing needed is a heavy-handed legislature deciding that it can decree how this complex territory should be redeveloped, and then trampling over both property rights and market processes.

Ms. Kelo lost in the Supreme Court, but Congress need not replicate the error.

* James V. DeLong is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for the Study of Digital Property at The Progress & Freedom Foundation. The views expressed are his own.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A Few Thoughts on the Virginia Election

Listening to reporting on the Virginia election this morning, I really wasn't surprised by the attempts to spin the Kilgore defeat as somehow a reflection on President Bush. Granted, there is some exit polling that suggests that in Northern Virginia (which was Kaine's stronghold anyway) there was a great deal of party crossover, but that's not tremendously surprising, either.

But I do think that attempts to paint the Virginia (or even New Jersey or California) elections as somehow reflecting on the White House are misplaced. I offer the following:

First, since the early 1970s, Virginia has shown a trend of voting for the party that is not in power in the White House when it comes to gubernatorial elections. This is one of the reasons why trying to link Democratic success to GOP polling numbers is misplaced - for instance, when President Bush's approval numbers were in the 80s in 2001, Mark Warner still won the governorship.

Second, there was no "sea change". Were voters truly dissatisfied with the GOP, then there would have been much more of a pervasive change amongst lower offices. At the time of this writing, however, the GOP has control of the 2nd and 3rd top spots in the state (taking the #2 Lt. Governorship away from Democrat hands, in fact), and the GOP maintains control of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Third, the GOP had a weak candidate, and the Democrats a strong one. If all politics are personal, as Newt Gingrich has said, then the voters' connection to candidates is especially so. Field a weak candidate (Bob Dole, John Kerry), and no matter how voters might be dissatisfied with an incumbent or incumbent party, then they aren't going to connect and cast their votes for that candidate. And when the incumbent party does have high approval numbers, it makes the desire to switch even less palatable.

Kilgore's campaign lacked focus. In fact, that lack of focus crystalizes a weak spot that many Republicans ought to make note of. Lose focus and the GOP loses the very edge it has had over the Democrats for over a decade now.

So, despite the spin, there really isn't anything new here. No great sea change or revolution took place - in Virginia, or anywhere else for that matter. New Jersey remained in Democrat hands and New York City stayed with a "Republican" mayor. From a national perspective, the only really surprising results were the Ohio ballot intiatives. Honestly, I don't know much about them, but I think the Democrats were very surprised that they were defeated.

The ultimate lesson is that the GOP needs to stay focused on the issues, craft an agenda, and move that agenda into 2006 and 2008. And rather than watch Mark Warner, GOP eyes should be on Tim Kaine - he's much more formidable.

- Andrew Langer

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Bludgeoning Economies With Massive Regulation

Attended a briefing with some members of the European Parliament at CEI last week. The topic was the precautionary principle, a logic-defying policy perspective. Whereas historically the creator of a new product has to make reasonably certain that the product won’t harm anyone, and the burden being on someone else to show that the product does cause harm (ie, an innocent until proven guilty system), the precautionary principle turns this on its head. In systems where the precautionary principle governs, now the producer has to prove that his product causes no harm, before that product is released.

It was a fascinating briefing, especially considering the impacts of the precautionary principle on US firms doing business in Europe. But what was more interesting was the discussion of how out-of-control the relationship between the European Parliament and the European Commission is. According to these EP members, in the last three months the system has spawned some twenty five-hundred new regulations.

How does this happen? Well, in the United States, we’ve got multiple checks on regulatory power. Congress creates new laws, and is held accountable in a variety of ways. Once those laws are passed and are turned over to the executive branch, likewise there are multiple checks. The Administrative Procedures Act creates a deliberative regulatory creation process. The Regulatory Flexibility Act and Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act inject burden tests into the process. If the regulation is thought to be arbitrary or capricious, it can be challenged in court.

Our regulatory morass is immense (as discussed here). But what happens when there are no such checks on power? 2500 new regulations in three months.

EU laws are born not from the EP, but from the EC – unelected officials who cannot be removed from office if the public believes that their actions were in error. There is no APA, no RegFlex, no injection of deliberation into the process. Simply put, there’s no accountability, and Europeans suffer as a result.

Listening to radio reports about unrest in France, for instance, I was astounded to learn that the French have a ten percent unemployment rate. Ten percent! That number is significantly higher among their North African populations (two to three times higher). And it’s no wonder. In America, two thirds of all new jobs are created within the small business sector. Small businesses, however, are least able to handle the burden of regulations.

Pass mandate upon mandate upon mandate, and an economy’s source of new job creation sputters, falters, and eventually dies.

If America’s economy has to own up to the truths of globalization, has to adapt, has to recognize that it’s own system of doing things is going to have to change in order to effectively compete, then this is doubly true for the European system. The bureaucrats forging regulatory policy at the EC are doing everything they can to kill Europe’s potential for economic recovery and prosperity. But where the US has it over the Europeans is that we have tools and precedents at hand to make our change and adaptation to change that much easier.

For Europe to solve its problems, their change is going to have to be much more sweeping and much more fundamental. They’ve started down that path by quashing the European Constitution, but far more is going to have to be done.

- Andrew Langer

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Kelo Paradox - Coming to Vegas...

OK, so I've got most of a post on the Eurpoean Union drafted, but I want to tweak it a bit. Unfortunately, I'm off to Vegas tomorrow for the Reason Public Policy Institute's Dynamic Cities Conference (ok, not so unfortunately... I love Vegas). I'm sitting on the Kelo panel, to give my speech, "The Kelo Paradox". I may post the EU thing tomorrow.

Here's the program for the conference:

Confirmed speakers to date.
Drew Carey, Host of Drew Carey's Green Screen Show on Comedy Central. (Reason interview)
Christopher Hitchens, journalist (Reason interview)
Joel Kotkin, author of The City
Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., President, American Gaming Association
William Eadington, Professor of Economics and Director of the Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming
Todd Seavey, Director of Publications, American Council on Science and Health
Ben Powell, Assistant Professor of Economics, San Jose State University
Logan Darrow Clements, CEO, Freestar Media, Lost Liberty Hotel project
RiShawn Biddle, Editorial Writer, Indianapolis Star
Steve Sebelius, Editor, Las Vegas City Life
Andrew Langer, Manager, Regulatory Policy, National Federation of Independent Business
Vin Suprynowicz, author and columnist, Las Vegas Review Journal
Marc Cooper, author, The Last Honest Place in America: Paradise and Perdition in the New Las Vegas
William H. Mellor, President and General Counsel, Institute for Justice
Frank Luntz, CEO, Luntz Maslansky Strategic Research
Zack Lynch, Managing Director, NeuroInsights
Matt Ladner, Director of State Projects, Alliance for School Choice
Burt Rutan, founder of Scaled Composites and winner of the Ansari X Prize for the first privately funded spacecraft
David Nott, President, Reason Foundation
Nick Gillespie, Editor-in-Chief, Reason
Adrian Moore, Vice President of Research, Reason Foundation
Bob Poole, Founder, Reason Foundation
Jacob Sullum, Syndicated columnist and Senior Editor, Reason
Sam Staley, Director of Urban and Land Use Policy, Reason Foundation
Tim Cavanaugh, Web Editor, Reason
Matt Welch, Associate Editor, Reason
Ted Balaker, Jacobs Fellow, Reason Foundation
Lisa Snell, Director of Education and Child Welfare, Reason Foundation
Geoff Segal, Director of Government Reform, Reason

Saturday, November 5

7:45 A.M.–5:00 P.M. Grand Ballroom C/D/E, The Mirage

7:45 A.M.

7:50-8:30 A.M.
“Misguided Megaprojects: Drawing lessons from downtown revitalization efforts, sports stadiums, and convention centers”

Sam Staley, Director of Urban and Land Use Policy, Reason Foundation
Matt Welch, Associate Editor, Reason
Moderator: Adrian Moore, Vice President of Research, Reason Foundation

Many city planners have built new downtown shopping districts, massive convention centers, and sports stadiums. Do these projects benefit residents? Or do developers, team owners, and the planning establishment have the most to gain? Is Las Vegas unique when it comes to convention center success?

8:35-9:10 A.M.
“Command and Control: What happens when urban planners and meddlers ignore what people want and stifle innovation?”

Benjamin Powell, Assistant Professor of Economics, San Jose State University
Geoffrey Segal, Director of Privatization and Government Reform, Reason Foundation
Ted Balaker, Jacobs Fellow, Reason Foundation
Moderator: Nick Gillespie, Editor-in-Chief, Reason

From banning Wal-Mart to offering tax incentives for “desirable” businesses to mandating affordable housing, policymakers often think they know what’s best for residents. Do inclusionary zoning, Smart Growth, Enterprise Zones, and other such gimmicks work? Also, what happens when a city—like Sandy Springs, Georgia—decides to privatize most of its services?

9:10-9:25 A.M. BREAK

9:25-10:10 A.M.
“What Americans really think about government, and why we should be

Dr. Frank Luntz, CEO, Luntz, Maslansky Strategic Research

Do Americans care about limited government? What do they tell politicians to promise and to do in return for votes? A renowned public opinion research expert tells us what America thinks.

10:10-10:25 A.M. BREAK

10:25-11:10 A.M.
“The Evolution and Economics of Gaming in Las Vegas…and throughout America”

Frank J. Fahrenkopf, Jr., President and CEO, American Gaming Association
Bill Eadington, Professor of Economics and Gaming, University of Nevada, Reno
Moderator: Nick Gillespie, Editor-in-Chief, Reason

Public attitudes toward gambling are changing. How are local and state governments reacting? What makes Las Vegas unique as a gaming destination?

11:15-11:55 A.M.
“Trains, Buses, and Automobiles: Are governments offering transit to accommodate people’s choices or control them?”

Robert W. Poole Jr., Director of Transportation Studies and Founder, Reason Foundation
Adrian Moore, Vice President of Research, Reason Foundation
Ted Balaker, Jacobs Fellow, Reason Foundation
Moderator: Sam Staley, Director of Urban and Land Use Policy, Reason Foundation

Traffic congestion is a huge problem for urban dwellers. But many governments are planning for congestion, not to relieve it, and past attempts to solve the problem, like new light rail lines, have failed. How can mobility be improved through innovations like HOT lanes, virtual busways, and toll truckways?

12:00–1:15 P.M. Lunch Bermuda, The Mirage
“The City: The evolution of cities and meaning of urban life”

Joel Kotkin, Irvine Senior Fellow, New America Foundation

From ancient Mesopotamia to post-9/11 New York City and post-Katrina New Orleans, we will look at commerce, security and power in the city and the “sacredness” of urban space. Joel Kotkin is an internationally-recognized authority on global, economic, political and social trends, and the author of The City: A Global History.

1:15-2:10 P.M. Grand Ballroom C/D/E, The Mirage
“Kelo Backlash: Public and political reaction to a devastating Supreme Court decision on property rights”

Sam Staley, Director of Urban and Land Use Policy, Reason Foundation
Logan Darrow Clements, Freestar Media--Lost Liberty Hotel Project
Andrew Langer, Regulatory Affairs Manager, National Federation of Independent Business
Chip Mellor, President and General Counsel, Institute for Justice
Moderator: Adrian Moore, Vice President of Research, Reason Foundation

The Supreme Court’s broad interpretation of the government’s power of eminent domain has shocked people across the political spectrum. Our panelists will look at the landmark Kelo case, post-Kelo efforts to rein in government power, how eminent domain abusers undermine their own policy objectives, and the latest developments in a plan to seize a Supreme Court justice’s home to build a hotel.

2:15-3:00 P.M.
“Who’s Winning the War on Pleasure? The crackdown on drinking, food, smoking, entertainment, and sex”

Todd Seavey, Director of Publications, American Council on Science and Health
Steve Sebelius, Editor, Las Vegas City Life
Moderator: Jacob Sullum, Senior Editor, Reason

The battle has been joined against the pleasures of sex, tobacco, alcohol, and junk
food. On which side does science fight? Is Las Vegas succumbing to this war? What are your prospects for enjoying life in the nanny state?

3:15-3:55 P.M
“What can Las Vegas teach liberals and conservatives who fear and loathe it?”

Vin Suprynowicz, columnist, Las Vegas Review-Journal
Marc Cooper, Senior Fellow, USC Annenberg School
Tim Cavanaugh, Web Editor, Reason
Moderator: Ted Balaker, Jacobs Fellow, Reason Foundation

How free is Sin City? Is life in Las Vegas good for business, good for consumers, good for workers, good for families?

4:00-4:30 P.M.
“Prague’s Dazzling Diversity: How Europe’s urban jewel is threatened most by its ‘protectors.’”

Matt Welch, Associate Editor, Reason

Over the centuries, Prague has absorbed and reflected cultural changes. There is a movement afoot to put a stop to that. Matt Welch co-founded the first independent English-language newspaper in post-communist Central Europe, Prognosis, in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

4:40-5:00 P.M.
“Dancing on the Edge: Extreme art, its popular appeal, and freedom”

John Stagliano, director, writer, and producer

The popularity of TV shows like “Fear Factor” exemplifies how mainstream entertainment has been inevitably drawn to the real and the extreme. This is an extension of the trend that John Stagliano pioneered in the adult film business. Why is there such a large market for reality and the extreme? Why is liberty an important part of the mix?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Another Successful Halloween...

I've worked really hard to get things organized for Halloween - figuring out ways to juggle trick-or-treating with the family, get dinner on the table, put last minute touches on the decorations, greet kids at the door, etc.

But still with all the organization, reality had a way of intruding as hundreds of kids showed up last night. Being the largest neighborhood in our area means that folks from the surrounding hamlets and farms come to us for their trick-or-treating needs. Don't get me wrong - I positively love having all these kids come to our door. It just creates chaos.

We decided to go simple with dinner for the adults - a pre-made salad and a charcuterie plate (salami, cheese, and assorted olives). Even with that simplicity, I was up and down so much I eventually had to take a time-out to put together a plate.

The house looked great - I'm still tweaking things, but by and large our visitors loved the decorations, especially the dry-ice and water-fueled steaming cauldron on the porch. And we'd done both a Strong Bad and a Marzipan pumpkin for the porch (the old-timey Strong Bad, this year - see ).

All told, several hundred kids came to our door. At one or two pieces of candy apiece, and giving out at times either one or two pieces, depending on our supply, we gave out about 500 pieces of candy. I actually had to go out and buy more in the midst of all the chaos.

More lessons to be gained for next year - and I think I'm going to do a massive spider web of Christmas lights.

- Andrew Langer