SHOOTING BACK: There's a backlash brewing against "The Sopranos." Critics are starting to complain about HBO's ultra-violent mafia series as episode after episode shows more bludgeonings, beatings, and stabbings. The American Italian Defense Association sued the producers, saying that the show offends the dignity of an ethnic group. Economist Jude Wanniski publicly canceled his HBO subscription after seeing a brutal rape scene. "It was all the more repulsive because I knew tens of millions of American families had been suckered into watching the show and were witnessing that scene-many with their teenage children at the same time my wife Patricia and I were," he wrote in a letter published on his Polyconomics website. IF I HAD $2 TRILLION: Congressman Ron Paul hates government spending of all sorts, and the budget process is no exception. In his column, the Texas maverick argues that the tax-cut and budget debates are two separate issues. He says this year is worse than usual because the Beltway is buzzing about the current surplus, which he points out is really an overcharge. Even with reductions, Congress will still burn nearly $2 trillion in 2002, which is about 11 percent more than last year. He says this contradicts any talk about smaller government: "Huge amounts of federal spending could be eliminated if Congress adhered to the limited enumerated powers listed in the Constitution." HOW DID WE ARRIVE HERE? In the 1960s, Bill Buckley helped launch Young Americans for Freedom, which helped pioneer campus conservatism around the country. Now he's coming to the defense of the group after Penn State's student Supreme Court refused to accept its registration as a campus group. Why? YAF's manifesto, the Sharon Statement, states that "foremost among the transcendent values is the individual's use of his God-given free will." The Penn State panel considered those rather innocuous words to be religious discrimination. Alumni intervention helped lead to the decision's being reversed, but Mr. Buckley says he's still perplexed. "We know that YAF was permitted to affirm God as a sponsor of human rights. So the day was saved. But what about the student Supreme Court that refused registration? Ignorance? But if the students are to be excused, one wonders how it is that they arrived at such ignorance?" WHO'LL SELL WORK PANTS TO THE BIOTECH BARONS? Biotechnology is supposed to make us eventually live longer, healthier lives, but how are a bunch of experiments going to turn a profit any time soon? Columnist Doug Bandow notes that many intelligent people are jumping on this bandwagon-with good reason-as a long-term investment, but the sector is loaded with risks. "Many biotech companies lose money for years while they attempt to push a candidate drug all the way through the approval process at the Food and Drug Administration," he writes. Mr. Bandow says he's interested in finding the people who will deliver picks and shovels to this gold rush. After all, plenty of miners went home hungry while men like Levi Strauss made fortunes selling work pants. VANS DON'T KILL PEOPLE, UNSAFE DRIVERS DO: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a scary warning about passenger vans, saying they are three times more likely to roll over when carrying 10 or more passengers. In an unsigned editorial, The Washington Times called the report misleading. As with SUVs, the paper says the problem is unsafe motorists, not unsafe vehicles: "[The charge] is premised on the idea that all vehicles are basically the same and therefore no special care or attention is needed when driving one vehicle vs. another." Since passenger vans are less stable than typical cars, drivers should be educated about safety instead of scared away from useful vehicles.