"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Friday, June 30, 2006

Day in Court

The only reason you're getting this post this morning is that I've been up since 3 and had to do something to keep occupied.

A couple of interesting decisions:

In Arkansas, proof that we do need an independent judiciary

"There is no correlation between the health, welfare and safety of foster children and the blanket exclusion of any individual who is a homosexual or who resides in a household with a homosexual," Associate Justice Donald L. Corbin wrote in the opinion.

In addition, the court said, the testimony of a member of the child welfare board demonstrated that "the driving force behind adoption of the regulations was not to promote the health, safety and welfare of foster children but rather based upon the board's views of morality and its bias against homosexuals."

The court also said that contrary to what the state had argued, being raised by homosexuals did not cause academic or sexual identity problems.

And, it's nice to see the courts relying on accurate information. Remember, boys and girls -- "rational basis."

And the Supreme Court hands it to Bush:

The opinion. (PDF)

Marty Lederman, at Scotusblog:

Even more importantly for present purposes, the Court held that Common Article 3 of Geneva aplies as a matter of treaty obligation to the conflict against Al Qaeda. That is the HUGE part of today's ruling. The commissions are the least of it. This basically resolves the debate about interrogation techniques, because Common Article 3 provides that detained persons "shall in all circumstances be treated humanely," and that "[t]o this end," certain specified acts "are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever"—including "cruel treatment and torture," and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." This standard, not limited to the restrictions of the due process clause, is much more restrictive than even the McCain Amendment. See my further discussion here.

This almost certainly means that the CIA's interrogation regime is unlawful, and indeed, that many techniques the Administation has been using, such as waterboarding and hypothermia (and others) violate the War Crimes Act (because violations of Common Article 3 are deemed war crimes).

Lederman, Mark Grabin, and Jack Balkin have a fascinating series of posts at Balkinization on Hamdan and its possible import. Highly recommended.

Ann Althouse finds Scalia's dissent persuasive. I knew there was something wrong with her. (It's a truism that any Court decision you don't agree with -- or don't want to agree with -- involves the justices "straining" at an interpretation.)

The Volokh Conspiracy also has a series of posts. Stuart Benjamin notes that Justice Thomas "says that Johnson v. Eisenstrager forecloses the majority's application of Common Article 3 to Al Qaeda, and that the Court should defer to the executive's interpretation." But then, Thomas pretty much always wants to defer to the executive, so I'm not sure how much attention we should pay to that.

Some of the reactions from the far-right fringes:

Gay Patriot:

Today the Supreme Court dealt a victory to al-Qaeda and their American sympathizers by siding with the enemy combatants at Club Gitmo.

Which just goes to show that GayPatriot is just as uncritical and sloppy-minded as GayPatriot West. (And this is a surprise exactly how?)

I thought the reaction at BlackFive would be interesting:

Conservatives in general and veterans in particular are all about dealing with problems, not whining about them. The decision yesterday is a setback to be sure, but let's not cry over spilt milk, let's come up with a constructive solution and advocate it.

You begin to wonder if we're in the same universe at all. As for a constructive solution, how about the rule of law? It's served us well for over 200 years, and I think we should return to it as soon as possible.

Little Green Footballs, of course, it outraged at this evidence of limits on royal . . . er, presidential power that might, perhaps, give little brown people the same rights as tall white people.

Andy McCarthy, at the Circle Jerk in the Corner, comes up with the howler of the day:

Make no mistake: if this happens, the Supreme Court will have dictated that we now have a treaty with al Qaeda — which no President, no Senate, and no vote of the American people would ever countenance.

The perennial question about the knee-jerk right: Is he that stupid, or does he think we are?

Glenn Reynolds, as might be expected, provides a link dump.

I don't have time this morning to go into any depth, and my apologies for what amounts to a link dump of my own. I don't know that I'll have time to come back to this. We'll see. It's good to know, though, that the Supreme Court hasn't been completely cowed.

And my thanks to all of you who have left comments here and other places and written me about Ben. It's the small things that don't happen any more that really get to you.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

In Memoriam

September 30, 1988-June 28, 2006


Last week Ben was chasing bugs in the garden -- pretty lively for a cat nearly eighteen years old. Saturday he was reluctant to eat, but some chicken perked him up. Sunday morning he was not interested again, but Sunday night he was pretty enthusiastic about some canned ocean fish recipe. (His diet has been "vet-approved" kibbles for a number of years.) But by Monday night he was not interested again, and was getting weak, and had visibly lost weight. Tuesday I took him in for an exam.

Severe kidney failure.

I had him for one more night. He slept with me, but got up in the night and then couldn't get back into the bed. I found him in a corner. (No, I didn't sleep much.)

You go into denial. Of course he will get better, even though you know he won't. The emotional reality is that it's been over seventeen years -- he's going to be here forever.

There was no point in prolonging this, even though he didn't seem to be in pain -- just bewildered. He was happy sitting on my lap in the waiting room, though. Very calm, but then Ben always was calm. He was very self-possessed, even for a cat.

I held him while the vet gave him the injection, and then until he died.

It is empty in here right now. Something vital, something intrinsic to the feel of the place, is missing. I keep checking to be sure he has food and water when I leave and when I return, even though his dishes are no longer in their place, and I keep expecting him to be in one of his favorite spots, waiting for me. He did, you know. I have to stop myself at the door from checking to see if he wants to come out with me.

I sit and read and there's no cat on my lap. There's something wrong about that, as though some fundamental rule of the universe has been violated. I should have a big black tomcat on my lap, reading with me.

The reaction is setting in today -- I've been crying my eyes out all morning.

I only have a couple of pictures of Ben. I don't take pictures of daily events. I think I'm afraid that if I do that, I won't need to remember them. I do remember. I remember this tiny little black blot with enormous feet and enormous ears who couldn't quite walk at five weeks -- he could hop and he could run, but walking wasn't in the repertoire just yet. I remember at six weeks holding him over a running hot-water faucet so he could breathe the steam -- he had a very bad respiratory infection, courtesy of AntiCruelty. He had ridden home on the bus from the vet in my jacket -- it was a bitter cold day and I took him out of the carrier. At three months he was play-fighting with Denver and she put a notch in his ear, which he kept for the rest of his life.

It wasn't until he was older that he became a lap junky -- when Denver and Millie had died and it was just him and me. But before that he always placed himself so that he could see me.

It was an ongoing dialogue. Ben was not a silent cat, at all. He had his quiet moments, but it was pretty much a running commentary, comment and reply, the two of us, for many years.

And he was beautiful. He was always a handsome cat, but he hit a certain age and got thin, the way most cats do, and it just brought out the delicacy of his face. He always looked very serious. In later years, he developed this very intent look, as though he were trying to get a point across and I just didn't get it, as though he could somehow make me understand just by the intensity of his gaze.

We were extraordinarily simpatico. I told him once if he were six-four and still had his balls, I'd marry him.

I have no one to take care of now. I think that's important to anyone, and always has been to me -- I'm all about taking care of things. I might as well admit it -- along with the Thunder God comes a good dose of Earth Mother. Times like this bring it home to you. I will probably get another cat. Life would seem barren without one. I can't understand people who don't want to keep pets. I think there must be some part of their souls missing. I don't know if I will get a kitten. I'm not sure I'm up to the strain, and the place is no longer kitten-proof -- Ben and I had reached our accommodations on what went where and what was off limits, and there is a lot of mischief here waiting to happen for any creature who wasn't part of those negotiations. But there will be another cat -- I hate to think what I would become without another living creature sharing my life. You have to love something, in an up close, face-to-face kind of way, otherwise the world isn't real.

There just won't ever be another Ben.

But I need some time, first.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Poetry 101

I got an e-mail recently from someone who visited here and wrote to thank me for talking about poetry. I haven't, really, in any substantive way, although if you'll notice the links, there is one to Poets.org.

I'm a poetry junky. My history with poetry is the history of a snob who became a devotee: I started reading poetry because I thought it was intellectual. I began to love it. It's roughly analogous to contemporary avant-garde music -- I'm fascinated by the exploration and the chance to learn. It's a world that's not quite this one, even though it's often more relevant than the news. (That's probably why I read so much speculative fiction.)

I've reviewed a fair amount of poetry at Epinions.com, and one or two collections at Rambles and Green Man Review. Maybe I should mention some of those as part of my Books to Watch Out For column.

A while back I reviewed Louise Erdrich's collection Original Fire at Rambles. She's a little scary -- her poetry goes down into bedrock emotions, and has a lot to say to outsiders. Maybe insiders should read it too -- they may not be so inside as they think.

Jorie Graham took me a while, but when I finally started to get it, my hair was standing up. I reviewed her collection The Dream of the Unified Field at Epinions. It's sort of a "collected/selected" book -- twenty years of Jorie Graham, and it's superb.

Mark Doty is another who keeps finding new things for me to see. His strongest collections, I think, are Atlantis and My Alexandria. They're the most real. I haven't reviewed those two collections yet, but I have done Sweet Machine, also an excellent volume.

The last entry in my "Poetry 101" essay I think has to be Jimmy Santiago Baca. He's a remarkably compelling poet (and I say that knowing full well I'm talking about an area of literature in which "compelling" is the make-or-break criterion). See my review of Black Mesa Poems for my take on his work.

So there. Now I've talked about poetry. A bit. I'm sure there will be more, because there are many poets whose work I love. In the meantime, investigate these people. Learn something. That's what it's about.

A Vote For American Values

A victory.:

The narrow defeat of a proposal to ban flag desecration marks the second time in a month Senate Republicans have lost bids to amend the Constitution in ways designed to inspire social conservatives to vote in the midterm elections.

A proposed amendment earlier this month to ban gay marriage suffered a more decisive defeat, killed on a test vote.

Winning isn't the only goal for those measures or other social policy proposals congressional Republicans will bring up this year in an effort to energize their base of voters.

House Republicans intend to hold votes this summer and fall touching on abortion, guns, religion and other priority issues for social conservatives, part of an attempt to improve the party's prospects in the midterm elections.

Two things about this: first, of course, we still have some freedom of speech. Sure, the flag-burning amendment is another cheap-votes ploy that comes up every two years. There's quite a list of those at this point. But, by one vote, we still have a First Amendment.

Second is the open assumption that Congress is doing this as an election-year gimmick. It's no secret. And we don't even blink.

Some bald-faced hypocrisy:

"The American Values Agenda will defend America's founding principles," Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said. "Through this agenda, we will work to protect the faith of our people, the sanctity of life and freedoms outlined by our founding fathers."

Y'know, Denny, we already have a Bill of Rights. I don't see you trying to expand on that.

And think about this: to rally the conservative base, Congressional Republicans introduce legislation that erodes civil rights. Tell you something? (See this post by Matthew Yglesias about democracy and the right.)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


This past Sunday was the Chicago Gay Pride Parade. I rode a float, for the first time in -- how many years? Many.

There was a good crowd, although I have no idea how many -- I'd guess at least 200,000, although the one count I saw said 500,000. That seems high to me. Whatever -- there were about 8 "repent or die" demonstrators. Gives you an idea of the relative strength of Americans and Christianists, at least in this city.

Not a big dissertation today, but some thoughts.

We've all gotten used to the idea that politicians march (or ride) in the parade. Both candidates for governor were there, along with every other office holder or wannabe who could squeeze in. What's also happened over the past few years is that other "mainstream" organizations are included -- not just beer companies, but Commonwealth Edison, NBC, ABC, and other media (not just covering the event, but being in it), and others I can't remember. I think there was a contingent from the police department. (I actually got one of the on-duty cops to smile. It took a couple of minutes, but she did, finally.) I seem to remember firefighters. Doctors. (The problem with being in the parade is that you don't get to see it.)

I saw a lot of guys in the audience wearing T-shirts from construction contractors -- roofers, I remember, and electricians.

Kids. Lots of kids. I was on the Chicago Reader float. The editor brought her two children, who helped us pass out beads. (Beads are big. Really, really big.) And lots of kids in the audience.

I talked to a couple of people afterward. Favorite parts of the day? Drag queens. Leatherfolk. The very people that the "leadership" wishes would disappear. That's what people come to see. (One woman likes to see the drag queens because she's very fashion-conscious and wants to see what people are wearing. She also likes the guys running around in harnesses and leather G-strings. A lot. So do I.) Some of the dancers were absolutely gorgeous -- I'm still drooling over one guy dressed as a Roman centurion.

That, to me, is the point -- it's all about inclusion. The polar opposite of the right wing. The leadership should back off and take another look, and maybe screw their heads on straight. (If you'll pardon the term.)

One thing about the Parade that you won't hear about from the media, either the mainstream or the right-wing scare sheets: it's a feel-good. Very good feeling all through it. No violence (even though the bead feeding frenzy was touch and go sometimes). It's a big party, happy and energetic. That's the important part. (Yeah, so maybe there were guys having sex in the alleys. I hope so.)

Good time.

High point: This little elderly lady sitting right at the curb, sort of wide-eyed and a little shy. I put a string of beads around her neck. She was thrilled. Made my day.

And today is the 37th anniversary of Stonewall.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

More Books to Watch Out For

This is still a catch-up column. It beats current events, though.

(However, a current events footnote: I just saw a post in a discussion group listing justifications for our invasion of Iraq. The first part of the list was all the talking point that Bush/NYT/WaPo and whoever advanced during the lead-up, all of which have been debunked. ("No, there really is evidence that Saddam was trying to acquire yellowcake. Honest!" The point being, of course, that he wasn't successful.) Her spin on some of them was interesting. The second part of the list boiled down to "Saddam is a bad guy." Under international law, that's not enough reason to invade a sovereign nation. Enough of that.)

Jane Lindskold's Child of a Rainless Year was amazing. I've read a couple of her books of the athanor (which I love -- Changer and Legends Walking have honored places on the "reread frequently" list) and her collaborations with Zelazny on his last two novels, but wasn't as impressed with Through Wolf's Eyes as everyone else was. Nevertheless, this latest one is choice -- "magical realism" at its best. Find it, read it.

Ernest Hemingway left several manuscripts in his safe deposit box in Cuba -- he called them his "life insurance policy." Under Kilimanjaro came out in a complete, scholarly edition this past year. Absolutely delightful -- poignant, funny, acerbic, at times almost giddily nonsensical. I am reminded of why Hemingway is considered one of the greats.

One of the best, albeit most problematic, books I've read recently was Charles de Lint's Widdershins. Best because all the elements that make de Lint de Lint have come together seamlessly. It's a Newford story (another case of having to go back and catch up, dammit), and misses being a masterpiece only because de Lint lost control of his preachiness. (I'm told it's even worse in The Onion Girl, which I haven't read yet.) Be that as it may, I do recommend it. Other recent de Lint, two chapbooks: The Hour Before Dawn (three stories, illustrated by him) and Triskell Tales 2, more Newford and delightful.

The late Octavia E. Butler was one of the most challenging voices in science fiction. I recently read (and reviewd at GMR) The Parable of the Sower and The Parable of the Talents and have the omnibus Lilith's Brood sitting here. Disturbing, captivating, a little scary. No -- a lot scary. Must reads.

A little musical digression: Nikolaus Harnoncourt did a new recording of Handel's Messiah last year working from autograph scores, and, as always, using period instruments. A radically new (or old) take on a standard. Much more subtle than we're used to, intimate, but still powerful.

Felmay Records has, over the past several years, issued a seven-volume set of Central Javanese gamelan. I reviewed the last three volumes recently, and am about to dig into the first four. (Don't ask.) If you're feeling adventurous, by all means sample them -- the music is gorgeous.

Parting thought:

Somehow, we've adopted a mode of discourse in which every opinion, no matter how ignorant or vicious, reasoned or generous, has equal weight. I begin to think we've lost our collective mind.

Later. . . .

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Just Sayin'

One of Kevin Hayden's better posts, and he's generally pretty good.

From the post by Lee Siegel that Hayden dissects:

It's a bizarre phenomenon, the blogosphere. It radiates democracy's dream of full participation but practices democracy's nightmare of populist crudity, character-assassination, and emotional stupefaction.

The "nightmare" part as being an aspect unique to the blogosphere surprised me a little. I thought it was called "politics, Republican style." (At least lately -- I daresay the Democrats have done it, too, but I'm hard put to think of an instance as vitriolic and dishonest as the Republicans are these days as a matter of course. There's a reason Newt Gingrich became the most unpopular politician in America.)

At any rate, it seems Lee Siegel's nose is out of joint because he doesn't understand something, or he finds it offensive, or it might be a threat to his privileged position as one of the resident dipshits at TNR -- or something.

It's a truism -- or should be -- that living in a democracy takes a thick skin. I fault the left for the oversensitivity of just about everyone these days, to anything that might be "offensive" (and there's another word so overused and misused that it no longer has meaning). I fault the right for their cynical exploitation of that tendency.

I still think I would much prefer listening to a debate in Parliament than just about anything that goes on in the U. S. House.

The comments at the original post on TNR are heartwarming. It's nice to know TNR readers are willing to call a jerk a jerk.

Books to Watch Out For

Or sometimes just authors. The news is the same -- it's even gotten to my net buddy Scoot, who is also going to take some time off from blogging about current events. (Poor thing -- has to fit in that vacation to London somehow.)
Books. I love books (in case you hadn't noticed). I find myself becoming a more and more sophisticated reader, which means sometimes that I'm a terribly demanding reader. Not always. If you're not visiting Green Man Review every two weeks when the new issue is posted (why aren't you?), I thought I'd start a more-or-less regular feature about new books (and sometimes music) that I run across there (or anywhere else, for that matter).

To start, I'd like to mention the late George Alec Effinger, whose series about Marid Audran is being reissued by Orb Books. When Gravity Fails and A Fire in the Sun are out, and the third, The Exile Kiss, is due out this fall. I've reviewed the first at GMR (and may do the second at Epinoins.com, if I ever get my crap together), and am planning on doing an omnibus on all three for GMR when the final volume comes out. It's a dizzy kind of universe he's built, quasi-Arabic (although based, it seems, on his home town, New Orleans), post-Western, cyber/drug-laden and pretty much anything goes. Marid is an inhabitant of the Budayeen, the redlight district and/or slum, a small-time muscle, sometime investigator, negotiator, what-have you. The series chronicles his rise in the world, and is excellent. I've never read Effinger before. Now I have to.

I just finished a new book by Tanya Huff, Smoke and Ashes. Look for the GMR review on July 2. It's the third of a new series based on the characters Tony Foster and Henry Fitzroy from her Blood series, and I think it marks a breakthrough for Huff. She's one of my favorites anyway, and I'm really excited to see her putting out this polished and sophisticated a novel. She's been heading this way a while. I now have to go find the first two, Smoke and Shadows and Smoke and Mirrors. Call them supernatural thrillers with a gay protagonist who also comes across as a real, breathing young man trying to figure it all out. Very well done.

Samuel R. Delany is deservedly a legend in science fiction circles. I recently read a book of . . . mmm -- call them critical studies, About Writing. It's not a "writing book," but it is. I think I said in my review that Delany is bringing the tools of criticism into the making of fiction, finally. To see how this works in real life, read Dhalgren and then go back and read everything else he's written. Delany did what the New Wave were reaching for, and put science fiction on the map as a legitimate literary mode.

Somewhere down the line (and probably not too far in the future) will be an omnibus for GMR of Steven Brust's Khaavren Romances -- all five volumes. Two things about Brust: he's a terrifically sophisticated stylist and parodist, and he has fun doing it. Read anything by him. Even Cowboy Feng's Space Bar and Grill, generally recognized as his big flop, is not as bad as everyone says.

OK -- that's a start. Look for more of these, because there are a lot of interesting books out. Right now, however, Ben is yelling for his morning constitutional and we are catering to him a little: he's been a little under the weather this week, but seems to be feeling better. He says it's the chicken he had for dinner last night, which is much more nutritious than kibble. Somehow, I'm not convinced.

Later. . . .

Saturday, June 17, 2006

This Time I Mean It

I really am going to take a break. It's summer (at least for the time being), I have a massive backlog of books to review (which means I can justify sitting-in-the-garden time), and the news is just as depressing as usual.

Check out Pam's House Blend for reports on the latest Christianist excesses, Andrew Sullivan for the latest ivory tower speculations, and AmericaBlog for the latest wild-eyed liberal finger-pointing.

Mostly, I just don't feel like it.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Response from CWA

I just got this response to my e-mail from Amelia Wigton at CWA:

Actually, the quote was worded this way:

Swann said, "As Americans commemorate Flag Day, it is also appropriate
to remember the importance of keeping God in our Pledge. CWA strongly
supports the mention of God in our nation's oath in keeping with our
constitutional freedoms. We are free from an established religion and
free to worship as we choose. Men of faith intentionally included the
phrase 'under God' in an oath that serves as a symbol of loyalty and
patriotism to our great country."

Thank you.

I've e-mailed Andrew Sullivan about the discrepancy in quotes. Frankly, I've seen too many examples of factual relativism on the part of the Christianists to give much credence to Ms. Wigton's response, but I will wait for his reaction (if any).

If You Don't Like What Actually Happened,

make something up:

Concerned Women for America, from Lanier Swann, CWA's Director of Government Relations:

Our country's founding fathers were men of faith who intentionally included the phrase 'under God' in an oath that serves as a symbol of loyalty and patriotism to our great country.

As pointed out by Andrew Sullivan, there's a small reality gap here:

The pledge was invented by a socialist in 1892; and the phrase "under God" was added as recently as 1954.

Although I don't normally publish links to hate sites, I feel in this case an exception is justified. By all means, e-mail CWA and demand a retraction.

I did.

And feel free to pass this around to your friends -- even your enemies.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Some Words of Clarification

It occurs to me, reflecting on my last post about SSM, that there are two major strands to this debate on which I touched, but I never really elucidated them.

The first, of course, is the legal aspect, which is pretty much even at this point: we are winning in the courts, they are winning in the voting booths. Changing that, I think, depends on turning around the "hearts and minds" aspect.

The right wing theocrats, through scare tactics based on half-truths, distortions, constant references to dicredited "research," and in some cases outright lies, has captured the public mind on the issue of same-sex marriage. Their tactics include utterances such as "we have evidence that gay men adopt children to sexually abuse them" (someone actually said this; if they have such evidence at all, it comes from specious sources such as Paul Cameron; if not, they likely made it up from what "everyone knows" -- gay men are all pedophiles, which is pretty easily debunked -- just ask the FBI); the "activist judges" mantra, which I've dealt with; "it's been 'proven' that children need a mother and father" (no -- they extrapolate conclusions based on comparative studies of single-parent and two parent households and try to pretend that they are applicable to gay-parent/ straight-parent households, which they are not);

There are more and more examples of same-sex families living their lives -- check out the Gay Rights Forum at the NYT "Readers' Opinions" section online -- lots of people raising children there who are worried about things like mortgages, getting the kids off to school in the morning, dance lessons, after-school activities: real radical. These are the stories that would make the difference, and the press isn't really very interested. I wonder how much Donald Wildmon is paying them.

And the gay leadership is not capitalizing on these stories. Something should be appearing in local paper every week -- forget NYT and WaPo (although the Boston Globe did a terrific series a while back -- but once every ten years just isn't enough). Something should be in the Podunk Union-Clarion or some such. There's your real grassroots effort.

And, just to add a story to the "hearts and minds" mix, I was talking with a young man of my acquaintance just before his boyfriend moved in, and it's a conversation I wish could have been viewed by all those who are dubious about same-sex marriage or gay rights in general. They'd been dating for a while, and were spending a lot of time in each other's apartments, but they wanted to save up their money and get a place together in about a year, maybe less, so they were moving into a very small studio together. (J has been out of work for a while, and his boyfriend has been helping him out, but it's not been easy; happily, he's just gotten a new job.) J was nervous about it, but hopeful: they really are in love. I wish his grin was on billboards -- it's almost impossible to describe the hope and nerves and even a little bit of determination in that face at that moment. They are, by the way, a charming couple -- both very nice guys without a mean bone in their bodies. They may or may not be thinking about marriage -- I think they would think it's too soon to talk about that, although we haven't discussed it. They seem to think, though, that there's some more courtship needed before they can really call it a relationship. But I don't see any reason why marriage shouldn't be an option for them.

Sunday, June 11, 2006


Read another post at GayPatriot this morning about SSM. (This was before I lost today's blog, which was another At Random with some priceless one-liners. Oh, well. Your loss.)

And I've read just about all of Andrew Sullivan's posts about SSM.

And y'know what? I can't think of any gay blogger on the left who is dealing with SSM. Except me, and I'm not really all that left. (Honestly, I'm not. I'm just not a follow-Our-Leader right wingnut.) I'm probably fairly radical/Libertarian on social issues, though. I guess that makes me left. (Paul Varnell has written somewhat on it, but his latest pieces are as much about the failures of the gay leadership as they are about marriage -- it's obviously a nonpartisan issue.)

At any rate, the post at GayPatriot was kind of interesting for what it almost said. (Here's the link.)

For the most part, I can't fault his diatribe against the "gay leadership." In fact, in some points I think he's absolutely correct, except that there's too much knee-jerk right wing rhetoric. Let's do some parsing.

In response, gay leaders acted like spoiled children, refusing to contribute to the debate because they hadn’t set the terms.

Sort of bassackwards. The problem is that "they" (HRC and their ilk) did not set the terms. They let people like Santorum, Frist, Wildmon, the usual suspects set the terms. (This has become the pattern of the past generation -- the right is setting the terms of the debate, so of course the debate is skewed.) That's where they blew it, and they backed themselves into just the corner that GayPatriot West describes. I'm not sure I can lay it all to the "leadership's" ineptitude. (And for purposes of this commentary, I'm just going to describe the major gay advocacy organizations as "the gay leadership," without quotes from here on. You know who I mean.)

I've been commenting on the role of the press in shaping public opinion, and the investment that the press now has in being shapers rather than reporters -- once again, it's marketing, not journalism. Whether you believe that the press should advocate or not, the fact is that the press does advocate, and not only in the OpEd pages. It's what they're advocating that bothers me. By emphasizing the gay-bashers on the right, the press effectively silences the gay leadership. In turn, the gay leadership doesn't seem to be able to bust out of their corner -- I don't think they're using the resources available to them. Call it institutional blindness.

Angrily sulking, instead of eagerly advocating, they accused those pushing the amendment of being “divisive.” Funny that they would accuse those (who believe they are) defending the status quo of being divisive when they (the accusers) are the ones promoting social change.

By all the gods beneficent. There is so much wrong with this that I barely know where to start. "Sulking." OK -- we can just dismiss that one. That's really just another case of the right-wing namecallers accusing anyone who disagrees with them of namecalling. There's a conceptual leap here that should be obvious to anyone who is reading critically: of course the advocates of the MPA are being divisive. It's a divisive issue and they are milking it for all it's worth. It's been their strategy since the days of Gingrich and the Contract on America. Comments like "marriage is under attack!", "activist judges rewriting the laws!" and the other rhetoric from the right (does anyone else think it's getting a little shopworn?) are meant to be divisive. How else can you scare people into doing what you want?

Nor does it necessarily follow that advocating social change is being divisive. Another leap (of faith, I guess). Yes, there will always be a contingent who are perfectly happy with the status quo and who have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the new order. There is always a potential for divisiveness there, because there is always some demagogue who stands to gain a little bit of power, at least temporarily, by fanning the flames among the conservative elements. C'mon, guys -- this country is all about social change and always has been. Representative democracy? Universal sufferage? Equal rights for all? Freedom of conscience? Those are not instances of major social change?

(He quotes Charles Krauthammer. If you have to quote Krauthammer, you know you're on thin ice. By the way, read Krauthammer's column. And note that he swallows the judicial restraint bullshit hook, line and sinker -- in fact, he takes it and runs with it. He manages to turn a column that is ostensibly about same-sex marriage into a plea for more right-wing judges. It's really an amazing sleight of hand -- don't tinker with the Constitution, just mess up the judicary. Which, in effect, does a lot more damage to the Constitution than a policy-specific amendment, which can always be repealed. He quite conveniently forgot the role that popular sovereignty plays in amending the Constitution. The whole question of popular sovereignty in this has been skewed by the right, and no one on the left, except me, to whom no one listens anyway, has come back at them.)

It would seem that the burden is on those who would overturn or alter such a cultural norm. And yet many gay activists bristle at having to undertake this burden. Rather than by building promoting social change through experience and advocacy, they would effect it through judicial fiat.

Ahem. First statment is just flat wrong. Who does he think is fighting the court cases and lobbying legislators? Who is pushing towns and cities and corporations for recognition of same-sex relationships? Bill Frist?

Not bloody likely.

Oh, and there's the "judical fiat" mantra again. You know my response to that. I will add, though, how can I take anyone seriously when they don't even know what the process of public discourse in this country involves? Once again, class: court cases are part of the debate. (I wonder what he would have thought of the cases involved in the Black civil rights movement? "Judicial fiat"? Oh, I know, it was the Republicans in Congress who passed the Civil Rights Act. And how many of them would have voted for it if they hadn't been faced with yet more lawsuits?) And how do you accumulate the experience without events such as civil unions in Vermont, full marriage rights in Massachusetts? And who did that?

If we want to create a new social consensus, we need to talk about marriage the same way straight people talk about marriage. This is something I have been saying almost since I started blogging. Just nine days after my first post, I wrote:

"We need to make clear that just as we seek the same privileges that the government grants straight people, we accept the same responsibilities expected of them."

Soon thereafter, I said we needed to talk about gay marriage not in the language of rights, but in terms of “values and mutual responsibility.”

Now it seems that some on the left agree with me. In Thursday’s New York Daily News, “progressive” Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote that it was a “mistake” for gay and lesbian groups “making the case for gay marriage” to rely “on the language of equal rights.“

Half right. The legality is necessarily bound up with equal rights. It has to be. There is no alternative, and it's the same argument we have faced every time we have sought to bring a new group within the social fabric: can we legitimately and morally continue to exclude this group from full participation in our society? (And, as always, we have a sector that is in favor of exclusion.) And it is, at the nuts and bolts level, a legal argument. That might not have been the right tack to take, and maybe we should have done more groundwork first, but that's where we are.

However, equal rights cannot be the whole argument, particularly since the right has managed to poison the idea of equal rights. (Yes, they have -- "special rights" is their catch-phrase, and I'd love to see them apply that to Jews and Blacks. You notice they don't.)

And, to be perfectly honest, I've run across a number of people who are talking about same-sex marriage in terms of love, establishing a family and raising children, mutual responsibility, mutual caring -- all the things that straights supposedly talk about, when they're not talking about their tax breaks. They're not getting a lot of coverage. Most notably, they're not getting a lot of coverage from places like GayPatriot.

Back to the gay leadership. The right has appropriated the idea of morality (based on a limited reading of Christian scripture -- and a reading entirely based in the Old Testament). I haven't really seen anyone come back at that, or even make the attempt to take the idea of morality away from the right. Morality, after all, is much bigger than a set of fairly arbitrary rules governing specific behaviors. I should note there that I am in regular correspondence with a number of Christians, both evangelical and not, and that most of them understand morality the way I do: as a set of basic values that inform and direct our daily lives. (This is a good place to put in a plug for Musings On. You'll see what I mean.) In this understanding, I should also add, "one man one woman" is not a value. "Values" in this sense are things like respect for others, a sense of fairness, a realistic sense of one's own worth, tolerance for differences -- what the Plains Indians called "walking in a sacred manner." In defense of the gay leadership, which is, really, leftist, they are hampered by their sincere respect for diversity. From the right wingnuts we get Christianity does not allow compromise. From the left wingnuts we get Every opinion is of equal value. Sort of crippling to the left, no?

One last comment about the leadership's reaction to the whole marriage phenomenon: they got caught by events. They never managed to get in front of them, and they should have. My take is, I think, pretty much the opposite of GayPatriot West's: the leadership has been too cautious, too conscious of its place in the power structure (and I'm not at all sure it's a realistic sense of its place, given that we pretty much know the Democrats will sell us out in a minute), and, to agree with him on one point, they have not engaged in any sort of effective advocacy -- they never took back ownership of the debate. Keep in mind that one of the deciding factors in Goodridge was the children of the gay couples. Why is no one asking the right wingers the hard questions, like "Why do you want to damage my family?" Shove that at Bill Frist, loudly and publicly and often. I'd love to hear his answer.

I strongly recommend you read the entire post at GayPatriot. Then you might, perhaps, be able to answer a question that still puzzles me: why is he taking the gay community to task for the tenor of a debate they didn't frame? Politics certainly does make strange bedfellows. So to speak.

Friday, June 09, 2006

At Random, 6/9/06

OK -- it's another cool, cloudy, windy day (Ben and I did get to sit in the garden yesterday, though -- I feel like I've snuck one past the day-off god), so I'm sitting here blogging.


Remember when the press used to do some reporting and some analysis, used to fact-check, used to hold people's feet to the fire? Thanks to Scoot for this tidbit from Crooks and Liars:

Stewart: So why not encourage gay people to join in in that family arrangement if that is what provides stability to a society?

Bennett: Well I think if gay..gay people are already members of families...

Stewart: What? (almost spitting out his drink)

Bennett: They're sons and they're daughters..

Stewart: So that's where the buck stops, that's the gay ceiling.

Bennett Look, it's a debate about whether you think marriage is between a man and a women.

Stewart:I disagree, I think it's a debate about whether you think gay people are part of the human condition or just a random fetish.

So far, Jon Stewart and Steve Colbert are behaving more like journalists than anyone at NYT or WaPo.

As Tuesday's interview with Bennett pointed out in clear terms, Stewart goes where other newsman fear to tread. When he interviews people, he is asking the kind of pointed questions and bringing up issues that mainstream news organizations should be doing, used to do , and now have somehow failed to do in their pandering to the current the regime. Where the mainstream media has failed the public, Stewart and Colbert have taken up the banner of pointing out the holes in everyone's arguments. They show us the emperors with out their clothes.

I think they should both run for the Senate.

How Sick Is This?

This is from the Left Behind Games website:

LBG is developing products to include the same types of compelling elements that have made interactive games popular for years, and yet offer a less graphic experience to the sexual themes and gratuitous violence currently found in many titles. We plan to make all games visually and kinetically appealing. We anticipate our titles will be classified as both action, strategy and adventure genres, and will likely receive either an "E" rating (appropriate for ages 6 and up) or a "T" rating (appropriate for ages 13 and up). [Emphasis added.]

This from a review at WarCry:

Also, to bring real life to the game, Chris Fabry himself has written countless individual life stories of the inhabitants of this post-apocalyptic New York City. LB:EF is not just your average RTS; it's a very directed, very controversial, and very story driven game where each individual's life story matters, and each interaction with biblical passages (in the form of scrolls) grants the player a deeper understanding of why-oh-why the world as we know it is coming apart at the seams.

One thing many gamers will likely find disturbing about Left Behind, though, is the black-and-white polarization of good and evil portrayed. The faithful are good, and the undecided are (decidedly) bad or evil. The only way to accomplish anything positive in the game is to 'convert' nonbelievers into faithful believers, and the only alternative to this is outright killing them.

And some of the comments:

"We're going to push this game at Christian kids to let them know there's a cool shooter game out there," said attorney Jack Thompson, an author and outspoken critic of video game violence. "Because of the Christian context, somehow it's OK? It's not OK. The context is irrelevant. It's a mass-killing game."

And note that the article from LA Times is, on the whole, fairly laudatory. Of course, it's an article from the business section, and the only morality in business is the bottom line.

To put this in a context that actually relates to some sort of morality, see this commentary by Jonathan Hutson (via Crooks & Liars):

Imagine: you are a foot soldier in a paramilitary group whose purpose is to remake America as a Christian theocracy, and establish its worldly vision of the dominion of Christ over all aspects of life. You are issued high-tech military weaponry, and instructed to engage the infidel on the streets of New York City. You are on a mission - both a religious mission and a military mission -- to convert or kill Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, gays, and anyone who advocates the separation of church and state - especially moderate, mainstream Christians. Your mission is "to conduct physical and spiritual warfare"; all who resist must be taken out with extreme prejudice. You have never felt so powerful, so driven by a purpose: you are 13 years old. You are playing a real-time strategy video game whose creators are linked to the empire of mega-church pastor Rick Warren, best selling author of The Purpose Driven Life.

Read Hutson's several essays on this. It's beyond the violence of the game itself (and how Christian is that?). There seems to be the usual Republican/conservative Christian interlocked marketing going on here. Looks like the culture of corruption isn't limited to inside the Beltway.

And just think about the content of the game itself, as outlined in the paragraph quoted above. This is, as far as I can tell, conservative Christianity: Do it my way or get blown away. For thirteen year olds.

About What's-Her-Name:

Not someone you've seen many comments about here (nor will you). But this caught my eye:

Later, when a Fox News anchor asked if she was being provocative just to sell books, she bragged that she was already rich. "Frankly," she said, "I don't need any more money."

What is it that she needs, do you suppose?

Constitutional Amendments:

OK -- when's the last time someone actually burned an American flag in this country?

Clinton Lite:

Interesting article at The Nation by David Sirota on Barack Obama. Obama is one of my senators, and I have to confess that I am ambivalent. On the upside, he's pragmatic and politically savvy. On the downside, he's pragmatic and politically savvy.

So Appalling I'm Speechless:

If people begin to market the vaccine or tout the vaccine that this makes adolescent sex safer, then that would undermine the abstinence-only message,” said Reginald Finger, a member of the ACIP and a former medical adviser for the pro-abstinence Focus on the Family.

ACIP is the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Dr. Finger's qualifications are at revealed in this interview:

The Sharpshooter: So how did your appointment to
the ACIP come about? And what is the ACIP?

Dr. Finger: The Advisory Committee on Immunization
Practices is appointed by the Secretary of Health and
Human Services to work with CDC to set immunization policy
for the nation. We look at the safety, effectiveness, and costs of
vaccines, new and old, and the epidemiology of diseases that can
be prevented by vaccination, and hammer out recommendations
and schedules for the use of each vaccine. These are then accepted
and published by CDC. My appointment came about because
a little over a year ago, Focus on the Family was asked—along
with a number of other organizations—to line up a list of qualified
scientists to suggest to Secretary Thompson for service on
various federal boards. My bosses here gave the assignment to me
and kindly suggested that I put my own name on the list. So I
did—and this spring HHS called and asked if I would serve on
the ACIP! It was a marvelous opportunity and I jumped at the

The Sharpshooter: Isn’t it a bit unusual for a public
health physician to be working at a place like Focus on
the Family?

Dr. Finger:Well, it’s true that most ACIP members work
at academic medical centers, and some at state health
departments or private medical practices. But through the years,
Focus on the Family has gotten many questions from the public
about medical issues, and lots of those concern public health. The
two other MDs here see a big need to have someone with my
background, do research and analysis on medical and public
health policy questions. So I have found a good fit here at Focus.
This ministry is very pro-immunizations and can be a great
influence in helping parents resolve their concerns about vaccines.
In addition, Focus on the Family wants to have goodrelationships at CDC—and I can help make those happen.
[Emphasis added]

The ITAT interview is somewhat of a gusher; see also this quote, from Blogs for Industry. . . blogs for the dead:

Reginald Finger, an evangelical Christian and a former medical adviser to the conservative political organization Focus on the Family, said. 'With any vaccine for H.I.V., disinhibition' - a medical term for the absence of fear - 'would certainly be a factor, and it is something we will have to pay attention to with a great deal of care.' Finger sits on the Centers for Disease Control's Immunization Committee, which makes those recommendations.

(No link to the New Yorker article because the New Yorker's search engine is so crappy that I passed on the opportunity to wade through 275 responses to a search for "Reginald Finger.")

OK -- the Department of Health and Human Services is asking a bunch of nutcases like Focus on the Family to provide members to an advisory committee on vaccines? They are actually soliciting these whackjobs? And so is it any surprise that we get someone who is going to consider the possibility that someone might be encouraged to have sex more important than the effectiveness of a vaccine that will save someone's life?

This administration can't end too soon to suit me.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

At Random, 6/8/06

Well, we all survived the number of the beast. (Ironic that debate on the Anti-Marriage Amendment was scheduled for that day. In that vein, maybe solid reasoning like this is the reason the amendment is moribund:

Likewise, [Sen. Wayne] Allard [R-CO] held a news conference Monday at which the speakers said they wanted to reduce the "epidemic level of fatherlessness in America."

"How would outlawing gay marriage encourage heterosexual fathers to stick around?" was the first question.

Allard skirted the question by saying that "laws send a message to our children."

The moderator, Matt Daniels of the Alliance for Marriage, tried to find a question on another subject. But when reporters continued to press Allard on the link between same-sex marriage and deadbeat dads, Daniels blurted out: "All right, you know what? We're going to call this press conference to a close."

Now, that's class.)

Link dump, mostly:

The Best Way to Win

is to control who votes. If you thought Robert F. Kennedy's article about Republican vote fraud was alarmist, read this at FDL.

The Culture of Death:

Another rabid right mantra. Rendered by Ramesh Ponnorus as "The Party of Death" -- it's all about liberals, the destroyers of western civilization. This comes from people, mind you, who worship a dead man and practice symbolic cannibalism.

Presidential Power Grab:

Read this post by Glenn Greenwald, and this update by Hume's Ghost on the fact that the country has finally figured out the naked Bush/Cheney (and there's an image -- eew!) power grab of the past five years.

Someone Else

has figured this out, too. See this post by Hume's Ghost on the Christianists' attitude toward American democracy:

The Religious Right is a political movement that is inherently anti-democratic. The Dominionists and Reconstructionists which lead the movement understand that the democratic institutions which safeguard our civil liberties - the seperation of church/state and the seperation of powers between branches of government - stand in the way of their plan (given voice by D. James Kennedy) to:

"... exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors -- in short, over every aspect and institution of human society."

Listen to the language being used to defend the passage of the anti-gay marriage amendment, and you will notice it's about protecting American values from "activist courts" run by "unelected" judges. The use of these terms is like blowing a dog whistle which the Religious Right can hear the message of, but most Americans can not. They understand that an independent judiciary, which was described by Alexander Hamilton in Federalist #78 "as the citadel of the public justice and the public security", is the last line of defense preventing them from achieving their theocratic goals. It just so happens that getting rid of an independent judiciary which can serve as a check on the legislative or executive branch by providing oversight also fits the purposes of neoconservatives and cultist/political religion conservatives.


It turns out that reader e-mail at Andrew Sullivan that I mentioned yesterday (Dog and Pony Show, Part I) was from Spencer Wendes at LeftCoastBreakdown.


Marty Lederman updates a case I had been following for a while:

Finally, the court-ordered relief runs not only against the state, but also against Prison Fellowship and InnerChange, which are ordered to pay back more than $1.5 million in money that they have received from the state. In ordering this remedy, the court appears to have been strongly influenced by the fact that the constitutional questions here were not difficult ones, and that the defendants, "well-financed and sophisticated entities who know every contour of First Amendment law," had "retained experienced, knowledgeable legal counsel that should have been aware of the constitutional risks associated with state funding of InnerChange."

That last part is key -- the point is, they don't care about the First Amendment issues (see previous item). In fact, they're trying to get around them.

OK -- I'm going to spend today taking it easy, maybe do a little gardening, catch up on a couple of reviews, and just enjoy the beautiful summer weather. (I know it's not summer yet, but no one told the weather systems over the Midwest -- you learn to play it as it lays.)

Later. . . .

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Dog and Pony Show, Part III

So FMA failed. Actually, the vote for cloture failed. The Republicans gained five seats in the Senate in the last election, and they gained one vote on this amendment.

Get this:

"We're building votes," said Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who is among supporters of the ban who were not in the Senate when the amendment was last voted on in 2004. "That's often what's required over several years to get there, particularly to a two-thirds vote."

Building votes. At this rate, they should pick up their two-thirds majority by 2042. Just. Barely.

(By the way, Vitter seems to be eminently quotable on this issue:

"I don't believe there's any issue that's more important than this one," said Sen. David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican.

A senator from Louisiana, former home of New Orleans.

Dog and Pony Show, Part II

Part the Second: I decided to see what GayPatriot thought about the whole issue. I'm going to deal with some basic and I think fairly substantive issues about the "arguments" advanced by the president, which is what the post by GayPatriot West focuses on. (There's a lot about slamming the left for name-calling and for refusing to respond thoughtfully to the president's "arguments" which I will deal with in general at the end of this post.

This is pretty much symptomatic of the argument in GayPatriot West's post:

"For ages, in every culture, human beings have understood that marriage is critical to the well-being of families. And because families pass along values and shape character, marriage is also critical to the health of society. Our policies should aim to strengthen families, not undermine them. And changing the definition of marriage would undermine the family structure."

This seems to be the crux of the president’s opposition to gay marriage. So now that he has made this point, it behooves advocates of gay marriage to show how gay marriage could promote the well-being of society. And to show how gay families can pass along values and shape the character of our children. They need to make clear that changing marriage from a union between individuals of different sexes to a union of two individuals would not undermine family structure.

First, the assumptions: "marriage" is the union of a man and a woman. I don't think we can accept that, because that's the very point under debate. That becomes merely an assertion, with no particular weight. "Families" are, apparently, only those social units that involve heterosexual couples and their offspring. That is also under debate -- another assertion. I won't dispute that sound families are important to the well-being of society. What I do dispute is the assumption that only heterosexual couples can pass along "values" and "shape the character of our children." And there is the assumption that recognizing more families as legitimate is going to undermine families as a whole. That one still has me scratching my head.

This, also, is more than a little demonstrative of their willingness to swallow bullshit without chewing:

The president, in two different statements, civilly made his case for a constitutional amendment defining marriage. He made two basic points, (1) that an amendment was necessary so the people, not the courts, could decide this important issue; (2) that changing the definition of marriage would undermine this ancient institution.

Advocates of gay marriage should be taking issue with these two points.

No, the president didn't make a point that the people, not the courts should decide. He merely asserted it, based on a deliberate miscasting of the role of the courts in American governance. (Remember, this is a president who is above the law pandering to supporters who don't like the idea of laws with a rational basis, or frankly, the whole idea of equal rights for everyone.) It's time to trot out one of our basic lessons on the structure of American government: the people have limited, not absolute, sovereignty; laws are measured against the Constitution by the courts, who are solely empowered to rule on the validity of laws against that standard. "Activist judges" simply means, at this point, that the speaker does not agree with their decisions. That's all. If anyone can show me an example of flawed arguments in, for example, Goodridge, I'll be willing to look. Ideological considerations don't count. (It's worth noting that Antonin Scalia's pronouncements on the whole thing, starting with his opposition to Lawrence, are consistently based on asking the wrong questions.)

The whole thing about "changing the defition of marriage" is a mare's nest of half-truths, unwarranted assumptions, and ignorance. It should read "Changing the contemporary definition of marriage as decreed by religious conservatives would undermine their political power." (Actually, it wouldn't -- they'd have fodder to feed an entire generation of sheep.) The definition of marriage that we're asked to accept as "traditional" is not even a definition: "Marriage is a union between one man and one woman." What kind of union? What does it entail? What are the rights and responsibilities of each party? What is its purpose? That's the kind of definition that leads to a 50% divorce rate.

You're also going to have to do some real fast talking to get me to accept the "5,000 year tradition" of this definition. As I tend to ask people who start in on me about "traditional" marriage: Did you father-in-law accept payment in sheep, or did he insist on cattle?

Marriage is and always has been an economic (and sometimes a political) arrangement. No one needs a government to tell them they're married. Government recognition is simply to confirm the economic considerations. Before governments took a hand, it was handled by private contracts. (I might also add that church recognition is sort of a late-comer to the field -- marriage was not a sacrament in the Christian church until the end of the eleventh century. So much for sanctity. Remember, St. Paul, who had a child with a prostitute and then left them both to marry for money, was against sex. He said.)

So, to agree with Gay Patriot West, that does indeed seem to be the crux of the president's opposition to gay marriage (a topic about which, we are advised from other sources, he doesn't really give a s**t, but we do need to energize the base, after all). So, the president has basically said nothing, and GayPatriot is nodding and smiling.

As for the name calling: You have to understand that the FMA is a sham. It has one purpose and one purpose only: energize the base around an emotional issue, without framing any sort of rational debate. It is a tool of demagogues -- Frist, Santorum, Wildmon, Sheldon, Dobson. So the president was herded into throwing a bone to the Christianists, because it's payback time. He doesn't care about FMA, and there are strong elements in the administration who oppose it. For GayPatriot to sit there an slam those who are calling it like it is is beyond ludicrous. Of course it's divisive -- it's meant to be. It's perfectly in line with the Rovian strategy: divide and rule. It's about votes. Period.

The debate is taking place, in ballot boxes, OpEd pages, online discussions, and just about everywhere else, when people can be bothered to stop worrying about gas and food prices, the war in Iraq, identity theft, the erosion of civil rights, and the host of real issues confronting this country right now: it is not on most people's radar, which only points up the true nature of the FMA and the dog and pony show in the Senate.

And, if you want to frame the debate in real terms, you have to start with the legal background, which is what this is all about. State courts have overwhelmingly found that laws limiting marriage to heterosexual couples violate any number of constitutional guarantees. That's the fact, and it starts with Hawai'i in, I believe, 1994. Key point: "constitutional guarantees." Fuck the will of the people. The Founders had no great respect for the will of the people, which is why federal judges are appointed for life: the will of the people is subject to the restrictions embodied in the Constitution, as interpreted by the courts. That's also why it's so hard to amend the Constitution. Let's face it, we are a nation of faddists, and the Founders were too smart to leave the governance of the country completely to the whims of the people.

OK -- you have courts consistently (with, I think, one exception) finding that marriage laws as presently constituted, are discriminatory against a class of people based solely on social prejudice. This is not the first time this has happened. Go look up the decision in Loving vs Virginia (which, incidentally, found that marriage to the partner of one's choice is a fundamental human right). This is not activism -- this is the courts doing their job. In the simplest possible terms, the courts evaluate the law based on the Constitution, the needs of the state, and community standards. The Constitution gets pride of place, and the needs of the state and community standards must demonstrate a critically important interest, based on rational criteria, to override those guarantees. So far, in almost all cases, marriage laws have failed the test. Since Lawrence, it's going to get harder for them to stand up to scrutiny, since that decision severely limits the state's right to interfere in personal consensual relations. (The Christianists are right on that score. Too bad.) It's the natural outgrowth of the decisions in Griswold, Loving, Roe. Basically the government is invited to butt out of our bedrooms.

Frankly, the talk about family and 5,000 year traditions and all this other crap is irrelevant. It's useful to the right because that way they don't have to try to address the real issues involved, which are essentially the same issues that have been involved when we have dealt with any historically disenfranchised group: Can we legitimately and morally continue to exclude this group from the benefits of our society? The Christianists are panicking because the opinion on SSM is getting closer to being evenly divided rather than overwhelmingly against as time goes on, gay couples get married, and the world doesn't end. (And I am biting my tongue, so to speak, to avoid examining the sex-obsession so evident on the right, although it occurs to me that that's another strategy: if the right casts the debate in terms of sex, that means they don't have to admit that gay people love one another just the same way straight people do. It's called "dehumanizing.")

The repeated references to the enactment of anti-marriage amendments in the various states is also a sham. The people have not spoken. Those who have spoken are a majority of those who are likely to be galvanized by the inflammatory rhetoric on this issue and haul their asses out to the polls to vote on it. So, the majority of those people are against SSM. Big surprise. If they weren't, they wouldn't have been there. The fact that they could be motivated by what is to most people a complete non-issue should give you a clue.

Not a lot of critical thinking going on at GayPatriot.

Here's the text of the president's speech, via the White House website. I may go back and fisk it later, but you should at least have the reference.

Well, Mr. President -- it's payback time.

Dog and Pony Show, Part I

This has turned into a two-part post; I actually started it yesterday and didn't have time to go through it, and of course, there are new developements. So, Part the First:

Feedback from Fox News:

Well, Dubyah said his piece yesterday, and now the Senate is ready for another empty debate. (If I have time and the inclination, I might go back and cover some of the debate. Frankly, the whole issue is getting to be a bit much -- the arguments against the FMA are very clear and should be self-evident to anyone with a brain -- in fact, there are liberal, conservative, and libertarian blogs that have gone over them ad nauseam. This is not a popular amendment with anyone except the usual suspects. Andrew Sullivan pointed out some of the responses to the issue on Fox News' website. There was actually a range of opinion (so, apparently Fox News listeners are not a homogeneous group of knee-jerk right-wingers -- big surprise), but I ran across a couple that are just too egregrious:

"I am in complete support of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between a man and a woman. Marriage is a God-ordained, not a man-made, institution. Therefore, we have no right to attempt to re-define it.

Well, no. As far as I know, there is no institution in human history that can unequivocally be demonstrated to be made by God. There have been many claims made, but no proof offered.

But I firmly believe that the real issue here is not about marriage itself.

Is there anyone alive who still thinks this is about marriage? It's about avoiding dealing with (or answering for) the worker-hostile economy, gas prices, the disaster in Iraq, the resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, the lack of effective response to Katrina, medical care . . . I hadn't realized how long the list of this administration's failures had gotten.

It goes much deeper than that. It is about a group of individuals wanting to legally force society to not only accept but embrace their chosen lifestyle. To force us to say that this way of life is okay. People have the freedom to choose the way they want to live their lives. But they do not have the right to force that upon others." - Mark (St. Louis Park, MN)

I agree completely. And that group would be headed by Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Donald Wildmon, James Dobson, Rick Santorum -- the usual suspects. After all, people choose to be Christian, and they choose to be vicious; they don't choose to be gay.

"They definitely need to protect marriage. Small groups are taking rights away from the majority of people a little at a time.

Those small groups would include Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, the Pentagon, the Justice Department, the White House.

Prayer and discipline are not allowed in schools. Acknowledging God and His guidance is not allowed in government or in history books. Now they're attempting to destroy families by saying marriage isn't between a man and woman. What will it take for us to stand up and pay attention?" - Chris (Chattanooga, TN)

Time for a remedial civics course. Lesson one: "Congress shall make no law regarding establishment of religion."

"The bestselling book of all times is the Holy Bible. It is without error from the front cover to the back, including the word 'Holy.' For thousands of generations it has been made clear that a marriage is between one man and one woman. God created Adam and Eve. The younger generation has been brainwashed with this thing called tolerance. With true Christianity there can never be compromise." - Paul (Emphasis added.)

There you have it. Note the key concept -- "tolerance" is a matter of brainwashing, and "true Christianity" admits of no compromise. Now just substitute "Islam" for "Christianity" in that statement, and you have -- (drum roll) jihad!

"Freud was the first person that I know of to postulate that, all other things being equal, children need both sexes to act as parental role models at various times during their development. Any nationwide policy, constitutional or otherwise, which promotes a man and a woman working together to be positive and active parents in one home, is a good thing. I believe this measure can accomplish that, so I support it" - Mike (Las Vegas, NV)

And, unless one is going to stay current in the field, one should not lightly refer to theories (and remember, Freudianism is only a theory). In point of fact, Freud did postulate something similar to that, which has since been demonstrated not to be the case. After all, Freud (who was adamantly heterosexual) had his own hangups.

One of Sullivan's readers came up with a fascinating thought:

By tying gay marriage to the fading star of contemporary 'conservatism', the President has given many people who may otherwise be uncomfortable with the idea of same-sex relationships the concrete reason they need to change their minds. 'If these guys are so hard against it,' millions of Americans without a direct stake in this debate must be thinking, 'it may be a good thing'.

The prize, however, goes to Tony Snow, Dubyah's new mouthpiece. See this piece from Slate:

WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY TONY SNOW: Whether it passes or not, as you know, Terry, there have been a number of cases where civil rights matters have risen on a number of occasions, and they've been brought up for repeated consideration by the United States Senate and other legislative bodies...

Q You mentioned civil rights. Are you comparing this to various civil rights measures which have come to the Congress over the years?

MR. SNOW: Not -- well, these -- it --

Q Is this a civil right?

MR. SNOW: Marriage? It actually -- what we're really talking about here is an attempt to try to maintain the traditional meaning of an institution that has maintained one meeting for -- meaning for a period of centuries. And furthermore --

Q And you would equate that with civil rights?

MR. SNOW: No, I'm just saying that I think -- well, I don't know. How do you define civil rights?

Q It's not up to me. Up to you.

MR. SNOW: Okay. Well, no, it's your question. So I -- if I --

Q (Chuckles.)

MR. SNOW: I need to get a more precise definition.

Read the extended transcript -- it's absolutely priceless: the bald-faced political nature of this whole thing comes through loud and clear, in spite of Snow's backpedaling and waffling.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

National Security


On Iran's nuclear capability, [John] Negroponte said: "The estimate we have made is that sometime between the beginning of the next decade and the middle of the next decade they might be in a position to have a nuclear weapon which is a cause of great concern." Negroponte said Iran seemed determined to develop nuclear weapons but admitted "We don't have clear-cut knowledge."

"They seem to be determined -- that is our assessment -- that they are determined to develop nuclear weapons," he told BBC Radio

Well -- I guess that nails it, maybe, to the best we have been able to determine, based on [some of] the intelligence available to us at the present time.

Budget Priorities:

Jon Swift has figured it out:

Earlier this year Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced that he would change the way anti-terrorism funds are dispensed in favor of a more "risk-based" approach. But now he has come under attack for the results of his reassessment, which would reduce anti-terrorism funding for New York City and Washington, DC by 40% and increase funding for such terrorist targets as Jacksonville, Omaha, and Charlotte. Critics say that New York and Washington are the two cities most likely to be attacked, but it seems to me that if the terrorists already know we know this, wouldn't it make sense for them to attack some other city that we wouldn't suspect? Of course, now that this budget has been released to the public, the terrorists will know that we know that they will probably attack some other city. And now that they know this they may very well be more likely to attack New York or Washington in an attempt to fool us. Unless, of course, they think we may anticipate this strategy; that is, that since we know they would be more likely to attack New York or Washington because they know that we know that they would try to fool us by not attacking New York or Washington because we know that those are the most obvious targets, they might, in fact, try to trick us by attacking some other city, for which, we will be totally prepared thanks to the foresight of Homeland Security. I think we can all be grateful for this kind of brilliant, outside-the-box strategizing by our Homeland Security Department, which stays one step ahead of the terrorists by not only anticipating likely terrorist targets but even anticipating the terrorists' anticipation of our anticipating them. Knowing that, I think we can all sleep a little more soundly tonight.

Passive Partisans

Eric Boehlert has just come out with a new book, Lapdogs : How the Press Rolled Over for Bush. This is from the introduction:

It was ironic that a federal prosecutor was quizzing a journalist, trying to pry out of him sensitive information that was damaging to the Bush White House and information the investigate reporter had refused to share with the public, let alone his editors. The strange truth was that, at least in regards to the Plame investigation, the special prosecutor had supplanted the timid D.C. press corps and become the fact finder of record. It was Fitzgerald and his team of G-men -- not journalists -- who were running down leads, asking tough questions and, in the end, helping inform the American people about possible criminal activity inside the White House. For two years, the press had shown little interest in that touchy task and if it hadn't been for Fitzgerald's work, the Plame story would have quietly faded away like so many other disturbing suggestions of Bush administration misdeeds. (Lots of frustrated news consumers must have been wondering where was the special prosecutor for Enron, Halliburton, and prewar intelligence?) As conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds noted in the wake of Woodward's embarrassing revelation about his nonaction, "This is Watergate in reverse. The press is engaged in the cover-up here. If everybody in the press simply published everything they knew about this, we would have gotten to the bottom of this in a week instead of dragging it out for two or three years."

More Boehlert, from an inteview on the right and the press, at American Street:

In the classic model of an objective press, we would not want to see a socially intertwined relationship between politicians and the elite journalists who cover them. Of course, this is nothing new. Now, if journalists had made friends with officials in the Clinton Administration, just as they have with officials in the Bush Administration, we might argue that there is less of the double standard… But this explanation doesn’t seem to explain the press corps actions between Clinton; they were not friends with the Clinton officials and are friends with the Bush officials. There is most definitely a double standard, and maybe it is explanatory of a good deal. For example, the example you note, Bob Schieffer, got some key exclusive interviews with Bush, with whom Bush has gone golfing, gone to minor league baseball games with, his brother is a business partner and ambassador… in Schieffer’s book, he noted that Bush gave him “a wonderful interview” around the New Hampshire primary, whereas Schieffer actually mocked Gore for the interview Gore gave him. No one ever seems to talk about this…

Tie in this whole story from TPMmuckraker about John Solomon's reporting on Harry Reid, trying to tar him with the Republican corruption brush,:

We went after Solomon's piece for a simple reason. At a time when Congressional corruption is arguably worse than it has ever been, leading to a spreading net of criminal investigations, Solomon used the most powerful organ in the land to attack Harry Reid for what is at very most a minor ethical transgression. Solomon did not allege a quid pro quo. He did not even allege that Reid violated ethics rules. What he argued was that Reid should have avoided accepting the seats in order to "avoid the appearance he was being influenced by gifts." And remember the supposed influence here was from a governmental body with interest - but no demonstrated financial interest - in pending legislation.

Why pick on Harry Reid? Because Harry Reid is Senate Minority Leader. That's why.

Boehlert points out some disturbing facts about Bush and the media that go deeper than merely reporters trying to appease a vindictive president so they can maintain access. I think he does hit most of the points, but the interplay of "liberal bias" and bottom-line-driven operations is, I think, the key issue. The press is no longer the Fourth Estate; it is now big business, and its interests are the same as other big businesses. This is more than worrisome -- the press has historically been our access to information that the government might not want us to have.

One thing this trend in the media has made possible is stealing elections. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. has a story in Rolling Stone that just blows the lid off of the 2004 election. I have to summarize, since Rolling Stone won't let me copy and paste:

Essentially, the exit polls, which were the most exhaustive and careful ever done, showed huge discrepancies against the official vote tallies. The six media organizations, rather than latching on to that story, dismissed the results as "flawed." In point of fact, based on follow-up research by experts, the chances of the polls being wrong were astronomically against. And in almost every case, the discrepancies favored Bush. Read the whole article. Scary.

Keep in mind that there were reported incidences of chicanery -- Democratic registrations being shredded; registered voters showing up to discover that they were not, indeed, on the lists; "terrorist alerts" designed to keep media away from the vote counts; more votes being counted than there were registered voters in some precincts. Do we need to remind anyone of the phone jamming scheme in the Northeast? I remember hearing relatively brief reports on some of these things, which then disappeared. Of course, Kennedy has his own agenda.

American Street also pulls together links to some of the commentary on this article. I'll go with Jane Hamsher, who managed a telling quote (I'll have to find out how she does it).

Republicans derided anyone who expressed doubts about Bush’s victory as nut cases in "tinfoil hats,"’ while the national media, with few exceptions, did little to question the validity of the election. The Washington Post immediately dismissed allegations of fraud as "conspiracy theories,"(1) and The New York Times declared that "there is no evidence of vote theft or errors on a large scale."

See also Tristero's initial comment at Hullabaloo, followed by his second look taking into account Farhad Manjoo's article at Salon. Assuming Manjoo is no more partisan than Kennedy (and frankly, from the tone of his article, that's not necessarily a safe assumption), there is some doubt as to the validity of the count. It might not be so believable if it weren't obvious at this point that the Republicans at large are not too careful about obeying the rules (rules, after all, are for the little people). Of course, Manjoo's credibility has holes -- he's been a stolen election scoffer from just about day one, so he has a personal stake in the validity of the count -- so we're back to square one on that issue. (Read the comments on Tristero's second post. Very interesting. I question Manjoo's dismissal of exit polls, as well.)

However, enticing as it is, voter fraud in the 2004 election is tangential to what I want to talk about.

The common link I'm noticing here is the press -- the establishment news outlets. Fox News is, of course, a joke at this point -- the Republican Party's propaganda arm -- but I've been noticing a trend over the past few years of bending over backwards to accommodate the right wing while savagely attacking Democrats. Read the Eric Boehlert inteview on that one. He makes some interesting points that I have heard from members of the press before, particularly the "liberal bias" thing. (On that topic, I have to hand it to the wingnuts -- they've got a winning strategy that takes full advantage of Americans' tendency to be a "nice guy" -- accuse anyone of something repeatedly, and instead of telling you to go f**k yourself, which is the only appropriate response to these yahoos, he'll try to defend himself. That's one thing that lost Kerry the election. It doesn't even have to be true -- better if it's just short of tinfoil-hat outrageous, like the Swift Boaters. Just enough credibility for the criminally gullible.)

Notice how quick NYT and WaPo were to drop the voter fraud story in 2004. Why did the scandals of the Clinton administration, both real and (mostly) imagined, get such intense scrutiny, while major issues in the Bush administration get, at most, a brief mention with no follow-up (except on the blogosphere)? Why does the MSM have to be prodded into covering what turn out to be major stories? I ran across a bit at, I believe, AmericaBlog recently about an interviews with Rep. John Murtha, in which the interviewers tried to impugn Murtha's credibility, which has never been at issue outside of Rightblogistan, while avoiding the story of Haditha and the murders committed there, and that fact that Murtha was correct in his comments. It seems to me a much more interesting interview would have concentrated on how he knew.

Sound like a pattern?

I'm calling it passive partisanship. This came up in a discussion group recently, where someone noted that being lazy doesn't count as giving the Bush administration a free pass. However, it seems to me that if you are going to call yourself a "journalist" in the tradition of America's free press, and you know that your source has an agenda, you must either question that agenda or allow yourself to become, passively, a partisan of that point of view. Even after the Judith Miller-Ahmad Chalabi fiasco, they haven't learned.

Even those areas where the press does stress "balance" are telling: If there is an article about a high-profile same-sex wedding or civil union in Britain or Canada, it will include a quote from a fringe-right hate group. If there is an article on the discovery of a new fossil or strong biochemical or genetic evidence supporting evolution, it will include a quote from a creationist or IDiot. FMA is getting a huge amount of coverage, and it's all about the far-right Christianists and the politicos' need to energize their base -- vanishingly little analysis of the amendment itself, its possible consequences, or any surveys on whether people in this country actually favor amending the Constitution on this, and what there is is buried and usually given no more than a very brief paragraph, if that much.

So: James Dobson and Donald Wildmon now own the White House, Congress, the courts, and the press.

Sleep well.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

OK, I Lied

I really do not feel like commenting on the news, but (crosses fingers) this doesn't really count as "news."

Dale Carpenter at Volokh Conspiracy, via Andrew Sullivan.

What bothers me about Carpenter's post (not the article itself) is the use of terms such as "judicial activism" which have not been defined, not only not to my satisfaction, but at all. (Same category as "Marriage is under attack!" By who?)

My problem stems from a very basic assumption that I think is a false assumption. It is generally claimed, particularly in regard to social policy decisions, that decisions such as Lawrence or Goodridge are "judicial activism" in that the courts are legislating from the bench. I fail to see the validity of this statement: the courts have found that laws in place violate constitutional guarantees of individual rights. This is an example of the courts doing their job: interpretation of the law against the fundamental principles of the Constitution. Strangely enough, when this happens, more often than not it upsets the status quo. I'll be damned -- how could that happen?

In both cases cited above, the courts were not "legislating," they were simply telling the legislatures that current law was unconstitutional. (Please, please do not try to tell me that legislators are careful about the constitutional ramifications of bills that they introduce. Bullshit.) In the case of Lawrence, the remedy was simply vacating the law -- there is no alternative method of redress in such cases, and the state was unable -- and will forever be unable -- to come up with a compelling, rational reason for such interference in the personal decisions of private citizens.

In the case of Goodridge, the court did allow the legislature a grace period to come up with something, which the legislature failed to do. It's instructive that what the legislature did come up with ultimately was not legislation either validating same-sex marriage or an alternative form of recognition for same-sex relationships, but a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage, which to me is symptomatic of the mindset in play here: if something that the extreme right wing wants violates the constitution, change the constitution. Sullivan has a good take on it.

It's all about assumptions and the way that agenda-driven statements become the assumptions of debate. The forces of authoritarianism seem to have an unbeatable strategy here: just keep repeating it, and eventually it's true. I don't know if you have to be really clever or really stupid to participate in something like that.

Stray Thoughts

Single File

is not natural. Think about it. People don't naturally walk in single file when they are in a group. They fall into what is known as a "foraging line": walking abreast, at a little bit of distance. I think in part this is just a practical matter -- what better way to keep your eye out for dinner? There's also the factor of communication: we don't have tails to wag, so to communicate, we rely on voice and facial expression. Easier to see from the side than from behind.


Chicago still doesn't have one. Only weather. The rule this year is that we will have beautiful days when I have to be in an office. Seriously. Yesterday was glorious -- until I got ready to leave work. Then it rained.


We've already had temperatures near 90. Summer is here, finally. I don't have to get up in the morning and immediately put on a sweater. I love summer -- I am a Summer Boy.

Trapped By Your Own Agenda:

Phone call of the year, as I was sitting on a switchboard that serves 90 people more or less: "This is Lola. Did somebody call me?"

I mean, it's not like I don't announce the company name when I answer the phone. I would expect that to cause an immediate rearrangement of mental context. I guess this sort of thing is only to be expected in a country where we rely on others to do our thinking for us. (This is in the same category as "When will he be back?" I'm not his mother, for crying out loud.)


I've been thinking about this for a while. Another thing to love about summer: men start walking around in shorts and flip-flops. I had never realized how sexy feet are.

No, I do not have a foot fetish.

I don't seem to have any fetishes, in particular. Call it connoisseurship.

Of course, not all feet are sexy. Some are disastrous. But it's the sort of thing where a guy might be attractive, or may just be passable (and keep in mind that "passable" includes a wide range of variation), but if he has great feet, that clinches it. Unfortunately, I can't explain what I mean by "great feet." It's like body hair or noses: I take it on a case-by-case basis. (I do that with most things, actually.) I looked for some pictures of men's feet to include with this post, but the only ones I could find a) showed only the bottoms, or b) were in compromising situations, or c) both. It's amazing how many porn sites are devoted to feet, in one way or another. (No, sneakers and socks do nothing for me. In fact, most "sneakers" come under the category of "Unfortunate Shoes." Ugly. Hide them under the bed.)

In general, I guess I favor large, knobby feet, probably because I favor large, knobby guys. But I take that on a case-by-case basis, too.