"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

Monday, April 30, 2007

The Candidates, Part II

I've been reading up on Mike Gravel, the Democrat who finally said something. Here's his bio at Wikipedia, and a separate article on his policy positions. I could vote for him. After all, Gravel said this in the S.C. debate:

We are mischaracterizing terrorism. Terrorism has been with civilization from the beginning. And it will be there to the end. We’re going to be as successful fighting terrorism as we are fighting drugs with a war. It doesn’t work.

Hello! Rest of the world -- are you listening? (For "world," read candidates and current office-holders.)

Someone has his eyes open. Finally. I think I'm in love.

(Here's a link to the transcript. Read it. Even if you watched the debate.)

What Digby Said

I'm borrowing a title from Atrios. My version has a few additions, though.

I just finished Octavia E. Butler's Lilith's Brood (also published as Xenogenesis), which actually turned out to be a subtle and damning examination of do-gooders, those who are out to save us from ourselves. I'm not sure that was intentional, but the aliens who rescue humanity operate on the same basis as the people in this post from Digby. They are going to fix things in the way they "know" is best, because they "know" we're not capable of doing it ourselves. That includes making our decisions for us, because we're not capable of doing it right.

Digby's post focuses on anti-evolutionists and forced birth advocates, who are largely on the right side of the aisle (not entirely, especially the latter). Don't think that syndrome is exclusive to the right, however. I'm reminded first of the politically correct assholes who want to scrub the n-word out of Huck Finn lest someone be offended by reading what is perhaps the greatest work of American literature. They're the same people who have children arrested for being jerks, which kids are on the average of about once an hour.

And they all lie about it. The worst are the Christanist-jihad organizations like American Family Association and Traditional Values Coalition, who don't consider factual accuracy as a legitimate tool of public discourse, but PETA has had its moments. (It is remarkable, though, that the right seems to have the least problem with making shit up.)

PS -- I didn't like the book. Butler is (was -- she died last year) a highly regarded writer, mostly of science fiction, and I suspect, after reading this trilogy and her duet, the Parables books, that is largely due to feminist/post-colonialist critical theory. I could be wrong, but quite frankly, her work seems to creak along under the weight of its own seriousness, and I have never encountered a writer as humorless, ever. Even Hemingway could be light from time to time. I mean, one of the things about entertainment is that it should be . . . well, entertaining. (The review will be up at GMR on May 6.)

Not Just For Making Babies

Never was. Ran into this notice while surfing this morning, about a new study of prehistoric sex:

He argues that monogamy only became established as hunter-gatherer societies took up agriculture and settled in houses, allowing the social roles of men and women to become more fixed.

Experts believe research such as [Timothy] Taylor’s may help overturn false assumptions that sex for the purposes of reproduction is the form closest to nature.

Petra Boynton, a relationship counsellor and health lecturer at University College, London, found the study “refreshing”.

“So much evolutionary theory promotes the idea that humans, particularly women, are preprogrammed for monogamy, but that is often simply overlaying science on a preexisting view of society,” she said.

It took organized religion to turn us into breeding stock. Oh, and in case you were wondering, face-to-face sex is just as easy for two men as for anyone else.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Candidates

The Democrats: Wake me when one of them says something.

The Republicans: Wake me when one of them says something rational.

Maple Flowers

One of the first signs of spring is that the maples start flowering. Their flowers fascinate me -- like little sea creatures, a kind of barnacle or something. Especially when they first bud, they look like something you'd find in a coral reef. This occurs to me now, when we're well into spring, because I was just sitting outside being pelted with them as they're falling off the trees.

There's something very serene and Japanese about a couple (make that three) branches of maple flowers in a vase. Also something weird and alien. I like it.

Our Incipient Despotism

Two posts at Balkinization point up further the Bush administration's contempt for the rule of law. This one, by Jack Balkin, discusses the administration's latest attempt to hamper the ability of "enemy combatants" to defend themselves against charges which, in light of the history of these detentions, are as likely as not to be completely spurious. The second, by Gabor Rona of Human Rights First, dissects the Military Tribunals Act as applied specfically to the case of Omar Khadr, who was taken into custody at age 15 after an attack on the al Qaeda compound where he lived with this family. The comments on this one are illuminating.

The administration justifies all this by the mantra "we're at war." We're not, legally. The "war" in question is an eternal struggle against the forces of evil brown people. (The element of racism in current right-wing propaganda -- even the more "mainstream" right-wing propaganda -- is pretty appalling. I note that the recent raid on the weapons cache of a domestic "militia" in Alabama has gone pretty much unremarked, and certainly no one has used the "T" word. Care to make any guesses on that? Michelle Malkin, in particular -- any comment?) In other words, it's a get-rich-quick scheme for major Republican donors. I start to have the feeling that Bush and Company really hate this country and everything it stands for. I don't understand that, but there are too many elements in his administration and among his supporters who seem to spend the bulk of their time trying to eviscerate the Constitution. I happen to like the Constitution. It's not perfect, but it's better than the alternative.

Hate Crimes

I've been sort of mulling over this issue for a couple of days, since I saw this post by Matt at The Malcontent. I suppose I was thinking of hate crimes laws as one of those things that are probably good but seem to have a lot of baggage attached. I've seen arguments on the right against such legislation that never seemed quite to jell. I think this passage from Matt's post highlights some of the misconceptions -- or misrepresentations -- that seem to be prevalent on the right:

The sine qua non of the gay-rights movement has been "equality." Yet hate-crimes laws are the very essence of inequity. In singling out favored groups for protection, you must necessarily afford lesser protections to others. Proponents will tell you that a straight white male could theoretically be the victim of a hate crime, but in practice, it is rarely if ever the case. With a single piece of legislation, "hate crimes" undercuts everything we have tried to do to demonstrate to the rest of America that we want equality, not "special rights."

There are two elements to hate crimes laws, as there are to civil rights laws or any other legislation that denotes a class of citizen as singled out for protection. The most basic is the concept of "remedy": "harm" and "remedy" are so basic to American jurisprudence that I think it's safe to say it couldn't exist without them. People tend to forget that. Remedy is an attempt to right a wrong, in the case of hate crimes, one that is or has been countenanced by society at large. Absent this, hate crimes laws make little sense, and I can see how one could question their legitimacy. (This also applies to things like affirmative action, the infamous Title IX, and similar legislation that grew out of the civil rights laws of the 1960s.) It's simply that these laws are designed to curtail and hopefully repair as much as possible the effects of historic discrimination against certain groups. It's not that these groups are "favored" by the law. It's that they are recognized as having been historically disfavored and the law recognizes this as a basis for action. I think Matt's comment about a straight white male as a potential target of a hate crime makes my point: in practice, a straight white male is seldom the target of a bias-motivated attack. The point is, straight white males are not historically the victims of prejudice. (And it seems that in those areas we designate as "hate crimes," they are much more likely to be the perpetrators.)

This brings in the second element, which is particularly relevant to hate crimes legislation: as a matter of social policy, the government is saying that we will not tolerate violence based on irrational prejudice. In a society founded on the idea of rule by rational laws, this should come as no surprise. We want everyone to be treated equally. This is something that is intrinsic to our society, a basic component of our national ideals: not only do we want all to be equal before the law, but we want all to be equal in our daily lives, free of the fear that comes of being a target, not for something you've done, but just because of who you are. I think David Neiwert said it better than I can:

Hate-crimes laws are indeed relatively new laws. But they represent something that I think is a long thread running through our history, something many of us almost instinctively understand -- that is, the ethical imperative to stand up against the bullies and the thugs and the nightriders, because their whole purpose is to terrorize, oppress and disenfranchise the people they deem different or "not American."

(I'm not going to dwell on the idiocy of a statment like "In singling out favored groups for protection, you must necessarily afford lesser protections to others. " That should be self-evident. It echoes quite nicely the claims by the right that "everyone is protected against crime" [which is on its face laughable] and "giving rights to others takes away your rights," complete with semantic codes such as "favored groups.")

I've made the point elsewhere that "hate crimes" are not independent entities. They are simply a designation that allows for greater resources to be brought into play in investigating crimes motivated by bias. It's an attempt to bring motivation into play in the investigation and punishment of a crime, which, as Matt points out, is nothing new -- the difference between first degree murder and manslaughter is all about motivation. In the case of bias crimes, it's the specific motivation itself that is cause for concern, because of the fact that crimes motivated by bias are likely to be more violent and more extreme than others. (My source for this is Frederick Lawrence, from his book Punishing Hate: Bias Crimes Under American Law, as quote by David Neiwert in the post linked above.) "Hate cime" is also a concept that is not always understood clearly or applied appropriately. (For a prime example of "hate crime" run completely amok, see this story. Matt's attempt to conflate incidents like this with the attitude of all supporters of hate crime legislation is spurious. 'Nuff said.)

Perhaps hate crimes laws are not the best way to combat prejudice, but until we come up with something better -- or until we're all perfect -- I think we do have a real need for them, particularly in a country where tolerance is controversial. It doesn't really help Matt's argument that his position is echoed even more vociferously by the radical fringe with definite racist and homophobic overtones. (If you object to my including "racism" as part of the right's arsenal, please go back and read anything that Michelle Malkin has written on immigration.) I doubt very much that he wants to place himself in that camp. For a chilling analysis of the "religious" right's response to hate crimes laws, see this post by David Neiwert. I recommend that you click on the links at the bottom of this post, "Who Would Jesus Bash?" Neiwert has done some extraordinarily careful and thorough work on this topic.

And after looking at all this and finally thinking about it seriously, it's clear to me, at least, that aside from any personal considerations, and particularly now more than any time in the last century, we do need hate crimes laws. Badly.

Freud Again

I wonder if anyone's done a survey on the number of gay men who are fond of snakes.

Saturday, April 28, 2007


Light posting today, probably. Things to do, not much in the news that interests me, weather supposed to be beautiful, although I have to work today. Just to tide you over, here's a picture from an upcoming gallery at a/k/a Hunter.

Forest, Trees

The first real common-sense approach I've seen on dealing with global warming. From the Danes, of course.

The point is that most of the impact that's going to come throughout the 21st century will come from emissions from third world countries like China and India. And the idea is to say, as long as it costs $30 to cut a ton of carbon dioxide, rich countries may do a little, but poor countries, like China and India, are not going to do anything. What we need to do is to cut the cost of cutting carbon emissions from $30 down to $3. If it costs $3, then maybe they would.

So this is about a long-term strategy. Instead of these, "Let's cut a lot now," that makes us feel good, but end up doing very little good, it's about making sure that we end up making much better technologies available to everyone in the world so that we can cut carbon emissions cheaply.

That's about investing in research and development, and that's why I'm suggesting spend perhaps $25 billion a year on research and development in low-carbon emitting energy technologies. That will likely do much more good than the Kyoto Protocol at a much lower cost.

The speaker here is Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Consensus Center. And not only does he make sense, he's cute (although this is really a crappy shot).

Friday, April 27, 2007

Freudian Slip?

I find it very interesting that the right-wing Christianist organizations characterize hate crimes laws as "anti-Christian."

Tell you anything?

(For an amazing pack of lies, follow the link at Pam's House Blend to the Traditional Values Coalition's "Action Alert." Not a word of truth in it.)

If I've Said It Once. . . .

See this post by Tristero at Hullabaloo on Naomi Wolf's analysis of the trend toward fascism in the United States. She is not the first -- remember, please, David Neiwert's stellar series of a year or two ago. (This link is to a PDF version of the entire series. If you go to the Orcinus main page and scroll down the sidebar, there are links to the individual installments in HTML.)

The major element in favor of the rise of fascism or a close relative in this country is the belief that it can't happen here. Keep thinking that, as they come for those who are not you.

The War

After reading posts by Andrew Sullivan on the whys and wherefores of Iraq, it was refreshing to see this analysis by Josh Marshall. Virtue, thy name is clarity.

As for Sullivan:

In supporting this war, I did so for a few central reasons: 1) the possibility of Saddam handing over WMDs to Islamist terrorists; 2) the removal of an evil tyrant in violation of umpteen UN resolutions; 3) the establishment of some kind of democratic space within the Middle East to counter the cycle of autocracy and Islamism that was becoming a clear and present danger to the U.S.

1) There was sufficient evidence at the time that the WMD trope was fallacious that many discounted it; that evidence only got stronger. 2): The arrogance here is simply unbelievable. Did someone ask us to take over for the UN and invade Iraq? As I recall, we did it in spite of the UN. 3): So to counter the cycle of autocracy and Islamism, we attack a secular Islamic state, while leaving the local theocracies alone.

Contrast this with Marshall's comment:

It's often been noted that we've had a difficult time explaining or figuring out just who we're fighting in Iraq. Is it the Sunni irreconcilables? Or is it Iran and its Shi'a proxies? Or is it al Qaida? The confusion is not incidental but fundamental. We can't explain who we're fighting because this isn't a war, like most, where the existence of a particular enemy or specific danger dictates your need to fight. We're occupying Iraq because continuing to do so allows us to pretend that the initial plan wasn't completely misguided and a mistake. If we continue to run the place a bit longer, the reasoning goes, we'll root out this or that problem that is preventing our original predictions from coming to pass. And of course the longer the occupation continues we generate more and more embittered foes to frame this rationalization around, thus creating an perpetual feedback loop of calamity and self-justification.

The difference is that Marshall is a journalist who is used to dealing with facts. (In fact, sometimes he seems to be one of the few left who actually acknowledges facts.) Sullivan is a theoretician who is more comfortable with ivory-tower speculations.

I can't even call the Iraq war a blunder at this point. Its execution has been worse than incompetent, but its inception was a deliberate act that still seems to have no rational basis, unless you are prone to entertaining the idea that Cheney and Halliburton are the key decision-makers, and I'm not ready to go that far. Yet.

The Brass

I think it says something significant about the military and our trust in its leadership when you read a story like this and your first reaction is to wonder whose toes he stepped on.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Letters From Wonderland

I wasn't going to post today -- nothing in the news was really stirring up the juice, y'know? But this exchange at Andrew Sullivan was just too ludicrous to pass up. Let's do some analysis.

From one of Sullivan's readers:

In his speech yesterday Rudy Giuliani got one thing right: "The Democrats do not understand the full nature and scope of the terrorist war against us."

Well knock me down. And what did anyone expect him to say? That the Republicans have blown it? Come on -- the man is hoping to run for president against a Democrat, and he's still beating the "Democrats are soft on national security" drum. Quelle surprise!

Offhand, I'd say that the Democrats seem to understand the nature of terrorism far better than the Republicans do. As a matter of foreign policy -- and it is -- the Democrats understand very well the value of international cooperation on international problems. The Republican idea of foreign policy has come to be "Talk tough and screw your allies." This is not a "war" in any real sense of the word, unless you're talking about the kind of "dirty war" that occupied most of the last half of the last century. It's an intelligence war, not a military exercise. That much should be obvious. The "War Against Terrorism" is just another empty Bush catch phrase, like "No Child Left Behind" and "Clear Skies Initiative." Rhetoric, pure and simple.

And I cannot think of a single Democratic politician who has made a speech about the Islamist jihadist threat in-and-of-itself, unless it is to criticize Bush's response to it. What's the Democrats' big signature issue right now? Global warming. You seem to regularly underestimate the level of denial at the heart of contemporary liberalism, its need to remain comfortable with it's own fantasies. Today's Democratic Party today is not Truman's. They don't get the existential threat posed by jihadists because they don't want to get it.

This reader is obviously a raving lunatic, with a major disconnect to reality. If he/she has paid any attention to what's going on in Washington in the past few months, he would see that the Democrats are very concerned with terrorism and the war in Iraq, but Iraq right now is by far the worse crisis. Once we can get ourselves out of Iraq, we might be able to do something effective against terrorism -- if we can rebuild our international standing. The response to terrorism itself on the part of the administration has been to undercut American values in favor of a nascent police state. "Existential threat"? Yeah, we have one -- it isn't wearing a turban.

The "global warming" trope is a red herring. Global warming is just another crisis that Bush and the Republicans have ignored that has to be dealt with. This person's just bent out of shape because his favorite crisis isn't everyone's favorite crisis, that's all.

Sullivan's response is lame. I'm suprised he dignified this nonsense with a response, truth be told. His parting shot:

And we should absolutely demand positive policies for winning the war from the Dems. But after the mess Bush has made of the war thus far, I don't see why all the defensiveness should be coming from the Dems. Maybe it's telling that it still is.

I think that when the Democrats have had a chance to start fixing some of the mess that Bush has created, we'll see policies. Of course, Bush will fight them tooth and nail. His policy against terrorism is to go fight a ground war someplace else. We had fairly effective policies under Clinton. At least he didn't ignore national security briefings. (It strikes me that "policy" in this context is a misnomer. What we need is effective strategies. We don't have them. A "policy" on terrorism is a no-brainer.) Defensiveness? No, sorry. The Democrats aren't at all defensive about terrorism, any more than they are about any other partisan attack. (Which is to say, too much in general, although that's certainly ending.) It's the Republicans who are on the defensive now, because they've manage to botch the whole thing completely. You can tell by the shrillness of their attacks.

Also via Andrew Sullivan, on the whiny Democrats, this post from Kevin Drum:

So I was curious: how would the Dem candidates respond? With the usual whining? Or with something smart? Greg Sargent has today's responses from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton over at his site and the verdict is in: more whining. Obama: "Rudy Giuliani today has taken the politics of fear to a new low blah blah blah." Clinton: "One of the great tragedies of this Administration is that the President failed to keep this country unified after 9/11 yada yada yada."

I wouldn't characterize that as whining. I'd characterize it as dodging, which is another reason I'm not enthusiastic about the Democratic front runners. I agree with Drum on one point: articulate a position on national security clearly and succinctly. Duh. (Read the comments on Drum's post -- they're pretty intelligent. Favorite:

So if we don't elect Guiliani or a Republican, we're in danger of more attacks like the one that happened in NYC when Giuliani was mayor and a Republican was president?

Makes sense to me!

It's about the sound bites, stupid.


A reader TPM says it all:

All of the Democratic responses to Giuliani's "white flag" fear appeal were inept -- unfortunately and somewhat surprisingly, Dean's "should be ashamed of himself" was the worst. The opposite reaction would have been best. No advice on how Rudy should feel, instead simply pointing out that this is the real Giuliani, a Bush clone employing the same failed rhetoric to prop up the same disastrous ideas. Who wants another 4 years of that?

Update II:

Over at Election Central, Greg Sargent notes John Edwards' response to Giuliani, which is as close to bare knuckles as the Democrats come. He also refers to Kevin Drum's post -- intgeresting, isn't it, that Drum left Edwards' response out of his whining? (If you'll pardon the expression.) Read the whole post -- Sargent eviscerates Drum in the nicest possible way.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Carhart Update

OK, it's not just me finding fault with the majority opinion in Gonzales vs Carhart. Here's Michael Stokes Paulsen guest-blogging at Balkinization, who makes it quite plain that he is pro-life and still find the Court's decision lacking. Here is Andrew Koppelman, also not kindly disposed, with a comment on the "some people" basis of the decision.

Starts to look more like Bowers every day.

News From Wonderland

Josh Marshall summed it up best, and I'm paraphrasing here: "Bush says 2006 election a mandate for surge." This piece from Election Central has the story.


Regime Change

I think it's time for it in the Roman Catholic Church. See this comment from Andrew Sullivan. And this one from John Aravosis.

As in any large philosophy, there are several routes to follow in Christianity. Jesus has few peers as a teacher of compassion and respect for human dignity, and I know many Christians who follow his teachings assiduously, particularly a number of evangelicals whose witness to Christ is in the way they live their lives.. The Church has elected to follow another route, subordinating respect for people to the quest for control over their lives and thoughts. In terms of political life in this country, the Church is, quite plainly, anti-American. Its position is that separation of church and state is a "myth," and that Catholic politicians should be penalized for legislation on the basis of the Constitution where that doesn't accord with Catholic doctrine -- politicians, I might add, who are sincere believers but who also realize that not everyone follows their faith and who take it as a given in this country that everyone is free to make their own moral decisions. The Church's own moral failings are not to be discussed, of course, because the Church is no longer about God, it is about power.


Meet Jonathan Rauch

Interesting interview with Jonathan Rauch, who aside from his other accomplishments provided the essay on introverts that I posted about the other day. Mostly, I agree with him (which is no doubt going to surprise some of my sometime opponents on the right), but this jumped out at me:

reason: What do you think about the state of political reporting these days?

Rauch: It depends on what you mean by "political reporting." If you mean people who are actually spending their lives going out and gathering political news, following politicians around, manning the stakeouts, trying to understand what's going on in the capitols, then the situation is very good.

There's a very talented, hard-working press corps and, of course, it represents only a small fraction of the people who are doing [journalism]. I think all the major newspapers are doing it well. Not a single one is doing it badly, the ones that are committing resources to it. The larger fraction are the parasites, the bloggers, commentators, opinionizers- I don't exempt myself-who are feeding off of the real news that the press is providing. That larger sort of commentariat is not doing a very good job.

I'll have to see a lot more development and background on that topic before I'm persuaded. I'm not nearly so forgiving of the press, and Rauch quite blithely dismisses the fact that the commentariat (which is an overly broad term in itself) has kept a number of important stories alive until the MSM got off its collective butt and paid attention -- the US Attorney purge is only the latest, and if TPM hadn't kept after that one, Bush would have been able to sweep the whole story under the carpet, with disastrous effect on the administration of justice in this country.

Another interesting take:

reason: Do you think politics--or maybe just political discourse, which is a slightly different thing--are too extreme right now, too fragmented and divisive?

Rauch: The problem is not discourse. The discourse is in fine shape. We have good, vigorous, open, honest debates about policy in this country. Sometimes it takes a while to get there, [as it did with Iraq]. The problem also is not the public. The public is not extremist. It's not polarized. It remains, for the most part, a centrist public, maybe center-right by European standards marginally. Pretty moderate. Pretty pragmatic and I think in a democratic country, there's nothing more important than to have a pretty moderate, pretty pragmatic population.

We do have a problem with the political system. It's been increasingly rigged to favor extremists on both ends. So they're overrepresented and the center is underrepresented. They're not all extremists, but it is clear that the average Republican member of Congress is to the right of the average Republican partisan, who is to the right of the average American. You have the same leaning in the opposite direction in the Democratic Party. Reflect on the fact that until fairly recently, the House Majority Leader was Tom Delay (R-Texas) and the House Minority Leader was Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Just think about how much of the country that leaves out.

That is not a coincidence. The system has been rigged by partisan activists to their advantage. They participate in primaries. General elections don't matter because they've gerrymandered the congressional districts. They have the advantages of energy and being single-minded and they use these wedge issues which they're very good at and which both sides conspire in using in order to marginalize the middle. The result of that is the turnout among moderates and independents is down; turnout on the extremes is up. The parties are increasingly sorted by ideology so that all the liberals are in one party and all the conservatives are in another. That is a new development in American history.

The result of that is you have two quite extreme and narrow political parties talking, for the most part, over the heads of the center. That's greatly exaggerated because obviously the center remains important. We found that out in 2006. The center also gets much more important when you have divided government, which is one reason I'm so keen on divided government. It's the best way, maybe the only way, to force policymakers to notice the middle. You have to pit them against each other.

Now you know why you feel left out of things. I'm not so sure that both parties are as extreme and narrow as Rauch makes out, however. I've watched the Republican party move in that direction over the past twenty years, as I've found fewer and fewer Republican candidates I've been able to support because their positions have moved farther and farther right (as defined by the Dobson Gang, not by American conservatives) and they've dumped the small government part of their philosophy (in reality if not in rhetoric). I'm not so convinced on the Democratic side -- among other things, the Democrats are the traditional home of the American worker (although that's shifted somewhat since Reagan) and urban dwellers, and that's about as middle as you can get. So once again, although I agree that the system has gotten warped, I'm not sure I agree with Rauch in detail. (Such as there is -- another pitfall of talking in generalities. Of course, that's one of the problems with an interview.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Freedom on Conscience

From Pam's House Blend, some commentary on the Veterans' Administration's attitude toward religious freedom. Here's a release from Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

Americans United’s attorneys uncovered evidence that the VA’s refusal to recognize the Pentacle was motivated by bias toward the Wiccan faith. President George W. Bush, when he was governor of Texas, had opposed the right of Wiccans to meet at a military base in that state. Bush’s opinion of Wiccans was taken into consideration when making decisions on whether to approve the Pentacle.

“Many people have asked me why the federal government was so stubborn about recognizing the Wiccan symbol,” said AU’s Lynn. “I did not want to believe that bias toward Wiccans was the reason, but that appears to have been the case. That’s discouraging, but I’m pleased we were able to put a stop to it.”

This should have been a no-brainer for the VA -- Wicca is among the religions included in the Army Chaplain's Handbook. The fact that the VA has to approve symbols of faith on grave markers is itself appalling.

My bad -- this one fell off my radar, and I should have been tracking it for a couple of reasons: religious freedom is one of our basic liberties, and I'm a First Amendment nut. And since I'm a devout Witch, this one is close to home.

The real news -- if it can be considered "news" any more -- is the degree of politicization --and Christianization -- of the entire executive branch. As I said, this should not have been a question, and now we see why it was. The fact that it had to go to court is simply unbelievable -- or would be, if liberty weren't under assault by Bush and his base.

For those who are wondering, this is one of the best summations of Wicca -- and most neo-Pagan religions -- I've seen:

Wicca is a nature-based religion grounded in pre-Christian beliefs. Circle Sanctuary says the Wiccan religion honors the Divine as both Mother and Father, encompasses love and respect of Nature, celebrates the cycles of Sun and Moon, and encourages adherents to live in harmony with other humans and the greater Circle of Life.

I should point out that Wicca is one of a number of -- denominations? -- of neo-Pagansim. For an excellent overview and history, see Margot Adler's Drawing Down the Moon.

The Ultimate Outrage: A Call to Action

Debased chocolate. I take back everything good I've ever said about the FDA. Read this from the Modesto Bee:

The federal Food and Drug Administration is proposing to redefine the very essence of chocolate and to allow big manufacturers such as Hershey to sell a bar devoid of a key ingredient — cocoa butter. The butter's natural texture could be replaced with inferior alternatives, such as vegetable fats. And consumers would never know.

Chocolatier Gary Guittard said it best: "No one can afford to sit back and eat bonbons while America's great passion for chocolate is threatened."

For every defender of traditional chocolate, there are powerful proponents who want to replace cocoa butter with vegetable oil: the Chocolate Manufacturers Association, the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Snack Food Association. These industry titans have filed a "citizens petition" to the FDA, as the Los Angeles Times recently reported, as if there were some groundswell in society to water down chocolate.

At the moment, chocolate requires two basic ingredients — cocoa and cocoa butter. Cocoa provides much of the flavor; cocoa butter, the texture. So if, say, Hershey wanted to make a chocolate bar without cocoa butter, it can under today's rules. The product has to be labeled "chocolate flavored" (for it still has the cocoa in it) rather than "chocolate." That gives the consumer a signal that something less than chocolate lies beneath the wrapping. To help defend chocolate, visit www.dontmesswithourchocolate.com and learn how to submit feedback to the FDA.

There's still a day left for public comment. Here's the link to Don't Mess With Our Chocolate.

All this for chocolate, you say. No -- it's another give-away to corporate interests by the government. The report is that this action was initiated by large trade organizations:

The U.S. Chocolate Industry, through its Chocolate Manufacturers of America (CMA), and in collaboration with the Grocery Manufacturers Association, have petitioned the Food and Drug Association (FDA) to change the current requirements for chocolate.

To date, the FDA has only heard from the chocolate industry. But, the FDA absolutely must hear from those consumers who love the current gold standard of chocolate so that the FDA can have a more balanced viewpoint. If the Chocolate Manufacturer's Association succeeds with their agenda, the consumer will inherit what is most lucrative for them to produce rather than the high quality product we all currently enjoy and desire.

If, like me, you're tired of having the standards for food labeling changed to accommodate the bottom lines of big agriburisness and food manufacturers (who, after all, do such a good job of insuring quality and safety of their products), get hold of the FDA right now. Here's a link to the "How To Help" page at DMWOC, which includes a sample comment form and letter (remember to be nice), and to the FDA's public comment site.

Here's my comment:

Docket # 2007P-0085 Adopt Regulations of General Applicability to all Food Standards that would Permit Deviations from the Requirements of the Individual Food Standards of Identity

Dear FDA:

I solicit your support against the proposed and pending changes to chocolate (Docket # 2007P-0085), submitted by the Grocery Manufacturers Association/Food Products Association (GMA/FPA) on behalf of a number of organizations including the Chocolate Manufacturers Association (CMA). I understand that as part of this petition, the CMA has petitioned the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve a change in the Standard of Identity for chocolate products to allow for the use vegetable fats in chocolate and milk substitutes and to be permitted to call the product chocolate.

I am opposed to any change in the Standard of Identity for chocolate products that allows manufacturers to further adulterate these products. I do not consider that such changes are in the interests of American consumers.

If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Sincerely, Robert M. Tilendis

Go for it.

They Just Don't Get It, Part II

A pendant to the post below: Glenn Greenwald is another one of those "citizen journalists"who periodically takes a poke at the "Mainstream" press. This post is a good example. Bit and pieces, mostly about the Washington press corps and its failings as an independent entity. Another thing the Democrats have to take back -- they've made a start by cutting Fox out of the debate line-up, but there's lots more to do. A couple of choice bits:

This article by The New York Times' Adam Nagourney, in which he recounts the central role he and the Times played in the "John-Edwards-Loves-His-Hair-Like-a-Sissy" story, by publishing anonymous "Breck Girl" smears back in 2004. The smears were from what Nagourney back then called "Bush associates" (but which he today describes as people at "senior levels of the Bush political operation"). That article granted anonymity to "Bush associates" to call Edwards a girl and to say that John Kerry "looks French."

For some entirely indiscernible reason, it appears that Nagourney woke up recently and was hit with the realization that maybe one of the reasons why such petty and vacuous stories dominate our political discourse is because he and his esteemed colleagues at The New York Times eagerly offer themselves up as instruments for disseminating such personal smears.

The bulk of Nagourney's article is self-justification. Granted, the original article was about the Bush strategy in 2004, but to put that particular smear in the rather prominent position of last paragraph raised my eyebrows a bit -- particularly since there is no elaboration beyond the "White House advisor" tags. The 2004 piece is basically a free plug for Bush and the Republicans, of the "see how on top of things and well-organized they are" variety. Nagourney and his colleage Richard Stevenson seemed to have lost any vestige of a real journalist's healthy skepticism. I have to ask whether Nagourney would have felt impelled to write the "mea culpa -- sort of" if the Democrats were not on an upswing. Or even worse, can we now look forward to a period of NYT swallowing Democratic press releases whole?

And as far as Edwards specifically is concerned, should we pass by a candidate who is rich but cares about the poor in favor of a candidate who is richer and doesn't give a damn?

Greenwald also gives us a small retrospective of Stephen Colbert's devastating speech at last years' White House Correspondents' Dinner:

As excited as I am to be here with the president, I am appalled to be surrounded by the liberal media that is destroying America, with the exception of Fox News. Fox News gives you both sides of every story: the president's side, and the vice president's side.

But the rest of you, what are you thinking, reporting on NSA wiretapping or secret prisons in eastern Europe? Those things are secret for a very important reason: they're super-depressing. And if that's your goal, well, misery accomplished.

Over the last five years you people were so good -- over tax cuts, WMD intelligence, the effect of global warming. We Americans didn't want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out. Those were good times, as far as we knew.

But, listen, let's review the rules. Here's how it works: the president makes decisions. He's the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home.

Get to know your family again. Make love to your wife. Write that novel you got kicking around in your head. You know, the one about the intrepid Washington reporter with the courage to stand up to the administration. You know -- fiction!

Is it any wonder that Colbert was not invited back?

And isn't it sad when most Americans get their political news from Comedy Central because that's the only reliable source?

They Just Don't Get It

Digby is one of the most perceptive commentators around, whatever you may think of his politics. (I'm always amazed at the awe shown toward blowhards like Charles Krauthammer, who makes sense about once a year, and David Brooks, who does not live on this planet.) This post, on Eliot Spitzer's commitment to introduce legislation legalizing gay marriage in New York, is a case in point:

I assume from the tone of the article that this is not likely to pass, which is a shame. But I admire Spitzer for doing it, getting it on the record and standing behind his promise. Most politicians learned the wrong lesson from Bill Clinton's gays-in-the-military battle in which he came into office and did what he said he would do in the campaign and was burned at the stake for it. He backtracked with "don't ask don't tell" but it at least changed the status quo, which is worth something even if it's not everything. Since then, too many Democratic politicians have shied away from saying they would do anything concrete on social issues at all.

Spitzer seems to understand that you have to keep plugging away at these things from different directions in order to make progress, regardless of the liklihood of passage, and that it's incumbent upon progressive politicians to use some of what Bush likes to call "political capital" to do it. It's only by constantly coming back to first principles on social change again and again that people internalize that they have become mainstream. Good for Spitzer for keeping this on the agenda.

This is something that the far right fringes learned a long time ago -- think about the various guises and angles that creationism has assumed over the past -- how many years is it now that they've been trying to insert Bible studies into high-school science classes? Twenty? Thirty? It's something that the Black Civil Rights movement learned. It's something that anyone who has ever succeeded in bringing about change in this country learns. You have to get behind it and push and push and push. And our political leaders, if they are going to remain our leaders, have to make a commitment.

They don't listen. I don't recall a single instance of a Democratic leader responding to the likes of Limbaugh, Colter, Malkin, O'Reilly, Dobson, Wildmon, or any other filth-spewing demagogue. The Democratic leadership should have someone on staff tracking these idiots and coming back, loudly and publicly, with facts. They're all liars -- call them on it. The Democrats have the resources. It's not the RNC shaping discourse on these issues -- it's the Dobson Gang and the right-wing talk radio hosts. It took twelve years for the Democrats to find issues they could pound away at, and the Republicans handed them to them on a silver tray with a pretty pink ribbon -- Iraq and corruption. Pelosi, Dean, Clinton, Obama may think paying attention to the wingnuts is beneath their dignity, but the problem is that everyone else is hearing it.

As it is, the Democrats have handed the social issues planks to the Republicans and their wingnut base. Moral cowardice? Or just the general garden variety? Do they just not give a damn? Or just a simple inability to frame an argument on the basis of law and tradition? These are questions I shouldn't be able to ask. From any angle, the Democrats are an almost-complete failure right now on social issues. I'm wavering between "almost-complete" and "complete" on this one -- yes, they're pushing through stem cell research funding, which will be vetoed, and it's their reaction to the veto that I'm waiting for. DADT repeal, same thing, and that one I'm watching like a hawk -- if they drop it, they're dead, in my book. The only Democrat on the national stage who has come out for same-sex marriage is Russ Feingold -- every Democratic candidate for president has deflected questions on that issue.

When they start showing the savvy and the guts to take the debate back, then maybe I'll consider them a serious political party.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Just a reminder from one who stil has some sense of history: the government got into the regulation business because the private sector abused its power to regulate itself. It wasn't, in spite of the ridiculous fantasies of the knee-jerk anti-government right, just something the Democrats decided to do because they were bored, or because they hate business, or for whatever reason these screwballs come up with. It was necessary. Now that we've had six years of major corporations running the government and the press, we get stories like this.

I don't agree that the FDA is incapable of doing its job. Yes, it needs reform, but the entire government apparatus needs to be updated and streamlined. That's doesn't mean throwing in the towel, which the president has done on every issue except increasing his own power.

Introverts on the 'Net

Working with Harold Henderson of the Chicago Reader (who also blogs, and although I normally don't approve of journalists blogging, Harold is one of Chicago's better journalists, which is to say one of the best, period) at Chicago's Green Fest yesterday -- which was quite busy, huge turnout, very enthusiastic crowd, more power to 'em -- and the subject came up of introverts when I happened to remark to Harold that it wasn't that I don't like people, they just take so much energy to deal with.

My comment was from my memory of this piece by Jonathan Rauch from several years back. The Atlantic has also put up a couple of follow-up pieces worth reading. (Read the interview with Rauch, for sure: it put me in total "been there" mode.)

So of course I started thinking about introverts and the Internet, and why I spend so much time on the Web and so little talking to other people, and came to a sort of surprising, or maybe not so, conclusion: given the usual reaction people have when you admit that you spend hours every day online (and the base canards from the left blogosphere about Cheetos and pajamas -- Cheetos are one of my favorite comfort foods, and I don't even own a pair of pajamas, so stick it, Atrios), it took me a while to think my way through to this, because people who spend that much time online are supposed, in the popular imagination, to be either geeky kids or otherwise socially maladjusted.

Not so. They are merely introverts.

(Well, OK, there may be some who fit the stereotype, but we're not talking about them.)

Take me, for example -- I have superb social skills. After fifteen years on the front lines at a major auction house and many more years among the denizens of the art world in general -- than whom there are none more prickly -- I have developed the ability to be charming, gracious, entertaining, attentive, and all those other signature characteristics of a good companion on demand. Usually. But Rauch is right -- it really exhausts me and for every cocktail reception successfully negotitated, I have to spend at least a day of near-total silence recovering. My idea of a terrific party is four close friends for dinner, especially if they are introverts themselves. (I am also a phenomenally early riser, which is why my posts here are always in the morning, but I am not your basic, chipper "morning person." I used to talk to Ben, but we were together for nearly eighteen years, and I didn't have to talk unless I wanted to -- he was fine with it, as long as there was room on my lap.)

I really do like people, although sometimes in the aggregate they are pretty appalling. I enjoy being around them, I just don't necessarily want to be engaging with them all the time. I like to be among them, but not with them, if you get what I mean. (This general rule excludes grocery stores and street fairs, which tend to be populated by genetic suburbanites who don't know how to negotiate a crowd. We're all sharing the universe, you know -- act like it. My most recent experience along these lines was the lovely young lady who very carefully parked her shopping cart so as to block all the yogurt except the yogurt she was looking at, which was not the yogurt I wanted to look at, which, of course, she was in front of anyway.)

The advantage of the Internet is that I can keep up with people, make new acquaintances, maintain relationships long-distance, and it doesn't wear me out. Plus, of course, the distinct advantage of actually being able to think about what I'm communicating before I communicate it. And it is completely at my discretion.

So it seems that the Internet is the logical place for an introvert to socialize. Maybe I'll try online dating next.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Words Fail Me

Here's a really sickening story about one of the less desirable members of Congress.

Tell me again how hateful and vitriolic the left is.

Given the focus on John Edwards' haircuts, Barack Obama's lame jokes, and the almost complete invisibillity of Democrats in the Gonzales testimony, does anyone want to guess how many major media outlets are going to play up this story?

Tell me again about the press' liberal bias.


OK -- the news today is pretty pathetic. I'm struck by the number of stories on "he said, and isn't it awful?," which I'm not going to bother with. Ann Althouse managed to come up with something marginally interesting, at least: NYT has a story on a new men's underwear boutique in Portland, OR, Under U 4 Men. The Times, of course, is amazed at the phenomenon, and even links to International Jock (although not to the story's subject). Of course, those of us into underwear (although I can't really say I'm "into" underwear -- while I like to wear sexy underpants, my main concern is generally getting them off quickly) have known about Undergear for years.

Here's the link to Althouse's post. She doesn't say anything (quelle surprise!), but the comments are funny.

The Ultimate Ursprache

Taking a break from my onerous task of reading fantasy and science fiction (mostly) for review, I'm rereading after quite some time Merritt Ruhlen's The Origin of Language: Tracing the Evolution of the Mother Tongue. It's a hands-on guide to the relationships among our languages that results in the discovery of the ancestor of all modern languages. I think one reason Ruhlen's arguments are so persuasive is the way that he presents his material: the first few chapters include a series of worksheets in which the reader is presented with a list of words from various languages and asked to group them according to their similarity -- essentially, basic lessons in the taxonomy of language. He carries it through successively larger groups -- i.e., from Romance languages to Indo-European to Eurasiatic, each successive family including more groups, until he has developed strong groundwork for the idea of "Proto-Sapiens," the original Mother Tongue.

It's even more fascinating because he spends a chapter or so relating the purely linguistic evidence to some of the recent work in genetics and anthropology and palaeoanthropology to build a vivid picture of the radiation of Proto-Sapiens and its descendants.

I'm usually resistant to the idea of exporting the idea of "evolution" out of biology into other fields, but linguistics is one area where it works. And of course taxonomy, which is really what the book is about, is all about organizing things, which I think is a nice theoretical exercise.

Worth checking out.

(Language fascinates me -- it is so innately human and yet doesn't seem to be limited to us. [I have strong arguments against those who trashed the ape-language studies of the 1970s on methodological grounds -- "classical" methodology stacks the deck against the study and warps the result simply because language acquisition is strongly associated with socialization, and arguments that the studies were invalid because the researchers interacted with the subjects simply don't hold water. Bunch of bureaucrats.] It is also a way of shaping thought. One anomaly: I think most people are like me and dream in images, not words; I tend to think in a mix of words and images, which offers some translation difficulties sometimes -- maybe it's that right brain/left brain thing again. If I had gone on in psych, I probably would have developed a discipline incorporating some kind of evolutionary linguistics, which didn't exist as a field at the time -- I'm not sure if it does yet. It seems a natural outgrowth of areas like developmental psych and cognitive science.)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Unemployed America

I usually avoid posting about the economy, because I find it terrifically confusing and can't expect myself to be able to make it intelligible. However, reader PietB sent along a story that discusses in depth something I've referred to a couple of times here, which is the shift in the economy from one that benefits workers to one that benefits investors:

Three weeks ago, Dawn Zimmer became a statistic. Laid off from her job assembling trucks at Freightliner's plant in Portland, Ore., she and 800 of her colleagues joined a long line of U.S. manufacturing workers who have lost jobs in recent years. A total of 3.2 million — one in six factory jobs — have disappeared since the start of 2000. . . .

Even though manufacturing jobs have been declining, the country is enjoying the lowest average unemployment rates of the past four decades. The reason: the growth in the service industries — everything from hotel chambermaids to skilled heart surgeons.

One question I have had that no one seems to address is, "Do the unemployment figures reflect an accurate picture of real unemployment?" Actually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, yes, as accurate as they can make it. It's worth taking a little while to read about how people are classed as "employed" or "unemployed." It corrected my idea of the monthly figures and how they are generated. (It's worth it to have some trust in government restored, even a little.) It also lays to rest charges that I have heard that some unemployed workers are being undercounted. They're not.
Under-employed, however, is another story.

We are also periodically presented with a figure of about 47 million people who are uninsured, as though that had no relationship to jobless figures. Take it as a reflection of our propensity to take things apart before we can understand them. It's not that that's an invalid way of working, but you have to remember to put the parts back together.


Some economists say the United States is experiencing a normal economic evolution from farms to factories and now to service jobs.

"Every advanced economy has seen its employment in agriculture and manufacturing decline relative to services and America is no exception," said Daniel Griswold, an economist at the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank.

One can, like the Cato Institute, just look at this from a libertarian, "that's the way the cookie crumbles" point of view. (Which is one reason I consider libertarianism a morally impoverished political philosophy.) Every other government in the world protects its jobs from foreign competition -- we ship ours out to our competitors. This benefits those who own everything, but not the rest of us. (I really should have twigged to the idea that when George W. Bush spoke of "an ownership economy," he meant he and his friends would own it all. This is not reflexive Bush-bashing. Look at the state of the economy and who has benefitted.)

What it means in real terms for real people is that we have a problem in this country. It goes beyond the "mere" human dimension, although that is more than appalling enough. It means a real cost to our economic health.

This is one of those times when I feel like encouraging eveyone to go back and read Pohl and Kornbluth's The Space Merchants: the country is run by major corporations without even the pretense left of citizens having a voice. On its surface it's an engaging techno-corporate thriller, but the implications are scary.

And they're coming true.

Update: The Political DoJ

This post by Digby on the politicization of the DoJ is pretty interesting, but his final paragraph left me scratching my head:

It never really made much sense to me that of the long line of GOP corruption cases that came through the congress in past few years, the only one in which the DOJ took the unprecedented step of raiding their congressional office and seizing their papers was the lone Democrat. Very odd, don't you think?

What's odd is that he did not note the fact that there have been two raids in the past week on the offices of Republican members of Congress.

What's changed? I don't think the Democratic majority in Congress is a credible answer, unless your mind is really twisty -- sacrifices to prove that the DoJ is non-political? Far-fetched, it seems to me, although in the land of the Mayberry Machiavellis, maybe not so. I really try to resist the idea that Rove and Bush are that far out of touch with reality, but maybe desperation is an explanation. And who's going to believe it?

Digby's taking off from this post by Christy Hardin Smith at Firedoglake, which is a good summary of the situation at Justice to date (with many, many links for back-up). The NYT editorial, in particular, is, as Smith notes, a "must read." (Smith does credit the problem to the "delusional bunker mentality" of Bush loyalists.)

Update on Gonzales vs Carhart

Another commentary by Marty Lederman on Gonzales vs Carhart that points up just how purely political (and regressively so) the Court's decision is. The first commenter to this post objects strenuously to some of Lederman's contentions, but I have the same problem with his rebuttal that I do with the Court's opinion -- it's all couched in generalities, and not convincing ones: "some women suffer depression," "not all are properly informed," and so forth. I'm enough of a stickler that I want some hard figures on this -- which probably don't exist, unfortunately. (As another commenter observes, this is roughly analogous to the reliance on "some people say" arguments in the press and in presidential news conferences.)

I also have to ask if this is really a solid basis for a ruling in law.

The more I study the Court's opinion in this case, the more flawed it seems. It's about as thin as the decision in Bowers on sodomy, and seems to come from the same basis -- the Court's deciding on the basis of sectarian versions of "morality" and not on the basis of law.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Hats Off to Beyerstein

Excellent post by Lindsay Beyerstein at This Modern World on the debate around the Virginia Tech shooting -- and our public debates on crises in general. A must read.

Who Needs a Free Press?

Beyerstein again, this time writing at her own blog:

What the Post Office is planning to do now, in the dark of night, is implement a rate structure that gives the best prices to the biggest publishers, hence letting them lock in their market position and lessen the threat of any new competition. The new rates could make it almost impossible to launch a new magazine, unless it is spawned by a huge conglomerate.

Not surprisingly, the new scheme was drafted by Time Warner, the largest magazine publisher in the nation. All evidence available suggests the bureaucrats responsible have never considered the implications of their draconian reforms for small and independent publishers, or for citizens who depend upon a free press.

I'm not going to try to link this to "voter fraud" or anything else -- to paraphrase the old saw, there's no point in claiming conspiracy if stupidity and incompetence will explain it.

"Voter Fraud" and Permanent Majorities

From McClatchy:

The administration, however, has repeatedly invoked allegations of widespread voter fraud to justify tougher voter ID measures and other steps to restrict access to the ballot, even though research suggests that voter fraud is rare.

Since President Bush's first attorney general, John Ashcroft, a former Republican senator from Missouri, launched a "Ballot Access and Voter Integrity Initiative" in 2001, Justice Department political appointees have exhorted U.S. attorneys to prosecute voter fraud cases, and the department's Civil Rights Division has sought to roll back policies to protect minority voting rights.

On virtually every significant decision affecting election balloting since 2001, the division's Voting Rights Section has come down on the side of Republicans, notably in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Washington and other states where recent elections have been decided by narrow margins.

Joseph Rich, who left his job as chief of the section in 2005, said these events formed an unmistakable pattern.

"As more information becomes available about the administration's priority on combating alleged, but not well substantiated, voter fraud, the more apparent it is that its actions concerning voter ID laws are part of a partisan strategy to suppress the votes of poor and minority citizens," he said.

This is a really scary article.

I am not the only one who's seen the indications that this is part of a strategy. Let's face it -- the idea of building a "permanent majority" when you don't hold majority positions on the issues is sketchy at best. If you're not troubled by much in the way of ethics or morals, this seems like a logical way to go about maintaining power. And that's what it's about.

The history of this country is marked by a strong thread of not only leveling the playing field, but allowing more and more people to play the game. This sort of activity flies in the face of that -- it's the back-door version of demonizing minorities and all the other tactics that, regrettably, seem to be most prevalent on the right. The Republican party has been, at least for the last couple of generations, an elitist organization, which by definition gives it a limited durability on the national scene. What's remarkable is that, instead of moderating its positions to appeal to the mainstream and using its philosophy to spark legitimate debate, it is reduced to stealing elections even though it controls (or did control) the entire government. Frankly, I don't think the Democrats are necessarily an automatic majority -- there is a lot I object to in the usual Democratic economic policies, for example, although the Republicans haven't offered much in the way of alternatives -- it's all buzzwords and catchphrases without a lot supporting it.

I mean, what state is the Republican party in when the Democrats are recognized as fiscally responsible?


More on what a mess the DoJ has become under Ashcroft and Gonzales. Via Michael Froomkin, who got it from TPM Muckraker, who got it from Politico, a letter about hiring practices at the Bush DoJ:

So, in their own words, the career employees did some checking of their own. They reportedly detected a "common denominator" for "most of those" struck from the interview list: They had "interned for a Hill Democrat, clerked for a Democratic judge, worked for a 'liberal cause' or otherwise appeared to have 'liberal' leanings. Summa cum laude graduates at both Yale and Harvard were rejected for interviews."

Two things: The political appointees, which includes U.S. Attorneys, do indeed serve at the pleasure of the president. The careerists, however, are another matter. No firings there -- they've just been pushed out. When the criteria for hiring to a nonpolitical position begin to include your political affiliation, we have a distinct problem.

I also note that Politico chose to paraphrase the follow-up paragraph (the one I quoted here) rather than quote it directly, although it follows directly from the paragraph they quoted and is succinct enough in itself, as well as being stronger. I'm jus' sayin'. (I'm not quoting it myself because Adobe Reader and WordPad are playing games, which might be why Politico did -- except they seem to have had no problems with the first quote.)

I think Congress needs to impeach Gonzales and every one of his senior staff who are left.

A Real Response to the Internet

The Chicago Tribune has launched a community journalism Web site encouraging readers in nine suburbs to post their own articles, photos and blogs.

"This started with the question of how can we make the paper more relevant to readers who continue to live further and further away from the center city," said Ted Biedron, president of the Tribune division that designed the site. . . .

The Web site was modeled after YourHub.com, produced by the Denver Rocky Mountain News. John Temple, the newspaper's editor, said some of the content is questionable, but the site adds richer news coverage on local issues.

"It's inevitable that traditional journalists are going to view this as inferior, almost ridiculous," Temple said. "But anything that brings people into the public discussion is potentially valuable."

The paper periodically will publish some of the reader-submitted articles in a special supplement, officials said.

"A lot of it, just like the Web site, will be lightly edited," said spokesman Mike Dizon. "The intention is to keep it true to the writer's voice."

This strikes me as a truly substantive reaction to the Internet in journalism. It's an order of magnitude above newspapers starting blogs with their house voices doing the posting -- if I want to read what these reporters and columnists have to say, I'll read their reports and columns.

It gives people who would otherwise be leaving comments on those blogs a forum to present their views that won't be buried.

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Stepped out into the yard for a bit of a break and there was a gull calling overhead. There's something so forlorn about their calls -- it's like the idea of desolation given voice.

Gulls are starting to replace pigeons as our flying rats here, at least in some parts of the city. At the Zoo they have signs asking you not to feed the gulls -- the sparrows and pigeons are OK, I guess, but the gulls are really obnoxious, although rather more wary of people than the sparrows seem to be. (Sparrows here are quite bold -- I've had them on the verge of taking crumbs from my hand. Almost.)

The calls of gulls have always affected me like that.

our wild gardens
painted real and fading
mortality takes root beneath the flowers
as the season turns on waning days
raining days
and a gull screaming lonely
at nothing

Gonzales vs. Carhart

Ed Kilgore has this comment on the Court's decision on the federal ban on "partial-birth abortions." Please note, as well, that the term is lifted whole from the Christianist hymnal and was actually incorporated into the law and the Court's decision. Right there is cause for concern.

The opinions, including both Justice Ginsburg's dissent and Justice Thomas' concurrence, are at SCOTUSblog.

Balkinization, as might be expected, has a range of commentaries, dealing mostly with the purely legal aspects of the case. Here is Jack Balkin. Michael Stokes Paulsen has some insights on stare decisis. Marty Lederman tackles the Court's reasoning, which is certainly open to question.

Outside the legal sphere, here's a comment by Digy, and one by Echidne of the Snakes pointing up the most serious lack in the decision (echoing Justice Ginsburg's analysis of the majority's flawed argument).

I know, it's a link dump, but I don't have the time or energy for further analysis right now. Your comments are welcome.

(The only thing that I have to say is that I'm somewhat dismayed that we can all just sit here and acknowledge that the Court's decisions are basically political and not be bothered by it. The Dobson Gang have done their work well.)

Fruit Salad

This is one of those posts that leaves me scratching my head, creating an opposition between polls that suggest the Republicans are losing younger voters against a poll that indicates that younger voters support Bush. (Not sure who the poster is -- Sullivan seems to have invited several guest bloggers (another vaction?) -- who are being all chatty and old friends and I missed the lead-in. Ross Duthot?)

If you mix apples and oranges, you get fruit salad.

It's easy to square the polls -- Bush is not the Republican Party, Bush has great personal magnetism and the young tend to latch onto charismatic leaders even more than most of us, and the poll seems to focus on the war, about which the young have little perspective. The Republicans have developed a fine public image for ineptitude, spinelessness, and corruption; presidents tend to be able to deflect that sort of thing until they're actually hauled before the Senate. on charges.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Democrats and Gay Rights

Chris Crain has a solid post on the Democrats and gay rights that hits most of the points, but I don't think he goes far enough.

I think it's time to start organizing a "Stay Home" election day movement specifically targeted at Democratic candidates. The message is simply this: More than lip-service, or we don't vote at all.

I'm with Crain on being tired of empty "equality for all" statements when they're not backed up by specific plans. I've said it before an I'll say it again: I don't care what any candidate's personal beliefs are until they start interfering with his or her ability to govern under the Constitution. This is one reason I voted Green in the last Illinois state election: neither the Democratic nor Republican candidate for governor could get past the "I personally believe. . ." theme. That's not what I asked. The same goes for Clinton, Obama, Edwards, or any other candidate for president.

I'm not looking for any of the national organizations to do anything substantive. They keep crowing over how many Democrats have been elected, and just exactly what has that done for us? It's had some results in statehouses, but in Washington, where HRC is all cozy with the movers and shakers, our issues are being steadily downgraded in priority. It doesn't help that the Democrats had to move to the right on social issues to get elected. That just makes the HRC's victory dance all the more hollow.

On the marriage issue, particularly, it's fine for right now to be working at the state level, but we've got a lot of constitutional amendments to repeal, and the Dobson Gang is going to be fighting that tooth and nail. And, of course, someone will jump the gun on it, before HRC is ready (which it will never be). There have already been marriage cases filed in federal courts, and with the Supreme Court as it stands now, more than willing to follow Scalia's specious arguments about what rights the Constitution does and does not grant, getting to that level would be a disaster. (The whole terminology here is upside-down -- the Constitution does not "grant" any individual rights -- it confirms them.) However, the Congress needs to be prepared to act to deal with what happens in the states, if for no other reason than to forestall action by the Court, and there I think Crain has it right.

Gay Kids

I've been advised about a special issue of the Child Welfare League of America journal on GLBT children and parents that looks very thorough. A brief summary and ordering information are here. Some of these articles will most likely be appearing on the Internet, at least in abstract, and eventually.

This is important stuff. If you have any interest in the welfare of gay kids, go for it.

Further thoughts: Kids are about the most important thing we have. Even I, who always thought I would make a terrible father, think about what it would be like to be raising children. I still think I wouldn't make a great father, and I would want to be. (I'm overprotective, distracted, sometimes negligent although not criminally so, and not terribly involved with the day-to-day. I honestly don't know if I could relate to a children very well on a constant basis.) I think it's particularly important for gay kids to have access to gay adults as role models and mentors, and I think the moves against gay adoption are as much about keeping that from happening as from concern about the welfare of the children, which is completely unjustified.

And the gay kids are the ones that really need the support and love. They're getting it from all sides.

Everybody Hates Pelosi

Not. (Interesting that her approval ratings are about 20 points above Bush's.)

And they hate Congress worse than they hate Bush. Well, no.

And it's bad for the Democrats -- according to "some people." (Greenwald takes no prisoners.)

One thing that's interesting to note: when the rubber-stamp Congress had record low approval because they weren't doing anything except handing over the economy to the investor class and handing over our civil rights to the president (not to mention lining their pockets with handouts from lobbyists), it was because of "partisan obstructionism," which no one has ever been able to explain. (That's sort of like the Christianist claims that they're being discriminated against when they are running the Justice Department.) Now that the Democrats have been in control for four whole months and approval hasn't soared to somplace in the 80th percentile (which it hasn't in fifty years, if ever), people have "lost faith in the political class."

And why would that be, do you suppose?


The president will attend the memorial service for the victims of the shootings at Virginia Tech. As far as I know, he still has not attended a funeral or memorial for any soldier killed in Iraq.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Zoo Day

My eyes hurt, I don't want to talk to anyone, and I'm pretty much fed up with the news. I'm going to my favorite refuge, the Lincoln Park Zoo.

(As soon as I finish uploading the 1998-1999 gallery at a/k/a Hunter.)

(PS -- One very nice thing happened yesterday, amongst all my "Through the Looking Glass" conversations: One of the guys at the office, just out of the blue, gave me a copy of Cordwainer Smith's Norstriia, which is an omnibus of The Planet Buyer, which I remember from its original publication as "The Boy Who Bought Old Earth," and The Underpeople, which looks like it might be a reworked "The Ballad of Lost C'Mell." It's the 1988 Victor Gollancz publication, in almost pristine condition. Oh, wow! I don't like Smith's attitudes about a lot of things, but he was one of the most inventive science fiction writers ever.)

Why I Don't Want to Call Myself a "Conservative"

An interesting e-mail from one of Andrew Sullivan's readers. Sullivan's summation:

God, torture and an untrammeled executive: a good summary of what conservatism has become.

Another reader plays a variation on the theme.

This is why I've been voting straight Democrat for the past six years.

Virginia Tech

There's not really much I can say about this. Of course, everyone and his brother is jumping in to analyze the causes and motivations when we don't even know who the killer was, really. Like Digby, I have no patience with this "instant analysis" by people who generally can't find their butts with both hands anyway.

As for the 2nd Amendment freaks that Digby refers to, what? Are they living in some sort of 50s western? "Shoot-Out at the Engineering Building?" Or, as someone's boss responded at EA Forums, "So if he owned the gun legally, it's OK?"

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Irony of the Week

No sooner do I change my profile to say it's not about me than I write a whole series of posts about -- me.

The Two Faces of Evangelicalsm

I happen to know some evangelical Christians who wouldn't go out of their way to pee on James Dobson if he were on fire. (Well, they probably would, because they're very good people, but you get my drift.) So I found this article very interesting. Dobson does not come off well at all, and I think quite legitimately.

Warren, to the consternation of some anti-abortionists on the religious right, invited Senator Barack Obama, Democratic [Senator] of Illinois and a presidential candidate, to his church to talk about their mutual efforts to battle AIDS and world poverty. Warren is the establishment's favorite evangelical leader, comfortable going to Harvard and the Aspen Institute to preach about Jesus and tolerance.

Asked about gay marriage, Warren echoes the party line, yet says it is not a high-priority issue. "I am not homophobic," says Warren, who also pointedly dismisses the desirability of a "God party."

He seems more at ease talking about AIDS and the need to preserve the environment. Still, he has enormous influence in the evangelical movement and does not seem preoccupied with whether he has a special pipeline to politicians.

Dobson is.

"Dobson thrives on a role as a political kingmaker" said Charles Kimball, a religion professor at Wake Forest University, in North Carolina.

And Dobson is willing to use almost any tactic, however incendiary and divisive. On his radio programs, publications and speeches, his favorite targets are gay civil unions, which Dobson would have you believe threaten the fabric of a moral society. He even has a program to "cure" gays.

Rmember, it was Dobson and Wildmon who demanded the ouster of a minister high up in the (American Evangelical Association? I'm having a blond moment here) for saying that evangelicals should pay more attention to the poor and the environment. It wasn't Warren, but I've forgotten the name.

Given that Dobson is so divisive and polarizing and Warren is generally much more of a uniter and doesn't want to be the power behind the throne, why is it that Dobson gets the publicity and has so much influence?

Maybe that's why.

Ask your local newspaper.


The border where the vernacular crosses over into the realm of high art has always fascinated me. I think music is the most obvious place this happens, although there are certainly enough examples in other mediums.

The relationship between vernacular and high art in painting and sculpture is complicated by our changing perception of those mediums over the centuries. A Sumerian adoration figure or a Celtic brooch, or even Egyptian tomb paintings, had quite a different meaning to the people who made them than they do for us, not the least of which was that they were part of daily life, not by any means something separate and somehow rarified, although they might, in the case of the Sumerian and Egyptian pieces, have ritual significance. Fine -- substitute Roman or Minoan frescoes or Turkomen rugs, if it will make you happier. The Japanese and Chinese, of course, are in a class by themselves in this regard. In literature, of course, writers periodically plunder folk tales and vernacular usages and forms -- witness the translation of the ballad from vernacular song form into high poetry and back into vernacular song. And of course, who could forget that most of our earliest works of literature were originally sung or chanted by storytellers for audiences of whoever happened to show up -- as likely to be in a marketplace as a princely hall.

I made the point once that "classical" music derives a lot of its substance from the vernacular. Don't forget that Mozart's Magic Flute was created as a popular entertainment. Liszt, Chopin, even Beethoven and Brahms borrowed tunes and rhythms from the folk music of their areas. In the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries, folk influences became a major leg of music -- Dvorak, Bartok, Stravinsky, Ives, Britten, Ravel, Copland, Bernstein, all went back to folk music and even -- and often quite enthusiastically -- into jazz for some of their treatments. In Bernstein's music, especially, the dividing line between high art and popular modes is more than a little blurred. There is now a whole generation of young composers who have incorporated influences not only from the august traditions of Western art music, but from Asian, African, and Native American music as well as rock and pop, jazz and the blues. (The infusion of these last several influences is interesting -- classical traditions in Indian or Indonesian music have made their way not only into contemporary art music, but just as readily into popular music -- don't forget the Beatles' association with Ravi Shankar, and there are any number of rock groups who have used the complex rhythms and tonalities of gamelan -- while African music has exerted its influence from just about every direction.)

It is very seldom, however, that one actually has the experience of listening to musical works that are right on the border, that act as real bridges between the popular and the high-brow. The Eurythmics hit it sometimes, particularly in a few cuts on Touch. Corvus Corax has come up with a few things that erase the centuries between their medieval sources and their contemporary audience. Depeche Mode's Playing the Angel straddles that border for almost its entire 55 minutes, although for most of that time it's still definitely pop, if a very sophisticated variety. The last track, however, "The Darkest Star," leaves the vernacular realm behind: it's an art song, pure and simple, very much of a kind with the late twentieth century avant-garde (and actually more interesting than a lot of it) . (I know, it's the twenty-first century, but if you look at the historical record, centuries don't actually begin until roughly fifteen years after the calendar says so, at least in the West, and recently -- Martin Luther's "95 Theses," the death of Louis XIV, Waterloo, the outbreak of World War I -- so we have a few years yet.) It's really an amazing song. I mean, I was sitting listening to the disc with my mind comfortably ensconced in "pop" territory, and then for what may be the first time I actually listened to what was happening. Not pop. Not even close, even though it holds on to pop music's emphasis on rhythm. (I should point out that in general, pop music is a lot more sophisticated musically now than it was back when we were all doing "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll." Well, OK, I didn't do drugs, but two out of three ain't bad.)

I love it when that happens.


I just tried to update my template. What I really want to do is to put a photo in the header, like the big kids (see towleroad). I thought this one might be nice:

I don't know enough html to just do it, and I thought maybe the "new, improved" Blogger would have a way.

Well, lost all my links, my ads (such as they are), and pretty much anything else that was worth keeping, without being able to do anything I couldn't do before. Hurriedly reverted to the "classic" template.

If anyone knows how to put in an image at the top, I'd really appreciate a tutorial.

Until then, I ain't messin' with it.

Clueless, Part . . .

which part are we on?

Dan Gerstein is not someone I pay much attention to. I know the name, but he doesn't seem to have much to say to me. Here's one reason why.

But the reality is, as I experienced over and over again in the Lamont-Lieberman race, this is the liberal blogosphere’s standard-less operating procedure. They have decided that the best way to fight the “right-wing smear machine” that they so despise is to create an even more venomous, boundary-less, and destructive counterpart and fight ire with more ire.

It also goes to show just how deeply most liberal bloggers believe that Republicans and conservative are morally illegitimate, and as such, any criticism or argument made by the other side is on its face corrupt and dismissible. If it is said by Catholic League President Bill Donohue, who has a history of controversial statements himself, it automatically becomes invalid, no matter the inherent integrity of the underlying proposition.

What these liberal bloggers fail to appreciate is that this petty, polarizing approach is not how you ultimately win in politics – especially in an era when most average voters outside the ideological extremes are fed up with the shrill, reflexive partisanship that dominates Washington, and when the fastest growing party in America is no party.

The blogger bomb-throwing may be good for inflaming the activist base, and, as they demonstrated in the 2006 Lieberman-Lamont Senate primary race in Connecticut, for occasionally blowing up the opposition. It’s not bad for bullying your friends, either, as the liberal blogosphere did last week in pressuring Edwards to not fire the two bloggers who penned the offensive anti-religious posts.

But the typical blog mix of insults and incitements is just not an effective strategy for persuading people outside of your circle of belief – be they moderate Democrats, moderate Republicans, or the swelling

Now remember that Gerstein was one of Lieberman's advisors in the last campaign. Yes, that Lieberman -- Karl Rove's favorite Democrat. Tell you anything? In case it doesn't, let me put it this way: Gerstein is to Democrats as Napoleon is to Russia. I can't think how anyone believes this man is anything other than a clown.

I'm trying to figure out which liberal blogs he's reading. If any. This sounds like something you could find on GayPatriot. Seriously -- it's one of those major reality disjunctions where I just scratch my head and sit there wondering what he's talking about. I think he must be angling for a job at The Corner. (Oh -- I just noticed that this appeared on Politico, the Drudge Report's little sister. That explains a lot.)

Now, this is a piece from mid-February, and if we look back a few months, we can see how badly liberal bloggers alienated the vast middle-of-the-road electorate. Oh, right. . . .

A lot of fuss was made about that survey that showed that liberal bloggers use more swear words than conservative bloggers. I wonder what the results would have been if there had been a survey on who uses more ethnic and gender slurs.

And then there's Tim O'Reilly, who wants bloggers to subscribe to a code of behavior. I know O'Reilly has a long history with the Internet and the blogosphere, which makes it all the more surprising that he's missed the point so badly:

It's not about being nice. If you want "nice," go to tea at Marshall Field's with the white-glove ladies. It's about full, unresrained dialogue (or simultaneous monologues, as often seems to be the case). It really is the free marketplace of ideas, which, although it may dismay pundits like Gerstein and O'Reilly, works. Ask Don Imus about how well it works.

I'm really starting to believe that bloggers like Digby and Atrios and Glenn Greenwald are right. The pundit class has even less idea of what's really going on in the country than the preznit does.

Clueless. Totally.

(Please note that Gerstein also thinks Imus is a liberal. ??? Oh, wait -- that's the latest buzz on the right. Got it.)