"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

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Not Link Dump: The Gallup Poll

OK. This one's being reported a couple of places. This is Wayne Besen's post, and I have a distinct problem with the poll.

Not the results, but the conceptualization:

Today, 57 percent of the American public believes homosexuality should be sanctioned as an acceptable alternative lifestyle

What is this "lifestyle" bullshit?

Besen doesn't link to the poll, so I don't know if that's his phrase or theirs. Checking. . . checking. . . . Hah! Jim Burroway does link, and it's Gallup's terminology.

OK -- it's good news. Not perfect news, but good news. Until the next favorable court decision, I guess (note the backlash after Lawrence).

However. . . .

I most vehemently object to the use of the term "lifestyle," which is, after all, a usage invented by the radical, anti-gay, Christianist right and is not descriptive of anything at all. (Except maybe Peter LaBarbera's fantasy life.) "Lifestyle" is not equivalent to "sexual orientation." Period. "Gay lifestyle" is a semantic nullity.

And I bet, if the question were phrased without that term -- well, I'd like to see what they ask in its place. "Do you think homosexuality is an acceptable alternative genetic heritage?" Yeah, right. I'd lvoe to see the answers to that question.

I also have problems with the "morally acceptable" question, but that's simply because of my own thoughts on what morality actually is.

That said, take this as an indicator of something I've noted time and again: the Dobson Gang is fighting history and losing. All the propaganda is useless. Granted, it's not a question the poll addresses, but the results (which are, after all the important part) say to me that most people in this country are immune to the anti-gay Christianists. (Which leads to the delightful picture of Rudy McRomney bashing gays to win the votes of 28% of the minority party. Love it. So maybe Democratic McCandidates should think about that.)

So it's even better news than we thought.

Link Dump

I'm too tired to comment today (having finished the CD Review from Hell). May just go out walking, as long as the weather is nice.

There is some interesting stuff though:

From Sara Robinson at Orcinus, "The Future of Fundamentalism: A Scenario". Also read the following post, "Armies of God."

From Andrew Sullivan, the origins of "enhanced interrogation."

From John Aravosis at AmericaBlog, on those freedoms that our troops are defending.

Molly Ivors at Whiskey Fire, on Cindy Sheehan and the freepers. (And check out Jennifer Pozner's post on the media coverage.)

Sometimes I just don't have the energy for rage.

If you have any other good stories, leave them in the comments.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Everybody's Mommy

Another one of those stories. It's real simple lady: you have no right to decide what everyone else's kids read.

At Tuesday's hearing, Mallory argued in part that witchcraft is a religion practiced by some people and, therefore, the books should be banned because reading them in school violates the constitutional separation of church and state.

"I have a dream that God will be welcomed back in our schools again," Mallory said. "I think we need him."

Want to bet the nutfudge doesn't see any irony in that?

(BTW -- Speaking as a practicing Witch who has read one or two of those books, nope. Not there.)

Connie Willis

Another must read. The Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stores is, unfortunately for you, not coming out until September. I've decided to hold my review until late this summer, or maybe about publication time, even though I've read it (note to self: always check publication date first).

And what kind of stories are they? you ask.

Slipstream. That's a term I'm somewhat reluctant to use, partly because it's too easy -- slipstream is, when all is said and done, science fiction that isn't. It exists uncomfortably in the speculative fiction universe, and, out of the three major genres (I've decided to include horror along with fantasy and science fiction, since it's really becoming a mainstay of the field and one of the favorite crossover territories), it doesn't really fit neatly within any, although it may contain elements of any or all. "The Winds of Marble Arch," for example, could be fantasy. It could also be a psychological thriller. It could be science fiction -- the winds do have a rational explanation, which we never quite believe. It can't really be science fiction, though, because the problem never gets solved.

And what do you do with a vampire story that you're not really sure contains a vampire?

She's also hysterically funny. Just imagine a scientific conference that could have been organized by Robert Benchley and James Thurber, with an assist from Groucho Marx. Quantum mechanics made real. (Academia really gets it in the neck in this collection, along with our own PC/corporate Newspeak.)

Find To Say Nothing of the Dog. It's wonderful.

A Biological Basis for Morality?

I pretty much doubt it, in spite of this article at WaPo.

There might be a biological basis for altruism -- and this study is by no means the first indication. Edward O. Wilson brought up the possibility in The Insect Societies and again in Sociobiology, purely on the basis of the economics of inheritance. Altruism, however, is not morality, although it might be a component. "Morality" itself is a really fuzzy term and I hesitate to ascribe that kind of study result to that kind of characteristic.

Wake me when they find the morality gene.

About Defending Those Freedoms

You know, the ones al Qaeda, which used to run Iraq before we came in and threw them out, hates so much, the same ones our exhausted military is over there defending. Terrific post at Whiskey Fire on the rhetoric and the reality.

The cold truth is that not a single one of the Americans who have fought and died in Iraq have done anything at all to protect the "freedoms" of a single American citizen. And the colder truth is that without a profound rethinking of the whole point of the American military in this new century, it will be far less a guarantor of our democracy than a permanent temptation available to those inclined to seize it for illiberal ends.

Considering the degree to which the military has become politicized -- and Christianized -- under the Bush administration (along with every other government operation), I think that's a valid concern.

Monday, May 28, 2007

IML Update

Lesson of the day: Just because you can wear those things doesn't mean you should.

Memorial Day

I find it very odd that we celebrate the dead in the spring. Samhain makes a lot more sense.

Maybe It's Time

to reevaluate Obama. I've thought of him as being a little too nice, a little to "above it all." (Plus I disagree with some of this policy positions.) Maybe not. McCain trots out the neocon line:

I was very disappointed to see Senator Obama and Senator Clinton embrace the policy of surrender by voting against funds to support our brave men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This vote may win favor with MoveOn and liberal primary voters, but it's the equivalent of waving a white flag to al Qaeda.

OK -- this is bullshit from the word go. Obama responded:

And if there ever was a reflection of that it's the fact that Senator McCain required a flack jacket, ten armored Humvees, two Apache attack helicopters, and 100 soldiers with rifles by his side to stroll through a market in Baghdad just a few weeks ago.

Obama didn't mention that McCain's little publicity stunt managed to get over 20 market workers assassinated.

If Obama is willing to dust it up a little bit, he might be worth supporting. McCain sure as hell isn't.

(TPM is a gold mine this morning. In fact, check out their posts for the past few days. Lots of goodies.)

Howler of the Day

From the horse's mouth:

Q: Can you explain why you believe you're still a credible messenger on the war?

THE PRESIDENT: I'm credible because I read the intelligence, David. . . .

He's also read My Pet Goat.

Again, thanks to TPM.

Why Do They Do This?

I asked myself that about the Republican presidential herd when this story came out. Then I realized that they're running in a Republican primary, so they have to win the votes of the terminally clueless before they can go on to make fools of themselves in the general election. (And this time they will -- these things are going to come back to haunt them, unless Clinton or Obama are running. They're advisers seem to be mounting the 2000 campaign all over again.)

Say what you will about the Democrats being wishy-washy, at least they don't make shit up.

Thanks to Steve Benen at TPM.

When Pigs Make Poetry

Mass resignation of corrupt Congressmen and Senators? I doubt it. If they don't find some way to gut the bill -- it still has to go through committee -- Bush will veto it because he is so much in favor of openness and transparency in government.

Have I gotten cynical much?

Sunday, May 27, 2007


It's IML weekend in Chicago. Could be interesting. Could be not so interesting. (I wouldn't mind meeting him at the Palmer House.)

And of course, since it's Memorial Day weekend, it's raining.


Another domestic terrorist you won't hear about from Michelle Malkin. Of course, she's done the same thing.

Fuzzy Thinking

Joe Klein, after any number of people noted the discrepancy between his reported conversation with Jane Harman and her vote on the Iraq Supplemental bill, posted this from Harman:

I apologize for not calling to tell you that I changed my mind. Your account of our conversation was accurate and I stand by what I said to you. We were faced with two miserable choices. I had those kids on the C-130 [deploying to Iraq] in my mind, but I also had to consider the overwhelming opposition to this war in my district--and, in the end, my responsibility was to the people I represent.

So he did report the conversation accurately -- except that he doesn't comment on the fact that the original quote was cast as though the vote had already taken place. Since there's some ambiguity on that point, it would be helpful to have some clarification from someone who, we are led to believe, knows.

As far as I'm concerned, though, his conclusions are still full of beans.

I don't know if Digby read the comments to Klein's post today, most of which rake him over the coals for shoddy journalism. There are a few, however, that seem pro-Klein and equally divorced from reality. But Digby, I think, nails it.

Perhaps Harman's vote was a cynical capitulation to the brainless hippies, as Klein implies. But perhaps it's also true that the 65% who are people like her constituents deserve to have at least a tiny bit of representation in the congress too, even if the much wiser beltway wags think they should allow their betters to make the big decisions while they just send in their tax money and watch "American Idol" --- something which I'm sure people in Torrance would be happy to do except for the fact that members of their own families, schoolmates and friends are being killed.

This isn't one of those issues where you can tell your constituents that you "know better." The good citizens of Torrance California have proved, in the most painful way possible, that they have a stake in this thing and they deserve to be heard. And I would imagine that a good many of them feel as helpless, angry and defeated as Andrew Bacevich does today. The least their representatives can do is represent them. If they don't, those good citizens of Torrance (and good citizens all over the United States) are going to find people who will.

And Glenn Greenwald sees a problem that I missed:

Both of the premises which Alter sets forth here are correct: (a) de-funding does not even arguably constitute "endangerment or abandonment of the troops," but (b) "Americans have been convinced that it does." And therein one finds what is the most extraordinary and telling fact of our political landscape. Namely, our Iraq war policy was just determined, in large part if not principally, by a complete myth: that de-funding proposals constitute an abandonment or, more ludicrously still, "endangerment" of the troops.

The "why" is fairly easy to explain, I think -- Bushes uses the built-in trust factor of the president to lie his way through everything, and so-called "journalists" and opinion makers like Joe Klein (and David Broder, David Brooks, Charles Krauthammer, Thomas Friedman, WSJ, NYT . . .) just reinforce the lies by not asking the questions they should be asking -- that is, they're not doing their job. A key element of the problem is that I can refer to these people as "opinoni makers" and no one raises an eyebrow, even though they've been wrong about everything.

I think, however, that our disaster of a free press is a symptom rather than a cause, although I will admit to an apparent synergistic effect. We are a society in which belief trumps fact. This is something that appears on the left as much as the right, it's just that the right is most blatant about it. Rigorous inquiry is something that's discouraged from a very early age, and complete anathema throughout most of a child's school years. The idea that there is a "right" answer and if you wait long enough someone will tell you what it is has probably done more damage to our public discourse than all the Joe Kleins of the world. (I'm only singling out Klein because he happens to be the origin of this post, and for the "precipitous withdrawal" mantra, which is on its face ridiculous. His readers challenged him on it, but do you think that's going to make a difference? Don't hold your breath. Helen Thomas he ain't.) The logical disconnects that Greenwald notes are part of the whole syndrome -- nobody's thinking very much, now are they?

(Sidebar: This sloppy thinking informs the full range of pubic debate on just about every issue I can think of. David Neiwert has made the same point about the debate on hate crimes.)

(Another sidebar: Extending this argument a bit, we see that it's not only a lot of public perceptions that suffer from the lack of critical thinking. There really is a synergistic feed here, in which the public swallows specious arguments, which get fed back to the pundit class, who broadcast them to begin with, reinforcing their misperceptions of where the country is, until the country wakes up and the punditocracy doesn't. Greg Sargent has a good analysis of one particular case of this:

But come on, let's face it: The Mommy Party generalization has become inane and simplistic, and frolicking around with it is just unbecoming for the "paper of record." At bottom it's cause for embarrassment, really. As Agne aptly put it to me:

"This whole silly idea of a Mommy Party and a Daddy Party is of course based in the notion that voters trust Republicans more when it comes to 'hard' issues like war, terrorism, and security and Democrats more when it comes to 'soft' issues such as health care, education, environment, etc...The absolute crash of public confidence in the Republican Party over the last year has rendered this idea completely irrelevant."

And there you have it. The Times is still beating last week's dead horse, making itself irrelevant.

Of course, it should be "the Mommy party and the Big Daddy party." But you knew that.)

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The Insider Perspective

Everyone's picking on poor Joe Klein. For good reason.

Yesterday I spoke with Congresswoman Jane Harman (D-Ca.) just back from Iraq, who voted for the bill--as did a majority of Democrats who are not running for President. "Look, I would love to have cast a vote against Bush on this. We need a new strategy and I hope we can force one in September," she told me. "But I flew into Baghdad on a troop transport with 150 kids, heading into the field. To vote against this bill was to vote against giving them the equipment, the armor they need. I couldn't do that."

According to the official tally of the House vote, she did do that. She's down there in the "nays," which is generally where they put people who vote against things.

This one is what got me:

Voting against it means you're in favor of a precipitous departure from Iraq.

Well, no. Maybe in the world of the Beltway you can get away with instant proclamations (I can't honestly call it analysis -- there doesn't seem to be any of that going on) and firm declarations of other people's motivations, but when it works its way to Chicago. . . . Well, we're worse than Missouri that way. (C'mon -- we don't even believe Dah Mare.)

Voting against the bill could mean a lot of things. Given Klein's blunder on the Harman vote, I'm hardly likely to take his word on it. "Precipitous withdrawal"? No one has suggested that, except the RNC Newspeak-meisters who are obviously feeding Klein his punchlines.

I have an idea. Before he tells us what the votes of Senators and Congressmen mean, why doesn't he ask them?

The Roll-Over-And-Play-Dead Bill

Thinking more about the Iraq Supplemental bill that just passed Congress, after noting Klein's gaffe. Tactically, it's a blunder. Strategically it seems to be a blunder, and a vindication of all the Republican talking points about spineless Democrats. (I mean, if they're worried about what the likes of Joe Klein are going to say. . . .) Unless, of course, they've got something really sneaky up their sleeves, and Democrats just aren't that with it.

Going back to my stray thought of yesterday, Bush is going to veto everything coming out of Congress that he hasn't dictated to them until he's out of office. That's fairly obvious at this point. That's the way he's used to dealing with Congress. He doesn't compromise because he's not interested in the best interests of the country -- at least, there's no evidence that he is. He's not mature enough to admit he was wrong, and not realistic enough to realize that his legacy will be, indeed, that of the Worst. President. Ever. (Unless, of course, you are a Washington-based reporter or a major Republican donor.) I think he really does believe that a) he's right about everything, all the time, and b) God is going to swoop down in a blazing chariot and anoint him Eternal President.

If the Democrats think they're going to get anywhere with this fucktard by cooperating, they're full of it.

This perspective, from Ezra Klein:

But I'm not exactly sure what more folks would have had the Democrats do. The political invulnerability of President Bush is, I think, a reality that hasn't quite penetrated the punditocracy. Bush is never running for office ever again. He has no political heir to protect, and is clearly uninterested in the future fortunes of the Republican Party. He is massively unpopular, and his agenda is utterly stymied in the Democratic Congress. He can literally veto the spending bills forever -- Congress has absolutely no leverage against him. And the American people, at least as I read the polls, will not support the defunding of the troops. Maybe Congress could have forced a second veto, but the idea that they could continually force Bush's veto and that would result in an eventual win seems wrong.

He's not that far off from what I said, just a little less personal. But then, I tend to get personal.

There is, however, another alternative -- Congress does control the purse strings. Stop sending money. Send money with strings attached. And make sure the message comes across loud and clear when the veto happens: "Bush is defunding the troops."

What's so hard about that.

Things I'm Glad I Don't Think About


Not as bad as tits for a turn-off quotient, but still. . . .

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Toothless Iraq Spending Bill

Has it occurred to anyone besides me that Dubya is going to veto everything that comes out of the Democratic Congress until he gets his own way?

We can be grateful that five-year-olds are generally smaller than their parents.

New Blog

Sort of. Check this out. The kid's priceless.

Thanks to Matt Yglesias for this one.


A new site, thanks to the Law and Magic blog: Witchcraft Bibliography Project Online.

I haven't had time to check it out yet, but it looks interesting for fantasy writers, legal geeks, and my co-religionists.

The Rocky Road to the White House

Try doing the job you have, not the one you wish you had.

Civil Unions

Good post by Pam Spaulding at Pandagon.

Personally, I see these rejections as a good thing. Strategically speaking, “settling” for civil unions and domestic partnerships allows a few things to happen — 1) couples who had no legal recognition before may receive some benefit from them, and 2) inevitably, because of the federal DOMA and bigots out there, CUs and DPs are going to be shown to be inferior to marriage; and 3) it will eliminate the fantasy faux position of the top-tier 2008 Dem presidential candidates who have taken the ill-defined position of supporting civil unions as a magical solution that lets them off the hook — giving gays and lesbians a bone while clinging onto the institution of marriage.

Either you believe in equality or you don’t. Cases like this in NJ, where civil rights are butting up against DOMA and institutions continue to refuse to recognize marriage equivalency on paper, will eliminate the phony sales pitch of separate but equal.

So, letting civil unions and domestic partnerships fail in these circumstances, while painful is what we need to see right now. I know that there are those of you out there that say we should strive for marriage equality without half-measures, but from where I sit, there won’t be any success on this front for a long while to come. That requires changes in hearts and minds and the education of the masses that simply isn’t happening as fast as the wingers can pass legislation.

She's right, of course -- civil unions are at best a stop-gap, and separate but equal simply doesn't cut it legally and hasn't for a good long time. The only validity I can see in civil unions is tactical: as more an more states legislate civil unions or domestic partnerships, the more glaring the discrimination becomes.

I am not, however, sanguine about the chances of marriage equality before the Supreme Court as currently constituted. Thomas could hand us a surprise and actually vote with the Constitution, but Scalia and I suspect Alitto will put ideology first. Scalia has developed an amazing reputation as a legal scholar for asking -- and answering --the wrong questions. (My favorite is still "The Constitution doesn't guarantee the right to homosexual sex." Of course, the Constitution doesn't guarantee the right to any kind of sex -- or any kind of marriage, for that matter.)

At any rate, with an eye to the future: We shall overcome.

Thursday, May 24, 2007


A couple of interesting posts at Pam's House Blend. A candidate's position on full marriage equality will be a tie-breaker for me. This post is a good summary of the candidates' positions on it right now. I'm afraid I see a "marriage, no; civil unions, yes" position as a cop-out, an indication of lack of spine (such as we seem to be seeing with the Iraq funding bill right now). After all these years of investigating the question, I have yet to see a rational argument against. (On a related topic, Chris Crain gives us a run-down of leading Democrats' positions on the Uniting American Families Act.)

This post draws a very good picture of just why civil unions just don't cut it.

Only Brown People

are a real threat. If you believe that, you've been listening to the likes of Michelle Malkin. Here's Rick Perlstein on domestic terrorism. The MSM doesn't want to be bothered. I did a check similar to Perlstein's and found almost no follow up on the Free Militia story. I've seen almost none on the Liberty U story. The Virginia Tech, shootings, on the other hand, were good for days -- until it was established that the shooter was not Muslim.

Environmental activists, on the other hand. . . .

The FBI has called them "the No. 1 domestic terrorism threat," and their members include four of the Bureau's 11 Most Wanted homegrown terrorists. Yet in more than 1,100 acts of arson and vandalism, the members of the Earth Liberation Front have never killed a single person.

I tend to think the government's overreaching, but then I tend to think that governments do. (Strange, too, that the government is eager for sentence enhancements for "terrorism," but not for hate crimes against gays, isn't it?)

Thanks to Digby.

And just to show you how much of a threat brown people are, here are some comments by Glenn Greenwald about that latest scary poll.

The hysteria over the Pew poll about American Muslims continues unabated, with the focus now on the finding that while 80% of American Muslims oppose attacks on civilians in all cases, 13% said they could be justified in some circumstances. The "discussion" illustrates some standard failings of our political discourse.

Michelle Malkin went to National Review to proclaim that the poll "should be a wake-up call, not another excuse for the mainstream media to downplay the threat of homegrown jihad." Mark Steyn said it demonstrates the existence in America of "a huge comfort zone for the jihad to operate in," and Jonah Goldberg warned how "significant" this is. On CNN last night, Anderson Cooper was horrified -- just horrified -- that "so many" American Muslims would support such violence. . . .

One of the questions [the University of Maryland poll] asked was whether "bombings and other types of attacks intentionally aimed at civilians are sometimes justified"? Americans approved of such attacks by a much larger margin than Iranians -- 51-16% (and a much, much larger margin than American Muslims -- 51-13%):

Look at that last figure -- only 13% of American Muslims think that attacks against civilians are justified compared to 51% of Americans as a whole. I guess that just proves how un-American Muslims are.

Maybe it's just the way my mind works, but this does bear relation to the ongoing discussion of hate crimes. Maybe it's just that Michelle Malkin, America's most popular racist, is such a key factor in both questions. Dave Neiwert has some astute observations on that facet:

What we're seeing in this case is the symbiotic relationship between ostensibly mainstream "transmitters" like Malkin and the far-right extremists from whom they draw their ideas and memes. The extremists give the transmitters material for "pushing the envelope," and in return the extremists find their ideas gaining broader circulation and given the imprimatur of mainstream media.

That's how extremist effluent, the kind that muddies the waters and poisons the well, works its way into the mainstream, thanks to folks like Michelle Malkin and John Leo. And as it does so, the center of the pendulum keeps getting washed farther to the right.

I see it as a fairly tightly interrelated complex of issues. Malkin and her ilk are key players, of course, because they are appealing to all that is worst in this country with little regard for truth and no interest in making things work for as many people as possible, which is what America is about. The common element in Malkin's screeds against Muslims and against hate crimes laws is racism. That carries over into anti-gay rhetoric quite easily: it's the age-old hatred of the Other, being played for power and influence.

The tactic works because most people don't question the axioms. An axiom is, by definition, a given: it's an irreducible, self-evident truth. Unfortunately, most of what I'm seeing in the public discourse starts from premises that are neither self-evidently true nor irreducible: they are mere assertions that leave too much unexamined, which is not the way to arrive at a persuasive conclusion. At least, not if you're trying to persuade me.

The Iraq "Compromise"

I'm not posting about that one yet because I don't know enough about it. Everyone seems to be leaving out key bits of information. On the face of it, however, I'm not encouraged, either about ending the war, or about the Democrats' ability to deal with the goons in the White House effectively. I realize that Reid and Pelosi are playing congressional politics here, but the outside-the-beltway perception is going to be that they're folding and have no balls, because that's the perception that the inside-the-Beltway media will push.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


Ellen Kushner wrote, a number of years back, what is one of my all-time favorite fantasy novels: Swordspoint. I've reviewed it, I think, a couple of times, and I happen to be in the middle of rereading it right now. Again.

The universe is a mix of Restoration/Georgian England, with a few touches of Tudor thrown in, and the satire is the bright-eyed, razor-sharp Jane Austen variety. The writing is better than fluent, and the story has enough intrigue and turns and counter-turns to make anyone happy.

But the characters! I think Alec, the abrasive, sarcastic former student with a death wish, is probably one of my all-time favorites, although as I reread the book more and more (at least once a year, probably more like two or three times) I'm coming to appreciate the level-headedness of Richard, his swordsman lover. There is something childlike about Richard, a particular brand of innocence, no matter that he quite matter-of-factly kills people for a living. He's really an amazing creation, subtly drawn and tremendously appealing.

It's also worth noting that theirs is one of two romantic relationships in the book that are not motivated by self-interest, power, and influence, and the other, between two secondary characters, is necessarily in the background. They're not a terribly romantic couple, but there is a real sense of something fundamental at the bottom of their relationship. (In fact, they never say the "L" word until the sequel, The Privilege of the Sword, which is also worth reading.)

Find a copy. Read it.

(I have to say, though, that the cover of the current edition, as apt as it may be stylistically, is somewhat misleading: while a beautiful blonde woman does play a key role, albeit largely behind the scenes, the romantic interest for Richard is Alec and only Alec.)

Update: Serendipity and Synchronicity

I just ran across this post by Ilya Somin at Volokh. The connection is that not only is a major portion of Swordspoint taken up with a trial, but the different ways the law treats the haves and have-nots is a constant throughout the story.

And the prize out of all that is this wonderful resource for fantasy writers: the Law and Magic blog.

There are one so blind. . . .

Pam Spaulding has this post on Fox and Friends executive producer David Brown, now openly out, and still legally blind:

Many of Fox's most high-profile conservative opinion makers are similarly comfortable with Brown's sexual orientation. Brown was the lead producer when launching The O'Reilly Factor and says that Bill O'Reilly was "absolutely" cool with Brown's sexual orientation. "Bill and I care very, very deeply for each other," Brown said. "I mean, he was a mentor to me. I've been to his home. I was part of building this wonderful, incredibly amazing huge thing [The O'Reilly Factor]."

As the head producer on The O'Reilly Factor, Brown was a part of the discussion on how topics such as gay adoption, Gay Days at Disney and gay circuit party culture were covered. "My point of view was heard and respected," Brown explained, "and whether or not Bill agreed with it - and it's not The Brown Factor, it's The O'Reilly Factor - but he had me at his side and in his ear." [Jeebus.]

As for family-values conservative Sean Hannity, Brown said, "Sean and I love each other." As to whether Hannity has an issue with Brown being gay, Brown said: "I'm Dave and he's Sean, and the show is good, or the show is bad. There is no gay issue." Brown insisted it's like that across the board at Fox, and said that at monthly NLGJA mixers at a local New York gay club, Fox News journalists are "always the largest contingent."

When asked whether Fox News management is comfortable with this kind of gay visibility from its employees, Brown responded: "I'd go even beyond that. What's wonderful here is that not only is management comfortable with it, they support it."

And this is the man who is producing the shows that routinely spew misinformation and bias into the homes of millions. I find it hard to believe tha anyone can be proud of creating something like "The O'Reilly Factor," but there you have it. I begin to see how such things as Log Cabin Republicans can exist: there is a major disconnect here between actions and consequences. I don't understand it, but I can begin to see it.

I also see how the anti-gay right gets its picture of gays as self-centered and shallow. Those are the gays they're in daily contact with.

Frame of Reference

What happens to your feelings about "pro-life" advocates if we start calling them "forced birth" advocates?

Digby posted this and makes this comment:

The "great moral issue" of when life begins is fascinating I'm sure. Much more fascinating than whether the state can compel people to bear children against their will.

He's writing on this op-ed by Dean Barnett. Irony of the day:

Unlike the often erroneous stereotype of the pro-life citizen, I didn't arrive at my position as a matter of religious faith. Rather, my conclusions flow strictly from logical inquiry.

The big moral question regarding abortion is, "When does life begin?" While most people agree that life begins at some point between conception and birth, pro-choice absolutists argue that life doesn't begin until the fetus is fully delivered. Thus, they can enthusiastically defend a procedure like "partial birth abortion" where the fetus is partially delivered and then brutally "terminated" before it is fully delivered. At the other end of the spectrum, pro-life absolutists, reflecting John Kerry's stated view, argue that life begins at the moment of conception.

Query: How can you claim to arrive at conclusions by logical inquiry if you never bother to define your terms? As in, what exactly do you mean by "life"? Is the mere fact of cellular activity occurring sufficient? Or must it be something that can be sustained without what is, in effect, total life-support? He may be satisfied with the results of his logical inquiry, but I'm not -- I have no idea where he's starting from, and he doesn't bother to explain it.

Of course, without that small detail, the whole piece falls apart.

You can get copies of The Handmaid's Tale online, cheap.

Monday, May 21, 2007

About Those "Serious Doubts"

From New Scientist, a Guide to the Perplexed on global warming -- including discussions of the Bush/Exxon-Mobil talking points.

DADT: The Land That Time Forgot

The NYT looks at the vast problems of including open gays.


The big news is that they don't want to rub our face in the fact that it's a total non-issue. Some of our real butch upper brass might get their panties even more twisted.

Conundrum of the Day

You have to worry about things like this. My take is it's propaganda, because I don't believe a thing Newt Gingrich says.

But what if he really believes it?

We're in serious trouble.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Gay SF

I've been reading a lot of anthologies of gay speculative fiction, both fantasy and science fiction, over the past few months and I did get around to reading Chrome last night. It occurs to me that there are two distinct "subgenres" here (if I can use that term, since I can't think of a better one offhand). The first is regular fantasy and science fiction, in which the issue of sexual identity has become, since the 1970s, part of the context: it is no longer a theme in and of itself. In this subgenre, what I've seen is a reflection of the contemporary gay movement: assimilation. Same-sex attraction is treated as just another variation in human behavior, it is assumed, it is accepted. That's just where the political movement wants us to be. I think most of these are rightly considered sf first and gay lit second -- Tanya Huff's "Smoke" series, for example, or Fiona Patton's books, or Mark Anthony's "Last Rune" series -- relationships can be important in these books, but they are not the motivating force.

The other strand also assumes same-sex attraction, but the universe is built on different lines. It is a gay universe, grounded not in an identity that is "normal" by heterosexual standards, in which homosexuality is an acceptable variation of the norm, but one in which homosexuality is the norm in that it provides the baseline for the characters and the action. This is where Chrome sits.

On rereading, the book is good enough, although not one of the best science-fiction books I've read, that I'm interested in taking another look at this strand. In and of itself, it's a fairly standard adventure story, although the adventure is low-key and the focus is more on the relationship between the Chrome and the mysterious man he names "Young King Vortex." Actually, with a very little development, I think it would be a very good book, but as it is, it's a little bare-bones on milieu and character.

It got a lot of publicity as being "gay male science-fiction erotica," which is always something that bothers me a little. The "erotica" in this one is simply graphic sex, which I think is more toward pornography. I always think of "erotica" as something that works by implication, allusion, titillation, not overt description.

There are others who fit into this second strand. In some cases, it's a toss-up -- take, for example, Jim Grinsley's Kirith Kirin, in which the relationship is central, although the story line itself would work with another motivation. I think that's what separates the two strands. Today's irony: in the truly "gay" science fiction stories, it is the relationship, the love affair, that is the prime motivation, in spite of all the charges of hedonism and selfishness leveled at us. One of the key moments in Chrome is when Chrome demonstrates that he can care first about another person.

It occurs to me that the gay subgenre is a coiuntercultural phenomenon. I remember a number of this kind of story being published in the '80s and 90s (Greg Logan's This Universe of Men comes to mind, and gay vampire stories are perennial favorites), and wonder if anyone's still doing them. Time for a trip to the local gay-friendly bookstore, I guess.

Two Posts by Chris Crain

The first, on the Uniting American Families Act, takes a well-deserved poke at Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and the Democrats in general. (Crain does point out those Democrats who are paying more than lip service to "everyone should be equal," but they are appallingly few.) I'm finding an increasing number of gay bloggers, not all on the right, who have lost patience with the front-runners and the Democratic leadership. As is so often the case, I'm willing to go much farther than Crain: I'm not interested in platitudes. I want some support for gay issues at the top of the Democratic party, by which I mean Clinton, Obama, Edwards, Pelosi, Reid. These are the people who are articulating policy.

The second, "Hate was not a Falwell Value," I find more problematic. After reading it twice, it seems about evenly divided between a sort of liberal political correctness (with roots in "nice" behavior) and a slam, albeit muted, at the left.

I don't disagree with Crain at all that most Christians, even those who were followers of Falwell, are basically decent people. I think most people are basically decent, if easily confused. I know many Christians of all stripes, including relatives, and they are, by and large, generous, hospitable, charitable people who are, as often as not, willing to live and let live.

I think Crain's first error is in thinking of Falwell as a religious leader, which is a position I left quite some time ago: he was a politician, the same way Pat Robertson is a politican, the same way the Pope is a politician, the same way many who drag religious doctrine into the political arena are politicians. The question of personal belief in this instance becomes a sidebar. If your religion dictates that you discriminate against certain others because of what they are, you're still a bigot. And if you capitalize on those beliefs to build your influence on public policy, you're still a politician, whether you believe what you're preaching or not.

Crain says,

My best guess, having watched Falwell for years, is that like so many other fundamentalist Christians, he overreacted with fear and worry to all sorts of societal change — some legitimately bad, some good and some neutral — by retreating to his Bible for solace and guidance.

I think some history is in order here. Many people retreat to their faith for solace and guidance when times are difficult and confusing. I do, and I'm not particularly observant otherwise. Not many of them, however, come back and use their faith as a weapon against those whose opinions differ, which is what Falwell did from the beginning. For an overview of Falwell's beginnings, see this post at Orcinus. Mark Graber has a more precise post at Balkinization:

The main issue, of course, was racial segregation. For more than a decade, Falwell rose to power by preaching that Brown v. Board of Education, related judicial decisions, and anti-discrimination laws were abominations to the Lord.

Maybe I'm missing something, but to say that someone whose career began and ended with calling the "other" -- Blacks, pro-choice advocates, gays, Muslims -- an "abomination" was not a hater strikes me as disingenuous. (Remember, Falwell was the first person to say publicly that 9/11 was America's fault because America was allowing things he didn't agree with.) If your rhetoric is about dehumanizing others and calling down the wrath of your god on their heads, that seems pretty hateful to me. (For a telling look at Falwell's rhetoric, see this piece by Max Blumenthal at The Nation.

OK, so maybe Falwell didn't drown kittens. And your point is?

Evolution as a Catch-All

More on evolution in the service of ideology. Not convincing.

Now [Randy Thornhill] is looking at the evolutionary roots of political preference. In particular, he is asking if there is a Darwinian explanation for why some people are liberals and some conservatives. Curiously, his answer also casts light on the ideas of another 19th-century scientist, Sigmund Freud.

Psychologists have long known that conservatives and liberals differ in more than whether they vote Tory or Labour, Republican or Democrat. Indeed, the perverse mixtures of policies on offer from these parties, conflating social conservatism with economic liberalism and vice versa, mean that voting preferences are often an unreliable guide. But bundles of personality traits do tend to cluster together in people. Some are sceptical of tradition, open to new experiences, rebellious, pleasure-seeking, egalitarian and risk-prone. Others value tradition, duty, close family relationships and security.

I think that it's fairly obvious that the creationism fringe is really a fringe: evolution has become so much the reigning paradigm that its workings are applied to everything. It's not merely that we won't understand biology without evolution -- we won't be able to describe anything.

Conservatives, the authors suggest, are likely to do best in stable societies—say, a village where there is plenty to eat and no marauding enemy, and the biggest danger to stability might come from dissatisfaction within the community. The traits associated with liberalism, on the other hand, might be most effective when there is a lot of stress on a population. If food is scarce and other people are pressing in, then a liberal's willingness to challenge traditional ways of doing things, and his greater willingness to embrace outsiders (often literally; liberals tend to have more sexual encounters than conservatives) might come in handy. Evolution has thus fixed it so that appropriate patterns of personality are activated in response to the environment in which they are most likely to cause an individual to thrive.

This last sentence is a no-brainer, and has application far beyond personality traits. It's what evolution's all about.

My major problem with this, aside from the fact that it's a gloss of the article in a newspaper, never the best way to get your science, is that the labels are, particularly now, more and more arbitrary. "The traits associated with liberalism" by whom? Michelle Malkin or Al Gore? "Conservative" by whose criteria? Rush Limbaugh or Andrew Sullivan? And how do you explain the vast middle?

There are, unfortunately, no links to Thornhill's article. Evolution and Human Behavior is online, but it's a members-only site. The whole question of evolution and behavior is iffy, as far as I can see. Certainly, some behaviors, or the propensity toward certain behaviors, have evolutionary value if we remember the other key element of evolution: population genetics. If it benefits the group and has a genetic basis, it will probably be retained. The links get a lot more tenuous when you start getting into questions of "conservative" versus "liberal." It is much to easy for conclusions to be ideology driven.

And why would anyone care, anyway?

Which is all fine and dandy—except that last year a group of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, came to exactly the opposite conclusion. Their study found that insecure and fearful children were more likely to grow up into conservatives, and that confident kids were more likely to become liberal. Clearly, as scientists are so fond of saying, more research is needed.

To be sure.

Onward Theist Soldiers

Andrew Sullivan seems to be taking this article by Scott Stephens as an adequate response to Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, but all I can see is that it acts as an apologia for not only Islamic extremism but the Christianists of the West.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


I've been sitting here with Turandot as my musical accompaniment this afternoon. It occurs to me that Puccini had the orientalist thing down pat. Wish I had a copy of Butterfly handy.

Rational Arguments

Brian Tamanaha at Balkinization makes this interesting observation:

To get to the heart of what matters here, an important distinction must be made between an arguable position, and a viable or reasonable position.

That encapsulates something that has struck me about the Gonzales/Yoo/Rumsfeld justifications for torture, Gitmo, and the conduct of America's WOT? in general. The legal "justifications" for all this have been closely argued and, probably, logically flawless, but they have no basis in reality -- there has been a significant disconnect between what has been stated as justifiable and what is actually justifiable.

It's sort of like the old saw about a crazy person being entirely logical, but not at all rational.

(There's actually a whole series of terrific posts over the past couple of days by the guys at Balkinization. Check 'em out.)

It's To Laugh

The Republican party. Do they recognize the irony in this?

Border security and worksite-enforcement benchmarks must be met before other elements of the proposal are implemented.

Obviously not. ("Benchmarks"? Are they serious?)


For the substance (snicker) of the GOP's immigration policy, see this post by Taylor Marsh.

At least one presidential hopeful is right on it. From Mitt Romney's campaign:

"I strongly oppose today's bill going through the Senate. It is the wrong approach. Any legislation that allows illegal immigrants to stay in the country indefinitely, as the new 'Z-Visa' does, is a form of amnesty. That is unfair to the millions of people who have applied to legally immigrate to the U.S.

"Today's Senate agreement falls short of the actions needed to both solve our country's illegal immigration problem and also strengthen our legal immigration system. Border security and a reliable employment verification system must be our first priority."

Uh, Mitt? The bill hasn't been drafted yet.


How am I supposed to take these people seriously? This is even better than the "mainstream" Democrats' support for gay rights.

Speaking of People We're Glad We Don't Know

Jim Burroway has some fascinating (the way a fatal accident is fascinating) comments on Paul Cameron, pseudo-scientist and, it would appear, Nazi for Christ.

Burroway is also compiling a list of those who have used Cameron's distortions. The usual suspects.

What's most interesting about this, and what most deserves to see the light of day, is Cameron's unapologetic admiration for the Nazi "solutions" and the -- shall I say "goose-stepping"? -- adherence of the most viciously dishonest anti-gay groups in America.


What is it, exactly?

Hooray for Science!

A chance link while reading PZ Myers' blog led me to Gregory Simonian, a high school student who wrote the first-place essay in the Alliance for Science essay contest, and who linked to Understanding Evolution, which looks like a good site for those who are a bit confused about the whole thing. (There is, of course, my old standby TalkOrigins, but that can get a little dense for those without some advanced (i.e., post-college freshman "required" science courses) scientific background.) (By the way, Simonian's blog is a treat. Check it out.)

Phew! I needed something to cheer me up.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Question of the Day

Why does anyone read blogs to begin with?

Marriage, Yet Again

GayPatriotWest has a thoughtful post on same-sex marriage. While his arguments make some sense, I think they're founded on some wrong assumptions and he misreads some crucial parts of the dialogue.

Too often, I have said, gay marriage advocates focus on marriage as a right whereas most people see marriage as a social institution with certain benefits as well as certain responsibilities. It seems that all too many of these advocates don’t understand (as do Rauch and Carpenter — and a number of others) what this institution entails. Witness, for example, the comments of Bennett Klein arguing before the Connecticut Supreme Court that that state violates the constitutional rights of eight gay couples by refusing to grant them marriage licenses. He claimed that “the fundamental principles of marriage are not based on gender.“

I see some confusion here between several different faces of "marriage" as a concept. (I should note that I don't think this confusion is specific to GPW; I think it's part of the general discourse, and I think the confusion has been aided and abetted, when not created, by those who oppose same-sex marriage.) I don't think anyone's denying the role of marriage as a foundational element of Western society. The very first sentence of the opinion in Goodridge says "Marriage is a vital social institution," and the opinion goes on to state later, "a person who enters into an intimate, exclusive union with another of the same sex is arbitrarily deprived of membership in one of our community's most rewarding and cherished institutions." This is something that permeates the opinion (and is notably lacking in the opinions from New York [Hernandez v. Robles] and Washington [Andersen v. King County], which are somewhat tortured to begin with).

In terms of the "equal rights" aspect of this whole question, the Goodridge opinion again offers a solid insight:

In a real sense, there are three partners to every civil marriage: two willing spouses and an approving State. See DeMatteo v. DeMatteo, 436 Mass. 18, 31 (2002) ("Marriage is not a mere contract between two parties but a legal status from which certain rights and obligations arise"); Smith v. Smith, 171 Mass. 404, 409 (1898) (on marriage, the parties "assume[ ] new relations to each other and to the State"). See also French v. McAnarney, 290 Mass. 544, 546 (1935). While only the parties can mutually assent to marriage, the terms of the marriage--who may marry and what obligations, benefits, and liabilities attach to civil marriage--are set by the Commonwealth. Conversely, while only the parties can agree to end the marriage (absent the death of one of them or a marriage void ab initio), the Commonwealth defines the exit terms. See G.L. c. 208.

It appears to me that the confusion arises from the conflation of marriage as a social institution and marriage as a legal status. I've remarked before that the whole question of rights and responsibilities, although it may seem a truncation of the issue, is necessary because at law, that's what we've got to work with. If we are going to press for changes that bring wider social equity, we have to focus on the particulars, which means simply that the debate becomes centered on the "rights" that have accreted to the legal status of "married." In other words, marriage as a social institution is not quantifiable, and if you're going to court, you need discrete, quantifiable arguments -- rights and obligations, in this case.

Goodridge once again proves illuminating on this question:

Without question, civil marriage enhances the "welfare of the community." It is a "social institution of the highest importance." French v. McAnarney, supra. Civil marriage anchors an ordered society by encouraging stable relationships over transient ones. It is central to the way the Commonwealth identifies individuals, provides for the orderly distribution of property, ensures that children and adults are cared for and supported whenever possible from private rather than public funds, and tracks important epidemiological and demographic data.

Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. "It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects." Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 486 (1965). Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life's momentous acts of self-definition.

Tangible as well as intangible benefits flow from marriage. The marriage license grants valuable property rights to those who meet the entry requirements, and who agree to what might otherwise be a burdensome degree of government regulation of their activities. [FN13] See Leduc v. Commonwealth, 421 Mass. 433, 435 (1995), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 827 (1996) ( "The historical aim of licensure generally is preservation of public health, safety, and welfare by extending the public trust only to those with proven qualifications"). The Legislature has conferred on "each party [in a civil marriage] substantial rights concerning the assets of the other which unmarried cohabitants do not have." Wilcox v. Trautz, 427 Mass. 326, 334 (1998). See Collins v. Guggenheim, 417 Mass. 615, 618 (1994) (rejecting claim for equitable distribution of property where plaintiff cohabited with but did not marry defendant); Feliciano v. Rosemar Silver Co., 401 Mass. 141, 142 (1987) (government interest in promoting marriage would be "subverted" by recognition of "a right to recover for loss of consortium by a person who has not accepted the correlative responsibilities of marriage"); Davis v. Misiano, 373 Mass. 261, 263 (1977) (unmarried partners not entitled to rights of separate support or alimony). See generally Attorney Gen. v. Desilets, 418 Mass. 316, 327-328 & nn. 10, 11 (1994).

The Massachusetts court recognized and stated quite clearly the dual nature of this question. The focus on "rights," particularly the thousand-plus perks that heterosexual couples get from the federal government when they marry, has served as a basis on which to argue cases at law (it's that old combination of "harm" and "remedy" again), but in the wider discourse it has only obscured the real issue. If you're going to go to court, you have to have something tangible to hang a case on; that's basic. The court, if it is willing, may go on from there to address the intangibles, as the Massachusetts court did.

GayPatriotWest goes on to say:

Obviously this attorney has not spent much time the long history of marriage. Wherever there has been marriage, the institution has served to bring together individuals of differing genders. To be sure, some cultures have allowed same-sex unions, but they either called them something different than marriage or, as, when they were called marriage, as in the case of the so-called “berdache” tradition of Native American Indians, an individual had to live as a member of the opposite sex in order to marry someone of the same-sex. (In some cases, that individual didn’t have a choice in the matter.)

If Mr. Klein wants to understand those fundamental principles of marriage which he defined inaccurately before the highest court in the Nutmeg State, he should start studying the traditions of marriage from any number of cultures. As he begins his study, he will see how fundamental a role gender difference played in every culture’s understanding of the institution — even in the marriage ceremony itself. He could begin by reading the Chapter on “Betrothal and Marriage” in Arnold van Gennep’s classic work, The Rites of Passage.

Basing an argument on the history of marriage is a very dangerous thing to do. On the one hand, marriage has been redefined throughout its history. It has been a political alliance between nations, an economic arrangement between families, a way to insure inheritance of the father's (or, in some cultures, the mother's) property. (My standard response to those who rail on about "traditional marriage" has become simply: "Did your father-in-law accept sheep as the bride price, or did he insist on cattle?" Don't forget that until the mid-nineteenth century, wives and children were property.) The "fundamental princples" argument is also pretty hollow. At the present time, the argument that adding same-sex couples to the possible combinations of participants is going to "redefine" marriage misses quite seriously. Marriage has been redefined quite effectively in the past half-century as a contract between two willing participants who have made a commitment to mutual support, emotional, legal, economic and social. Economic dependence, for example, has become economic interdependence, which is quite a different thing. (I know too many couples in which the wife has made as much or more than the husband, which leaves some interesting issues in regard to who pays alimony in the event of a divorce.) Adding same-sex couples to that doesn't change anything. The game is the same, it's now a question of who gets to play. One overarching tradition in this country is to invite more people to participate. That's what the same-sex marriage debate is about.

(A loop here: GayPatriotWest says that Bennett Klein, who recently argued the Conncecticut marriage case for the plaintiffs, defined the "fundamental principles of marriage" inaccurately. Following the link he provides, Klein is quoted as saying, "What is denied to these families is something that goes to the heart of equal protection, which is the right to be part of the fabric of society when they are just the same as other couples and other families," which leads right back to the misperception that the debate has been about rights. Klein makes the point that exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage denies them full participation in society. Unless GPW is using sources he's not citing, first off, Klein didn't define the fundamental principles of marriage; second, his characterization of the issue is, as far as I can tell, right on the mark.)

This paragraph from GPW's post left me scratching my head:

Even I have my doubts, based largely on my studies of religion, mythology, psychology and cultural anthropology. There is a difference between the genders which extends beyond biological differences, a difference which cultures and religions recognize in their rituals and legends. If we are to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, then, instead of sweeping the gender distinction aspect under the rug as Mr. Klein is attempting, we need to confront it directly. We need to explain how a union between two individuals of the same gender can effect the same kind of transformation effected by a marriage between individuals of different genders.

I don't see the point of this. I willingly grant that there are differences between the sexes that go far beyond mere plumbing. I suspect that many of those differences are much more influenced by culture than we realize, but I am open to the idea that many of them are innate. What I don't see is what that particular question has to do with civil marriage. We've already demonstrated that two people of the same sex can form long-term, stable, solid romantic relationships -- with children -- that in everything but name are marriages, in spite of the deck being stacked against them. At that point, differences between the sexes, at least in the discussion of marriage as a social institution, become irrelevant.

As I said, it's a good, thoughtful post. I think he's mistaken on a number of things, but there's certainly enough there to chew on.

On Torture

Andrew Sullivan has a series of posts on the Republican party as the party of torture. I can't add anything to what he's said (at least not right now), but I think you should take a look at them.

The Party of Torture
Torture, Moral Vanity, and Freedom
Email of the Day
The Military Versus Torture
The Party of Torture

My only comment is that John McCain, in the latest Republican presidential debate, said what I've been saying all along: It's not about them, it's about us.


Jack Balkin also has some good comments.

About Those Hate Crimes Laws

It's all very well to sit around and theorize that we don't need hate crimes legislation because of all sorts of spurious arguments about equality before the law and violations of the Constitution (none of which, so far, have been persuasive in the least). However, when it gets down to reality, the American public seems to have a different opinion. From Gallup:

A substantial majority of the American public favors the expansion of federal hate crime legislation to include crimes against people based on their gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed such legislation, which is now being considered by the Senate. Republicans, conservatives, and religious Americans are slightly less likely than others to favor the expansion of hate crime legislation, but a majority of those in each of these conservative and religious groups favors the proposed legislation.

Here's the question, with a breakdown:

Much of the organized opposition to the expansion of the hate crime law has come from conservative religious groups, while the nation's top Republican leader, President George W. Bush, has suggested he will veto the legislation if it reaches his desk. But there is little evidence from these data to suggest that a majority of Republicans, conservatives, or more religious Americans are opposed to the new law.

There is a proposal to expand federal hate crime laws to include crimes committed on the basis of the victim's gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Would you favor or oppose expanding the federal hate crime laws in this way?

Those who oppose the current bill are, of course, going to insist that the American public is wrong. I guess it's because received wisdom trumps reality every time. Actually, this starts to look like another one of those controversies that is generated on the right and stays on the right, something like the evolution "controversy": a political brouhaha that has nothing to do with what's actually going on in this country. And, it only reinforces my feeling that conservatism, as it's practiced today, is going down.

Thanks to AmericaBlog.

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Deadline's past, reviews are submitted. Did a little shopping yesterday. Find of the week: Vlado Perlemuter Plays Ravel.

Perlemuter was a French pianist who learned Ravel's music from the master himself. Some time ago I reviewed a small book that was essentially the transcript of a a series of interviews with him originally broadcast on Radio Française, which was quite interesting (although somewhat of a puff piece). It will be interesting to hear the recordings (which include both piano concertos, which I've been looking for).

The other find was a copy of George Nader's Chrome, a more-or-less breakthrough gay science fiction novel from a number of years back. Given the way that gay has invaded sf, and also that I haven't read it in a long time, I figured I should have a copy. (Yes, that George Nader.)

For today, I really should write a review of a graphic treatment of some of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, which I may even do.

Or I may just continue with Steven Erikson's House of Chains, the fourth volume of The Malazan Book of the Fallen, which I've finally permitted myself to start reading.

Or I may go my favorite hide-out, the Zoo, although it's a bit chilly today, and looks like it will be windy (but I can always find refuge at the conservatory).

Or maybe a combination.

The Stuff the Eulogies Don't Mention

I'm not going to eulogize Jerry Falwell here, but I do want to draw a connection. (Actually, I'm not doing the drawing -- I'm just allowing you to see the connections that were there that others have pointed out.)

First, Mark Graber at Balkinization:

The main issue, of course, was racial segregation. For more than a decade, Falwell rose to power by preaching that Brown v. Board of Education, related judicial decisions, and anti-discrimination laws were abominations to the Lord. The heart of social conservatism in America is a set of religious schools founded in the late 1950s and 1960s, and their original purpose was not to ensure students would not be enticed by the prospect of gay marriage. Contemporary social conservatives have, with a good deal of media cooperation, attempted to bury this history. Popular revisionist histories pretend that the Moral Majority was created "ex nihilo" the day Roe v. Wade was decided. This is false. A religious political movement was already on the ground, and that movement had previously been dedicated to a the losing struggle to maintain Jim Crow.

Graber gets some back-up from Sara Robinson at Orcinus:

The Moral Majority was initiated as a result of a struggle for control of an American conservative Christian advocacy group known as Christian Voice during 1978. During a news conference by Christian Voice's founder, Robert Grant, he claimed that the Religious Right was a "sham... controlled by three Catholics and a Jew." Paul Weyrich, Terry Dolan, Richard Viguerie and Howard Phillips left Christian Voice. During a 1979 meeting, they urged televangelist Jerry Falwell to found Moral Majority. This was also the beginning of the New Christian Right.

Anyone who still wonders if there's racism at work in the religious right should ponder the fact that they had to throw "three Catholics and a Jew" overboard just to get the Moral Majority out of the dock.

I bring this up because of the increasing openness of racism and religioius intolerance on the right. I've noted it here and here. It's not such a far leap, when your history is one of bigotry, to just pick up on the latest "threat" and run with it. Since we have ample evidence that Falwell was a racist and religiously intolerant (and I have to point out that I'm not really sure that he believed in any of it, or anything else except his own manifest destinty), it's no real surprise that he could blame 9/11 on gays. It's actually only another facet of a well established pattern of open bias that goes back to his beginnings. This is, of course, all being swept under the carpet by his apologists, since they share the same viewpoint and it's not good PR.

By the way, I think you can probably substitute "Robertson," "Dobson," "Malkin," "Limbaugh," and a few other names for "Falwell" and still have a pretty accurate history -- in the latter two cases, just substitute "radio" for "church."

Onward Christian Soldiers

From Navy Times:

Navy veteran David Miller said that when he checked into the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Iowa City, he didn’t realize he would get a hard sell for Christian fundamentalism along with treatment for his kidney stones.

Miller, 46, an Orthodox Jew, said he was repeatedly proselytized by hospital chaplains and staff in attempts to convert him to Christianity during three hospitalizations over the past two years.

He said he went hungry each time because the hospital wouldn’t serve him kosher food, and the staff refused to contact his rabbi, who could have brought him something to eat.

Miller, an Iowa City resident and former petty officer third class who spent four years in the Navy, outlined his complaints at a news conference in Des Moines on Thursday. The event was sponsored by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an activist group based in Albuquerque, N.M.

He described the Iowa City facility as an institution permeated by government sponsorship of fundamentalist Christianity and unconstitutional discrimination against Jews.

OK -- they've got the Air Force Academy, the Pentagon, the VA . . . what's next?

(Thanks to Andrew Sullivan.)

What Greenwald Said

Read this.

Rudy on Foreign Policy

This is hysterical:

These people came here and killed us because of our freedom of religion, because of our freedom for women, because they hate us...If you're confused about this, I think you put our country in much greater jeopardy. The reality is, these people are planning to kill us because -- and this is hard for people to recognize, I usually hear this on the Democratic side, don't usually hear it on the Republican side -- you've got to face reality. If you can't face reality, you can't lead.

You mean Democrats like Jerryy Falwell and Pat Robertson?

Seeds of Destruction

A thought I've been tossing around for a couple of days: As we become more and more aware of the cronyism, favoritism, nepotism, and the other -isms that impel the Bush administration and Washington in general, no one seems to have made the connection to the corporate environment: this is the way business is done in America. It's a truism at this point that it's not what you know, it's who you know. Networking, which I seem to remember becoming a catch-word arouind the time of Ronald "Greed Is Good" Reagan, is an open motivation for social interaction: you attend parties to meet people, not in the hope of finding someone you will like, but in the hope of finding someone who can be useful. The bottom line is the ruling morality, and human considerations are way down on the list. If you're among the top corporate leaders, your parachute will be big enough to allow you to buy a Congressman or two. It's not about product any more, it's about marketing; quality of product is secondary. Let's face it, we live in a world where a phrase like "business ethics" is considered an oxymoron.

I'm led to the conclusion that American business, by its very nature, is corrupt.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

My Mother Always Told Me

if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.

Jerry Falwell is dead.

End of post.


Sebastião Salgado should be a household word. Check out this gallery at The Guardian. Read the article, too. Suddenly, I want to go to Kamchatka.

Sort of gives you an idea of what landscape photography is about.

(Thanks to Andrew Sullivan)

Collateral Damage

I'm amazed that someone actually had to say this. An article by Andrew Bacevich:

Who bears responsibility for these Iraqi deaths? The young soldiers pulling the triggers? The commanders who establish rules of engagement that privilege "force protection" over any obligation to protect innocent life? The intellectually bankrupt policymakers who sent U.S. forces into Iraq in the first place and now see no choice but to press on? The culture that, to put it mildly, has sought neither to understand nor to empathize with people in the Arab or Islamic worlds?

There are no easy answers, but one at least ought to acknowledge that in launching a war advertised as a high-minded expression of U.S. idealism, we have waded into a swamp of moral ambiguity. To assert that "stuff happens," as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is wont to do whenever events go awry, simply does not suffice.

Moral questions aside, the toll of Iraqi noncombatant casualties has widespread political implications. Misdirected violence alienates those we are claiming to protect. It plays into the hands of the insurgents, advancing their cause and undercutting our own. It fatally undermines the campaign to win hearts and minds, suggesting to Iraqis and Americans alike that Iraqi civilians -- and perhaps Arabs and Muslims more generally -- are expendable. Certainly, Nahiba Husayif Jassim's death helped clarify her brother's perspective on the war. "God take revenge on the Americans and those who brought them here," he declared after the incident. "They have no regard for our lives."

He was being unfair, of course. It's not that we have no regard for Iraqi lives; it's just that we have much less regard for them. The current reparations policy -- the payment offered in those instances in which U.S. forces do own up to killing an Iraq civilian -- makes the point. The insurance payout to the beneficiaries of an American soldier who dies in the line of duty is $400,000, while in the eyes of the U.S. government, a dead Iraqi civilian is reportedly worth up to $2,500 in condolence payments -- about the price of a decent plasma-screen TV.

I see a conncetion between our treatment of the deaths of Iraqis and the public statements of those anti-gay bigots who claim not to "condone violence" when a gay man is beaten to death. There's no moral ambiguity there. If we hold life sacred, then life is sacred. If we create a situation in which some lives are not sacred, we are morally corrupt. That holds as true for the Pentagon as it does for James Dobson. It's called "taking responsibility for your actions."

The problem, of course, is much larger than that. I find it strange that I, who firmly hold to a species of moral relativism (which may be a misnomer -- I simply believe that context is an important factor in moral decisions) have no problem taking responsibility for my words and actions, and have no problem recognizing that the life of an Iraqui is equivalent to the life of an American. (Granted, I'm also a man who has severe moral crises over killing bugs -- I'll do anything to avoid it, unless I'm going to eat the bug, which I never do, so it becomes a problem. I generally just escort them to a more appropriate location.)

Update: Andrew Bacevich is by most criteria a conservative and has spoken out quite seriously and cogently against the Iraq war. For a bit more on him, see this posit by Steve Clemmons. I think Bacevich's comments are only more powerful in light of the fact that his son was recently killed while serving in Iraq.

Speaking of Morally Bankrupt

See this post by Andrew Sullivan. I don't really have time this morning to go into any depth on this, but I think Sullivan's comments are adequate. I mean, really -- what more needs to be said?


The pope must have borrowed one of Bush's speechwriters. This is simply unbelievable:

In a speech to Latin American and Caribbean bishops at the end of a visit to Brazil, the Pope said the Church had not imposed itself on the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

They had welcomed the arrival of European priests at the time of the conquest as they were "silently longing" for Christianity, he said.

OK -- maybe not completely unbelievable. I seem to remember that he joined the Hitler Youth and served in the German Army in 1944-45. (Check the link out, by the way -- it's not a particularly condemnatory article, but it's not terribly sympathetic, either, and asks some good questions.) I'm not calling him a Nazi at all, but there's the same kind of assumptions going on there.

Maybe the man is just delusional. That seems to be a syndrome among world leaders these days. Of course, it could just be a reflection of his contempt for everything not part of the Catholic hierarchy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mickey Kaus

I run across references to him, mostly at Andrew Sullivan's blog. I haven't paid much attention, but Sullivan wrote this post recently and I decided to take a look.

If this is any evidence of the depth and rigor of Kaus' thinking, he's pretty much a mush bag.

I guess I have two arguments. First, while homosexuals certainly have a history of oppression, it seems clear that, at least in West Los Angeles, they are no longer the oppressed group. They've won, politically and, more important, economically, in a way that blacks haven't. There is something inflated, and unnecessarily defensive, in the gay politicos' righteous invocation of the elaborate and (necessarily) humorless mechanisms of racial equality.

Given the somewhat rocky course of the gay rights movement over the past couple of decades, this is pretty dumb. Or mendacious -- take your pick. We've won? Fine -- tell it to Matthew Shepherd.

Second, the Barney's sign wasn't really designed to keep out homosexuals so much as to keep out the homosexual life-style, which was taken over virtually every other bar in the area (except one called The Raincheck Room which responded to the Barney’s Crisis with a mysterious sign warning 'Farraguts Stay Out'). The difference seems important. Sexuality may not be a matter of choice for many people, but 'life-style' is.

What is this much-touted "homoseexual life-style"? Describe it to me, please, and show me how it differs from anyone else's "life-style." He's probably referring to the subset of circuit queens and following the time-honored Dobson Gang trick of conflating a subset with the totality. (These are the same people who scream when you say something negative about "Republicans" or "Christians.") (I remember many years ago a coworker telling me about her weekend -- she had woken up Sunday morning with five guys scattered around her apartment in various states of undress. She didn't remember bringing them home or what they did. Am I to take this as an example of the "straight life-style"?)

I am made to feel uncomfortable in most gay bars, if they don't stop me right at the door. So what? One of the ways the gay life-style is defined is by excluding 'breeders' like me. Should I be able to sue if I can't get in to Studio 54 because the doorman thinks I look like a nerd?

Nope, gay bars (with a very few exceptions that rapidly changed their policies under pressure -- from the gay community, mind you) don't exclude "breeders." Talk to any gay men or lesbians and you'll find out they have lots of straight friends. It's unavoidable. Gay Ghettos? Should we ban Polish neighborhoods, and look askance at the "Polish life-style"? If you look like a nerd and are uncomfortable in gay bars, it says a lot more about you than it does about gay bars.

He actually gets paid to write this tripe?

Footnote: This quote from Digby, speaking of the "legitimate" press (as if there were such a thing any more) may be germane:

I like Marcy Wheeler's observation that many of them can't be bothered to actually read and comprehend the arguments set forth so they depend entirely on authority.

They also whine a lot.

Monday, May 14, 2007

We Might Just As Well Go Back In and Close the Closet Door

From Towleroad, a provocative story, but not in the way you might think. I think Andy Towle asks some good questions:

Are the gallery's actions indicative of a broader double standard in our culture when it comes to sexually-charged male imagery? Does a photographer (McGinley) who has been the subject of a solo show at the Whitney Museum deserve removal from a gallery's walls on the chance that a parent and child might stumble upon them? Was it shameful or responsible of the gallery to censor part of its exhibition to appease a current segment of the public?

I have my own thoughts on this, which boil down to "take responsibility for your own children." The world would be a lot more habitable if people would explain things to their kids instead of hiding them. We might even wind up, eventually, with some adults who are real grown-ups.

In a slightly larger context, it's too much of a pattern with the broad outlines of movement politics these days: the national organizations are too interested in "getting along" with people who don't really care about our rights to begin with. In spite of the Andrew Sullivans in the community gleefully chronicling the demise of gay culture, there is still a lot of it out there, and I think it needs to be nurtured. Let's face it -- if we're just like everybody else, why bother with us?

Here is the exhibition site. There is some really good art here. And there's some that's just OK. That's pretty much normal.

Going Green

Whatever you may think of Rupert Murdoch and his politics, the man has some sense. The Murdoch empire is going carbon neutral.

In one of the most unexpected conversions since Saul of Tarsus hit the road to Damascus, Rupert Murdoch is turning into a green campaigner. He is making the whole of his worldwide operations carbon neutral and setting out to "educate and engage" his readers and viewers about global warming.

He believes his companies' "global reach" presents "an unprecedented opportunity to raise awareness and to stimulate action around the world". A former sceptic who confesses to having been "somewhat wary of the warming debate", he laid on his first global webcast for all his employees on Wednesday to tell them that he was "changing the DNA of our business". He added that he had started with himself, buying a hybrid car.

Mr Murdoch's conversion, which may surprise employees like Jeremy Clarkson, was heavily influenced by his son James - who took BSkyB carbon neutral a year ago this week - as well as by Tony Blair and former US vice-president Al Gore. All three attended his annual meeting for senior executives in Pebble Beach, California, last year where he was convinced to take the lead on the issue.

This is the sort of measures that Bjorn Lomborg has proposed. I've been in discussion groups about things like hybrid cars, and there's too much "if we can't solve the whole problem at once, it's not worth the effort" thinking going on. People were pooh-poohing hybrid cars because "they don't solve the problem." (Seriously.) The point is, hybrids are better than nothing. I think it's largely a matter of waiting from someone else (Daddy? The Deciderer?) to take care of it.

If Murdoch is willing to turn his media companies into advocates for energy conservation and taking measures against climate change -- well, it's better than a lot of the things they've advocated.

Of course, our government doesn't listen to people like Murdoch. Or anyone else.

The G-8 leaders are scheduled to sign off on the global warming declaration, titled "Growth and Responsibility in the World Economy," during their June 6-8 summit in Heligendamm, Germany. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, along with outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair, has been pushing for a strong statement on climate change as part of the June meeting, and newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in his acceptance speech last week that global warming is his top priority.

The U.S. representatives in Bonn, however, are trying to soften the message of the 18-page climate change document by deleting sections that would call on the industrialized world to modify activities linked to recent warming. They also proposed striking one of the document's opening phrases, which says, "We underline that tackling climate change is an imperative, not a choice. We firmly agree that resolute and concerted international action is urgently needed in order to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and sustain our common basis of living."

Do I really have to say anything?

(Footnote: Given the examples above, it seems to me that, among his other achievements, Bush has made our government irrelevant, at least internationally. It's still able to do a lot of damage domestically. I'm going to be interested to see how the Europeans react to our attempts to gut the climate change agreement. I'm sure Angela Merkel would do it for another backrub.)

(Thanks to AmericaBlog for the heads up on these.)


And then you read stories like this:

A Depression-era program to bring electricity to rural areas is using taxpayer money to provide billions of dollars in low-interest loans to build coal plants even as Congress seeks ways to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

That government support is a major force behind the rush to coal plants, which spew carbon dioxide that scientists blame for global warming.

The beneficiaries of the government's largesse -- the nation's rural electric cooperatives -- plan to spend $35 billion to build conventional coal plants over the next 10 years, enough to offset all state and federal efforts to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions over that time.

The bottom line, at least as related by this article, is that the co-ops are saying "screw you on environmental concerns and global warming." Glenn English, who's current CEO of the industry organization, talks a nice talk, but noticeably missing are any willingness to compromise or, gods forbid, investigate alternative strategies.

It would be interesting to see how many of these local co-ops have close ties to the mining industry.