"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

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Reviews in Brief: Backstreet Boys' Unbreakable

I happened to remark one day as our Advertising Director was walking past, "What is it with me and boy bands lately?" He just looked at me and said "You don't expect me to answer that, do you?" (I had been listening to 98 Degrees' Revelation and realized that I also had two Backstreet Boys albums with me that day.)

I stumbled across Backstreet Boys on YouTube (which has become a great source for me to catch up on popular music of the past ten years or so). The song was "Incomplete," and it was used as a soundtrack for a yaoi AMV (of course). I couldn't find that album (Never Gone), but I happened across Unbreakable when by some odd chance I had money in my pocket.

It's a good, strong collection. There are a few knockouts. The song that first caught my attention on this one was "Any Other Way," a solid pop rocker. That's followed by "One In A Million," which could lead to some dirty dancing, for sure -- it's got that kind of beat. My true love from this group, though, is "Unmistakable" -- pure romance: think of holding your guy in your arms and just floating around the dance floor. It's that kind of song.

Back to the first question: What is it with boy bands? Well, in this case, these guys are good. Forget all the crap about "not playing their own instruments" and all the other jackshit arguments that rock 'n' roll "purists" come up with. That's nothing more than in-group backbiting, as far as I'm concerned, and a sure sign of a) not understanding music very well, b) having your taste canalized by adherence to your peer group, and c) (which I think follows from (b)) a shaky ego.

These guys are singers and dancers and they do both very well. And they're very smart about picking their material, at least on this collection. (I don't know if they write any of their own music. I don't really care. Barbra Streisand doesn't, either.) There's everything here -- humor, melancholy, a sort of wry, after-the-fact acceptance, and a hint of acid. And the musicianship is exemplary. Like I keep sayin', these guys are good. It's a rich, textured sound that makes full use of their voices. It's probably their best album, but don't quote me on that -- I don't know the rest of their output.

The AMV that got me started has been taken down, but here's another with that song and one of my favorite manga/anime characters:

And just for fun, here's one of my latest favorites, which also happens to be by Backstreet Boys (with more of may favorite manga/anime characters):

The only videos I have from this album are slide shows and not all that interesting.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Every Once in a While

I hit one that's just too perfect:

The Next Health-Care Debate: Update

This is not really as tangential as it seems, since the core of the "debate" over circumcision is about HIV transmission. I questioned Hannah Rosin's post because of her overly broad application of results from a study in Africa: I'm not alone in doubting that it's applicable to conditions in the U.S. In that light, Timothy Kincaid at Box Turtle Bulletin has come up with (gasp!) some actual information.

Dr. Amy Lansky of the CDC presented research at the Aug. 24 plenary in which the CDC estimated in the U.S. there were 692.2 new HIV cases in 2007 per 100,000 men who have sex with men (MSM).

In other words, the rate of new infections in the population of gay and bisexual men in 2007 was 0.69%. Or in 2007 one out of every 144 gay/bi men seroconverted.

That still is very high. And it is consistent with our calculations that about 12% of gay/bi men (or about 6% of all gay/bi people) are infected with HIV. (So play safe kids… or better yet, find someone to have and hold from this day forward.)

But, in those terms, perhaps it isn’t quite as scary as the somewhat meaningless announcement that “MSM are 50 times more likely to have AIDS than women and non-gay or bisexual men.” I think most of us already know that sexually active gay men, especially those unpartnered, are at a much higher risk of HIV than Grandpa Joe and Grandma Sally.

He has pretty much the same reaction I do to this sort of thing:

And I wonder at the wisdom of making announcements of such comparisons. Provided without context, this quote can seem counter-intuitive. A gay man with both gay and straight friends might think that such ratios do not reflect their observations. And using language that feels out of sync with the realities of the experiences of gay men will not encourage better behavior; rather it will cause the target audience to dismiss the information.

Read his whole post -- it's a much-needed grounding in reality.

Friday, August 28, 2009


I don't really have much respect for Andrew Sullivan as a thinker, but I thought he was better than this.

"People love honesty, but they hate the truth. To frankly acknowledge and address the ineluctable reality of healthcare rationing is not merely to touch the proverbial third rail of American politics; it is to lie across the tracks in front of the onrushing train. Come, let us speak of unpleasant things. How is health care to be rationed? Who gets the short end of the stick?" - Eric Chevlen, First Things, via Megan.

The quote is from this article, in which a doctor who is a consultant for a private insurance company comes to the conclusion that, lo and behold! we should rely on private insurance companies because a government run program will result in rationing. Whoda thunkit? Happily, the commenters call him on it. (His argument starts with a flawed assumption -- that rationing is inevitable because there can't be enough health care to go around. Based, it seems, on the practices of private insurers, who have a vested interest in rationing health care -- it's called "profits." The article limps along from there.)

The links are screwed up, so I can't get to Megan McArdle's comments (I assume that's the "Megan" that Sullivan is referring to. It seems like her kind of thing.) Hah! Found it! It's rather thin, and she starts from the same assumption. To be fair, I haven't been following McArdle on health care reform -- I don't think much of her to begin with, and my sense from what I've read of comments on her comments is that she's reliably advancing "libertarian" arguments -- and you all know what I think of that.

Fort Worth "Raid": Update

There's been some action by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in the aftermath of the raid on the Rainbow Lounge on the anniversary of Stonewall: the two agents involved have been fired and their supervisor, who was taking early retirement, will be terminated next week.

And here's an editorial that focuses attention on the police department's reaction.

But Halstead still must deliver the results of an ongoing internal affairs investigation into whether any of the officers used excessive force, conducted themselves unprofessionally, neglected their duty or were not properly supervised in the Rainbow Lounge raid.

They took seven people out of the bar that morning, two of them forcefully. They let one go and charged the others with public intoxication. Chad Gibson also was charged with assault by contact. He was sent to the hospital after injuring his head in a fall outside the bar, Halstead’s report says.

Two months later, Halstead says there still are conflicting accounts about the officers’ actions. He adds that a final report on the investigation may be ready for the council by October.

That’s a stretch. It could lead one to believe that the city is intentionally delaying the report for fear of a lawsuit. Or maybe Fort Worth police just have trouble investigating their own. Either would be another black eye.

Halstead must meet his own deadline and deliver the report of the internal investigation by October. Sooner would be better.

For those who insist that we have to wait for public opinion to support us, take this as an object lesson: the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I would bet that without the immediate and negative reaction of the gay blogosphere and the Fort Worth gay community, which focused national attention on this incident, we'd be faced with another cover-up. Any takers?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Next Health-Care Debate

Circumcision? Lord love a duck.

From Hannah Rosin at Daily Dish:

But the procedure is only "controversial" because people have emotional, psychological and religious reactions to it. Scientifically speaking, it's not remotely controversial. The anti-circumcision sites always refer to the American Academy of Pediatrics' 1999 policy statement on circumcision, which declined to recommend the procedure. But that statement was issued before the most compelling studies emerged about the role circumcision plays in reducing the risk for transmission of HIV and other STD's. This is a good overview from medical writer Arthur Allen.
Three trials in which Kenyan and Ugandan men were randomly selected to receive circumcision were halted when it became clear that circumcision helped prevent transmission of HIV. Men who got it were about half as likely to get infected. “A 50% reduction is about the same as some vaccines,” says [Edgar Schoen, MD, who was chief of pediatrics at Kaiser-Permanente Healthcare.]

Yes, conditions in Africa are different. The trials showed results mostly in heterosexual transmission. But the evidence is still pretty strong, and even stronger for STD's. The problem with all this "controversy" is that Medicaid now doesn't pay for the procedure, which costs all of $300 in most hospitals. Rates of circumcision for the poor, particularly African Americans and Latinos, have plummeted in the last ten years.

Here's a statement of the policy -- and please note that there is a comment at the top that the poicy was reaffirmed in 2005. And here's the article that Rosin lifted her quote from. Frankly, it's long on assertion and personal opinion, short on data, and completely lacking in direct citations.

I don't doubt that the studies exist or that they conclude what the reports say they conclude, but I'm not swayed. There's something missing here: what impact does circumcision have on disease transmission for those who habitually use condoms or practice other forms of safe sex? Yeah, I thought so.


Before you run out to get your hood whacked off, read this, of particular interest to at least some readers here:

Circumcision, which has helped prevent AIDS among heterosexual men in Africa, doesn’t help protect gay men from the virus, according to the largest U.S. study to look at the question.

The research, presented at a conference Tuesday, is expected to influence the government’s first guidance on circumcision.

Circumcision “is not considered beneficial” in stopping the spread of HIV through gay sex, said Dr. Peter Kilmarx, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There's also the fact that about 80% of American men are already circumcised. (By the way, this study also specifies that transmission rates for circumcised and uncircumcised men who engage in anal sex are about the same. I suspect that the sex of the person on the receiving end is not going to make much difference.)

Can you say "agenda"? On the parts of both Rosin and Allen, it would seem. (I won't make reference to the implicit heterosexism in both writers' comments -- but then, I probably don't have to.)

I don't know that I need to concern myself with the feminist take on circumcision, but I will say that for American feminists -- or American anything -- to take the results of a study of African men who do not use condoms and demand that American men all trot off obediently to get cut strikes me as a little specious, not to mention downright dangerous: circumcision doesn't eliminate the risk of infection with STDs, including HIV, it only moderates it in those who do not use condoms for penetrative sex. Sure, every little bit helps, but you will note that neither writer mentions practicing safe sex, and regrettably, that is still not something that can be taken for granted, particularly among younger men. (And I'm not just talking about young gay men -- teenage pregnancy rates have risen in the past few years, and the girls aren't doing it with turkey basters, you can bet on that. Concomitantly, of course, there has been an increase in the incidence of STDs among teenage girls.) (It reminds me in a way of that horrible woman who went on a campaign to ban pornography because it demeaned women. Well, sometimes, maybe. And of course, she had no response when asked about gay pornography. But she still wanted to ban it all. Same attitude.)

So here we have the Daily Dish lending itself to another half-baked opinion without much backing from complete research, or even much in the way of careful thought. My objection, I guess, is that for most responsible men, the message here is irrelevant. And those for whom the message might be relevant are not being provided with useful information. That pisses me off.

And in case you were wondering, none of your business -- if you're someone who needs to know, you'll have direct evidence. My own attitude is a cock is a cock, and each has its good points and its less than good points. It's the man attached to the cock who's the most important part of the whole thing.

(I thought about including a picture or two, but this is not that kind of blog.)

In Memoriam: Sen. Ted Kennedy

I think he was the last real liberal.

At the 1980 Democratic Convention:

NYT called him a "Senate stalwart". He was much more than that.

And there's not much else that I can say.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Pep Talk

From Dday at Hullaballoo, this post on the campaign in Maine, with a good summary of how the "professional gays" lost the campaign in California.

For so many people, the passage of Prop. 8 last November represented a civil rights failure. But it was just as much a political failure. A campaign that could have been about neighbor-to-neighbor contact and recognizing what brings us together rather than sets us apart was instead waged at 30,000 feet. The TV ads for the No campaign never showed one gay couple, and they never spent any resources on door-to-door canvassing. The consultants who ran that campaign (into the ground) claimed that visibility mattered more than personal persuasion (they actually told volunteers to get on a street corner and hold signs instead of interacting directly with people), and the entire race was waged in a defensive crouch, as the Yes campaign would post one lie after another to which the No campaign would belatedly respond.

I'd say it was mostly a political failure, and an organizational failure. As far as I'm concerned (and I don't think I'm alone), if demolished whatever shreds of credibility the "professional" gay advocacy organizations had. Their inability to move the Obama administration has only finalized it.

While most of the attention has been on the attempt to repeal Washington state's enhanced DP legislation, there is a crucal fight in Maine. Fortunately, it looks like the Mainers are doing things right. Here's their first commercial:

Dear gods! There are actual gay people in this one! With their kids! Let's see if it works.

If you've been following Pam's House Blend lately, you know that Louise has been tracking this one very closely, ever since the bill went to the governor.

And the usual suspects are lining up to attempt a repeal, although if the Mormons are involved, they are keeping it a deep, dark secret. (And according to reports, the Bishop of Portland is getting strong resistance from his flock. Good.)

From time to time, I'll take another look at this one.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Read this post by Jim Burroway. It's wonderful.

I didn't grow up in Appalachia, although I have strong connections there -- my mother's side of the family is all over the place in McDowell and Buncombe counties in North Carolina. We used to visit my grandmother for fairly lengthy stays when I was small -- sometimes almost the entire summer. And this was an old farmhouse in the hills, with no electricity, a fireplace and wood stove for heat, and running water in a cistern in the front yard, piped in from a spring up the hill. My joke used to be that of course my grandmother had running water -- if she needed water, one of us ran out the yard and got it.

And it could take me up to a month to lose the hillbilly accent when I got back home to the Midwest.

Whatever Happened to David Gergen?

Not much, apparently -- he still gets on talk shows sounding like he actually knows what's going on. Here he is on Anderson Cooper's 360, telling it like it is (in some weird alternate reality):

I think one of the other aspects of this is very fundamental to who we are as a people. There are a lot of sociologists and historians will tell you we as American people are just different. We're an outliers measured in many ways. Our value system is different. We don't think like Canadians. We don't accept government the way it is. We're not deferential to authority the way Canadians are or in Western Europe.

And so, I think the Clintons misread that some, and I think President Obama has misread that some. When you come and try to sell something big, big government to the American people, they tend to be very, very weary of it. It's been true throughout our history. . . .

I think there's no way that the American people will ever accept single-payer system, a government-run health care system for all. I just don't -- you know, I don't think we're like the British or the Canadians in that sense.

That does not mean you can't have universal coverage. It does mean you can have a very robust system in which poor people have a chance for protection and will have a chance for decent life. It does mean that -- in the American system, we tend to do that more through the private sector than through the public -- than through the public sector.

It's an amazing tour-de-force on Gergen's part -- every scare argument, every disproved exaggeration, rendered in very temperate language as though he actually knows what he's talking about. (Something that I don't ever recall him being guilty of in the past.)

On at least one point there he's demonstrably wrong: Americans are much more deferential to authority than either Canadians or Europeans. I remember a story the novelist Jerzy Kozinski told, of trying to get on a plane in Italy. He donned a suit that looked like a uniform, although it bore no insignia, and went to the airport and very matter-of-factly butted in at the head of the ticket line. The ones who didn't object were the Americans. As I recall -- this was in a TV interview with, I believe, Dick Cavett -- he was amazed and tried the same trick several other times, with the same result.

The American people will accept anything, if you give them some real information and some time to think about it. Look at gay marriage -- not even a concept twenty years ago.

The whole program looks to have been pretty depressing, from an information standpoint.

Read Digby's priceless commentary on this. It's totally High Snark.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Reviews in Brief: Tarako Kotobui's Love Pistols

This one came to me via a friend/colleague who was cleaning out her bookshelves. I'd run across it on Amazon and put it on my list to pursue someday, but at the price she asked, I jumped right on it.

Imagine, if you will, a universe in which humanity, the regular sort descended from an ape-like ancestor, shares the world with another sort of person, descended, it would seem, from everything but the apes. This is the universe in which Norio Tsuburaya finds himself -- after crashing his brand new motorbike into the garden wall on his sixteenth birthday, in what seems to have been a near-death experience but only resulted in a broken foot. Suddenly, not only is he seeing people as animals, but they are coming on to him like crazy. His senpai, Kumakashi, first clues him into the existence of Zoomanity, as it is called. Kumakashi is a large, hulking sort of guy, captain of the judo team and a member of the gardening club. He is the first to confess his love to Norio -- but what Norio sees is a bear. Things are getting decidedly out of hand when Norio, limping along on his crutches, suddenly smells something totally captivating -- just before he falls down the stairs and onto Kunimasa Madarame, a senior and the one man that Kumakashi told him especially to avoid. Kunimasa's reaction is somewhat strange -- he starts sniffing Norio, then picks him up and carries him off. And so begins the main story line.

There are other stories scattered through the five volumes of this series, involving Kunimasa's brother, Yonekuni, who professes to hate men; Kumakashi, who is contracted to mate with a North American bruin; a flashback to another of Kunimasa's brothers and his parents; and more. And as the series progresses, it gets weirder and more outrageous.

One of the saving graces of this one is that Norio and most of the other uke tend to fall into the category of "ornery uke." For example, it seems that Norio is a very rare type, known as a Missing Link, so not only is he in high demand, there's also the fact that, as one of Kunimasa's brothers tells him, "no one can beat a pissed off Missing Link" -- and Norio spends a lot of time being pissed off. The conflicts with Kunimasa, who is completely lacking in interpersonal skills, rely on Norio's stubbornness to counter Kunimasa's demanding nature. Characterizations as a whole are somewhat extreme, but perfectly believable and generate most of the momentum of the various stories.

There's also the fact that Zoomanity has discovered a way for men to bear children and for same-sex couples to generate their own offspring, which leads to some very interesting family relationships -- consider that "Mom" to one sibling may be "Pop" to another. Kotobuki has thought this out pretty carefully, so we are treated to excerpts from chidren's primers on Zooomanity, the main groups, the rankings, and so forth, as well as a family tree of the Madarame, which has to be seen to be believed.

And drawing is a pleasure to see. Kotobouki favors elongated, blocky body types, somewhat like Ellie Mamahara's style, with exaggerated hands and feet,although her renderings are more fluid. Narrative flow is fairly straightforward and very clear, which is fortunate: the stories themselves are hard enough to follow.

There are five volumes out; there was to have been at least one more, but apparently Kotobuki abandoned the series -- volume 5 was published in Japan in 2006 and there's been no sign of a sequel. Nevertheless, it's worth checking into -- it is without doubt among the most imaginative yaoi series I've run across. It's from BLU.

Note: If you're searching the Web for this one, you may run across references to "Sex Pistols," which was the original title. That was changed to avoid conflict with the band of the same name.

OK, I Promised You a Marriage Post

Both of these items had their fifteen minutes this past week, but I wanted to take another look at them.

First, the Justice Department filed a new brief in Smelt which takes a radically different tone than their previous offering. John Aravosis has an alert, with the text. Aravosis quotes this portion without, I think, noting the key point:

Plaintiffs' equal protection and due process claims raise several issues, all of which were addressed in the United States' motion to dismiss. As established in the government's opening memorandum, federal courts have unanimously upheld the constitutionality of DOMA.5 Plaintiffs' only response to the government's arguments in favor of dismissal is to assert, without elaboration, that "same gender marriage is a . . . fundamental right" such that DOMA is subject to "heightened scrutiny," and to imply that DOMA constitutes "gender discrimination" (Doc. 40 at 4, 5). The United States refuted these assertions in its opening memorandum. (Emphasis added)

If that indeed is the argument being made, it's the wrong argument. The core issue, as I see it, is that marriage is a fundamental right, and that under Constitutional guarantees of equal treatment under the law Congress must show a rational reason for withholding that right from any group. Congress has not done so.

However, this brief does something that the previous filing did not. From Chris Geidner at Law Dork:

Those who assert that the Obama Administration did not even need to file a brief will be dissatisfied with the brief because it essentially incorporates the earlier arguments into this reply brief and continues to defend DOMA as a legal matter. But, for those many people who believe that the government, in a situation such as this, does have a responsibility to defend the law, this brief makes clear the distinction between opposing a policy and defending a law.

From the brief itself to Obama’s statement and in light of the other changes being advanced by the Administration, I continue to believe that the original DOJ Smelt filing was made without the full appreciation (or knowledge) by higher-ups. I do think that the uproar following its filing has changed the approach of the Administration, and, for that, the debate was worthwhile. This filing and statement show a keen awareness of and sensitivity to that impact, while maintaining a clear principle to defend a law that repeatedly has been found to be constitutional.

Dale Carpenter also notes the shift in attitude:

What a difference two months can make. While the DOJ hasn't retracted its earlier arguments, its new brief is much more friendly to gay families in tone and in substance. It also emphasizes the plaintiffs' lack of standing and suggests that a ruling on the merits would be unnecessarily broad. The original motion could have been this narrow and done the job.

Consider this almost apologetic, but also uncontroversial, passage:
With respect to the merits, this Administration does not support DOMA as a matter of policy, believes that it is discriminatory, and supports its repeal. Consistent with the rule of law, however, the Department of Justice has long followed the practice of defending federal statutes as long as reasonable arguments can be made in support of their constitutionality, even if the Department disagrees with a particular statute as a policy matter, as it does here.

There was nothing like this anti-DOMA language in the June brief. There was no mention of the administration's anti-DOMA policy views. The DOJ labels DOMA a form of discrimination, although it doesn't say what kind. Back in June, the DOJ went out of its way to argue that DOMA does not discriminate on the basis of sex or sexual orientation. In fact, the new brief makes no new argument for DOMA, and only vaguely says it supports the value of "federalism."

This brief seems, on the whole, to do almost a 180 in that it hands proponents of same-sex marriage some key arguments, although, as both Geidner and Carpenter note, the government still takes the stance that DOMA is constitutional -- based on previous court findings which in turn, I think, were based on flawed arguments such as I noted above. However, there is one passage that scores a bulls-eye:

Unlike the intervenors here, the government does not contend that there are legitimate government interests in "creating a legal structure that promotes the raising of children by both of their biological parents" or that the government's interest in "responsible procreation" justifies Congress's decision to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Carpenter also notes that the brief uses Justice Scalia's dissent in Lawrence vs. Texas to undercut arguments against SSM. I hope Scalia has a fit right there in the chamber. Carpenter's conclusion, I think, gets most of it right:

While gay-rights groups complain that the DOJ is continuing to defend the constitutionality of DOMA (see here and here), and are understandably disturbed by the still-unabandoned arguments the DOJ made back in June, they should be delighted by the turn taken in this reply brief. It will serve the cause of SSM in state and especially federal courts for years to come.

What seems to me to be more important is that this filing very effectively undercuts the previous motion pretty much across the board, even though it still insists that DOMA is constitutional.

The next stage in this is the suit being argued by Ted Olson and David Boies. Very interesting profile of Olson in NYT last week, that brings out how feeble the procreation/child-rearing argument is:

In the gay community, though, conspiracy theories initially abounded that Mr. Olson had taken the case to sabotage it. While many have since come around, fears remain that a loss in the closely divided Supreme Court could deal a setback to the movement.

He dismisses Mr. Cooper’s contention that the California ban is justified by that state’s interest in encouraging relationships that promote procreation and the raising of children by biological parents. If sexual orientation is not a choice - and Mr. Olson argues that it is not - then the ban is not going to encourage his clients to enter into heterosexual, child-producing marriages, he insists. Moreover, he says, California has waived the right to make that argument by recognizing domestic partnerships that bestow most benefits of marriage.

So there's a double-whammy on that one. That argument is toast -- and that my provide the grounds for revisiting the decisions in New York and Washington state, which relied heavily on that argument.

The Times also has some interesting commentary on the suit.

And Gabriel Arana at Box Turtle Bulletin points out one interesting wrinkle in Perry vs. Schwarzenegger (the real name of the Olson/Boies challenge to Prop 8:

Today, all parties to the suit filed another round of “case management statements,” proposals that outline what the trial will cover, what legal questions will be addressed, and which sort of evidence will be gathered and presented. What is interesting about these statements is that the case is shaping up to be much broader than the state challenge to Prop. 8, which hinged on the technical distinction between an “amendment” and a “revision.”

Crucially, the plaintiffs plan to go after the Yes on 8 Campaign to show that they were motivated by anti-gay animus. This will involve having the Yes on 8 people testify and hand over documents relevant to the campaign.

If some gay rights groups were frustrated by the legal language and fine lines involved in the state challenge, this is looking like it will be the big fight they wanted.

That will be a key argument: Prop 8 motivated by animus. That's what lost the Romer case for the State of Colorado. Now that Obama's DoJ has torpedoed the procreation/child-rearing argument, and undercut others, that should be a strong one.

OK -- it's a situation still in flux -- there are other cases going ahead as well, including the Massachusetts challenge to DOMA -- but I think things are looking up. Of course, there are elements on the SC that will hear arguments and then base their opinions on what they have already decided (are you listening, Justice Scalia?), so it's still iffy.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Catching Up

This story has been around, at least as a mention, all over the place. Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune asked three leading opponents of same-sex marriage for some predictions on the negative results of legalized same-sex marriage. A simple proposition, since we now have six states in which same-sex marriage is legal, as opposed to 44 in which it is not likely to be anytime soon, which gives us a nice experimental set-up, so Chapman's request was that the three -- Maggie Gallagher, Stanley Kurtz, and David Blankenhorn -- predict those results based on measurable social indicators: divorce rates, out-of-wedlock births, marriage rates, and the like. No one seemed to want to respond -- Gallagher declined, Kurtz did not respond to messages, and only David Blankenhorn had anything to say:

The only person willing to talk was David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values. His 2007 book, "The Future of Marriage," made a serious and temperate effort to grapple with the case for same-sex marriage. Blankenhorn opposed it out of fear it would drain marriage of its central role by making it "exclusively a private relationship" that is "essentially unconnected to larger social needs and public meanings."

Blankenhorn is on really thin ice here: by definition, marriage is a social and cultural institution, and his "prediction" is demonstrably ridiculous. The whole point of being married is to establish a couple within the social framework -- it's impossible for it to be a "private relationship." That's called "shacking up," or, to be a bit more formal, "cohabitation." (You may remember that I've dissected Blankenhorn before and found his reasoning wanting, at best. To call his arguments "serious and temperate" is much too generous: his arguments are barely passable, but his assumptions are unjusitifed. I suspect that Chapman is buying Blankenhorn's claim that he's a "liberal Democrat" without realizing that his organization receives its funding from right-wing social extremists.)

On the other hand, proponents were not nearly so reticent. The key response:

M. V. Lee Badgett, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and author of the new book, "When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage," was happy to answer my question. "I don't think we'll see those kinds of negative social consequences," she said. "In Europe, there's no evidence that patterns have changed for marriage, divorce or non-marital births because of same-sex marriage or registered partnerships."

That's pretty much what I would predict.

Apparently, according to Conor Clarke, Gallagher did come up with some "specific" predictions -- at National Review:

1. In gay-marriage states, a large minority people committed to traditional notions of marriage will feel afraid to speak up for their views, lest they be punished in some way.

2. Public schools will teach about gay marriage.

3. Parents in public schools who object to gay marriage being taught to their children will be told with increasing public firmness that they don't belong in public schools and their views will not be accomodated in any way.

4. Religous institutions will face new legal threats (especially soft litigation threats) that will cause some to close, or modify their missions, to avoid clashing with the government's official views of marriage (which will include the view that opponents are akin to racists for failing to see same-sex couples as married).

5. Support for the idea "the ideal for a child is a married mother and father" will decline.

I'd love to see Gallagher make a fool of herself in front of a Congressional committee the way Elaine Donnelley did -- but then, she manages just fine all on her own. Her "predictions" are ludicrous -- more airy-fairy scare mantras, all neatly listed. As Clarke points out, "None of them -- with the exception of #4 (where I think Gallagher is just plain wrong) and this vague, unconvincing business of being "punished" in #1 -- are bad things!"

I'm in a mood, so I'll parse Gallagher's "parade of horribles" (as Clarke terms them):

1. When your views are out of step with those of your community, you meet with punishment -- it's called social disapproval. That's what Gallagher wants for proponents of same-sex marriage -- and gays as a group -- but she can't seem to deal with the tables being turned.

2. Public schools are supposed to teach about the world as it is.

3. People who object to their children being taught about the real world can opt for parochial schools or home schooling. It happens all the time. Or do we allow parents to opt their children out of any class that teaches something they're opposed to? Or begin every lesson with the statement "Some people don't agree with this"? Wouldn't that be great in a math class?

4. BS

5. Since that idea has no basis in fact, I don't see why it should be supported anyway.

And Stanley Kurtz apparently is still not responding to messages. (Kurtz, you will remember, did a whole series of articles claiming dire results for families and the social fabric itself if same-sex marriage were legalized, drawing on statistics from Scandinavia and France. In none of those places was same-sex marriage legal at the time. That should give you a good sense of the depth and integrity of his arguments.)

What's especially significant about this story is that it's a column by Steve Chapman, who's a pretty good observer, in the Chicago Tribune, which is not what you'd call a liberal mouthpiece.

And this has been another episode of WTF?

Thursday, August 20, 2009


Yeah, I know -- I've been terrifically busy and terrifically unfocused. I'm working on a fairly substantial post on marriage right now, but I haven't been able to digest all the material.

Maybe by Saturday.

The High Point of the Debate

Barney Frank, confronted by a nutcase who's trying to make out like health care reform is a Nazi plot:

Frank responded, "When you ask me that question, I'm going to revert to my ethnic heritage and ask you a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time?" He added, "It is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated.... Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it."

Via Steve Benen at Political Animal.

As unhappy as I've been with Frank on gay issues lately, you have to admit the man has it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Daily Dish: The View From Your Sickbed

Andrew Sullivan and his crew at Daily Dish have been running a periodic series of stories from readers about the horrors of private insurance (along with some much-needed explanations of how insurance companies actually work). Now they've posted a round-up with links to all the posts.

Good ammunition for your "no Obamacare" acquaintances.

2010 or 2012?

This post by Timothy Kincaid lays out the pros and cons of putting referenda on the ballot in California next year or in 2012. The major groups, of course, are counseling "wait." They've been counseling "wait" for over a decade now, and what has it gotten us? A president who wants to wait on gay civil rights.

Kincaid, I think, get to the core of it:

While twelvers are wondering about funding and strategy, tenners are focused on momentum, energy, honesty, and courage. Tenners want to win in 10, but find it even more important to not concede defeat. While they think victory is possible next year, they are committed to fighting this battle until it is won, even if that means going to the polls every two years.

They are exactly right. You can point back to the Black Civil Rights movement (and you'll note, they didn't wait) or to our good friends the anti-gay fundies -- they don't wait either. They keep coming back and back until they win, as they did in Arizona and as they have done across the country. If they lose an election, they go to court. If they lose in court, they go back to the electorate. The key word here is "relentless."

The national gay leadership has worked on a strategy that I think is fundamentally wrong: wait until we have the support. Maybe it's a carryover from the "it's our fault" mentality that infects so much of PC left thinking. Maybe it's just not looking at what's happening around you. We know that the leaders of the Prop 8 fight in California blew it. They lost a sure thing. We want to let them keep control? I don't think so. We can't wait until we have the support -- we have to build the support.

We keep hearing about "momentum" in this fight, about how we have to capture the momentum and not let the momentum die. That's almost right: we have to make the momentum. It's not easy. It takes time, and hard work, and a willingness to be rejected again and again, it takes voices in the media and on the blogosphere repeating the obvious until our messages starts to get through to people.

It's hard. But it's really very simple.

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Symptom, or the Cause? (Updated)

Today's irony: this video of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Berchtesgaden) blaming the government for the unrest displayed over the health care "debate."

This came via AmericaBlog, and while Coburn makes the point that "it's not a Democrat or Republican problem," (let's be "bipartisan" about it, mmkay?) I think Sudbay has it right:

I don't get this argument from Coburn or those inciting violence. "The people" elected this government. Our side won. If Coburn's side isn't happy, they need to elect their own people. That's how it's done in the United States. The very fact that Coburn didn't immediately denounce the threats of violence is way beyond the pale.

Coburn is among the enablers. Frankly, this clip is so loaded with irony that I don't think I even need to point it out.

For a little context, listen to Rachel Maddow:

In that light, Coburn's little homily on how "it's the government's fault" shows up as pure bullshit. But then, we knew that.

Add in this story from NYT:

The stubborn yet false rumor that President Obama’s health care proposals would create government-sponsored “death panels” to decide which patients were worthy of living seemed to arise from nowhere in recent weeks.

Advanced even this week by Republican stalwarts including the party’s last vice-presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, and Charles E. Grassley, the veteran Iowa senator, the nature of the assertion nonetheless seemed reminiscent of the modern-day viral Internet campaigns that dogged Mr. Obama last year, falsely calling him a Muslim and questioning his nationality.

But the rumor — which has come up at Congressional town-hall-style meetings this week in spite of an avalanche of reports laying out why it was false — was not born of anonymous e-mailers, partisan bloggers or stealthy cyberconspiracy theorists.

Rather, it has a far more mainstream provenance, openly emanating months ago from many of the same pundits and conservative media outlets that were central in defeating President Bill Clinton’s health care proposals 16 years ago, including the editorial board of The Washington Times, the American Spectator magazine and Betsy McCaughey, whose 1994 health care critique made her a star of the conservative movement (and ultimately, New York’s lieutenant governor).

Read the whole article for a good take on just how this whole thing is operating. (And I might add that if even NYT is calling bullshit, you know it's hip deep.)

Batocchio at Hullaballoo has some incisive observations. It's brutal:

To the conservative, right-wing base, Obama is both a socialist and a fascist, and simultaneously a weak appeaser to foreign rulers but a ruthless dictator domestically. Bush's monarchial power grabs were just fine with them, and anyone who spoke out then was a traitor, but now that Obama's president, America's being ripped asunder. Internment camps were once a swell idea, but not now. Elections have consequences, but for the right-wing, only Republican politicians have legitimacy. There's a range of sincerity to the craziness, of course – Betsy McCaughey's a vile hack, Sarah Palin's more of a demagogue, while many in the rank and file believe every evil tale they're told (and invent new ones). Regardless, they're bad news, and the conservatives trying as usual to blame their own craziness on liberals and Democrats are particulary loathsome. Journalists pretending that "both sides" are somehow equally hostile, irrational and dishonest is sadly not surprising, but it is highly irresponsible. The 'Deny Me Health Care or Give Me Death' movement is fascinating from a psychological standpoint, and may make for good headlines, but oddly enough, the republic doesn't work very well when the stupidest, meanest, greediest and most dishonest citizens get to set the agenda.

Brutal, but on target, as far as I can see.

Coburn did have one thing right: it's not about health care. It's about sinking Obama, and it always has been. The Republican stance is obvious: we win, or we burn the house down. This just happens to be the issue that worked for them.


Maha does an elegant job of demolishing some of the anti-health care arguments, and actually uses (gasp!) facts, which have been in disastrously short supply in this campaign.

I want to comment a little more on Newt’s op ed in the Los Angeles Times today, because he says some things that I have seen popping up in a lot of right-wing commentary.
One key proposal is to mandate an “essential benefit package” for every private insurance policy sold in the United States. Currently, individuals and employers usually make these coverage decisions. This legislation creates a new federal Health Benefits Advisory Committee that would decide instead. For example, if you are a single male with no children, the legislation still requires you to have maternity benefits and well-baby and well-child care coverage. You don’t want or don’t need that coverage? Sorry, you have to pay for it anyway.

Putting aside the fact that single men father children all the time, and in a perfect world those single men would be just as responsible for maternity and well-baby bills as married ones —

Insurance works by risk pooling — everybody throws money into a pot so that there’s money for people who are hit with unexpected expenses. In order for this to work, in any given year most of the people in the pool throw more money into the pot than take it out. Generally, the bigger the pool, the better it works. Insurance companies invest the premium money, and they make most of their profits from investments.

Newt's "argument" is disingenuous at best. (Read it on an empty stomach -- you'll be doing yourself a favor.) It's nothing but a pack of lies from the beginning. Maha does a good take-down.

(Giggle alert: This one really got me:

You cannot spend an additional $1 trillion of taxpayer money and reduce the role of government.

Umm -- actually, you can -- it's called "the bailout of the banking industry.")

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Reviews in Brief: Youka Nitta's When a Man Loves a Man, Vol. 1

This one has been an adventure. If you've followed my reviews here and at Epinions, you know that Nitta is one of my favorites, although getting my hands on her earlier works has proven to be an undertaking. This series, which runs nine volumes in total, has never, as far as I can discover, been issued in English, so I am giving you a review based on my translation from the German edition.

The story is centered on Ryo Takaki (his "professional" name), a host at one of the clubs in Tokyo's Shinjuku district. Major players in this volume include Takaki Shinkawa, another host whose shared name leads to Ryo's first episode (and who is in love with Ryo); Kasunori Urushizaki, the "first episode," who comes into the club to tell Takaki to stop seeing his sister -- and gets the wrong Takaki. (It turns out that Urushizaki is OK having sex with men, as long as he gets his little bit of kink.); and Kyosuke Iwaki, who was Ryo's mentor when he first became a host and who now wants to compete with Ryo's club -- by opening a club next door and hiring Shinkawa as his star attraction.

I was surprised to learn, from Nitta's afterword, that this was her first BL manga. The drawing is already accomplished and immediately identifiable as "Nitta," although not as finished and rich as The Prime Minister's Secret Diplomacy (still one of the most beautifully drawn manga I've run across). Narrative flow is relatively straightforward -- Nitta doesn't take the liberties with page layouts and sequences here that others do, although there are some dramatic frames and pages in which Nitta brings in a high degree of abstraction for maximum impact.

What's compelling here are the stories and the characters. Subtitled "A Hunt for Passion," this volume introduces us to Ryo and his milieu -- Tokyo's nightlife and the men who make their livings as gigolos. And these are pretty tough men. Ryo is somewhat manipulative, and more than a little cynical in regard to his clients (Urushizaki, who starts off tough, gets eaten alive), while Shinkawa is more than a little distanced from everyone except Ryo. Iwaki is, if anything, even more cold-blooded. Yet each has his vulnerabilities and soft spots. And it all works -- not only are these guys believable, I think I've known some of them.

Of course, it's highly recommended. This one's from Carlsen Comics. (And another indication that it pays to check out the vendors at Amazon Marketplace. This volume came from Austria at quite a reasonable price; I've gotten the second from London at an equally reasonable price, including shipping in both cases.)

Health Care: Let's Do Some Compare-and-Contrast

First, from AmericaBlog, this account of how the "socialist" Canadian system actually works:

So, after 11 days I am home, and I will be receiving two visits a week from Home Care, in addition to any further treatment needed, such as chemo and radiation. And all of this cost me nothing, beyond the meds that I am now buying. There was no waiting and no "lottery." Don't believe the lies being spewed by the lobbyists.

Read the account and then repeat after me: "Single-payer."

Just to give some perspective on the screaming about how much it's going to cost us, get little tidbit, courtesy of my friend Nigel in Oz:

And do follow the link and read the descriptions of the various kinds of systems involved here.

A rejoinder to the Palinite loony fringe, via The Daily Dish:

My mother died on March 4, 2009.

I was right there with her, holding her hand. Because she had an Advance Health Care Directive, she died in her bedroom, with a few family members kissing her and telling her how much we love her.

It sickens me (sorry about the unintended pun, but I don't have a better word) that many moms and dads will die in hospitals hooked up to machines, drawing out the intolerable and the inevitable, because Advance Health Care Directives have turned into Death Panels. I want to die--when it's my time--just like Mimi did. It's pitiful that so many will be deprived of understanding this option because of Sarah Palin.

In that vein, here's Digby with some history on Crazy Sarah's "death panels."

Jst to prove that it's not all Sarah, get this one, brought to you in part by Liberty Counsel, another group of wingnut lawyers who specialize in losing civil rights cases.

Reader JP just alerted me to an email blast from a group called "The Pray In Jesus Name Project." It suggests that ObamaCare will not only pull the plug on grandma, but also result in a gay and transgendered takeover of the entire health care system. Among the bogus claims in the group's petition:
Your tax-dollars will pay for preferential hiring of homosexual hospital administrators, who distribute $50,000 grants to gender-confused activists for unneeded elective surgery to mutilate their own genitals, (and force Christian doctors to perform it.)

The group attempts to back this up by citing drafts of the House and Senate bills that make fleeting references to gender and sexual orientation, but which have nothing to do with mandated free sex-change operations. (PolitiFact, The St. Petersberg Times fact-checking service, does a great job debunking these allegations, many of which were put forth by Liberty Counsel--a group affiliated with Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.)

Last I heard, Christian doctors were just as money-hungry as any other kind -- I doubt much force would be required.

If, after reading some of these items, you wonder about the genesis of some of the lunacy, read this item by Digby.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Totally Tubular (Updated)

Or perhaps I should say "completely circular." This alert from Publius at Obsidian Wings struck me. From The Hill:

The Senate Finance Committee will drop a controversial provision on consultations for end-of-life care from its proposed healthcare bill, its top Republican member said Thursday.

The committee, which has worked on putting together a bipartisan healthcare reform bill, will drop the controversial provision after it was derided by conservatives as "death panels" to encourage euthanasia.

"On the Finance Committee, we are working very hard to avoid unintended consequences by methodically working through the complexities of all of these issues and policy options," Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a statement. "We dropped end-of-life provisions from consideration entirely because of the way they could be misinterpreted and implemented incorrectly."

[. . .]

The veteran Iowa lawmaker said the end-of-life provision in those bills would pay physicians to "advise patients about end-of-life care and rate physician quality of care based on the creation of and adherence to orders for end-of-life care."

Can I call "bullshit" on Grassley? (Who himself has been one of the major obstacles to getting a bill out of that committee.) That last statement is pure crap.

And has anyone noticed how this Republican mantra -- the Sarah Palin "death panels" -- has influenced the "bipartisan" members of the Finance Committee (the Gang of Six -- three Republicans and three Republicans-lite) to drop this "controversial" provision.

As Publius points out, it's really a disaster for policy-making in this country:

A demonstrable falsehood was repeated and repeated, and it led the Committee to drop a very valuable provision that would help inform individuals -- particularly those with less resources -- about critical medical and legal issues. The falsity and fearmongering drove the policy here.

At the risk of repeating myself, from the Republican viewpoint it's not about healthcare reform. It's about torpedoing the Obama administration by any means necessary.

Y'know, I remember noting at one point that the Republicans were very good at winning elections and complete failures at governing. It appears that the Democrats are going them one better: they can win elections as long as they're not really Democrats, and they're even worse at governing.

Who said the Democrats were in control?


Let's see how the Gang of Six responds to this -- and how long it takes them.

Update II:

John Cole is just as fed up as I am.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Next Question

A wonderful piece by Batocchio at Hullaballoo on unasked questions, framing, unquestioned assumptions -- all my favorite things. (Regular readers will know how irritated I get with those who don't question their assumptions and who take everything at face value.) It's impossible to do it justice through an excerpt. Read the whole thing.

"Looking Forward"

From Joe Sudbay at AmericaBlog, this item:

From the Democratic Policy Committee's press release:
[Sen. Byron] Dorgan chaired a hearing on August 3, by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC), which looked into the Army’s response to the 2003 exposure at Qarmat Ali in Iraq of hundreds of U.S. soldiers to sodium dichromate, which poses the highest inhalation risk for cancer of any of the 500 substances classified as a carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Senators wrote that they “believe that the conduct and/or inaction of KBR and the Army may have caused hundreds of U.S. troops to be exposed to dangerous levels of sodium dichromate,” and asked the Inspector General to investigate seven separate areas of concern.

Sudbay's comment:

We heard a lot of rhetoric from the Bush administration and GOP members of Congress about supporting the troops. Call me crazy, but I don't think exposing troops to carcinogens is very supportive. But, with Dick Cheney's friends at KBR in the mix, there was no way Bush or the GOP would ever hold KBR accountable.

The problem is, there's no way Obama's going to hold them accountable, either -- at least, based on all available evidence. This is part and parcel of the administration's refusal to investigate the implementation of torture as official U.S. policy, which it begins to look as though we will never recover from. (I don't take the dog-and-pony show coming out of Justice on this one as any indication that there is serious interest in holding those responsible accountable. Quite the opposite. I mean, come on -- they're taking morally repulsive practices which we have abhorred throughout our history as the norm.)

There's one simple and very basic response to the president's wish to "look forward" and to leave all this behind us: How do we know where to go if we don't know how we got on this road? How can we fix it if we don't know how it got damaged? (If the response to the collapse of the financial industry is any indication, there's very little interest in really fixing anything. Why am I surprised that there's no interest in fixing the torture regime?)

And I truly believe that the most serious damage to the country has been that those in power could implement a whole range of what are essentially the practices and methods of dictators and not be held accountable. I read a very interesting article some while back that compared the Pax Americana to the Pax Britannica under the Empire -- basically, the functional form of Teddy Roosevelt's famous dictum "Speak softly and carry a big stick." We avoided major conflagrations for decades because we had the biggest stick. Combine that with our traditions of democracy, of open and honest government that was responsive to the will of the people, our institutions that guaranteed freedom to our citizens, and a tradition of fairness, justice, and mercy. That gave us the moral authority to negotiate, to act as peacemakers, and to avoid using that stick. We have no credibility any more. And Obama isn't helping, by claiming the power to hold detainees who have been cleared by the courts, by fighting every attempt at openness and transparency, by throwing up distractions to avoid dealing with the real issues. This is change I can believe in only in my most cynical moments.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

"What Digby Said"

With a bow to Atrios.

It's our daily taser-abuse report, this time via Digby, who has this observation:

Mike Pyatt, a former Glenrock police officer, called one of the officers a "hot head" and said the other had poor people skills. He called on town leaders to make changes at the department.

Police officers are no long required to have "people skills," because they have weapons which are deemed perfectly acceptable to use in any situation, at their sole discretion. Why should they need patience or basic psychology or even any kind of rudimentary analytical skills when they can, without threat of serious repercussion, shoot people with 50,000 volts, thus instantly crumpling them to the ground in horrible pain they will do anything to not repeat? It's a very efficient way to solve any situation and reinforce the All American belief that you must obey police no matter what.

They do this sort of thing over and over again -- and the incident Digby's commenting on seems as much an example of abuse of power by the police as any other I've heard of -- and most of the time don't even get a slap on the wrist.

One thing -- oh, make that "yet another thing" -- there are so damned many these days -- that we need to put a stop to is this "band of heroes" culture in police departments. I understand the basis of it -- they have to be able to rely on each other in a pinch -- but it's gotten out of hand. When getting your pal off the hook takes precedence over the law and simple morality, there's a real problem.

And I don't know about you, but I'm not prone to believe the police are always telling the truth. It's pretty well established at this point that the officers at the raid on the Rainbow Lounge in Fort Worth lied on their official reports -- no witnesses that I've heard of have supported their version of events.

The bottom line here is that we're not inclined to trust the police any more, and that's just corrosive of good order. And they did it themselves, at least in part by considering us "the enemy."

Also ran across this commentary by Pam Spaulding, who has been following these sorts of incidents closely. She's got a summary of some of the more outrageous incidents.

I'm quite interested in what you have to say -- "non-lethal" technology has obviously outpaced common sense. It has led to a sense of complacency in some law enforcement departments and sends the message that communication skills are unnecessary and that all civilians regardless of age, size, or mobility are considered life-threatening adversaries at the drop of a hat. What does the Obama administration, which has found itself thrust into the issue of racial profiling, have to say about the rampant abuse of Tasers on suspects -- and people accused of no crime at all -- around the country?

Don't expect much from the Obama administration. The Bush administration's pretty-much successful attempt to derail the Bill of Rights is just a whiff of the future. Obama has no interest in restoring constitutional guarantees or in reigning in law enforcement agencies. You can take that as a given. Bush paved the way for gross misuse of executive power, and we are seeing the trickle-down effect of the torture regime. I don't think it really would have mattered who was elected, though -- politicians are all about power, and that's it. And don't expect Congress to do anything. The scary part is that we have acquiesced, so they're home free. (Not that I think Congress or the president would have done anything anyway -- they're too tied up in "looking forward" and "bipartisanship" to make any efforts at accountability.

I take the militia mentality of the Republican base as another facet of it -- it's the politics of fear on a day-to-day basis. It's not American democracy -- it really is the beginnings of fascism, as Dave Neiwert has so ably described it. (If you check the sidebar at Orcinus, his essays are still available.) Ultimately, though, I don't think it's a Republican monopoly: business and government are too intertwined in this country, and the Democrats are as much on the take as the Republicans ever were, especially now that they are -- theoretically, at least -- in power. (I say "theoretically" because I have yet to see any evidence that the Republicans are not still running the government.)

Appeals to Washington are pointless. All we can do is pack city council meetings and let them have it -- perhaps offer to taser the mayor and chief of police six or seven times in a row, and see what happens then.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Stupidity, Ignorance, or a Really Bad Combination: The Healthcare "Debate"

Try blind partisanship that is not interested in the country but only in winning.

Let's start off with this little gem, courtesy of Investment Business Daily:

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

Perhaps the brain trust at IBD would be interested in this little tidbit:

Stephen Hawking was born to Dr. Frank Hawking, a research biologist, and Isobel Hawking, a political activist.[citation needed] He had two younger sisters, Philippa and Mary and an adopted brother, Edward.[7] Though Hawking's parents were living in North London, they moved to Oxford while Isobel was pregnant with Stephen, desiring a safer location for the birth of their first child (London was under attack at the time by the Luftwaffe).[8] According to one of Hawking's publications, a German Wehrmacht V-2 missile struck only a few streets away.[9]

After Stephen was born, the family moved back to London, where his father headed the division of parasitology at the National Institute for Medical Research.

Hawking, in case it escaped the fact checkers at IBD, is British, and has lived in the U.K. his entire life. (Fact checkers!? What am I saying? This is a right-wing propaganda organ -- facts need not apply.)

What also seems to have escaped the IBD is that we already have such a system in place in this country -- it's called "private insurance." If you get really sick, your insurance company will cancel your coverage. They would refuse to cover people like Stephen Hawking because he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's Disiease, which is a "pre-existing condition." Insurance companies don't like to cover those, because it actually costs them money, and they're in business to make money -- lots of it. Digby has some comments on "death panels," to borrow a phrase from that paragon of rational discourse, Sarah Palin.

At any rate, IBD doesn't get any points for accuracy, truth, or honesty on this one. (Neither does Palin, but we've seen examples of her truthfulness too often to need further documentation.)

And on that score, I got this e-mail from one of my favorite Internet idiots, Bill Wilson of Americans for Limited Government (they want the country to be run by major corporations, and we all know how accountable those are to those of us who are actually paying the bills). Wilson wouldn't know a fact if it bit him in the ass. Included in the fantasies on The Daily Grind was this breathless report on the "War of the Watchdogs":

Less than an hour later, First Lieutenant Adam Bitely of NetRightNation.com urged the freedom-loving watchdogs to counter the counter-watchdog-attack by:

"Email that address [flag@whitehouse.gov] reporting Barack Obama for not telling the truth on Health Care. Let's try and flood that inbox with as many reports about Obama and his minions attempting to deceive the public as possible."

Adam Bitely is another partisan hack who doesn't seem to have a life -- I get e-mails from him pretty much every day, too. He's as reality challenged as Wilson. If you've been following anything but Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, or Bill O'Reilly, you know that the ones who are trying to deceive the public are the ones that Wilson and Bitely support. They're not interested in fixing a broken system -- they just want to damage the government further, now that King George I is off in Texas clearing brush for a living.

Maha took IBD to task as well, but she has a couple more items, as well. This one I thought was nice -- I hadn't heard much about the right wing's favorite racist in a while:

Good Morning, Little Lulu. Malkin is outraged about the “freedoms” that will be taken away from Americans by “Obamacare.” What freedoms, you ask? Here they are listed; I paraphrase the first three somewhat to clear up some ambiguities.
1. The Freedom to be ripped off by less-than-comprehensive junk insurance policies.

2. The Freedom to see your premiums jacked up if you get sick.

3. The Freedom to pay for your health care out of your own pocket or savings, or do without.

Here Lulu pisses me off:

4. Freedom to keep your existing plan.

The entire reason the Obama Administration avoided marching to single payer or Medicare-for-All is to allow people to keep their employer-based insurance, and this is the thanks he gets. We shoulda just said “screw ‘em all” and go for single payer.

And the last is just a lie:
5. Freedom to choose your doctors

We lost that freedom already, after most of us got shuffled into HMOs. Catch up. Lulu.

It seems Little Lulu is no better at truth than Wilson and Company.

(Maha also has this updateon one of her other items, the alleged protester who was allegedly attacked by alleged SEIU thugs and allegedly hospitalized with alleged injuries. See for yourself.)

In case anyone was still wondering, this "debate" is NOT about healthcare, a'right? It's about damaging the Obama administration, and Obama's ability to actually do anything to repair what the Republicans have done over the past 15 years. It's about damaging the Democrats (who really don't need any more help -- Rahm Emanuel is taking care of it for them). The Republicans don't really care about affordable, comprehensive health care that actually pays some of your hospital bills, they don't care about children with life-threatening diseases and parents with no means to take care of them. They care about gaining power, and if they can't win -- or steal -- elections (apparently, they were being watched too closely in 2008), they'll resort to violence. Tristero has some observations on this:

I don't believe them. Beck and Palin urging that wingnuts not get violent calls to mind those ever-so-outwardly-pious 19th Century warning guides to vice in New York City which urged their readers to avoid like the very Devil Himself the southwest corner of Bowery and 3rd because there's a large whorehouse on the third floor that disgracefully offers free wine to the first fifty men who use the password "Johnnie sent me."

This is their pattern: create an environment grounded in fear and hate; make jokes about killing your targets (gays, immigrants, Nancy Pelosi -- it doesn't really matter: the right can always find someone to point at); when the inevitable happens, wring your hands and say "We don't condone violence" (which is itself a bald-faced lie). Rinse. Repeat.

I honestly don't believe in violence. I do, however, believe in self-defense. Take that as you like.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Government-Run Anything Is Bad

I got this from John Aravosis, who hasn't been able to find out who actually wrote it, but I think it's a good illustration of just how far out there libertarians are:

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the U.S. Department of Energy.

I then took a shower in the clean water provided by a municipal water utility.

After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC-regulated channels to see what the National Weather Service of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration determined the weather was going to be like, using satellites designed, built, and launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

I watched this while eating my breakfast of U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected food and taking the drugs which have been determined as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

At the appropriate time, as regulated by the U.S. Congress and kept accurate by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Naval Observatory, I get into my National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-approved automobile and set out to work on the roads build by the local, state, and federal Departments of Transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the Environmental Protection Agency, using legal tender issued by the Federal Reserve Bank.

On the way out the door I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the U.S. Postal Service and drop the kids off at the public school.

After spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health administration, enjoying another two meals which again do not kill me because of the USDA, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to my house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and Fire Marshal's inspection, and which has not been plundered of all its valuables thanks to the local police department.

And then I log on to the internet -- which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration -- and post on Freerepublic.com and Fox News forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can't do anything right.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Post-Gay (Amended and Updated)

I've been moving closer and closer to this position for a while, and it's nice to see someone as prominent as John Aravosis picking up the torch.

It's getting harder to tell who's gay and who's straight, and it's getting harder for kids themselves to define themselves as straight or gay. I think that's because everyone is on a spectrum of sexuality (my theory), a la Kinsey, from straight to gay.

Some years ago I read Frank Browning's A Queer Geography, and one thing that stuck out was his discomfort with younger men who simply didn't care, or rejected the definition of "gay" as irrelevant. I've contended for a long time that "gay" is in large part a cultural identity that grew out of the establishment of what we think of as gay culture in the 1970s and '80s, when "gay" replaced "homosexual" as the term of choice for men who love men. We redfined ourselves -- and that's the critical point -- we defined ourselves. Like many other men of my generation, I have an emotional investment in that definition, and I accept that it is in large part a cultural identity. I came of age in that culture, and it's hard to leave it behind me. However, I refuse to stop growing just because I've reached a certain age.

Andrew Sullivan has gone on periodically about what he calls "post-gay culture," but I think we're operating from very different bases. He seems to see it as meaning simply that gays will be assimilated into mainstream culture and our own culture and its institutions will have fallen by the wayside, while people themselves are still either gay or straight. This last is inference on my part, since I don't recall ever finding a specific statement to that effect, although it is a natural assumption based on the rest of his comments in this area. I don't know that he's examined this very closely, or in the psychological/sociological terms that I tend to use. (I should also note that it seems Sullivan is doing nothing so much as devoutly hoping for the demise of so-called "identity politics," since he is out of sympathy with the idea that discernible groups other than white, middle-aged males merit specific attention from the law, no matter their historical exclusion from its benefits, or that said groups can legitimately band together to exert more influence than would be the case if they were merely working as individuals -- in the way that, say, major corporations do. The shortfall in that attitude should be obvious.) I see it as meaning simply that we are moving past those definitions into a more realistic view of human sexuality, and maybe even a more realistic way of constructing gender. Do I need to point out that the "traditional" idea of masculinity short-changes men as much as it victimizes women? (Oddly enough, the less I've concerned myself with my "masculinity," and the more I've moved toward operating as the psychological androgyne that I am, the more people tend to see me as "masculine," although I certainly don't fit that stereotype at all. I suspect it's largely a function of the fact that as I stop concerning myself with imposed definitions, my comfort with myself, and consequently my self-assurance, both increase.)

Aravosis and his commenters refer to Kinsey's work, which I've always taken as a benchmark. "Sexual orientation" is as fluid as any other human characteristic, and no less culturally defined, and the value of Kinsey's work on male sexual behavior was simply that it was an empirical study based on what men actually did, not what they professed to do or the ways in which they defined themselves. My reading of the comments at Aravosis' post about being on a Navy ship at sea for four months is not that men will take what release they can get (although I can't dismiss that entirely), but more that men under those pressures will relax attitudes that are not that good a fit to begin with.

It's instructive to look at Japanese boys love manga and anime for a reflection of an attitude that is much more grounded in reality than ours. (It's also very interesting to note that this is work coming out of Japan, not, these days, a country that's particularly accepting of homosexuality.) The most frequent scenario is that "sexual orientation" is irrelevant. There are several works in which boys quite specifically are not gay, but happen to have fallen in love with another guy. The one that comes first to mind is Yaya Sakuragi's Tea for Two, in which Tokumaru says point-blank that if he weren't in love with Hasune, he wouldn't be going out with a guy at all. There's also an illuminating scene in Yuko Kuwabara's Blue Sky in which one of Yoshimi's rejected suitors says "I love who I love, you know -- I can't help it. And just denying that feeling is painful. Nothing constructive can come from that. . . ." It's an attitude repeated over and over throughout this genre: love and sex are tied together and hinge not on the "attraction of opposites," but come from the chemistry between two individuals, regardless of sex. And of course, the key component here is the understanding that very few people are really 100% one or the other. (Take it as a given that I'm ready to junk "bisexual" as a definition as well. It's just another box to try to fit people into, and the numbers of open bisexuals are undoubtedly far outweighed by the numbers of functional bisexuals, which probably include most of humanity. That's another term that, it seems to me, has far outlived its usefulness, if, indeed, it ever had any to begin with.)

Think about friendships between men and how profound they can be. Take away the social/cultural taboos surrounding homosexual behavior, and how many of them do you think would turn into love affairs? (I've come damned close to that myself, too many times to chalk it up to happenstance.) I think it's even more likely when we consider the role of sex as a bonding mechanism -- and it does have that function, among others. I'm not saying that the love would be eternal, or even that the sexual relationship would be more than transitory -- that, again, is something that's going to vary depending on the two individuals involved. (And, contrary to the received wisdom, my own take is that it's men who are hormonally driven; it's just that we've been taught from infancy to suppress our emotions. You really don't want to be around me during the three days of the full moon: talk about hair-trigger!)

At any rate, I for one am very happy to see younger people dispensing with useless definitions -- although for someone like me, a veritable Kinsey 6, I'm not sure if that makes it easier or not. At least when gay bars were inhabited by gay men, you had a good idea where to look for a date.

It's an interesting topic, and of course, I'd be interested to hear any thoughts you might have. And please note that the comments above were written from the viewpoint of a man who loves men (hell, I adore them!), since that's what I know. There are women in the blogosphere who can illuminate their point of view much better than I can, although if any women happen to read this and feel like opening up the conversation, feel free.


I wonder how many people who claim to be "libertarians" really understand what's involved. It seems to me to be an absolutist doctrine that is trying to function in a world in which there are no absolutes. It's not a very realistic philosophy, and in its most blatant forms is what I consider completely immoral -- in effect, it reinforces the idea that those with power should use that power however they want to -- not for the benefit of the society as a whole, but for their own selfish interests. (There: my version of Randism in a nutshell.) It's really a philosophy that celebrates selfishness, which for a social animal is suicide.

I ran across this wonderful post by Tristero at Hullaballoo, and I think he's right on target:

Tyler Cowen, after cynically misrepresenting (albeit cleverly) progressivism poses a challenge:
It would be interesting to see a progressive try to sum up an intelligent version of libertarianism.

As a general rule, I think it is wise to ignore conservatives when they double dare you. This one is easy, however.

The dare is one more example of rightwing bullshit. There is no such thing as an intelligent version of libertarianism. It simply doesn't exist, any more than compassionate conservatism or the tooth fairy. More precisely, there is nothing intelligent that libertarianism brings to the table that isn't already part and parcel of liberalism.

And he goes on, basically demolishing the entire edifice of libertarianism. Do read it -- it's a joy for those who understand that the universe is not, indeed, a place of blacks and whites, nor a place that is ruled by absolutes, nor a place where there is anything that is not subject to change. And as a viable political philosophy, let's talk some basic biology: we are, as I noted above, social animals -- it's part of our evolutionary heritage (and yes, boys and girls, behaviors can be adaptive, and if you tend to lean toward the sociobiology camp, they are based in genetics). To put it in more philosophical terms:

Nevertheless, to the extent that libertarians hold up the individual as primary and fail to recognize that individuals simply cannot physically exist without a social/cultural/environmental context, libertarianism is worthless. To the extent that libertarianism does recognize the complex dialectic between the individual and her/his social and physical environment, libertarianism is indistinguishable from liberalism.

It's about the balancing act that is daily life in a species that relies on social behavior to survive, while allowing individuals their own identity. Libertarians, from what I've seen, don't have a clue.

(Footnote: It strikes me, on rereading this, that libertarianism is no more than a primitive version of social Darwinism, tailored to appeal to the privileged.)

Reviews in Brief: Jazz by Tamotsu Takamure and Sakae Maeda

Jazz is another work I can't believe I haven't commented on here. I did do a major, four-part review with commentary at Epinions, which you can look over for more detail, although I warn you, it's riddled with spoilers.

The story in its bare basics follows the courtship of Koichi Narusawa, an internist specializing in respiratory medicine, and Naoki Segawa, one of his patients. Narusawa is in his late twenties, always pleasant and well-liked because he never offends anyone -- he simply doesn't care enough about anyone or anything. He's empty inside, pretty much spineless, and more than a little self-destructive. Naoki is ten years younger, a high-school senior when they meet, spoiled, immature, and selfish. He falls in love with "Doc," as he calls him, and begins their relationship by inviting him to dinner to celebrate his high-school graduation. He then proceeds to drug and rape him. Doc has a poor enough opinion of himself that he not only puts up with it, but comes back for more.

I first read Jazz when I was just starting my explorations of yaoi, and wasn't terribly impressed. On rereading more recently, I'm considerably more impressed, because I think that, as unpleasant as much of the story is -- and these are not, when it comes down to it, nice people -- Saeda's story, and Takemure's treatment of it, offer a great deal more than is usual in the typical school-boy romance, or even most of the BL manga focusing on older men.

As is so often true in this genre, this is a character-driven piece, and the characters are enough to drive the whole series. (It could have been tighter in places, but that's not an overwhelming fault.) There is, ultimately, something hopeful about it, crystallized in two scenes near the end of the story. In one, Doc and Naoki, after separating, run into each other in the grocery store and wind up playing with fireworks in the park. As expected, they wind up making love, but this time it really is "making love" -- Doc is willing, even eager, and Naoki is gentle as well as passionate. And the critical scene, when Doc finally realizes what he wants -- really, what he needs -- and makes his choice, is not only affecting but beautifully drawn: there is a half-page frame of the two trying to kiss through a plate-glass window that boils their relationship thus far down to its essence. The interest -- and the hope -- was in watching these two terribly damaged men struggling to make something beautiful between them.

A further note on the drawing: Takemure's graphic work seemed, at first reading, fairly typical, although distinctive in character design and style, but it's grown on me. Doc and Naoki really are two supremely beautiful men, even in a genre that specializes in that, and the narrative flow makes good use of ambiguity in several places to build depth into the story.

So yes, I recommend it. It's from Juné.