"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, September 30, 2009

Stupid, or Disengenuous? (Updated)

Meg Whitman, who wants to be the GOP candidate for governor of California, came up with this priceless bit of -- well, something:

So as you know I am pro-civil union and not for gay marriage. And just for me, that term marriage, for me needs to be between a man and a woman...I do not feel it is a slap in the face [to millions of gay and lesbian Americans]. I had a terrific record at eBay, an excellent work environment for people of all different backgrounds and all walks of life. And as I said I am pro-civil union.

I bet she has gay friends, too.

Think about that in the context of this story, via Box Turtle Bulletin:

…The court ruled that the hospital has neither an obligation to allow their patients’ visitors nor any obligation whatsoever to provide their patients’ families, healthcare surrogates, or visitors with access to patients in their trauma unit. The court has given the Langbehn-Pond family until October 16 to review the ruling and consider all legal options.

The hospital's statement:

Jackson Memorial Hospital also issued a statement:
We have always believed and known that the staff at Jackson treats everyone equally, and that their main concern is the well-being of the patients in their care. …Jackson will continue to work with the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to ensure that everyone knows they are welcome at all of our facilities, where they will receive the highest quality of medical care.

The phrase “everone knows they are welcome” stikes me as perhaps the most cynical statement ever made by any organization or individual.

Update: Pam Spaulding has more detail on this story.

(Personal note: I was born in that hospital. I almost regret it.)

Jim Burroway has the best take on Whitman and her ilk:

Whatever Whitman may wish to believe, I think we can all agree that the recipient of a slap is in the best position to judge whether he or she was slapped or not.

Do you suppose it's ever going to penetrate the hard-shelled mind of any politician of any stripe that no one gives a shit what their personal beliefs are until they try to write them into the law of the land? Even Obama has that one figured out (or did until Rahm Emanuel started running the government).

Update II: Add rapper Warren G to the list of those who just don't get it:

I ain’t against gay people. I’m just against it being promoted to kids. . .
I know people that’s gay. My wife’s got friends that are gay. I got family that’s gay. Cousins and shit. He cool as fuck. He cool as a motherfucker. He’s my homie. I just mean that on some of these TV shows, they got dudes kissing. And kids are watching that shit. We can’t have kids growing up with that. . . .but let’s keep it behind the scenes. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with it if that’s what two dudes wanna do. Cool. But that’s not bring that out into the world, where the kids can see that. We don’t want all the kids doing that. ‘Cause that ain’t how we was originally put here to do. Like I said, I ain’t got no problem with the gays.

Poster Alvin McEwen calls it "hypocrisy," but I don't think that's really accurate. I'm actually figuring cognitive dissonance somewhere on the scale between idiot and moron. McEwen spends the bulk of his post contrasting Warren G.'s remarks with the behavior of straights, especially the behavior of the African American community as reflected in the rapper's music, and he is in a much better position to do that than I am. I'm taking it back a step. Explain to me in rational terms, without reference to your own religious beliefs, what's wrong with two men kissing. Especially if you don't have a problem with Teh Gays. And why shouldn't kids know that it's acceptable behavior?

Jackass -- would you listen to yourself?

Public Option

Andrew Sullivan opines that:

It seems to me that a public option which allows the government to use its huge buying power to achieve cost cuts that no private company could manage would be a Trojan horse. But a government option forbidden to use such leverage, but allowed to have an edge from administrative and overhead savings, is a useful compromise. It's one more incentive for cost control.

This strikes me as completely nonsensical. After all, we have the brilliant Medicare prescription drug program engineered by the Bush administration along the lines that Sullivan approves -- that is, the government does not have the ability to negotiate prices -- which has done nothing but shovel money into the pockets of drug manufacturers. Neither I nor anyone else has seen any cost control under that kind of plan.

Given, for example, that we spend 300-400% more for prescription drugs than anyone else in the world, I think Sullivan’s “Trojan horse” may be just what we need. Those kinds of inflated prices are not singular, by the way - we pay more than anyone else for health care, and get less than most. Yes, we have “the best health care in the world,” if you’re rich and/or you participate in one of the socialized-medicine programs we have here - for example, the plan that congressmen and senators enjoy. For the rest of us, it’s not so great.

One of Sullivan’s readers nailed him on his through-the-looking-glass thinking:

You call the public option a "Trojan horse." I take it that you do not mean that allowing a public plan in which the government could generate savings by using its collective buying power will not, in fact, result in lots of Greeks with swords jumping out and killing us in our sleep. I am at a loss, however, as to what exactly you imagine the danger to be -- your sentence follows with no explanation. This is one of those things that I just do not understand at all when public option opponents gesture in this direction: what is the perceived worst case scenario here and why do you find it objectionable?

Let's say that such a government public plan would prove so effective at negotiating low rates that it would price private plans out of the majority of the health care insurance market. Is this a problem in some way? Anyone who had enough money could assuredly buy whatever high-end services or plans they would wish--you can't seriously believe that such a government plan would result in the absolute legal preclusion of private payment for medical insurance or services, can you? Or is this just a generalized fear that people will overwhelmingly prefer the public option, and the portion of our collective income going to the government in taxes (rather than private insurance policies) will increase? Really wondering what your fear is.

Let me note that Sullivan did not have an answer.

This idea that there is something inherently evil about "socialized medicine" is so much garbage, frankly. What it stands for is the right/libertarian idea that government is bad and that government-run anything is wasteful and inefficient -- which, amazingly enough, it turns out to be under Republican administrations. What strikes me as the inherent evil in the position Sullivan is taking is the idea that the wellbeing of citizens should be contingent on their ability to pay. (Which is probably fine for the Sullivan/McArdle wing of the privileged libertarian establishment, but for the rest of us, isn't so great.)

As for the state of care as it is, John Cole has an observation that strikes me as apt:

The simple refusal to admit that we already ration care in the United States is maddening. We ration all the time- poor people don’t get it, or if they do, it is in the most costly and inefficient way possible.

This seems to be what the right wing wants to preserve.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Entropy Is Winning

I may take a day or two off. My brain hurts, and I have more to write.

I think I need a day at the zoo.

In the meantime, think carefully about this.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Yeah, I'm Still Here

but blogging this morning will be delayed, along with this weeks RiB -- I'm tied up with another project and the morning got away from me (not to mention having to fight with my certified antique computer).

Later. . . .

Friday, September 25, 2009

Joke of the Week

What I find most humorous about Michael Ledeen's remarks, as quoted by Conor Friedersdorf, is his repeated assertion that he thinks.

I see little evidence of it.

(Actually, the whole quote is just short of hysterical. I mean, "elitist hatred of freedom"? Excuse me? Who writes your stuff, Sarah Palin?)

(I'm not going to link to the Corner -- Friedersdorf quotes the entire post.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

We're Not Only Everywhere, We're Inevitable

Wonderful story at NYT on coming out in middle school, which when I was that age was unthinkable.

Though most adolescents who come out do so in high school, sex researchers and counselors say that middle-school students are increasingly coming out to friends or family or to an adult in school. Just how they’re faring in a world that wasn’t expecting them — and that isn’t so sure a 12-year-old can know if he’s gay — is a complicated question that defies simple geographical explanations. Though gay kids in the South and in rural areas tend to have a harder time than those on the coasts, I met gay youth who were doing well in socially conservative areas like Tulsa and others in progressive cities who were afraid to come out.

I often refer to myself half-jokingly as a "Kinsey 6" -- I've always liked boys, and I've always known that I like boys, but when I was, say, twelve or thirteen, there was no such thing as "gay." I think kids are coming out earlier in large part because now there is an identity that fits.

After all, I’d known on some level that I was gay when I was their age. If I were growing up today, it’s possible that I would feel emboldened enough to confide in my parents, or at least a close friend, that I was gay. I’d also spent the morning of my visit reading a handful of studies about when gay and lesbian youth first report an awareness of same-sex attraction. Though most didn’t self-identify as gay or lesbian until they were 14, 15 or 16, the mean age at which they first became aware of that attraction was 10. Boys tended to be aware about a year earlier than girls.

It's a very good article, a nice balance between anecdotes and issues. It's even funny in places. Read it.

Follow-Up on "Criminalizing Normalcy"

An update on this post about sex offender registries and teenagers.

One of Sullivan's readers makes a good point in relation to Classically Liberal's original post:

I do think, however, that "cls" could've served his/her readers... his/her own credibility... and the blogosphere in general, a lot better, had (s)he taken a day or two to conduct more research on sexual abuse, pedophilia, and so forth.

Whenever you have a sexual situation involving young people, it's important to consider the age differences between the parties involved. If the age difference is less than three years, you're most likely dealing with innocent exploration; if the age difference is three years or more, there's a good chance that some sort of coercion is involved.

"Coercion" in this context is a tricky word -- the implication in most people's minds is the use of force, and that's not necessarily the case. I suspect in a lot of the "coercion" cases, it's much more a matter of the younger child following the older child's lead. Is that "child sexual abuse"? That's iffy. It's much clearer in the case of an adult and a child -- the adult is able to make reasoned decisions and has the responsibility of looking out for the welfare of the child. It's much closer to black and white, as much as anything ever is. (Just to make it crystal clear, I am not excusing those instances in which coercion does mean forcing someone -- that's something that's unacceptable under any cirumstances, at any age.)

In the instance related by Sullivan's reader, he was the victim of abuse by an older child -- he was 8, the older boy 14. There's no question in my mind that the older boy was way over the line.

But the issue of placing a child on a sex offender registry for the rest of his/her life is a separate one. The Economist took a hard look at some of the consequences of our sex offender laws. And "sex offender" becomes a very loose term indeed:

Every American state keeps a register of sex offenders. California has had one since 1947, but most states started theirs in the 1990s. Many people assume that anyone listed on a sex-offender registry must be a rapist or a child molester. But most states spread the net much more widely. A report by Sarah Tofte of Human Rights Watch, a pressure group, found that at least five states required men to register if they were caught visiting prostitutes. At least 13 required it for urinating in public (in two of which, only if a child was present). No fewer than 29 states required registration for teenagers who had consensual sex with another teenager. And 32 states registered flashers and streakers.

Some of these laws are, as you can see, ludicrous. And getting off those registries is almost impossible. Read the piece in The Economist -- it's pretty thoroughly depressing, and brings up the point I mentioned above: most of the people on these registries pose no threat to children or anyone else. To some extent, Sullivan's reader is correct: in some cases, registration is reasonable. But in 65% of them it's not.

So my outrage and disgust remain unchanged: is it justice to place an eighteen-year-old on a sex offender registry for life because he had consensual sex with his sixteen-yer-old boyfriend? Give me a break.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


This, from Dday at Hullaballoo:

Americans' views of political issues and their partisan attachments are being increasingly shaped by gut-level worldviews. On one side of many issues are those who see the world in terms of hierarchy, think about problems in black and white terms, and struggle to tolerate difference. On the other are those who favor independence over hierarchy, shades of gray over black-white distinctions, and diversity over sameness.

There's a lot more to this one, and I hope to come back to it, but probably not until tomorrow.

But read the whole thing.

The Huldre

There's a folk tale of a sort, related by Jane Lindskold in her book Changer, if I recall correctly, about God visiting Adam and Eve (and it must have been under the Fall) and asking to see the children. Eve insisted that the two she produced for inspection were the only ones, because the others had not been bathed and made presentable. They were called the huldre, the invisible ones.

This post from Andrew Sullivan relates what is an unfortunate truth of the American government and the Obama administration:

Why has America become such a callous outlier on these matters? Why is the government forcing more and more able, qualified, productive and talented citizens into a diaspora to protect their families? And why, even after a big victory for Obama and a Democratic Congress, is there not the slightest chance of any progress for the foreseeable future?

Because it's about gays. And we are still, in the eyes of the federal government, sub-human.

If it were only gay issues, I'd be willing to cut Obama some slack, but gay issues are only a symptom of something much deeper: the "leader" does't know how to lead. (Although he seems very practiced at following.) I'm no longer willing to put up with fantasies of a "grand strategy," or the idea that anything, no matter how ineffective and how completely bastardized by the Repubicans, is better than nothing. And if you don't think that between them Senate Republicans and Max Baucus and the Blue Dogs can some up with something worse on health-care than we've got now, you're living in a fantasy land. Fortunately, they don't have the last word, although that will be more because of the progressive caucus than the White House. Obama will, from all indications, criticize the left and wait passively for some legislation, any legislation, to cross his desk.

Note that what is happening in regard to repeal of DOMA, repeal of DADT, passage of an inclusive ENDA, is happening in the House of Representatives, not the White House. On that score, even when the executive has a clear go-ahead, as in the HIV travel ban, it's dragging its heels.

I won't go so far as to say I can't vote for a Democrat in 2010 -- Jan Schakowsky, my Congresswoman, is right on target on just about everything. My senators, not so much, but Burris won't be an issue, and Durbin has other virtues (as well as being a strong supporter of civil rights). But Obama? If he has a challenger in the Democratic primaries in 2012, I'll vote for the challenger. If not, or if he winds up as the candidate (pretty much a foregone conclusion), I'll sit it out. I'm not really all that enthusiastic about being invisible to those I've supported.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Compare and Contrast

This, from David Horowitz, via Sullivan:

[Al] Franken is now a U.S. Senator in part because conservatives of whom you are typical want to conduct politics by the Marquis of Queensberry rules when the other side is in it as war in which destruction of the enemy is the game. Franken calls us evil. You call him mistaken (and unfunny). And you want other conservatives to do the same. The more conservatives who follow your advice the more we will lose. Personally, I am thrilled with what is happening now in the conservative movement – our aggressive media like Fox and talk radio, the emergence of enraged conservative masses – the tea baggers – as leftist half-wits like to dismiss them. It is this energized, unapologetic, in-your-face (but also civilized and intelligent) conservative base on whom the future not only of the movement but the country depends.

Let me see, now -- murdering doctors, taking assault weapons to presidential appearances, demanding that the government keep its hands off Medicare -- these are all the responses of a civilized and intelligent group of citizens. OK.

With this, from Bill Clinton, via Digby:

Well, people like that who want to share our freedoms must know that their bitter words can have consequences and that freedom has endured in this country for more than two centuries because it was coupled with an enormous sense of responsibility on the part of the American people.

If we are to have freedom to speak, freedom to assemble, and, yes, the freedom to bear arms, we must have responsibility as well. And to those of us who do not agree with the purveyors of hatred and division, with the promoters of paranoia, I remind you that we have freedom of speech, too, and we have responsibilities, too. And some of us have not discharged our responsibilities. It is time we all stood up and spoke against that kind of reckless speech and behavior.

Digby makes the connection:

This isn't about civility. In fact, too many people are far too civil about this. We have a faction in American politics that is once again driving its followers into such hysteria that there is every likelihood that we will see this again:

That didn't come out of nowhere.

In that spirit, I'm calling bullshit on Horowitz.

How Soon They Forget

From Charles Mudede at The Slog, an illuminating look at our president's take on the free press:

"I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding," he said.

Mudede says, "Recall Plato, recall what he hated most: doxa, opinion."

See Obama, faithfully and thoughtfully expressing the opinions of the corporate press.

May I hold up the likes of Talking Points Memo, Orcinus, Hullaballoo, Dispatches from the Culture Wars? Against the likes of Thomas Friedman, David Brooks, William Kristol, Maureen Dowd, NYT, WaPo?


Monday, September 21, 2009

Criminalizing Normalcy

It's something we've done as a reflex in this country for way too long. Here's an extraordinary post on just what our idea of "sex offender" includes.

The whole idea of sex offender registries has bothered me for a long time, particularly considering the kinds of things that people get registered for -- as in these cases, experimenting with sex between age-mates. Until Lawrence vs. Texas, having sex with his boyfriend meant a man would have to register as a sex offender in any number of states.

I would find it hard to believe that this actually happens, but given the tenor of this country, and the sorts of people who drive these efforts -- the small-minded and mean-spirited on both the right and the left who can't stand the idea that other people are doing things without their permission -- it's not so surprising. The impulse might be benign, at least in its broadest outlines: given the high rate of recidivism among, for example, child molesters, it makes sense to keep tabs on them. But too often, the "criminals" are the real victims:

These kids are criminals, not necessarily because they violated the life, liberty or property of another person. They are criminals because the politicians defined them as criminals. These damned “family values” conservatives, and compassionate feminist Leftists, who banded together to “save the children,” turned America’s kids into sex offenders by fiat. And they feel good about it. They are satisfied by it and only wish more had been rounded up earlier. The Left wants everyone in therapy and under the perpetual care of the state, and the Right wants everyone in prison, or in fear of the law, and under the thumb of the police. And that is what is happening.

The implementation is too often hamhanded and stupid and partakes too much of a neo-Puritan desire for punishment for punishment's sake. It's like the death penalty -- if you can't do it right, best just not to do it.

(Frankly, if I had the money, I'd take these kids in hand and start filing suits against the states for violation of Constitutional prohibitions of cruel and unusual punishment. I get really furious about stuff like this.)

The people who push for this are beyond disgusting.

Via Von at Obsidian Wings, who has some comments. He raises the race issue, which I see as a sidebar. At this point, I'm not so much worried about who is being victimized most as I am furious that kids are being victimized at all.

Must-Read on Maine

This is wonderful -- a memorandum in response to the Yes on 1 campaign's distortions and fabrications concerning the process and effects of Maine's marriage equality legislation. What's really riveting is the signers -- both the Speaker of the House, the Senate President, former attorneys general, and law school faculty. (It's a PDF, so be warned.)

The conclusion:

It is highly unusual for us to weigh in together in any public campaign. However, we are all focused on Maine law from our different perspectives as legislative leaders, former Attorneys General, and as Dean and faculty at the law school. We believe it is paramount that voters make decisions based on fact and belief, but not on conjecture and distortion. We can agree to disagree on this matter, but we would suggest the conversation return to how Maine wants to treat its loving committed gay and lesbian partners who are also coworkers, neighbors and family members. This is a critical decision for Maine voters, and we seek to keep the discussion on what is really happening in Maine.

They've basically called Archbishop Malone, Mark Mutty, and the whole anti-gay effort in Maine a bunch of liars. Hope this one gets spread out all over the place.

Useful Idiots

I've run across two in my surfing this morning. The first is Michael Schwartz, chief of staff for Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Dust Bowl). The man's a raving moron. Via Jim Burroway, this bit from Schwartz addressing the "Values Voters" Summit:

And one of the things that he said to me, that I think is an astonishingly insightful remark. He said, “all pornography is homosexual pornography because all pornography turns your sexual drive inwards. Now think about that. And if you, if you tell an 11-year-old boy about that, do you think he’s going to want to go out and get a copy of Playboy? I’m pretty sure he’ll lose interest. That’s the last thing he wants.” You know, that’s a, that’s a good comment. It’s a good point and it’s a good thing to teach young people.

Digby has this observation:

According to Tom Coburn's chief of staff, if you are turned on by naked pictures of the opposite sex it means you're gay. Of course, if you're turned on by pictures of the same sex it also means you're gay. I guess that means that if you are turned on, you are gay. And we know that's bad. So basically they say you shouldn't get turned on. . . .

So, if you don't want your son to be gay, tell him that reading Playboy is something only gay boys do. And since boys don't want to be gay, they won't read it. And then they will be straight. Or something.

It's sort of entertaining to see the weird places these people's thought processes take them. And then you realize that there are people who actually believe this, it's not an SNL routine, it's not from The Onion, they really, really think crap like this is true. Scary. (Do you suppose this guy could have been home-schooled? Or maybe it really is time to rethink public education -- it's obviously not working.)

Also from Digby, a note about the late Irving Kristol, whom I discussed yesterday, and who is regarded on the right as a towering intellectual and one of the founders of contemporary conservatism, which should give you a clue as to where the problems are in that area. I'll let Kristol speak for himself:

For me, then, "neo-conservatism" was an experience of moral, intellectual, and spiritual liberation. I no longer had to pretend to believe--what in my heart I could no longer believe--that liberals were wrong because they subscribe to this or that erroneous opinion on this or that topic. No--liberals were wrong, liberals are wrong, because they are liberals. What is wrong with liberalism is liberalism--a metaphysics and a mythology that is woefully blind to human and political reality. Becoming a neo-conservative, then, was the high point of my cold war.

It is a cold war that, for the last twenty-five years, has engaged my attention and energy, and continues to do so. There is no "after the Cold War" for me. So far from having ended, my cold war has increased in intensity, as sector after sector of American life has been ruthlessly corrupted by the liberal ethos. It is an ethos that aims simultaneously at political and social collectivism on the one hand, and moral anarchy on the other. It cannot win, but it can make us all losers. We have, I do believe, reached a critical turning point in the history of the American democracy. Now that the other "Cold War" is over, the real cold war has begun. We are far less prepared for this cold war, far more vulnerable to our enemy, than was the case with our victorious war against a global communist threat. We are, I sometimes feel, starting from ground zero, and it is a conflict I shall be passing on to my children and grandchildren. But it is a far more interesting cold war--intellectually interesting, spiritually interesting--than the war we have so recently won, and I rather envy those young enough for the opportunities they will have to participate in it.

One hardly knows where to start with this, except to point out that it's a prime example of everything that is wrong with neoconservatism. (Regarding his comments on liberalism, I doubt that Kristol had any clue about human reality. His writings give no hint of it.)

This, I think, is the most telling comment on the "intellectual" thrust of contemporary conservatism I've seen yet:

"Among the core social scientists around The Public Interest there were no economists.... This explains my own rather cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit and other monetary or fiscal problems. The task, as I saw it, was to create a new majority, which evidently would mean a conservative majority, which came to mean, in turn, a Republican majority - so political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government..."

In other words, winning is more important than having any idea what to do after you've won. (I suppose the help will take care of that part.) Sort of a nice summary of the Bush II regime, isn't it?

Fatuous moron.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reviews in Brief: You Higashino's Sense and Sexuality

Sense and Sexuality is an interesting BL manga, although it has its failings. Set in the Taisho Era (1912-1926), a time of rapidly growing economic prosperity for Japan, it follows the adventures of two young aristocrats, both sons of marquises. Matsusuga Hanamura, the older by a year, and his childhood friend and present-day fellow in their hedonistic pursuits, Kuniomi Takakura, one day decide to make a bet: both are taken with the son of another nobleman, and they decide that whoever has him first will win. They work their way though the young artistocrat, a very popular singer, and finally, a male prostitute. The "victory" passes from one to the other, until Kuniomi can't stand it any more and confesses his love to Matsusuga. The rest, as they say, is history. (Except, of course, for figuring out who's to be the seme and who the uke.)

The story is a typical episodic picaresque adventure, although I can't say the characterizations are as strong or clear as I've gotten used to in BL manga. It may just be that our two heroes are shallow people, but I didn't put a lot of faith in Kuniomi's declaration of love.

Graphically, I also found it rather odd. The drawing is fluent enough, and the rendering is detailed without being congested. Faces are strangely variable -- a perfectly gorgeous man, when see full face, turns heavy-featured when seen from another angle. Profiles are almost geometric and have a rudimentary quality that detracts from the appeal, at least for me. They have the sensuality of, say, Satoru Ishihara's work without the finesse. Otherwise, character designs and depictions are quite engaging. Visual flow is pretty much shoujo-standard, and sex scenes are somewhat more revealing than in usual.

This one was problematic for me. I don't think the story is particularly substantial, although the drawing, if you can handle the profile and one-quarter views, is apt enough. The cover was graced with quotes from Jane Austen, which struck me as somewhat humorous: Austen's books, after all, were about England's middle classes and their relentless pursuit of money and status, while Higashino's tale centers on Japan's upper classes a hundred years later and their relentless pursuit of pleasure. Make of that what you will.

It's from Kitty Media.

Review in Brief

There will be one, I promise -- I actually have one started, but I'm having trouble finishing it. I realize I missed last week -- that's why. I got halfway through and my brain shut down.

It happens.

Truth and Curiosity

Andrew Sullivan's "Quote for the Day" from yesterday gave me a chuckle:

"There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work," - Irving Kristol.

First off, it's entirely to be expected that Irving Kristol would cast the whole thing in terms of age and education. What's more intriguing is the idea that "one set of truths" available to everyone has something to do with modern democracy.

Sullivan links to a Wikipedia entry on "The Noble Lie," itself a concept that has little to do with democracy at all -- the "noble lie" in its essence is

. . . a myth or untruth, often, but not invariably, of a religious nature, knowingly told by an elite to maintain social harmony, particularly the social position of that elite. The noble lie is a concept originated by Plato as described in The Republic. However, the concept has far greater scope and has been used by many commentators to talk about much more modern issues in politics (see Modern views, below). A noble lie, although it may benefit all parties, is different from a white lie since a white lie does not cause discord if uncovered whereas noble lies are usually of a nature such that they would do so.

I do, by the way, question the linking of "myth" with "untruth" here, but I'll let that go for the time being. What's more important is that we can see right off the bat that Kristol is just running his mouth -- or pen, I suppose. What are we to take as the "noble lie" in the case of modern democracies -- say, ours? That all are equal before the law? That's the main tenet of our republic, and although it's demonstrably untrue, at least in some circumstances, we do have recourse. Our federal courts were designed to maintain the truth of that tenet, although given the current make-up of the federal bench, particularly the Supreme Court, it's problematic -- the Roberts Court quite blatantly favors the rich and powerful over everyone else. That is, however, by the nature of things, a temporary aberration.

What strikes me about Kristol's statement is that he completely ignores the main stronghold of "universal truth" in contemporary America -- the evangelical/fundamentalist Christianist right. I'm including the neocons in that group because, although not all Christianists, they suffer from the same blinkered world view. (That's not really a surprise, though.) In that case, the "one set of truths" is not only available to everyone, but must be held by everyone.

(And I suppose it's only to be expected that Sullivan offers this one with no comment.)

That does, however, bring to mind a later post from Sullivan. He quotes from this OpEd by Stanely Fish in NYT. Sullivan's quote is instructive -- and riddled with unfounded assumptions, Here's the full paragraph:

They are obsessive and obsessed and exhibit, says John Henry Newman, something akin to a mental disorder. “In such persons reason acts almost as feebly and as impotently as in the madman: once fairly started on a subject, they have no power of self-control” (“The Idea of a University”). They have no power of self-control because they have no allegiance — to a deity, to human flourishing, to community — that might serve as a check on their insatiable curiosity. (Curiosity is inherently insatiable; its satisfactions are only momentary; there is always another horizon.) In short, curiosity — sometimes called research, sometimes called unfettered inquiry, sometimes called progress, sometimes called academic freedom — is their God. The question, posed by thinkers from Aquinas to Augustine to Newman to Griffiths, is whether this is the God — the God, ultimately, of self — we want to worship. Given the evidence, including Chairman Leach’s address, the answer would seem to be yes.

Notice how Catholic apologists are always rushing to call something intrinsically human and perfectly normal a "mental disorder." Newman's argument is grossly overstated, and for the most part, simply untrue. Take me, since I'm about as human as it gets: I'm curious about almost everything. The universe is a fascinating place, and there's a lot about it that I don't understand -- yet. It's that "yet" that's the key factor. And I think if you watch a group of monkeys or apes, or even individuals, for any length of time, you'll realize that, as exhibited in our nearest relatives, curiosity is a basic simian chracteristic. (Let's take it one setp farther -- I think mammals as a group can probably be shown to exhibit a high degree of curiosity relative to, say, fish. And it occurs to me that even fish exhibit a certain degree of inquisitiveness.)

As for having no self-control -- can I call bullshit on that one? Curiosity and self-control have nothing to do with each other, and I can -- and do -- exhibit at least as much self-control as any other adult. Ditto this "allegiance" that Fish introduces into the argument -- again, apples and oranges. I am, when it comes right down to it, a very devout person. Not particularly observant, but devout in my beliefs. The fact that my religion encourages curiosity may have something to do with this, come to think of it. (You can generally figure that a Witch is going to be surrounded by books -- we are very strong proponents of learning, as a group.)

Fish makes use of an extensive body of quotes from various churchmen and Christian propagandists that seem uniformly to set up straw men -- curiosity will inevitably lead to. . . . (Sort of reminds me of Maggie Gallagher and her "arguments" against same-sex marriage.) It's all crap, of course, but given that the authorities quoted were one and all proponents of a particularly pernicious form of the Noble Lie, I suppose it's only to be expected.

The point is, if you're dealing with adults who have some sort of moral foundation -- and at this point, you're going to have to work pretty hard to convince me that's part of the arsenal of the brand of Christian thought being trotted out here -- you're not going to get the results posited by Paul Griffiths:

Griffiths builds on the religious tradition in which curiosity is condemned because it distracts men from the study and worship of God, shackling them, says Augustine, “to an inferior love.” But curiosity can also distract men from secular obligations by so occupying their minds that there is no room left for other considerations. These men (and women) fail to register the pain of animals subjected to experiments in the name of knowledge, pay no heed to the social consequences of their investigations, and take no heed of the warnings issued in Marlowe’s “Dr. Faustus,” Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” H.G. Wells’ “The Island of Dr. Moreau” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (not to mention the myth of Pandora and the Incredible Hulk).

Of course, going back to my own religious traditions, things like the pain felt by animals in experiments are going to be a primary concern. We don't have the disdain for other forms of life that is an intrinsic part of Christian thought -- in our system of belief, everything shares a bit of divinity, and harming another -- whether it be human, animal, or plant -- is against the one rule we all subscribe to. (We do make allowances for feeding ourselves, and even when gathering plants for ritual purposes, the practice is never to take enough from any single plant to cause permanent damage, and to leave an offering in return for what you have taken. It's about balance.) (I hadn't meant to turn this into an anti-Christian diatribe, but the more I go into this and the more I think about what Fish is relating here, the more I realize that all the negatives he's holding out as the "necessary" result of curiosity are, in fact, only necessary if you're operating from a Christian world view, which, indeed, has infected the West to such an extent that it's almost ineradicable. Nobody he quotes is asking the next question because it was quite literally inconceivable to them: What if you don't subscribe to these basic beliefs? What if you believe that things like self-control and responsible behavior are not necessarily the result of fear of punishment by an Almighty God, but are a sign of the respect you hold for the world you share?)

This whole essay strikes me as nothing more than another example of someone insisting that there is one truth, and some father figure is going to tell us about it when he's damned good and ready, and until then, we should just do as we're told. (Sort of like the "conservative" gay rights contingent.) And in the meantime, any display of those characteristics that make us really human is A. Bad. Thing.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Thought Police

They're everywhere. William Saletan has some comments:

But check out Farley's second argument: Kids shouldn't "have to be watching someone smoke." We're no longer talking about breathing even a particle of smoke. We're talking about banning bad habits to prevent cultural contamination. . . .

Why is a huge outdoor smoking ban justified even in the absence of substantiating medical evidence? Because, as one anti-smoking leader tells the Times, "There is no redeeming value in smoking at beaches or parks." That's the bottom line: Any basis for a ban, no matter how slight, is now sufficient, because the value of smoking is zero.

I'm trying to figure out the redeeming value in this kind of neo-Puritanism. As far as I can see, this is the exact left-wing equivalent to David Parker's lawsuit against Massachusetts schools for including same-sex marriage in their health and family classes. No difference.

I find it hard to believe that I'm actually agreeing with Saletan, but I think he's pretty much on point here. In Chicago, when the new anti-smoking ordinance went into effect, Starbucks posted signs in all their outlets (I can't call them "coffee shops") stating that no smoking was allowed on the patio or within fifteen feet of it. I'm waiting for some busybody barista to try to stop me from smoking within fifteen feet of a Starbucks patio. I'll file a complaint for interfering with a public thoroughfare. (The funniest example is the Starbucks at State and Erie, near where I work -- no smoking within fifteen feet of a "patio" that is right on the corner of two major streets, and within twenty feet of a bus stop. Yes, the left has its share of idiots. I'd boycott Starbucks, but I don't patronize them anyway -- the coffee sucks and the atmosphere is, as we used to say in the '70s, "plastic.")

So the left has found a new minority to oppress. I guess it was only a matter of time -- they tend to concentrate on safe targets.

(Full disclosure: Unlike Saletan, I'm a smoker. For reasons of my own, I've cut way down, but every time I see a story like this, I have an overwhelming impulse to light up and blow smoke in some asshole's face.)

Via Sullivan, and I can only echo his conclusion: "Jesus, these busy-bodies need to get a life."

Saletan has a follow-up.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sometimes All You Can Do Is Laugh

Via John Cole, this stellar bit of Republican something or other (I really can't think of a word that adquately describes this), regarding the problems with the DC transit system and the Tea Party last weekend:

[Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Neverneverland)] didn’t directly answer when I asked him whether it was contradictory to expect government to do more — at potentially increased taxpayer expense — to meet the needs of a protest organized around opposition to government spending.

Read Greg Sargent's whole piece -- it's short. The degree of denial is breathtaking.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

If All Else Fails, Let's Try the "N" Word

I ran across this story in a post by Andrew Sullivan this morning (several posts, actually), but I think Publius has the best insight:

So here's the basic dilemma. On the one hand, there's nothing ambiguous about this. It's straight-up George Wallace-style race-baiting. It's an intentional attempt to stir racial prejudices.

Limbaugh & Friends took a random fight and immediately tried to pin it on Obama (some less directly than others). And after the police quickly backed off claims that it was racially motivated, the corrections either didn't come or were merely one-liner updates inappropriate to the gravity of the previous charges.

But even if it was racially motivated, what on earth does Obama have to do with it? The answer is nothing other race. The only goal here was to stir up racial resentment and then pin it on Obama. I'm sorry, but this is infuriating. We shouldn't be putting up with this in 2009.

And yet, not only are we putting up with it, but a significant proportion of us are eating it up. I'd say Limbaugh and Malkin, et al., should be ashamed of themselves, but if someone has no integrity, no honesty, and no morals, you can hardly expect them to feel shame.

One thing that leapt out at me, that no one else has noted in any post I've seen, is that the police chief also immediately jumped to the conclusion that the beating was racially motivated. That just points up how deepl" y the prejudices that Limbaugh and his ilk appeal to are ingrained in some people. (And frankly, "any" in that case is too many, although to be honest, it seems as though it's impossible to get rid of all racial bias -- the habit of identiying "us" and "them" is probably harfd-wired.) Of course, he's also man enough to retract it and admit his initial statement had no basis -- it was just his assumption.

This is not something you're going to see from Limbaugh, Malkin, or any of that brood. In fact, Sullivan quotes Malkin's response:

She refuses to remove or correct the post that says baldly that the attack was racial and her correction amounts to:
The police are backing off the racial motive claims. Given the explosive consequences of candor about such matters, this is not surprising.

No: one police chief said he had jumped to the wrong conclusion. But Malkin insists that the real reason was racial and the the chief is bowing to political correctness.

The problem with the right in this country (and, to be "fair and balanced" about it, it does crop up on the left as well, but seems not to be as prevalent) is that they "know" certain things, and mere facts are not going to affect their reactions at all. This is not necessarily an ideological thing, but a human personality thing. It just seems that that type of personality tends to gravitate toward a world view that relies on received wisdom -- "wisdom" in this case being the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin.

And tell me -- should we take either of those worthies as an example of white superiority?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

In Memoriam

Jim Carroll, author of The Basketball Diaries. I have a copy sitting here in my to-read stack. And I've never heard his music that I know of. But I've read his poetry, in a collection I reviewed some years ago at Epinions, Fear of Dreaming.

I love them, although they are not easy going. Carroll’s imagery has been called “hallucinatory,” and that seems as good a word as any to describe the associations he sets up. It is worth mentioning that Carroll is also a rock musician, with four albums to his credit, as well as a “best of” album, because there is a hard-edged, eerily beautiful music in these poems that sets off and supports the strong, unnerving images.

It was really a sort of "collected poems" volume. Excellent, the kind of poetry you can really lose yourself in.

And he was only 60.


I'm with Jim Burroway on this one:

Gay philanthropist Bruce Bastian of Utah has donated $70,000 to the National Equality March in D.C. and plans to contribute another $30,000 for the event because he strongly believes it will jump-start the LGBT rights movement.

Jump-start the LGBT rights movement? Nothing will jump-start it like two victories in Maine and Washington, and nothing will deflate it like two more defeats in November. Remember the huge letdown after Prop 8? Or are our attention spans really that short?

I appreciate the passion for the March but it is being foolishly misdirected. Not only are its goals ill-concieved and not thought through, but it’s slated for October 11 when Congress will not be in recess and President Obama will be out of town.

Frankly, this whole March idea may be a great ego boost for the organizers, but it’s incredibly selfish considering the needs of LGBT people who face ballot initiatives right now aimed at stripping them and their families of basic rights. That $130,000 can make a huge difference in those fights, not on the grassy lawn of the Mall while everyone else is out of town.

You know what this is? This is another "initiative" by the very people who lost on Prop 8 and have done nothing to move repeal of DOMA and DADT in the past fifteen years. It's the same people who have hired "political consultants" who adivised them to wait on another California marriage referendum until 2012, just the way they advised them not to include any gay people in their ads or ever mention the phrase "gay marriage." (I realize Jerrold Nadler has introduced legislation to repeal DOMA -- about half and hour ago, if my clock is right -- and I'm sure HRC will be crowing about it. Unless they start off by gnashing their teeth and screaming "too soon!" the way Barney Frank is doing. Remember what I've said before: you can't sit back and wait -- you have to keep pushing.)

As far as the "Equality March" is concerned, it will be seen as empty posturing -- which it is. Anyone with any sense of history will probably come to the same conclusion I came to a while ago: the time for this kind of massive, organized demonstration is past. We don't do that any more in this country. Even the teabaggers couldn't pull it off, and their ranks are beyond crazy enough to do it. Even in the mass protest heyday of the 1970s and '80s, our effectiveness was based on smaller, localized actions. That's still where we're most effective -- just take a look at some of the places that have gay-inclusive civil rights laws -- I men, Cincinnati? Peoria? If we keep moving on those front, the federal government will eventually catch up. Eventually.

But marching on Washington on everyone's day off? Why?

Lord Save Us From Pundits

From Andrew Sullivan, the required dig at Democrats in a post titled "The DNC Lies About Medicare." It's based on this report from FactCheck.Org:

The Democratic National Committee says in a TV ad that "Republicans voted to abolish Medicare." Not true.

The ad refers to a proposal endorsed by most House Republicans as part of the alternative budget they presented earlier this year. In fact, the GOP plan actually called for:

* Preserving the current Medicare program for anyone now receiving it, or within 10 years of qualifying for it.
* For those now under age 55, converting Medicare to a system of private, government-approved health insurance plans purchased mostly with government payments.

The proposal is similar to one endorsed a decade ago by the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare. It is controversial, to be sure: Most Democrats don’t like it, and not all Republicans do either. It’s a plan to change Medicare significantly but not to "abolish" it.

If you read the report, the Republican policy statement was designed to throw more taxpayers' money to private insurers by allowing those under 55 to purchase private insurance with government subsidies. Sounds suspiciously like privatizing Social Security, but since I won't stick my neck out by predicting things that I can't prove (unlike same-sex marriage opponents), I'll just let it rest at that: more of our money to major corporations. That's the Republican answer to everything.

Sullivan, of course, doesn't bother with the substance of the report. He merely cites Megan McArdle and Kevin Drum on -- not the substance, mind you, but how awful the Democrats are. This line is priceless: "It's the Dems at their own scare-mongering worst (it's partly how Clinton won re-election)." (Got to have the Clinton slam in there, you know.) McArdle's comment:

This is, of course, not, well, er, true. But you have to admire the brazenness of the thing. And I'd really like to know whether this sort of thing works, or whether it comes across as so ludicrous that people start wondering about the Democrats' sanity.

I wonder what McArdle had to say about "death panels"? Or the "3 a.m." ad?

Kevin Drum actually makes some intelligent comments that obviously owe something to having a memory that stretches farther back than fifteen minutes:

My guess: yes, it works, and no, no one will be wondering about Dems' sanity. I mean, when you're competing with "Obama is a socialistfascistcommunistthug," you've got a pretty high bar to cross before you look extreme. Instead, what I'm curious about is why the DNC bothered with this. Why not just tell the truth: Republicans essentially voted in favor of turning Medicare over to private industry. With only a few words of explanation, this could easily be more effective than the ad that actually ran. Like so:
Republicans voted to turn Medicare over to private insurance companies! You heard right: they want to hand Medicare over to the same companies that [insert two or three insurance company outrages here, maybe a Wall Street reference, something about profits over people, etc.]. Democrats will never do that. Blah blah blah.

Would that really be any less scary than the ad that actually ran? Or is the DNC afraid that the urban legends are true, and everyone thinks Medicare is a private plan already?

At least McArdle noted Drum's response in an update. But she still doesn't get anywhere near the substance of the argument.

My purpose is not just to pillory Sullivan and McArdle (although both deserve it), but to point out that they do us no service by this sort of "commentary." Drum at least comes up with some rational observations, along with the underlying idea that this is the level of public discourse at this point -- thanks to the Republicans and their base. And from a broader perspective, why bother harping on how awful the Democrats are? We already know that. They are, after all, no more than the mirror image of the Republicans (or trying to be -- the ad in question shows some progress in that area, at least). Why not actually focus on the real issue?

I guess being one of the kewl kids is enough work.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Teabaggers, or, The Legacy of William Randolph Hearst

I've not paid all that much attention to the teabaggers, aside from resenting the fact that they've co-oopted a perfectly good word that had a nice, rich meaning to it and made it into something tacky. I figure if the media is hyping something, it's probably not that important, and it turns out I was close to being right. From Joe Sudbay at AmericaBlog:

Early on, the organizers had predicted millions would attend. Not even close. I was at the inauguration and saw what millions looked like. This was very far from it. Very far. The Washington Post reported there were "tens of thousands." Teabaggers have been tweeting a fake picture (of a sunny day and today wasn't sunny) apparently to claim they had a bigger crowd. Mike Stark has a video showing the size of the crowd, which really didn't extend too far down the Mall. In fact, the National Black Family Reunion took up most of the mall today. Yes, that event was taking place at the same time the teabaggers were protesting. (At 14 seconds into Mike Stark's video, you can see the white tents for the family reunion on the other side of a big patch of empty lawn.) Quite a juxtaposition.

I've been rooting around to find photo galleries of the protesters. Josh Nelson captured the essence of the event here. And, I did see that "Obamacare" hearse. Huffington Post has an array of photos, as does Think Progress. My overall take: The teabaggers were a very white, very angry and older crowd. There were a smattering of confederate flags around. The only thing missing was the white robes and hoods. Let's just say, if one of them had a concession stand selling white robes and hoods, they'd have made a bundle.

If you've been reading the blogs at all, you know that the corporate media reports of the disruptions at the town hall meetings in August were wildly exaggerated. Most of them were attended by people who had genurine concerns and who know how to behave like grown-ups, and the forums wound up being just that -- forums where concerns were discussed and actual facts presented. (I think we have to omit anything run by Chuck Grassley's people, though.) I forget where I saw the story of one congressman who was told point-blank by a reporter that if his town hall didn't explode, it wouldn't be covered.

Once again, boys and girls, the corporate media are not reliable sources of information, and their influence has become a negative factor in public discourse. They've been stenographers for the right for over a decade now, they are not interested in reporting what's actually happening, they will only challenge Democrats (and frankly, with this particular Democratic administration, that's a good thing, but it would have been helpful to see some of that spine in the last one), and their idea of "balance" is built of false equivalents, treating red herrings as a meal, and burning straw men. They don't fact check, they don't look under the surface of what's being given to them, they don't do any real journalism.

Think for a minute where people like Sarah Palin and James Dobson -- not to mention the likes of Pat Robertson -- would be if the media had ever questioned them, had ever fact-checked anything they said, had ever challenged them to support their assertions, had ever, in fact, done their jobs. Right -- they'd be nobodies, and quite deservedly so. Instead, Van Jones, who by all accounts was an excellent choice for his post, but who made the mistake of signing a perfectly innocuous petition seven or eight years ago, becomes a scapegoat for all the sins the right sees in this administration. (And they are very good as seeing sin in otheres.)

It seems that the main function of the blogosphere has come to be keeping the corporate media honest, to which the corporate media resonds with disdain for bloggers who do better at the journalists' jobs than the journalists do. It's a pity there are so few journalists working at newspapers.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Baby, Bathwater, and Sink

John Aravosis has a good analysis of the administration's actions in response to right-wing criticism, but I'm not convinced he goes far enough:

It's possible to defend each of the recent administration actions individually (e.g., severing ties with ACORN, getting rid of Van Jones, changing the immigration language in the health care bill to address Joe Wilson's concerns, even dropping the public option after conservatives angrily disrupt Democratic Townhall meetings (I don't defend dropping it, but I can imagine arguments made for dropping it (to save the bill, etc.)). Each action can be justified by the argument that by severing ties with ACORN, or getting rid of Van Jones, the administration has effectively stifled the criticism by nipping the problem in the bud, and thus removed a potential threat to their larger goals.

This is perhaps true - I say perhaps because I don't necessarily agree with each action. But, for arguments sake, let's say we do agree. The problem is that at some point, individual actions, in the aggregate, send a larger, and wrong, message. The ACORN action, on the heels of Van Jones and Joe Wilson (not to mention failing to follow through aggressively on campaign promises regarding the public option and gay rights, among other issues) - and then admitting that these actions were taken to appease some of the administration's most vocal conservative critics, does not assuage those critics. It inspires them to cause even more trouble.

It's deeper than that. Keep in mind that ACORN, Van Jones, the public option are not the issues for the right-wingers. We know that. Their goal is to sink Obama, so it doesn't matter what the "issue" is, they will find something to harp on and if they can't find something, they will make it up ("death panels," anyone?). Aravosis is right in that caving is not the right response.

The Republicans are in essence being told to keep up the fight and never negotiate, and eventually President Obama and the Democrats in Congress will cave to their demands, while asking nothing in return. It's not the message I would choose. And I think it's going to make it very difficult for the administration and Congress to get anything done in the future.

The message being telegraphed by the White House -- and the Democrats in general -- is that they are gutless. I've seen several commentators bemoaning the fact that the discussion has turned away from the "real" issues and is now focused on the ability of Obama to actually govern effectively -- as in, does he have the will and the balls to do it? Sorry, boys and girls, but he (and most likely Rahm Emanuel) have made that a legitimate concern.

Obama needs to do more than stop appeasing them. He needs to tell them, joined by Pelosi and Reid (and good luck on that one), to go fuck themselves. If they're lying, call them liars. Name names. Point fingers -- and dare them to support their accusations, and when they try to change the subject (because they will), nail them on that. Obama has the bully pulpit. Use it, for crying out loud -- don't hand it over to the likes of Glenn Beck.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Human Life vs. Profits

That seems to be the shape that today's random thoughts on the health care debate are taking.

I didn't see the president's speech yesterday, and I haven't really read much of the analysis. So these are just observations of the "debate" as it has shaped itself over the past couple of months.

Death panels. We already have them, as I'm sure I'm not the first to point out. They are not part of the government. They are run by Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Aetna, United HealthCare, (fill in the name of your insurance company here). And they have nothing to do with end-of-life counseling. They aren't even panels. They are bean-counters in some office somewhere who get bonuses for canceling your coverage when you get seriously ill. Get that: they get a bonus for letting you die.

(There are horrifying stories of the lengths they will go to, in fact. I ran across one the other day that I can't find now, but a woman cme down with a serious illness and the insurance company searched until they found something that her husband had forgotten to list as a "pre-exiting condition" -- and dropped them both. If I ever see that story again, I'll link to it, but I haven't been able to find it.)

Ran across this post by Amanda Marcotte via Dday at Hullaballoo.

There is only one argument against the public option---or for a trigger, really. That argument is that companies that are in the business of denying care should not be required to compete with a non-profit government entity in the business of providing care. The idea that the already wealthy are too delicate to have to compete is a politically stupid message most of the time, but right now, it’s particularly ugly, since the rest of us are feeling that climbing unemployment keenly, and the knowledge that we have to compete---not just for extra money but for our very lives---is unlikely to make us sympathetic to super-rich people who will be fine even if they lose this competition.

See item one, about "death panels" and how they actually work.

I think Marcotte has actually focused on the core of the real debate, the one that no one wants to talk about:

The people who value human lives over corporate profits aren’t the ones who should be required to explain ourselves. Our argument is sound. We believe all people are equal, and that the rich’s wallets are therefore not more important than your lives. We’re the ones who stick by the principles of our founding documents, and we’re the ones who steadfastly maintain that human life is valuable, even if the human holding it isn’t a rich insurance company executive.

It’s the people who are putting corporate profits ahead of human lives who need to explain themselves. They’re the ones who should be asked why corporate profits count more than lives. They’re the ones who should be asked why working class citizens should be forced to decide between paying for an insurance bill or paying their rent in order to make sure that no insurance company executive goes without a fresh supply of yachts and fancy cars. They should be forced to explain why insurance company executive yachts count more than your ability to avoid homelessness, or your ability to have a perfectly treatable illness actually treated. (If you think that laws against rescission will stop the practice, keep kidding yourself. The fines will be low enough to count as the cost of doing business.) Instead of asking why “the left” is so unreasonable, let’s start asking why everyone else thinks human lives count less than rich people’s dollars.

I think the one thing that frosts me the most about the right as it's presently constituted is that everything is more important than people. That's really the thrust of the corporatist philosophy, and as far as I can tell, that's the whole basis of libertarianism, which is why I consider both to be morally bankrupt. Please understand -- not all rich people are like this. I know many who are exemplary humanitarians and plow significant proportions of their resources back into the community. But it seems that when we're talking about corporations -- well, corporations don't have any moral sense. I thought everyone knew that.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Space Merchants

That's the title of a classic science-fiction novel from the 1950s by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth. The premise is that the U.S. is quite openly run by corporations -- senators represent AT&T, General Motors, BBD&O and the like. The individual is nothing more than a consumer who makes just enough to spend it all on whatever marketing organizations decide he or she "needs" most. (Need I add that Pohl and Kornbluth were recognized as gifted satirists in the tradition of Jonathan Swift and Nikolai Gogol?)

It's about to come true:

One major provision of the McCain-Feingold law banned the broadcast of independent political advertisements about candidates within 30 days of an election if the ads were financed by corporate or union funds. The Supreme Court upheld this provision six years ago, but since then, conservative groups have repeatedly brought new challenges, including a relatively minor challenge that was heard by the court in March.

The argument went badly for campaign finance reform advocates when a government lawyer was asked whether Congress could also pass a law banning the publication of a corporate-funded campaign book just before an election. Yes, said the lawyer, adding that no such law exists. At the prospect of book-banning, Justice Samuel Alito blurted "that's pretty incredible," and other justices openly gaped.

In June, the justices ordered the case re-argued, only this time, they said they wanted the lawyers to focus on whether the Constitution permits any ban on corporate spending in candidate elections. In short, the court said it is considering whether to reverse decades of its own decisions.

Ted Olson is arguing the case for the corporations six years after he defended the law before the Court:

"The most important right we have in a democracy is the right to participate in the electoral process. We've smothered that right with the most incomprehensible, burdensome, unintelligible set of regulations and laws, some of which are criminal laws, surrounding that freedom. That's intolerable," says Ted Olson, who argued in support of the McCain-Feingold law as solicitor general for the Bush administration. On Wednesday, he will be arguing against it.

Olson maintains that corporations are individuals, in a constitutional sense, and should be able to express their views. Money, he says, is speech.

"You can't speak without money," Olson says. "In this day and age, you need resources to reach people. And that's part of the right to speak." He adds: "There's nothing more important under the First Amendment than to talk about elections."

The big question, of course, is whether the First Amendment applies to corporations, which, while legally "persons," are not, in fact, "individuals."

At any rate, given the current composition of the Court, I'm betting on the corporate interests. They already own Congress -- might as well make it official.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Religion and the Earth

Another weird pronouncement from the pope (via Chris Bodenner at Daily Dish):

Is it not true that inconsiderate use of creation begins where God is marginalized or also where is existence is denied? If the human creature’s relationship with the Creator weakens, matter is reduced to egoistic possession, man becomes the “final authority,” and the objective of existence is reduced to a feverish race to possess the most possible.

Frankly, no, it's not, particularly. In fact, historically Christianity has been one of the biggest offenders against the integrity of the environment. As I understand it, until very recently (and still, in many quarters), the idea was that man and nature both fell from grace, and only man can be redeemed. Thus, "stewardship" becomes exploitation. This seems particularly true of some Protestant sects, with their emphasis on mechanistic views of human psychology and their "God rewards the faithful" brand of materialism. It's changing, but it's a matter of controversy within Christianity, especially in evangelical circles.

And of course, being Benedict, he's got to blame someone outside the Church. I would be surprised it's not the gays, except that as I recall, we're responsible for tornadoes and hurricanes, and quite possibly the banking crisis as well, so I guess atheists will have to take responsibility for environmental degradation.

Daniel Florien seems to agree:

Most of the people I’ve met who don’t care about the earth have been Christians. I’m sure my experience is biased, but I also haven’t met an atheist that isn’t concerned about our environment — though I’m sure there are some. Most Christians who don’t care about the environment do so on the basis that God has things under control and he’ll eventually torch the earth anyway. Atheists, on the other hand, believe this is the only home we have and we need to take care of it.

There are Christians who care about the environment, but that’s been a fairly recent bandwagon for them. The evangelical green movement has been gaining momentum, and I’m pleased with that.

I should point out that I'm pleased to see that there is a green movement among evangelicals. I should also point out that, if you'll remember, espousing the view that the evangelical movement should focus more on the environment and poverty and less on gay rights and abortion brought about calls for the resignation of one official of a major association of evangelicals (and Lord love me, I've forgotten the name again). So it's not a done deal yet, by any means.

There were also a couple of interesting responses. This one made me think:

Daniel Florien may not have met any atheists unconcerned with the environment, but I believe that is because of his US-centric viewpoint. In my experience, in Europe, tables are usually turned around, with catholics being far more in favor of preserving the environment than the majority of atheists. The reason for this is that such position has less to do with religious affiliation (or lack thereof) and everything to do with eduction levels. In Europe, the lower classes (education-wise) tend to be atheistic (communists, anarchists, marxists, etc) while in the US is the other way round.

Unfortunately, if one looks at the numbers that show that most Europeans are not very strong believers, this one becomes less easy to swallow. (Just on its face, it seems to be as biased as Florien's statement.) I suspect in the case of Europe, it's a matter of long tradition -- for example, farming practices that avoid chemical fertilizers in favor of recycling organic matter into the soil, which farmers in Europe have been doing for a thousand years.

Frankly, I can only see a variable connection between belief in a deity and care for the earth. It's good to see the pope coming out with this message, although if you read the whole thing, it's still extremely humanocentric -- it's all about taking care of the earth because it's good for humanity, which is certainly a practical consideration, but it has nothing to do with anyone's gods. As I say, Pagans are highly likely to be environmentally conscious, Protestant Christians less so, in my experience. I suspect it has a lot more to do with political affiliation than anything else -- environmentalism is a liberal stance, in this country at least. It's nice that conservatives, some of them, anyway, are finally catching on.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Required Reading

This post at AmericaBlog. I particularly recommend that you read the comments -- there are some very clear-eyed comments on just exactly how Obama has made himself a failure not quite nine months into his term. (And I suspect that is going to turn out to be an accurate description: "his term," because at the rate he's going, the only way he can manage a second term is if the Republicans run a Palin/Inhofe ticket.)

I should probably send this link to my senators and congresswoman.

On the other hand. . .

The day started off badly -- you know it can't be a winner when your coffee pot explodes first thing -- but things are looking up. A cicada decided to molt right outside my back door, so I just spent a few minutes watching its wings unfurl. Strange looking creature -- really primeval -- but the colors are nice.

It's rather late in the season for it to be coming out -- I guess their biological clocks are no better than mine. I can only wish it luck.

The Baby With the Bathwater

I ran across this essay by John Corvino last evening and was going to leave a comment, but I couldn't quite focus my thoughts at that point. Now that I've slept on it, I do have something to say. He's commenting on an OpEd by Robert P. George that I had dissected some while back. (I took George's OpEd apart here. For those interested, I also discussed Jonathan Rowe's response in another post, here.)

While I largely agree with Corvino on this one, this jumped out at me:

First, the good points: George is quite right to insist that the Court’s role is to interpret the Constitution, not to make policy. He’s also right to argue that marriage law has been, and should be, tied closely to the needs of children. And he exhibits a refreshing “don’t panic” attitude, asserting that “democracy is working”—although by democracy, he seems to mean only voter referenda, and not our more complex representative system, with its various checks and balances. On the latter, broader understanding, I’d agree that “democracy is working:” in the last year, five additional states have embraced marriage equality.

There are three huge flaws here -- and I mean HUGE. George is dodging the issue -- or, more accurately, misrepresenting the Court's role in this particular debate. The Court's role is, indeed, to interpret the Constitution, and since this is a matter of fundamental rights and equal treatment under the law, the Court is the appropriate place to go. I'll come back to the second one. The last big flaw in George's argument, which Corvino turns upside down, is the idea that questions of constitutional guarantees should be decided by popular vote. This country has never worked that way, and George should know better. Actually, so should Corvino, as much as he's written and lectured on gay civil rights, and particularly marriage.

The part that leaped out at me was "marriage law . . . should be tied closely to the needs of children."


I don't dispute that children are, and have been, one of the central factors of marriage -- after all, raising a family is one of the reasons people get married. It was a key factor in dynastic marriages, whether those were political or business: it was about paternity and property. However, to jump from that to the idea that children are the central factor in marriage is simply not dealing with reality. Leaving aside George's fantastic (and sometimes painfully funny) leaps of logic in ascribing marriage as legitimate for childless couples because male/female sex has the "potential" for procreation (when, in fact, it doesn't always, particularly if the couple are infertile or taking steps to make sure that there is no procreation gonna happen), let's just look at this rationally.

No matter what anyone may say, marriage now is an arrangement between two people that carries with it a certain status in the community. That status is "married couple," and it's not dependent on evidence of fertility. For Corvino to concede that marriage law should be tied closely to the needs of children is giving away the store. Certainly, the needs of children should be one part of it, and an important part, but the core of marriage law should be the rights and responsibilities of the partners in terms of mutual care, decision-making, rights to property, and fiscal responsibility, including support and maintenance. It's instructive that these aspects are so often left to marriage vows, pre-nuptial agreements.-- or divorce courts. (I'd love to see a heterosexual supremacist "marriage supporter" address that, I really would. However, the weather report for Hell sees no snow in the foreseeable future.)

One of the most objectionable bases of George's piece is his flat refusal to recognize that gays are entitled to the same rights as anyone else. In his eyes, it's not a civil rights issue. Of course, in reality, it is. Happily, Corvino punctures that balloon -- sort of.

I remember reading somewhere in the misty past that America is so obsessed with children because we don't really like them very much -- if we did, we wouldn't need so many laws protecting them. This strikes me as more in the same vein, one that's been mined since the days of Anita Bryant. It's getting a little old.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Housekeeping Note

I've finally updated the review listing of yaoi at Epinions in the sidebar. It seems like forever since I've tidied up over there -- mostly because my brain took most of August off.

So now it's up to date as of August 31.

Reviews in Brief: 98 Degrees' Revelation

More boy band. 98 Degrees is another group I ran across on YouTube -- the song this time was "You Should Be Mine." I picked up the CD and got a pretty much mixed bag.

Their up-tempo songs on this one are superb -- lots of energy, crispness, with a decidedly Latin/hiphop flavor. It opens with "Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)," with a rhythm I wish I could identify -- it's a dance song, but I can't quite nail it. It could be a very fancy, free-form cha-cha, but it's a good one. The other real winner on this one is "He'll Never Be . . . (What I Used to Be to You)," a really hot tango-based piece -- high drama all around, and I could see a dance floor getting pretty steamy with a couple who knew what they were doing.

The ballads don't fare quite so well. They border on gorp, although if you're in the right mood and out dancing with the guy (or gal, too, I guess) of your dreams, I can see where they'd go down easy -- they're made for holding someone special very close, which I guess is the point. (Although I have to confess that "My Everything" comes close to being the most syrupy song ever -- but if you can last past the intro, it's not unbearable. Just undistinguished.)

What strikes me about these guys is the strength of their vocal arrrangements. They carry a good sense of texture and counterpoint, and they do some wonderful things. Here's the video with "You Should Be Mine" that first caught my attention to give you an idea of where these guys go vocally. (The characters are Gojyo and Hakkai of Saiyuki fame, who seem to be a favorite pairing among the yaoi/slash set at YouTube. The opening sequence is from Death Note, which looks intriguing. I love the little guy who keeps playing with his mouth.)

In the final analysis, 98 Degrees would be fairly generic boy band pop if it weren't for those little vocal treats that they throw in from time to time. (And true to the annoying traditions of boy-band releases, they don't seem to tell you who anyone is or who's doing what on any given track -- I guess you're supposed to know. Well, I don't, and I don't feel like spending an hour on Google finding out. Brickbats for that one.)

The Sounds of Silence

Interesting comments on a book by Sarah Maitland, The Book of Silence, from Jesse Crispin. It's mostly a diatribe against technological doomsayers, those convinced that our reliance on technology is the work of the devil, but this sparked a thought:

Maitland believes that our culture hates silence. We fear it, despise it, do anything to avoid it. Maitland moved to rural England in order to escape the noise of her city life, and in her book she examines the experience of silence and isolation, both voluntary and involuntary. She rather overstates her case, honestly. Anyone who lives in a city does not fear silence. They crave it, wish for it when the train rumbles by every 15 minutes all night long, or when the neighbor you're afraid of turns on the death metal until your apartment floor vibrates. She points to our constant noise-making as proof of our fear, but I think her examples are just our attempts to make the sounds around us friendlier. An iPod full of our favorite music is greatly preferred over random subway rumble and chatter, and texting or phoning your dearest is preferred over a roomful of strangers' conversation.

As you might imagine, I have a slightly different take. I treasure silence, I really do, and when I'm not forced to interact with people, I'm largely silent myself. But it's a sometime thing. Two points: I do not own a cell phone or an iPod, nor do I travel "plugged in." And I had a heavy dose of John Cage in my formative years (which actually don't seem to have ended yet). I like the sounds of the city, unless I have to focus on something else -- sometimes, when I'm writing, I need silence; other times, I need music, which seems to help my concentration. I hate noise, but "noise" itself is a subjective term. I remember lying in bed one summer night listening to my window fan and the way it intersected both the random street noises outside my window and the cycling of someone else's airconditioner. It made a nice lullaby.

Questions of technology aside -- I don't see it as either evil or good, but pretty much as value neutral -- I like to stay open to what's going on around me. In the city, that includes the noise of human activity (which includes our machines: they are ours, after all, and operating under our supervision, one hopes). In the country, it's the sounds of "natural" life. (Anyone who's ever been in the country for any length of time knows that it's not quiet. It's just that the sounds are of a different type, and governed by different requirements. I've been in the North Carolina mountains in summer, when the calls of frogs are almost deafening, and inescapable. That's hardly "silence.")

And when it comes right down to it, you make your own silence, if you can stand it. I think Maitland is misidentifying the noise factor, and Crispin doesn't spot it: there are people who hate silence, but they also are probably people who don't spend a lot of time thinking to begin with. Just a surmise, but if you roll that one around a bit, it makes sense: if you've never developed your personal resources, you don't really have much to fall back on when the input stops.

What we seem to have here is another instance of people arguing from different points on a continuum.

Silence has much to offer us, Maitland argues. I mean, once you get away from the men and women that silence drove crazy and suicidal. But she reports that periods of isolation and silence can bring a deepening sense of self, a connectedness with the divine and with the world, and a disinhibitedness.

You can also find those things just by thinking a little -- growing older helps, too, as long as you keep your eyes -- and ears -- open.

One note on technology: I do try not to be too dependent on it, although if my computer were to die, I'd really be in a pickle. But that's just it: technology is vulnerable, and the more complex and widespread it is, the more vulnerable it becomes. It's wise, I think, to remember that.

(Via Patrick Appel at The Daily Dish.)

We Are Governed By Idiots

In case you were wondering. This was the first story I saw this morning. Talk about being set up for the day:

The European Union is strongly criticizing a congressional proposal to charge a $10 fee to some visitors to the United States and suggesting it may carry a price for U.S. travelers.

If it passes, the EU says, some U.S. travelers to Europe could face retaliation.

The fee now under consideration in Congress would finance a new U.S. program to promote travel, a burden that the EU believes Americans should bear.

"Only in `Alice in Wonderland' could a penalty be seen as promoting the activity on which it is imposed," the European Commission's Ambassador to Washington, John Bruton, said in a statement Friday.

It gets even more surreal:

Early, this year, however, the United States began requiring people traveling to the United States under the visa waiver program to register online at least 72 hours before travel and renew their registration every two years. If the new proposal is passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, it would require all visitors to pay the fee when they register.

The money would pay for a travel promotion campaign run as a public-private partnership. Among its aims would be educating foreign visitors on U.S. entry procedures, including the online registration for visa free travel.

I'm speechless.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Military Perversions

I was ambivalent about this story, reported by Pam's House Blend, Dispatches from the Culture Wars, and others (including ABC, CBS, Mother Jones, Gawker and who knows where else?), but I think that Digby came close to the core issue:

What's with all the homoerotic hazing rituals?

If this is the way men bond in these all male environments, I guess I understand why so many of them are against lifting Don't Ask Don't Tell in the military. Once you remove the taboo a whole lot of them will have to deal with their own urges without the cover of coercion and humiliation. I can see why they'd be afraid, but really, these men should just admit that they like this sort of thing and leave those who don't alone. They'd feel a lot better and so would the men who are forced to participate in order to be accepted into the pack.

Once again we see projection at work. Many of these men obviously have gay feelings and act upon them in this predatory, coercive manner. So they assume that out gay men are doing the same thing. Of course they're not because they can be with people who consent and wouldn't need or want to force anyone, as do most sexually healthy people.

Before I get into the meat, one point: projection almost certainly is at play here, as it is in this story at Box Turtle Bulletin, also reported by Towleroad.

Digby's point is well taken: if they didn't have to worry about the social stigma attached to same-sex attraction, this sort of thing probably wouldn't be happening, although given the exaggerated and highly unrealistic version of "masculinity" prevalent in the military and quasi-military environment, the possible alternatives are scary -- and there would be alternatives. As Digby also points out, this is to some extent an initiation rite, and that's going to happen. It's a fundamental means of establishing a place in the group.

But I think that Digby is not quite on point about DADT here. DADT is just a symptom of a much deeper problem regarding homosexuality and its perception in America, itself an outgrowth of a partriarchal system that is even more pronounced in America than it is in Europe. It also seems to go hand-in-hand with a world view that persists in describing the universe as a place of diametrically opposed absolutes, which we're beginning to understand is a highly unrealistic way of looking at it.

Add in the exaggerated and pernicious idea of "masculinity" that seems endemic to military and quasi-military orgranizations, and you've got a real mess. Aaron Belkin of the Palm Center has a must-read post on this at HuffPo:

First, in no way do these incidents represent "bad apples" or isolated cases. One of my doctoral students just completed her dissertation on military training, a project for which she actually went through boot camp as a part of her research. I begged her not to go to boot camp to do her research because i believed she could get assaulted. Sure enough, every single woman in her training was sexually harassed, including one woman who was raped. The reason behind the pattern is that in order to train our troops for combat, we train them to brutalize one another.

Second, these cases are not hazing, they are torture. By referring to torture as "hazing," or "homosocial behavior" we make the violence seem like it is okay, just boys being boys. Hog-tying someone to a chair and then shoving him into a dog kennel full of feces, as was done to the gay sailor, is not boys being boys. In fact, the victims of such treatment often develop PTSD. One of the sailors implicated in the Bahrain scandal died from suicide, while another told me that he developed suicidal ideation as a result.

Third, the pattern of violence is not an accident, but reflects official policy, including the "don't ask, don't tell" law which makes it almost impossible for gay victims to report abuse. And even though the military does have policies in place to deter violence against women, these policies often produce contradictory results. For example, I am aware of a rape case that was not reported because the base commander had announced a "zero-tolerance" policy for assault, which the troops took to mean (accurately according to people I interviewed) that he did not want to hear about incidents.

Belkin's post (which I found after I had written most of this) hits some of my points, but there's an underlying problem. If you look at the work of Alfred Kinsey, which I take as valuable because it is based on actual behavior, it seems that most men are, or have been at some point in their lives, open to sex with other men. I shouldn't need to point this out: is there a man alive in this country who didn't suffer through a schoolboy crush on a classmate, teacher, or older boy? We like to call it a "phase" and are secure in the (unfounded) assumption that boys will grow out of it -- but I begin to suspect more and more that boys "grow out of it" mostly because of the social disapproval inherent in not growing out of it. What they grow out of is expressing it, which in most cases seems to go hand in hand with a certain amount of self-deception. This is where that view of the universe as composed of dichotomies comes in: a man is either gay or straight, in most people's minds. I don't see any evidence that this is intrinsic. In fact, I see more and more evidence that it's not, starting with something as simple as the fact that we are forced to recognize the existence of bisexuals. (I've dated a couple, actually, and known others; they all had varying approaches to dealing with their needs, but they were all quite functional human beings.)

The bottom line is that you wind up with men who want to interact with other men in ways that are not permitted, and like any frustrated need, it can, and often does, turn poisonous. The response of society, as exemplified in the military as noted in the second story cited and in Belkin's post, is to ignore it all.

I would hope that this is something that's going to fall by the wayside, although without a fundamental shift in our way of looking at the world, it's going to be sketchy. I take heart from the apparent existence of a real "post-gay" mentality among younger people. Some younger people. In some places. Repeal of DADT is only a small start.

(Yes, there are pictures of the carryings on in Kabul -- any of the sites linked to above will provide them, or links to them, although Digby seems to have a bad link. This story at HuffPo has video. (Which itself is instructive -- look at Joe Scarborough's reaction to the story -- he spends most of the video trying to justify it. What an ass -- he really doesn't get it. But that's only indicative of the "conservative" reaction to things like this -- "boys will be boys." The lesson he draws from this? Don't get caught.)