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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Phony Soldiers"

Rush Limbaugh -- along with the Weekly Standard and the rest of the usual suspects -- is spinning his remarks like crazy.

What he really meant was soldiers who claim to have served but haven't. His example is John Murtha. I would have thought he meant someone like Matt Sanchez.

Constitution Day, or Thereafter

I'm not going to join the dogpile on John McCain for his less-than-fortunate remarks to BeliefNet (can you say "pander"?), but do read this bit at Carpetbagger Report. It's pretty depressing.

Sixty-five percent of Americans believe that the nation’s founders intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation and 55% believe that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation, according to the “State of the First Amendment 2007″ national survey released today by the First Amendment Center. […]

Just 56% believe that the freedom to worship as one chooses extends to all religious groups, regardless of how extreme — down 16 points from 72% in 2000. […]

25% said “the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees,” well below the 49% recorded in the 2002 survey that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, but up from 18% in 2006.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. Now you know how the Dobson Gang and the Bush Gang have managed to get away with their likes and distortions, not to mention dismantling the Bill of Rights -- not enough people know enough about the Constitution to object, if they wanted to in the first place.

For the irony of the day, here's Bush's proclamation in honor of Constitution Day.

You can follow the links in the Carpetbagger piece to the "State of the First Amendment" report, but please also take note of this article by Charles C. Haynes on separation of church and state.

Footnote: If your stomach is strong today, here's a partial transcript of McCain's interview at BeliefNet. It's beyond pandering. Way beyond.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

All, or Nothing At All?

(Updated and smoothed out from this morning's initial post.)

The big fight over ENDA -- within the community, at least -- is whether to go for passage of a bill that focuses on sexual orientation or go for defeat of a bill that includes gender identity and expression. John Aravosis has a couple of posts on the debate, the first including Barney Frank's statement on the possibilities, and the second outlining the options. I happen to agree with Frank and Aravosis on this one -- get what we can and build from that. (And please, let's give the Democrats a chance to pass something.)

Pam Spaulding seems to be touting the other side in this argument, and there are some holes in her post:

The one thing we have on our side in the battle for a trans-inclusive ENDA is the fact that corporations have already dealt with this -- and it was clearly in evidence at this conference, where the large vendor hall featured a ton of Fortune 500 companies in just about every sector you could imagine - defense contractors (Raytheon, Boeing), banking and finance (Capital One, ING, Wachovia, HSBC, Merril Lynch, Wells Fargo), retail (Best Buy, Target, JC Penney, McDonalds), Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, Toyota, Motorola, Sun, the list goes on and on. For most of them, LGBT anti-discrimination policies are a no-brainer, a done deal -- it's good for business, recruitment and retention, and a source of pride. That level of inclusion and commitment to equality makes this internal debate and debacle on the Hill about stripping down ENDA look petty -- and cowardly.

That's just the least little bit slanted. Yes, corporations are in the forefront on this -- and this is news exactly how? We're dealing with the government here, a/k/a the last bastion of the derriere garde, and I think Frank has a lot deeper understanding of the way it can work to best advantage. His statement makes a lot more sense to me than Joe Solmonese's (quoted in Spaulding's post): Solmonese seems to be getting ready for a major pout and I have no patience to spare for that. That is too much the tone of most of the statements I've heard on ENDA from the left wing of the community. It's just counterproductive and fairly immature and isn't getting us anywhere. Sure, it's quite noble to stick to your principles, but let's get real, just a little bit: the reaction to transgendered persons is not the same as to gay persons and the education process, without which nothing, is not at the same place.

Spaulding has an earlier post in which she attempts to analyze the strategies, but her focus is on HRC and the major gay and trans rights groups. I think she's also badly misreading the likely results in this Congress:

The latter point brings me to a thought that immediately came to mind when I heard trans inclusion was in jeopardy. The concern of Pelosi and others that there would be a "bruising" debate on ENDA that focused on the "T" seems like a red herring. Of course it will be bruising. No matter when this came up for debate, the usual suspects -- the professional anti-LGBT forces -- would blast disinformation and bigotry non-stop. There would be high volume bleating and hysteria based on "she-males," transvestism, drag queens, bathroom paranoia, etc.

Quite frankly, I feel like this needs to come out in debate on the House floor, and better that it does under the mantle of the Bush Administration and the legacy of a Republican run Congress, which has done everything to foment anti-LGBT sentiment for years. They should own this. The Democrats don't have the juice to undo years of this BS in the short time that they have been in power.

ENDA will fail, no matter its configuration because George Bush and allies on the Hill have shamelessly obtained their power by cultivating political support on a base of fear, hate and ignorance. The bill might as well fail now, and hold up its defeat as the first step in reviving a commitment to unite, not divide, and to move the civil rights bar forward.

As for the Republicans "owning" the defeat of ENDA, they already do, and it has done them no damage whatsoever. Having the whole bill go down because of a debate on the transgender part of it is a recipe for disaster for just the reasons that Frank outlines. (It also seems to be the mode that HRC has developed over the past twelve years: pull defeat out of the jaws of victory.) First, the debate on the House floor will happen on the Republicans' terms, because that is the pattern of the past twelve years and it hasn't been broken yet. We have absolutely no reason to believe that ENDA will be the bill to break it because, to be very honest, gay rights for most people is trailing sadly behind the war, the economy, and immigration. And, if that debate happens the Democrats are not going to tar and feather the Republicans with it because a significant number of Democrats will be joining the anti-bill forces because it includes transgenders, to whom they are not personally sympathetic and which they are going to have a lot more trouble justifying to their constituents. Basically, HRC, Spaulding and the others on that side of the issue are demanding that the Democrats set up a no-win situation for themselves, without reference to the reality of what can be done -- I guess because it's somehow ballsy.

I'd rather get ENDA passed without the transgender inclusion so we at least have something to build on. What the national rights groups seem to be supporting is an "I'll take my ball and go home" strategy. Nadine Smith has a post on this at Bilerico Project that I found highly instructive. I don't agree with her, although her historical parallels are powerful -- I'm just not sure if they're really parallel. Solid cases can be made for inclusion of sexual orientation and, in the case of the Americans with Disabilities Act, of HIV+ status in nondiscrimination laws on the basis of science and a history of increasing understanding. I think, if you stop to realize it, that gays and people with HIV are innately more sympathetic to most people simply because they are better known -- transgenders are new and strange and scary, while gay people live down the street and HIV patients are suffering from a virus. Transgenders are not the same. They are gays were a generation or two ago in terms of understanding, and the neanderthal right would, indeed, make heavy capital out of their inclusion -- their strategy rests on a very solid foundation of fear. (Actually, Smith makes a couple of statements I find ludicrous -- the remark about "This is not the time to do the bigots' work for them" is senseless -- if we were doing that, we'd just kill ENDA, which is what the transgender inclusionists want to do if they can't have their way. 'Scuse me -- just who is doing the bigots' work for them?) It's all very passionate and stirring, and I'm sure it goes down easy -- if you're a college sophomore.

Standing up for principle is laudable. When you stand up for your principles at the expense of those who are really suffering, then I start to find it not so laudable -- in fact, I find it somewhat self-absorbed and immature. (Yes, I know that transgenders are truly disadvantaged in this country, but look at it this way: because of the Black civil rights movement and the women's movement, the gay movement has had a much easier time of it. Get it?) This is democracy at work -- no one gets everything they want, not right off the bat.

After thirty years, I'd like to get something through Congress.

(PS -- I may come back to this later today -- it's a huge controversy -- although not all that substantial, really -- and I'm still catching up on it.)


Chris Crain reports on a WaPo editorial that really lays out my own position quite nicely:

It requires time and patience to educate the public and lawmakers about how prejudice harms some people. That's what gays and lesbians have been doing in their quest for equality for nearly 40 years.

And that's what transgender people will have to do. Delaying passage of ENDA, which was first introduced in the House in the mid-1970s by Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.), until the transgender community changes enough hearts and minds would be a mistake.

Read this post from Crain as well. Strikes me as right on the money.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Health Care vs. Insurance

An important post at Firedoglake on health care.

Americans are unhappy with their health care system. And it’s not just because 47 million American don’t have health insurance. As Jane has courageously discussed here, those who are insured are also frustrated — they’re angry — because medications, testing, and treatment that their doctors are telling them are medically necessary are being routinely denied coverage by an insurance industry whose financial health depends on such denials.

We have a system that largely depends on insurance companies, but the financial interests of insurance companies are directly at odds with the interests of people who need health care. This conflict is pervasive, pernicious, and fundamental, and it cannot be easily overcome through “reforms” that keep private insurance in the central role, no matter how well conceived and implemented.

Key concept.

I want to do more on this, but I have no more time this morning. Maybe later.

Update: See also this post by Barbara O'Brien at Mahablog on S-CHIP.

Remember Brandon Mayfield?

He may become one of the great American heroes. He's won his suit against the government -- the judge ruled two provisions of the Patriot Act in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Mayfield claimed that secret searches of his house and office under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act violated the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure. Aiken agreed with Mayfield, repeatedly criticizing the government.

"For over 200 years, this Nation has adhered to the rule of law _ with unparalleled success. A shift to a Nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill-advised," she wrote.

By asking her to dismiss Mayfield's lawsuit, the judge said, the U.S. attorney general's office was "asking this court to, in essence, amend the Bill of Rights, by giving it an interpretation that would deprive it of any real meaning. This court declines to do so."

I wrote extensively on the Mayfield case back in 2004. Not only did the FBI screw up big-time, as well as lying to a judge, but the Spanish authorities told them point-blank that Mayfield's prints were not a match.

We'll see how far the gov wants to fight this one -- and how many times the DoJ says "9/11" in its arguments.

I'm out of time this morning. I may post more on Mayfield and the whole Patriot Act nightmare if I find the time.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ahmadinejad, the Morning After

Josh Marshall lays it out neatly:

Now, was that so hard?

As you know, Iranian President Ahmadinejad spoke yesterday before a raucous crowd at Columbia University. The president of the university excoriated him. He backtracked a bit from his statements about Israel, perhaps as some commentators have noted because they've caused him trouble within Iran. In other cases he put together a fairly incoherent mix of religious interpretation and political rambling. And in still more he simply sounded ridiculous, as when he assured the audience that there were no gays in Iran -- a claim that prompted a round of guffaws from the audience.

I think it's hard to come to any conclusion but that Ahmadinejad was diminished by yesterday's events, not elevated. And America seemed bigger for not having cowered before him, as so many wanted to.

I really don't have anything to add to that, except to ask you to think about just who it was who didn't want to allow Ahmadinejad to speak.

Green Christianity

A very interesting post at Andrew Sullivan, courtesy of one of his readers, on "Green Christianity." Benedict has finally jumped on the wagon, but it seems that the Patriarch Bartholomew was way ahead of him. I particularly like his take on consumerism:

In an address given in Venice in 2002 before signing a dual declaration for environmental awareness with then Pope John Paul II, the Patriarch argued, “we are to practice a voluntary self-limitation in our consumption of food and natural resources. Each of us is called to make the crucial distinction between what we want and what we need. Only through such self-denial, through our willingness sometimes to forgo and to say, ‘no’ or ‘enough’ will we rediscover our true human place in the universe …Greed and avarice render the world opaque, turning all things to dust and ashes. Generosity and unselfishness render the world transparent, turning all things into a sacrament of loving communion -- communion between human beings with one another, communion between human beings and God. This need for an ascetic spirit can be summed up in a single key word: sacrifice. This exactly is the missing dimension in our environmental ethos and ecological action.”

That sentiment has a lot in common with Witchcraft as I practice it. I am, in case I hadn't mentioned it before, a notorious non-consumer, and I can find a lot of empathy with Bartholomew's words. One word we seem to have forgotten in the West is "enough," at least insofar as what it actually means: enough is getting what we need, and what we need is not the same as what we want. In fact, it seems to work out that when we focus on getting what we want, we stand a good chance of not getting what we need.

Bartholomew sounds like someone with his head screwed on straight, at least in broad terms.

Dunderhead du jour

Andrew Sullivan demonstrates once again that essential cluelessness that is such an integral part of his charm. This time, he takes after the Columbia Queer Alliance for their statement on Ahmadinejad. The first part he approves of, because they don't approve of Iran's human rights violations. However, they go on to elaborate (which was probably a mistake, but they're radical college kids, OK?), of which he does not approve.

The unfortunate part, from the standpoint of Sullivan's claim to brains, is that the college kids are absolutely correct, as anyone with any passing familiarity with the social sciences will tell you. Overwrought, maybe, but correct: "gay" is a cultural definition, specifically an American definition which, although it has been gaining currency worldwide, is still not applicable in many cultural contexts. To put it most succinctly, it has no meaning outside of our own particular cultural context.

Of course, one could posit that Sullivan, being the Anglo-American cultural imperialist that he is, sees no reason to consider the way others see themselves as relevant (which I guess means the homophobic right can call us "hommaseksuals" without being offensive). And of course, if "gay" has those limitations, then one looks a fool crowing about the death of gay culture.

As for the statement itself, it is a bit over the top, and almost too readily revealing of the left-wing tendency to try to include everything and everyone lest someone get their sensibilities bruised. On that score, my reaction is simply, "Stuff happens. Then you die."

But surely Sullivan could come up with a more intelligent critique than that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Moving Day

Today is the day to move the computer to its new location, away from cold drafts and crowded corners. I may even be able to start writing again.

I'm so excited.

I had planned to go out looking for a small side table and/or a footstool, but the forecast is molto thunderstorms. But then, I've never really minded dodging hail.

Just Stand Up And Say It

A wonderful post at Box Turtle Bulletin, about how one lesbian stymied a panel of anti-gay "experts" in the nicest possible way. Read it.

Selective Something-Or-Other

I'm a little tired of the various pitches on Ahmadinejad's visit to Columbia University. This one, from Andrew Sullivan, is typical:

But I wonder: would Columbia ever invite a right-wing extremist with the same views as Ahmadinejad on women, gays, Israel and the Holocaust? Or do you have to be a brown-skinned, terrorist-enabling, nuclear-proliferating, certifiable nut-job to get the invite?

Columbia invited Jim Gilchrist to speak in 2006. Gilchrist is the founder of the Minutemen (who among other things spend so much time and effort guarding our border with Canada against illegal Mexican immigrants -- don't ask). I'd hardly consider him the prototype of rational centrist democratic ideals. Sullivan is 'way off base here, but I guess if you think the country resides in your navel, you're going to miss a few.

I've seen this too much, all from the right, and from the left I am hearing statements about let him express his ideas and see where the chips fall. Y'know what? He gave his speech, he got laughed at and booed, especially on the statements on gays in Iran that Sullivan quoted. Does Sullivan mention that? No. Inconvenient truths somehow don't make it into the monologue. (To be fair, he does mention laughter in a general way in a later post.)

I'm also finding an almost universal stance (not a wide stance, mind you, but a narrow one, fitting the vision) that "well, see, only left-wing radicals get invited to speak at major American universities." Demonstrably not true. And how can anyone link Admedinejad and the American left? Anyone aside from a Republican, I mean -- we do recognize the logical deficits in that camp. (Hmm -- I wonder who gets invited to speak at Liberty University? Or Regent University? Any guesses?)

One comment I have about this: if you want to see the free marketplace of ideas in action, look at speakers at university campuses. Sure, the kids are easily influenced (look how many go from Marx to Ayn Rand). But they are also idealists, in love with ideas, and absolutely fearless when it comes to pinning you to the wall demanding justifications and reasons for what you say. That's what it means.

To get a sense of the kinds of dialogues and comments I'm talking about here, check out the discussion at EA Forums on this topic. Quite instructive.

If you want a good take on what's really been happenening, here's Admadeniblog, coverage by the staff of the Columbia Spectator. And note the audience reaction after the "no gays in Iran" remark.

I've asked this question before and I'm asking it again, of all those who think we should limit free speech: What are you afraid of?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Hit Counter

I was ambivalent about putting in the counter again, but I was able to resurrect the old one. (Yay, Bravenet!) So it's only a little off.

So I guess I'll try to retrieve the map, next.

Now if someone will explain RSS, Digg, and all that other stuff to me. . . .

Save the Children

Another one from Steve Benen:

Today, Bush emphasized what he describes as a "philosophical" opposition to the ipartisan legislation -- the White House concedes this is about ideology, not results -- in his radio address, which ironically accused lawmakers of putting S-CHIP in jeopardy.

I find it hard to credit the idea that Bush has an ideology beyond that of any sophomore frat boy. So now, instead of pandering to the likes of Bill Kristol or James Dobson, he's pandering to Grover Norquist. And the same compassionate conservatism is at work: fuck the children.

The key factor is that the president has misrepresented the bill to the public to justify his threatened veto, which he will do not based on any analysis of the public good, but on his ideology, such as it is. (And don't think that his disdain for universal health care is linked to anything more than the interests of his real constituency.) Be sure to check out the link to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities commentary. Sort of blows Bush out of the water.

Iraq, Cherrypicking, Population Genetics

From Steve Benen at TPM, this comment:

But what I find really odd is that GOP lawmakers are circulating polls about Iraq at all. How many more surveys do Republicans really need to see before they realize that the country rejected the Bush policy quite a while ago? Their political expectations regarding U.S. public opinion appear to be about as realistic as their expectations for Iraq.

This in relation to the latest Repubican cherrypicking venture. But I think Benen misses a point here: it's not about the Republicans not realizing that the country at large has lost patience with the Bush agenda. It's really another facet of the same syndrome that keeps the Democrats completely ineffectual in a Congress in which they hold the majority. Call it kabuki, call it politics, call it business as usual. The point is, they don't have the intelligence, creativity, what-have-you to break the mold -- there's no resilience there. They're married to a strategy, and even though the strategy no longer has a foundation, they're still going through the motions.

It's the same syndrome that has made the Beltway pundits -- and the president, now that I think of it -- pretty much irrelevant. They talk to each other, don't really say anything, don't listen, and no new information seems to penetrate the fog.

News flash for the Beltway: Adapt or die. (This public service announcement brought to you by Charles Darwin.)

"Green Crab's Shell," by Mark Doty

The poem of the week. Thanks to AmericaBlog.

I'm adding the site to the sidebar. I've not been reading enough poetry lately. Nor eating enough onions. For the reasoning behind that statement, visit Booklag.

Doty's one of my favorite contemporary poets. Maybe I'll start doing a poem of the week, from my own collection, which is, after speculative fiction, the single largest category in my library.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Hillary Clinton

This, reported by Towleroad, from the new Advocate interview with Hillary Clinton:

As any good therapist would say, no partner is perfect. At least Clinton’s willing to try. "I cannot promise results," she says to me. "I can only promise my best effort. I can only promise to do everything that I can do to make the case, to put together the political majority, to take the message to the country, and I will do that. But there are no guarantees in life or politics."

So, I say to her, even if the negative feedback is deafening, would you still push forward on repealing "don’t ask, don’t tell"? "I’m certainly going to continue to push forward," she says. "But again, I can’t guarantee that the negative feedback will go away. The president is not a king, despite George Bush’s efforts to be one…and don’t forget, there’s another set of agenda items too. We’ve got ENDA and hate crimes."

"If they reached your desk,' I press, 'you’d promise to sign them?"

"Absolutely, because as president I would be trying to get them to my desk," she says with an exasperated laugh. "That’s the whole point!"

What negative feedback? Who are these people listening to? Here is an article from Military Education Initiative surveying poll results on DADT over the past several years. The trend is obvious -- a clear majority of Americans, including servicemembers, favors repeal. I would venture to guess, from my latest recollection, that the trend holds true for ENDA and hate crimes legislation.

How very brave of Hillary, to be willing to stand up to the Beltway elite on gay issues. Well, mostly.

I'm being a little snarky, because frankly, out of the whole field, right and left, she's one of the two candidates I can possibly support. Obama is not the other. Don't ask me why -- it's a very visceral thing, but I just don't trust him. But I'm really tired of the Democrats dodging this issue, because yes, boys and girls, it is the litmus test this time around. Someone needs to have the balls to reframe the whole discussion, and I don't see it happening.

I read too much about Hillary being "calculating." Well, yeah. What's your damage? I'd rather have her calculating on how to get decent policies in effect than how to make the entire government an arm of any particular political party. Frankly, the whole triangulation argument leaves me cold, because, after all, it works. Maybe it doesn't make everyone happy, but that's politics for you. Yes, she's a politician, and a very successful one -- they adore her in New York, by all reports, even though she started out being called things like "carpetbagger." I do object to her making any attempt to pander to the Republican base -- there are enough politicians doing that already, and I, for one, would find it refreshing if one of them would simply point out that these people at their very strongest comprise about 25% of the electorate, and it's about time the other 75% of us received some attention. After all, I'll be voting for a leader, not a follower.

Read the interview. Kennedy makes no bones about his feelings toward Clinton and her candidacy, but they're not the same feelings and he seems willing to take a cold look at her positions.

I <3 Digby

If for no other reason, because she has the intestinal fortitude to actually read the wingnut blogs and articles. I'm sorry -- my gag reflex is too high. She also calls it like it is and lets the chips fall where they may.

And it's one of the reasons why so many people viscerally loathe Democrats. They allow themselves to be mau-maued over and over and over again, and whether they do it for some purpose or just because they get out-maneuvered, it has helped create the image of cowardice that is far, far more dangerous for them than being affiliated with a an aggressive, in-your-face activist group. It plays right into the Republicans hands for the timorous Dems to scurry like scared little creatures every time a GOPer says boo. So they say "boo" a lot.

And frankly, if the Democrats are going to fold because the Republicans say "boo!" what are they going to do when there's a real issue?

An open question for my Congressional delegation: Why should I bother to vote for you? It won't make a damned bit of difference.


This post by publius at Obsidian Wings could apply just as much to the Democrats as to the "moderate" Republicans.

In other words, Snowe was willing to do exactly nothing to actually change the policy. Presumably, she disagrees with banning habeas because she ultimately voted Yea. But if her vote had actually mattered, she would have voted the other way. Thus, the Anguished Moderate gets to go on TV and take credit for her brow-furrowing, while doing exactly nothing to change the policy.

Why Do We Diss Baptists?

Andrew Sullivan gets it half right:

I wouldn't be quite so blunt. But for me, the evolution issue is very hard to get past. Those who believe that the earth was created 6,000 years ago and that human life has not evolved from more primitive forms are people I cannot engage with in civil discourse. To posit faith in things unprovable and unknowable is one thing. To posit faith in something demonstrably falsifiable is another. I simply have no tolerance for creationism or for those who enable it. Creationists are as much an insult to reasonable Christians as they are to rational thought. And they perpetuate the notion that religious faith is indistinguishable from idiocy.

I wouldn't say idiocy -- I'd say willful ignorance, which is what I can't deal with. I can deal with stupidity, although it demands the most from my admittedly limited store of patience, but a refusal to acknowledge evidence just does it to me.

There's more to it, of course. Baptists have also made themselves synonymous with bigotry, spiritual meanness, and close-mindedness. No one did that to them -- they did it to themselves. The weird part of it is that in purely one-on-one interactions, they can be among the most generous and compassionate people alive (like many of my North Carlina relatives). And then you run head-on into their version of Truth, and their unwillingness to consider the possibility that another idea might have some validity.

And, frankly, I think designating the recipients of this attitude simply as "Baptists" also misses the point. It's a set of characteristics that are not limited to Baptists, but do seem to adhere to many coming from a particular group of religious traditions. It seems that a certain brand of religious authoritarianism attracts the incurious and docile.

I don't understand those people at all.

More on MoveOn, Petraeus

A follow up to the MoveOn story, from WaPo. You want to see what kind of thinking is going on in the White House? Get a load of this:

In response to a question at a news conference yesterday, the president said that few Democrats had condemned the ad, "which leads me to come to this conclusion: that most Democrats are afraid of irritating a left-wing group like MoveOn.org, or more afraid of irritating them than they are of irritating the United States military."

Excuse me? Democrats have to worry about irritating the U.S. military? Well, maybe under a Bush administration. . . .

Go ahead -- tell me it can't happen here.

Rudy Giuliani was somewhat less specific, but just as scary.

Hillary Clinton voted against the Republican resolution. Barack Obama didn't vote.

"The focus of the United States Senate should be on ending this war, not on criticizing newspaper advertisements,'' Obama said. "This amendment was a stunt designed only to score cheap political points while what we should be doing is focusing on the deadly serious challenge we face in Iraq.''

What would John Edwards have done?

"I respect and honor General Petraeus' service, but I would have opposed the Cornyn amendment as an irresponsible waste of time -- the Senate should be working on ending the war, not dithering over newspaper ads."

As for the grassroots response, read this press release from MoveOn, quoting some of the e-mails they've received from military families and personnel.

A further note: Matthew Yglesias, who is one of those I panned at one point for repeating the "the ad was dumb" mantra, got one thing right:

As best I can tell, it's all basically bullshit. The whole fracas of Petraeus, Crocker, MoveOn, etc. has had, to a good first approximation, no impact whatsoever on anything of any significance. Bush continues to be stubborn. Republicans continue to back Bush. The war continues to go poorly and continues to be unpopular. There was nothing else that ever could have happened. A bunch of editors and politicians talked themselves into believing that this September showdown was crucially significant, but they were all wrong and their theory never made any sense.

The only showdown that mattered happened months ago. Democrats passed a war appropriation that funded the phased withdrawal of troops. Bush vetoed that appropriation and said he would only sign an appropriation that funded open-ended war. Bush sought to portray a congressional refusal to appropriate money for an open-ended military involvement in Iraq as some kind of plot to leave the troops starving and without bullets in Iraq. The press largely bought into this frame, which was re-enforced by the fact that many leading Democrats immediately decided to buy into as well. The party then decided not to try to fight to reframe the issue but, instead, to accept it. Given that framing of the question, the only thing to do was surrender and give Bush his money. And given that precedent, the only thing to do is to keep on surrendering any time Bush rhetorically holds the troops' well-being hostage to his preference for perpetual war.

That's the Democratic strategy: keep on surrendering.

Scott Lemieux nails it:

Whether MoveOn didn't take out the ad or had chosen to superimpose a picture of Benedict Arnold on Petraeus makes absolutely no difference to anything. The war would have gone on anyway. The war would remain unpopular. GOP Senators would find some other way to run out the clock at the hearings that most people don't watch because they're at work and also find some other way of claiming that opposition to their disastrous war means hating the troops. It's all a completely empty kabuki. (And to echo djw, I can't believe Reid let a vote on this get to the floor.)

Friday, September 21, 2007

Brave Words

Andrew Sullivan's Quote for the Day:

"Men, do not rest content with parrying the attacks of a superior, but often strike the first blow to prevent the attack being made. And we cannot fix the exact point at which our empire shall stop; we have reached a position in which we must not be content with retaining but must scheme to extend it, for, if we cease to rule others, we are in danger of being ruled ourselves. Nor can you look at inaction from the same point of view as others, unless you are prepared to change your habits and make them like theirs," - Alcibiades' Oration before the Sicilian expedition, Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War.

Sullivan presents it without comment, under a highly impressionistic photo captioned "Fallujah."

Let me be the one to point out that the Sicilian expedition was an unmitigated disaster for the Athenians. They lost the Peloponnesian War in Sicily.

Ahmedinejad at Ground Zero

This came up in an EA Forums thread, and I got quite snappish about some of the commentst, I'm afraid. Here's Josh Marshall making my point in somewhat less temperous terms:

But when did we become such moral weaklings? And how brittle do we think our national reputation is that it's going to be damaged by Ahmadinejad going down to Ground Zero and at worst spouting off about whatever he wants to spout off about. To put to succinctly, who cares? Why should we care what he says? If there are any propaganda victories to be had I think the spectacle of our national overreaction has provided him with quite a nice one. But again, who cares? Am I alone in thinking that our national greatness and stature is best displayed by our indifference to these things? Especially when free speech and letting even the obnoxious have their say are supposedly central to who we are? But again, indifference. Who cares what he says?


Ahmedinejad has also been invited to participate in a forum at Columbia University, which is, of course, drawing howls from the right. Barbara O'Brien hits that one right on:

But righties have always been advocates for premeditated ignorance. I recall back in the 1950s and 1960s American conservatives would, from time to time, erupt into outrage mode upon learning that American colleges required students to learn something about Communism. Since Communism was the major threat to the planet at the time, one would think knowing something about it would be useful. But no; teaching students about Communism is teaching Communism. And Communism was, apparently, so inherently evil that merely learning about it was corrupting. Better to stay ignorant.

And it’s better not to get too close to whackjob World Leaders, even in a classroom, so that when the time comes that you actually have to deal with whackjob World Leaders you won’t know what you are doing and will have no recourse but to bomb them.

See how that works?

What Is So Hard About This?

A number of readers at TPM took issue with David Kurtz' analysis of the games going on in Congress, and I agree with them. It's something that's been in the back of my mind for a while -- I may even have mentioned it here.

It may be a pointless exercise in terms of passing legislation, but it is anything but pointless in terms of the making clear to the voters where the problem lies. . . .

For that very reason, the Democrats should make [the Republicans] filibuster, and use the term "filibuster" whenever they describe what the Republicans have done, not idiotic characterizations like "we don't have the votes." The only way to counteract Republican falsely blaming the Democrats for being "do-nothing" is to make it abundantly clear that Republicans are being obstructionist. *Make* them filibuster. Make it a true filibuster, which stops all other business until a cloture vote occurs. If anyone complains, or if anyone in the media doesn't get it, tell them that all you want is an up-or-down vote, but a minority of Republicans is preventing the business of the country from getting done, not to keep the bill from passing, but just so their president doesn't have to *bother* to veto it.

The Democrats' strategy, if there is such a thing here, leads to headlines like the one I saw in NYT yesterday, I think it was, that started off "Democrats fail. . . ." The point is to make it impossible for the major media to publish headlines like that -- make sure that everyone knows that it was the Republicans who blocked something, or the president who vetoed something. Feels better to me -- and it's a lot more accurate.

Kevin Drum has some comments, as well:

That seems like a good excuse to rerun this chart that McClatchy put together a couple of months ago. As you can see, Republicans aren't just obstructing legislation at normal rates. They're obstructing legislation at three times the usual rate. They're absolutely desperate to keep this stuff off the president's desk, where the only choice is to either sign it or else take the blame for a high-profile veto.

As things stand, though, Republicans will largely avoid blame for their tactics. After all, the first story linked above says only that the DC bill "came up short in the Senate" and the second one that the habeas bill "fell short in the Senate." You have to read with a gimlet eye to figure out how the vote actually broke down, and casual readers will come away thinking that the bills failed because of some kind of generic Washington gridlock, not GOP obstructionism.

He also linksk to the breakdowns in WaPo, which can be found by the determined. (You have to go to the "In Congress" reports in "Politics" and then scroll down until you find the Congressional votes box. But first, you have to know it's there.)

So, the Democrats not only have to rub America's face in the fact that it's the Republicans who are stopping the business of the country, but do so in a way that undercuts the collusion of the press in portraying it as the Democrats' fault.

Petraeus, MoveOn, Kabuki

Ian Welsh comments at The Agonist on the MoveOn censure motion in the Senate, which is about the best commentary that I've seen.

I've been largely out of commission this week, so I'm catching up on this. There has been a certain amount of posting to the effect that "The MoveOn ad was stupid but. . . ." which, as I recall, all seems to come from the Beltway insiders -- Sullivan, Yglesias, and the like, which is just buying into the right-wing talking points while pretending to support MoveOn. I haven't seen the ad, so I don't know if it was stupid or not. In concept, it certainly was not -- Petraeus is a liar, if I may be so unvarnished, who has a reputation for cooking the books on his activities to make himself look good, with in this case the added luster of having been groomed as a poster boy for Bush's War. I won't go into Bush's unbelievable remarks on the issue in any detail -- Keith Olberman did much too good a job on that -- except to point out that he's adding to the major new mantra: the generals are beyond criticism.

Bullshit. There is nothing and no one in this country beyond criticism. Period

John Cornyn (R-Neverneverland) introduced the resolution, which is a transparent political ploy and, although the article in the Baltimore Sun cites "genuine outrage," I'm not buying it. Republican outrage is a political tactic, and there's seldom anything genuine about it. Cornyn is a tool, pure and simple. What's appalling is that 22 Democrats went along with it because it put them in a "difficult political sitution." By all means, let the minority party dictate the rules of the game. Morons.
Petraeus' testimony, as far as I can tell, was a set-up from the get-go. The White House wrote his report. He met with the president before testifying. He's testifying on what is essentially his own policy.

What the hell did anyone expect?

Read Welsh's analysis. It seems to cover all the bases. And then read this post by Digby, which starts off with a quote from Paul Kkrugman that wraps it all up:

To a remarkable extent, punditry has taken a pass on whether Gen. Petraeus’s picture of the situation in Iraq is accurate. Instead, it was all about the theatrics – about how impressive he looked, how well or poorly his Congressional inquisitors performed.

There's a reason we're seeing more and more the word "kabuki" in relation to Congress. I'd be willing to extend the term to public discourse as a whole -- it's not about the substance any more -- in fact, that's pretty much forbidden territory. It's all about the costumes.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Creationists Say the Darnedest Things!

Did you know that ALL dinosaur footprint fossils found are pointing in the same direction?! This is IRREFUTABLE PROOF of the dinosaurs running from a global flood!

With thanks to the inevitable PZ Myers.


Let me know what you think of the new look. I'm not sure whether I like it or not.

I can always change it, you know. (But next time, I'm going to save my links and all first.)

Let's Hear It For the Kids

I do have faith in the next generation when I read stories like this:

Two students at Central Kings Rural High School fought back against bullying recently, unleashing a sea of pink after a new student was harassed and threatened when he showed up wearing a pink shirt.

The Grade 9 student arrived for the first day of school last Wednesday and was set upon by a group of six to 10 older students who mocked him, called him a homosexual for wearing pink and threatened to beat him up.

The next day, Grade 12 students David Shepherd and Travis Price decided something had to be done about bullying.

"It’s my last year. I’ve stood around too long and I wanted to do something," said David.

They used the Internet to encourage people to wear pink and bought 75 pink tank tops for male students to wear. They handed out the shirts in the lobby before class last Friday — even the bullied student had one.

"I made sure there was a shirt for him," David said.

They also brought a pink basketball to school as well as pink material for headbands and arm bands. David and Travis figure about half the school’s 830 students wore pink.

It was hard to miss the mass of students in pink milling about in the lobby, especially for the group that had harassed the new Grade 9 student . . . .

When the bullied student put on his pink shirt Friday and saw all the other pink in the lobby, "he was all smiles. It was like a big weight had been lifted off is shoulder," David said. No one at the school would reveal the student’s name.

Travis said that growing up, he was often picked on for wearing store-brand clothes instead of designer duds.

Dan Savage wants to send them gift certificates, but I think that misses the point.

Digby on Social Conservatives

Particularly as they relate to Giuliani:

He reminds the wingnut hordes of Bush during the glory days, back when he was da man, a swaggering, arrogant, stupid prick. They were on top, too, burning piles of Dixie Chicks CD's and wearing purple heart band-aids and American flags like a bunch of teen-aged bullies. These adolescent morons ran the world for a minute and Rudy seems like the guy who can get it back for them.

Except, of course, he nuts. But as Tom Friedman famously said about Rumsfeld, that's what they like about him.

My sentiments exactly.

The Constitution: Sic Transit Gloria

You may have noticed that one of my sacred cows, and I think quite justifiably, is the U.S. Constitution. I resent attacks on it as much -- or maybe more -- than I resent attacks against myself. When all else is said and done, it's the Constitution -- and not just the Bill of Rights, but the whole thing that lays out how the system is to work -- that makes this country possible.

Thus is should be obvious that my contempt for George W. Bush and the thugs in his administration stems not from his stupidity, arrogance and incompetence, but from his own contempt for the American system. I've noted in a number of posts over the years the erosion of that foundation by this administration. I'm not alone -- Digby, David Neiwert, Glenn Greenwald, Jack Balkin and his crew, have all done solid work documenting the trends. The commentators on the right -- vermin such as Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Donald Wildmon, James Dobson, Fred Phelps, and their fellow-travelers and hangers-on -- don't seem to worry about the Constitution so much, except as an impediment to their agenda. They don't really believe in the American system.

I've noticed a couple of major essays on this topic lately. Here's one by Digby that deserves a read. Charlie Savage also has some comments at TPM Cafe. (And here are his previous posts on the topic.)

Take the time to read these. They're important.


This is relevant: we've been complicit in allowing these assaults on what America means, and the single most effective weapon that the right wing has used has been "security." This post by Auguste at Pandagon summarizes the whole syndrome fairly neatly:

I don’t know why I didn’t stop. I mean, I do, superficially. Picking up hitchhikers is risky. Not so much safety-wise; I can pretty much take care of myself and it’s a busy freeway with a lot of potential stopping places. But it’s risky in another way, in that way that opening up one’s personal bubble is risky. Would he be an annoying companion? Is he on the lam? Will he offer me crack-laced marijuana, or meth, or whatever it is the cool kids are smoking these days? Will I be uncomfortable?

I think that last is the reason I didn’t stop. Which is funny, since I’m rarely actually comfortable. I mean, please, compared to the rest of the world, and compared to many sections of American society, I’m so comfortable I might as well be landed gentry. My car runs most of the time, and I have a backup when it doesn’t. I don’t punch a time clock or work my fingers to the literal bone. There’s food in the pantry, and extra. But somehow, I’m still neurotic, still fearful. I’m so neurotic that I’ve somehow decided that helping someone get from point A to point B, something I used to do as a matter of course, was just too inconvenient, too uncomfortable.

In that few minutes following my refusal, I suddenly saw laid out in front of me the entire vista of the “security first” mindset. I saw a flow chart which led from my extremely venial sin to the absolute supremacy of American security above all other considerations, including the security of what America really means. I never actually drank the Kool-Aid, mind you, but I saw where the sugar and the red powder really come from. American freedoms are shirtless, dreadlocked hitchhikers; I can safely ignore them because they’ll still get where they’re going. They don’t need it to be me that gets them there, and good, because they might make me uncomfortable. I’ve got mine, as meager in some ways as that can feel.

The idea that there's only so much to go around of intangibles like freedoms and rights is one mantra Republicans have been chanting from the time that they began to morph into the party of autocracy. We can see it now in the form of Black ministers and politicians who bristle at the idea that gays might deserve civil rights (after all, they've got theirs), as though they had a trademark on the phrase, or "Christians" who are convinced that granting freedom of religion to anyone else infringes on their inalienable right to be obnoxious assholes.

And the rest of us pretty much let them get away with it. Well, maybe not all of us. It mostly seems to be the bleeding-heart liberals who sit there telling us we have to understand where the neofascists are coming from. Y'know what? I don't care where they're coming from. It's enough for me that the positions they're espousing are repellent.

By the same token, administration assertions that the president needs more power and that Congress must not "interfere" with his decisions or his ability to make them are so much bullshit. That's Congress' job, just as the job of the courts is to overturn laws that cannot be reconciled with the Constitution. (Have I mentioned how much the right wing hates the idea of an independent judiciary?) And that's in the Constitution.

And we sit here and smile ruefully at how ludicrous those people are. In the meantime, we have the Gonzales Justice Department, which is poised to keep handing elections to right-wing exremists until someone manages to pull off mass firings of Bush's political hacks. We have the most corrupt and incompetent government in living memory with only one item on its agenda: gut the Constitution.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


Decided to change the look, which means I have to reconstruct all my links. That's going to take a while.

Patience, please.

The Only Appropriate Response

This is choice:

A conservative political activist is demanding that the Iowa Legislature impeach Polk County District Judge Robert Hanson, who ruled last month that state’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. . . .

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal laughed when he heard about the effort. The Council Bluffs Democrat said he wasn’t sure if the Legislature even has the power to impeach a judge. “I’m next to positive it’s never been done,” he said.

Gronstal said Salier’s impeachment demand was not an honest attempt to oust Hanson. “Let’s be blunt: The likelihood of that happening is zero, and he knows it, and you know it.”

Thanks to Pam Spaulding.

Exit Strategy

Bush II is finally taking a lesson from Bush I: He's leaving Iraq II for his successor to handle.

And the MSM is finally catching on.

It occurs to me that the only way that Bush I could look like someone with any intelligence or integrity is by contrast with Bush II.

The Move-On Ad and Some Comments on Petraeus

I haven't seen it. I doubt that it's as bad as the Republicans are making out -- nothing could be. But it does bring up an interesting thought, which BC points out in this post at AmericaBlog:

So Senator Cornyn believes it's unacceptable for an outside group to impugn the integrity of a war veteran with fallacious attacks. But why does this sound vaguely familiar? Oh yeah, that's right, like when the Swift Boat Veterans falsely attacked John Kerry's character.

Unlike the Swift Boat ads, Moveon doesn't lie, they just doubt the methodology and bias that Petraeus has shown. It's incredibly hypocritical for Republicans to suddenly be up in arms over attacks on military men, when they turned a blind eye in 2004. But shamelessness is the name of their game.

But you see, that's the point. It's OK to lie about someone if you're doing a smear campaign -- the right does it all the time. Just look at any literature put out by the American Family Association, Focus on the Family, the American Family Institute (an official hate group), James Dobson, Lou Sheldon, the Wildmons -- come to think of it, John Cornyn (R-Neverneverland) isn't too firm on reality, either.

But when you publicize uncomfortable truths, that's the last straw.

More on Petraeus: Yes, he's kind of hot, but the chief of CENTCOM doesn't seem to have such a high opinion of his competence or integrity. From Think Progress:

This week, Petraeus — in the first public hearings since taking on his new role — delivered his Iraq assessment to great media fanfare. But where was his boss, Admiral Fallon? Inter-Press Service suggests animosity between the two might be one reason for Fallon’s absence:

Fallon told Petraeus [in March] that he considered him to be “an ass-kissing little chickensh*t” and added, “I hate people like that”, the sources say. That remark reportedly came after Petraeus began the meeting by making remarks that Fallon interpreted as trying to ingratiate himself with a superior.

The Washington Post reported this weekend that there is an internal military debate, described as “Armageddon,” brewing between Petraeus and Fallon because the two men have “profoundly different views of the U.S. role in Iraq.”

Looks like Bush forgot to fire a commander who thinks for himself.

And the word is that Petraeus is considering a presidential run sometime in the future. (Read the whole article, but keep in mind that Khadim is not necessarily impartial regarding Petraeus. Also keep in mind that Petraeus is a yes-man -- that's why he still has his job.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I spent a fair amount of time yesterday thinking about how best to remember 9/11 and didn't really come up with anything that suited. And then I ran across this post by PZ Myers:

I'm not impressed with moments of silence or candlelight vigils or noble rhetoric about this event. If you want to do something to remember that tragedy, the best thing to do is to simply stop living your life in fear.

That, it seems to me, is indeed the best way to honor the dead. It's a poke in the eye to those who did the deeds, and also to those who have exploited them for their own purposes.

"Public" Opinion

Y'know, given the commentary on the general cluelessness of the Beltway elite and the Democratic party in general, I'm amazed that I didn't figure this out sooner on my own:

But what if it’s actually been the Democratic establishment all along? It would certainly explain the media and noise machine’s fondness for making absurdly wrong claims about what “the American people” want (war, warrantless wiretaps, Social Security reform, theocracy) or don’t want (oversight, gay marriage, legal abortions, Mexicans).

I figured it was a peer-pressure mindgame to make people adopt right-wing views out of a desire to fit in and be cool. But maybe the real intent was for Democrats and their consultants to see it and say, “OMG! Every poll we’ve ever read is COMPLETELY WRONG! David Broder tells us we need to lay off the oversight and antiwar stuff and start talking about Jesus instead! Thank God we read his column in time!”

If so, it’s a double benefit to the Republicans: It alienates Democrats from their base, making it harder for them to get elected; and it ensures that there are always enough Bush Dogs and LieberDems to give the Republicans functioning majorities in Congress.

That explains what's going on in Congress pretty well, don't you think?

And In Related News

The things you don't know about. From NYT:

He knew his colors and shapes, he learned more than 100 English words, and with his own brand of one-liners he established himself in television shows, scientific reports and news articles as perhaps the world’s most famous talking bird.

I'm reminded, of course, of the ape language experiments in the 1970s -- Sara, Koko, and others -- that were shot down on methodological grounds with arguments that I at the time considered specious. I'm not going to dispute that Alex's use of language wasn't up to simian standards, but we do persist in underestimating the intelligence of the so-called "lower" animals. The appropriateness of his comments is eerie:

Even up through last week, Alex was working with Dr. Pepperberg on compound words and hard-to-pronounce words. As she put him into his cage for the night last Thursday, she recalled, Alex looked at her and said: “You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you.”

Take a look at this post by Andrew Sullivan as well. It would appear that our fellows on this planet are a lot more sophisticated than we like to think. Conservatives, not so much. (And it's amazing how that story ties in with this post.)

And people laugh at me for talking to squirrels.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Yesterday, Today and . . .

Thanks to the magic of Earthlink, yesterday's posts were lost. They consisted of two somewhat related items: first, Fred Thompson is such a clueless lightweight that he stands a good chance at the Republican nomination. And if the DoJ/Diebold machine works as Rove designed it, he might win the White House.

Second, the Republican field is so desperate that they're falling back on the classics: according to both Giuliani and Romney, the disaster in Iraq is Bill Clinton's fault.

And now for today's interesting little tidbit:

Steven Benen has an intriguing little piece at TPM about the California Republican convention. Said Arnold Schwarzenegger:

"In movie terms, we are dying at the box office. We are not filling the seats," the California governor said. "Now, while the number of California Republicans has been declining, the number of independents has been growing. They may well outnumber both political parties in just 20 years." Schwarzenegger made the comments in an address to the California Republican party state convention.

"The real opportunity for Republicans is that independents generally agree with our core principles," he said. "I want to make the Republican Party welcoming to these Independents."

Says the rank and file:

"The Republican Party should stick to its core principles," said Mark Zappa, 48, a promotional business owner from Gilroy who said he was "very disturbed" by the governor's call to open the Republican Party to independent voters as the Democrats do.

"If you have to sway your beliefs just to satisfy society, you don't have a moral basis," Zappa said. "Does that mean you're marginalized? Possibly."

Now, in a democracy, it would seem that the reasonable foundation for a party's core principles should be built from the bottom up: the platform derives from the agenda of the membership. It seems that the differences between the Democrats and Republicans on this issue are structural: the Democrats are willing to adapt their principles to reflect their membership's priorities; the Republicans insist that the membership adhere to the principles dictated by the party, which in this case is under the control of the extremists.*

This is not something that has a long history with the Republicans. I remember the days when parties hammered out platforms that had the broadest possible appeal, because they wanted to win the election. In the last generation or so, it seems that the Republican platform is designed to drive people away -- maybe it's because they feel, after six years of the Bush/Rove machine, that they have other ways to stay in power.

At any rate, I find it ironic that the Republicans are face to face with one of the core principles of evolution, another thing they don't like: adapt or die.

* Thinking on this a little more, it seems to me that one can list among the Democrats' core principles inclusion of diverse points of view, which is why any group of liberals looks like a rehearsal for a Keystone Kops movie. Republicans, as the party of oligarchy, have a much more unified approach because diversity of viewpoint is not one of their core principles. It has become a high contrast in mindset.

Saturday, September 08, 2007


In light of Robbie's post on outing and media portrayal of gay men, which I responded to here, I thought this interchange between Chris Crain and Michelangelo Signorile was interesting. I have to side with Signorile, for the most part: it seems to me that Crain is supporting the journalistic tradition of treating gently those in power and also edging into the blame-the-victim territory that I slammed in my post.

It's as thought the gay establishment has bought into the Democrats' fear of making a fuss, when, of course, what's needed is the right fuss aimed at the right targets -- in this case, the press. I don't know why we have this idea that those in power deserve to be handled with kid gloves. If anything, they deserve closer scrutiny and tougher questions. That whole thing is completely bass ackwards, as far as I can see.

As for outing itself, in the cases of closeted politicians (and other high-profile voices) who are damaging the community, let 'em have it -- both barrels. I have no sympathy, and I don't really care what they're struggling with. As if the rest of us hadn't had the same struggle and usually managed to work through it without damaging anyone but ourselves. They are using their position and their rhetoric to damage me, and doing the same things that I've done -- and often worse, by their own lights.

And, quite by chance, I ran across this thread at Crooked Timber. Synchronicity, anyone?

Friday, September 07, 2007


Luciano Pavarotti, for those of you lost in the woods for the past few days, has died at age 71. I don't really have much to say about Pavarotti, so I'll give you the post at Down With Tyranny! by keninny, which relays some thoughts by Conrad L. Osborne and is pretty interesting. If you want the ultimate obituary, here's the one from NYT.

Note the photo -- Pavarotti with the omnipresent handkerchief, because he always sweat like a horse when he was performing in concert. I remember seeing him in an appearance on TV with Domingo, where they did some compelling singing. It was the first time I'd heard "Au fond du temple saint from The Pearlfishers, and was captivated -- enough to go out and buy a recording of the opera. And I remember close-ups of Pavarotti just dripping. The man was giving it his all.

I should explain that I'm not a diva queen. My appreciation of opera has grown steadily over the years (although I still am not terrifically fond of Verdi -- I'm much more a Puccini-Wagner-Strauss sort, with, of course, a great love for Mozart), but I can't get into the deification of soloists. I'm one of the few people I know who can watch old films of Callas and be . . . well, not unmoved, but not swept away, either.

That said, however, one must recognize the importance of Pavarotti to the growth of public appreciation of opera in the last generation or two, and also recognize his immense humanity and generosity. We have all suffered a sore loss.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Just What We Needed

A strong defender on the right.

I happened to run across this post by Robbie at the Malcontent, and sat there scratching my head for a couple of minutes.

I have no objections to the objections to the use of the word "lifestyle" in regard to gay culture. It's a fabricated concept that encapsulates hard-right ideology while belittling our humanity, based on the idea that being gay is a deliberate choice (jury's out, but the answer is probably "no"), and that our sexual activities have nothing to do with the fact that society at large has historically tried to keep us in the closet, thereby eliminating our choices on how to find, not sex, but the human contact that anyone needs. (I'm talking here about that human contact that encompasses affection, understanding, like-minded companionship, and physical as well as emotional needs.) So we have in the past had to make do with bars, backrooms, cruisy parks and public johns. Of course, those who point fingers have nothing to do with that at all. Uh-uh.

What stopped me was this:

The Outers claim that exposing closeted gays is always a good thing.

There is, needless to say, no documentation or citation for that comment, probably because it's not true. Even Mike Rogers, Mr. Out-The-Hypocrites, has been quite clear that his targets are those who are closeted and continue to work against the equality of gay men and lesbians.

He goes on:

Even if Larry Craig’s resignation sticks, does anyone believe Idaho is going to replace him with a champion of gay rights? Are the Outers pleased that many quarters of the media have just spent almost an entire week discussing gay men and public restroom sex almost synonymously?

It is a sad fact of life that closeted married types aren’t frequenting the healthiest venues to satisfy their sexual urges. Male prostitution, sex lines, public bathrooms, internet sites, minor congressional pages. Every time the hypocrisy of it all is uncovered and publicized, is it really helping us that the public spends the resulting week watching yet another gay male caught in yet another act of seedy, morally questionable sex?

Who’s being helped here? It certainly isn’t our image. While many of us are fighting for marriage on the grounds that we desire to live in a world that allows us the stability of family, the Outers pick and comb through the dregs of sexuality and triumphantly advertise yet another gay man caught doing . . . . well, what those filthy gays do!

Go ahead, Robbie -- blame the victims. It would seem to me that the target should not be those who out the hypocrites in public office, but the media and pundits who use that as an excuse to vilify gays. And, I might point out, they're not all on the right.

Instead, what we get from the so-called "right-of-centrists" at Malcontent seems to be the suggestion we should all just hurry back into the closet and not make waves. My own suggestion is why not give credit for thesse kinds of stories where credit is due? Not to the gays who are fighting the battles, but to the media who are on board with the anti-gay conservatives.

Thanks a lot, Robbie, for all your help.

Oh, Hey!

A visitor from Iceland. I'm a made man.


This is the sort of thing I want to call "alarmist" and "over the top," and with anyone else in the White House, I'd be right. Read this post at Mahablog, and think about the way the anti-Iran rhetoric out of the White House has been intensifying lately.

Look at it this way: as much as I don't want to credit something like this, it makes a certain sense. I don't believe Bush is in his right mind, and I don't think the administration's goals, as much as we can tell by its behavior and record, are in the best interests of the country. They have about sixteen months left, a thoroughly politicized executive branch, a packed Supreme Court, they've eliminated every ranking military officer who disagrees with the president on anything, and Congress is still useless in exercising any control.

Much as I hate to admit it, I have to recognize that people are capable of just about anything.

This Is Not About Larry Craig

This is about Dinesh D'Souza making up columns out of whole cloth. The legendary D'Souza has managed to com eup with this garbage on the Larry Craig scandal. It's such complete trash that it's hard to find anything that stands out as a key quote.

First off, he's factually wrong (not that anyone expects that to bother him). As guest blogger BC points out at AmericaBlog, Arianna Huffington and Matthew Yglesias have defended Craig on grounds that D'Souza brings up. Even Josh Marshall, who seldom expresses an opinion, comes up with support for Craig. Hilzoy questions the justification for Craig's arrest. In fact, I don't recall seeing any condemnations of Craig coming from the left (except for those commenting on his own hypocrisy, which is the impetus for Mike Rogers' comments, which, granted, were a little over the top), only from the right. (And actually, those condemnations I've seen from the right mostly seem to be based on "the good of the party," which is a chilling thought.)

Of course, if Craig were a Democrat, he wouldn't have to be hiding out about his sexual proclivities, would he?

D'Souza is merely taking this as another platform for some reflexive left-bashing, with, of course, the requisite Clinton-bashing as the core. (Clinton was a "bad boy.") The two gay-related cases that D'Souza manages to dig up are over thirty years old. And let's not forget "liberal hypocrisy." It must be there, because D'Souza keeps repeating the phrase. Even if he doesn't manage to come up with any links or quotes or any other documentation. Of course, this is an opinion piece, and therefore doesn't have to be based in any sort of reality, fortuntely for D'Souza. Reality seems to be his weak point.

So D'Souza comes up with a screed about liberal assaults on Larry Craig (which didn't happen) while ignoring the fact that Craig's problems are coming from his own party, and liberal hypocrisy., which makes its appearance in some form known only to D'Souza but it must be a matter of national security, since he never bothers to give us any concrete examples.

Does anyone wonder why I seldom waste time reading what right-wing commentators come up with?

(Footnote: I want to clarify a statement I made earlier about public sex, which I realize may have sounded somewhat holier-than-thou, whcih I didn't intend at all. I don't engage in that, and never have, mostly because I'm too shy to approach people, and clueless enough that I have been known to suffer approaches without even realizing they were happening. It's still not something that's high up on my list of things to do, because, given the choice between unzipped, fast and anonymous and naked and totally engaged, I'll take the latter every time. But you never can tell.)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week is coming at the end of the month (September 29-October 6).

I like this comment about censorship:

“Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime . . . .” — Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, dissenting Ginzberg v. United States, 383 U.S. 463 (1966)

I have no patience with censorship anyway. It strikes me that attempts at censorship indicate a lack of confidence in the validity of one's arguments -- if your arguments have no substance, the only thing you can do is muzzle the other side.

The ALA site is being cagey about ascribing challenges to certain groups, which I can understand: partisan political advocacy undercuts their message. All the reports I've seen implicate such stalwart Americans (snicker) as Focus on the Family, American Family Association, their leaders and followers. But that's merely anecdotal. But when one looks at the works challenged, one begins to see a pattern: anything that disagrees with their religious beliefs is evil and needs to be purged from public view. (This is not 100%. I have no illusions that the PC left is not just as intolerant and authoritarian. They're just not as well organized.)

Most challenges to books come because of sexual content. Most challenges are initiated by parents. I can certainly understand parents wanting to control their children's access to information about sex, but I have no patience with their demands to control other parents' children's access. Easy solution: be a parent. Tell your kid "not allowed." Leave other people's kids alone.

I honestly don't understand a mindset that says "no one can be allowed to see this" rather than "I won't permit my kids to see this."

So, celebrate Banned Books Week -- donate one to your library.

Laugh Them Out Of Existence

This is hilarious. A wonderful story on an attempted Nazi/Klan rally in Knoxville in late May. Via Digby:

“White Power!” the Nazi’s shouted, “White Flour?” the clowns yelled back running in circles throwing flour in the air and raising separate letters which spelt “White Flour”.

“White Power!” the Nazi’s angrily shouted once more, “White flowers?” the clowns cheers and threw white flowers in the air and danced about merrily.

“White Power!” the Nazi’s tried once again in a doomed and somewhat funny attempt to clarify their message, “ohhhhhh!” the clowns yelled “Tight Shower!” and held a solar shower in the air and all tried to crowd under to get clean as per the Klan’s directions.

At this point several of the Nazi’s and Klan members began clutching their hearts as if they were about to have a heart attack. Their beady eyes bulged, and the veins in their tiny narrow foreheads beat in rage. One last time they screamed “White Power!”

The clown women thought they finally understood what the Klan was trying to say. “Ohhhhh…” the women clowns said. “Now we understand…”, “WIFE POWER!” they lifted the letters up in the air, grabbed the nearest male clowns and lifted them in their arms and ran about merrily chanting “WIFE POWER! WIFE POWER! WIFE POWER!”

And how did official Knoxville feel about this?

But the cops stopped the clowns and counter protestors. “Hey, do you want an escort” an African-American police officer on a motorcycle asked. “Yes” a clown replied. “We are walking to Market Square in the center of town to celebrate.”

The police officers got in front of the now anti racist parade and blocked the entire road for the march through the heart of Knoxville. An event called imagination station was taking place and over 15,000 thousand students and their parents were in town that weekend. Many of them cheered as the clowns, Knoxvillians and counter protestors marched through the heart of Knoxville singing and laughing at the end of the Nazi’s first attempt at having a rally in Knoxville.

I love stuff like this.

Footnote on "The Will of the People"

I ran across this quote quite by accident, but it is holds a key concept in the ongoing debate about the role of "activist judges" in same-sex marriage cases, expressed much more elegantly than I have been able to do.

“The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and to establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.” — Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)

"The will of the people" as applied to decisions on fundamental rights and liberties is and always has been a crock. It has no support and no justification except as a device to undercut the authority of the courts, which has been a right-wing goal for years -- if you can't control them, get rid of them.

If you're gonig to try to tell me that the Founders didn't mean it, you're going to get laughed at.

That's just the way it is.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

What Marriage Means

Finally, my promised follow-up to my most recent posts on marriage (here and here) addressing some issues raised by B. Daniel Blatt in a post from June. I was particularly interested in seeing Jonathan Rauch's comments in his review of David Blankenhorn's The Future of Marriage.

One of Blatt's major concerns, and the genesis of a great deal of our correspondence, is his feeling that the national gay rights groups don't concentrate enough on the meaning of marriage as a social institution, and instead see it in terms of legal and economic considerations.

know I’ve said this before, but I’m still flabbergasted by the rhetoric on gay marriage of the gay groups (especially HRC’s lapdogs at Log Cabin) who don’t seem to see marriage as anything more than a “right” and seem to think freedom means state recogntion. Nor do they recognize that the struggle for marriage is more than an issue of such recognition, it also involves a social understanding of the institution.

I've pointed out on more than one occasion that in challenging existing restrictions on same-sex marriage, we are limited to addressing legal and economic disparities in treatment of same-sex couples. That's what the courts can deal with, and those are the bases that support actions at law. You can't really make a case on a generalized concept of "social understandings."

As far as this social understanding, one of the key points that Blatt doesn't really address is that we don't have a consensus meaning for marriage in this country, and insofar as we ever did, it's somewhat in the past. This is really nothing new. Marriage and its compnents have been "redefined" so many times in history that one rapidly loses count. One of the most constant aspects, however, has been that it is a civil institution that may or may not have had religious support. And, if you look at the history, it has been largely a matter of property rights -- a business arrangements. It's worth noting in this context that marriage as an official ritual was something engaged in by the upper, moneyed classes and pretty much not bothered with by the poor well into the modern era. Thus, we still have the concept of a "common-law" marriage, which translates as if you live together and say you're married, you're married. (Don't take my word for this. There are any number of sources documenting these arrangements, starting with John Boswell's Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, which, in spite of sometimes questionable interpretations of documents relating to same-sex unions, does provide a good concise history of marriage. For that matter, the novels of Jane Austen and John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga give vivid illustrations of what marriage was about in nineteenth and early twentieth-century England, aside from being enjoyable reading in their own right.)

So, we don't have a consensus on what marriage means. I think I can say that there is an intangible value that regrettably bears little weight with the courts, although perhaps its best summation is, ironically enough, from the opinion in Goodridge, et al.:

Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations

And later:

Barred access to the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage, a person who enters into an intimate, exclusive union with another of the same sex is arbitrarily deprived of membership in one of our community's most rewarding and cherished institutions. That exclusion is incompatible with the constitutional principles of respect for individual autonomy and equality under law.

And yet, even here, the court did not enumerate exactly what the elements of this "most rewarding and cherished institutions" were, I suspect that, aside from the fact that it's not incumbent on the court to do so, the court can't, anymore than anyone else can.

Jonathan Rauch gives a similar rationale:

By marriage, I mean not just a commitment that two people make to each other. Marriage is a commitment that the two spouses also make to their community. They promise to look after each other and their children so society won’t have to; in exchange, society deems them a family and provides an assortment of privileges, obligations, and caregiving tools. (Not, mostly, "benefits.") Marriage does much more than ratify relationships, I would tell audiences; it fortifies relationships by embedding them in a dense web of social expectations. That is why marriage, with or without children, is a win-win deal, strengthening individuals, families, and communities all at the same time. Gay marriage, I said, would be the same positive-sum transaction. The example gay couples set by marrying instead of shacking up might even strengthen marriage itself.

On a basic psychological/social level, marriage defines your status within the community. It is the label that says, among other things, "These people are a stable and definable part of our community, they can be relied on to behave in certain ways and to pursue certain goals, and they are no longer available for courtship." (This is the platonic ideal, of course.)

Much of the official objection to same-sex marriage hinges on children (which is also addressed in the Goodridge opinion -- four of the seven couples who sued were raising children), but not, mind you on the careful and responsible upbringing of children, but the physical act of creating them. As far as the contemporary meaning of marriage, procreation has lost its punch. (Quite aside from the fact that no one, I think, can argue that humanity is in danger of extinction through anything other than its own efforts at this point -- not without being laughed out of the room -- and also aside from the fact that not being married doesn't seem to stop very many people from having children anyway.) But let's keep in mind that raising children is still one of the key reasons for marriage. In this regard, here's Rauch's comment on one of the points of agreement he has with Blankenhorn:

And we agree that children, on average (please note the qualifier), do best when raised by their biological mother and father, though he makes more sweeping claims on that score than I would.

Frankly, I don't see a legitimate argument here. There is no evidence to support this belief, and so it remains merely a belief, an opinion that can't even garner supporting evidence. Every study that has been done comparing the children of gay couples with the children of straight couples comes to the same general conclusion: no difference. So, this argument remains a matter of ideology, not fact.

Rauch quotes Blankenhorn on something I think is critical to understanding this question:

For Blankenhorn, "the most important trend affecting marriage in America" is not same-sex marriage. It is the "deinstitutionalization" of marriage–that is, "the belief that marriage is exclusively a private relationship"–of which gay marriage is merely a prominent offshoot. To his credit, he understands and forthrightly acknowledges that the individualistic view of marriage "has deep roots in our society and has been growing for decades, propagated overwhelmingly by heterosexuals."

The "deinstitutionalism" of marriage begs for definitions. We are dealing with two (at least) classes of "institution" here. First is the obvious, public, formal institution as codified in law, both civil and religious. The second, and I think much more important, is the organic, subtextual institution that grows out of and is an integral part of social convention and custom. Rauch again:

Marriage creates kin. In society’s eyes, it distinguishes a relationship from a family. The trouble, for Blankenhorn, with declaring any old kind of relationship a family–with turning marriage into "a pretty label for a private relationship"–is that marriage evolved and exists for a specific social reason, which is to bind both parents, especially fathers, to their biological children. Same-sex marriage, he argues, denies this principle, because its "deep logic" is that a family is whatever we say it is, and it changes the meaning of marriage "for everyone").

"Marriage creates kin." That is a key factor in the social meaning of marriage, and what makes it a truly binding and fundamental social institution. I think Blankenhorn is wrong on a central point here, though. Blood relationships no longer have the weight in a mobile, transient society that they had when people grew up and stayed put. Family as a nexus of social contact is still important, but it's not only gays who create their own families. One sees it in the emphasis on networking, and the increased prominence of maintaining those friendships and relationships formed in school. I don't think the answer to Blankenhorn's dilemma is restricting marriage; it would seem that the only solution here is to require everyone to stay put. Not gonna happen.

As Rauch goes on, it becomes clear that biological parents raising their children is the key factor in Blankenshorn's argument on the meaning of marriage. Given the things I've outlined above, this is at best questionable. In one sense, we're back to property rights and business arrangements: being sure who your parents are is important for inheritance of property and position. Given the plethora of mechanisms to insure those things, insistence on a biological basis for family becomes less persuasive. (This doesn't surprise me -- I've run across Blankenhorn's ideas before, and wasn't impressed.) In fact, in terms of the "meaning" of a double-barreled institution such as marriage, I consider Blankenhorn's argument trivial, if for no other reason than that there are so many contemporary aspects of family that it doesn't address -- childlessness, adoption, extended families and the like.

Rauch quotes this manifesto from 2000:

Still others can be found in a 2000 document called The Marriage Movement: A Statement of Principles. In a section headed "What Is Marriage?" the manifesto declares that "marriage has at least six important dimensions": it is a legal contract, a financial partnership, a sacred promise, a sexual union, a personal bond, and a family-making bond. "In all these ways," the statement continues, "marriage is a productive institution, not a consumer good."

The manifesto was written by David Blankenhorn. Ironically, considering his current position and my comments on the history and purposes of marriage above, is that Blankenhorn gives pride of place to legal and financial considerations.

I don't mean to question Blankenhorn's sincerity or his integrity, but his arguments leave much to be desired, as Rauch so ably points out. As for Blatt's concerns with the meaning of marriage, I suspect that's a question that's going to admit of no single answer, unless it be the very broad one relating to organic institutions and social bonds. That's an area in which the law becomes irrelevant -- gay families will operate in a context that sees them as de facto families, whether or not they achieve recognition de jure. And the bonds between children and their "unrelated" aunts and uncles are going to be as firm as the bonds between any children and their extended families simply because those bonds are not genetic. They are the product of usage and emotional ties and shared histories. That is something that is going to exist outside the law, and so the legal process of recognizing gay families can't rely on that.

I'd like to be more precise about this, but I don't think it's possible. I have to conclude that defining the meaning of marriage is not something we can do right now, not in any fine-grained way, because that meaning is in flux and has been for the past fifty years. It's also something that's going to happen in spite of the national gay rights groups and the courts and the legislatures, not because of them -- they are only going to be able to identify the boundaries, for those who wish to maintain them.


From Christy Hardin Smith, this post on maintaining.

I need to. Dance exercises do it for me -- modern dance, which from my teachers took a lot from yoga and quigong and tai chi and stressed one thing over and over again: "listen to your body and don't try to do anything that makes it cry."

Particularly with my history of joint problems, particularly knees, I should never have stopped. The only time in my life that I can remember my knees not hurting is when I was studying modern dance fairly intensively -- I mean, four classes a week. That's also the first time I had any muscle tone in my belly.

So, if Christy can do it, I can do it. All I have to do is remind myself that I once looked like this: