FauxPolitik

Friday, February 27, 2004

Make You Commit? Not until it's legal in Pennsylvania, too. Plus, you gotta sign a prenup.

Thank goodness for my pseudonym: If you're going to make me commit, then here's my "feeling" on the matter. I think that homosexuality is not a basis to restrict marriage. Why does it make a difference as to the sexual orientation or gender of those who get married? It can't be about procreation (there's not obligation to do so when married and may married couples can't reproduce). It can't be about religious beliefs, because that can't be a basis for the government to deny or permit.

No, marriage is about stability. We believe that when people are married, it helps stabilize our world. It fosters stability in property, in family, and in social relations.

Those against gay marriage can't really espouse a reason why the government shouldn't sanction it without bringing in religious beliefs. They can speak about "preserving our heritage" all they want, but gay marriage doesn't disrupt hetero marriage or its traditions - it only adds another group to what we have now (with that current group not being altogether successful at it in any rate).

Those opposing the issue don't want more members into the club because then they can't look down on those on the outside. They become too similar - and nothing like familiarity to breed contempt. As long as they can exclude the homos, the heteros can remain superior. Just like with the race laws that are slowly dying, so too will the anti-homosexual laws. The same exact arguments are used; which boil down to: "it doesn't seem right." And by the way, I don't know that I'd apply the "Rational Basis" test to this issue, but that's another post.

I would restrict the right to marriage to some though. Murderers, child-molesters, and rapists come to mind. If marriage is about liberty (so says Warren) then take some more liberty away from those who don't deserve it.

Don't punish a group of individuals that have produced some of the most breath-taking art and literature (not to mention inventions and ideas) the world has ever known just because they reject your idea of sexuality. They have every right to every other liberty we bestow upon mankind (we even so graciously allow them to create life and adopt) except the right to express their commitment to one another in a way that is legally recognized.

Preserving anachronistic ideals is not the basis for forming government policy. Otherwise, bring back slavery, by all means. I have some projects at home I'm too busy for.

Just a Little Loving: Ah, Dusty Springfield, you constitutional sage.

Razor, as usual your commentary is brimful of informative fact, not to mention ridiculous example. But your opinion on the matter (which seems to boil down to "Puh-leeze") leaves me feeling a bit empty. Are you trying to avoid a paper trail? (That federal judgeship may be coming, but I'm convinced I can put you in the Senate well before then.)

Your comments indicate that you are not in the first of the three groups you describe (marriage not a universal right; restriction wholly constitutional). I don't think you'd show up in the second group (man/man marriage as good as man/woman; man/woman/man or man/aardvark worth considering). That leaves only the yawning chasm that you call "the middle ground" (marriage is a right; rational basis restriction okay). Lots of wiggle room in that place. You getting advice from John Kerry's team on this?

Ocean Front Views for All: Speaking of absolute rights, it appears that you have the right for the government to keep buying you a nice shore-front house.

Loving you is easy 'cause there's a rational basis for it: My apologies to Minnie Riperton, but I can't help myself. Also, I hate you Eno for making me try to remember my Con Law courses. But here goes:

First of all, Warren used a couple of analyses to make up his mind. The one that gets short shrift, but from which Ms. Ridenour's favorite sentence ("Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," fundamental to our very existence and survival.") comes from is under the Due Process prong. Warren equates marriage to "liberty" (oh god, the amount of jokes that can come out of that), which was denied to the Lovings on the basis of race. Persuasive? I think not. I mean, you can make the argument, but you'll notice that not even Warren really tries.

The Equal Protection analysis is more to the point. It is worth re-stating that when we engage in Equal Protection analysis, we are looking not at the conduct engaged in (typically), but the people engaging in it. To use my favorite rhetorical device of assuming a ridiculous example, imagine someone wants to play hopscotch, but some town has a law in place that only blonde people (good for me) can play hopscotch on public property. Some firey red head then files suit saying the government is restricting her ability to engage in the god-given right to play hopscotch. The courts then have to find whether (a) hopscotch is a "right" and then whether (b) there is some basis (whether "rational" or of a more heightened variety depending on the class of person involved) that the government can rightly use to support its law. Note that the "rational basis" test is almost always a win for the government, Loving notwithstanding.

Currently the debate is about the institution of marriage, or the right to marry. It seems everyone in the various branches of the federal government is of the opinion that marriage is the right of all rights, second only to the right to commit sodomy. The issue then is whether marriage is universal to all citizens, and if so, if there still might be a reason to restrict it to certain peoples.

Buying into the premise then that marriage is a "right", we need to take the next step. The one side of the argument will say that "marriage" is a right not universal to all citizens, and therefore, you really don't need to get into an argument over why you're restricting it. The Rosies of the world say that everyone has the right and that as such, you can't deny it to anyone. The middle ground would be that it's universal, but there can be compelling reasons to deny it. This is where the courts are likely to find themselves. But once you do that, and if, you buy into it being a universal right, I think the argument for exclusion falls apart (I mean, we let convicted felons marry - assuming it's boy/girl). Then you get into this justification that only heteros "deserve" marriage; or that we must preserve the historical sanctity of marriage. Puh-leeze.

The buzz phrase now is "let the states decide", but that leaves out the fact that "civil union" is of limited value if it's only valid in the state of inception. Being married gives the pair quite significant property rights, and if they can be easily disregarded in another jurisdiction, you are indeed making gays second-class citizens.

There, I'm spent.

This Just In: Michelle Cottle says "Americans make surprisingly lousy libertarians."

Equal Protection Update: As I noted, Amy Ridenour at the NCPPR has responded to my post on equal protection. She begins with a valid point; admittedly, I don't really know where Earl Warren would have stood on gay marriage. That was gratuitous hyperbole, and I apologize for it. (But I do think I have an argument, so read on.)

More to the point, she says:

I can't conclude that Warren disagrees with what I posted online. Warren argued that banning marriage between the races had no rational basis. He didn't argue that all restrictions on marriage are irrational or unconstitutional.
Fair enough. I also agree with her that Warren was addressing race exclusively in his Loving opinion. I may or may not agree that Warren would withhold his reasoning in Loving from the same-sex marriage dispute; that much certainty is lost to the silence of the crypt.

I do, however, think that Warren would have joined me in disputing Ms. Ridenour's original claim that

. . Every American of legal age, excluding some deemed mentally incompetent to fulfill a contract, is treated the same by our marriage laws.
I think this because he rejected that argument in Loving v. Virginia. As I demonstrated previously, every Virginian was treated equally by state anti-miscegenation laws. But Warren rejected the notion of equality put forth by Virginia, which he summed up this way:
Instead, the State argues that the meaning of the Equal Protection Clause, as illuminated by the statements of the Framers, is only that state penal laws containing an interracial element as part of the definition of the offense must apply equally to whites and Negroes in the sense that members of each race are punished to the same degree. Thus, the State contends that, because its miscegenation statutes punish equally both the white and the Negro participants in an interracial marriage, these statutes, despite their reliance on racial classifications, do not constitute an invidious discrimination based upon race.
Thus do I draw some analogy between Ms. Ridenour's statement of the rules of equality
We can only marry if we are unmarried, and if the person we wish to marry is eligible to marry. We can only marry a person if that person wants to marry us back. And, yes, we must marry someone of the opposite sex.
with my own paraphrase of the pre-Loving rules using a formally similar presentation
We can only marry if we are unmarried, and if the person we wish to marry is eligible to marry. We can only marry a person if that person wants to marry us back. And, yes, we must marry someone [of our own race]
Because homosexuality is not covered explicitly by the 14th Amendment, I don't think Warren could have put forth the same argument for strict scrutiny that he used in Loving. But it is fairly clear that he rejected the notion of equality put forth by the state of Virginia -- a notion that has logical parallels in Ms. Ridenour's construction.

Note, further, what Warren said, and Ms. Ridenour quotes:

The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.
But a close reading of the 14th Amendment shows that this protection in no way extends exclusively to race:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The upshot of all of this? I still don't know how Warren would have ruled in a hypothetical same-sex Loving. But the old bat was full of surprises, as Ike found out the hard way.

Finally, to Ms. Ridenour: I had never been to the NCPPR site (or the blog) previously, but you've won yourself a new reader.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

The Mind Boggles: Splitting measurable time has a new benchmark:
Austro-Hungarian physicist Ferenc Krauzs said scientists had developed a device that can measure the speed of atomic processes down to the smallest fraction of a second yet.

Describing the device as "the fastest stopwatch in the world", Krauzs said Thursday that it measures the movement of atomic particles in time units smaller than 100 attoseconds.

An attosecond is the name given to a quintillionth, or a millionth of a millionth of a millionth, of a second.

"This time is to a second what a minute is to the age of the universe," Krauzs explained.

Race you to the bar. Loser buys.

Snow/Sympathy: You're right. Suck it up.

Why I'm cranky today: I'm not expecting sympathy from you Yankee bastards, but this isn't why I live in the South.

That's the view out my front door.

Stern the cash cow: As a footnote to my first post, the radio station I worked with who carried Stern wound up dropping him because it was only marginally profitable at best, and not worth the hassle. This was in New Orleans, which, despite its Mardi Gras reputation, is a rather conservative place in many respects, so there were some protests, never very big, but annoying nonetheless.

Now take a look at the cities where Stern got the boot.

The stations where the Stern show is carried by Clear Channel are in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Orlando, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Rochester, N.Y., and San Diego.
Not exactly Stern country, I'd guess. I think CCC is trying to score cheap points with Big Uncle, while canning Stern in markets where the financial impact is negligiable. I'm not upset by the censorship angle, both of you have covered that nonsense, but by the hypocrisy of Mark Mays, who once stood at my desk giggling like a 12 year old while we listened to "the rising tide of indecency on the airwaves..."

Clearly Channeling Pat Robertson: Let's face it, going after "indecency" is just easy. It takes almost no effort to build up big headlines and it lets certain politicians pretend that they take tough positions on tough issues. It distracts people from things they really should care about because when you mention "censorship" in this country, everyone goes nuts. As Eno makes clear, "censorship" is when the government does it. When anyone else tells you to shut up it's something altogether different.

Clear Channel cares about advertisement revenue which is why it and all the other stations carry Stern - he's a cash cow. Clear Channel is only now pulling Stern for the same thing he's been doing now for two decades because Clear Channel must have some reason to fear that in our neo-neo-Puritan climate (all because of one weird looking breast in Houston), advertisers will pull their money out. Yes, the government has no doubt put intense pressure on the stations, but the government does this in a regular cycle. Note that MTV is already back to its old ways after promising to "clean" up its act. Oh, and to get meta about it, note that MTV is owned by Viacom, which in turns owns Infiniti Broadcasting which in turn owns K-ROQ where Stern is headquartered.

The fact is the government can't force Clear Channel to do anything unless it brings out the FCC Handbook and starts playing whack-a-mole. Therefore, I'd have to say this isn't real censorship, only a business caving into the government's behind-the-scenes pressure - i.e. making a business decision that it's better to play nice than stand up for something as silly as free speech. It doesn't chill me as much as it aggravates me. Plus, it doesn't mean Stern can't say what he wants, just that he can't say what he wants on certain radio frequencies in certain locales. If he's put in jail for it, then you start to worry.

I agree that the Janet Jackson stunt was stupid and inappropriate given the circumstances. It caused way too much discussion over an issue that the Europeans got over a hundred years ago if not more. Our country cares more about sex and drugs than it does poverty and violence - why again? Because they're easier to make noise about and pretend you're doing something about them, even if you fail time and time again. Our politicians take the easy way out and we let them. Yawn.

Bush's Political Calculus: Democrats say Bush is using FMA as a wedge issue. Ryan Lizza wonders if Karl Rove could possibly be that dumb, considering that polling shows that the public breaks in favor of the amendment little or not at all. Lizza cites one of the polls that shows the public opposed.
Far from being a brilliant wedge issue, the poll shows Americans oppose the Bush amendment 48 percent to 41 percent. Americans still strongly oppose gay marriage by more than two to one, but all the presidential candidates share that position. Once the debate is changed from legalizing gay marriage to fiddling with the constitution to ban gay marriage, there is no obvious Republican advantage.
Moreover, what Bush has said on the matter has been much more nuanced than anyone expected even a month ago:
The country has shifted far to the left on this issue in a very short period of time. We've leapfrogged over the nascent debate about civil unions and moved right on to gay marriage. A few weeks ago many Democrats warned that Howard Dean was unelectable because he signed a civil unions law as governor of Vermont . . . [Now] Bush himself says he would leave civil unions legislation up to the states, tacitly endorsing Dean's decision in Vermont.
This is true enough, as is Lizza's conclusion:
Speaking to reporters early in Bush's term, Rove argued that the biggest problem in 2000 was not that mushy moderates abandoned Bush, but that four million white evangelical protestants stayed home. Bush isn't trying to peal [sic] off conservative Democrats so much as he's trying to rev up his base.
But he fails to connect the dots back to his previous point about the whole issue moving left. If Karl Rove is thinking anything, he's thinking about finding the absolute minimum Bush can do and say to secure his base with this issue. Gavin Newsom's flauting of state law in California gives Bush an excuse to bring this up early, making sure it's off the table at the convention; say that he has done his part (since the president has no role in the amendment process); and get back to safer issues.

Indecency: I'm shocked, shocked!
Clear Channel Suspends Stern's Radio Show

The nation's largest radio station chain took shock jock Howard Stern off the air in six markets, saying his sexually explicit show did not meet the company's newly revised programming standards. The move came on the eve of Thursday's congressional hearing on broadcast indecency . . .

Clear Channel has standards? Think about it.

Anyway, Jarvis is at the one end, making this point:

Yes, Clear Channel is a company with the full right and responsibility to decide what to put on its air. But that's not what's happening here. The government is behind this. The government called broadcast chieftens to the woodshed and they came back vowing to avoid further government censure. Mel Karmazin of Viacom, owner of Stern's station, held a conference call threatening to fire DJs, program directors, and general managers who are even the subject of complaint. The government tried to put a chill on speech. And it worked. And that should chill you.
Lileks is at the other, in elephant-gun irony mode (powerful as hell, but awfully inaccurate over distances):
We need to coarsen public discourse as much as possible as quickly as possible, because a free and open society depends on the right of Pink to flash her labia at the next Superbowl. I'm serious: if we don't see a clitoris on the Jumbocam, this nation is OVER. (Breast, labia - what's the diff? Please don't tell me you're one of those bluenoses who thinks a boob's okay but explicit gyno topography is somehow unsuitable for prime-time. It's the HUMAN BODY, people; what's your hang up?)
I have to come down on Jeff's side here. I think the FCC and Mikey Powell are pushing really, really hard right now. I think the folks at Clear Channel would broadcast amplified, reverberated spaniel farts 24 hours a day if they thought a goddamn nickel was in it for them. That sets up a conflict, and I think radio is knuckling under. Here's what Glenn says:
It's hard for me to get too exercised about this. I'm opposed to censorship, but Stern was "censored" by his employer.
Look, I have no problem with an employer censoring an employee either. None of my business. But making offensive remarks is quite obviously the business Howard Stern is in. Viacom knows it. Clear Channel knew it. It's not as though the guy has been doing Andy Griffith schtick for the past 20 years. So what, other than massive federal pressure, could have caused Clear Channel to adopt its "newly revised programming standards"? I think this smells rotten enough to to get worked up about.

Janet Jackson fallout: As my old friends Clear Channel Communications get ready to do the high-morals two-step before Congress, Howard Stern gives them a chance to show just how serious they are.
Clear Channel Communications knocked Howard Stern's radio show off stations in six cities yesterday as the nation's largest radio chain announced a crackdown on "indecent content" on its 1,200 stations. Clear Channel executives were responding to a segment of Stern's Tuesday broadcast in which they say he used sexually explicit language and graphically discussed a pornographic videotape.
I didn't hear the show (it's not available here, anyway) but I'm pretty familiar with his typical content. I worked for a Clear Channel station for several years and one of our sister stations carried Stern for much of that time. I had to hear it every morning at work, while having coffee and talking to clients on the phone, which made for the occasional spit take, to say the least. I can't imagine that anything unprecedented was said in the interview, and if a "racist (unspecified) word" was used, is that really grounds for booting him off the air? It was a caller, after all, who used the word, not Howard or one of his staff. But it's just too much for CCC president John Hogan.
"Clear Channel drew a line in the sand today with regard to protecting our listeners from indecent content, and Howard Stern's show blew right through it," Hogan said.
No, Mr. Hogan, it looks like Howard walked the same path he usually does, and you snuck up and drew a line behind him.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Urban Outfitters: The story behind the company (Urban Outfitters) which is behind that remake of the retro t-shirt is actually pretty interesting. Unfortunately I can't find an on-line link to the story from Philadelphia Magazine, but it goes something like this. The store begins its life as a thrift store in Philadelphia created by two hippies who get married. The whole concept is free love and nearly-free clothing. Nothing designed or marketed, just a place to get get used clothing and other paraphenalia (it wasn't a head shop, so no implication here).

Well, the store starts to get a head of steam, and at some point, the husband and wife part ways. The husband becomes a Republican and a successful business man employing hundreds while selling over-priced clothing that only kids between the ages of 14 and 24 can wear. Wife remains true to her activist roots and opens a very successful but vegan, charity-donating, cause-espousing restaurant. Wife shakes head at what has become of husband. Husband shrugs and says he's just living the American Dream and not everyone can live in the 70s.

Meanwhile, the store has grown and grown and indeed thrives on selling crap but crap with ironic labels and sayings. It's in many cities now. Run.

When the Germans and Italians team up...:...bad things are bound to happen. Well, "bad" in this case will depend on your a) degree of interest in F1 racing, and b) whether you think the Ferrari/Michael Schumacher dynasty is a good thing (kind of like the Yankees run of World Series championships and appearances for those of you whose interest in automotive sports is limited to NASCAR).

To also put it in perspective, Schumacher's lap time being one-second better than his next competitor (and breaking the track record while doing it) is kind of like Lance Armstrong having ten minutes on the second-place guy. Granted, it's only the time trials, but ye gods!

Equal Protection: Amy Ridenour (president of the National Center for Public Policy Research) has a good response to Sullivan's claim that the FMA would violate equal protection:
Speaking of Andrew Sullivan, he writes this (2/17): "...under almost any rational understanding of equal protection, civil marriage has to be extended to gay couples."

. . . Sullivan's statement relies on an improvable and unsound assumption, that is, that there is a class of people who are inherently separate and distinct from other people based simply on their announcement of a preference, even a temporary one, for sexual relations with a person of their own gender.

. . . Every American of legal age, excluding some deemed mentally incompetent to fulfill a contract, is treated the same by our marriage laws. We can only marry if we are unmarried, and if the person we wish to marry is eligible to marry. We can only marry a person if that person wants to marry us back. And, yes, we must marry someone of the opposite sex.

Equal rules. Equal protection. Anyone who wants to follow the rules of marriage can marry. Anyone who doesn't, doesn't have to.

Damn, she must have clerked for Scalia! Like I said, it's a good response, but it steals a couple of bases. Go back to the Loving v. Virginia post below and plug her scenario in there, like this:
We can only marry if we are unmarried, and if the person we wish to marry is eligible to marry. We can only marry a person if that person wants to marry us back. And, yes, we must marry someone [of our own race]

Equal rules. Equal protection.

See what I mean? Nice try, Amy, but Earl Warren disagreed.

More: I forwarded this to Amy Ridenour for comment. Nothing on her blog yet.

Still more: Response is up.

Two Cheers for Voter Turnout: I don't think I'll get too worked up over this. I've never bought into the idea that high turnout is an inherently good thing. Besides, the Deaniacs need a new slogan.

Via Drudge.

More: As a sidenote, who pays 28 clams, plus S&H, for that shirt? I'm certain I had a shirt just like it in 1977 (but with whatever slogan was trendy at that time; "Ayyyyyyyyyyyy," perhaps?). Probably didn't cost more than $3.95 -- even adjusting for inflation.

If You Want to Hear the Truth: Ask the fellow who isn't running for reelection:
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan urged Congress on Wednesday to deal with the country's escalating budget deficit by cutting benefits for future Social Security retirees. Without action, he warned, long-term interest rates would rise, seriously harming the economy.
The Democrats' frequently touted "lock box" idea is a sham, and they know it. Meanwhile, the most aggressive privatization proposal that the president has talked about amounts to the privatization of a no more than a few percentage points of the whole megilla. Even in boom times, this wouldn't save enough money, and the savings wouldn't come for generations, since no politician will stray from the opinion that benefits "must not be touched," particularly the payoff for the benefits-hungry demographic leviathan called the baby boom. Back to Greenspan:
"Tax rate increases of sufficient dimension to deal with our looming fiscal problems arguably pose significant risks to economic growth and the revenue base," Greenspan said. "The exact magnitude of such risks is very difficult to estimate, but they are of enough concern, in my judgment, to warrant aiming to close the fiscal gap primarily, if not wholly, from the outlay side."
In other words, finance tax cuts with spending cuts. Heresy, in Washington, even for a Republican. It took the GOP a while to figure it out, but you can get yourself elected by giving people stuff.

Gay Marriage and Loving: But does Loving v. Virginia apply here? (Warren in fact wrote that "[m]arriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival." But that is, on its face, not true.) The court held that a man and woman of different races could not be prohibited from marrying. The difference, obviously, is that the Loving couple consisted of a man and a woman -- it was, ironically, what we might call a traditional marriage. The decision simply removed race as a factor. In other words, Loving (like Lawrence) overturned a law found to have no rational basis (Warren: "There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification").

Has gay marriage ever really been criminalized (not counting the Defense of Marriage Act, which seems rather toothless to me), or has it just not been allowed? I wonder what the difference is. Nevertheless, there was no Massachusetts law for the SJC to overturn; thus, they had no authority to proceed as far as they have. Had they overturned a statute criminalizing gay marriage, I think I'd feel a little better about the whole thing. In other words, I think some of my uneasiness about the issue boils down to judges giving orders to legislatures.

Razor, should courts have that power?

Gay Marriage and Lawrence: I mentioned some of the overlap back when the Massachusetts SJC ordered the state legislature to draft gay marriage laws. I still think there's some unresolved conflict here. On the one hand, I do think that the SJC overreached by ordering the legislature to make law. That's not really the function of the courts, is it? On the other hand, I said, how long are you going to give the legislature to get around to creating a remedy without the courts intruding?

There is a basic distinction worth mentioning, basically because some (like GOP Sen. Rick Santorum) stated that the Lawrence decision implied gay marriage. I still don't think it did, even though the SJC obviously disgrees. For one thing, Lawrence overturned a law, an established and long-accepted role of our higher courts. For another, it involved the state prosecuting private consensual behavior. Gay marriage, on the other hand, is not about lifting the criminalization of social behavior. Rather, it concerns citizens appealing to the government for a certain kind of recognition of their intimate relationships. To put it starkly, Lawrence involved removing the government from the bedroom; gay marriage proponents would invite it back in, ostensibly in an affirmative way.

This is a distinction worth making, I think, since the rhetoric has gotten a bit heated of late. The talk of discrimination is particularly worth unpacking. Discrimination means several things -- all of them bad thing, to a modern liberal. Is it discriminatory that only a natural born U.S. citizen (age 35 and over) can be president? Sure. Does that necessarily mean we should amend that part of the Constitution? I don't think so. Under current law, a 14-year-old Canadian girl cannot be president. It worth drawing the line somewhere, and that girl would fall on the side of the line that has no eligibility now (because of age) or ever (by dint of birthplace) to become president. I think it's worth elucidating that some discrimination can be inoffensive, even salutory. I don't know whether the current definition of marriage is either of those; the consequences, intended and otherwise, of huge social changes can be troublesome to foresee.

In spite of that, I don't see the institution of marriage coming apart if gays are allowed to join the club. I think any discriminatory conflicts could be as easily settled by civil union, or by simply not allowing marital status to intrude into policy. But I can't see calling marriage a fundamental right (see above). The right is to be treated equally, under the law. I don't see how that's possible when the law affords certain privileges to married couples and makes no accomodation for couples in the very same circumstance save the access to government-approved marital status. Thus, I'm well aware that something has to give in this situation. Amending the Constitution seems like the worst way to go.

Funny: A response to the recent Economic Report produced by the President. I'm sure a fisking is already in the works...can't wait!

MORE: Here's the source of the Congressman's sarcasm. Seems W's chief economic advisor had this to say:
In the report last week, Bush's chief economic adviser N. Gregory Mankiw called the definition "somewhat blurry" and asked whether it should be changed. "When a fast-food restaurant sells a hamburger, for example, is it providing a 'service' or is it combining inputs to 'manufacture' a product?"

Who ya gonna call?: As the cries ring out from the civil liberties crowd that they can no longer support G. W., just where do they intend to take their votes? John Kerry?
I believe... that marriage is between a man and a woman. That's my belief. If the amendment provides for partnership and civil union... that would be a good amendment.
Oooops, that sounds an awful lot like Bush's position. To me they cancel each other out on this issue (and many others) and it still comes down to war, terrorism, and a pro-active foreign policy. The only alternative is to stay home on election day, but depending on where you live that helps one candidate and hurts the other. Do either of these guys deserve your lack of a vote?

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

To fisk or not to fisk: I guess what I mean (how's that for a clear statement?) is that fisking is just going tit-for-tat. You say "X", I say "Y". Now, if it's a matter of clearing up the record over factual inaccuracies, okay. But I find the method of fisking, when we're getting down to opinion or argument, to be dry and ineffective and over-used. Take this ridiculous example: I say "In my administration, all dogs go to heaven because it's the right thing to do." You say "No they won't. I had a dog that didn't go to heaven." All you've done is offered a single happening to contradict my proffered fact/position. Now what?

I never said that Kusnet was merely fisking - actually my fisk comment had nothing to do with his analysis. What I was trying to convey was that I was tempted to pick apart his speech and offer counters to each point, but that I felt it would be pointless as Bush is arguing a policy position, not positing facts. Kusnet was actually doing what I advocate: reasoned analysis offering a differing or alternative point of view. Fisking is a lazy alternative to drafting one's own reasoned opinion. It's not that it can't be effective (i.e. if I rebutted my opponent's case in trial by showing how each fact he proferred was contradicted by the evidence), but you have to take the next step and draw conclusions from it. Sorry about that; I used an inopportune way of bringing up my very important comment.

My comments do nothing to advance the ball on gay marriage. I'm just using a literary device to show the holes in Bush's argument. That advances the ball on whether he is a dim bulb.

Fisking: Razor, I disagree on this, and I'm at a bit of a loss. Sure, I think "fisking" is often an outlet for bile and smashmouth debate more than "advancing the ball" on a particular debate, if that's what you mean. (It can also be terribly fun for the reader/writer. A lot depends on whose ox is gored.) But, as a lawyer, I'm sure you recognize the inherent benefits of a point-by-point refutation of an argument. I don't mean to seem like I'm fisking your criticism of fisking, but you say:
[Fisking is] just a way of saying, I don't agree with each of your points, and here's why.
But that describes honest debate, too, doesn't it? That describes what you do in litigation; you just do it in front of a referee who (theoretically) keeps the argument free of the gratuitous insult, violation of decorum, etc., that makes a lot of web-based dialogue ugly.

But, more to your point, I think I'd characterize Kusnet's piece as analysis. He's asking what parts of the message are effective, how much of a change there is from Bush's SOTU message. I didn't get the feeling he was only offering disagreement, and that -- to me -- is the difference. Disagreement does nothing to "advance the ball"; disagreement with pointed criticism, refutation, and appeal to logic, evidence, or experience can do so enormously. (This reminds me somewhat of the knock against partisanship. There is in fact a world of difference between empty partisan rhetoric and actual disputation of policy points.) Unless I miss your point entirely, I think you paint this issue with too broad a brush.

Moreover, how does your post directly below advance the ball on gay marriage? That's not to say I don't find your suggestions for amendments very funny (particularly the one involving restrictions on rock stars marrying supermodels -- who should, of course, be forced to marry bloggers). I'm just wondering what, exactly, you're looking for in informal, web-based discourse.

If ever I were tempted to fisk: I'm trying to drop my internal temperature enough so that I don't start foaming at the mouth and calling for gay jihad against Bush (re-arrange the White House floral patterns; replace Laura's sensible wardrobe with polyester and go-go boots; call W fat, etc.), but it's hard when the man is just so damn off-his-rocker on certain issues.

I recognize he has to pay back those who got him where he is, and moreover, that he probably does believe in the marriage = man w/ one woman, but ye gods, a constitutional amendment? Marriage is necessary to protect against the weakening of "the good influence of society". This is the same sacrosanct institution that fails more often than it succeeds. This is his idea of a "good influence". And he just says "marriage" not "hetero marriage". Where's the proof that gay marriage won't also strengthen society?

I read somewhere today, I can't remember where, that people think that he ought to get an amendment outlawing adultery as opposed to gay marriage since adultery does more harm to marriages than probably anything else.

Here's some more constitutional amendments:

Ban marriage ceremonies in Las Vegas and Tahoe since these quickie marriages do more to make a mockery out of the institution than gay marriage (see, e.g. Britney et al.)

Ban marriages between or among rock stars and any of the following professions: a) actresses (see Anderson, Pamela Lee); b) models (see Kitaen, Tawny or Jagger, Bianca); and c) umm, okay that's it - as those are the only two groups rock stars marry into, as these sham couplings do more to undermine the sanctity of the holy union than gay marriage

Declare that only one marriage is permitted per citizen as serial marriers do more to destroy the semblance of propriety that marriage bears (see, e.g. King, Larry) than gay marriage.

I'm sure there's many more we can come up with.

Kerry, a Bush henchman?: Robert Musil makes the case that John Kerry is slandering himself and calling into question his own patriotism. Hmmm...

Civil liberites: Not of the marital variety, though. Arnold Beichman, on NRO, confronts the hysteria of those who think the Patriot Act is the worst thing since New Coke, and he's pretty sharp.
Of course, the ultimate proof of the state of freedom in the U.S. is the fact that books deploring the alleged narrowing of civil liberties and attacking the Bush administration are published without hindrance and will continue to be ? and the authors will go on to write more books about the curbing of Americans' fundamental rights.
Good point, well said, etc. But then he finishes with this gross, overreaching statement.
Yet who cannot but wonder that had the Patriot Act been in place on September 11, 2001, the 2,752 victims of terrorism would be alive today and the Twin Towers would still be standing because the 19 hijackers would never have been allowed to board, let alone seize the four airliners?
What? The Patriot Act may or may not have been any help in preventing that particular case of terrorism. I hope it's helping to prevent future acts. But if you're going to imply that 9/11 was preventable and that critics of the Patriot Act see it as a reasonable tradeoff for unfettered library privelages, you can't tag that line onto the end and walk away.

Thanks, Flyer: I was just about to jump into the fray on this, but you've taken down Sullivan's bombast nicely. Here's Bush's text, by the by. Even though I have disagreements, I think it sounds reasonable and measured, notably here:
Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society. Government, by recognizing and protecting marriage, serves the interests of all. Today I call upon the Congress to promptly pass, and to send to the states for ratification, an amendment to our Constitution defining and protecting marriage as a union of man and woman as husband and wife. The amendment should fully protect marriage, while leaving the state legislatures free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage.
Sullivan's response is anything but reasonable and measured. No matter who you agree with, it's clear that Bush represents serious movement on the right toward accomodation and compromise (i.e., civil unions), while Sullivan more and more represents an all-or-nothing mentality.

There are ways to solve this, short of rhetorical bombast and intemperate namecalling. As I've said, the real issue here is that several levels of government factor marital status into policy decisions. A civil-union solution that fixes that issue satisfies me (enough). For the homosexual-rights side, though, this has become the abolitionist struggle, the suffragette movement, Stonewall, and the freedom riders, all in one neat package. To which I say, "Horseshit." Marriage is not a fundamental right. At the risk of repeating myself, I don't understand why the government is involved to any extent greater than record-keeping.

Also, Flyer, I agree with you that Bush seems an unlikely candidate for a culture-war presidency. Perhaps Razor will dispute this, but Bush is just so damn moderate, so generally unwilling to fight the big battles for the cultural right. This will change that perception, I think, despite the fact that the amendment (well, an amendment) would likely pass with bipartisan support, particularly if it includes language to cover Bush's own call to leave civil-union legislation to the discretion of the states. The make-or-break part of the text, of course, will be the distribution of federal bennies, such as comparative reductions in the tax rates of married-filing-jointly taxpayers, federal inheritance taxation, and increasingly socialized health care and medical bureaucracy at the federal level. This is where the hard right will part from reason, I predict, and stand against giving what they'll call de facto incidents of marriage to civil unions.

And another thing: I'm really not one to pound the drum of "Support the Troops" or scold people for strong language, but Andrew is way off base saying things like "The president launched a war today against the civil rights of gay citizens and their families." It's not a war, okay, and you can tell the difference by the notable lack of bombs landing in your condo and the 82nd airborne crashing through the screen door. I understand your disappointment, but let's keep some perspective. If this is really all you can stands, and you can't stands no more, so be it. I'm sure Ralph Nader will appreciate your vote.

Let slip the dogs of war: Or so says Andrew Sullivan in response to Bush's call for a gay marriage ammendment.
This struggle is hard but it is also easy. The president has made it easy. He's a simple man and he divides the world into friends and foes. He has now made a whole group of Americans - and their families and their friends - his enemy. We have no alternative but to defend ourselves and our families from this attack. And we will.
I've said before that I'm sympathetic to the cause of gay couples, but I don't know what Andrew could have expected. When mayors and judges aren't willing to "let politics and the law take their course," as Andrew suggests Bush ought to have, what response was likely.

I never thought Bush was one to call for an ammendment like this. Too much work for too little political payoff, I'd think. And I wish he would have kept the constitution out of the matter entirely, rather than further entrench the federal government into the lives of its citizens. But the proponents of gay marriage have not shown the poltical discipline to avance their cause by reasonable means, and shouldn't be surprised at the response.

The RGA: I earlier expressed my distaste for "fisking" as I don't think it advances the ball much. It's just a way of saying, I don't agree with each of your points, and here's why. For that reason, critiquing his speech on the merits doesn't accomplish much (the only shot I want to take is his sentence that "no one has been helped by a frivolous lawsuit" - gee...really? That's like saying no one has been cured of cancer by having his teeth cleaned.)

Anyway, the speech was 100 times better than the SOTU. It flowed, it played to his strength of combining wit with short sentences. His agenda is clear; something that has also been one of his strengths: the man is not afraid of making a decision. It's simply a matter of whether America likes the decisions he makes.

The stage is now set -- Game on (to mix my metaphors)

Bush the Happy Warrior: Former Clinton scribe David Kusnet, beginning a TNR series on 2004 campaign rhetoric, says that the Bush team has realized how awful that lead balloon of a SOTU speech was last month. More importantly, he says, they've made a correction:
When it comes to making his case for another term, last night's speech was Dubya's do-over--and this time he got it right. Where his State of the Union speech had been partisan and pedestrian, devoid of what his father called "the vision thing," his new stump speech is both presidential and political; it makes the case for the Bush presidency--and against John Kerry and John Edwards--in forward-thinking, rather than defensive, terms.

It's as if the first MBA president has belatedly reversed a colossal management error. His State of the Union speech read as if the writing assignment had been outsourced to a hack from the Republican National Committee. By contrast, last night's speech read as if it had been assigned to the president's chief speechwriter, Michael Gerson, a lyrical writer and evangelical Christian with a gift for addressing audiences across the ideological and theological spectrum.

There's more, with good analysis of Bush's winning themes. I think this says one important thing. Bush is getting honest advice from friends, not stroking from toadies. It would be easy enough for his advisors to say, "No, no, you were great in the SOTU. The press is just biased." Someone told him he stunk up the room, he huddled with his writing team, and they came up with a script that sounds natural coming from Dubya.

Dark Energy: Easterbrook on the latest hot topic among newspaper science writers:
Ninety percent of the universe consists of stuff that cannot be explained or detected, and it's either going to destroy reality or nothing will happen! Trust us, we're experts.
Now back to that ten-part series on how the phenomenon of global warming is femtoseconds away from unleashing a tide of destruction upon the earth. (Or not.)

Assimiliation: David Brooks writes a review today of Samuel Huntington's new book, "Who Are We." The book is a warning of the dangers of ever larger numbers of Mexican immigrants, legal or otherwise. They don't assimilate, they don't learn English, they're a drain on society, blah, blah, blah. My feeling has always been that the benefits of having a relatively open immigration policy far outweigh the costs. When the best and brightest the world over want to come to your country for higher education and employment opportuniites, society will benefit in many ways, economic as well as cultural. The more challenging cases are obviously the poorest border crossers who lack education or skills and may never leave the cocoon-like neighborhoods they find. But I suspect that even if we can't assimilate them all, time, and further generations, will take care of the problem.

Anyway, Brooks says it a lot better.

We are bound together because we Americans share a common conception of the future. History is not cyclical for us. Progress does not come incrementally, but can be achieved in daring leaps. That mentality burbles out of Hispanic neighborhoods, as any visitor can see.

Huntington is right that Mexican-Americans lag at school. But that's in part because we've failed them. Our integration machinery is broken. But if we close our borders to new immigration, you can kiss goodbye the new energy, new tastes and new strivers who want to lunge into the future.

That's the real threat to the American creed.

You're not crying hard enough!: Remember when Princess Di was killed in the car crash? Of course you do. Don't you remember buying that ticket to London so you could lay flowers at the gates to Buckingham Palace? I also recall you writing a poem memorializing her life and all that she meant to you. I know you never met her, but she seemed so nice didn't she? Anyway, there's no doubting your sincerity and how much you'll miss her. And those poor boys. I remember a slew of postcards to them noting how sad you were and how if there was anything at all you could do... It seems like yesterday we were watching her on the telly commenting on how she seemed to be putting on a few kilos. What? Oh, I'm not talking ill about the dead at all. I absolutely worship the dead. See, here's my scrapbook proving it.

Civil Disobedience Among Elected Officials: Viking Pundit uses a local analogy to flesh out the logic behind Gavin Newsom's gay marriage stunt:
. . . [N]o matter how well-intentioned their motives, elected officials have a solemn duty to uphold the law or invite anarchy.
Definitely worth reading, partially owing to Eric's performing the near-impossible feat of collecting reasonable, intelligent quotes from Mark Shields and Barney Frank in one post.

As a small sidebar, doesn't the name "Gavin Newsom" sound like a sitcom character, circa 1977?

Monday, February 23, 2004

Civil War: Smithsonian Magazine, in an article about the legacy of James Buchanan, quotes Goucher College historian Jean Harvey Baker on Buchanan's career-driven courting of the slave South:
He was totally opposed to abolitionism, and pro-Southern. He wanted to protect the Union as it was, run by a Southern minority. His agenda was appeasement. [Emphasis added.]
I think that's quite a stretch -- that the Union was "run by a Southern minority." I'm not an expert in this stuff, and this can be the subject of some fierce debate, but my undertsanding is that it was the North that had the upper hand, particularly in Congress. The North dominated, for example, of trade policy, which generally protected Northern companies who produced finished goods (textiles, for example) using Southern raw materials (cotton). Any economist will tell you that, lacking mitigating circumstances, one area that sells raw materials to another and buys back the finished product is either a) a colony or b) economically unstable. (The South was an agrarian economy. It's not like they could take the hit on textiles but make it back on software.)

What could Baker be thinking?

Everybody was kung fu fighting: Matthew Polly writes a diary for Slate on his return to Shaolin Temple ten years after he left (he trained there for 2 years).

Shaolin Temple, as any teenage boy can tell you, is the mythical home of the birthplace of kung fu. There are simply countless bad chop socky films made which center around, take place in, or just reference the hallowed training grounds. Founded and inhabited by monks who needed some way to keep fit while sitting around meditating, the story goes that the ritualized, animal-style self-defense system was created.

I studied a Vietnamese style of kung fu here in Philadelphia for over five years. While I was training, I ate, slept and thought about kung fu. It was a long-time goal of mine growing up to study some form of traditional fighting art that didn't involve colored belts and a lot of yelling. I couldn't have found a better place. My teacher was a diminutive yet very lively and forceful buddhist who grew up in Vietnam, studied at a traditional monastery, and graduated in nine years. He left Vietnam after the War when anyone espousing traditional or non-state-sanctioned arts were being harrassed. Our teacher, who we simply called "Phan" -- his name -- couldn't have been more humble or skilfull. While the art has certain flourishes, it does provide a good base for self-defense. There's no yelling or knuckle push-ups, and there's a real subtlety to the art that had I had more years to devote, I was well on my way to achieving. However, things like earning a living had to get in the way eventually.

As Polly's diary speaks about, Shaolin was pretty much written off and nearly destroyed by neglect and then by the Cultural Revolution. Then it got popular again and was almost destroyed anew as it turned into a Kung Fu Disneyland. It seems things have gotten back to their roots (as much as that can happen) and it's being run more like a monastery again.

During the hard-liners' time in rule, kung fu was reduced to what is now called "wushu" even though that word translates into something akin to a fighting style. It's not. Polly calls it kickboxing mixed with ice skating and he's not far off the mark. It's really incredibly difficult floor routine gymnastics with props that look like weapons. You need an incredible level of training to be good at it, but it won't help you much in a fight, beyond the fact that you can probably jump around without being touched (hmmm, maybe it is useful). That's still taught at Shaolin, but so is the traditional art (and apparently, so too is a third style, which is the performance art you may have heard about on Broadway - mostly breaking stuff with parts of your body), which centers on the animal styles and solid foundations such as stances, footwork and hardening of the body.

Anyway, I could go on and on with this topic that ruled so much of my existence for a while. Suffice it to say that Polly knows much more about it than I and so far in his Diary, he seems to be happy to be back.

Trade: An interesting perspective from Bruce Bartlett at National Review, teased as "Clinton got it. Bush and Kerry don't."
Bill Clinton may have had his faults, but on trade he was superlative. He refused to pander to the squeaky wheels demanding protection from foreign imports, and pushed vigorously to open U.S. and foreign markets to increased trade . . . Unfortunately, President Bush made the opposite political calculation, as have Democratic senators John Kerry and John Edwards, the leading contenders to replace him in November. All seem to be engaged in a race to the bottom, to see who can pander more to the unemployed by blaming all their woes on foreigners. They should remember that Clinton was highly successful electorally by making the opposite political calculation.
This is particularly interesting because I just had this discussion with my father (a solid Democrat) last week. I criticized Kerry and Edwards for their moves toward protectionism, and praised Clinton (I don't think he'd ever heard me do that) as a counterexample. Clinton's legacy, after all the self-referential talk of such, may just come down to that: He was a free-trader, something the Democrats can't seem to find this year. (Okay, except for Joe Lieberman; and his call for free trade wasn't exactly burnin' them up on the stump.)

My father's only response was to hit Bush for his own protectionism. True enough, but if protectionism is now a good thing, shouldn't Democrats be praising Bush's attempts to sheild timber, steel, and, lately, sugar?

What do you call it: Akin to Eno's post the other day, Radley has this link to test your linguistic biases. Me, I've gone Nascar, with a 69% Dixie rating.

Editing the Script: In a Kerry vs. Bush race (or Edwards vs. Bush, for that matter), the environment will be a major issue. It's a freebie for the Dems because they are on the environmentalists' side. After all, the only people who could be against environmentalism are the greedy capitalists who get sexually excited by the idea of dumping toxic chemicals into the earth at night, right?

For this reason, it's nice to have someone like Gregg Easterbrook reading the standard environmentalist script and pointing out those tired cliches and examples of illogic that are pushed forth every election year and never questioned. Last year he carved away the foolishness over New Source Review regulations. Now he's turned to Superfund:

This morning's full-page MoveOn.org ad in The New York Times, featuring Al Gore, also complains about declining Superfund spending. But declining Superfund spending is good news! Toxic emissions by U.S. industry have been falling for more than 15 years; the total number of Superfund sites has been falling, owing to completed cleanups. So of course Superfund spending is declining--less is needed because there's less to clean up.
So why does a temporary, outdated solution to toxic waste need to maintain funding? If you guessed "pork" then, well . . .
Like other "temporary" government efforts, Superfund has morphed into a permanent fixture whose initial purpose has been forgotten, and is now dominated by budget politics. Superfund's initial purpose--protecting the public from old toxic wastes--has long since been fulfilled. Now it's viewed by Congress as a public-works funding mechanism for funneling contracts to favored districts. Fundraisers like MoveOn.org view Superfund as a scare mechanism with which to solicit donations. Superfund hasn't been about environmental protection or public health protection in years. It's about who gets how much money and who can denounce whom.

. . . hardly any Superfund locations have been created in decades, with a few exceptions. (Officials declared some of the spots where debris from the space shuttle Columbia fell to be Superfund sites, on the reasoning that the shards of metal had become "waste.") Most Superfund cleanup effort is focused on sites that are old and as the old sites are cleaned up, the scope of the problem declines.

This stuff is worth mentioning, and it always seems to fall to environmentalists themselves to do the mentioning (both Easterbrook and the current bete noire of the greens, Bjorn Lomborg, are effective in part because they have solid enviromentalist credentials, and can't be passed off as corporate-funded pollution apologists). I'd love to see environmentalism included in the list of issues open for debate. Further, I think the Bush administration has been abysmal on environmental issues -- not because of bad policy, but because they've refused to engage in the debate. Drilling in ANWR, market-based pollution controls, rolling back regulation that ignores cost-benefit reasoning: these are defensible policy positions, dammit. The way the administration skulks about on the issue, though, it's as if they've decided they'll take the hit on the environment no matter what, so they shouldn't bother to mount a credible defense.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Elections: Here's Ali from Iranian Diaries, the day after the "elections" (could there be a more appropriate use of scare quotes?):
Finally it came and gone away. The election day. Seventh parliamentary election in Iran. I didn't participate, nor my family, nor my friends, nor most of the Iranians who care for a free, free Iran . . . Today there was again a big, manipulated show in Iranian Television (Seda-Sima). Since the early morning all the handfull TV networks covered the elections in special programs, mostly consisting of one or two showman in studio and some reporters in the city in voting places. They used more close-ups than long-shots to lie that people participations has been great . . .
Saliot at the 1st Persian Blog says (with an assist from Iranfilter, since Saliot's site is in Persian):
All the 6 channels of the state-run TV is playing the beloved "Ey Iran" anthem over the smiling face of the Leader, and are begging people to vote!

[Note: The "Ey Iran" anthem is the most beloved Iranian anthem, considered by people to be the national anthem of the country regardless of the model of the government. The current regime has avoided this anthem for a very long time but is now using it out of despare as the last tool to persuade people to vote].

Does it say something -- something hopeful, perhaps -- that the regime is so desperate to put the face of legitimacy on the elections? I wish I knew.

What Is It? You know, that thing you push when you go shopping -- the wheeled contraption you put groceries in. What do you call it?

I would never have called it anything but a shopping cart as a kid. Later, when I worked in a grocery store, the manager referred to them as buggies. That term has stuck with me ever since.

Loads of fun here, courtesy of Sully, including such timeless questions as:

Shake, frappe, or cabinet?

Sneakers, tennis shoes, or jumpers?

Hoagie, grinder, or sub?

Ever whip shitties?

Seen a monkey's wedding?

Who's the hump in Connecticut who thinks "the City" means L.A.?

Who says what is projected on a map of the country.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Be careful what you wish for: Aristide says he won't give up without a fight, and he's "prepared to die". Well, ooookay...if you insist.

The real question is why would anyone want to be the "President" in Haiti? Doesn't everyone know by now that the transition presidents from dictator to actual democracies always either a) get killed, b) get locked up, or c) get killed? For god's sake, this is Aristide's second go 'round. I mean sure, you can siphon off enough money to your place in the Congo, but you still have to be able to get on the plane outta Dodge. Hell, even Charles Taylor wouldn't take this job.

Dear Leader's Munchies: Great stuff there. You notice how dictators always have the best taste in food and "Delight" entourages? What I like the best is how everything happens in "Number 8 Banquet Hall" - like, it's just one of many that the People have available to them to get down and boogie. Dear Leader just happens to use number 8 most of the time. Hell, all the other ones are probably booked by the local collective's farm fashion shows and buffets.

The Phenomenology of Oldies Radio: I tend to forget that it's dynamic, not static. I listened to Norman Knight and Cousin Brucie in their second acts, when the men who spun Buddy Holly the first time were spinning him again for nostalgic boomers. And there are still oldies stations that specialize in the pre-Beatles, doo-wop and rockabilly landscape. But most of them have moved along ("The hits of the 60s, 70s, and 80s!") as time has pushed more music into the flashback bin. This morning I heard The Fixx's "One Thing Leads to Another" on one of those not-quite-classic-rock/not-quite-oldies stations. A full twenty years old, that song -- older than Abbey Road was when I bought it on CD.

The classic-rock genre has pretty much ensured that certain music will never become oldies-radio fodder. But much of the stuff we grew up on seems tailored to the kind of nostalgia that Cousin Brucie peddled: Madonna, Duran Duran, Culture Club. Evocative of a time, truly, but not destined to end up next to Who's Next in the heavy rotation bin. And then there is the one-hit-wonder file, which Lileks was trolling last week:

And now because the 80s deities are smiling on me: the best song of the era, by my lights. "What Do All the People Know," the Monroes, 1983. It came along at one of those moments you experience once and spend your life remembering. Not first love; not first glories, not first anything, for that matter. No, it's a moment when everything you've known before combines again at a perfect time . . . I had no idea that 21 years later this song would come up on my digital jukebox shuffle play, and that I'd stand to air-guitar the chorus, and in doing so I would unplug the headphones, which meant I would have to get on my hands and knees to replace the plug, and that my spouse would come upstairs at that moment and catch me in that inglorious position.
Wow. "What Do All the People Know?" I still have that puppy on (wait for it) a 45. I've heard that it's a pretty valuable record.

One of these days there will be a station that specializes in 80s pop-nostalgia. And I will be the program director. Or, more likely, I'll be writing dunning letters to the program director.

Dear Leader's Perfect Grains of Rice: When I read this article in the Atlantic this month, I was disappointed not to see it posted online. I was dying to share it with Razor, so well did it combine his taste for Asian politics with his sense of the absurd.

And it is now available.

So, Razor, through the miracle of pixels and packets, I offer you . . .

"I Was Kim Jong Il's Cook."

The Revolution No One Showed Up For: Not too long ago (end of January), I mentioned that while Dean had the big 'mo (apparently) and the big mo-ney (certainly), even with his "new look" approach of grabbing the broad, if shallow pool of voters (small contributions, but many of them), if he keeps finishing in second or third, then all that and $3.50 gets you a grande mocha at Starbucks. Well, gosh darnit, I was right.

Dean really didn't change anything other than showing that it was possible to raise money (if not votes) through micro-level maneuverings. The point is that his campaign revealed that nothing replaces veteran leadership at the national AND state level, with attention paid to the early three or four caucuses to get a front-runner position established. This is old hack. Dean thought, like Eno says, that it was "simple" to run a national campaign from the get-go. I blame his campaign guys for that, but oh well, he hired them.

Funny, if he had ramrodded Iowa with all the free publicity he was getting, boy, it would have been hard for even Kerry to have been heard at that point. Unfortunately, Dean left a vacuum which Kerry was all too happy to fill.

Dean's Departure: WSJ says farewell to Dr. Scream:
Howard Dean's withdrawal from the Democratic primaries yesterday ends one of the more remarkable flameouts in Presidential history. But while the former Vermont governor won't be his party's nominee, he deserves to be recognized as the most consequential loser since Barry Goldwater.
I think that might be a little too generous. And I have a different comparison: Dean was to the Democratic primary race what Ross Perot was to the 1992 general election.

Both men made waves with a cranky defiance of conventional wisdom -- Perot on trade, Dean on war -- and an appeal to the people -- Dean as the internet pioneer, Perot as the prince of Larry King Live. Both quickly gained a popular, populist following, then just as quickly lost it as the media looked closer. Both men wilted under the media glare. Both based their campaigns on the "It's just so simple" formulation. Running the country could be a breeze, they implied, if we would just do things their way. Neither one had much of a threshhold for listening to disagreement. Both were short, mouthy, and unscripted -- and blew up in unscripted moments (Dean and his vein-popping scream, Perot in his oddball ravings about Bush's vendetta against his daughter's wedding, or whatever it was).

Comparisons to Goldwater flatter the "platform" that Dean ran on -- centrism with an angry, poulist face. Goldwater rejected the fundamentals of his party -- the moderate, country club Republican Party -- whereas Dean is about as conventional a Democrat as you'll find. And Dean could, in fact, still play the spoiler role that Perot played; an endorsement of Edwards could still shake up the race.

The WSJ's reasons for the Dean/Goldwater comparison don't fly. Dean "almost single-handedly pulled his party to the antiwar left," they say. This is doubtful. It was clear from the start that the Democrats would split hairs to disagree with how Bush went about the war.

Dean "was the first candidate to call for repealing all of the Bush tax cuts," and all the others imitated him. Hogwash. Dean had to back away from his position when it proved unpopular among the middle class. The Democrats have, since 2001, taken the line that they wished to hike taxes, but only for "the rich." That was the concensus position.

"Mr. Kerry," the WSJ says, "has now adopted 90% of the Dean agenda and about 70% of his attitude. Oh, come on. Aside from the war, name one issue on which Kerry ever really disagreed with Dean. Their diffences amounted to: "Dean wants to nationalize health care in five easy steps; Kerry calls that rash and shortsighted, says at least six steps needed." Even if you do include the war in the mix, it's not clear how their opinions differed, other than being differently confused. Dean said we shouldn't have gone to war but, now that we're there, creating a stable Iraq is essential. Kerry's pretty sure he voted for something that said we might go to war but, now that we're there, why the hell should we put up any money without asking a bunch of damn fool questions people like Kerry should have asked before they stuck their damp fingers in the wind and voted accordingly.

I suppose it's possible that one day we'll sit around and talk about the Dean "revolution" that created the 21st century Democratic Party. If that's the case, though, I also suspect we'll be forced to note that the party he created went on to sport a half-life of about four days, only to follow the Whigs into history.

Efficiency: Ol' Razor has been a bit busy these past few days and it doesn't look like things are going to improve. I read Radley's "Fisking" of the piece and yes he makes some good points. I kind of felt like he was fighting generalized platitudes with generalized platitudes, but perhaps that is all that is necessary.

The original pieces was silly to be couched in terms of "efficiency". The point is, you can be efficient in many different ways. It's HOW you go about it that is the issue, not the concept as a whole. Using animal feed as your source material seems a bit of a stretch. Radely also seems to get away with some half-hearted bunts too (it's okay to feed animals other animals because animals eat animals - well, actually, cows and chickens don't in the normal course of things).

I think Radley would have done a better job of addressing the piece with a cogent argument of his own that was maybe less than 100 paragraphs. "Fisking" is over-rated because it's too localized - tit for tat. Bring the argument up a few levels and talk more broadly, is what I would have done. Oh well. Back to work.

Theologies: I'm usually an admirer of Cathy Young's columns. Aside from being one of the few voices of reason at the Boston Globe, she is also a thoughtful and evenhanded critic. So I was surprised to see her latest piece on the Mel Gibson movie about the life and death of Jesus -- and it's possibly anti-semitic undertones.

(By the way, I think Gibson's making art, in it's broadest sense. While the debate about his film is fine, realize please that it is thoroughly moot. See the first amendment on this. It could be an anti-semitic screed and that would change my opinion not a bit. Don't see his movie if you're afraid that latent anti-semitism or confusing messages in the film might turn you into Hitler.)

At any rate, Young picks up the thread at Holocaust denial, since, as she says, Gibson's father is fairly well known for holding such beliefs. This makes no sense at all. It's simply a convenient way to smuggle the issue within the walls of legitimacy. As far as I know, what someone's father believes is wholly irrelevant. I'll let it slide, though. Luckily, Gibson himself is on record on the matter, so what his father believes can be ignored. Gibson himself, when asked whether the Holocaust happened, said:

I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine, several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century, 20 million people died in the Soviet Union.
Asks Young, "Does this answer exonerate Gibson, or does he damn himself with his own words?" That is, by putting the Holocaust in the historical context of World War 2, is he in fact guilty of the lesser crime of Holocaust "minimization"? Young admits that our society has a double standard, whereby the systematic murder of Jews by Hitler is held up as a model of evil, while the systematic murder of Ukranians, Turkic tribes in Northeast Russia, intellectuals, and dissenters is itself minimized. But, she says, "that hardly justifies Gibson's comments."

Okay, here's my point. It seems odd that, in the context of Gibson's "theological" film, Young is airing one of the orthodoxies of American society, from which there can be no dissent: that the Holocaust was a societal singularity, different from any other atrocity not by magnitude of tragedy, but by kind. The worst thing I think I can say about Gibson's comment is that it is insensitive, given the context of the question. He could have simply said, "Yes, the Holocaust happened," and skipped airing his political views. But his views are not entirely illegitimate and false on their face. Let me be frank: I happen to disagree with him. I think the Holocaust probably was a tragedy of unique kind, perhaps mainly because Hitler made no serious attempt to hide his "final solution" from the world -- and the world still dicked around. But might my feelings be different were I a Ukrainian? And if so, are my feelings illegitimate? Furthermore, is it even helpful to have an atrocity hierarchy that determines whose slaughter must be venerated over another's? I don't think so, and I don't think it's anti-semitic to say so.

In other words, I don't think Young has proved anything, about Gibson, about his film, about the Holocaust. The man might well be a raving Jew-hater -- and perhaps not. He may simply be impolitic with his words. He may feel that more attention is owed to those who suffered under the twin evil to fascism -- communist dictatorship. As I said, this would make him rude, but not necessarily wrong. To say otherwise is uncut political correctness.

More: Young is at least correct that David Bernstein's post on the subject at the Volokh Conspiracy is worth reading. He has some well-founded suspicions about Gibson's answer. I do too, but Cathy Young implies that there is no excuse for the content of Gibson's remarks. I disagree. See also Sasha, who says, "There's nothing I strictly speaking disagree with in what he said, and to the extent he's trying to place the Holocaust in the context of other large atrocities (including other victims of World War II and victims of Stalinist terror), I don't mind, as I'm not into the moral uniqueness of the Holocaust."

Still more: Here's some on the elder Gibson, who sounds like a crank. it includes the quote from Gibson fils from the Diane Sawyer interview:

Do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenceless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do; absolutely . . . It was an atrocity of monumental proportion.
About the best you can say is that it's less of a hedge.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Funniest Wisconsin Analysis: From Hugh Hewitt:
Recall the scene from Monty Python's Holy Grail: "I'm not dead." Well, that's the Democratic campaign. Edwards isn't dead, but Kerry wants him on the cart.
In the movie, the poor bastard ends up on the cart. Bring out your dead!

Where Reality and Satire Meet: Scrappleface: "Kerry, Edwards Went AWOL from Senate":
Democrat National Committee (DNC) chairman Terry McAuliffe today said that presidential candidates John F. Kerry and John Edwards have gone AWOL from the Senate, missing almost every Senate vote in the past three months, and perhaps longer.
Funny, yes, but Viking Pundit has followed the numbers on this for quite some time.

Huh? TNR claims that National Review (and the Washington Times) "distort[s]" the context of John Kerry's remarks to the Senate in 1971 regarding the conduct of soldiers in Vietnam. But when you look closer, their complaint is that a quote from Kerry's testimony used on the cover of the magazine does not provide full context. (The story itself, inside the magazine, puts the quote clearly into correct context.) This seems more than a bit picky.

Yes, the quote that the cover makes use of is actually Kerry repeating the accusations (of atrocities in Vietnam) others had made; he is not making the accusations based on his own eyewitness experience. Nevertheless, he was presenting these accusations to Congress, and not in the context of refuting them. This isn't some sort of movie-review trick where the reviewer said "This is not a great movie!" and the studio clipped ". . . great movie!" for their publicity. Kerry was, in fact, retailing these accusations, and a certain responsibility falls on him not to repeat accusations he can't verify, particularly before Congress. TNR is trying to let Kerry off by the same technicality that Howard Dean appealed to when he talked up an "interesting theory" that Bush knew of 9/11 in advance.

Beyond that, we're talking about the cover, for god's sake. No doubt the editors at TNR are up late nights fretting over how the New York Post, Newsday, and the Daily News use incomplete quotes and wordplay to make a flashy headline page.

Finally, we're talking about opinion journalism. Tell you what, I'll hold my breath until TNR spanks the Nation, too. Look closely at that cover. Did Bush really say that? Think it? Tsk, tsk. Fret not, TNR will have the cover police over there on the double.

Balko on Efficiency: Radley takes on neo-luddite drivel and scores big for efficiency, choice, and freedom. A serious fisking, and a must read for the economically minded.

Showing ID: Does the fourth (or fifth) amendment prohibit the police from demanding ID? That's what this case should decide. It goes before the Supreme Court in March as Hiibel v.Sixth Judicial District:
Hiibel was arrested May 21, 2000, outside Winnemucca by Humboldt County Deputy Sheriff Lee Dove. Dispatchers told Dove to check out a report that a man was striking a girl inside a truck.


When Dove arrived, he found Hiibel standing outside the truck. Hiibel's daughter was in inside, and Dove said Hiibel appeared to be drunk.

Dove asked Hiibel 11 times to provide identification. Hiibel refused, and, instead, placed his hands behind his back and challenged Dove to take him to jail.

The article goes on to note that, lacking evidence, all charges were dropped save one -- resisting arrest. It seems to me that the one thing he didn't do was resist arrest. In fact, he willingly went along with the arrest, rather than submit to a demand for identification.

Another article quotes the upholding Nevada high court:

The court's majority said officers, as well as law-abiding citizens, would be placed in danger if police could not require people behaving suspiciously to identify themselves.

"The suspect may be a felon or wanted for an outstanding arrest warrant. Perhaps that person is a sex offender," then-Chief Justice Cliff Young wrote. "More importantly, we are at war against enemies who operate with concealed identities, and the dangers that we face as a nation are unparalleled."

This, of course, ignores resonable suspicion and probable cause. That is, we demand that police adhere to a slightly higher standard. Either there is a reasonable suspicion or there is not. If there is, the police may move to a higher level. Likewise, probable cause opens up other, approved avenues to the cops. Lacking either, encounters between the police and citizens are voluntary discussions, subject to termination by either party. It gives the police too much license to be able to demand identification, simply because there is a statistically non-zero possibility that any given person is a wanted criminal. (Why not stop every 10th car at a tollbooth and run the names of everyone in the car? After all, one of them might be a felon.)

Beyond that, the Nevada court's fallback to the old "these times we live in" saw is more chilling than anything I've seen from the Patriot Act. Certainly the Patriot Act does not require that a citizen present ID to the authorities. This is one that the Supremes should go nine-zip on. By the way, note that even the Washinton Post skips this one on its "Cases to Watch" oral argument calendar. I think this might be a bit more important than the pledge of allegiance case.

(Props to Hit & Run for raising the issue, though their links are unhelpful.)

An Edwards "Win"? Why is this a win for Edwards, who made it within 6 points of Kerry in Wisconsin? Is it just beating expectations? No, there's more. John Ellis says it succinctly:
It's important to remember that Senator Kerry is viewed from within his campaign pretty much the same way he is viewed by Mickey Kaus and Ellisblog. They think he's a stiff! They were surprised that he won Iowa (they thought the Edwards surge would catch them there) and they were amazed that he won New Hampshire more or less without a fight. And they've been stunned that the others have basically let him keep on winning. What they dread most of all is negative momentum, because (let's face it) the candidate has no strong base of support within the party. They're only for him because he's winning. Once he starts losing, he's a loser.
(Ellis's emphasis, by the way.) When "electable" is the watchword, the last thing you want to do is trend downward. And Kerry's glass jaw is that he's the "good enough" candidate. He'll do in a pinch; he's the biggest name. But who could blame primary voters for having a wandering eye?

Wouldn't it be amusing to see yet a third "frontrunner" in this race? Now, I doubt that Edwards can pull it off. A lot of the establishment held their money close during the Dean episode. Once Kerry knocked off Dean in Iowa and New Hampshire, that money loosened up and began to flow Kerry's way. We hear a lot about buyer's remorse; an equal phenomenon is buyer's rationalization, the way we spin ourselves that we really did make the right choice, get the best deal, etc. Thus, I think the non-Clinton establishment of the party is happy enough with Kerry and is unlikely to abandon that support, particularly in the establishment (and delegate-rich) liberal states of New York and California. Back to Ellis:

So the Kerry campaign has to kill this Edwards thing now. That's why they stepped on Edwards's speech last night. That's why Ellisblog thinks they will go negative on Edwards quickly. Because no one in the Democratic Party harbors any deep affection for Senator Kerry, negative momentum can kill his candidacy. Given that reality, the way for Kerry to win (for sure) is to get ugly, fast.
I was thinking, similarly, that Kerry has to win a convincing Super Tuesday; he doesn't want to limp this thing along. I'm not convinced, though, that going negative on Edwards will work. This week was an abberation, with an almost-scandal checking Kerry's stride -- but he survived. If I were advising him, I'd be the stay-the-course voice. Look at what going negative did to Gephardt and Dean in Iowa. Wisconsin is a small, oddball state. Leverage the establishment instead, and be willing to cede some eccentric heartland states to Edwards. Win California. Win New York. Win Maryland and Ohio. Then spend March 3rd in your home state holding nearly enough delegates for a first ballot nomination.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Things I too have learned...also: Took a leisurely four-hour trip up to CT this Sat. morning and then back again Monday afternoon. Went with in-laws. Rented large Chevrolet Suburban (as opposed to the tiny one).

1. Renting the DVD player is worth every penny. Remind me to do this next time. 'kay?

2. Give children night-time cold medicine before trip even if driving during the day...and they don't have a cold.

3. You can go beer then gin-and-tonic then red wine, but once on the red wine plateau, you cannot step back down. Well, you can, but you shouldn't.

4. Nothing tastes better than filet wrapped in bacon, which you have cooked on outdoor grill, as you tip back a local micro-brew, in 20-degree weather, overlooking pristine star-lit Connectitut farmland.

Speaking of Kerry: We're starting to see a general-election strategy jelling:
John Kerry accused President Bush of running "an extreme radical administration" as Wisconsin Democrats decided Tuesday whether to support his front-running campaign or help his rivals stay in the race for their party's nomination for president.
I think that's how he'll pitch his campaign, since "extreme" and "radical" are good hot-button words. Doris Kearns Goodwin said (roughly) this morning, on Imus, that Bush is "a lot more of a right-wing ideologue than we thought." It's a good line. It will probably sell pretty well.

But can you name a single policy that defines the current administration that is not supported by at least one prominent Democrat? Partial-birth abortion has its dissenters among the Dems. Iraq -- both the war and the nation-building -- had quite a few Democrat supporters, until the party saw Howard Dean using it as red meat. Dick Gephardt and Joe Lieberman, both of whom sought to replace Bush, were fully on board. Tax cuts passed with quite a bit of bipartisanship. On discretionary spending issues, the Dems carp around the margins -- Bush is not spending "enough" (whatever that means) on this or that program. But the president has spent hugely at home. Congress's wish list has been burning up, from farm giveaways to highway pork to entitlement spending, with no discipline in sight. Easterbrook has praised Bush's cap-trading approach to environmental protection. Most non-ideological AIDS groups realize that Bush's aid-to-Africa plan is head and shoulders above the supposedly caring Clinton administration's words-not-deeds approach. On top of that, Bush has made serious efforts (sometimes successful) to either stay above or stay quiet on divisive subjects like abortion and gay marriage (though the base seems to be demanding a solid stand on the latter).

I honestly don't see where the right-wing ideology comes in. Spending targets aside, I'm with the liberal side on a lot of these issues, as we've discussed here frequently. But I don't buy the "Bush is extreme" rhetoric.

The Other Thing: We learned, too, this weekend, that the Kerry sex-scandal news eruption was apparently a false alarm. (Don't bank on it being dead, though.) It was instructive, though, in at least one way. The gossip grapevine -- and Drudge in particular -- serves as a reminder that there is quite a bit of information out there that isn't reported. Several (conflicting) reports said that this story had been floating around for months or years, that it had kept Kerry off the ticket in 2000, that it was the reason Dean was staying in the race. If you read the New York Post's Page Six (specifically the "Just Asking" items) then you know that, but for that minor issue of sourcing, there are any number of stories the press is just dying to run.

Things I Learned: This holiday weekend taught me a number of important lessons. In no particular order of importance:

1. Avoid travel when you have an ear infection.

2. Ditto when your three-year-old son has one.

3. A hotel room -- even a suite -- is far too small for said three-year-old. In about four minutes he will have explored every closet (our suite had no fewer than six), nook, windowsill, and stash of complimentary toiletries/notepaper/coffee. This will not meet his near-term entertainment needs.

4. Fried clams are always better within sight of salt water. It may be psychological; they might even be the same frozen, institutional-pack clams. Doesn't matter.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Anybody but Bush...save Howard Dean: Hitchens, over at the WSJ, writes a very poignant piece on what Dean was really all about (or not) and why, despite what you might think about Kerry, the good people in Iowa and New Hampshire started a good trend. Here's a bit:
It's always interesting when people don't seem to feel shame or embarrassment--and it's often not a very good sign-- so when Mr. Dean went on about his black roommates in college he was as toe-curlingly awful as when he condescended to those who display the Confederate flag. To be crass about both groups in a matter of weeks is quite something.
Hell, even Kuchie is given mad props by Hitch as compared to Deano.

Link props to Vodkapundit.

Universities, biased?: My stupid college...which I will not name for now, but rest assured it's one of those small liberal arts schools that promotes "diversity". Anyway, I just got an email update (which I get monthly) on the goings-on at the school. First on the list? Their proud announcement that Ralph "Nadar" will be the commencement speaker. Already, the school is on the defensive:
"The choice of Nadar was the result of a new process and committee formed this year, which included three students, three faculty members, and three administrators. Regardless of your personal views about him, you would be hard-pressed to find an individual who has committed more of his or her life to broadening fundamental democratic values in this country than Nadar," says ______, assistant vice president of academic affairs and chair of the commencement speaker selection committee.
No, actually "Nadar" hasn't done squat to broaden fundamental democratic values. All he has done is try to cram down an agenda on Congress. He is a lobbyist dressed up in a populist's bad tie. What am I missing?

Well, let's hope they at least spell his name right on the program.