Saturday, November 21, 2009

It's Like a Bad Parody of Dilbert's Marketing Department

I'm sorry, but I just had to laugh when I read Robert George's description of the Catholic Church's position on gay marriage: namely, that the church "opposes the re-definition of marriage to eliminate the requirement of sexual complementarity."

Not only is the guy reaching hard to euphemize (which is a good sign, as it signals that the bare language of "excluding gay people" isn't tolerable anymore), but it is virtually impossible to parse. I think the intuitive definition of being sexually complementary is sharing a mutual attraction and compatible desires vis-a-vis giving and receiving sexual pleasure. But here, it looks like that is being replaced with juvenile "tab A in slot B" or "entrance, not exit!" argumentation. It is testament to the increased potency of the pro-equality argument that opponents now have to work so hard to obfuscate what they're actually doing.

It's really simple. Right now, marriage is open only to heterosexual couples. Homosexual couples are excluded, for no real reason other than irrational prejudice and/or animus. That's incompatible with American norms of equality. And eventually, it will fall.

I Want a Fact Resume

Ladies and gentleman, the face of the Republican party answers why she thinks she is qualified to hold "the most powerful job in the world":
I believe that I am because I have common sense, and I have, I believe, the values that are reflective of so many other American values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the kind of a spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with some kind of elite Ivy League education and a fact resume that's based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles. Americans could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership. I'm not saying that has to be me.

That's from a Bill O'Reilly interview.

Obama Responds to Cuban Dissident

Cuban dissident Yoani Sanchez, recently beaten by state security, submitted seven questions to US President Barack Obama through her blog. Now, she has posted his responses. I am, of course, pleased to see the President aligning with Cuba's burgeoning civil society which is pressing domestically for democracy and human rights. As a general supporter of open engagement and building connections amongst peoples, I am opposed to the Cuba boycott, just as I am opposed to the Cuban government's policy of preventing citizens with diverse views from traveling abroad.

Ms. Sanchez also has six questions outstanding to Cuban President Raul Castro. She is still awaiting a reply.

Via Harry's Place.

Hugo Chavez's Love Letters

He just gave a speech praising notorious terrorist "Carlos the Jackal" as a "revolutionary fighter" important to the Palestinian cause.
In his speech, Chavez also sought to defend other leaders he said are wrongly labeled bad guys internationally, including Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Chavez called both of them brothers and said he now wonders whether Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was truly as brutal as he was reputed to be.

"We thought he was a cannibal," Chavez said, referring to Amin, whose regime was notorious for torturing and killing suspected opponents in the 1970s. "I have doubts. ... I don't know, maybe he was a great nationalist, a patriot."

Or hey, maybe he was an autocratic thug who ate people, just like Carlos the Jackal was a sociopath who blew up trains. Whatever.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Education Agenda

A big part of Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour's (R-Wildly Corrupt) budget plan involves closing down a bunch of HBCUs, consolidating them with Jackson State University. Leaders of the schools facing merger are strongly opposed to the idea. See the Field Negro for more. He observes: "And here I thought republicans wanted blacks to be educated. Why doesn't he merge Southern Mississippi into Ole Miss? I am just saying."

Barbour, for his part, said he's "not worried about appearing racially insensitive with his proposal." Surprise.

On this blog, of course, Barbour is most well known for successfully arguing that a year is not a year, but failing to persuade the state's high court that the top is not the top.

What if McCain Loses?

A new pol shows Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is vulnerable to a primary challenge from the right. In response, he's busy flip-flopping his way over to oppose bipartisan climate-change efforts.

I have to say, I'd be thrilled if John McCain loses a primary. From my perspective, it's win-win. His reputation for bipartisan maverickism has always been overstated, so it is not like Democrats are losing a member that is easy to work with. But a primary defeat would set off a torrent of "the GOP has been hijacked by a far-right base and has no room for moderates" reporting by a punditocracy that still, beyond all reason, sees McCain as a national bellweather.

Plus, it gives Dems a fighting chance to flip the Arizona seat.

It's all good from my vantage point.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Conspiracy Theories Abound in the Modern GOP

A new PPP poll asked voters whether they believed Barack Obama actually won the 2008 presidential election, or whether "ACORN stole it for him." 62% of voters think Obama legitimately won, versus 26% for the ACORN conspiracy theory.
Among Republicans, however, only 27% say Obama actually won the race, with 52% -- an outright majority -- saying that ACORN stole it, and 21% are undecided. Among McCain voters, the breakdown is 31%-49%-20%. By comparison, independents weigh in at 72%-18%-10%, and Democrats are 86%-9%-4%.

As TPM and Matt Yglesias point out, the comparison to Democratic discontent over Florida in 2000 doesn't really hold -- not just because the difference in the magnitude (less than 600 votes in Florida, versus a 9.5 million vote edge for Obama nationwide), but also because the Florida controversy stemmed from a well-observed and legitimately disputed controversy over how to count imperfect ballots (butterflies, hanging chads, the whole she-bang).*

Meanwhile, Research 2000 put a poll in the field showing right-wing star Marco Rubio surging against wildly popular (statewide, anyway) but moderate Governor Charlie Crist in a GOP primary for the Senate seat -- showing a whopping net 43 point improvement from the last R2K poll. And this is with Rubio at only 50% name ID and with no money spent on advertising yet.

The poll also asked GOP voters whether they believed Obama was born in the US. Only 35% said yes (29% no, 36% not sure). Break that down for Crist and Rubio voters, and a distinct pattern emerges. 73% of Republicans who believe Obama was born in the US go for the more moderate Crist, with only 16% for Rubio. Among birthers, it flips to 31% for Crist and 54% for Rubio. There is, in other words, a pretty clear linkage between the resurgent conservative base currently driving the party and adherence to some pretty ridiculous conspiracy theories about the President. Sayeth Kevin Drum:
This is craziness. I could understand 10 or 15% believing this. That's sort of the base level of people who will believe any nutty idea. But 52%? Someone in the GOP needs to take a deep breath and a long look in the mirror, and then try to rescue their party. Condoning insanity is not a long-term electoral strategy.

This is 9/11 trutherism turned into a legitimate political force. It's a scary thing to behold.

* My own feeling about Florida is that I believe more people in the state filled out a ballot believing they had cast a vote for Al Gore. Whether there was any fair or manageable standard for counting ballots that could have reflected that decision is unknowable, however. The Washington Post's re-recount indicates that Gore's own litigation strategy would have caused him to lose, but a recount of all ballots statewide would have given him the winning edge.

What With the Bowing and Scraping

Look at him, degrading the office of the presidency and the nation with all that bowing. Caution: cute baby ahead.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Charitable Giving

A Gaza "charity" affiliated with Hamas has offered a whopping $1.4 million to anybody who captures an Israeli soldier.

One would think that, given all the poverty in Gaza and all the reconstruction and rebuilding that needs to be done there, a charity could find better and more immediate uses for nearly one and a half million dollars. Alas, it seems like many of these organizations are more interested in provoking and prolonging the conflict with Israel than they are with bettering the lives of Palestinians. Go figure.


In about five minutes, I'm going to see how well my laptop responds to the Baja Chicken Enchilada soup I just spilled all over it seeping into its internal machinery.

Wish it (and me) luck.

UPDATE: So far, so good. Way to go, laptop!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Woman's Right to Choose

We're on the abortion unit in Constitutional Law III, and tonight I'm reading Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), the case famous for upholding Roe v. Wade. One argument they discuss in the case is the issue about a woman's right not to have an abortion -- that is, the freedom to carry a pregnancy to term. Anti-abortion organizations often accuse pro-choicers of being "pro-abortion" to the point of being indifferent to policies such as China's forcible abortions. This is obviously absurd, as such acts are entirely inconsistent with the prevailing doctrine asserting a woman's right to choose.

However, the plurality solidifies this argument in a very concrete fashion:
If indeed the woman's interest in deciding whether to bear and beget a child had not been recognized as in Roe, the State might as readily restrict a woman's right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term as to terminate it, to further asserted state interests in population control, or eugenics, for example. Yet Roe has been sensibly relied upon to counter any such suggestions. E.g., Arnold v. Board of Education of Escambia County, Ala., 880 F.2d 305, 311 (CA11 1989) (relying upon Roe and concluding that government officials violate the Constitution by coercing a minor to have an abortion); Avery v. County of Burke, 660 F.2d 111, 115 (CA4 1981) (county agency inducing teenage girl to undergo unwanted sterilization on the basis of misrepresentation that she had sickle cell trait) . . . . (859)

Legally speaking, pro-life actors rarely rely on fetal personhood as their mode of attack, presumably because this would undoubtedly cause a complete inversion in the constitutional status of abortion, from constitutionally protected to constitutionally prohibited -- a goal that, if made public, would engender significant opposition (it also, as the Roe opinion makes clear, is entirely inconsistent with the original understanding of the 14th Amendment). So instead, they argue simply that this is an area where the constitution is silent, and hence is a province of the legislature.

But if that's the case, and this arena really does lie outside judicial purview, then the Casey plurality is correct that there is no reason why a legislature could not just as soon force women into terminating pregnancies as they could force them into carrying them to term. And the citation to Arnold and Avery shows that this is hardly a hypothetical concern.

Roe stands a fundamental bulwark defending a woman's right to control her own body. Alienating that principle to prohibit a woman for choosing to end a pregnancy means gutting its ability to protect a woman from being forced to end one. There is no severing the two.

They're Coming

The Register reports: "Machine rebellion begins: Killer robot destroyed by US jet: Rogue droid 'was attempting to cross border'":
An American "Reaper" flying hunter-killer robot assassin rebelled against its human controllers above Afghanistan on Sunday, and a manned US fighter jet was forced to shoot the rogue machine down before it unilaterally invaded a neighbouring country.
USAFCENT don't specify just what manned jet went up against the mutinous machine, or what methods the pilot used. However the logical choice would be a fighter plane - probably an F-15, -16 or -18 - and the cheapest and most fun weapon to use would be cannon fire. Opposition from the Reaper wouldn't be an issue, as it is a low-performance aircraft compared to a jet fighter and has no air-to-air capability.

It wasn't clear from the US military announcement whether the erratic death-bot had turned on its masters and was planning an attack on critical US logistics bases located north of the Afghan border, or whether it had sickened of reaping hapless fleshies like corn and was hoping merely to escape. Alternatively the machine assassin may merely have succumbed to boredom or - just possibly - a mundane, non-anthropomorphic technical fault of some kind.

Don't be fooled. It begins tonight!

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Boy After My Own Heart

Very early in this blog's history, I revealed that I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance in high school, due to my discomfort with the "under God" clause. As a religious person, I found the Pledge demeaning of my faith -- implying that in order to be religious I needed government sponsored training wheels. Plus, being a religious minority, I was acutely aware of how non- or polytheists could feel excluded by hinging loyalty to America on belief in God. I felt it was wrong, and so I refused to participate.

Today, in Arkansas, a ten-year old boy, Will Phillips, is making the news for also not saying the pledge. His reasons are slightly different from mine -- the "liberty and justice for all" part doesn't cohere with continued state-sponsored discrimination of gays and lesbians -- but needless to say, I find it heartwarming. Phillips is apparently very civic-minded for his age -- he, like me, wants to be able to pledge allegiance to America that really does provide liberty and justice for all, and won't settle for the substitution of "some".

Of course, in taking this stand the young man, who is straight but identifies as an ally, is taking the usual barrage of homophobic taunts from classmates and others (along with, it must be said, at least some support from his friends). But so far he is staying strong, and he is being supported by messages of support from around the country (of which I am glad to contribute). In the meantime, he has a good idea of what he is standing for by sitting out:
At the end of our interview, I ask young Will a question that might be a civics test nightmare for your average 10-year-old. Will's answer, though, is good enough — simple enough, true enough — to give me a little rush of goose pimples. What does being an American mean?

“Freedom of speech,” Will says, without even stopping to think. “The freedom to disagree. That's what I think pretty much being an American represents.”

Somewhere, Thomas Jefferson smiles.

And here in Chicago, I do too.


Fernando Belmontes was tried and convicted of murder in 1982, and sentenced to death. Three times, Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the Ninth Circuit has reversed his death sentence. And now, the Supreme Court has just reversed Judge Reinhardt for the third time and reinstated the death sentence.

I couldn't help but be reminded of this (the scene starting at 7:00)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

It's the Grammar that Gets Me The Most

A solidarity conference sponsored by the Palestinian Return Centre invited an actual, factual, fascist to the event as a speaker: Krisztina Morvai, MEP and leader of Hungary's far-right Jobbik Party. This upset several leading anti-racist organizations in the UK (notably, Nothing British), who urged British politicians scheduled to attend the event to drop out (several did).
We believe it would be a terrible mistake for you to attend the PRC conference and to share a platform with homophobes, anti-Semites, racists and Islamists whose values are inimical to the gentle British values of tolerance, fair-play and respect for one another.

In response, the PRC wrote to Nothing British regarding the above:
This is very harmful paragraph. It destroys our renowned reputation that we have built over the years. Why didn’t you mention that NORMAN Frankstineine who is Jew is participating? This shows how unprofessional and bias you are.


To avoid any problems and to avoid legal action we request the following:

1- Immediate removal of the article you are putting up.

2- Stopping the campaigning of Sabotage against PRC.

3- We ask you to commit the ethic of Journalism in writing your news.

4- We request you present your article in a very professional way without attacking us since you don’t have the right. That’s not journalism but unprofessionalism.

We are sorry if we take any legal actions against you and your website due to the false accusations in case we got no response to the above request.

Hope to hear from you soon.

I hereby affirm that NORMAN Frankstineine is Jew. Hopefully, this will forestall any legal action against me by the PRC. It is hardly our fault, after all, that the organization decided to affiliate with illiberal fascists -- indeed, it isn't even all that surprising.

God and Country

From a piece about the failure to treat veterans for combat-related PTSD and other psychological disorders:
[Paul] Sullivan was working as an analyst at the Veterans Benefits Administration in Washington in early 2005 when he was called to a meeting with a top political appointee at the VA, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy Michael McLendon. McLendon, an intensely focused man in a neatly pressed suit, kept a Bible on his desk at the office. Sullivan explained to McLendon and the other attendees that the rise in benefits claims the VA was noticing was caused partly by Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who were suffering from PTSD. “That’s too many,” McLendon said, then hit his hand on the table. “They are too young” to be filing claims, and they are doing it “too soon.” He hit the table again. The claims, he said, are “costing us too much money,” and if the veterans “believed in God and country . . . they would not come home with PTSD.” At that point, he slammed his palm against the table a final time, making a loud smack. Everyone in the room fell silent.

Mr. McLendon now denies saying those words, but continues to assert that PTSD is "a made-up term" which "is not a diagnosis based on empirical evidence, but rather . . . it is an artificial construct erected by a vote of selected psychiatrists."

It's amazing to see how the profoundly anti-scientific bent of the Bush administration destroyed so many policies, and in this case, betrayed the trust of our nation's soldiers. I continue to be utterly awe-struck by the audacity of it.

Rabbis and Pinoys

Congratulations are in order to Yuri Foreman, not just for proving me wrong, but for being surprisingly offensive-minded and fan-friendly in upsetting Daniel Santos and winning a belt at 154 lbs. Foreman, who is known as a pure boxer with zero power, dropped Santos twice and had him buzzed several times while losing none of his trademark speed and slickness. The rabbinical student (really) is currently the only Jewish boxing champion in the world today (the thirtieth of all time, according to the HBO ppv).

Meanwhile, Manny Pacquiao was a machine, steam-rollering a game Miguel Cotto to win yet another belt (this one at welterweight). He's simply terrifying in the ring. The Pacquiao/Mayweather fight simply has to happen. There isn't another fight in the sport worthy of our time.