Monday, October 5, 2009

Unvirtuous Patience

I have to say that when I consider that Obama said he was driven by Martin Luther King Jr's "fierce urgency of now" I assumed now wouldn't last forever. Obama said to South Carolinians
I am running because I do believe there’s such a thing as being too late. And that hour is almost here.

The hour is here on issues of gay rights. I may not yet feel the need to lash out like Andrew Sullivan does when he writes

So spare us the schmoozing and the sweet-talking and do it. Until then, Mr president, why don't you have a nice steaming cup of shut-the-fuck-up?

But then, Mr Sullivan is in a position to feel the urgency much more than I feel it. Many are in the position to feel it more than I do. They've felt the limitations imposed on them that I have not. And I imagine that feeling would quickly push me to speak in terms stronger than I currently do. Without apology.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

"I want to translate this happiness"

From an essay by an 18 year old planning to tell his parents that he's gay. I found this paragraph interesting.

The biggest argument that I see from pro-marriage-equality folks is "we don't want to change your life, we just want to be equals." I disagree. I do want to change other peoples' lives. The political and social spectrum in this country is wrong. Other people DO need to change. I shouldn't have had to live the first 17 years of my life as a secret. I dream of a day when a person of any age could be gay and never have to "come out". There is no guilt or shame in who we are, the only guilt comes from our surroundings. So yes, I do want to change those surroundings -- and if that means telling someone that their views are wrong, then so be it. If that means teaching kindergarteners that a prince can marry a prince, so be it.

It's true that the goal is a culture that embraces something that many find frightening or repellent. This reminds my of Casey's recent questions about the tension between accomplishment and ethics.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Let's remember the real victims

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Just How Misled is New Hampshire?

I think I missed this sermon.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


To close a window you either click a button with the mouse, or you hit command/control-W on the keyboard. You don't hit the delete key unless you want to go back a page, or you're deleting a file you've already saved on your computer.

What Would Puerto Rican on the Bench Do for Us?

Most of the criticism I've seen aimed at Sonia Sotomayor has struck me as simple, petty, childish, and baffling. Arguments that she's not smart enough or frugal enough don't interest me much past a headline. But one criticism is worthy of attention. That is the claim that she's a racist for making the following statement:
I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.

Well let me first say that I don't see how this statement places one race above another as more deserving, powerful, moral, or wise. Let's not overlook the importance of "I would hope" in that sentence.

Of course not everybody cares about that little detail. And some fine readers encounter this statement quickly judge it
1) a bad definition of wisdom, 2) evidence that she's lacking a certain degree of wisdom, and, 3) racist.

In his predictable rant, Casey does rightly ask for a "richness of experience [hierarchy] list."

Tho, I'm almost certain that no matter what that list looks like he'll reject it as flawed and insignificant. And he writes
Soon we will return to epistemology, and the question will be: can you transcend your racial determiners when it comes to knowing reality? I will side with those who say 'Yes, you can.'

See what he did there? Casey's a cheeky bastard.

The first question I would have for Casey is if he read the entire lecture from which Sotomayor's statement was taken. Here is my reaction to Casey's three judgments above.

I'm not sure what he believes Sotomayor's definition of wisdom is, and so I can't defend what he attacks. But I actually appreciate her discussion of wisdom, brief as it is. Her lecture spends a good amount of time addressing the progress towards a judicial branch that more accurately represents the American identity. The progress is recent and still moves slowly, and as I read her statements, it is in comparison to the history of wisdom on the bench and in office that she believes a Latina would offer an improvement to the white males that have a legacy of disproportionally delaying and blocking the appointments of women and minorities to serve on the highest courts. She says:

In at least the last five years the majority of nominated judges the Senate delayed more than one year before confirming or never confirming were women or minorities.

That record can be defended I'm sure. But if it is the result of ignoring or rejecting the value of equal consideration, just like Sotomayor, I too would hope that a wise Latina would do a better job of treating all groups with the same respect.

Her wisdom is increasingly clear to me as I read her work. If the "certain wisdom" that she lacks is merely that specific wisdom with which Casey can agree without reservation, then I'm sure he would agree that it's not much of a criticism. In fact, she addresses this very issue in her lecture, agreeing with Yale professor, Steven Carter's argument "that in any group of human beings there is a diversity of opinion because there is both a diversity of experiences and of thought."

Most importantly on this point, she quotes Martha Minnow, who argues that there is "no escape from choice in judging."

I suspect this is what Casey sees as a racist view. Perhaps he sees it as resigned prejudice. What he believes we can somehow transcend, Sotomayor (and I) see as the reality of a life's experience. Sotomayor, in her lecture, refers to such transcendence as an "aspiration", but she's not sure it's possible to achieve. What Casey hopes we can disguise, and what she and I are comfortable with, is that diversity of conclusions. Because each judgment is a choice, we cannot escape the influence of experience. And should we? Is it the role of the courts to offer opinions that are held not by people, but by some unknown Platonic judge? But even if that impartial ideal is to be sought, Sotomayor's "hope" is a fair one: that a wise Latina would introduce an improvement that is needed.

"Let us not forget," she writes immediately after the quote that Casey calls racist,

that wise men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972, no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case.

I hope the future is an improvement too. And with the progressively representative bench I also hope that the experiences of minorities are increasingly helpful.

And I'll leave the final words on this point to Sotomayor, whose wisdom I believe is exceedingly clear in the following remarks:

I am reminded each day that I render decisions that affect people concretely and that I owe them constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me requires. I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences but I accept my limitations.
There is always a danger embedded in relative morality, but since judging is a series of choices that we must make, that I am forced to make, I hope that I can make them by informing myself on the questions I must not avoid asking and continuously pondering.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

You Give Me a Waterboard, One Hour, and Dick Cheney And I'll Have Him Confessing to the Sharon Tate Murders

One of Al Qaeda's goals, it's not just to attack the United States. It's to prove that we're hypocrites—that we don't live up to American principles.

I can't say that I agree with his claim that torture is enough to create an enemy. The issue of torture as a damnable act—as clearly as I stand where I do—is debated for a reason. Because all sorts of behavior can be damned and justified by those who are usually more interested in damning and justifying the people who engage in the behavior.

If the question is simply what would be American? then the argument of torture can be lost as easily as Cheney makes his arguments. Because when enough Americans accept the trajectory of his morality the value is American. Let's be honest. This country is not a sanctuary of moral clarity. And we don't want it to be, because that requires puritanism.

The harder argument to make is about the efficacy of torture. Because results have to be there. And while Cheney likes to speak as an authority on the wisdom of torture, his only credential is faith. Those who are trained and experienced should really provide a sober counter if they have one. And my only credential is faith that they have one.

I'm kinda hoping that the strongest and clearest sober counter doesn't have to be Jesse Ventura.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Proposition 8 Upheld

This could be a very disappointing decision. But it's not for a pretty important reason. The ruling was on a technical decision regarding the passage of proposition that was voted on at the California ballot. It's not so much about an interpretation of the state's constitution. The constitution was interpreted a certain way last year and the proposition was a small-minded and fearful response. There aren't laws against small-mindedness and fear. And so the vote stands.

What's much more discouraging than the court decision is the determination of some voices to spread the desire for inequality:

Jorge Riley, 31, of Sacramento had to get up earlier to make the drive to San Francisco to hoist his sign reading, " 'Gay' = Pervert."

"I don't know how many times it's going to take for the judges to listen to the will of the people," Riley said.

And so we're back to why this isn't so hopeless. Because the wheels are still spinning where the important changes are taking place. Mr Riley is blissfully ignorant of the shifting will of the people. In more and more minds homosexuality is not a perversion, and it's not even taking a 'liberal' court to recognize rights in some states. Legislators are listening to the will of the people. And they're pushing hard to pass respectable laws and barrel past governors' vetoes when necessary. Not with 100% success. But with more and more strength. And more and more support.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The GOP: Smart as a Whip

It's amazing to me how determinedly daft the Republican rhetoric has been. This interview with Eric Cantor is about two months old. But it holds up. What three things other than tax cuts would he do if he were president? I'll sum up his answer with quotes.

We've all got to work together.

Yes. I agree.

What is needed most right now is focus on getting the job done.

That's almost as good as his first suggestion.

We've got to do all we can to address this situation [of jobs being lost].

He must be reading my mind!

Not to think about a 20-year Great Society redux program.

Wait -- so just not thinking about it will help?

Narrow the focus.

Hold on a minute. Not only does he want to focus but he wants it to be a narrow focus? Man, this guy is got some revolutionary thinking!

Get this economy back on track.

You know. I think that might work. I'd put that in the top three too.

And he adds that he wouldn't pass Obama's budget if he were President because it's taxing the job creators. Does that count as something other than a tax cut? I guess technically he's suggesting a tax avoidance rather than a tax cut because if he was president he wouldn't have instituted the taxes in the first place. Cantor is sneaky sneaky.

So he finishes with his big three.
  1. Need some focus.
  2. Stop the politics.
  3. Start working together to get this job done.

This is not only the GOP that talks and argues like this. It's not even only politicians. But the GOP is flailing and they all need to address the palpable weakness of their philosophy soon.

Michael Steele is supposed to be guiding them, but what does he have to offer?

He wants the Republican party to convince America that the Right Wing view of spending, taxes, freedom, "responsive and responsible government", and defense are best for the country.

To accomplish this goal Republicans are turning a corner in three important ways:

First, the Republican Party will be forward-looking – it is time to stop looking backward … I believe it is now time for Republicans to focus all of our energies on winning the future by emerging as the party of new ideas.

Second, the Republican Party will not shy away from voicing our opposition to the president’s policies.

Third, the Republican Party will seize upon momentum for a GOP resurgence that is already under way in states and local communities.

In this same short essay he argues that looking forward is what Reagan would have done, and he offers no idea more concrete than the principle of small government. He opposes Obama's policies only based on the assumption of righteous principles. Where's the momentum in that?

A better word than momentum would be inertia. The GOP is an object at rest, staying at rest.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Let Him Who Hath Understanding...

A few years ago our friend Casey had a 'different' blog. I was browsing through the archives and found this gem from S11 Republican, who chimed in to dampen a "leftist" thread, offering up this criticism of a article:

The truth is that (1) there is zero evidence of authorized torture (2) the wiretapping in question isn't illegal, and (3) winning the war in the Middle East just might save Western Civilization.


Friday, May 8, 2009

Is This Becoming a Metaphor?

There's something heartening about these kids. There's also something canned about their responses. They sound a little too ready to attack the questions. But that might be a good thing.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

...By Any Other Name

Student: So I read a recent report recently, that said that you did a memo. You were the one who authorized torture to the—

Condoleezza Rice: Is that what you read?

Student: I'm sorry. Not torture. I'm sorry.

Rice: Thanks.

Student: Waterboarding. Waterboarding.

Rice: Uh huh.

Student: Is waterboarding torture?

Rice: The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations—legal obligations—under the convention against torture. So that's —And by the way, I didn't authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency, that they had policy authorization subject to the Justice Department's clearance. That's what I did.

Student: OK. Is waterboarding torture in your opinion?

Rice: And I just said, The United States was told, we were told nothing that violates our obligations on the convention against torture. And so, by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.

Knowing that the word "torture" is a sure way to surrender the charity of public opinion, Rice takes a legal path to the technical censure of its applicability. Does such censure end the argument? Let's say it's true, that presidential approval is sufficient to keep something from being called torture. Does that mean that a severed finger isn't technically torture, and that any argument that calls it torture is using a slick tactic?

The use of torture in the argument is not a dirty trick or a cheap shot. Because anyone who disagrees with the label can simply choose to ignore the conclusions and focus on the terms, as Casey has done on the last post. But regardless of the term I use, even Casey isn't confused about the techniques I'm talking about. If he's read the Bybee memo and followed the discussions, he knows that I'm talking about certain techniques, and because he's a smart guy I'm sure he can figure that I'm focusing mostly on facial slaps, walling, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding. Those are techniques that are approved on paper. There's no doubt that other techniques as distasteful as sexual debasement, religious affronts, and techniques as violent as beating to the point of injury and even death took place. The death of Dilawar at the Bagram Air Base was not just the result of a careless interrogator. It was the result of a system that valued information from broken individuals, even questionable information from innocent individuals.

As we evaluate an administration we have to take into account those fruits of its philosophy, when we can see where that philosophy has encouraged disregard for certain values.

Is waterboarding torture? When the very techniques suggested are those that are used because they push an individual to the limits of surrender, then my use of the word is irrelevant. The US Code defines torture as severe physical or mental pain and suffering, and trials have proceeded on the premise that waterboarding is torture.

Alain Grignard serving with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, called Guantánamo model facility, but added that any indeterminate incarceration without informing them of their status or fate is "mental torture."*

The International Committee of the Red Cross in the Report on the Treatment of Fourteen "High Value Detainees" in CIA Custody, categorizes the relevant treatment of detainees comprising the following "Methods of Ill-treatment" in individual sections under the following headings: Suffocation by water; Prolonged stress standing; Beatings by use of a collar; Beating and kicking; Confinement in a box; Prolonged nudity; Sleep deprivation and use of loud music; Exposure to cold temperature/cold water; Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles; Threats; Forced shaving; Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food.

And the same ICRC report while referring to the treatment of Guantánamo detainees torture, says regarding the terminology:

The general term “ill-treatment” has been used throughout the following section, however, it should in no way be understood as minimising the severity of the conditions and treatment to which the detainees were subjected. Indeed, as outlined in Section 4below, and as concluded by this report, the ICRC clearly considers that the allegations of the fourteen include descriptions of treatment and interrogation techniques—singly or in combination—that amounted to torture and/or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

That's the policy being defended. Those techniques, Michael Scheuer is willing to defend as appropriate even when they're not a last resort. If I don't get to call that torture, fine. I don't think I need to.

Whether or not the defenders of the techniques are comfortable with the use of the word torture, they have argued that techniques that are effective because they are unbearable should be allowed. I'm using torture to refer to any technique that is unbearable and is repeatedly employed with no attempt to attenuate that discomfort.

We are not talking about punishment for crimes that have been tried. These are not criminals in the legal sense. These are detainees who we expect can something for the United States: give information. Yes, my stance might be criticized as resting on "idealistic pacifist foundations." And yes, I am in many ways a pacifist. But I'm no more an idealist than those who would like us to believe that pain is the most effective way to get the information that will help us. I've heard both arguments. I have seen no convincing moral or pragmatic defense of such imposed suffering. Even tho Casey sees a possible defense because Inflicting discomfort obviously can be an effective measure, I don't see a defense available there. Call me an idealist. But even if I believed that an imminent threat was a reasonably relevant consideration, I hope I wouldn't view the evidence differently. And why should I?

If prisoners of war are to be held accountable for their actions, then make the claim and prove that they are criminals. But when they are off the battle field. When they are away from their resources. When they are under control, unarmed and removed from every institutional and affiliative power they have, there is one power that we can never take away from them: the power to remain silent. That is a power that we have to accept, no matter how frightening it is that their silence is not in our interest. The idealists are those who believe we can we control their values.

So what do we do to convince them not to be silent? Right now the debate has two parts. Those who are in disagreement have to navigate two courses:

1) Arguing for the proper reaction to what is done/has happened

2) Arguing for/against the defense of what is done/has happened.

The second course is absolutely necessary because in combination with the first, it is an argument for what we are willing to let happen.

* Imprisonment is not a single thing. So we would have to argue against different experiences with prison. Torture takes place in prison. And it takes place because of the system's accommodation of it, and disregard for the suffering of inmates. Honestly, that's another issue. If I was to address that, I would have to address corruption, public attention, politics then the death penalty, solitary confinement, the difference between punishment and excision. Simply put: I'm against the death penalty and I don't believe that imprisonment should have anything to do with punishment.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Even Unnecessary Torture Is OK?

David Martin: How will we know that less coercive techniques couldn't have produced the same results

Michael Sheuer: Well who— Why would you care? If we got the information we needed and America's better d— better protected, who cares? These are not Americans.

Well we know that Scheuer's way of thinking is out there. It's the foundation of Cheney's current claim that once people know how effective torture was, it'll be all the proof they need that it was necessary. But it's frustrating to see the level of antagonism Scheuer shows to the very thought that many people in this country will care about torture no matter what it revealed. And especially frustrating is his casual insistence that torture doesn't even have to be a last resort.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Cliff May on The Daily Show

Cliff May on The Daily Show

These memos are not torture memos. They are, if anything, anti-torture memos cause here's what they say:

They say look, there is a line that you may not cross. You can inflict discomfort, even some pain, but if you cross this line, it's torture and we're going to tell you what that line is, and you may not cross it under any circumstances.

May's argument goes nowhere that he promises. Instead of focusing on how to avoid torture, he explains how to avoid torturing the wrong people.

For example, it says, you can't do this unless it's an Al Qaida operative -- and it's gotta be a high Al Qaida operative. And you gotta know that he has information about a terrorist plot that's gonna kill people. And you have to have tried everything else so that you don't do this just cause—you know—you think it's a good idea. It's gotta be like you're at the end of your rope and you think you have to&mdash don't— You know this don't you, that only three people were waterboarded? Only three. All of them were Al Qaida senior leaders, all of them involved in terrible terrorist acts and not since 2003 there haven't been any of those.

Lest we allow this argument pass as only a partial argument—trusting that May has another point to make about the actual acts themselves, he makes it clear later in the interview that he is willing to argue in favor of different standards of torture.

...and the line for a criminal defendant... an American citizen has a line drawn here. A prisoner of war has a line drawn here. And a high ranking Al Qaida terrorist who has slaughtered millions, of Am-- thousands of Americans and would like to slaughter millions— I say the line gets drawn a little to the left of that.

What I find most laughable about his argument is the slippery slope appeal he tries to pass off against John Stewart's view.

MAY: Putting 'em in jail. That's torture. So let's open all the jails. let's open wide the cells—
STEWART: That's not— That's silly and nobody's arguing that.
MAY: No. You are. That's— that is the logical progression of where you're going. If putting someone in a jail cell is torture, or you can't say what torture is so if I say it's torture it is, you better open all the jails.

Slippery slope arguments are really pointless unless your talking about architecture or a sled. Especially when both sides claim to argue in favor of prudence and moderation.

But I'm stuck on his first argument about the importance of the identity of the person being interrogated. He is claiming that what we are unwilling to inflict on an American citizen—because it's torture—we should be willing to inflict on people he believes are evil and dangerous. And not even as punishment. But as a means to information. A means that has not been shown to be effective.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Visual Rhetoric

A friend posted this photo on his FaceSpace account with the following caption:

These are actual Police Photos...too funny.

Just think about this for a second: Did you ever see anyone arrested wearing a Bush T-shirt, or for you older guys, an Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, or even Nixon, or Bob Dole shirt.

There MUST be a message here, but I can't quite grasp it, or maybe I am afraid to.

Why doesn't he just come right out and say it: Thank god the police are Republicans who know that black people are dangerous.

Don't be afraid buddy. Be happy they're on your side.

UPDATE: And doesn't it seem unlikely that those are all actual mugshots? Can't these digs at Obama and Democrats and minorities ever involve more than copying and pasting someone else's joke?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

This Is Your Religion on Drugs

OK. This one's for Ed. How quickly can the Answers in Genesis people make no sense? It only takes them 15 seconds to lose me here.

Seriously. Someone explain to me what they're trying to say and do here. How do I use this argument to learn anything about creationism or G-d or religion or guns or… anything?

Thursday, March 12, 2009


This is from an exchange with a close and trusted friend. My coming response to Part One of Casey's No Separation is Possible post will also keep this exchange in mind.

I'm in red and he's in blue. No symbolism.

Here's the issue -- Proposition 8.

Now because we're friends I'm almost sure that my wisdom and insight has influenced you enough so that you recognized the folly of the "pro" argument. But if you still think the Devil has corrupted my thinking I'd love to hear your argument.

As for Prop 8 - of course I am pro. Read Leviticus 18:22 and tell me G-d wants kids in that type of detestable home.

See that's wonderful. But maybe too good. Because I almost believe you can't be that ignorant. Almost.

You can of course believe in that single verse of Leviticus (while ignoring so many others because they're just too crazy to still believe) if you want to. You can take it literally. You can argue that G-d hates homosexuality (except for lesbianism). You still have to prove that the constitution should be based on a religious argument. I doubt you'll be able to convince me that our laws should also allow us to own Canadians and Mexicans as slaves because of Leviticus 25:44.

I say that we should ignore a lot of the bible tells us to do, and we should disagree with a lot of what the bible tells us is OK. I just flat out don't believe a whole lot of the Hebrew and Greek bible when it ventures a guess at what G-d condemns.

You could of course argue that government should enforce your religious view and impose it on everyone because of Lev 24:22. but at least admit then that you want to throw out the 1st amendment.

Imagine that there's a religion out there that sanctions and performs same-sex marriages. (It's evil of course, right? Must be Satanic?) Should the constitution be amended to revoke that religious right when the revocation is based on nothing more than another religious belief regarding Hebrew scripture? Even in the face of the American Psychological Association's view that the prejudices against same-sex parenting are unfounded? Are we simply supposed to trust bigots as long as they argue that G-d is also a bigot?

I say G-d isn't.

Can you come up with any evidence that prejudices against homosexuality are well-founded outside your scriptural reading?

The Bible is what it is. It is tilted toward man. If it says "man" it makes references to women as well, I am aware of the paradox this presents in Leviticus. But I am convinced the scenario of the garden of Eden is persistent and compelling in its message of marriage. I am also becoming more cognizant of androgynous births and unusual patterns of human development, but G-d can not be interested in the perpetuation of degenerate attractions that sin designed and the malignant mutations driven by poor human choice. By that I mean, when humans turn to incest, drugs, and self abuse, unnatural births follow.

Prop 8 to me simply restates basic Biblical principals and strives to protect the order of family as ordained by God. This belief is further solidified by the concept that Satan is working first and foremost to destroy the family as a functional unit of heavenly practice.

As for the loss of constitutional rights, I am convinced as far as eschatology goes, this is inevitable and should not be encouraged, but I am downright convinced that tolerance has its limits in light of risks.

The rights that same-sex couples want are only those that are granted by the state. they only want the government to protect the rights that come with a state recognized union/marriage. They don't care what any church thinks. They don't care what you preach. They don't care if you think they're the product or cause of sin. Teach your children to judge them. Or if you're an enlightened evangelist just teach your children to judge the sin while loving the sinner. That's fine.

But can you ask the government to deny that right without asking the government to rule based on your religious beliefs? Can you give an argument other than one that disregards the first amendment? Or are you willing to say that on this issue the government should not be bound by the constitution?

I cannot immediately come up with a non-religious arguement for Prop 8. I will consider it. However, I am not convinced I can remove my religion from any aspect of my life. Therein lies the controversy.

Before you sprain a brain muscle don't confuse G-d with your religion and don't confuse your life with the constitution.

What I'm getting at of course is that maybe you don't really value separation of church and state. If so then this disagreement is resolved and we have to move on to the next argument: why you should or shouldn't value some sort of separation.

Excellent point. I believe I have been giving lip service to the support of the separation of church and state, but I privately insist on the commandments in the courtrooms, the prayer of students and faculty in school and the instructions of creation or at least intelligent design. I like these, but believe it could mean we would be leaning toward Christianity, only to find Christianity leaning against me and my beliefs one day soon. So again, excellent point. Nice wake-up call. Let the state of California recognize these degenerates if they want, but I will still insist on pitying any innocent child subjected to that lifestyle.


Casey has responded to the previous post. Please read his thoughts. They're important.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sabbath's Over

My attention has been drawn away from the current media-darling issue: the economy. As I said to a friend, the economy isn't really touching me right now. It will soon enough when we're looking for jobs in (probably) academia. It will if our car conks out. It will as soon as we need a loan. I think it's worth knowing about the economy and policies and all that. But right now every argument about Keynesian vs Hayekish theories starts sounding like an argument about angels on the head of a pin. The only argument anyone's going to win is about the pronunciation of Keynes' name. (It sounds like canes.)

I don't mean to say that I don't care about people who are affected. I do care about the shit I see. I know people who have been screwed by their business connections. People who have trusted institutions but have been betrayed by the interests of a struggling provider. Banks. Corporations. A lot of weak baskets dropping all their vulnerable contents. And I feel bad seeing this crap happen to people I care about.

But my attention keeps moving to the intersection of religion and politics. And as I said to that same friend, that's probably where it's always been. I've long held on to a belief that government and religion can be separate, but often doubt that they ever will be. Of course they should be, but I also believe a perpetual motion machine would be a great boon to the energy grid. Just because it'd be awesome isn't going to make it happen.

The compromise comes because it's not up to a constitution or a law to separate the two modes. We are forced to trust individuals, and individuals are only occasionally trustworthy. It only takes a few committee members honestly believing that their religious views would survive a change of religious ideology, and a sufficient vote can be constitutionally upheld in this representational democracy.

What makes this troubling beyond pure principle is the evidence of intolerance that we've seen in recent votes and the patterns of thought that I see so often broadcast stridently by religious apologists. I'm not interested in pulling out the tired argument that religion is historically the thickest root of persecution. The Inquisitors are all dead. Responsibility calls only our current selves, and faith can rest only in those who are acting now and will act again.

What keeps me from completely giving up on the ideal is the ability we have to see what direction individuals give to their institutions. Many poor arguments are popular. Many excellent arguments are ignored. Why? What are these voices saying ex cathedra? What voices are necessary in anticipation and in response?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Out of the Fox Hole

Glenn Greenwald makes some interesting points about militia groups.

Greenwald's column is a response to an episode segment on Glen Beck's "War Games" that hypothesized a revolt in 2014 because of government getting to big and raising taxes. From your friends as FOX News.

What was most remarkable about this allegedly "anti-government" movement was that -- with some isolated and principled exceptions -- it completely vanished upon the election of Republican George Bush, and it stayed invisible even as Bush presided over the most extreme and invasive expansion of federal government power in memory


  • They were never afraid of an intrusive government; they just hated Clinton.
  • They do fear government intrusion but under Bush they were willing to sacrifice some constitutional rights because they hate foreigners even more.
  • They were just as active but the media stopped visiting Michigan and Montana.
  • The militias just kept quiet because they were afraid of ending up in Guantanamo.

    The onscreen disclaimer:

    This is from FOX so if you turn the volume up you'd probably hear a voice hissing '...and should happen.'
  • Wednesday, February 25, 2009

    on Jindal's response

    If it sounds like Jindal is targeting his speech to a room full of fourth graders, that's because he is. They might be the next people to actually vote for Republicans again.

    -Nate Silver

    Monday, February 9, 2009

    When It Comes Down to It

    This story is in no way about couples relying on the government for sanctification of interpersonal human commitment.

    It's about a woman being kept from being physically near her spouse.

    Staffers at Jackson Memorial Hospital
    advised [Janice] Langbehn that she could not see [her partner, Lisa Marie] Pond earlier because the hospital's visitation policy in cases of emergency was limited to immediate family and spouses -- not partners.

    Even with power of attorney and legal guardianship, Langbehn was refused access because of Florida's non-recognition of their marriage.

    What would have allowed her in? Not the support of her family. Not the sincerity of her commitment. Not all the best intentions of those who argue that a couple's vows need no help from the state. This is a gate that the state controls. And the state needs to open it.

    Sunday, February 8, 2009

    Forced to Divorce

    "Fidelity": Don't Divorce...

    Voices are important. I don't know how effective it is to petition a court, especially considering that this court is being asked to overturn a vote. But the California Supreme Court needs to recognize that the process by which this vote was made possible was flawed and it should invalidate the result.

    One of the big questions is whether the vote revised or amended the constitution. If it revised the constitution it would require more than a mere majority vote. This is a promising argument given the court's finding last May. This proposition clearly revises the reading that led to that decision.

    In December Ken Starr took up the cause of Proposition 8. The battle now is to keep the marriages intact that the state granted between May and November of 2008. It's frustrating that so many people who have shared a public commitment are now left hoping that the state will continue to recognize and respect the union. It's sad that families are being fractured in deference to a superstition.

    Wednesday, February 4, 2009

    This Calls for Legislation

    Microsoft has gone too far this time.

    See more examples of this artistic revolution.

    Sunday, February 1, 2009

    HD Video

    Vincent Laforet's work.


    Tuesday, January 27, 2009

    Tilt Shift Video

    Tilt shift photography takes advantage of the mind's interpretation of depth of field as an indication of size and distance in images. Distant objects in a very narrow depth of field appear to be a close-up of tiny objects. The effect works well enough with still images, but with video it's amazing.

    The Case of Troy Anthony Davis

    We must confront the unalterable fact that the system of capital punishment is fallible, given that it is administered by fallible human beings. I respectfully urge the Board of Pardons and Paroles to demonstrate your strong commitment to fairness and justice and commute the death sentence of Troy Anthony Davis.
    Archbishop Desmond Tutu

    My friend Gary has been working to call attention to the case of Troy Davis, who came within 90 minutes of being executed on the 23rd of September 2008. A jury convicted Davis of shooting and killing police officer Mark Allen McPhail with a .38 caliber gun.

    The case against him rested almost entirely on informant and eyewitness testimony with no physical evidence. No weapon was found to connect to the crime. Now, all but three eyewitnesses have recanted or changed their testimony. Some of those who have recanted claim that they were coerced and intimidated to give the testimony they did. Sylvester "Red" Coles admitted to having a .38 caliber handgun in his possession just a half hour before the shooting of a police officer, but he claims to have lost the gun. Coles is one of the three eyewitnesses not to recant.

    The US Supreme Court declined to hear the case and Davis again faced execution on October 27, 2008. On the 24th the execution was temporarily stayed by the federal appeals court in Atlanta.

    I've been hearing and reading about this case for a few months, and I wasn't sure what to think about it. I've decided that's all I need to take my stance. Amnesty International provides enough information on this page to give me important doubts.

    Visit this page for more information and to see a short trailer for the documentary (still in the production).

    Troy's sister Martina also maintains a web page with updates and information.

    Saturday, January 24, 2009

    Those who can...

    It seems to me, if you're going to give advice on how to draw Barack Obama you should show that you can draw a picture that actually looks like him.

    Taylor Jones is a good caricaturist but he's missing on these images. He doesn't bother with the shape of Obama's face, which is an important feature: long, triangular. The chin needs to extend further below the mouth. The eyes and brows are turn down too quickly from the bridge of the nose and the eyebrows are too close. A slightly larger distance between them is important. Accentuate the width of the smile, not the height. And in a smile turn town the upper lip.

    Wednesday, January 21, 2009


    I have given up newspapers in exchange for Tacitus, and Thucydides, for Newton and Euclid, and I find myself much happier.
    Thomas Jefferson

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009

    The Reverend Joseph E. Lowery's Benediction

    G-d of our weary years

    G-d of our silent tears

    Thou who has brought us thus far along the way

    Thou who has by thy might led us into the light

    Keep us forever in the path, we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our G-d, where we met thee, lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee. Shadowed beneath thy hand may we forever stand, true to thee, O G-d, and true to our native land.

    We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we've shared this day. We pray now, O Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant, Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration. He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national and, indeed, the global fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hand, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations. Our faith does not shrink though pressed by the flood of mortal ills.

    For we know that, Lord, you're able and you're willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor — or the least of these — and from favoritism toward the rich — the elite of these.

    We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that, yes, we can work together to achieve a more perfect union. And while we have sown the seeds of greed — the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

    And now Lord in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance.

    And as we leave this mountaintop help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes our workplaces our churches our temples our mosques or wherever we seek your will.

    Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle. Look over our little angelic Sasha and Malia.

    We go now to walk together, children, pledging that we won't get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone, with your hands of power and your heart of love.

    Help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nation shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree, and none shall be afraid; when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

    Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back — when brown can stick around — when yellow will be mellow — when the red man can get ahead, man — and when white will embrace what is right.

    Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.

    [AUDIENCE] Amen.

    [REV. LOWERY] Say amen

    [AUDIENCE] Amen.

    [REV. LOWERY] and amen.

    [AUDIENCE] Amen.

    The Reverend Rick Warren's Invocation

    Almighty G-d, our father,

    Everything we see and everything we can't see exists because of you alone. It all comes from you, it all belongs to you. It all exists for your glory. History is your story.

    The Scripture tells us "Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is our god; the Lord is one." And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.

    Now today we rejoice not only in America's peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time. We celebrate a hinge-point of history with the inauguration of our first African-American president of the United States.

    We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where the son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in Heaven.

    Give to our new president, Barack Obama, the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity. Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the Cabinet, and every one of our freely elected leaders.

    Help us oh G-d to remember that we are Americans, united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all.

    When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the Earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us.

    And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes, even when we differ.

    Help us to share to serve and to seek the common good of all.

    May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet. And may we never forget that one day all nations and all people will stand accountable before you.

    We now commit our new president and his wife, Michelle, and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care.

    I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life, Yeshua, Isa, Jesús, Jesus, who taught us to pray, Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.


    Saturday, January 17, 2009

    Foreboding Mourning

    The most distasteful messages in Bush's farewell were those endorsing a black and white view of the world and and absolute view of change.

    Afghanistan has gone from a nation where the Taliban harbored Al-Qaeda and stoned women in the streets, to a young democracy that is fighting terror and encouraging girls to go to school.

    No country is ever completely any of those things. Al-Qaeda still has real estate in Afghanistan. Women are still treated unequally. Even if extremism is publicly criticized and discouraged there are subversive private lives and barely-secret movements that are still a part of every country. Even the United States.

    Bush makes similar simple claims about Iraq then adds

    There's legitimate debate about many of these decisions. But there can be little debate about the results. America has gone more than 7 years without another terrorist attack on our soil.

    There can be great debate about the results. Are they even results? He scampers from black and white thinking over to a feeble post hoc ergo propter hoc argument.

    Then away from arguments of evidence to arguments of principle:

    I have always acted with the best interests of the country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what i thought was right.

    This is not enough. My complaint has never been that he didn't follow his conscience. The problem is that his conscience is flawed. His sense of right is perverted. If he thought it was right to fabricate evidence and to allow torture then his assurance of good intentions is meaningless. His intentions are different from mine.

    Here then is the capsule of his hamartia:

    Good and evil are present in this world. And between the two there can be no compromise. Freeing people from oppression and despair is eternally right.

    Bush does not understand that good and evil do not always exist in opposition to each other. That the structures of good and evil comprise many decisions principles and intentions that are neither good nor evil. He is unable to grasp the ridiculous irony of using the following statement in his own defense.

    Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time everywhere.

    Intentions are meaningless when you don't have the interest to get a logical grasp of the structure of your own morality.


    I had no interest in listening to Bush's farewell plea Thursday night. We know the song well enough to sing along. He admits his administration wasn't perfect but he assures us that he loves us.

    That's how he says goodby. By saying You can't blame me.

    Here are a few goodbyes for him. Not all negative.

    Thursday, January 15, 2009

    Where Credit Is Due

    How cool is Prop 8 Maps? No really. Is it cool or is it kinda sick?

    I have several friends that are theologically and socially conservative. And of course I'm very curious to see if they donated to support this unequal rights amendment. Half of me wants to do a quick search to see if they're listed. Half of me figures I should be forthright and just ask them. But here's the beauty of this map: If I get into a conversation about this with my friend Bible Bob, I have to confront the disagreement. And I've talked about that before. If I just slink around the map and find names, I know I can be trusted with that information. I'm good at judging silently.

    But if you're not silent, I'll respect your desire for attention:

    Look, she's willing to give up $200,000.00 for this intolerant cause. I'm guessing she's proud of her conviction.

    If she didn't want recognition for this cause she could have gone the sniper route and given all the credit to Focus On Some Families in Colorado Springs like these sweethearts:

    Now here's a true believer. She's willing to donate all that money plus squash a lucrative client base. It must be her version of tithe.

    Rod Dreher calls this creepy and asks

    Would you want some gay-bashing group to post to the Internet a map to the homes of contributors to a pro-gay marriage initiative?

    Yes. I would. You'd see my name on there. My real one. Lots of us who oppose 8 have made public statements. What's creepy is supporting a cause you're not proud to support.

    Wednesday, January 14, 2009

    Numbers That Don't Really Count

    ...but that do tell us a lot. From Harper's special Bush Index

    Number of press conferences at which Bush has referred to a question as a “trick”: 14

    Number of times he has declared an event or outcome not to be “acceptable”: 149

    Rank of Bush among U.S. presidents with the highest disapproval rating: 1

    Average percentage of Americans who approved of the job Bush was doing during his second term: 37

    Percentage of Russians today who approve of the direction their country took under Stalin: 37

    I Just Noticed...


    Tuesday, January 13, 2009

    I Want It To Capture Our Lack of Inspiration

    Even if you hate the team, the Yankees organization can design a nice patch.

    That's some mighty fine stitchin' boys.

    The Mets on the other hand...

    It has been compared to the Dominos logo. Mmmmm. Blaaaand.

    Monday, January 12, 2009

    What Long Nails You Have

    In an interview posted on his blog photographer Joshua Hoffine explains

    If I were more concerned about money, I would probably be photographing bunnies and kitty cats.

    He's sort of the antidote to some much more disturbing pictures I've seen that exploit children.

    Sunday, January 11, 2009

    Let's Get It On

    This is old. But some post-coital reflection might be in order.

    Saturday, January 10, 2009

    I Doubt Some Foul Play

    At a friend's command I went and saw Doubt Friday evening. As an indication of how much I trust and value this friend's opinions I should point out how seldom I visit the movie theatre. I went more than usual in 2008: I went twice.

    Doubt was good. Well written. Nicely structured. Gorgeously acted. I love Philip Seymour Hoffman. Meryl Streep is always perfect. And the moral questions are rich.

    You should watch it.

    Of course I'd like to discuss it now. But in order to preserve the direction of my friend's interest (and to avert any spoilers) I'll invite comments as a continuation. Therein I'll share further impressions and discuss the flick without reservation. But first I'll ask my thoughtful friend a simple question (in good faith):

    Why was it such an important movie?

    Tuesday, January 6, 2009

    We are not amused

    It doesn't matter how cool you are; Blagojevich doesn't get to make up the VIP list. So you really can't feel at all bad for Roland Burris. He decided to accept the appointment from a scumbag. Today he's running into a bunch of bouncers that aren't letting him into the club.

    And to top it all off he introduces himself at his shameless press conference saying "My name is Roland Burris, the Junior Senator from the state of Illinois." Balls.

    Something makes me think that even if he didn't buy the seat, he would have been happy to make an offer.

    Friday, January 2, 2009

    When's the Franken/Jackson Debate?

    Victoria Jackson was never funny on Saturday Night Live, but she's hilarious now.

    Making the case that Barack Obama might be the antichrist she writes:

    [A]ll I remember from my Bible college training is that in the end times, a political leader would arise who would:

    1. "arise", appear gradually on the scene
    2. come from "the north"
    3. encourage and create a one world government
    4. do signs and wonders
    5. amass a huge following
    6. persecute Christians who wouldn't bow down to him
    7. something about "666" or "the mark of the beast"...if you don't have it, you can't get food
    8. appear to solve world problems for a time
    9. be against Christ

    Her website is full of glorious bits.

    She misuses the "freedom of speech" argument, thinking it means that no one should be critical of her for what she says. Then she argues that if something is not a curse word it shouldn't be offensive. Especially if it's simply a term in eschatology.

    She protests:

    It's funny that the word "Antichrist" was used in reference to President Bush many times, and no one seemed to mind.

    Well that's because Bush is the antichrist.

    Thursday, January 1, 2009


    Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
    The flying cloud, the frosty light:
    The year is dying in the night;
    Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

    Ring out the old, ring in the new,
    Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
    The year is going, let him go;
    Ring out the false, ring in the true.

    Ring out the grief that saps the mind,
    For those that here we see no more;
    Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
    Ring in redress to all mankind.

    Ring out a slowly dying cause,
    And ancient forms of party strife;
    Ring in the nobler modes of life,
    With sweeter manners, purer laws.

    Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
    The faithless coldness of the times;
    Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes,
    But ring the fuller minstrel in.

    Ring out false pride in place and blood,
    The civic slander and the spite;
    Ring in the love of truth and right,
    Ring in the common love of good.

    Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
    Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
    Ring out the thousand wars of old,
    Ring in the thousand years of peace.

    Ring in the valiant man and free,
    The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
    Ring out the darkness of the land,
    Ring in the Christ that is to be.