politics, fringe watching, and other stuff

John J. McKay is a grumpy, aging liberal who lives in a small house with his wife, two cats, and a couple thousand books. To comment on anything in archy, send an e-mail.

Blogs I'm reading this week
The American Street
Angry Bear
Body and Soul
Counterspin Central
Crooked Timber
The Daily Kos
Dispatches From the Culture Wars
The Early Days of a Better Nation
The Intersection
Is That Legal?
Mark A.R. Kleiman
Matthew Yglesias
Media Whores Online
Off the Kuff
Pacific Views
Preposterous Universe
Progressive Gold
The Right Christians
The Rittenhouse Review
Roger Ailes
Ruminate This
Shadow of the Hegemon
Skeptical Notion
Steve Gilliard's News Blog
Talking Points Memo
Very Very Happy
Waldchen vom Philosophenweg
Whiskey Bar
World O? Crap

Other good stuff
Americans United for Seperation of Church and State
Common Dreams
The Daily Howler
People for the American Way
Political Research Associates
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

? # Pacific Northwest Blogs ? ?

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Saturday, March 06, 2004

Why do people drive?
Although I’ve had a driver’s license for over a quarter century, I’ve had a car for less than five years. That is to say, I was a pedestrian till I was in my forties. If you live in an Eastern metropolitan area, that’s not worth mentioning at all, but in the West, it is worth mentioning. It’s just weird. I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll mention it again. The reason I though of it today, is that I was driving my visiting mother to a play this afternoon and looking at our fellow drivers. For many years, as a pedestrian, I verged on becoming an anti-car activist (only the fact that I lived in a town with a nearly non-existent mass transit system, and was therefore dependent on freeloading from driving friends to survive, kept me honest). About ten years ago I read an article on why people chose to drive. The top reason given in polls was, not convenience or freedom or time, it was privacy. People who drove wanted that time spent concentrating on something other than work, family, or any other mundane event. They wanted that Zen experience of emptying their minds of anything except the present moment. They wanted the intimacy of them and the road. That is a beautiful statement of the existential dilemma of modern life. So, now that they have carried their damn cell-phones into their cars, what excuse do they use now?

posted by John at 11:11 PM

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Bush vs. science
My wife just pointed out an excellent article by Robert Kennedy Jr. on "The Junk Science of George W. Bush" in the February 19 issue of The Nation. If you've been following the issue, Kennedy probably doesn't say much you haven't heard before. However, he writes well and it is very powerful to have it all gathered together in a single accessable piece like this. If you're not familiar, this is a great introduction. This is the article to send to your friends and relatives who don't think Bush is that bad.

Kennedy is the senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, president of the Waterkeeper Alliance, and, of course, has been involved in politics since his first breath. He wisely brushes past the endangered species kind of environmental argument, which is usually only effective on the already convinced, and starts with the public health argument. Bush's EPA supressed reports of toxic smoke and dust around ground zero in order to re-open Wall Street. Bush's FDA supressed a report on antibiotic resistant bacteria spreading from hog farms. Bush's EPA delayed release of a report on mercury contamination from coal-fired powerplants. When a pesticide was implicated in causing prostate cancer, Bush's EPA took the study away from its own scientists and turnind it over to the chemical's manufacturer. The list goes on and on.

Kennedy is at work on a book length treatment of the subject. It would be nice if everyone who thinks Bush is not that bad would read that, but they won't. The next best thing would be to get them to read this article.
posted by John at 11:11 AM

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Something nice in the news
New blogger Preposterous Universe (go check him out) describes a story he picked up from public radio this morning.
Authorities in Mexico City "are going to hand out free books to people riding the subway.... Apparently Mexico has the highest literacy rate in Latin America (about 90%), but people don't really spend that much time actually reading, so the program makes it easy for people to read in a context where they can't do much else. Hopefully the reading will catch on, maybe even cut down on crime in the subways."

The responses quoted in this Washington Post article are mostly enthusiastic, though there is some (probably justified) skepticism as to how well it will function as an anti-crime initiative. The books are distributed at the stations. They are specially published collections of short stories and plays that can be read in the time of an average commute. They will put out new collections every two months or so.

This reminds me of the cheerful idealism of some urban activist and protest groups in the late sixties, particularly the White Plans of the Dutch anarchist/pacifist Kabouters (gremlins). The White Plans were a mixture of street theater (one of the leading Kabouters was a performance artist) and serious solutions to urban problems.The most famous of these was the White Bicycle Plan to reduce traffic in the core districts of Amsterdam. Lost and abandoned bicycles in police strage would be cleaned up, painted white, and scattered around town for people to use as they needed. My personal favorite was the White Chicken Plan, according to which the image of the police would be reformed by disarming them, dressing them in white uniforms, and having them ride around on bicycles dispensing first aid, fried chicken, and condoms.

The metro book project brings to my mind that same kind of optimism and creativity. Its sponsors hope to increase literacy by encouraging people to develop the habit of pleasure reading. If they keep it up long enough, they have a good chance of succeeding. They hope to improve the general atmosphere of the metro sysytem. They hope to nudge people out of their alienated bubbles by giving them something in common. The idea of two strangers sitting together, reading the same story, and starting a conversation is completely believable. The most optimistic element, reducing crime, might sound naive to some. There is the possibilty that crime might actually increase at first. People with their noses buried in books could make better targets for pickpockets. On the other hand, if people do begin talking, they will be less likely to sit by and watch someone they know be robbed.

One aspect of the polarization of American politics over the last decade or so, is that politics is mostly a grim and unpleasant business. It's hard to measure the long-term practical effects of groups like the Kabouters, Yippies, and Merry Pranksters. One thing that is certain is that they made the whole process of politics a little more entertaining. I think that's a good thing. And along the way they occasionally came up with some simple optimistic ideas. I'm not sure what kind of people came up with the metro book project in Mexico City, but I would like to see more of this kind of thing in the States. This is the kind of activity third parties need to engage in to gain legitimacy, not quixotic runs at the presidency.
posted by John at 12:06 PM

Monday, March 01, 2004

I’m going to be rich
Last week I claimed to have found a new meme in the making. This week my amazing powers of prediction have been vindicated. It is indeed a full-fledged meme. I’m sure James Randi will accept this as proof of my ability to predict the future and send me a million dollars.

The meme, of which I found three examples, went like this:
[T]he liberal media elite is either celebrating, or shamefully silent on, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s act of civil disobedience in deciding to have the city issue same sex marriage licenses. Yet last summer this same liberal media elite couldn’t heap enough abuse on Judge Roy Moore’s act of civil disobedience in plopping a Ten Commandments monument in the lobby of the Alabama Supreme Court. You see, it’s all about hypocrisy. Liberal media elites have no moral grounding, so they can disapprove of civil disobedience one week and applaud it the next. That’s how evil they are.

Martha Bridegam wrote to comment that:
It's not really civil disobedience at all. It's a public official's act based on a legal opinion interpreting state and federal constitutional law. As I say on my site, if gay marriage is "civil disobedience," then so are John Ashcroft's assorted stompings of habeas corpus.

Interestingly enough, many of the meme pushers make the complimentary point, which is that Newsom’s actions are not civil disobedience, they are out and out criminality (suggesting that civil disobedience requires surrender to the authorities and jail time).

Of course, either of these arguments requires that the meme be taken seriously. There are in fact a great number of important differences between Moore’s action and Newhouse’s. My point was simply to ridicule the meme. These kinds of arguments based on sloppy reductionism and equivalency are childish and often no more than insincere talking points, more marketing than discourse.

Today after reading David Neiwert’s piece on Roy Moore and the Constitution Party, I went Moore Googling and discovered the meme popping up all over. Everyone’s favorite objective media watcher, Howard Kurtz, not only made the argument himself, he quoted annoying blonde Laura Ingraham also making it.
Newsom, she says, "is being treated as a modern-day Rosa Parks. He's a nice guy and a very eloquent public speaker, but he's also not following the law. When Judge Roy Moore wasn't following the law, people were trashing him. He was just ridiculed in the press.... If you have a politically correct view and violate the law, you're a hero."

That’s a perfect statement of the meme. Roy’s commandments and gay marriage are equal. The liberal media are hypocrites for applauding one and condemning the other.

Bill O'Reilly mouths the meme in Murdock’s New York Daily News (with the non-spinning headline: “Left-wing hypocrisy: Alabama judge is hit for defying the law, not so S.F.'s mayor”). Lesser conservative ranters are also jumping on the bandwagon for this one. And I predicted it. That makes me a psychic and James Randi owes me a million dollars. Right?

posted by John at 10:56 PM

Sunday, February 29, 2004

If thy hand offend thee…
Those bad Canadians are making fun of the Marriage Amendment.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, author of the Federal Marriage Amendment, plans to introduce companion legislation in Congress called the Federal Right-Handed Amendment in the near future.

"For too long, honest Americans have let left-handed people run roughshod over the majority, the right-thinking, right-handed Americans," said Musgrave, a Colorado Republican. "For instance, many of our public schools have been forced to waste precious funds on special left-handed desks. And left-handed people are always trying to trick us in baseball by batting from the wrong side of the plate."

Furthermore, the Bible itself contains more than 100 favorable references to the right hand and more than 20 unfavorable references to the left hand, Musgrave added. "Everyone knows that the left side is evil and the side of the Devil, while the right side is blessed by God and Jesus Christ," she said. "It's time we put an end to coddling these wicked left-handers."

The amendment would ban federal benefits such as Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare to Americans who "write, eat, bat, or do any major activity" with their left hand. People who are seen in public violating the law could also face arrest and up to a $10,000 fine and six months in prison.
According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 58 percent of Americans opposed a Constitutional amendment making it illegal to be left-handed. Some 30 percent supported the measure, while 10 percent were undecided and 2 percent "just don't care."

But a recent Fox News/Washington Times poll found that 110 percent of Americans supported the amendment and minus-10 percent opposed it. The "just don't care" option was not allowed in that poll, leading some experts to question its scientific validity.

There is more. Obviously these so-called “Canadians,” as they like to fashion themselves, are a dangerous terrorist fifth column on our continent even worse than unionized teachers. When will Bush and Ashcroft finally put an end to this horror.

posted by John at 9:48 PM

Consequences of an amendment
I haven’t said much about the Marriage is for Heterosexual Couples Only Amendment. This is one of those issues that is hard for me to argue because 1) it is such a no-brainer and 2) so many others are doing such a good job of arguing it that my “me too” is completely unnecessary I suppose I should add 3) and it’s going to fail even without my help). Today, however, Atrios says something that finally makes me want to weigh in to expand on his point.

A lot has been said about the meaning of the phrase "legal incidences thereof" in the Musgrave text for the amendment. Defenders of the amendment say that doesn’t close the door on some kind of civil unions, but to most of us it’s clear that that is exactly the point of those words. No marriage and nothing even marriage-like, no matter what you call it.
But, the general point behind the poorly-worded description is, I believe, that such an amendment would potentially have the impact of not simply enshrining marriage rights discrimination into the constitution, but also opening the door to more widespread discrimination. The amendment as written forbids not just marriage, but the "legal incidences thereof." While many have rightly commented on the fact that this would also destroy any kind of Civil Union legislation, I fear it would be much more sweeping than that. At a first pass, it could easily be interpreted as wiping out any kind of domestic partnership benefits. It could open the door to striking down housing anti-discrimination statutes if one were to interpret "cohabitation" as one of the legal incidences of marriage. It could overturn adoption rights legislation. etc... etc...

Such vague wording as "legal incidences thereof" is a godsend to conservative social revolutionaries and their judicial allies. What are the "legal incidences thereof" that are denied to any but heterosexual married couples? Does this amendment make it lawful to discriminate against cohabitating couples? Singles? Will palimony be open to challenge? Singles adopting? As a non-breeding breeder couple, are my wife and I a real married couple? Will cats still be allowed to inherit? Does this amendment repeal the14th Amendment, which forbids states to "deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of its laws?" Only one of these questions is even slightly frivolous.

It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of the federal constitution to our social, political, and legal lives. Any tinkering with it brings the wrath of the law of unintended consequences down upon our all our heads. But it’s even more scary when I think that these might not be unintended consequences; they might be very much intended.

posted by John at 9:40 PM

Copyright 2003-2004 John J. McKay. Use what you want, but give credit where credit is due.
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