Monday, June 26, 2006

Repeat criminal
Various CBS stations are reporting that the fat drug addict in trouble again
Sources have confirmed to CBS4 News that conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh has been detained at Palm Beach International Airport for the possible possession of illegal prescription drugs Monday evening.

Limbaugh was returning on a flight from the Dominican Republic when officials found the drugs, among them Viagra.

He just got a sweetheart deal for his admitted abuse of perscription drugs that allowed him to enter rehab and have his record expunged if he stayed clean. What should we do with this kind of incurable repeat criminal who takes advantage of our kindness? Lets go to the record.
What this says to me is that too many whites are getting away with drug use. Too many whites are getting away with drug sales. Too many whites are getting away with trafficking in this stuff. The answer to this disparity is not to start letting people out of jail because we're not putting others in jail who are breaking the law. The answer is to go out and find the ones who are getting away with it, convict them and send them up the river, too.
-- Rush Limbaugh TV show (10/5/95

I'm appalled at people who simply want to look at all this abhorrent behavior and say, "Hey, you know, we can't control it anymore. People are going to do drugs anyway. Let's legalize it." It's a dumb idea. It's a rotten idea, and those who are for it are purely, 100 percent selfish.
-- Rush Limbaugh 12/9/93

In the audio link below, I go into detail about these non-thinking talking points that "you can't tell people what to do with their bodies" and "you can't legislate morality." First of all, we tell people what they can do to their bodies all the time--no cocaine, no prostitution, no throwing yourself off a building. Second, laws are nothing but defining morality!
-- Rush Limbaugh 6/27/03

He's right, people like him don't deserve any comapassion.

Update: The AP is only mentioning the Viagra, saying the problem was that Viagra is a prescription drug and the name on the bottle wasn't Limbaugh's. If that's all it is, then it would be excessive to terminate his probation because of it. Though, you have to wonder why someone, while trying to live by the terms of his probation, would be that casual about a prescription. I would be completely paranoid about making sure every pill in my vicinity was properly documented. Of course, I wouldn't have received the sweetheart deal that he did. in the first place.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Hitler or Coulter
Take the quiz and match the quotes. I got eleven out of fourteen. What's your score?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Amnesty, torture, and responsibility
Last week there was a bit of noise in the blogosphere when Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki proposed an amnesty for insurgents provided they have not killed Iraqis. Many pointed out that those terms meant insurgents who had killed Americans and allied troops and civilians would be included in the amnesty. The bloggers, representing both sides of the political spectrum, were upset. I understand their outrage and to a certain degree share it, but it's not a simple issue for me.

This was an act of the supposedly independent Iraqi government. This government is in a difficult position. They are in the early stages of a multi-sided civil war and many of their people view them as a puppet of the Americans. It is their right to do what they feel necessary to establish legitimacy and make peace with some of the opposing groups. The quest for legitimacy will make it necessary, at some point, for them to make a public show of separating themselves from the Americans. Peace with some sector of the armed opposition, at some point, will make some form of amnesty necessary.

However, just because I recognize the fact that they will need to undertake an action similar to this someday, doesn't mean I think this was the right action or the right time. As an American, I certainly don't think this announcement was in our interest. The outraged bloggers, and I'm sure many of the insurgents, are seeing this as a declaration of open season on Americans. My recognition that this is mostly an internal Iraqi matter doesn't mean I give up my right to have an opinion about it. I think it's an insult to the foreign soldiers and one which increases their risk.

The Iraqi government has since disavowed the amnesty plan, but not before the US Senate got to jump into the fray. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) put forth a nonbinding resolution saying the Senate was opposed to an amnesty for the killers of Americans. The resolution is pure election year grandstanding. Nothing the American congress says has any legal authority in Iraq. As a nonbinding resolution, it has no more power in the United States than a letter to the editor or a blog. Nothing requires the Senate to express an opinion on an issue like this. Nevertheless, the Senate saw an opportunity for a few easy brownie points and jumped on it, Democrats and Republicans alike.

During the debate, here's what my former Senator, Ted Stevens (R-AK), had to say:
I really believe we ought to try to find some way to encourage that country to demonstrate to those people who have been opposed to what we're trying to do, that it's worthwhile for them and their children to come forward and support this democracy. And if that's amnesty, I'm for it. I'd be for it. And if those people who are, come forward… if they bore arms against our people, what's the difference between those people that bore arms against the Union in the War between the States? What’s the difference between the Germans and Japanese and all the people we’ve forgiven?

To answer Stevens' historical question, the difference is that most of those amnesties were made after the end of hostilities. Sure, there were instances during the Civil War when POWs were simply made to promise that they would go home and not fight any more. This was typical in those days when neither side had the means to keep large numbers of prisoners for a long time. However, in the latter two wars, that type of amnesty was no longer practiced. The type of amnesty that was given to normal German and Japanese soldiers was part of the final settlement at the end of the war and was not offered to those who had committed atrocities.

It is the formal position of the Bush administration, supported by the Republicans in the Senate (including Stevens), that the fighters in Iraq are not normal soldiers and are not entitled to the treatment demanded by common decency and the Geneva Conventions. If Stevens has trouble understanding why the fighters in Iraq, a war that is still going strong, should be treated differently that those after WWII, he must really be baffled by the treatment we're giving the fighters from Afghanistan, who are still held captive and denied basic rights four years after we "won" that war.

If it appears that I'm being too hard on Sen. Stevens over one silly bit of hyperbole, let's jump forward to the final disposition of that resolution. On the same day Stevens made his statement, two American soldiers, Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker and Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, were kidnapped, tortured, and killed; their barely recognizable bodies were booby-trapped and left where they might kill other Americans. The day after their bodies were recovered, Stevens still supported the amnesty (even though the Iraqi government had already disowned the idea). Stevens and eighteen other Republicans voted against the resolution. The majority of the Republicans in the Senate and all of the Democrats voted to condemn the idea of amnesty.

Does Ted Stevens really believe the torturers of Pfcs. Tucker and Pfc. Menchaca should be forgiven and sent out to kill some more? Has supporting the right of the Bush administration to torture prisoners led him to support the right of everybody everywhere to torture prisoners? Can he really not tell the difference between this amnesty and other historical amnesties? If either of those is the case, Stevens is not fit, mentally or morally, to stay in the Senate. If Stevens is really as confused as he claims to be, then it is long past time for him to retire.

The Alaskan people need to ask Stevens these questions and hold him accountable. The voters in the states whose Republican senators voted with Stevens need to similarly ask the same questions of their senators and hold them responsible.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Give me a break
My second least favorite business story is the lost productivity story. You know the one, sometimes you see it on the business page, sometimes on the lifestyles page, or, on slow news days, it might even make page one. It goes like this: "America loses X billion dollars every year due to this bad habit." For example:
Cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke cost $92 billion in productivity losses annually, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Smokers, on average, miss 6.16 days of work per year due to sickness (including smoking related acute and chronic conditions), compared to nonsmokers, who miss 3.86 days of work per year.

Employees that smoke had about two times more lost production time (LPT) per week than workers who never smoked, a cost of $27 billion to employers.

Smoking is the most common boogie man in this narrative, but booze, drugs, overeating, lack of exercise, and not paying sufficient attention to the health of your colon have all had their moment in the sun as productivity killers.

There are many things to hate about this story. Most obvious is the whole idea of calculating the dollar value of a bad habit. Of all the things that happen in our lives and deduct from our mythical perfect productivity, how do you really assign responsibility to one and only one? Most smokers have to walk a half block or so every time they have a smoke. They take longer breaks than non-smokers, but they get more exercise. Most smokers are able to successfully reduce their level of stress through their filthy habit while the rest of us stand around the coffee maker raging about what we would like to do to the selfish idiot who took the last cup and didn't start a new pot. Is all this taken into consideration when they assign a dollar value to smoking versus non-smoking? I didn't think so.

What I hate most about this story is the way it blames workers for not achieving their mythical perfect level of productivity. When the story frames it as "America loses X billion dollars" rather than "American employers lose X billion dollars" it sounds like it's unpatriotic to have any bad habits at all. An increasing number of employers use this kind of calculation to invade their employees' privacy and undermine the wall separating the time that the employer pays for and the time that unambiguously belongs to the employee. If our employers can tell us whether or not we can smoke on our own time, how soon before they can tell us whether or not we can drink, eat meat, or stay up to watch Jon Stewart? It's the ugliest sort of slippery slope. The hidden message is that we should dedicate our every moment to toning our bodies and minds into machines of perfect productivity. Anything less is robbing your boss and betraying your country.

The story also has a large and nasty element of class hostility in it. These stories inevitably focus on the personal habits of employees. They rarely focus on management. Although we often see stories about ridiculous pay packages for senior executives, when was the last time someone conducted a major research project to calculate how much America is hurt by over-generous compensation to under-productive leaders? How often are their daily habits analyzed for unproductive behavior? How wasteful is it for someone who makes a thousand dollars an hour to write their own letters or even go to the bathroom? How much does America lose from bad decisions made by clueless middle management?

A year ago this week, I became aware of a new bad habit that employees should feel guilty over. John Tierney, who had just taken over Bill Safire's spot on the New York Times op-ed page, told us we should feel guilty about retiring.
Men in their 70's raced on bikes for 40 kilometers in this month's National Senior Games in Pittsburgh. A 68-year-old woman threw the discus 85 feet, and a 69-year-old man hurled the javelin nearly half the length of a football field.

Is it possible that people this age are still physically capable of putting in a full day's work at the office?


If the elderly were willing to work longer, there would be lower taxes on everyone and fewer struggling young families. There would be more national wealth and tax revenue available to help the needy, including people no longer able to work as well as the many elderly below the poverty line because they get so little Social Security.

At this point in his NYT career, I thought Tierney was pretty uninspiring. He repeated the day's Republican talking points and bashed the official liberal strawmen. In this op-ed he made the current Party point's that Social Security was doomed, AARP was evil, and Chile was heaven on earth for retirees, but his attack on the selfishness of retirees was a new one to me. While others, fretting about the sustainability of Social Security, had brought up the idea of raising the retirement age, Tierney was the first opinion maker that I was aware of who had accused retirees of being selfish and unpatriotic for retiring before the corporate world had wrung the last drop of productivity out of them. How else can you read his opening? How dare these retirees expend energy on their own pursuits when they still have some energy that their employers might use for profit?

Notice the false choice that Tierney makes: old people can do something productive for America or only play games. Later in this column he even mentions golf, the great stereotype of goof-off grown-ups.

The June 12 U.S. News and World Report has a big red Seagram's "7" on the cover with the headline "Seven Reasons Not To Retire." This brings me to my number one least favorite business story: this is the story in which the author demonstrates his hopeless detachment from real working people.
Admit it. Golf doesn't really hold that much allure. Soaking up the sun day after day in Florida? Nah. What gets you going each morning is your work. Sure, it would be nice not to have such a long commute. Maybe a couple of extra days off a week would be cool, too, to catch up on chores or take in a matinee. Well, guess what? You're not alone. More and more present and future retirees are finding that the traditional idea of retirement is passé. What's more, there's plenty of evidence that keeping your hand in the game, or even finding a new calling, will yield a longer, healthier, and happier latter stage of your life.

Golf and goofing off, that's what retirement is all about. Once upon a time, I read that men of the World War Two generation, my father's generation, lived an average of six months after retirement. As more than half of them were still alive when I read that, I'm not sure how they calculated that average. This is the kind of statistic that U.S. News and Tierney seem to base their arguments on.

The seven points of the U. S. News story are: 1) Work pays more than non-work; 2) The economy needs qualified workers; 3) Work keeps you healthy and sharp; 4) Retired married people make each other crazy; 5) You'll get lonely at home; 6) You can use this time of your life for a whole new beginning; and 7) Work gives life meaning.

Before I fly off the handle over these points, let me tell you something about my personal work history. I've been working for almost thirty-five years. For my entire adult life, I have been trying to get a job that gave my life meaning and provided me with a modest middle-class living. At best, I have been presented with an either-or choice, meaning or money. More often, I have had a neither-nor choice. Now, you might look at this and say I'm just whining about my own crappy working life. I respond by saying, of course I'm whining about my own crappy working life, but I believe I'm also speaking for most workers.

In the first part of this essay, I mentioned the class insensitivity of the writers of the lost productivity story. U.S. News and Tierney are far more guilty of the same class insensitivity. Allow me to take on the U.S. News points:

1) Work pays more than non-work I can't argue with that. This point is only relevant if you believe Social Security will not support the people who have paid into it, and therefore will need additional income, or are so so greedy that they will not settle for what they can get. Golf course fees can be expensive.

2) The economy needs qualified workers This is one of the points I find most offensive. In my work life, I have generally been treated like an easily replaceable cog. The very best job I ever had assured me that the employees were their very most valuable resource just before laying off seventy percent of the company. I'm not convinced that the corporate world will suddenly want me right after I turn sixty-four, when they have been indifferent to contemptuous towards me and my skills for the last thirty-five years.

3) Work keeps you healthy and sharp Activity keeps us healthy and sharp. My Mom and Dad, as long as he lived, were active and energetic and I'm sure it kept them alive. They did not depend on some corporation to provide them with excuses to keep active.

4) Retired married people make each other crazy My Dad had an unexpected medical retirement long before he and Mom expected it. Mom and Dad had a few years of difficult adjustment, but they worked it out and had twenty great years together after that. I married my best friend. We know how to live together.

5) You'll get lonely at home If you change jobs frequently, you're lonely at work. Lack of social connections is a major problem in our society, but one of the key elements of that problem is that jobs don't provide the connections that they did when they lasted longer.

6) You can use this time of your life for a whole new beginning You can do that in or out of the workplace.

7) Work gives life meaning I'll let U. S. News explain what they mean by this.
In a Chronicle of Philanthropy essay last fall, two nonprofit activists noted that current advertising campaigns by the financial services industry, focusing on retirement years as a time to contribute to society, were based on extensive marketing research on the "deep yearning for work that not only is personally meaningful but also means something beyond the self."

I absolutely agree with them on this, but wonder why they think we can only get this meaning from working for someone else. My parents spent much of their retirement raising money for the Shriners' Hospitals. No one paid them to do that.

Behind the whole U. S. News narrative is a huge disconnect between the writers and most working people. The writers at U. S. News and John Tierney are people at the top of an interesting and rewarding field. They don't want to retire before they drop, so they can't conceive of any one else wanting to retire before they drop, except for the lazy and selfish. Most workers are closer to my condition that they are to theirs. Moreover, U. S. News and Tierney are perfectly happy to cry "class warfare" when the poor complain about the rich, but here they bash the poor for the hideous crime of wanting some time off while they are still able to enjoy it. They should be ashamed, but we should know better than to expect them to know shame.

When I was growing up, I had certain expectations about what the adult working world would hold for me. Those expectations might have been misunderstandings on my part, but I'm not sure I was alone in holding them. First, was the idea that if I went to college and played by the rules, I would get a good job. That was a misunderstanding. Going to college and playing by the rules might have helped, but they didn't guarantee anything. Second, when my folks told me it didn't matter if I made money as long as I liked what I was doing, I believed that those two things were an either-or choice. As I mentioned above, I didn't realize that hating what I did and not making any money was also a possibility.

I take full responsibility for misunderstanding both of those. Neither one was an iron-clad guarantee. Social Security was something else. That was a guarentee. The reward for putting in an honest working life was supposed to be a time of rest. The reward for giving most of my productive hours to someone else for forty nine-years was supposed to be that I owned the rest of my hours to use as I please, even to play golf.

If these writers were simply naive and clueless, I might forgive them. However, I see a more sinister message behind their narrative. As John Tierney was calling retirees who want to quit work at the age they were promised lazy and selfish, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) was introducing legislation to raise the retirement age to 68. A year later, U.S. News and World Report is telling us that retirement is bad for us and no fun. The combined message seems to me to be we shouldn't want that bad old retirement anyway. And if they tell us we don't want it often enough, maybe we won't complain too much when we don't get it. People who have jobs they might not want to quit, might not feel too bad telling everyone else that they don't get to quit their jobs.

Meanwhile, I think I should be allowed to have a few hours at the end of my life to enjoy my bad habits. If I want to volunteer for something that doesn't pay, that's my business. If I want to annoy my wife at home, that's our business--if, indeed, she stays home. If I want to lock myself in a room and write about mammoths, that's my business. And if I want to play golf...

Friday, June 16, 2006

Privacy Bill of Rights
In a speech yesterday, Hillary Clinton proposed a "Privacy Bill of Rights." John Averosis has long pined for a nationally visible political candidate to make an issue of this, pointing out that it should be a winner for a Democrat.
For some reason, politicians from both parties seem to be loathe to enter the fray on the privacy issue. When in fact, privacy is a great issue to jump on. First off, it sounds good. Who isn't for privacy? Secondly, it's an issue that appeals to lots of folks on the left and the right (gun folks like privacy too). Third, it drives the religious right crazy - they think privacy leads to people having sex.

Many Libertarians are starting to get tired of their thirty year alliance with the Republican Party, and this is just the issue to peel a few of them away. Privacy is a big issue for me. It is one of the few issues that I would support a constitutional amendment over. It's also an issue that is not particularly aligned to the Right or the Left. In privacy, like free speech, both sides have areas where they want to see the principle rigorously applied and areas where they are willing to toss it away (I'm pretty hard core on both issues). It's an issue that's up for grabs.

Clinton's proposed bill only addresses commercial and financial privacy, but that's a step in the right direction. It's also encouraging that she devoted part of the speech unveiling the bill to criticizing the administration over warrantless and oversight-free wiretapping and data collection. These issues need to be tied together.

Based on the short summary of the bill that I've seen, my biggest objection at the moment is with the name: the Privacy Rights and Oversight for Electronic and Commercial Transactions Act of 2006 (PROTECT Act). I hate these cute acronym names for bills. I might support a constitutional amendment banning that as long as it included a ban on Republicans ever usingthe word "reform."

Thursday, June 15, 2006

I swear that emu was packing heat
This little item comes to us via Afarensis:
Police in this university town say they hadn't dealt with an emu on the loose before. So when the big bird was found running rampant, officers pulled out the big firepower.

Cornered in a residential area Wednesday, the flightless cousin of the ostrich took five blasts from an officer's shotgun before being finished off by three more rounds from a police rifle.

Police say they had no other recourse in dealing with a species known to be aggressive and elusive -- they're capable of moving up to 35 mph -- with anyone who gets too close.

No other recourse? How about calling the state department of fish and wildlife, a zoo, or a large animal veterinarian? Any one of them would have tranquilizer guns, nets, and the knowledge of how to use them. Why was it necessary to stop the emu at that exact moment rather than waiting for expert help? Did it take hostages? This is hunting country. It sounds to me like the boys just got a little too excited over the chance to kill something new.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

My belief and my faith
One of the common rhetorical tactics for intelligent design supporters and other creationists is to claim that belief in evolution or science in general is just another religion. The intelligent design apologist William Dembski favorably cites such an argument, by Edward Sisson of Touchstone magazine, this week.
A fundamental problem with the Appellate decision [on the Cobb County disclaimer case] is that it appears to accept an implicit assumption that "those who endorse evolution" do so because they have made a rational, independent evaluation of the scientific data offered as evidence for its truth. But if, in fact, they endorse evolution because they have chosen to give unquestioning deference to science experts, it may be appropriate to treat their position as simply another religious position, rather than being a position divorced from religion. This may affect the application of the constitutional test, if it appears that the plaintiffs are in effect trying to support their own religious views by suppressing the Sticker.

I find it very odd that the people who are trying to get more religion into our lives pursue their goal by constantly diminishing the significance of religion. This is obvious in the god of the gaps argument that is the foundation of intelligent design. God of the gaps argues that God must be responsible for those things science can't explain, but, as science explains more things, their God diminishes and runs the risk of being completely explained away some day. It's a very shallow and impoverished theology.

The argument put forth above has the same cheapening affect on religion. In effect, Sisson is saying that any "belief" constitutes a religion and must be treated as an equal to Sisson's Christianity. Rather than holding up his own religion as something unique and special, Sisson says that it's no better than anyone else's silly belief. The scientists believe in evolution; that's a religion. The Raelians believe in flying saucers; that's a religion, too. I believe in taking a nap after work; that must be my religion.

This argument is often stated as an issue of the equality of faith. The Christian religion is often defined as being based on pure faith, belief without proof. A little bit of proof, like a miracle or a short chat with God, might be nice, but it's not required and the vast number of believers will never have that proof. At best, they must have faith that someone else in another time, had proof. Instances of proof are unique and not reproducible, but Christian believers have faith that what their authoritative writings tell them are true.

Science is a method testing certain beliefs to prove them beyond reasonable level of doubt. For a proof to be accepted as valid in science, it must be reproducible and available to all. Sisson argues that most of us never perform the acts of scientific proof and that the believers of science are also depending on their faith in the truthfulness of their authorities: "they endorse evolution because they have chosen to give unquestioning deference to science experts, it may be appropriate to treat their position as simply another religious position." The first part is true, but the second part is not. Scientific faith is not the same as religious faith.

Religious faith is not merely belief without proof, it is belief without the possibility of proof. Scientific faith by a lay person might be no more than belief without proof, but the possibility of proof is always there. I haven't performed every experiment to prove every scientific theory I believe, but I've performed enough of them to have faith in the scientific method. If someone will get me that giant linear accelerator that I want for my birthday, I can prove the Copenhagen model to my satisfaction.

A better for word for scientific faith is "trust"; I trust scientific authorities. I know that they are human and subject to all that that entails. Science is subject to mistakes and fraud, but the requirement that proof be reproducible means that mistakes and fraud will be exposed and corrected over time. Religion doesn't have a self-correcting mechanism. The religious must depend on blind faith in the infallibility and honesty of their authorities.

Ed Brayton points out another unintended consequence of Sisson's argument.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

We're still getting away with it
This week, Ann Coulter has pushed her levels of outrageous rhetoric so far beyond the outer limits of common decency, that anyone saner than Bill O'Reilly has disowned her. At this point, I find it surprising that there are still conservatives who take her seriously. Haven't they figured out that she's a liberal performance artist who is making fun of them? I can't believe we're still getting away with this gag.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Where are all the girls, part CCXLVIII
Anne Kornblut has a piece in the New York Times about the lack of a woman American President. Ironically, her piece is ghettoized in the style section.* Kornblut's piece uses as a launching point the meeting at an event Thursday of Hillary Clinton, a potential president, Geena Davis, a fictional president, and Michelle Bachelet, the newly inaugurated president of Chile. Though the article is mostly about the barriers facing Sen. Clinton in her quest for the top, Kornblut does make a brief excursion into the more general question of why the US hasn't already elected a woman president.
For decades now, countries from Pakistan to Israel to India to Britain have been elevating women to the role of chief executive, a phenomenon that Mrs. Clinton's supporters are studying closely as they lay the groundwork for 2008.


Those who study the larger trend, however, say there are concrete reasons no woman has ever come close to winning the American presidency. There are fewer political dynasties here of the sort that have given women the stamp of authority elsewhere, like the Bhuttos in Pakistan or the Ghandis in India. (Mrs. Clinton, of course, is a product of a mini-dynasty).

The electoral system here is more challenging than a parliamentary one, in which a woman (Margaret Thatcher in Britain, Golda Meir in Israel) is elected only by members of her own party, not the entire electorate.

Then there is the political pipeline in the United States, which now, with 8 female governors out of 50, and 14 female senators of 100, still offers a limited number of experienced candidates for the presidency.

After lingering on the political pipeline as a possible explanation, Kornblut says:
Experts who scratch their heads over how many women are elected as chief executives elsewhere — including Ms. Bachelet, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia and Angela Merkel in Germany — point to sociological and cultural reasons why Mrs. Clinton is one of only a few women to have been viewed seriously as a presidential candidate.

Yes, "sociological and cultural reasons" are surely important, but what are they? Sadly, she only mentions the toughness issue. Would a woman "go wobbly" when issues of war and peace came up? The suspicion that women lack the requisite toughness does dominate the discussion whenever the question of women leaders is raised, but it is far from the only "sociological and cultural reason" why Americans worry about women leaders.

No doubt, many readers will look at the toughness argument and cut to the underlying issue; the argument as just one manifestation of the level of sexism which still exists in American society. But that in itself is a sort of non-explanation. Neither Turkey nor Chile is possessed of the most enlightened and feminist cultures, yet both has elected a woman to their highest political offices. What is different about our sexism and their sexisms? What else is different about our cultures?

I suspect, based on nothing more than the evidence of my own eyes and experience, that the reasons are two-fold. First is the nature of the American religious landscape, and second is the nature of American populism.

The culture of the United States is overwhelmingly Protestant, while Turkey is Muslim and Chile Catholic. Our Protestantism in not more sexist than their Islam or Catholicism--the opposite is probably true--but the role of our religion in society is very different. In Catholic and Muslim countries, institutional religion has traditionally wielded tremendous political power.

Except for a very brief moment following our first colonial settlement, the American Protestant churches have not had that kind of political power. At the founding of the republic, our churches were relatively politically weak and the authors of the Constitution worked to maintain that situation. Separation of church and state was more of an act of institutionalizing the status quo than of evicting the church from power. Politics in our country were a secular affair from the very beginning. Most of the time we take that separation for granted.

In Catholic and Muslim countries, the road to democracy has involved a more dramatic break with political authority by religious institutions. In Europe and the Middle East, the traditional religious authorities have often controlled the schools, the courts, and even formed the local government for entire municipalities and provinces. Secular democracy has meant prying control of these institutions away from the religious authorities and giving them to the government. The line between church and state in such countries is very clear. Because many parties are expressly secular, this creates special opportunities for women to defy religious norms.

Rather counter-intuitively, the lack of political power by our church organizations has actually strengthened the power of religion in the United States. Our Protestantism defines roles in our culture in a way that doesn't allow for a non-churched area. We all live in one big semi-churched region. While, in many ways, we are a more feminist society that either Turkey or Chile we don't allow our political leader to escape religiously defined rules of behavior.

This generalized atmosphere of acceptable behavior defines my second point, too. The truest, simplest explanation for why we haven't elected a woman president in the United States is that the right woman hasn't come along. But who is "the right woman?" If a woman of extraordinary abilities came along, we would hate her for her extraordinariness. We don't like exceptional people in America. We are probably the only country on the planet where "elite" is an insult.

Turkey or Chile are both countries that allow special rules for special people. Sometimes this attitude can endanger a democracy, but sometimes it can allow for the rise of people who would not normally rise. A normal woman can't become president in either of those countries, but a special woman can. In America, we would only elect a woman who is special in her unspecialness. We have twice elevated a shallow, alcoholic frat boy over highly qualified technocrats, because the frat boy seemed like someone we could sit down and chat with. The technocrats seemed too smart. A woman president would have to be perfect, but she would have to be perfectly average.

Of course, all these observations come with the qualification that it's really a lot more complicated than this. A proper analysis of the roles of gender, religion, and populism in American politics covers many, many bookshelves.

Georgia10, one of the front-page posters over at Kos these days, also commented on this article and I want to respond to something she says in conclusion.
The internet I think will revolutionize the role of women in politics. Because online, behind asexual monikers, women of all faiths and colors and experiences can pull up a chair to the national table and participate--indeed, even lead--the political discussion without having to deal with preconceived notions of what a female in politics must do, or say (or look like!). And if and when we do decide to remove the anonymous veil or reveal the fact that we are indeed, women, and damn proud of it, there is a sense of accomplishment.

I think georgia10 is blurring three things together here and that she will be disappointed at the extent of the internet's revolutionary impact on gender balance in at least two of those areas. Political discussion is not the same as politics. The internet, and especially the blogosphere, is a new and mildly revolutionary form of political commentary and political activism. It is not a new form of electoral politics.

The return of powerful anonymous commentators presents some great opportunities for women writers and I suspect there will be many more women in the front ranks of the next generation of top tier media pundits than there are now. I fully agree with her on that point. In activism, I think the internet will have less of an impact, for the reason that women are already better represented in activism than they are in punditry or electoral office. I think georgia10 will be most disappointed in how much impact the internet will have on the gender balance in electoral politics. For the most part, punditry and activism are not great paths to higher political office. More to the point, no one is elected to office as an anonymous internet handle. Before a career in electoral politics could begin, a writer would have to become a flesh and blood person, with a gender. At that point, all of the same old barriers kick in. I doubt as if being a well-respected voice is enough to break down those barriers. That's not to say that those voices won't be part of the fight to remove the barriers, I just don't think their part will be exactly revolutionary.

* To be fair, this is not a gesture of contempt by the editors for the subject matter, Kornblut's column regularly appears in the style section. Frank Rich lived in the style section for a while, too. The Times style section regularly has more serious commentary than you would expect to find in the style section of any other paper.

Friday, June 09, 2006

I called it again
I suppose the job of news is a lot easier when you don't bother to find out what's really happening. Just assume what should be happening, according to your personal prejudices, and announce it on the air as a fact. Don't waste your valuable time with all of that bothersome research and reporting stuff.

That, at least, seems to be the theory that Fox News host John Gibson and Republican strategist Ed Rollins operate under.
GIBSON: Out in Las Vegas, the far-left-wing Daily Kos is having its big convention. Every major democratic leader -- Howard Dean, Harry Reid, John Kerry -- is coming out to speak, and they have been defeated in Southern California, [Brian] Bilbray won.


GIBSON: Zarqawi was caught the day their convention opens. This is -- the left is demoralized by this.

ROLLINS: Well, they'll claim it's a conspiracy theory. That we knew their meeting was going on and that's why we did it.

GIBSON: Well, they are claiming that. They are claiming at this moment that they were saving Zarqawi to kill at an important moment.

ROLLINS: Well, you know, obviously, that's not true. And obviously, it makes them unhappy, so be it.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

I called it
In my previous post, I predicted that some on the Right would accuse us on the Left of being sad about Zarqawi's death.
[W]e're in for a round of the chickenhawks strutting and talking tough. Some of them will taunt the liberal strawmen who are sad at the loss of Zarqawi and who only exist in fevered right-wing imaginations.

Right on schedule, Don Imus and his gang are accusing us of just that.
IMUS: We'll continue to cover this al-Zarqawi thing all morning, obviously. Although I don't know how much of the same videotape I want to see over and over and over again, like it's on a tape loop. He's dead, we'll find out what it means. It's got to be good, doesn't it, Charles?

CHARLES McCORD [co-host]: It cannot possibly be bad, obviously.

[Co-host Bernard] McGUIRK: Except to people like Michael Moore. And notice, probably, the long faces over at CNN this morning, but otherwise.


[Congressional Quarterly columnist Craig] CRAWFORD: I don't guess we'll get the video of his dead body. We got that on the brother -- on the sons, Hussein's sons. That would be good.

IMUS: Usually, I don't like that kind of stuff, but I would like to see this one, this bastard.

CRAWFORD: I'd like to see this guy chopped up. Just run him through a wood chipper.

IMUS: There has got to be people, though, like some of my liberal friends -- which, I have far too many, by the way. I've got to try to rethink that whole thing. But gotta be some of them that actually, just because they hate President Bush so much, probably look at this as on some level as bad news, don't they?

I expected this kind of nonsense from Imus. Crawford is new to me. Let's display the dead as trophies and desecrate their bodies; that's a great way to demonstrate to the world that we're better than monsters like Zarqawi.

Update: Here's number two.
Zarqawi is dead
I'm told you should only speak good of the dead. Zarqawi is dead. Good. Nobody liked him and we're glad he's dead. Now What?

Zarqawi was a psycho and a thug, but, despite his media role as the poster child for all that violent stuff over there, he was not mastermind or sole cause of all our problems. Iraq has several wars happening at once. The insurgency against our occupation kills the most Americans. The inter-communal civil was kills the most Iraqis. And then there are the foreign jihadis who slip back and forth between the two wars. Zarqawi was the leader of one faction of the last category. I have no idea how large his real influence was. I suspect it was considerably smaller than his image.

I will stick my neck out to make a few predictions. First, anyone who expects all that violent stuff over there to stop now that we've killed its leader will be disappointed. Fortunately, there are very few people that naive anymore. Second, Zarqawi's group will stage a few vengeance attacks and then fade into insignificance. If we're really lucky, they might even kill each other in a succession struggle. Third, Bush might get a teeny bounce from this, but it won't last. Fourth, we're in for a round of the chickenhawks strutting and talking tough. Some of them will taunt the liberal strawmen who are sad at the loss of Zarqawi and who only exist in fevered right-wing imaginations. Let them have their day; life will be rough enough for them when they sober up tomorrow and notice nothing has really changed.

Being a bleeding-heart liberal, I couldn't help but notice that some news stories make a passing mention of an unnamed woman and child killed in the bombing. I don't mention this as a criticism of the American troops who carried out the bombing. From the information we have so far, it sounds like hey did a superb job of working their intelligence sources, tracking him down, catching him with his criminal colleagues, and killing them with a minimum number of innocent bystanders. The blame for their deaths rests squarely with Zarqawi, who brought his highly bombable self into their presence. And yet, I wonder who they were. Why were they there? Were they guilty of any crime other than perhaps being related to the owner of the house or working there? I know the strutting chickenhawks won't think about this today, but this kind of death is inevitable when leaders choose to go to war.

As an unwavering Bush-hater, I have to point out something else. When the clock radio went off this morning, my sleepy battle with the kitten was interrupted by our President's prissy voice informing me of the death of Zarqawi.
At 6:15 p.m. Baghdad time, special operation forces, acting on tips and intelligence from Iraqis, confirmed Zarqawi's location, and delivered justice to the most wanted terrorist in Iraq.

I am always offended when Bush uses the word "justice" as a synonym for "kill." It combines a number of his most offensive personality quirks. On the surface, it's part of his strutting cowboy act and should be more embarrassing than offensive, but it goes deeper than that.

It's also part of his code language to the religious base. Vaguely Old Testament sounding phrases play to their comfort zone and make them feel that Bush is one of them. Although, as a religious message, it's a disturbing one. When we invaded to Afghanistan to catch some guy whose name escapes me, he called it "Operation Infinite Justice" to the great offense of Moslems everywhere. To Moslems, as well as to many Christians, only God can deliver justice. His frequent declarations that he will deliver justice have the appearance of blurring the line between Bush and God. I would hope that some of his supporters would be upset by this blurring, but they seem to be some of the most enthusiastic blurrers.

The idea that he can personally deliver justice has a second--secular--disturbing side. When Bush declares his ability to deliver justice in the form of summary execution, he is eliminating the entire justice process. There is no indictment, no public trial, no confrontation with witnesses and victims, and no appeal. Bush alone decides the charges, the guilt of the accused, and the sentence. As the saying goes, he is the judge, jury, and executioner. This, of course, is sometimes necessary in war. I don't know whether Zarqawi could have been capture without a great cost of life, or captured at all. What is disturbing is that this appears to be Bush's preferred method of justice.

Bush and many of his supporters seem to have no respect for the judicial system. They treat it as if it were nothing more than one possible means to an end. That end being the killing or imprisonment of people whom they have already decided to kill or imprison. The judicial system doesn't even appear to be their preferred method.

On one hand, this disrespect for the judicial system appears to be part of the psychology of George Bush. He hates having his decisions questions and hates having anyone in the position to be able to question his decisions. But, beyond George Bush, there is a crowd of people who hold this unitary, authoritarian, and hierarchical ideal as a philosophical position. Cheney, Alito, Rumsfeld, Ted Olsen, and Scalia are all on record pushing this theory long before they ever hooked up with George Jr. This preference for a unitary, authoritarian, and hierarchical ideal is part of the conservative mind-set, but this group carries it further. If given their way, they will transform the American system of democracy into something it hasn't been before--something far less democratic.

Zarqawi is dead. Good. Life goes on as before and the same jerks are in charge. Not so good.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Mammoth notes
I was doing a little woolly mammoth research today and came across these sentences as the opening to a book review:
"In 1901, a frozen mammoth's penis was discovered on the Berezovka River in Siberia. The organ was erect, nearly three feet long and, having been flattened in the icy tundra, eight inches in diameter."

Now I'm not one to resist a prurient and cheap shot, but this one made me gasp with admiration. The review appeared in The London Review of Books and was a review of Mammoth: The Resurrection of an Ice Age Giant by Richard Stone. I have the book and read it years ago. It is not a book about frozen penises.

The penis in question was attached to and underneath an intact frozen mammoth. The Berezovka mammoth is perhaps the most famous frozen mammoth of them all. In the century since it was excavated and documented, truth and myth have flowed around it. Creationists have called it evidence for The Flood. Velikovsky, Hapgood, and others have all cited the Berezovka penis and the mammoth attached to it as proof of their theories.

In the next few chapters of my mammoth tales the Berezovka mammoth will play a very major role, but the three foot penis will play a very small role. I hope you are not disappointed.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

My Morning of the Beast began with my a little cat. It might have been 06:06:06 AM. When the sky grows light and the crows start talking, Marlow awakens. Today was no different than any other day since we got the kitten. When Marlow wakes up, he wants everyone to wake up.

First, he tries walking around on the Clever Wife and me, but he's a very small cat and at least one of us can usually sleep through that.

Next, he tries talking to us. Marlow doesn't meow; he squeaks and trills and makes bird-call noises. If we don't respond, he gets more insistent and emphatic in his chatter. Squeaking is actually a very effective way to impart a sense of urgency.

I tried to respond to his near-panic tone with the voice of reason: "Timmy is not in the well. I haven't known anyone named Timmy in years. We don't even have a well. Go away. I still have another half-hour." It didn't work. It usually doesn't.

Now that I'm up and my work day is almost over, let's see what apocalyptic things are happening around the globe.

Remake of The Omen. Yawn.

Pharyngula might be the Beast.

Ann Coulter has a new book. Apparently she thinks the release date says something terribly clever and unflattering about liberals. The liberals think the release date says something terribly clever and unflattering about Ann. Personally, I think it's a flawed analogy. Ann can't be the Beast, she's already the Whore of Babylon and her clever/naughty act is getting as old as her wardrobe.

Nothing apocalyptic seems to be happening around here. The sky hasn't turned to fire. The sea hasn't turned to blood (though a red tide is never completely out of the question). The most evil things in the news are the same evil things that have been there for weeks (they know who they are). Neither the dolphing nor the fundamentalists have been raptured away.

It looks like the world will not end today. I might as well do some laundry so I have something to wear to work tomorrow. Just to be on the safe side.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A nice, decent man
I was about to comment on two things that I usually think of as liberal traits, but on contemplation, I think they might actually be general American peculiarities. You be the judge.

Atrios links to this truly damning column from The Hartford Courant by Paul Bass. Bass sets up a review of Joe Lieberman's record by pointing out how, during an election, the public tends to forget everything they know about a candidate and go along with the simple images that the candidates feed us through their commercials. Following this set-up, Bass pulls out his clipping file and takes the voters of Connecticut on a short walk down memory lane.
[I]n ads and public statements, Lieberman portrays himself as Regular Joe, a fighter for the little guy, in touch with blue-state Connecticut and mainstream Democrats on all issues except Iraq.

And somehow we - not just Lieberman - keep a straight face, as if he hadn't just spent 18 years helping Republicans hijack the Constitution and pick on little guy after little guy.

The Bush administration values Joe Lieberman because he has been a crucial ally in efforts to free Enron-style corporate crooks from regulation, transfer wealth to the wealthy, hound gays, trample on the rights of government critics and sacrifice the lives of thousands of Americans and Iraqis to dishonest, dangerous military adventurism.

It's a one thousand word column and Bass uses those word to provide plenty of examples that illustrate the real Joe Lieberman. Having made this damning case, Bass concludes with, "Finally, it's true that Joe Lieberman is a genuinely nice person, a decent man."

This is where I wave my hands in the air and shout, "Stop!" Maybe it's just me, but backstabbing and calculated deception are not characteristics I usually associate with decency. Most liberals--and maybe most Americans--lack the bloodlust necessary to carry out a verbal assassination. At the last moment, when we should be going in for the kill, we pause and say something nice about our opponent--something nice and completely irrelevant.

It's probably true that Joe Lieberman is nice guy when you meet him one-on-one. Up close, most politicians are friendly, charming, and attentive. These are basic job skills of their occupation. Jesse Helms, one of the most vile members of congress in my lifetime, was famously charming in person. However, charm and decency are not the same thing.

Today's New York Times, has an article on Bush's last bastion of support in Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming.

[A] student at Brigham Young, Danielle Pulsipher, a junior, offered blanket approval of the president. Asked to name which of his actions as president she liked most, she was hard-pressed to answer.

"I'm not sure of anything he's done, but I like that he's religious — that's really important," Ms. Pulsipher said.

Tomas de Torquemada was religious. Judge Hathorne at the Salem witch trial was religious. I'm sure all nineteen of the 9/11 hijackers were not merely religious, but deeply and sincerely religious. The historian Eugene Weber wrote in his Varieties of Fascism, "Sincerity has no intrinsic value. A sincere fool is still a fool, a sincere Inquisitor still a torturer."

A recent common wisdom holds that Americans choose their leaders based on the same criteria that they use to choose their drinking and dining companions. Charm, niceness, sincerity and sometimes religion are characteristics that most Americans value in their friends and neighbors, but they should be irrelevant qualities in picking our leaders. Frankly, most of us never are going to have a drink or go to dinner with our elected leaders, so we might as well find better criteria for choosing them, like competence, good ideas, or a basic grasp of professional ethics.

Are these two traits--the desire to find something nice to say about all but the most depraved and the tendency to choose our leaders based on their perceived personality rather than their skill or appropriateness for the job--related? In my gut, I suspect that they are. If these are characteristically American traits, is that a good thing, a bad thing, or a charming trifle? I want to say the latter, but I might just be groping for something nice to say.

Friday, June 02, 2006

It never stops
Even as they deny keeping records of all our phone calls, or call us traitors for complaining about them keeping records of all our phone calls, or deny our right to know whether they are keeping records of all our phone calls (I forget which is the official line this week), it appears that the powers that be want to keep records of every webpage we've ever visited:
The Justice Department is asking Internet companies to keep records on the Web-surfing activities of their customers to aid law enforcement, and may propose legislation to force them to do so.

The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales held a meeting in Washington last Friday where they offered a general proposal on record-keeping to a group of senior executives from Internet companies, said Brian Roehrkasse, a spokesman for the department. The meeting included representatives from America Online, Microsoft, Google, Verizon and Comcast.

I hope they have a good reason for wanting this and aren't just on a fishing expedition.
An executive of one Internet provider that was represented at the first meeting said Mr. Gonzales began the discussion by showing slides of child pornography from the Internet. But later, one participant asked Mr. Mueller why he was interested in the Internet records. The executive said Mr. Mueller's reply was, "We want this for terrorism."

Well, as long as they are only going after terrorist child molesters and not trying to stampede us into giving up our freedoms by using inflammatory images. And it's not a fishing expedition, right?
At the meeting with privacy experts yesterday, Justice Department officials focused on wanting to retain the records for use in child pornography and terrorism investigations. But they also talked of their value in investigating other crimes like intellectual property theft and fraud, said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington, who attended the session.

Hmmm. Let's see, they need to know all of everybody's internet activity so they can track down a couple of hypothetical child molesting terrorists and for anything else that they might think of later. But this isn't something that could expand into other areas, right? I really need to know that there is no fishing involved.
[The ironically named Justice Department] also wants the Internet companies to retain records about whom their users exchange e-mail with....

Okay, but this was just a hypothetical discussion. They're wouldn't put pressure on anyone, would they?
The executives spoke on the condition that they not be identified because they did not want to offend the Justice Department.

Executives of some of the most powerful companies in the country, who collectively own enough congressmen to form a decent sized caucus, don't want to be named discussing this issue because they are afraid of offending the administration.

For some reason, I'm not reassured by all this. I can't quite put my finger on it...

At the meeting with privacy groups, officials sought to assuage concerns that the retention of the records could compromise the privacy of Americans. But [Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center] said he left with lingering concerns.

"This is a sharp departure from current practice," he said. "Data retention is an open-ended obligation to retain all information on all customers for all purposes, and from a traditional Fourth Amendment perspective, that really turns things upside down."

That's it.
You have got to be kidding
I'm sure every one read this yesterday:
New York has no national monuments or icons, according to the Department of Homeland Security form obtained by ABC News. That was a key factor used to determine that New York City should have its anti-terror funds slashed by 40 percent--from $207.5 million in 2005 to $124.4 million in 2006.


The formula did not consider as landmarks or icons: The Empire State Building, The United Nations, The Statue of Liberty and others found on several terror target hit lists.

Not worth protecting?

Today, the administration explains why the Statue of Liberty won't be defended. You see, it's not because they don't think it's worth protecting, it's because they didn't like NYC's application.
The federal agency distributing $711 million in antiterrorism money to cities around the nation found numerous flaws in New York City's application and gave poor grades to many of its proposals.


Federal officials said yesterday that the city had not only done a poor job of articulating its needs in its application, but had also mishandled the application itself, failing to file it electronically as required, instead faxing its request to Washington.

Okay, that makes perfect sense. New York didn't say "mother may I" or follow the instructions on e-mailing their application, so we have to leave them vulnerable to terror attacks. Otherwise, they'll never learn to follow directions. It's tough love.

I think the Republican mayor of New York has the real reason.
"I think the facts are clear," Bloomberg said. "What they've really done is taken what was supposed to be threat-based and just started to distribute it as normal pork."

New York City isn't the only place to get cut. There is a clear pattern of shifting Homeland Security money from blue states to red states. Are we really to believe that all of the inland states got gold stars for neatness on their applications while all of the coastal states turned in messy homework?

New York, represented by Hillary Clinton, had their budget cut. Washington DC, which always votes Democratic and has no voice in congress, had their budget cut. Washington state, voted for Kerry and has two Democratic Senators, had their budget cut. Florida, run by Bush's brother and with a couple of tough elections this cycle, had their budget increased. Fort Lauderdale, home wild spring break videos, will get more money than Seattle, home of Boeing, the main military aerospace contractor in the US, and Microsoft, the largest manufacturer of computer operating systems on the planet.

Bloomberg is right on the money, the Bush administration has cynically seized a budget, that is supposed to be earmarked for protecting all Americans, and turned it into election year pork, earmarked for protecting Republican seats in congress.

While this isn't the only source of pork in the budget, and pork isn't the only type of support that the administration can offer endangered Republicans, this is very high visibility pork and certainly outweighs many other types of support. When Republican incumbants go before their constituents and ask to be re-elected, what will they say: "sure, I left you more vulnerable to death by bomb-weilding maniacs, but I got funding for the Potato Growers Hall of Fame, and Dick Cheney says he likes me." I think this can be viewed as a kiss-off from the administration to endangered Republicans in the regions that got cut. That, at least, is how I think Democrats should treat it. From now till election day, every Democratic challenger and supporter in a region made more vulnerable should not let a day go by without reminding the voters of that fact and quizzing their Republican opponent on it.

In my neighborhood, Dave Reichert, a Republican of very little brain, represents the district that is home to Microsoft headquarters. I hope his challenger, the very bright Darcy Burner, ponds on this issue. I intend to.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Numbers never lie
Sean Carroll has managed to prove with statistics and colorful charts that feminists cause global warming. That makes sense; smart, independent women make me hot.
Liars lying to liars
Other bloggers have linked to news reports of this, but I'll link to Molly Ivins for a nice short summary:
Two weeks ago, Amir Taheri had an Op-Ed article in the Canadian National Post claiming that the Iranians have a law requiring Jews to wear yellow badges. It turned out to be a complete fabrication and has been the subject of much contempt among bloggers. So Tuesday, Taheri was invited to the White House along with other “experts” to give the president their “honest opinions.” With advice like that, our war in Iran will be a slam-dunk.

You can spin this meeting anyway you want, but all ways look bad.

Lets assume it's all on the up and up and Bush is actually looking to outside experts for advice. I suppose the idea is to counter his bubble-boy image. But, how is going to someone who is, at this moment, in hot water supposed to comfort us in this respect. Did they know how controversial he is? If anything, this is proof that they are completely out of touch.

What kind of advice is the President going to get from Taheri? We are talking about starting another war, spending hundreds of billions, killing thousands, and condemning tens of thousands to life altering wounds, disruptions, and losses. So, for advice, the president goes to someone who is on record making inflammatory lies about the very country we are targeting. What kind of advice will he give? Will the president believe him?

The most innocent interpretation is that the White House vetting process is, once again, criminally, tragically incompetent. A darker interpretation is that they have learned nothing from their cherry-picking of intelligence in the past and are once again recruiting voices that will tell them what they want to hear. All statements to the contrary have been nothing but lies. The paranoid interpretation is that Taheri is already part of the propaganda effort to sell a war to the American people.

Take your pick. All the choices are bad.