This will fix everything

Driving in to work this morning, NPR reminded me that the GOP has some plans for the start of the next Congress. From the Washington Times:

The Constitution frequently gets lip service in Congress, but House Republicans next year will make sure it gets a lot more than that - the new rules the incoming majority party proposed this week call for a full reading of the country's founding document on the floor of the House on Jan. 6.
Oh, good. This is sure to make a big, big difference.

Various people have already offered opinions about this, but I felt like chiming in, too.

There's nothing quite like leaving religious fundamentalism to give one a healthy skepticism for textual obeisance. I diligently learned all the Bible verses at church camp every year, and paid dutiful attention to everything I was taught in all the Sunday school classes and Bible studies and youth events I attended. So, presumably, did all of my peers in those settings. And yet (with a couple of exceptions, which honesty demands I mention) being thoroughly aware of Holy Writ did not stop my fellow church camp attenders from knocking up their girlfriends/getting knocked up, playing "Truth or Dare," secretly stashing copies of Hustler, shoplifting, or any of the other common tomfoolery that surrounds being an adolescent. For my own part, faced with rather unambiguous language in certain parts of the Bible, I was forced to choose between a belief in the literal words on the page or living a happy, untortured life. (Guess which one I chose!)

Real life will intrude on adherence to any sacred text, no matter how much you repeat it. Some people will work harder to adhere than others, but simply reading the words won't make any difference to people otherwise disinclined to pay attention.

Furthermore, it's not as though the language of the Constitution is unambiguous and closed to interpretation. Perhaps I'm wrong, but isn't there an entire, coequal branch of the government whose entire purpose is to evaluate the constitutionality of laws? Congress does not comprise a collection of constitutional scholars. Sure, there are plenty of brilliant legal minds in the House, but there are plenty of lunatics and imbeciles (on both sides of the aisle) who wouldn't understand what the language of the Constitution means, even if Dr. Seuss had explained it with rhyming couplets and fanciful illustrations. We can only hope that intoning the words of the 14th Amendment will give the clowns on the Hill a deeper respect for it, but color me skeptical.

Do I realize the entire exercise is all for show? Of course. But the idea that the Constitution is some magical document, the power of which is released by incantation, is deeply irritating, as is the smugness that the incoming GOP majority seems to feel about their constitutional bona fides. Any caucus that has Michele Bachmann and Steve King in it probably needs to work on its own internal issues before offering lessons on our founding documents to the rest of us.


Every Democrat who has ever lived = Gore Vidal

Oh, Michele Bachmann. You really are the six geese a-laying of this Christmas season.

Via TPM:
At a speech to Michigan Republicans on Tuesday, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) -- the darling of the Tea Party right -- told an amazing story about how she shed her youthful Democratic roots and became a Republican. As she told the tale, her political conversion was because of her disgust at a "snotty" Gore Vidal novel that satirized the Founding Fathers.

"Until I was reading this snotty novel called 'Burr,' by Gore Vidal, and read how he mocked our Founding Fathers," Bachmann told the crowd. "And as a reasonable, decent, fair-minded person who happened to be a Democrat, I thought, 'You know what? What he's writing about, this mocking of people that I revere, and the country that I love, and that I would lay my life down to defend -- just like every one of you in this room would, and as many of you in this room have when you wore the uniform of this great country -- I knew that that was not representative of my country."

"And at that point I put the book down and I laughed. I was riding a train. I looked out the window and I said, 'You know what? I think I must be a Republican. I don't think I'm a Democrat.'"

Well, if deciding that a historical novel is the apotheosis of Democratic thought isn't "fair-minded," I just don't know what is. All right-thinking Americans know that our Founding Fathers were second only to Christ Almighty in the inerrancy department, and any suggestion otherwise is roughly equivalent to signing up with the Taliban. (Even Founding Fathers that apparently had views of their own about Christ's inerrancy.)

I, of course, became a Democrat when I flipped through a Tom Clancy novel and found his prose pedestrian. "Insufficiently elitist," thought I, and went off to campaign for Bill Clinton.

Not to nit-pick, but...

Andrew Sullivan quotes Jonah Goldberg, and perhaps I should see the forest for the trees and share his focus:
Personally, I have always felt that gay marriage was an inevitability, for good or ill (most likely both). I do not think that the arguments against gay marriage are all grounded in bigotry, and I find some of the arguments persuasive. But I also find it cruel and absurd to tell gays that living the free-love lifestyle is abominable while at the same time telling them that their committed relationships are illegitimate too.
I am sincerely pleased to read this, in a conservative outlet like National Review no less. Here's hoping that a similarly pragmatic, reasonable viewpoint continues to take hold amongst our friends on the Right. But I found myself irritated by something else in the piece:
Nowhere is [the sweeping embrace of bourgeois lifestyles by the gay community] more evident — and perhaps exaggerated — than in popular culture. Watch ABC’s Modern Family. The sitcom is supposed to be “subversive” in part because it features a gay couple with an adopted daughter from Asia. And you can see why both liberal proponents and conservative opponents of gay marriage see it that way. But imagine you hate the institution of marriage and then watch Modern Family’s hardworking bourgeois gay couple through those eyes. What’s being subverted? Traditional marriage, or some bohemian identity-politics fantasy of homosexuality?
I love Modern Family. It has fantastic writing, and an absolutely perfect ensemble cast. It is funny and sweet and everything that one would want from a good piece of mainstream entertainment.

What it is not is "subversive." Who (other than Goldberg) has suggested that it is "supposed" to be?

Let me offer an analogy from my own experience. When I was going to medical school back in Missouri in the misty recesses of the 90s, there was a sort of risky "cool," if you will, to being gay and out. For a couple of years, I was the only openly gay guy in the whole school. It conferred a kind of cachet or novelty.

And then, friends, I moved to New York City. Want to know how many people were impressed by my being openly gay? Nada. Zilch. None. I was forced to find other ways of pretending to be interesting, with varying degrees of success.

And so it is with gays in popular entertainment. If, after Will & Grace (bleah) and Ellen and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (double bleah) and My Best Friend's Wedding etc etc etc, it's considered "subversive" to present the American viewing public with a gay family, then the word has lost all meaning. I suppose some people might expect the guys to spend every episode in drag or dressed like refugees from a Frankie Goes to Hollywood video, but I can't imagine that even quintessentially middle-American TV watchers find the show "subversive."

A brief musing during the holiday week

Regular Bleakonomy readers (both of you) will, perhaps, recall that the Official Bleakonomy Home Office is located in southern Maine. I live in the "seacoast region," which could be considered distant exurbs of Boston. While not the darkest deeps of Aroostook County (where a job recruiter once worked really, really hard to get me to consider a job in Caribou, a particularly hard sell given that I lived in Manhattan at the time), I do live in a rural, wooded area, far from the world's seats of power and finance.

I ended up staying home on Monday as massive amounts of snow were dumped on the Northeast, which afforded me the opportunity to dig out my house. By late Monday, however, the roads were essentially passable thanks to efficient plowing, and transit was back to normal in the wilds of my town by the next day.

Which is to say that I find it incredibly amusing that (arguably) the two most powerful cities in the world were brought to a grinding halt by snow over the past week. For the best response I've yet seen, I refer you to the priceless Hadley Freeman:
Snow – have you heard of it?

If so, you have a head start on pretty much every transportation bigwig in this country. But perhaps after two nationally paralysing snow storms this year, Britain's airports and train operators will come to grips with the concept of "snow" falling in this season we call "winter" and prepare accordingly.


Look no further, Mrs. Obama

The First Lady has made tackling childhood obesity her signature issue. While I applaud her zeal and wish her well, I feel that poor Mrs. Obama is swimming against an unfriendly tide.

You see, friends, we live in a country where the following product was created and sold:

That's right, gentle readers. You're looking at a hamburger wherein the bun has been replaced by two grilled cheese sandwiches. The Moreau-like creators at Friendly's (ironic, given how patently they hate your coronary arteries) knew that Americans would react not with horror, but with open wallets and gullets. Any nation where this product was developed, marketed and sold with a straight face is a nation whose citizens will require ever-enlarging airplane seats.

If the Double Down was the event horizon of America's corpulence, this is its singularity.

(Hat tip HuffPo)

The Zen of Oprah

A quote from the woman who launched a magazine named after her first initial and put stickers announcing her endorsement on the works of Faulkner and Tolstoy:
"I hate the word brand, but now I have succumbed to the fact that I guess I am one."

Burt Likko, if you're reading...

then have I got an attraction for you.


Sadly, the above illustration isn't real, but merely the creation of those jokers at TPM in response to this story:
The Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority has granted preliminary approval for a creationist theme park to get up to $37 million in tax incentives, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports.

The theme park -- dubbed Ark Encounter -- is backed by both Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear (D) and Answers in Genesis, a Christian organization that also built a similar attraction, the Creation Museum.

If there's one thing the world needs, it's a theme park devoted to creationism, subsidized by taxpayers. It sounds like what would happen if the Texas Board of Education seized control of Disneyland.
Ark Encounter will include all the modern recreation amenities, including: a full-sized wooden ark, a "walled city much like was found in ancient times, a replica of the Tower of Babel with exhibits, a first-century Middle Eastern village" and even outdoor parking. The park is scheduled to open in the spring of 2014.
A Tower of Babel replica, with exhibits! Hot damn! Sounds like I need to get the Critter there pronto, so I can teach him about biology and linguistics at the very same time!

By the way, I am sadly aware of the (D) behind the name of the politician mentioned above. It's a good reminder that there is no shortage of lunatics in my party of choice. But back to the fun!
In the news release announcing the plans, Beshear touted that the park would create around 900 jobs and bring 1.6 million tourists to the state in its first year. Those numbers were based on a feasability study, commissioned by Ark Encounters LLC -- a study that state officials, including Beshear, reportedly never actually saw.
From the article linked above:
The state doesn't have a copy of the report, according to responses to requests under the Open Records Act sent by the Herald-Leader to the state tourism and economic development departments and to the governor's office.

First of all, this story explains a lot about the lengthy Senate career of Jim Bunning.

I think you all know where this is going, right? Doesn't America need Dan Land, a massive theme park that celebrates the contributions of sarcastic homosexuals to the country's greatness? Wouldn't Lexington be a great location? I have, in my possession, a detailed report that guarantees the creation of 7,249 jobs and the attraction of 49 million tourists, and all for the low, low price of $17 million in bearer bonds. I can't actually produce the report, but there's no reason a trusting public servant like Gov. Beshear shouldn't take my word for it.

In all seriousness, I would totally love to be one of the 1.6 million tourists who bought a ticket for this boondoggle. Particularly if I could con certain friends into going with me. (You know who you are.) The laughs that come with a Tower of Babel replica (with exhibits!) are cheap at any price.


Confidential to the editors at Slate

I know it's your schtick to be as counterintuitive as possible, but I think you've crossed the border of ridiculousness.

A good day for America

I was so happy with the United States Senate two days ago, it was a little bit alarming. I'm not used to being happy with the Senate for much, and the change was a somewhat jarring. But, by relegating Don't Ask, Don 't Tell to the dustbin of history, the 65 Senators who voted for repeal reminded me of why I still have hope for our system of government.

Sully has a good run-down of reactions from teh Internets. (I'm sure my own will be added to a future iteration. Right? RIGHT?!?) He quotes Jim Burroway:
As far as I can tell, this is the very first piece of pro-gay legislation that is not attached to any other piece of legislation making its way through both chambers of the U.S. Congress on its way to the President’s desk. Please correct me if I’m overlooking something, but I cannot think of any other federal pro-LGBT legislative accomplishment that has been achieved through a straight up-or-down vote as a stand-along bill.
I certainly can't recall another one. Which is why I feel so incredibly happy with this vote.

It's so easy to pay lip service to the idea of equality for gay and lesbian people without working particularly hard to make any change happen. When the DADT repeal failed as part of the defense spending bill, it would have been incredibly simple to lament the failure, throw up one's hands and move on. (Or, you know, go to a Christmas party.) But the people who made this happen did so through a lot of effort, because they chose to do right by people like me.

I am deeply, deeply grateful to Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman. I have been skeptical of the former's reputation for bucking the GOP party line, and have been downright hostile to the latter, given how much water he carried for Bush and McCain. (More on McCain in a second.) I'm not sufficiently one-issue to say "all is forgiven" and ignore other problematic considerations when discussing these two Senators, but they've both generated sufficient good will that I'm much more willing to give them the benefit of the doubt for a while. Collins has probably secured my vote, and I'm relieved that I won't have to register as a Republican.

Because oh, those Republicans. From the Times's article on the repeal vote:
“This isn’t broke,” Senator James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, said about the policy. “It is working very well.”
Very well if you weren't one of the 13,000+ people discharged under the policy, I suppose. Or happened to think that discrimination against gay and lesbian service members was a perfectly acceptable state of affairs. But then, injustice often seems to be working perfectly well for the people unaffected by it.

Dahlia Lithwick has this:
Just a day after the historic Senate vote to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, Senate, Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz) was on Fox News Sunday warning, spinnily, that the repeal “could cost lives.” Something to do with unit cohesion. Who even knows? Kyl didn’t really explain. Despite the fact that the vast majority of Americans, the vast majority of the military, the vast majority of the leadership of the military, and most of the rest of the world believe that DADT is a monstrous mistake, Kyl remains certain that as a result of this long overdue piece legislation, people will die.
Since I guess we're allowed to make wild, unsupported and unverifiable statements about DADT repeal, I will counter with this --repeal could result in every American getting a pet unicorn. I do understand Kyl's concern, however. We all know that the United Kingdom was sacked by Visigoths after it allowed gays and lesbians to serve openly. (Israel is another country that allows gays and lesbians to serve in their military, but they seemed a bad example since everyone knows they don't take national security at all seriously.)

And, of course, John McCain remains a category unto himself. At this point, all I have left to say about the embittered self-parody that the man has become is that I think I like his wife.

Returning to the positive, I will conclude my reiterating my gratitude to everyone who made this happen, including President Obama and Sen. Reid. I had resigned myself to accepting an indefinite future for ongoing institutionalized discrimination in the armed forces, and am overjoyed to have been wrong.


DADT is history

I'll have plenty more to say on Monday, but suffice it to say for now that I am sincerely overjoyed.

Today is a wonderful day for America. We are a little bit more just, and I am so much prouder.


Don't invite this woman to your book club

I am no great fan of Oprah's. My reasons for disliking her have less to do with her promotion of crass consumerism (though I once caught part of one of her orgiastic "favorite things" episodes and it felt like being beaten senseless with a Neiman Marcus catalog) than with her giving a huge audience to harmful "alternative medicine" charlatans and idiots. They've covered the topic pretty thoroughly over at Science-Based Medicine, so I needn't spend more time on that here.

However, one thing I admire about Oprah is her promotion of reading as both a pass-time and as a path to self-improvement. I firmly believe that great literature is one of the most edifying things mankind has produced, and making her viewers aware of its rewards is a very good thing. Though I loathed The Corrections (not as much as 2666, admittedly, but a lot) and was unhappy to see how the whole book club brouhaha redounded to Jonathan Franzen's fame, on the whole I think Oprah's contribution to reading and publishing has been positive.

With this in mind, I found Hillary Kelly's hatchet job over at TNR incredibly churlish and deeply elitist. She takes exception to Oprah's selection of Dickens's Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities:
Billed as “A Date with Dickens,” Oprah’s sentimentalized pitch for consuming the author’s work—it’s “cup of hot chocolate” reading—is sure to inspire a frightening number of purchases. Just as they have for the past 14 years, cadres of women around the globe will flock to bookstores to nab covers with a small circular “O” sticker on the top right corner. Oprah has proven that she can catapult a contemporary author from obscurity to fame; but, more interestingly, she’s shown she can also revivify the great novels. Dubbed the “Oprah Effect,” Winfrey’s seal of approval and magnanimous praise has bolstered the sales of dozens of novels and, in turn, annoyed bitter English teachers everywhere. After all, Oprah is doing the impossible—she is convincing the masses to purchase and read classics.
If anyone can explain to me why English teachers would be annoyed at "the masses" reading the classics, I'd love to hear it. In that same vein, I imagine Dickens's prose to be sufficiently robust to withstand whatever insidious effect comes with a small, circular "O" sticker. Apparently millions of women reading these novels is somehow scary. I'm not sure why.
Now imagine this scenario somewhat differently. Your 16 year old announces that her English class will be reading Great Expectations. Fabulous, you think. A real piece of literature, a break from the Twilight nonsense and the watering down of education. “What will you discuss?” you ask your child. “Oh, we don’t know yet,” she says. “My teacher has never read it before. In fact, she’s never read any Dickens. She just thought it would be fun to read this with a cup of tea in hand!” My guess is that you would be annoyed.

And yet, Oprah does just that, only it’s worse: She has asked millions of people to follow her into some of the more difficult prose to come out of the nineteenth century—prose she knows nothing about. Put simply, a TV host whose maxim is to “live your best life” is not an adequate guide through the complicated syntax of Dickens, not because she lacks the intelligence—she is quite clearly a woman of savvy—but because her readings of the texts are so one-dimensional.

Perhaps I would be annoyed by a teacher leading a class about a work she hadn't read. I can see how that might be annoying. What I can't see is what that has to do with Oprah. She doesn't bill herself as a teacher or professor, and her book club isn't an accredited seminar. It's a book club. In all the book clubs I've attended, most of the people reading the book were unfamiliar with it.

Also, why should popular culture shy away from "difficult" prose? Aren't we all lamenting the dumbing-down of America? Isn't part of the remedy to approach daunting, difficult art? And is Dickens really that difficult?

Oprah’s approach to her Book Club is all about herself. Her recent announcement contained not a word of reasoning or insightfulness about Dickens’s work; instead, she explained her reason for picking two of his novels by shouting, in a lame attempt at literary humor, “Cause it’s the best of times!” Just as she deems her “favorite things” worthy of an annual consumer-fest, she happily pushes to her audience of millions whatever books she herself wants to read.

I suppose that's one of the nice things about being the host of one's own wildly successful talk show. One can pick whatever books one wants to read for one's book club. Um... so?

Since its inception in 1996, the Book Club has carved its niche among readers by telling them that the novel is a chance to learn more about themselves. It’s not about literature or writing; it’s about looking into a mirror and deciding what type of person you are, and how you can be better. While a generally wrongheaded view of novels, this notion is all the more frustrating when the club delves into the true classics, with their vast knottiness, glorious language, breathtaking characters, and multi-faceted, mind-twisting prose. None of that matters in Oprah’s view of books, since reading is yet another exercise in self-gratification. “If you have read him, what do you think Dickens might have to share and teach those of us who live in this digital age?” the Book Club’s producer, Jill, asks on Oprah’s website. This is the Eat, Pray, Love school of reading.

Indeed, Oprah’s readers have been left in the dark. They must now scramble about to decipher Dickens’s obscure dialectical styling and his long-lost euphemisms—and the sad truth is that, with no real guidance, readers cannot grow into lovers of the canon. Instead, they can only mimic their high-school selves with calls of, “It’s too hard!” Or, else, they can put aside any notions of reading to become a better reader and instead immerse themselves in the nonsense of “discovering their true selves” in novels.
What snotty, self-satisfied claptrap. How on earth is trying to apply the content of a novel to one's own experience "wrongheaded"? If literature's only purpose is to be held at a distance and admired, then I seem to have been doing it wrong all this time. I, like my (genuinely lamented and missed) favorite contemporary author, read literature to feel "less alone inside."

And who the hell is Hillary Kelly to say that Oprah's readers will cry that it's "too hard"? How does she know how Oprah's viewers will handle the challenge? The same audience seemed to do OK with Anna Karenina, not exactly beach blanket reading. I suspect Kelly says more about her own prejudices with this piece than she does about Oprah's audience.

I'm halfway through Swann's Way right now. I am reading it completely on my own, with no authoritative guide or teacher. While some of Proust's syntax requires me to read passages two or three times before I can parse his meaning, I am finding it immensely enjoyable and rewarding. He writes with amazing insight into what makes us human, and last night I was deeply moved to read a phrase that spoke to my own experience of walking down a street in the evening and looking in the illuminated windows above, in simple but magical terms. Am I somehow reading it "wrong"?

Part of why I don't like Ulysses is that one patently does need a guide to decipher it. After having read it similarly on my own, I found myself baffled by large thickets of obscure references and abstruse phraseology. My own view is that if literature cannot be picked up and enjoyed by a reader of average intelligence and dedication, and requires a guide or key to understand most of it, then its value as art is sharply circumscribed. (Enough people have urged me to read Ulysses again with such a guide, and have lauded its rewards, that I'll give it another shot one of these days.)

Pedants like Kelly clearly think that average readers are unworthy of the classics, and that only appropriately learned people such as themselves are in a position to shepherd the common folk through the otherwise-impossible task of appreciating great literature. I think that's hogwash. Say what you will about Oprah, if she gets more Americans to pick up a great book and learn something about what it means to live a good life, then she's done something good for the world.


I laughed and laughed and laughed

I try not to devote too much attention to gay issues here at Bleakonomy. Lord knows, there are gay-issue blogs aplenty already out there, and I don't think the universe cries out for one more. Having already posted about DADT today, I was a little reluctant to write about another gay-rights topic. But sometimes, when life hands you really hilarious lemons, you have to make really hilarious lemonade. And Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse of the "Ruth Institute" is one funny lemon.

From TPM:
Morse told ONN: "Proposition 8 was passed by a great grassroots coalition that included people from all across the religious traditions, and also people of every race and color. We are the real rainbow coalition. The gay lobby does not own the rainbow."

Morse continued: "We can't simply let that go by. Families put rainbows in their children's nurseries. Little Christian preschools will have rainbows...Noah's Ark and all the animals.... Those are great Christian symbols, great Jewish symbols."
Friends, this is really serious. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a rainbow-decorated building and gone in expecting a fabulous gay nightspot, only to find I have stumbled into a little Christian preschool. After several testy minutes spent trying to locate the dance floor and complaining about the lack of danceable tunes, eventually I notice all the confused-looking little Christians. Though I try to fit in by discussing some of God's lesser miracles, like ultrasuede, I generally feel pretty unwelcome and leave. Awkward.

But wait, there's more:
Morse operates a blog on the Ruth Institute's website, and recently wrote a post asking supporters of same-sex marriage: "Do you really believe that mothers and fathers are interchangeable and that gender is irrelevant to parenting? If gender is really irrelevant, why do self-described "gays" insist on having a male sex partner? Why isn't a really masculine woman just as acceptable as a male sex partner?"
I love the idea of "insisting" on a male sex partner, as though I sit in my boudoir irritably sending back women while some incompetent waiter keeps getting my order wrong. Some gays will settle for a woman in a pinch, but not me! No, I insist on a man.

Also, I have some worries about Morse's parenting skills if she can't tell the difference between child-rearing and the physical act of love. Because... um... it turns out they're really, really different. Do we need to discreetly arrange for the Department of Family Services to swing by her house?

Lastly, as a medical professional, I feel qualified to make a statement for the record -- men and women are physically different. Even though Johnny Weir and k.d. lang do kind of look like each other if you squint, the differences persist. And, while those differences probably don't impact their relative merits as potential potty-trainers, they probably make quite a difference with regard to other skill sets.

Given that Morse doesn't seem to have a firm grasp on these very basic and easy-to-understand concepts, I wonder how on earth she manages to operate a computer, much less earn a doctorate. Maybe the "Ruth Institute" should make sure her credentials are in order.

On the subject of DADT

It seems that Lt. Dan Choi has demonstrated one of the problems that come with associating a cause too strongly with an individual.

What if that individual can't hack it?

From the Dish:

A message from [Choi's] iPhone to Rex Wockner and Pam Spaulding:

I wanted you to know because you are important to me and I think you can explain my situation best to those in our community who may be still interested. I was involuntarily committed to the Brockton MA Veterans Hospital Physchiatric Ward on Friday Morning after experiencing a breakdown and anxiety attack. ...


My breakdown was a result of a cumulative array of stressors but there is no doubt that the composite betrayals felt on Thursday, by elected leaders and gay organizations as well as many who have exploited my name for their marketing purposes, have added to the result. I am certain my experience is not an isolated incident within the gay veteran community. [emphasis mine, in both cases]

Sully expresses more sympathy in his post than I am inclined to express in mine. He writes:

I feel for Dan because the intensity of his struggle and his passion for justice was clearly burning him alive. I recognize this syndrome, having dealt with it to a lesser degree most of my time in the gay activist world. The work is emotionally draining at every level - because your life and soul are on the line - and only when you put your life and soul on the line do you convince others of the rightness of your cause. And that is why you have to learn to step away at times, to retain balance, to seek nurture and support - or the individual bit in the collective drill is worn down to nothing but a spiritual nub.

I'm feeling a bit more cagey. First of all, Choi chose to make himself a vocal and visible spokesperson for this cause. He's chained himself to the White House fence. He's gotten confrontational with Harry Reid. He's been notably unapologetic about his tactics and his sex life. I don't have a particular problem with any of these things, but they are not the actions of a man who shunned the spotlight. I have no more sympathy for him than I do for Sarah Palin when she complains about all the media scrutiny her family gets... while a reality TV crew is trailing her. You asked for it, and now you got it. Deal.

Also, Choi was involuntarily committed. In order for someone to be committed against his will, there's a pretty high bar that the admitting physician has to hit. The patient has to be considered an active threat to his own safety or that of someone else. Choi must have been in some dire straights to get admitted without his consent.

Finally, I don't know that there is "no doubt" about what role last Thursday's vote played in Choi's breakdown. The Village Voice piece I linked to above sketches a picture of a man who is gleefully abrasive and lives a chaotic life. One could legitimately question both his advantages as a media figure and his personal stability. If an adverse political outcome makes you suicidal, then you're probably the wrong person to be heading the charge.

I'll close with a quote from that Voice piece. Sensitive readers are advised that he uses naughty language, but we're all grown-ups here.
Everyone, he says, is "happy to send out e-mails when a good court case comes out, but no one is willing to take a risk for fear of taking blame. If people want to blame me for being the reason 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' isn't repealed, I say fine. Bring it on, motherfuckers."
Perhaps he should reconsider such a boastful stance in the future.

Contingent recantation

I may not have to register as a Republican after all. From TPM:
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) pledged her support for the standalone bill to repeal the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy this afternoon. Cloture to pass a repeal as part of the defense authorization failed by a mere 3 votes last week.
I will smooth my ruffled feathers for the time being. Presuming that Harry Reid makes this enough of a priority to actually bring about a vote, if Snowe votes for repeal I won't switch my party affiliation just to vote against her in the primary out of spite.

I think we can all agree, by the way, that it was my threat to do so that brought about this promise from Sen. Snowe. Behold my power and tremble, readers.


Despair, ye masses

The world in which you live allowed this to happen.

(Hat tip, if you can call it that, to Sully.)


Pace Josh Green

Josh Green is a political columnist for the Boston Globe, and I am not. You can use that information to determine whose opinion you consider more valid. (For the record, I typically agree with what he writes, and he comes across as the kind of guy I'd choose to hang out with given the opportunity.)

In his post about the possible departure of walking punchline Michael Steele from the chairmanship of the RNC, Green writes:
[T]he episode that I myself believe cemented Steele's hard-earned reputation for exquisite buffoonery, once and for all: Allowing himself to be photographed with RNC interns in a series of poses that would mortify even the most unselfconscious 11-year-old aspiring rapper. (See [below].)

How Steele imagined he would ever again be taken seriously is beyond me--and it's not a semantic question. People forget, but only a few years ago, Steele was considered one of his party's brightest new stars. In any event, it'll be a shame if all that fun is about to end.

I must respectfully disagree with Green on this one. Admittedly, the pictures in question were patently goofy. But they were also undeniably good-humored, and demonstrated a generosity toward the young people who had come to work as interns for the GOP. (Whether interns in DC deserve anything other than scorn is a separate question.) It may not have redounded to his gravitas, perhaps, but it made him seem likable.

Those "Top 10 Gaffes", on the other hand? Painful.

Let's start with common ground

Before I start disagreeing with Frank Rich's latest column in the Times, let me begin by agreeing with him on a major point.

William Donohue, of the Catholic League, is a despicable anti-Semite and all-around horrible human being. Quotes like this make it obvious:
Who really cares what Hollywood thinks? All these hacks come out there. Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It‘s not a secret, OK? And I‘m not afraid to say it. That‘s why they hate ["The Passion of the Christ"]. It‘s about Jesus Christ, and it‘s about truth. It‘s about the messiah.
And there you have it.

However, Donohue isn't really the focus of Rich's piece. Rather, he writes about a kerfuffle at the National Portrait Gallery and its "Hide/Seek" exhibition. The exhibition, you see, is about The Gays.
...When his mentor and former lover, the photographer Peter Hujar, fell ill with AIDS in 1987, Wojnarowicz created a video titled “A Fire in My Belly” to express both his grief and his fury. As in Haring’s altarpiece, Christ figures in Wojnarowicz’s response to the plague — albeit in a cryptic, 11-second cameo. A crucifix is besieged by ants that evoke frantic souls scurrying in panic as a seemingly impassive God looked on.

Hujar died in 1987, and Wojnarowicz would die at age 37, also of AIDS, in 1992. This is now ancient, half-forgotten history. When a four-minute excerpt from “A Fire in My Belly” was included in an exhibit that opened six weeks ago at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, it received no attention. That’s hardly a surprise, given the entirety of this very large show — a survey of same-sex themes in American portraiture titled “Hide/Seek.” The works of Wojnarowicz, Hujar and other lesser known figures are surrounded by such lofty (and often unlikely) bedfellows (many gay, some not) as Robert Mapplethorpe, John Singer Sargent, Grant Wood, Thomas Eakins, Georgia O’Keeffe, Andy Warhol, Andrew Wyeth and Haring. It’s an exhibit that would have been unimaginable in a mainstream institution in Wojnarowicz’s lifetime.

The story might end there — like Haring’s altarpiece, a bittersweet yet uplifting postscript to a time of plague. But it doesn’t because “Fire in My Belly” was removed from the exhibit by the National Portrait Gallery some 10 days ago with the full approval, if not instigation, of its parent institution, the Smithsonian. (The censored version of “Hide/Seek” is still scheduled to run through Feb. 13.) The incident is chilling because it suggests that even in a time of huge progress in gay civil rights, homophobia remains among the last permissible bigotries in America. “Think anti-gay bullying is just for kids? Ask the Smithsonian,” wrote The Los Angeles Times’s art critic, Christopher Knight, last week. One might add: Think anti-gay bullying is just for small-town America? Look at the nation’s capital. [emphasis mine]

As to whether anti-gay bullying is going on in the nation's capital, I would say "yes." The bully is, of course, John McCain, and the venue isn't the National Portrait Gallery but the Senate, where he has managed to preserve an unjust, discriminatory and unpopular military policy.

It's also not worth arguing that Donohue and his fellow travelers are targeting the exhibition because of its focus on gays. (One wonders what motivates Eric Cantor to throw in his lot with the likes of such an unrepentant Jew-hater, but politics makes for strange bedfellows.) To pretend otherwise is preposterous.

However, the waters we're looking through seem pretty muddy to me. Beyond the obvious homophobia, there is the problem of depicting religious iconography in art. When such imagery is used in controversial (or, some might sight, confrontational) art, it has the potential to raise the hackles of religious people, homophobic or otherwise. Remember "Piss Christ"? How about Chris Ofili's "The Holy Virgin Mary"? Both controversies had to do with religious imagery absent any connection to homosexuality. (I happen to like the latter, but think Andres Serrano is a hack.) While combining religious themes and homosexuality is likely to generate controversy, anger at artistic impiety doesn't necessarily signal homophobia.

Furthermore, let's clear away some of the rhetoric and be honest. I've not seen "Fire in the Belly," so I'm in no position to comment. However, I've seen plenty of Robert Mapplethorpe's work.

Writes Rich:
The incident is also a throwback to the culture wars we thought we were getting past now — most eerily the mother of them all, the cancellation of a Mapplethorpe exhibit (after he died of AIDS) at another Washington museum, the Corcoran, in 1989.
From the Times, in an article about the controversy in 1989:
''Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment,'' an exhibition of more than 150 works, many of them explicit homoerotic and violent images, was partly financed with a grant of $30,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts, an agency already under fire from Congress for its grant policies. The exhibition was to have opened on July 1.
I know I'm supposed to fall all over myself defending Robert Mapplethorpe. He's considered a brave AIDS martyr, and it's in the fine print of my Gay Person in Good Standing membership card that I'm always to take the side of his art when the subject comes up. And yet, I won't. While much of his work is quite beautiful, plenty of it is sufficiently sexual, graphic and confrontational to make me understand why people would neither want to see it nor wish to subsidize its exhibition with public funds. I would rather crazy glue my nostrils together than agree with the likes of William Donohue about anything, but I refuse to go to bat for a picture of someone with a whip sticking out of his wazoo. I'm sure there are gay-friendly people aplenty who'd just as soon avoid seeing those images, too.

My last little bit of spleen goes to the National Portrait Gallery itself, and could just as easily apply to the Corcoran in 1989. Say what you will about the merit of the works in question, once you decide to display them then you should expect controversy. Either defend your decision and offer people the option of seeing the exhibition and making up their own minds, or defer displaying the controversial pieces to begin with. Both seem like reasonable choices to me. Folding under pressure from the likes of Donohue and Cantor just makes you look like incredible weenies.


*insert obscene gesture here*

Every so often, the GOP reminds me of why I cannot possibly imagine ever voting for a member of their party ever again.

Today was one of those days.

Honestly, between the 9/11 rescue workers bill and this, I simply have no more words. Nothing seems contemptuous or jaded enough to properly express the bottomless depths of my disdain and disgust just now.

Oh, and that applies to you, too, Sen. Manchin. How very, very proud I am to have you in my party. Sure am glad you won. I'll just make myself cozy here under the bus while you make sure your new drapes match the office furniture.

Update: Let's just check out the roll call, shall we? Olympia! Hi! Looks like you voted "nay" on cloture. Here's my promise to you -- in 2012, presuming a primary challenger materializes, I give you my word that I am going to register as a Republican for the sole purpose of voting against you. Since you clearly care more about toeing the party line than your vaunted (and misplaced) reputation for moderation and any sense of justice for people like me, I'd just as soon see you replaced by a more transparent party hack anyhow.

I suppose "drop dead" is too strong?

On September 11, 2001, I was the senior pediatric resident covering the inpatient floor at Bellevue Hospital in New York City.

I don't think I set foot on the inpatient unit that day. Like just about everyone else that could possibly be spared, I spent the day in the emergency department.

We ended up ridiculously overstaffed. People either made it out of the towers relatively unscathed, or they didn't get out at all. I volunteered to stay overnight in the ED, waiting for patients that never came.

Those few patients I did see were fire fighters, mainly to get dust and grime washed out of their eyes. The ones I remember best were from Long Island. They couldn't find one of their own, and the memory of their relief in finding him over on the pediatric side (where he had been sent when they ran out of room on the adult side) still makes me emotional.

I never went to the wreckage at Ground Zero. They had more than enough volunteers with emergency medicine/trauma training, and so a pediatric resident didn't have much to offer. I was good friends with a lot of the residents in NYU's emergency medicine department, however, so I heard all about their experiences trying to look for survivors and care for the workers down there under collapsing buildings and among the rubble.

My obviously peripheral experiences of September 11 do not confer any particular moral authority to me. I, like most New Yorkers at the time, experienced the day in my own personal way, and I have my own memories and feelings. I did have the honor, however, of meeting and knowing a number of people who put themselves at risk trying to respond to the greatest single horror most of them had ever encountered (and, let's pray, ever would). They, along with many people like them, put themselves at risk for others in need. Many people did so at the cost of their lives, and others at the cost of their health.

It is a shameful and disgraceful moral failure of the gravest kind that apparently certain members of our government can't be bothered to find a way to pay for their health care.

Dept. of Meh

Hoo-boy. Them House Democrats are all in a swivet about the tax deal Obama cut with the GOP.

From TPM:
House Democrats voted in a private meeting this morning to reject the tax cut plan President Obama negotiated with the GOP.

By voice vote, Democrats agreed to a non-binding resolution, introduced by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR), not to bring up the Obama plan in its current form.


The vote itself does not scuttle the deal, which most Dems predict will pass with overwhelming support from House Republicans, and a small but significant amount of support from Dems.

In a way, I feel for the Democrats in the House. They're the chamber that tends to move first and furthest in support of the President's progressive agenda, while the Senate takes its sweet time watering it down and blocking it with various parliamentary tactics. (Watching the Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal dance of death has certainly set my teeth on edge.) The House is where the Democrats got the tar beaten out of them in the last election. I can understand their being pissed off when they feel that the POTUS has sold their agenda down the river.

That being said, I don't really understand why this particular bit of political horse trading has them so upset. Is increasing (or, if you prefer, non-decreasing) the taxes on the wealthy so very important? Sure, America can't afford to let the Bush tax rates on the wealthy continue. But America can't really afford to let any of the Bush tax cuts continue for anyone. (Economists with a contrary view are welcome to correct my thinking in the comments.)

Obama, like all politicians, has to make deals in order to get what he wants done. He's not a wizard. Reality (in the form of Mitch McConnell) sometimes intrudes upon his hopes and dreams for the country.

For the final word, over to you, Jonathan Bernstein:
The truth is that there are a lot of people who just don't accept that the President of the United States can want something, fight for it, fight effectively and correctly, and still not get it. If it doesn't happen, it must have been -- in Obama's words -- a "betrayal." Those people are wrong.
Just so. And I fail to see how throwing a huge hissy fit accomplishes anything.


Merry %$@#%^$%@ Christmas, culture warriors!

Oh, sweet merciful crap. Someone please slap Sen. James Inhofe. From Political Animal:
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) announced last week that he would boycott annual Parade of Lights forevermore, until event organizers include the word "Christ" in the parade's name.

"I am hopeful that the good people of Tulsa and the city's leadership will demand a correction to this shameful attempt to take Christ, the true reason for our celebration, out of the parade's title," the right-wing senator said.

"Don't threaten me with a good time" would be my own personal response to the prospect of an Inhofe-free parade for any reason. How, one wonders, will Tulsa's children keep sugarplums dancing in their heads without the beloved sight of Jim Inhofe? And I think we can all rest assured that he's also boycotting gay apparel.

Here's my message to everyone who thinks it's a really, really big deal to say "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" between Thanksgiving and New Year's day -- get the [decidedly un-merry expletive] over it. You're not suffering. You incur no damages. Nobody really feels sorry for you except your other teapot tempest-makers. As members of the country's majority religion, you are not victims. Having to respect the feelings of non-Christians is the decent, considerate thing to do, something that apparently is beyond most of you.

On that note, pressing "1" for English is easy to do, and whining about it is pathetic. Complaining that black people can use the "n-word" with impunity while white people cannot is ridiculous, and something that could be easily explained by a reasonably intelligent seventh-grader. These are not hardships, and if you feel the need to complain about them, you reveal a depressing shallowness of character.

Happy Hanukkah!

Update: An especially good catch from Sully.

A plot hole big enough for a Quidditch field

The Better Half and I saw the latest installment in the Harry Potter cinematic juggernaut this past weekend. He's read the entire series, whereas I still haven't finished the last book. Something about its steadily-increasing bleakness has kept me from enjoying the tail end of the series, though now I will probably just read it and be done with it. That said, Harry Potter and the Burgeoning Merchandise Deathly Hallows was worth the price of the sitter, despite large swaths being devoted to the three main characters sitting around moping and yelling at each other.

However, there is one gigantic plot hole that pops up right at the very end. As we were leaving the theater, I expressed my incredulity in no uncertain terms to the Better Half, who was unable to provide a satisfactory explanation.

At this point, please note the obligatory SPOILER ALERT. If you haven't seen the movie or read the book (or its prequel) and wish to do so unsullied by prior knowledge, stop now.

Still reading? Then help me understand something.

We spend the last bit of the movie watching Harry and Hermione try to figure out what a mysterious symbol means, and finally learn the secret of the titular Deathly Hallows. Apparently they're these three magical items, including a kick-ass wand. It turns out that Dumbledore was buried with it. The film ends with Voldemort wielding said wand to dramatic effect.

Now, I know that this is only Part I of Harry Potter and the Endless Franchise Deathly Hallows, so perhaps my question will be answered in Part II. However, if there were some immensely powerful wand that one might reasonably suspect the really powerful, evil wizard would want, maybe one might plan to protect it a wee bit better? Dumbledore obviously had the foresight to bequeath some handy items to Harry and Co. You'd think he'd have planned better than to hide the wand in his tomb, where bad guys might reasonably think to look and which is seemingly protected by nothing more than some really big rocks, easily moved by people who have such lucky gifts as magic powers.

At the end of the last film, we saw Harry and Dumbledore go after a magical locket, hidden in a remote cave in the middle of a zombie-infested lake and at the bottom of a cup of really nasty magical poison. Now that is how you hide something.

Maybe the Death Eaters aren't kicking ass and taking names because they're so much more powerful. Maybe they just take the time to think things through more.


Editing for clarity

General James Amos of the Marine Corps doesn't support repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Nosiree.
General Amos added: “I cannot reconcile, nor turn my back, on the negative perceptions held by our Marines who are most engaged in the hard work of day-to-day operations in Afghanistan.” He concluded that although repeal could be implemented, and the Marine Corps would support it, “my recommendation is that we should not implement repeal at this time.”
Hmmmm. I'm not sure that's as clear as it could be. Let's see if we can make things a wee bit more transparent:
General Amos added: “I cannot reconcile, nor turn my back, on the negative perceptions bigotry held by our Marines who are most engaged in the hard work of day-to-day operations in Afghanistan.” He concluded that although repeal could be implemented, and the Marine Corps would support it, “my recommendation is that we should not implement repeal at this time.”
There we go. Much more to the point.

(Tangentially, a tip of the hat to Sen. Scott Brown. If this heralds possible votes for sanity from Snowe and Collins, then maybe there's a teensy bit of hope for the GOP yet.)

Made vacation plans for next summer yet?

It seems you needn't bother.

Remember death panels?

Sure you do. It's what you find when you put "Palin" and "health care reform" into Google. (Another way of describing the "death panel" discussion involves the word "lie," but I suppose that particular horse has already shuffled this mortal coil and is no longer worth beating.)

It turns out that Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona heard former half-term Alaska Governor Palin's rhetoric and decided it sounded like good policy. From a heart-rending article in the Times:
Effective at the beginning of October, Arizona stopped financing certain transplant operations under the state’s version of Medicaid. Many doctors say the decision amounts to a death sentence for some low-income patients, who have little chance of survival without transplants and lack the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed to pay for them.


Organ transplants are already the subject of a web of regulations, which do not guarantee that everyone in need of a life-saving organ will receive one. But Arizona’s transplant specialists are alarmed that patients who were in line to receive transplants one day were, after the state’s budget cuts to its Medicaid program, ruled ineligible the next — unless they raised the money themselves.
Gov. Brewer also seems to share her former colleague's uneasy relationship with the truth:
The Republican governor has in turn blamed “Obamacare,” meaning the federal health care overhaul, for the transplant cuts even though the Arizona vote came in March, before President Obama signed that bill into law.
Fantastic! If there's one thing that makes a bad situation better, it's a lie.

This article serves as an important reminder of the stakes in the health care debate, and what our honest choices are. Cutting the public safety net for low-income people means that people will fall ill and, in some cases, die because they cannot afford to pay for them. Perhaps we as a society are willing to countenance this reality.

I am willing to concede that far too much discussion about health care has focused on the question of access/payment and far too little has focused on controlling costs. American health care is too expensive, and we need to pay more attention to what we're spending our money on and why. Believe me when I tell you that there is plenty of inefficiency that bears more scrutiny than it gets.

However, I cannot believe that the best answer is to cut off funding for life-saving interventions like organ transplants. Nixing patients from transplant rosters because they can't afford the hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary to pay for the care is unspeakably ghoulish, and surely we can find a better solution than this.


Our octopoid agenda

Your days are numbered, heterosexual Americans. Enjoy your time in the sun, with your NuvaRing commercials and your ongoing toleration of Kid Rock and your opposite-sex marriage. It shall not last!

Why? Because of our mighty Gay Agenda. So vast and insidious is our reach that nothing is too labyrinthine, inefficient and counter-intuitive for us! From across the Internet come dispatches from wily adversaries, who have cracked our mysterious codes and will suffer at the hands of our gay assassins. (We favor smothering with tasteful throw pillows.)

First, from TPM, a minister in Minnesota:
A Christian minister in Minnesota said on his radio program that the nation's first Muslim member of Congress was soliciting the support of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to implement Sharia law. Follow his logic with us, wouldn't you?

Bradlee Dean of the religious ministry You Can Run But You Cannot Hide International said on his radio program that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) is only supporting LGBT rights as part of a strategy to bring Sharia law to the United States, the Minnesota Independent reported.


"Why is he so adamant about overthrowing the Constitution as it is right now? Because if you pay attention to the plow he's planting the seed," Dean said. "He's trying to come through with Sharee [sic] law."

Curses! Our plot is ruined! If there's one thing that homosexuals love, it's fundamentalist Islam. It's why we're always summering in Iran.

Next, by way of TNR:
A conservative Loudoun County lawmaker says controversial airport pat-downs by the Transportation Security Administration are part of a "wide-scale homosexual agenda."
Eugene Delgaudio, a Republican representing Sterling on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, made the comments in a widely distributed e-mail sent in his capacity as president of the conservative nonprofit Public Advocate of the United States.
In the e-mail -- reported by WUSA9 -- Delgaudio also says the TSA's non-discrimination hiring policy is "the federal employee's version of the Gay Bill of Special rights."
"That means the next TSA official that gives you an enhanced pat-down could be a practicing homosexual secretly getting pleasure from your submission," he wrote.
Oh, rats! Our other plot is foiled! For, unsatisfied with Chelsea and West Hollywood and Fire Island and Key West and the entirety of San Francisco, we've sought to make the nation's airports our own sneaky pleasuredomes. Why try to get lucky openly with other attractive men at the innumerable gay bars in America's major cities when you can surreptitiously touch the naughty bits of randomly-selected, sweaty and irritable passengers at their airports? Sure, we may have to suffer through more than our fair share of Jeffrey Goldberg pat-downs, but one of these days Mark Sanchez is sure to set off a scanner.

You see how this works, right? Muslim underwear bombers = more TSA pat-down jollies = happier gays = decisions to register for a china pattern = wholesale destruction of American family, constitution and government = sharia law swooping in to fill the void = paradise for homosexuals.

It's so obvious I'm surprised it's taken you all this long to figure out.


Confidential to John McCain

I'm so very, very glad you lost [your bid for the White House], you unprincipled. petty hack. I look forward to your inexorable slide into obscurity and historical oblivion, right alongside the antiquated, pointless military policy you cherish so very much.

Dispatches from the flat earth

Let's call a spade a spade, shall we? The Family Research Council and the American Family Association hate gay people. Sputtering protestations to the contrary, they do. If your entire raison d'etre is to deprive me and people like me of civic and social equality, and to demonize us as degenerate and predatory, then it's safe to use the word "hate" to describe what you do. And, having spent my entire childhood and adolescence in conservative religious communities, I can say with a great deal of confidence that plenty of evangelical Christians hate us, too.

Thus, I responded to the Southern Poverty Law Center's designation of the FRC and AFA as "hate groups" with a distinct lack of surprise. This was no more shocking than if they had called out the NFL as a sports organization. The FRC and AFA make their money and spend their time hating on gay people, and the SPLC's calling them what they are is almost laughably obvious. Frankly, one would almost expect them to be proud of themselves.

Inexplicably, the FRC has taken umbrage at being called what they are. Professional lunatic Bryan Fischer (who apparently plans to enlist in the Marines to show us how "real men" earn the Medal of Honor) has gotten his widdle feewings hurt:
"Until the Southern Poverty Law Center adds the FDA and the CDC to its list of 'hate' groups," he writes, "there is no reason to think that either the AFA or the FRC belongs on that list. In point of fact, we are 'truth' groups, not 'hate' groups."
I'm guessing that the FDA and CDC reference is due to the ban on gay men giving blood. Whether or not you think this is good policy, it's at least based on the reality than gay men are at higher risk of infection with HIV than the general population. What doesn't follow is this:
Fischer claimed in a blog post last May 27 that "[h]omosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and 6 million dead Jews."
In fact, the SPLC has handily debunked a list of anti-gay myths promulgated by the FRC and its ilk. Among them, that gays are more likely to die young, molest children, or recreate the Third Reich. Fischer calls all of those myths "truth," because he has a remarkable ability to ignore tedious facts that he finds disagreeable, no matter how reputable the organization that spreads them. Since you can find people who are willing to believe just about anything, he's not particularly unique in this regard.

None of this changes the fact that he is a hateful human being, and an especially disgusting one at that. As far as I'm concerned, he may as well just embrace it and start planning potlucks with his like-minded (if slightly more impolitic) fellow-travelers.

Meandering thoughts about WikiLeaks

First off, a disclaimer. I am not an expert in either foreign policy or law, and do not style myself as one. Thus, any opinions I offer are those of an admitted layman. I'm not going to pretend to know what the implications of any particular revelation may be. In fact, for the purposes of this post, I'm not even all that interested in the contents of the gigantic WikiLeaks info dump per se.

The question that I pondering right now is about whether unfettered transparency (or attempts thereat) is a good thing or a bad thing. I tend to think it's bad, and perhaps you'll bear with me as I attempt to muddle out why.

One thing I'm musing is whether I'd be more inclined to support WikiLeaks were Bush still in office. On the whole, I didn't trust the Bush administration to do just about anything right, either because of a lack of competence or scruple, or both. I tend to trust the Obama administration a great deal more, though not entirely. (I'm not particularly sure that unmanned drone attacks, for example, are either moral or effective.) Does my dim view of this leak have to do with its weakening a president I tend to support, or is it more principled? If this had happened during the Bush years, would I have supported it more because I viewed it as a corrective to some errant policy (extraordinary rendition, for example) or merely because it embarrassed an administration I despised? I honestly don't know.

Further, what balance is appropriate when determining what should see the light of day? Somewhere I've read about government bureaucrats and their tendency to want to classify information as a general rule. (I think it was somewhere on Plain Blog, but I'm not sure and I can't find it.) In a nutshell, the random State Department apparatchik whose job it is to decide if Document A should be classified or not is more likely to classify it through a combination of self-protection and the tendency of bureaucracies toward secrecy. I don't believe that a government should be able to hide whatever it wants to and expect us to trust that it does so judiciously. Leaks can provide an important corrective, examples of which aren't hard to recall.

From what I understand (and, given the mass of information released, it's probably too early for anyone to know with certainty), most of the leaks aren't all that damaging. But how damaging is too damaging? By tipping the hand of Iran's neighbors, will it now be harder to contain its nuclear ambitions? Fearing future leaks, will the diplomatic corps be less inclined to communicate readily within the community? Who draws that line and how? I certainly don't trust the likes of Julian Assange to do so.

While I think it is inflammatory and intellectually sloppy to characterize WikiLeaks as a terrorist organization (whatever meaning that word has will be rapidly eroded by slapping it on everyone whose actions one decries), it certainly seems like it may be a treasonous one. My understanding of the legal definition of treason is rudimentary, but I think one could plausibly argue that the leaked information gives aid to Iran. (Perhaps espionage is a more correct term.) It's hard to know the motives of Assange's source, but helping the US hardly seems like one of them.

I wish we had a country we could trust to keep only those secrets that ensured it security, and not ones that hid its bad decisions. I don't know that such a country has ever existed, or ever will. I don't know a good metric for "good" leaks vs. "bad," and would sincerely love to see anyone's suggestions in the comments. But these leaks seem to serve no purpose other than to embarrass the United States diplomatic corps, and to complicate their work. It's hard to defend them, and I don't think I'm inclined to try.

Update: More and better thoughts from Sully.


Give this man an award



I... wow.

If there were an award for the most tortured, contrived pile of metaphorical balderdash to be found on the Internet, I doubt I could find a more deserving nominee than this astounding essay about the "dark meat/white meat" debate. Its author, Ron Rosenbaum, is to be congratulated for both the triteness of his analysis (racism!) and for finding a way to combine a discussion of pork with this quote from Sartre:
Slime is the agony of water.
Yes. YES!! The agony of water! Slime! Pass the gravy!

This essay is the agony of its readers, and yet must truly be read to be believed. Enjoy.


The contribution of the severely disabled

Recently, I was listening to NPR and they were reading comments people had sent in on previously aired stories. I missed the original story, but I gather that the story was about a family concerned that Medicaid cuts were making it difficult for them to care for their severely disabled adult daughter at home. Instead, she had to go to a nursing home. The host said they received a lot of mail along the following lines: "I think it's fair to ask what her severely disabled daughter contributes, and why we should have pay for it."

So enough people feel passionately about this that they bothered to write in to a radio station. As resident mom-of-a-severely-disabled-kid, I think it's worth a response.

First, set aside the contribution question for a moment (I'll get back to it below). The fact remains that caring for a disabled person is insanely expensive. In his first four months of life, my son racked up a solid seven figures worth of medical bills. If I were not insured, or had crappy insurance, my family would have been utterly devastated through no fault of our own. Even with my great insurance, I don't have coverage for medical equipment. If my kid needs a wheelchair, leg braces, etc. etc. I could be out tens of thousands - so we have supplemental Medicaid. Parents of kids with special needs did not do this to our kids; disability happened to them. So there are three choices: Medicaid, bankrupted caregivers, or exposing the disabled on mountaintops. Medicaid is far from painless, but nonetheless I think it is fairly clear which choice has the smallest harm-to-benefit ratio.

Second, I think it's a question worth answering what the disabled can contribute. My son cannot live a full life. He will never live entirely independently, he will not contribute to the economic life of his community in any meaningful way (which is what I gather the commenter must have meant by "contribute"), he will not have children and raise a family.

So here's what he's contributed so far (and he's only 15-months-old). He's made our family happy. He gives hugs and kisses and smiles and giggles. He babbles and throws toys and his face absolutely lights up when he sees a member of his family or his stuffed dog. I am delighted pretty much every time I see him.

I understand that when people think about what it would be like to have a special needs kid, they think it would be utterly devastating. And we were utterly devastated when we found out, and it's still not what we would choose. I know when I heard all the moms talking about how much they loved their special needs kids, I thought they were lying - either to the world or themselves. I thought they felt guilt-tripped into pretending they loved their kid. Maybe I didn't put it into so many words, but that's what I believed. But I am not pretending when I say my kid makes me so happy. Maybe I'm self-deluded - who knows? But either way, my kid makes several people feel happy every day - which is not true of everyone.

Also, he makes people more morally virtuous. He has given my life a greater sense of purpose. In caring for him and coming to terms with his condition, my husband and I have both become more sensitive, understanding, patient people. He has done the same (perhaps to a lesser degree) for other relatives, his nanny, and even friends. Even strangers! I joke around that when I go out in public with him, I frequently have to have The Talk - where a stranger is moved to near tears and tells me how beautiful the disabled are, or how we all deal with life's obstacles but become stronger - and I just want to buy a gallon of milk, thanks. But the thing is, just seeing my kid reminds people of the better angels of their nature. Just being nice to him reminds them of their most moral selves, and reinforces a sense of treating everyone as valuable.

When we look at people's contributions only in an economic sense, and thus discount the contributions of the disabled, we are traveling down a path when we see people as commodities. My kid forces people to stop and think. If he is valuable, there is something more valuable in him than merely in what he can perform. When people respond positively to his presence, they are reminded that people are not valuable only in terms of economic contributions. He forces us to see everyone as less of a commodity, and more of a person.

I honestly think his mere presence makes many people better people. And again, not everyone who had all intact faculties can say that.



During a semester in which I've already caught two plagiarizers, including one who copy-and-pasted from a website called (I kid you not) freeessays.com, I come to the subject of plagiarism pre-irritated. But I have to say, Ed Dante (not his real name) managed to kick me up a notch from irritated to rankled. Mr. Dante has written a confessional essay describing his career as an academic essayist for hire, supplying papers for lying students who wish to pass them off as their own work. Maybe "confessional" implies Mr. Dante feels guilty. He does not.

He writes:
My customers are your students. I promise you that. Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can't detect, that you can't defend against, that you may not even know exists.

You would be amazed by the incompetence of your students' writing. I have seen the word "desperate" misspelled every way you can imagine. And these students truly are desperate. They couldn't write a convincing grocery list, yet they are in graduate school. They really need help. They need help learning and, separately, they need help passing their courses. But they aren't getting it.

Of course, I know you are aware that cheating occurs. But you have no idea how deeply this kind of cheating penetrates the academic system, much less how to stop it.
Mr. Dante likes to feel smarter than his professors were, and one gets the feeling that that is one of his main motivations in his chosen profession. And he feels smarter by believing that professors don't know that plagiarism is a pervasive problem. But let me tell you this. We are aware that students cheat. We are aware that we don't catch everyone. We are aware that this generation tends to see rules against plagiarism not as moral rules, but as arbitrary rules that must be followed if one is to jump through the hoops, like not picking one's nose at a job interview. And we are plenty aware of the incompetence of student writing. We get emails from students, too, you know (more than he does!). Plenty of terrible writers still don't use a plagiarism service. And there are plenty of students who are unaware that their writing is so bad that they need such a service.
For those of you who have ever mentored a student through the writing of a dissertation, served on a thesis-review committee, or guided a graduate student through a formal research process, I have a question: Do you ever wonder how a student who struggles to formulate complete sentences in conversation manages to produce marginally competent research? How does that student get by you?
I thought this was interesting. I was very surprised that he said he wrote graduate level work. We have several meetings with our advisers along the way to a PhD. I can't imagine faking one's way through those if one hadn't written the work. Are other disciplines vastly different?

And why does he do it?
How dispiriting to find out that college was just another place where grades were grubbed, competition overshadowed personal growth, and the threat of failure was used to encourage learning.

Although my university experience did not live up to its vaunted reputation, it did lead me to where I am today. I was raised in an upper-middle-class family, but I went to college in a poor neighborhood. I fit in really well: After paying my tuition, I didn't have a cent to my name. I had nothing but a meal plan and my roommate's computer. But I was determined to write for a living, and, moreover, to spend these extremely expensive years learning how to do so. When I completed my first novel, in the summer between sophomore and junior years, I contacted the English department about creating an independent study around editing and publishing it. I was received like a mental patient. I was told, "There's nothing like that here." I was told that I could go back to my classes, sit in my lectures, and fill out Scantron tests until I graduated.
Well, if all one had to do to get a university degree was take Scantron tests, shouldn't Mr. Dante be out of a job? But seriously, this is among the more ridiculous post-hoc moral rationalizations I've come across. There are plenty of very valuable things to do in life, such as having children or working in soup kitchens or writing novels, for which universities do not give course credit. Universities are not in the business of granting degrees for anything which a student decides is educational for them. They grant degrees which indicate completion of a certain kind and level of research and writing and analysis.
But I understand that in simple terms, I'm the bad guy. I see where I'm vulnerable to ethical scrutiny.

But pointing the finger at me is too easy. Why does my business thrive? Why do so many students prefer to cheat rather than do their own work?

Say what you want about me, but I am not the reason your students cheat.
Yes, in simple terms, he's the bad guy. If you want to be so simple. If you want to get really really complex, of course, he's not responsible at all. Accomplices never are, especially when they don't get course credit for their novels.
I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow.
Interesting that plagiarism is an ethical problem for seminary students and not failed novelists. But what if the seminary student wanted to get course credit for her, like, totally new liturgy? But was told that didn't count for course credit? Wouldn't she then be justified?
You know what's never happened? I've never had a client complain that he'd been expelled from school, that the originality of his work had been questioned, that some disciplinary action had been taken. As far as I know, not one of my customers has ever been caught.
He's right about one thing. What can we do? The reason he's never heard about it from his customers is not that we don't know what goes on. There are times when I know a paper must be plagiarized. But what am I supposed to do? Call aside a student and say, "This is too intelligent/coherent/literate/on topic for you to have actually written"? We usually can't prove it. And so lying is rewarded over effort, plagiarists get spots in grad schools and jobs they don't deserve, and an atmosphere of distrust continues to be built between professors and students.

That's one reason

Oh, Politico. How I love your shallow analysis. Your obsessive coverage of all things political, to the exclusion of anything that has even the faintest whiff of policy. Your ineptly hidden conservative bias. You're the "Entertainment Tonight" of politics. Bless you.

My favorite offering of yours just now is this analysis of why Sharron Angle failed to beat Harry Reid, a politician roughly as popular as amoebic dysentery. The culprit? Poor campaigning.
It’s widely recognized that in the marquee 2010 Senate race, Majority Leader Harry Reid ran a nearly flawless, textbook campaign, an operation so extraordinary that it enabled him to defy an almost certain political death.

It turns out he got some inadvertent inside help. Interviews with Nevada and Washington Republicans familiar with the campaign of Reid’s GOP opponent, Sharron Angle, describe a not-ready-for-prime-time effort that was equally astonishing — a model of dysfunction that was as bad as Reid’s campaign was good.

I must admit that I had missed the "widely recognized" praise that the Reid campaign received. In all seriousness, I'm sure his campaign had to be very, very good for his career to have survived. Perhaps it really was "extraordinary," I dunno.

On the flipside, I'm hardly surprised to read that Angle's campaign was a complete mess. I particularly enjoy this anecdote:
In one occasion that was emblematic of the chaos that marked the fall effort, [Angle advisor Terry] Campbell nearly scuttled an appearance by Sen. John McCain while the 2008 GOP presidential nominee was midair on the way to an Angle rally at The Orleans Hotel and Casino.

While McCain was en route to the event, held five days before Election Day, Angle was bombarded with calls from teary tea party activists who begged her not to campaign with the Arizona senator because they contended he was not conservative enough to appear on the same stage with her.

The source of the emotional appeals from some of Angle’s most loyal followers? Campbell himself did the urging, according to multiple sources with first-hand knowledge of the incident. Much to the relief of national Republicans, Angle ignored their pleas, and the McCain event went on without a hitch.

If this is true, it's hilarious. I cherish the idea that a high-ranking campaign advisor would try to scrap an appearance with a marquee GOP politician while said politician was on his way to the event.

But the thing is, the event still actually went off, no matter the drama surrounding it. The public never knew about Campbell's interference, so it's something of a stretch of blame Angle's loss on problems like this.

My theory? Sharron Angle lost because she is a complete lunatic. As distasteful as Nevadans may find Harry Reid, they clearly found the idea of being represented by Ms. "Second Amendment Remedies" even more so. (It probably didn't help to be a blatantly anti-Hispanic race-baiter in a state with a growing Hispanic vote.)

Now, it stands to reason that a cretinous maniac would run a lousy campaign, so there's kind of a "chicken/egg" problem going on here. But I happen to believe that even a lackluster campaign could have defeated Harry Reid with a candidate less patently unhinged than Sharron "No Questions" Angle.