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.

Everything you need to know in an image

Over at A plain blog about politics, Jonathan Bernstein posed a question to readers -- where do you get your news?

I get mine from NPR, mostly. During the day, I drop in on a few news sites, and check links in a few blogs. (One of the things that Andrew Sullivan does particularly well, when he's not on a tear about something, is link to a wide variety of interesting things around the Web.)

You know where I don't get my news? Huffington Post. It is a fundamentally unserious outlet, which hypes and misrepresents stories and provides a forum for all manner of addle-brained claptrap, from celebrities on down. (My beef with said claptrap goes way back.) I may go there when I'm bored enough to find gossip entertaining, but I'd never expect to learn anything.

In one such fit of intellectual lassitude, I stumbled across the following image. Not only did it worsen my ennui, it summed up in one image everything I detest about the Internet's top blog.

And there you have it. Arianna Huffington appearing with a cartoon dog on the show of the equally light-weight Bill Maher. (It should be noted that the intellectual shallowness and vanity of Brian, the talking dog there with Arianna, is one of "Family Guy"'s frequent jokes.)

Katherine Graham, she ain't.


Final thoughts on the Willow Palin brouhaha

In my post from yesterday, I included a link to a Slate article about a recent kerfuffle involving the older Palin girls, some detractors, and Facebook. Sully, unsurprisingly, thinks the girls' comments are fair game, while some of his readers are taking him to task. Even though I think it's pretty clear that our friend Andrew sometimes goes off the deep end in his hatred for all things Palin, I tend to take his side on this.

First, for those of you lacking sufficient interest to click through to Slate, the crux of the story is that Willow Palin (who is 16 and in high school) and her older sister Bristol ("do as I say, not as I did" abstinence proponent, dancing "star") got into a heated online exchange with various critics on Facebook. During the course of this back-and-forth, Willow called someone a "faggot," as well as "gay" in a clearly pejorative sense.

Second, some background on me. When I was 15, I made a series of prank phone calls that ended up getting an entirely innocent friend into trouble. I did this because, in the manner of many 15-year-olds, I was an incredible dumbass. My mother did not chalk it up to youthful indiscretion, but instead marched me through our neighborhood to my friend's house so I could have the privilege of apologizing to him and his parents in person. By doing this, she engaged in an ancient practice known as "parenting."

I gather from the Slate article that Bristol has apologized. (I cannot access the link from my current computer, so you'll have to see for yourself.) Good. Willow should also be expected to apologize, and any failure to do so is, in my opinion, fair game for public commentary.

I believe this for two reasons. First of all, 16 is plenty old to know better than to use a hateful slur. If she had used a racial or ethnic epithet, I cannot imagine anyone defending her based upon her age. "Faggot" is absolutely unacceptable for use by anyone, and the daughter of a political megastar and potential presidential contender is, fair or not, held to an even higher standard. The average kindergartner knows not to call someone nasty names, and a high school student has no excuse.

Finally, if anyone has a publicly accessible Facebook page, that person should expect the public's attention and judgment. If that person is (or is related to) a celebrity, all the more. This is an intrinsic risk to its use. If your teenager wrecks your car, you take away the keys. If your teenager uses a word that denigrates not just the intended target but an entire category of people in a public manner, your teenager should apologize in a similar manner. Using Facebook is not a right, and if you feel your daughter is being unfairly scrutinized for her immature and inflammatory use thereof, then she should not be using Facebook.

Do I think this should go any further than an apology from Willow? No. She did not ask to be her mother's daughter, and her transgression is commensurate with her age. (See above re: teenagers, dumbass nature of.) An apology will suffice. But the young woman displayed her poor judgment for the whole world to see, and now the whole world has seen it.

Them's the brakes.


Palins a-gogo

Let me get this out of my system first. While it won't change the balance of power in the Senate one bit, Lisa Murkowski's victory in her write-in bid for re-election was a set-back for Sarah Palin, who backed her opponent. I can't help but be happy about that, no matter how much I may not care for Lisa Murkowski herself. Neener, neener, neener.

Thank you. I feel better.

Now then, with my obvious dislike of Sarah Palin (politician) in mind, let's move on to Sarah Palin (reality show star). Because, yes... the other night the Better Half and I watched about half an hour of "Sarah Palin's Alaska."

All four of my regular readers may be tempted to tune out now. Hang in there! While I make no effort to hide my unalloyed contempt for Sarah Palin, I honestly tried to watch with an open mind. The world is a sad, drab, boring place if you've already made up your mind about everything already. I wanted to give it a shot.

I did not hate the woman in this show. Honestly, she reminded me a lot of the moms in the churches I grew up in. I didn't feel any of the instant dislike I normally feel when I see her in her political role. During the thirty minutes I spent with this woman, I wished her and her family well.

I also found her wholly uninteresting. I don't intend to watch again, so I may miss something, but it seemed a bit of a stretch to consider this a show about Alaska. It was very much in the vein of the various family-based reality shows already in existence, and just happened to be filmed in Alaska. The camera followed the family around and seemed far more interested in Willow's boyfriend (will he or won't he defy Sarah and run upstairs to spend time with her teenage daughter unsupervised?) than in the glories of the state. For her part, Palin didn't seem to be all that authoritative a guide to Alaska when they were out in its natural wonder. While I don't know the first thing about hunting or fishing, and thus can't criticize her skills in those areas, I do wonder why she let her boat (with her kids on it) get so close to a mother bear and her cubs, or why she tried so vainly to get the kids to stop growling at them. If you didn't know that she used to be governor, you'd have no idea why anyone would ask her opinion about Alaska. Her insights seemed banal, at best.

What I absolutely cannot understand is how she thinks this show will in any way enhance her chances for a 2012 White House run. What comes across is her inescapable ordinariness. She reacts to the presence of a next-door reporter with the same kinds of trite self-reassurances you'd expect from any other random mom, not with the poise one would expect from someone seeking to become the most scrutinized person in the world. (As others have noted, it is deeply ironic that she gripes about having her privacy invaded in the presence of a reality show camera crew.) She's not all that interesting or charismatic. As noted already, she seems powerless to shush a child in the presence of bears or keep her daughter's boyfriend from going upstairs with her. How on earth is she going to negotiate a trade agreement with South Korea?

I know that Sarah Palin's next-door-neighbor supposed normality is one of her biggest selling points, but she cannot simultaneously strive to become the most powerful person in the world while chafing under the scrutiny said pursuit entails. She cannot plausibly champion abstinence-only sex education while ineptly keeping her eye on her teenage daughter's boyfriend -- not after her older daughter became such a famously unwed mother herself. (And memo to those daughters -- "faggot" is an unspeakably ugly word, and if you're too immature to handle the pressures of your mother's fame with grace, then you need to cancel your Facebook accounts.) She cannot proclaim her preference for being outside than stuck in some office and then expect us to consider her qualified for the oval one.

Lord knows, I hardly claim to understand the mind of America. Maybe I'm profoundly wrong, and somehow this show will help her chances in a way I'm missing. But I imagine even her fans will see this show and picture her as a part of their prime-time schedule but not the leader of their country.


Sharing my pain

Three random times in my life, I have been told by three unrelated people that I reminded them of a certain character from a certain late 80s-early 90s Saturday morning sitcom. I have never considered the comparison flattering, and actually stopped the last person mid-sentence and said "Do not proceed with this comparison unless you are absolutely certain I will take it as a compliment." Alas, proceed he did, and complimented I was not. He then seemed genuinely perplexed when I became notably pissed off.

All of this is to say that Hadley Freeman's advice this week should be treated as gospel by everyone the world over.
Of course, opinions vary on the good looks or otherwise of actors and one person's quirky is another person's gorgeous. But a good rule of thumb here is that, unless you're telling someone that they resemble Julianne Moore or Johnny Depp, zeep the leep. Really, it's like congratulating someone on being pregnant when, in fact, they may just have had a second helping of lunch: why take the unnecessary risk?
Amen. Learn it. Live it.

Why I am not bothered by the sight of minarets

Burt Likko has a great post about Islamophobia over at Not a Potted Plant. (On that note, are you reading Not a Potted Plant? If not, I'd recommend that you start.) He writes:
So are there violent, awful, morally indefensible passages in the Koran. Damn skippy there are. Are there Muslims who nevertheless believe in an act upon these morally indefensible passages? Sadly, yes. Those people are, as I mentioned above, "criminals." They should be treated like criminals. Their coreligionists, however, do not deserve to be treated like criminals until and unless they too commit criminal acts. And those in charge of the governmental powers need to be careful about the kinds of acts that they criminalize.


To claim that this is a "Christian nation" and therefore that Christianity is entitled to special, favorable treatment by the government takes away the bulwark of separation of church and state. What will the Christian nation advocates claim if and when Muslims outnumber them at the ballot box and suddenly America is proclaimed to be a "Muslim nation?" They will have already established that the government may favor the majority's religion -- and should they then find themselves in the minority, there will not be the Constitutional guarantee against Establishment of a religion to protect their rights.

What Burt refrains from saying, but where I would like to go, is that calling America a "Christian nation" in no way makes me like it any more. Presuming that America's majority religion confers greater moral authority than it otherwise would have is, frankly, bonkers. And I say this as a church-going Christian, unlike Burt.

First of all, the Bible is just as laden with violent, morally-indefensible passages as the Koran. (Hum the last few bars of Psalm 137, for example.) We like to overlook them, but they're there. It's best that we not get into an argument about which religion's holy book is less violent than the other, because it's an argument nobody wins.

But more than that, being "Christian" has hardly stopped anyone from committing atrocities every bit as monstrous as those perpetrated on 9/11. Within the last century,. the populations of several Christian nations were all to happy to ruthlessly murder (or abet the murder of) 6 million of their friends and neighbors for the simple fact that their religion wasn't Christianity. (Nobody can dispute that many of the courageous people who saved Jews during the Holocaust were Christian, just as I can easily point to many Muslims who are just as appalled by Islamic terrorists as I am.) Lest we comfort ourselves that such horrors are fading into the past, let's not forget Christian Serbs were likewise willing to murder 8,000 Muslims all too recently. Being a majority Christian nation hardly seems to confer a protective effect when other means of maintaining a civil society break down.

Turning our eyes to our own country, being Christian seems to have served as no barrier to those who were otherwise intent on acting on their worst impulses. Does anyone doubt that the domestic terrorist group the Ku Klux Klan was (and is) composed of people who considered themselves Christian? Did they not systematically murder and otherwise brutalize their black (or Catholic) fellow Christians, as well as Jews?

Finally, if you happen to be a gay or lesbian like me, living in a nation that prides itself on its Christianity doesn't seem to make life any better. Given their druthers, some of the worst of these Christians would happily march me off to death camps, I have no doubt. (I'm referring to the Westboro Baptist Church, but there's no way on earth that I'm linking to them.) Prominent members of the Christian Right have very publicly stated that people like me should be barred from certain professions, and would probably include my own profession if pressed. And I have heard in churches, with my own ears, that gay people are out to spread AIDS, and deserve to be shipped off somewhere remote, away from decent people. You'll forgive me if I am not exactly delighted when our leaders choose to burnish their Christian credentials.

Now, there are many, many wonderful Christians, and I happen to be a member of a church that (by and large) strives to do right in the world in a manner consistent with my own values. But just as I would never conflate them with the likes of Fred Phelps, neither would I tar my Muslim friends with the brush of Mohamed Atta.

I fight fundamentalist Christianity in two ways. I do so first by demanding a separation between private religious beliefs and public policy, and by supporting the constitutional freedoms that allow everyone to participate fully and equally in our civic life, regardless of religion or lack thereof. And I do so by participating in the life of a church that presents a progressive moral message in keeping with what I believe Jesus really had to say, in counter to the narrow theology of those on the Right.

It seems obvious to me that the answer to the question of how to deal with Islam in our country is not to destroy its beautiful legacy of religious freedom. It lies in differentiating between moderate Islam and its radical elements, and welcoming the former to participate in American society like any other religion. This is why the whole Park 51 fiasco has been so counterproductive. The answer is found in an intelligent recognition of human variability within the whole that is any religious community, and supporting those elements that best exemplify the values we cherish as a nation.


Just a little reminder

Yemen has been in the news rather a lot recently, and is likely to remain so for the indefinite future.

For any of you who may be interested in a truly informed perspective about Yemen, I'd politely refer you over to a little gem of a blog, Always Judged Guilty. It's written by my old pal Brian, and gives information about a little-understood country that you're unlikely to find anywhere else.

The moral abyss that is Glenn Beck

Let me see if I understand something. Rick Sanchez loosely suggests that Jews control the media, and CNN cans him. Juan Williams loosely conflates traditionally garbed Muslims with terrorists, and NPR cans him. Keith Olbermann donates money to three Democrats, and MSNBC suspends him. But Fox? It seems they'll defend anything.

From the Times:
Throughout three programs this week, Mr. Beck has portrayed Mr. Soros, a billionaire investor and philanthropist, as a “puppet master” who is “notorious for collapsing economies and regimes all around the world” and whose “next target” is the United States. Citing Mr. Soros’s statements about the decline of the dollar, Mr. Beck said, “Not only does he want to bring America to her knees, financially, he wants to reap obscene profits off us as well.”

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, took issue with Mr. Beck’s depiction of Mr. Soros as a “Jewish boy helping sending the Jews to the death camps,” calling it “offensive” and “horrific.”

On Tuesday on his Fox program, watched by about 2.8 million people, Mr. Beck said that during the Holocaust, the 14-year-old Mr. Soros “used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off.”

Mr. Beck continued: “I am certainly not saying that George Soros enjoyed that, even had a choice. I mean, he’s 14 years old. He was surviving. So I’m not making a judgment. That’s between him and God.” He also said that “many people” would call Mr. Soros “an anti-Semite,” though “I will not.”

I seem to have misplaced my copy of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," so I can't be sure from exactly which page Beck drew his inspiration for the slurs against Mr. Soros. Let's just be clear about something, however. The moral black whole that is Glenn Beck is absolutely trafficking in the rankest, most offensive anti-Semitic rhetoric in his attacks on George Soros.

Further, let's just note that mealy-mouthed way of slandering Mr. Soros while pretending that he's doing no such thing. "Many people" might call George Soros "an anti-Semite," says Beck, but not him. Not good old Christian Glenn.

Many people might say that Glenn Beck vivisects small children, but not me.

Of course, Fox News recognizes that Beck is a disgrace and a blemish on American society at large, right?
Fox stood by Mr. Beck. Joel Cheatwood, a senior vice president at Fox News, said in a statement Thursday afternoon that the “information regarding Mr. Soros’s experiences growing up were taken directly from his writings and from interviews given by him to the media, and no negative opinion was offered as to his actions as a child.”
Outstanding! "No negative opinion" was offered about his being a "Jewish boy helping sending the Jews to the death camps." Good luck parsing that one, readers!

Glenn Beck is a race-baiter who sickeningly exploits one of humanity's darkest episodes to attack a person whose politics he abhors. I find myself lacking the words to describe the depths of my disgust for his man, and for the craven fools who provide him with a platform.


Standing on principle

Last week, I lamented the fates of three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were voted out of office because of their support for marriage equality. My distress was due in part to their losing their jobs for a cause I consider just, and in larger part because of my desire to see judges insulated from the whims of the public.

Andrew Sullivan flags a case from Washington where the converse seems to be occuring:
Justice Sanders's gay marriage ruling wasn't the only issue in this race, of course. But it was a big issue here in liberal, gay-friendly King County, where more than 58-percent of voters have backed [opponent, Charlie] Wiggins in returns so far. If not for the large pro-Wiggins margin in King County, Justice Sanders, who at present is down by just 3,603 votes, would be headed for six more years on the high court.
It would be easy for me to smile at this result and move on, but to do so would be intellectually bankrupt. I cannot bemoan one judicial group's electoral ouster because of a ruling I liked then celebrate the same process when it hurts a judge whose ruling I disliked. I object to judges being subject to the opinions of the electorate across the board, and find the comfort of Justice Sanders's ouster cold indeed.

Somewhere Sara Moulton is weeping

Have you ever felt inept in the kitchen? Worried that cooking is just too difficult? Confused by all those steps in the average recipe?

Thank God for Rachel Ray. Thanks to her, now everyone can make "late night bacon."

(Careful readers may find it amusing to compare the listed "cook time" and the time given in the instructions.)

Next up, recipes for orange juice and toast.


Stand by your manicurist?

The other day, the Better Half and I were watching some show on some network when an ad for the CMA Awards played. [On that note, confidential to Leann Rimes -- crying during a softball interview is not sufficient penance for stealing someone's husband.] Just as the ad was closing, I turned to the Better Half and said "Holy crap, was that Gwyneth Paltrow?" Thanks to the magic of DVR, I can confirm that it was Gwyneth Paltrow, erumpent country star.

Before I proceed, let me make clear that I am not making fun of country music. While it's not my favorite music in the world, there are some songs and artists I enjoy. The whole Dixie Chicks brouhaha was unfortunate, but in general I don't have a beef with the twangy side of the dial.

In fact, I'm a wee bit offended on country's behalf. To digress, there are a variety of jobs I know I will never hold. Supreme Court justice, for example. Starting forward on a professional basketball team. (I don't even know what a starting forward does.) The next James Bond. You get the idea.

To that list, you may add "rap star." I have a perfect combination of lily whiteness ("Jewish on one side" seems unhelpful, at best, in this particular instance), lack of appreciation for the form and an abiding dearth of talent for same. Rap fans the world over would recognize me as wholly deficient in legitimacy when it comes to their music of choice.

And so it is with Gwyneth Paltrow. Few women seem less country that Gwyneth Paltrow. She went to Spence. She used to be besties with Madonna. And she is the creator of the world's most pretentious website, perhaps of all time. She makes Jessica Simpson look like Loretta Lynn.

I know this is all probably just publicity for her new film role, but the CMA ad certainly seemed to be selling her performance as some kind of country debut. I don't expect her to spend a decade laboring on a failing sorghum farm, but isn't Gwyneth Paltrow clearly foreign to the ethos of country music? Am I wrong in finding this blatant co-opting preposterous?



Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't see you there. I was too busy banging my head against the wall after learning something fun and new about the state where I was born.

Via TPM:
State Rep. Timothy W. Jones (R-Eureka) of the Missouri House of Representatives was unanimously elected by the new Republican caucus to be the next Majority Floor Leader. Why is that newsworthy? Because he was represented by "Birther Queen" Orly Taitz in a federal case alleging that President Barack Obama was secretly an Indonesian named Barry Soetoro and ineligible to be President of the United States.
First of all, I'm saddened that Rep. Jones (R - Kuiper Belt) is too dumb even to get his reactionary claptrap straight. I think we can all agree that President Obama is supposed to be secretly Kenyan, not Indonesian.

My frustration level has finally gotten the better of me with this, so I'm going to reveal something I've refrained from mentioning up until now. When I lived in New York, I met and became friendly with a young woman named Maya Soetoro thanks to a mutual friend. Maya, as it happens, is a really cool lady, and one of the biggest regrets of my life is that I didn't attend her wedding when I was invited because I couldn't afford to fly to Hawaii. If I had attended, I would have met her then-obscure half-brother, Barack Obama.

Now, maybe I'm just biased about the thinly-veiled racism of birther horseshit because I know the President's sister. (It is for this reason, among many others, that I am also deeply skeptical that he is a crypto-Muslim.) Or maybe it's that the birther conspiracy is such obvious horseshit that anyone who publicly ("unapologetic"-ally, per that lunatic Taitz) supports it is flagrantly unqualified for elective office.

And thus, it is with unalloyed pride that I see my home state elevate one such moron to lead its legislature. Strong work, Missouri. Strong work.


One last thing about Tuesday

The Better Half and I opted to watch the election coverage on MSNBC, rather than our usual choice of CNN. "Hey," thought we. "Our party is going to go down in flames. Better to watch it through the comforting perspective of fellow liberals."

Bleah. Never again.

It turns out that my appetite for left-wing sarcasm and self-satisfaction is no greater than that for the right-wing variety. (Well, okay... maybe a little greater.) The hosts invited various Republicans on solely for the purpose of brow-beating them and talking over them. While I understand the visceral appeal in doing so, it's hardly the kind of thing that qualifies as "news" or "analysis." It's heckling, and if I want it I know where to go.

Further, speaking of analysis, what I heard this Tuesday night was piss-poor. And I'm looking at you, Maddow. (First Jon Stewart, and now Rachel Maddow. I really am going to have to turn in my Good Liberal card.) As far as cable talk show hosts go, she's better than most. But her take on Russ Feingold's loss was terrible. She blamed it on a lack of support from the national party, due to his being such a thorn in their left flank.

Wrong. First of all, if Harry Reid is going to bend over backwards to keep a man who endorsed the GOP nominee for President in the Democratic caucus, it is preposterous to think that the Democrats are going to let a Senate seat go just because they don't like the guy holding it. But even if the explanation made sense on its face, a very little digging would have revealed that Feingold eschewed support from the national party on principle. From TNR:
Ironically, a big factor in Feingold's struggles may be the stubborn independence he's supposedly lost. Consistent with his longtime opposition to unlimited campaign spending by outside groups, Feingold has told organizations that support him, including the Democratic Senatorial Senate Committee, to stay away from his race. The Sunlight Foundation has calculated that outside groups have spent around $2.7 million on advertisements in the Wisconsin Senate campaign. Of that, $2.67 million have been on ads against Feingold or for Johnson.
I am not paid to speak intelligently about politics (and that's why I don't! Hey-o!), and yet I knew this. What with the research staff and high salary and all, you'd think Rachel Maddow could do better than such superficial, facile blather.

Say what you will about them, at least CNN makes an attempt to have analysts that represent both sides of the political spectrum. Their analysis is often shallow and an endless regurgitation of whatever conventional wisdom is emerging, but they're not nearly so damned smug.

Plus, that Anderson Cooper is dreamy.


There are liars

And then there's Michele Bachmann.

Making no peace

The political outcome I found most horrifying and depressing by far came out of Iowa. From the Times:
An unprecedented vote to remove three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were part of the unanimous decision that legalized same-sex marriage in the state was celebrated by conservatives as a popular rebuke of judicial overreach, even as it alarmed proponents of an independent judiciary.


The most sustained effort to oust judges in this election cycle was in Iowa, where out-of-state organizations opposed to gay marriage, including the National Organization for Marriage and the American Family Association, poured money into the removal campaign. Judges face no opponents in retention elections and simply need to win more yes votes than no votes to go on to another eight-year term. In Iowa, the three ousted justices did not raise campaign money, and they only made public appearances defending themselves toward the end of the election.
This result is appalling to me on two levels.

The first and most obvious reason for my dismay is that, once again, people have lashed out against marriage equality. I do not now and will not ever understand how depriving me and people like me of equality and legal protection in any way improves the lives of anyone else. The amount of energy and money that goes into making our lives worse makes nobody's lives better, with the possible exception of the demagogues and leeches who make their living fueling this fire.

But a deeper reason for dismay lurks, having little to do with the proximate cause of these judges' dismissal. They lost their jobs for having made an unpopular decision. Judges must be free to make unpopular decisions. That is the entire point of having an unelected, independent judiciary. It exists in no small part to protect the rights of the unpopular against the whims of the majority.

This result does nothing to change the status of marriage equality in Iowa, thanks be to God. It reflects the persistence of a bigoted few to sway the minds of a majority afraid of change. And it makes our country and their state a little bit less free and a little bit more unjust.

Making my peace, writ large

Wouldn't it have been nice if my side had kept the House?

Eh. I'm not so sure. For the past two years, the GOP has had no stake in governing. They could (and did) obstruct just about everything and claim to have no voice in crafting legislation or setting the agenda. They had no skin in the game. It doesn't break my heart to have lost the House, and now we can all stop listening to how awful that awful, awful Nancy Pelosi is. (Awful.)

Having said that, it is preposterous to call the results on Tuesday anything but a big-time loss for the Democrats. The country obviously thinks what it needs is Even More Change, and is none-too-happy with President Obama and the Democrats' (perceived) agenda. (And Nancy Pelosi? Awful. I hear she eats children.) If the Democrats had held the House, it would have been a glorious repudiation of the Tea Party movement, the goals of which I find a combination of absurd, ill-informed and horrifying, to say nothing of its idiot Queen. The time for snickering at their poorly-worded signs is long past. They're here, it's clear, get used to it.

But... no Sen. Angle. No Gov. Tancredo. No Sen. O'Donnell. No Gov. Paladino. Probably no Sen. Miller. Mirabile dictu. No matter how much they may not like Harry Reid (who, doncha know, hangs out with that awful Nancy Pelosi), voters in Nevada at least recognized that Sharron Angle is a dangerous lunatic. I can find reasons enough to be happy, and a blue Senate is enough to stymie the worst of the excesses of our tea-drinking friends.

Further, both the state where I live and the state where I work have kept their House delegations in the hands of my party. There are still some strong and effective liberal voices in Congress. Everything's not lost.

Lastly, I happen to think this election is a mixed-bag at best for Sarah Palin. The primary voters who listened to her are probably responsible for keeping the Senate in Democratic control. The candidate she endorsed in her home state is likely to be defeated by a despised political rival. As hilariously varied as the Palin-analysis has been, put me on the side of those who think this was not a great night for her.

So, while I'm not thrilled by this week's results, neither am I looking for a window to jump out of. We'll see where this goes, America.

Making my peace, writ small

Let us acknowledge right off the bat that I am not happy with the results of Tuesday's election. Our merry, wee band of regular readers will find this unsurprising. I was prepared for results like these, but it didn't make me at all happy when they actually came to pass.

However, there's really no benefit in complaining about how things turned out. For eight years I lived with W. in the White House, four of which following an election in which he was the unambiguous winner. Last year I had to accept that the voters of Maine really just didn't want me and the Better Half to get married. Life has given me ample opportunity to learn coping skills.

The first thing I will say about the imminent reality of a Governor LePage is that his election says something beautiful about our country and my adopted state. This has nothing to do with his politics, which I find wholly objectionable. However, this man has succeeded despite coming from an absolutely appalling childhood. In addition to the particulars of his childhood, French-speaking people have suffered discrimination in Maine for generations. That he has been elected governor despite such adverse circumstances speaks to a personal resilience that merits respect, and that a person born into poverty and abuse can rise to high elected office reminds me of the best in our country. I'm not happy he'll be our next governor, but there are reasons to applaud the result.

I am troubled, also, by the GOP take-over of both houses of our legislature, which hasn't happened for decades. For people dependent on public services for their health care, housing, etc., I think this bodes very poorly.

From a strictly selfish point of view, it's not that hard to find a bright side. I no longer work in Maine, and so won't have to face the reality of an increasingly stressed and deprived patient population with few resources to help them. (I am truly concerned about how this will affect my former colleagues.) While I still live in Maine, it is now in a more affluent area where people have more resources. And I am fortunate to have a good job out of state. While this election probably puts the kibosh on marriage equality for at least another four years, I hardly expected it to be otherwise anyway after last year's heart-rending referendum.

So maybe it's easy for me to look at this result stoically. I'm not entirely sure what the people of Maine are saying with this vote, but the one thing that's clear is that they don't want Democrats in charge (for now). I happen to think this will be bad for the state, but the state has spoken for itself. (Certainly having a profoundly unpopular departing incumbent didn't help.) Better we live in a system where voters can make decisions I find disagreeable than in a system where decisions are imposed upon us.

We'll see where this goes, Maine. Here's hoping for the best.


Not that I have anything against sanity

I watched Jon Stewart's closing speech at the "Rally for Sanity," and have to say that I wasn't all that terribly impressed. (I will now be forced to turn in my Good Liberal card.) I dunno. Watch for yourself. [Please let me know in comments if there's trouble with the embedded video; I can't watch it from this computer.]

This is all very well, but seems a wee bit like feel-good pabulum.

As a reminder that there is more to life and to our country than politics, this serves a good purpose. As a media critique, it's rather like biting the hand that feeds you, since without the 24-hour cable news culture we live in, "The Daily Show" would have precious little material to work with. And it's all very well to make warm-hearted pronouncements when people aren't expecting you to do anything more than entertain.

But here's the thing -- much (though hardly all) of the noise and heat that surrounds our national dialogue (or, perhaps, arguments) is due to the fact that our politics matter. A lot. There are issues of vital national importance at stake, and it is of the utmost importance that we can trust the people elected to do a good job managing them. Some issues get tons of press for no good reason, and others never get discussed on the campaign trail but have tremendous implications for our economy and foreign policy. And we need to have leaders who can sort these things out.

Now, I happen to think Obama is doing a decent job. Perhaps you don't. That's fine. And it's great to remind ourselves that we can all get along even though I think the POTUS is OK and you think he sucks. But what I cannot fathom is how many of the people on the cusp of election to Congress are profoundly unqualified in terms of competence, ideology or both. Think the Democrats are just awful? OK, but please offer reasonable alternatives.

If the GOP were to jettison its social conservative wing (which uses families like mine as a rhetorical weapon and with which I will make no peace), maybe we could have a conversation. Think the government is too big and spends too much? Alrighty then, tell we what you're willing to cut. But don't claim you can cut taxes without needing to make cuts in spending just because you know the cuts will be unpopular. Think we need to sacrifice some of our freedom to increase our security? I disagree, but let's figure out how to strike that balance. But don't associate yourself with unapologetic bigots.

I do not hate Republicans. There's many a family gathering where I keep my pie-hole shut because I know the room is full of people I love whose politics I find deeply problematic, and arguing will only delay the arrival of said pie. I would sincerely rejoice if the day arrived where I could once again consider voting for a Republican. But some of this year's likely winners are complete travesties, and saying "we're all in this together" and holding hands won't make them any more sane.

Update: Over to you, Michael Kazin.