Wednesday, December 31

Quote of the day

"The first lesson of economics is that we live in a universe of scarcity, and we face tradeoffs. The first lesson of politics is to ignore the first lesson of economics."

MJ Perry has more.

Tuesday, December 30

Wrapping up 2008

Dave Barry:
• In sports, the undefeated New England Patriots lose the Super Bowl to the New York Giants in a stunning upset that confounds the experts, not to mention Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which had $38 billion on the Pats to win.

• In economic news, the price of gasoline tops $4 a gallon, meaning the cost of filling up an average car is now $50, or, for Hummer owners, $17,500. Congress, responding to the financial pain of the American people, goes into partisan gridlock faster than ever before, with Republicans demanding that the oil companies immediately start drilling everywhere, including cemeteries, and Democrats calling for a massive effort to develop alternative energy sources such as wind, the sun, tides, comets, Al Gore and dragon breath, using technology expected to be perfected sometime this millennium. It soon becomes clear that Congress will not actually do anything, so Americans start buying less gasoline.

• Barack Obama, having secured North and South America, flies to Germany without using an airplane and gives a major speech -- speaking English and German simultaneously -- to 200,000 mesmerized Germans, who immediately elect him chancellor, prompting France to surrender.

• The CEOs of the Increasingly Small Three auto makers return to Washington to resume pleading for a bailout, this time telling Congress that if they can reach an agreement that day, they will throw in the undercoating, the satellite-radio package AND a set of floor mats. "We're actually LOSING MONEY on this deal!" they assure Congress. Finally they reach a $13.4 billion agreement under which the car companies will continue to provide jobs, medical insurance and pension benefits, but will cease producing actual cars. The agreement will be overseen by the federal government, using its legendary ability to keep things on budget.

• Tiger Woods, in an epic performance, wins the U.S. Open playing on an injured and very painful knee, thereby proving, beyond all doubt, that golf is not a real sport.
Ron Hart:

11. Doing nothing to dispel stereotypes about Southerners, Jamie Lynn Spears gave birth to a baby girl who, in turn, gave birth to a boy by year's end. Aunt Britney took time off to be with the kids and to teach them to smoke.

12. Upon further review, Sarah Palin proved to me that she should not be the future of the GOP since she is so much like the past. I am as fearful of her Religious Right side of the Party as she is of a follow-up question.

13. Caroline Kennedy, John Kerry, Ted Kennedy and Oprah endorsed Obama early in his campaign against Hillary and Clinton, Inc., providing him with an early boost. There is a good chance that they may all end up in a mass grave in Arkansas soon.

14. Despite transparent political pandering and palpable tension, Barack Obama appointed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, but only after careful vetting by the Obama transition team confirmed that she had no romantic links to Bill Clinton.

Monday, December 29

Study: Virginity pledges ineffective, correlate with unprotected sex

Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.
Here's Klein:
Teenagers who pledged to avoid sex until marriage were as likely to have intercourse as other U.S. adolescents," reports a new survey. Which would be fine. I don't much care if your first sexual encounter invalidates a pledge you took in 7th grade homeroom. The problem is, "teens who took the pledge also were less likely to use birth control pills or condoms than those making no promise." As Steve Benen comments, "The difference between teens who make abstinence pledges and teens who don't isn't sexual conduct, it's that those who make the pledges engage in more dangerous sexual conduct."

Right. So the data we have says that abstinence pledges are definitely ineffective and possibly harmful. I'd treat that last as a provisional result: It's not clear that the pledge is leading to more risky sex. It could be that the folks who take the pledge have less access to birth control, or less knowledge about it, or simply love the idea of teen pregnancy. More study needed, etc. And the bottom line remains: Efforts to fund abstinence only education in place of sex education are efforts to fund an increase in teen pregnancy and STD transmission. At this point, the data is too clear, and too overwhelming, to support any other conclusion.

It's actually not about denying marriage, it's about denying love

Prop 8’s real purpose? Denying the possibility of homosexual love.

This makes a lot of sense. Speaking as a former fundie, I can tell you with certainty that 10 years ago I would have claimed: "Homosexuals don't really love each other, it's just a sinful lust of the flesh!". And I was 100% convinced this claim was true.

But now that I've met gay people like Mr. Rodriguez who've lived with their partner for 30 years and well and truly love each other, I realize how terribly wrong I was.

Religious fundamentalists will not admit this. They are terrified of a society which openly acknowledges the genuineness of homosexual love. You need look no further than the repression of gays in the most insular Islamist societies to understand this sad reality.

Freedom & Guns

David Kopel is working on a paper titled Is There a Relationship between Guns and Freedom? Comparative Results from 59 Nations.

Money quote from the conclusion:
As a general (but not invariable rule), countries with more guns have more economic freedom, less corruption, and more economic success.
This will come as no surprise to we libertarians, but I imagine many liberals and paternalistic conservatives statists will be miffed.

However, does he really have to publish this article in the Texas Review of Law & Politics? Cue the snark!

Quote of the day

"Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great." --WFB, NR

He was talking about drug policy in that essay, but I figure the point is broadly applicable.

Sunday, December 28

A fundamentalist approach to movie criticism

Today I asked a couple fundies whether they'd be interested in watching a movie with me. Since I hate having to figure out their standards I decided to list all the unseen ones I had on my hard drive and let them choose. I opened a Rotten Tomatoes browser tab for each film and passed the computer to them. They were curious about the site, and I explained that it collects critical reviews.

We then branched into a discussion of movie criticism proper. They expressed some outrage at critics having poorly rated one of their favorite films, Fireproof. They concluded that the critics' opinions were too divorced from reality and of little use, citing the fact that Fireproof had "changed peoples lives for the better". I directed them to the Daily Beast review I was familiar with and attempted to explain why a movie critic wouldn't see artistic value to Fireproof, but they were quite outraged by it all; I couldn't even get them to read the whole review.

To my mind this just goes to show that the review was quite right in concluding that:
in making evangelism—and acceptability to the most insular Christian audiences—a priority, Christianese films all but guarantee artistic failure. Art demands an honesty that the evangelical bubble would find intolerable. Committed to promoting an unambiguous message that God solves all problems, Fireproof never portrays Christians doing anything untoward, or even experiencing any sorrow. Caleb’s parents’ marital struggles pre-dated their Christianity. When Caleb’s best friend reveals that he divorced his first wife, he not only says it was before he found the Lord, but adds that after he did, he would have gotten back together with his ex had she not already remarried. In the perfect world of Fireproof, good Christians do not have bad marriages, any more than they drink, gamble or swear.
They of course differed and cited Fireproof's success, claiming it was going to be one of the "top 25 movies", and concluding that critics rated it poorly because it "bypassed Hollywood and didn't conform to [Hollywood's] standards".

I'm reminded of Stephen Colbert repeatedly claiming we now know global warming to be true because "Al Gore's movie made money," and hence "the free market has spoken".

By the same logic you could try to argue most Britney Spears albums are artistic masterpieces, Paris Hilton is a wondrous actress, etc.

In reality Fireproof is very likely an unimpressive film whose success is driven by evangelical fervor rather than any artistic, technical, or creative achievement. I say "very likely" instead of making a definitive assessment because I haven't actually seen it myself, and based on reviews am unlikely to do so. After all, isn't that the whole point of checking critical reviews before deciding to sit through a movie?

Now it's certainly true that Fireproof may have "changed peoples lives" the same way, say, a "powerful sermon" might. And that's fine. It's a preachy film rather than an arty or creative one. There is certainly a place for such things. But that place bears more resemblance to the DVD collection of your neighborhood's Bible Study group than that of your local film festival.

The arrogance of Cheney and the appeals court of history

Just staggering. And he thinks Bush will be popular in 30 years.

Sullivan recalled a comment on Tacitus:
It is not, as I gather, that Tacitus lacks veracity. What he lacks is what in the Thirties used to be called "the long view" of history. But to minds of a certain sensitivity "the long view" is the falsest historical view of all, and indeed the insistence on the length of perspective is intended precisely to overcome sensitivity---seen from sufficient distance, it says, the corpse and the hacked limbs are not so very terrible, and eventually they even begin to compose themselves into a "meaningful pattern."

On scientific engagement & welcoming disagreement

Gibbs: Obama "Wants And Expects" Disagreement Within His Administration
In an interview with ABC News, incoming White House press secretary Robert Gibbs responded to the idea that Obama's politically diverse cabinet could lead to serious internal divisions. "I think the far greater risk is assembling a group of people that whenever the president opens their mouth they all nod their heads in agreement," said Gibbs, adding that Obama "wants and expects there to be disagreement within that room," with Obama making the final decisions.
Isn't it nice having an adult in charge?

Why, just the other day:
"My administration will value science," Obama said, in what sounded like a pointed reference to his predecessor. "We will make decisions based on facts."
Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Let's hope it's as delicious as advertised.

As you may recall, the last one didn't turn out that way. Remember this guy?

Politically incorrect truth of the day

A large number of Africans have primitive tribal belief systems and low IQs. They stand to benefit significantly from widespread conversion to any major monotheistic religion.

Corollary: the mean African IQ is as-of-yet insufficient to support a flourishing community of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics, and some Buddhists) who reject supernatural superstition.

For more on this, see Secular Right and the comments.

For a background example on how religion relates to IQ, see this fascinating plot vs. biblical literalism.

Climate change denialism watch

Meme: 2008 was the year manmade global warming was disproved

Here we go again . . . people thinking areas with colder-than-normal temperatures proves the planet's mean temperature couldn't possibly warming. *facepalm*

Let's hope someone knowledgeable gives this a good fisk.

Update: Ok, here's Liberal Values:
While of course this would be fantastic if true, the article provides nothing of value other than for an excellent example of scientific illiteracy and how conservative science-illiterate bloggers will accept any misinformation which supports their ideological biases.

The biggest mistake is to think one can obtain scientific information from an op-ed piece rather than from peer reviewed scientific literature. The op-ed’s arguments come down to 1) it has been cold outside and therefore global warming is a hoax and 2) some meteorologist and others who are not experts in the field of climate change (not actually “many of the world’s most eminent climate experts”) do not believe the overwhelming consensus among those actually in the field, therefore there is no consensus.

But of course, as can be seen on the meme, conservative bloggers ate it up, going so far as to praise the "journalistic integrity" of UK's Telegraph.

Update II: A science blog retorts.

A tale of reckless greed

(meme) By Saying Yes, WaMu Built Empire on Shaky Loans

hilzoy summarizes

On the broader subject, last week Drezner round up five useful guides to the current crisis.

Friday, December 26

"Please don't divorce us"

Ask any equal marriage opponent you know to please watch this slideshow and explain why he or she insists on making life choices for others.

Tuesday, December 23

Exerpt of the day

Re-reading The Audacity of Hope this season, I came across this passage:
...for those of us who believe that government has a role to play in promoting opportunity and prosperity for all Americans, a polarized electorate isn't good enough. Eking out a bare Democratic majority isn't good enough. What's needed is a broad majority of Americans--Democrats, Republicans, and independents of goodwill--who are reengaged in the project of national renewal, and who see their own self-interest as inextricably linked to the interests of others.

I'm under no illusion that the task of building such a working majority will be easy. But it's what we must do, precisely because the task of solving America's problems will be hard. It will require tough choices, and it will require sacrifice. Unless political leaders are open to new ideas and not just new packaging, we won't change enough hearts and minds to initiate a serious energy policy or tame the deficit. We won't have the popular support to craft a foreign policy that meets the challenges of globalization or terrorism without resorting to isolationism or eroding civil liberties. We won't have a mandate to overhaul America's broken healthcare system. And we won't have the broad political support or the effective strategies needed to lift large numbers of our fellow citizens out of poverty.

I made this same argument in a letter I sent to the left-leaning blog Daily Kos in September 2005, after a number of advocacy groups and activists had attacked some of my Democratic colleagues for voting to confirm Chief Justice John Roberts. My staff was a little nervous about the idea; since I had voted against Roberts' confirmation, they saw no reason for me to agitate such a vocal part of the Democratic base. But I had come to appreciate the give-and-take that the blogs afforded, and in the days following the posting of my letter, in true democratic fashion, more than six hundred people posted their comments. Some agreed with me. Others thought I was being too idealistic--that the kind of politics I was suggesting could not work in the face of the Republican PR machine. A sizable contingent thought that I had been "sent" by Washington elites to quell dissent in the ranks, and/or had been in Washington too long and was losing touch with the American people, and/or was--as one blogger later put it--simply an "idiot."

Maybe the critics are right. Maybe there's no escaping our great political divide, and endless clash of armies, and any attempts to alter the rules of engagement are futile. Or maybe the trivialization of politics has reached a point of no return, so that most people see it as just one more diversion, a sport, with politicians our paunch-bellied gladiators and those who bother to pay attention just fans on the sidelines: We paint our faces red or blue and cheer our side and boo their side, and if it takes a late hit or a cheap shot to beat the other team, so be it, for winning is all that matters.

But I don't think so.
That post is an interesting look back.

Yes we cannabis!

Esquire airs speculation:
Turns out, with several drug-war veterans close to the president-elect's ear, insiders think reform could come in Obama's second term -- or sooner.
Hurray for sanity. I concur with sometime after re-election seeming a politically expedient time.

Update: Upturned Earth throws some cold water. But I'll hold out some hope...a lot can change in eight years.

Saturday, December 20

Palin 2010, 2012, or 2016...

She just..won't..go...AWAY!!

AllahPundit ran this poll:

Are those my only 4 options? seriously?

Friday, December 19

We Call on You Lord: Leaked Rick Warren Invocation!

At HuffPost:
(NOTE: Copies of what seemed to be a draft of an inaugural invocation by Pastor Rick Warren arrived in the fax machines of several prominent journalists this morning. This site does not vouch for the authenticity of the draft, although each of the statements does conform to material in Pastor Warren's speeches, interviews, or on his websites.)

O Lord, as we come together on this historic and solemn occasion to inaugurate a president and vice president. We pray, O Lord, for President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden, to whom You have entrusted leadership of this nation at this moment in history.

We pray for their advisors and supporters, particularly their Jewish advisors and supporters, who will surely roast in hell if they do not abandon their refusal to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. Pray for the conversion of Obama chief advisor David Axelrod and his economic wise man Larry Summers, his early supporters Lester Crown and his campaign finance chair Penny Pritzker, for, as the Bible says, there will be a day when there will be a great revival of faith in God through Jesus among the Jewish people. (Romans 11). Obviously, this is a day that we, as believers in Christ, want to pray for! Let the light of Christian salvation come to the Jewish Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel and his family, some of whom survived the German effort to bring them to Christian truth in the last generation.

May all efforts to stop homosexuals from violating the ancient humanitarian institution of marriage succeed as did your will in California in the last election. Attend particularly, O lord, to President Obama's environmental chief Nancy Sutley, and to the man who has worked essentially without sleep for three months to save the American economy from total collapse, Representative Barney Frank. Use the government to bring an end to acts as bad as incest, pedophilia and polygamy, by stamping out homosexuality among the homosexuals, a people evolutionarily unfit, that we may truly become one nation before God. May the First Amendment to the Constitution protect all who want to compare homosexual sex to incest, pedophilia and polygamy from the arrows of hate speech accusations shot by the politically correct.

Change the hearts of the new administration's pro-choice advisors and supporters, including the Justices of the Supreme Court who stand here today with us: Holocaust denier Anthony Kennedy, holocaust denier Ruth Bader Ginzburg, holocaust denier David Souter, holocaust denier Stephen Breyer, and holocaust denier John Paul Stevens, who is about to swear in the Vice-President, in that abortion is a holocaust and the eighteen million or so women who have committed abortion in the thirty-five years since 1973 are thus no better than Nazis.

Bless the women, who have chosen to follow their ambitions into public life, but change the hearts, Lord, of Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano, United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis from independent lives of their own to submission to their husbands, if any, for I love the King James Version's rendition of Ephesians 5:22 "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands" and of course "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ if God." 1 Corinthians 11:3. These women have chosen to participate in the public life of the community. Enlighten them as to the requirement that women not speak in church, saving any questions they have about their common life to ask their husbands as they return home.

Now, O Lord, despite the plain language of the Constitution that created this great nation, we dedicate this presidential inaugural ceremony to You. May this be the beginning of a new dawn for America as we humble ourselves before You and acknowledge You alone as our Lord, our Savior and our Redeemer. We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Crazy football play

I liked the Benny Hill version. Tempo fits perfectly.

But I don't see how this can beat "The Play". Flattening a Tuba player in the end zone is too good.

Huckabee argues against equal marriage

Worth revisiting amidst the Warren hatefest:

Bad science

Douthat and Levin remind us that this can be a bipartisan undertaking.

Iain Murray snarks.

New "Center for Republican Renewal"

RNC Chairman Mike Duncan is pushing the right buttons, picking up the pieces as he tries for re-election.

I still want Michael Steele, but that's looking less likely in a crowded field now that the incumbent is in the ring.

"Yes We Can."

..will live a long life. It's even in furniture stores for goodness sake.

And deep down, you know you want to watch this thing one more time:

Thursday, December 18

Three cups of tea for Rick Warren

Hartmann at HuffPost goes there.

Waldman defended Warren a day earlier.

Southern outrage

It's absolutely outrageous that Obama's cabinet doesn't contain a single white southerner.

Humanity, pain, and patience

A reader helps focus my evolving and conflicting feelings and thoughts:

It’s obvious what Obama is trying to do by having Warren give the convocation at his inauguration, and it is understandable – but for me as a human being who was personally damaged by Warren’s theology and his church specifically, it is unforgivable. And to cover it over with vague rhetoric about a politics of inclusion and unity is similarly unforgivable.
It's a moving read in full.

Update: Now he posts Taking Yes For An Answer. Amen.

A matter of conscience is a matter of choice

WaPo looks at the Bush administration's new regs:
Leavitt has said the regulation was intended to protect workers who object to abortion, but both supporters and critics said the rule remains broad enough to protect pharmacists, doctors, nurses and others who do not wish to dispense birth control pills, Plan B emergency contraceptives and other forms of contraception. While primarily aimed at doctors and nurses, it offers protection to anyone -- including ultrasound technicians, nurses aides, secretaries and even janitors who have any role in the service.
What, is a janitor going to refuse to mop a room where abortions are performed?

In this context "rights of conscience" are straightforward choices, similar to "I don't do windows".

If you don't want to do windows that's fine. But some places may have doing windows as part of the job description and be less likely to hire you. That's an institution's call to make.

The appropriated purpose of these government funds is to provide services, not subsidize a lack of them.

In a sane world the extent to which a person's conscience limits the services that person is willing to provide should be directly related to the extent that person might not be hired or retained for a particular job which involves providing those services.

Bad move, Bush administration. You fail us again. Luckily this won't be too hard for Obama and the Democratic Congress to fix.

The anti-choice pro-lifer outraged over Warren

The other side of the story, gathered by David Brody:

From Dave:

I just lost a lot of respect for Rick Warren. How can someone who professes to be a Christian, put himself into a situation where other Christians would question him? Rick has done some good work however he just lost my respect.

From Larry:

I was saddened to read that Dr Warren will be praying at the inauguration. I different with him on almost all areas of theology, doctrine and church polity, though he holds himself out as a evangelical. I was devastated by the election. Not that a Democrat was elected, I'm more of a person not a party voter. Not that President Elect is a mixed race. I was devastated by a number of reasons and one grieves me most when I think of Dr Warren praying at the inauguration. As the result of one Supreme Court Decision, over 50 million babies have been murdered to date. The President Elect has in no uncertain terms pledged to continue the pro abortion agenda. How could around 54% of Catholics, 96% of African Americans, many who claim to be professing Bible Christians, @ 100% of Jewish Voters, who apparently have forgotten about the Holocaust and probably 50% or more of all kinds of other professing Bible Christians vote for the President Elect in light of his pro-abortion agenda? How? The same reason Dr Warren is going to pray at the inauguration. There is no real moral outrage in our Nation about Abortion. "Just words, just words," as the resident Elect said often in his campaign about his opposition. Words, but not real outrage and action.

From Pat:

This is terrible; this man call's himself a Christian????Barack H. Obama is the most PRO-DEATH president America has ever elected!!!!! He has said that as president he is going to pass the "Freedom of Choice Act" how can our country get any better with this type of MURDER?????? Mr. Warren school be ashamed of himself, protection of the unborn is the MOST IMPERATIVE issue as a Christian!!!!! For without life do we continue to have a society at all??? I think not!!!!!

God Bless & MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

From Mary:

Unless Rick Warren has changed, he is very disappointing in the pro-life cause. Just ask pro-life leaders their opinion. He doesn't like to deal with it at his church. It just seems funny that he is known as 'pro-life' when he largely ignores the subject and teaches others to do the same. I fear God for these 'men of God'. We have lost 50 million babies, and most won't say a word. Reminds me of Nazi Germany or our slavery days. Very few spoke out. It was more comfortable to keep quiet.

From Billy:

I was very disappointed when Rick Warren gave his pulpit over to Obama a year or so ago, concerning the AIDS epidemic. Obama is an unapologetic supporter of unrestricted abortion, which has been responsible for more deaths than all the years of AIDS. A little leaven leaveneth the whole loaf, and Mr Warren should realize that the leaven of compromise is the beginning of unending compromise.

From Anonymous:

When I first saw this headline, I thought it was a joke. For a man like Rick Warren to give the invocation for a man that has pledged to sign the Freedom of Choice Act is beyond the pale. Moreover, the Orwellian concept of “social justice” with which Pastor Warren is so enamored belongs in the dustbin of history. To the trained ear, “social justice” is nothing but political cover for yet another failed government-run welfare program. I am a Christian trying to live a Christian life, and I feel no guilt for my disdain for the latest civil-rights fad called “social justice.” I do not believe that anyone’s compassion for God’s children must be directly proportional to his or her support for wasteful government programs that do little more than ensure reelection.

From Anonymous:

This is one swearing in of a President I will NOT watch..especially with the sickening thought that Rick Warren will be there saying Lord knows what. His way and Obama's do not meet.

From Anonymous:

I have had about all I can stand of Rick Warren's double standards. WHOSE side is he really on anyway? I'm beginning to think all he cares about are his questionable political connections. When I saw your article announcing his participation in "that one's" so called inauguration ceremony it absolutely sickened me. It isn't enough Obama is so full of himself that he "thinks" he's God. - Apparently now Rick Warren believes he is too. This is a complete mockery of all things sacred.

So there you have it. Praying for presidents who happen to be pro-choice is bad.

Argumentum ad historum

Warren's statement contains several simple untruths. The first is that heterosexual marriage between one man and one woman for life has been endorsed by every religion and every culture for five thousand years. This is so obviously untrue it's telling about Warren's own lack of knowledge that he would repeat it. Polygamy has long been a strong contender against that model in many societies and cultures, including plenty of revered and holy figures in the Bible. Moreover, divorce altered the definition of marriage far, far more profoundly than any other change in human history. For good measure, many faiths in America already acknowledge and support gay unions and gay marriages. So Warren was simply wrong on many counts.
Aye aye. And this is a common Christianist talking point espoused by other statist political preachers like Mike Huckabee.

Need we remind them how many other injustices humanity has upheld in pre-modern times?

Forget those 5,000 years, let's just limit ourselves to the 232 of US history and what was overturned:

Racial slavery (Emancipation proclamation, 13th and 15th amendments)

Alpha male suffrage (14th, 19th, 24th, and 26th amendments)

Anti-miscegenation (Loving v. Virginia)

Anti-sodomy laws (Lawrence v. Texas)

All these things used to be the law of the land. And as recently as 1973 the American Psychiatric Association officially listed homosexuality as a mental disorder.

But we advanced, scientifically, philosophically, sociologically. We outgrew our prejudices, gained greater appreciation of our differences and not-so-differences. In short, we developed the modern tolerance of the "other", and are better for it.

Equal rights for gays will not infringe on religious or free speech liberties any more than civil divorce infringes on the Catholic church's asserted right to only recognize the sanctity of first marriages and only ordain male priests.

And legal gay marriages are the next logical step in our collective "life, liberty and pursuit of happiness" strive for equality.

In this, Warren and Huckabee are on the same side of history as a Jesse Helms: the wrong one.

Bush weighs "orderly" bankruptcy for automakers

Good news of sane compromise being considered by the administration in lieu of the failed bailout.

Here's Drum:
This is the "prepackaged bankruptcy" option that's been mooted a few times before. It actually sounds like a decent compromise to me: it keeps the companies from imploding in the middle of a huge recession, but at the same time it gives a bankruptcy court considerable leeway to impose serious restructuring of the kind that a political process probably can't. The end result — if it's done right — is a pair of companies that will end up smaller but still viable in the long term, and an economy that takes only a moderate hit instead of a killing blow. Call me tentatively in favor of this approach.
Donklephant goes on some more.

Megan chimes in.

I, Pencil

Celebrating 50 years.

Go take a read.

"should’ve done better, and a lot of other presidents would’ve done better."

Conor nibbles at Ross Douthat's formidable post on torture and what George Bush did for us.

Wednesday, December 17

Dept. of little things that make me smile

Reading a blog post discussing Obama's Secretary of Education pick and halfway through coming across a sentence beginning "When I was Secretary of Education,"

Apparently Mr. Bennett has some well-developed ideas of what he's talking about!

Flag of equal marriage

The site:
In 1902, when the Women's Suffrage movement was just getting warmed up, the American flag had 45 stars. In protest, the Suffragists created their own flag with only four stars, one for each state that allowed women to vote. This new flag is a protest flag for equal marriage rights. The flag only has two stars, for Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Via Digg:
Interestingly, the flag was made before the Prop 8 vote, so it originally had three stars. After the Prop 8 vote, the designer had to remove a star.
We'll win this fight eventually.

The real Blagojevich scandal

Cato and WaPo are on the case.
What’s far more worrisome is Blagojevich’s bizarre confrontation with the Bank of America. The day before he was arrested on charges of massive corruption, Blagojevich visited a group of striking workers at a North Chicago firm called Republic Windows & Doors. After being laid off the week before, the employees had begun a sit-in, demanding benefits they were still owed by their employer, which said it could not meet their demands because the Bank of America had cut off its financing. At this point, Blagojevich informed bank officials that unless they restored the shuttered window-and-door company’s line of credit, the state of Illinois would suspend all further business with Bank of America. A few days later, the bank caved in and ponied up a $1.35 million loan.

The idea that the governor of a state as prosperous and important and sophisticated and upscale as Illinois would make this kind of threat is terrifying. Even more terrifying is that Bank of America saw no alternative but to give in. Yet even more terrifying is that nobody outside Chicago seems to have gotten terribly worked up about the situation, riveted as they are on the governor’s more theatrical transgressions. But peddling a Senate seat or using scare tactics to shake down a newspaper are nowhere near so serious a menace to society as letting the government arbitrarily intervene in financial transactions between banks and creditors. A crooked governor we can all handle. But a governor who capriciously decides which commercial enterprises a bank must finance and which it can ignore is a scary proposition indeed.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. But get the wrong politician in office, and you can burn it in a day.

What the grandstanding Blagojevich reportedly attempted to do in the Republic Windows vs. Bank of America set-to is precisely the sort of thing that happens in China, where the government routinely orders up bank loans to politically connected firms. Whether a failing company actually deserves financing becomes irrelevant to the conversation; the government doesn’t want a company to fail, so it decides that it must not go under, even if it’s run by clowns, stooges, gangsters or in-laws.

Rick Warren is part of America too

The interwebs are aflutter with liberal outrage to Rick Warren's inaugural invocation.

Ambers defends Obama from the Human Rights Campaign's blistering criticism. Nice conclusion.

I probably disagree with upwards of 90% of Rick Warren's views. He's a statist and a Christianist, diametrically opposed to my libertarianism and atheism.

However, I'm not the only person in America. Rick Warren lives here too. The president of these United States is the president of a great many people, a sizeable subgroup of which identify with the views of one Rick Warren.

It's true that the hypocritically bigoted intolerance of people like Warren is indisputably bad in the eyes of anyone with a sufficiently developed & intellectually honest belief in equality. But people like him must have a place at the table.

It's difficult to convince a patient in denial that they need treatment if all you do is shout down their concerns.

Meanwhile, Jon Henke has the cynical take from the right.

Kennedy a serious contender for NY Senate

Andrew Sullivan et. al. have loudly decried this "fairy tale" as nepotism, arguing that she's never been elected to an office and isn't manifestedly qualified for it. (Sullivan argues that Palin would be more qualified, sadly enough)

Possibly. But Ms. Kennedy shunned the limelight intentionally, and there's some virtue to that.

Moreover, when your father and uncle have both been victims of political assassination, cries of nepotism at being given a chance to carry on their standard ring pretty hollow to me.

Kennedy is a NY and DC attorney who's written constitutional books and engaged in charitable public service.

Is she "patently qualified", as Sean wonders? No, but neither is she patently unqualified, and the polls indicate a fair level of support among Democrats. Yes, it's largely name-recognition-based, but see above about the assassinations. Rather than disqualifying her on nepotistic grounds, this "fairy tale" has something of an "arc of the universe bending towards justice" feel to me.

I trust Paterson will give her a fair hearing. The Larry King idea isn't too bad either, though I personally can't stand that particular show.

As far as her politics go, I gather they're close enough to HRC's for this to be a fair replacement. Clinton, by all accounts, will be fine with Kennedy replacing her.

Meanwhile, some on the right are having fun.

Provocation of the day

The importance of portraying 2 percent of the population as far more powerful than the 98 percent and the need to keep that 2 percent from destroying civilization - and allegedly making Christianity illegal - has some interesting historical forebears. --Andrew Sullivan on Christianists & gay marriage
He's right though. In some ways,

is to


is to

Obviously there are many ways in which the comparison doesn't hold.

But the ways in which it does are greater than a Christianist would have you believe.

Of course no one wants to be compared to Nazis. And if this comparison were made often, it could do more harm than good.

Nevertheless it's a valid point.

Dept. of things I didn't know

Obama's sister Maya is a high-school history teacher, and a Buddhist.

Some vids:

Pictures of the Year

This one is poignant.

Tuesday, December 16

That mix of "anger, uncertainty and guilt"

Ross posts Thinking About Torture.

There's some discussion at C11.

I think the post is very illuminating.

To answer the "Did we ask for it?" question for myself, I think I can offer a fairly emphatic NO. The special status of "enemy combatant" never made any sense to me. Ever.

We declared a "War on Terror". Bush has pounded the phrase in his speeches. So "prisoners of war" follow naturally.

Prisoners of war have rights. Regardless of what atrocities they've comitted: the Nazis, Japanese, Soviets, and Al Qaeda operatives all have the same rights when captured by the military.

The only alternative is civilian court, in whatever jurisdiction applies. Should the military decide someone is not suited to remaining a prisoner of war but still a criminal, then that person should be turned over to whatever civilian authorities claim jurisdiction.

Torture and torture-lite must never be legal options. We can conceive of a situation in which someone would have reason to decide the ends justify the means and go forward with these things. But when all is said and done, it was still illegal and must be prosecuted. Jury nullification and presidential pardons are the only recourse.

And if Officeholders like a President were involved, they should face impeachment.

No one is above the law.

Quote of the day

Since it's finals week:
You have just passed the bar in the State of Nirvana.
That's the first sentence of the final exam for the last University of Chicago Constitutional Law class taught by Prof. Obama in Fall 2003.

NYT piece here.

Monday, December 15

A Boo and some Yays

The first Open For Questions:
Q: "Will you lift the ban on Stem Cell research in your first 100 days in office?" James_M, Nashville, TN

A: President-elect Obama is a strong supporter of Federal funding for responsible stem cell research and he has pledged to reverse President Bush's restrictions.
Half-hearted Yay. (I'd rather we not federally fund any medical research, but so long as we're doing so let's go for the good stuff)
Q: "Will you consider legalizing marijuana so that the government can regulate it, tax it, put age limits on it, and create millions of new jobs and create a billion dollar industry right here in the U.S.?" S. Man, Denton

A: President-elect Obama is not in favor of the legalization of marijuana.
Boo! The evils of prohibition are vast! Hemp has a rich history. This policy is an utter failure and makes absolutely no sense.
Q: "What will you do as President to restore the Constitutional protections that have been subverted by the Bush Administration and how will you ensure that our system of checks and balances is renewed?" Kari, Seattle

A: President-elect Obama is deeply committed to restoring the rule of law and respecting constitutional checks and balances.That is why he has pledged to review Bush Administration executive orders. President-elect Obama will also end the abuse of signing statements, and put an end to the politicization that has taken place within the Department of Justice and return that agency to its historic and apolitical mission of fair and impartial administration of justice.
Double Yay!

There are a couple other questions, but those responses strike me as meaningless marketingspeak asside from the transparency promises that aren't worth reiterating.

Here's something better than the question about education, Greg Sargent:

It's been pointed out dozens of times that it's pretty cool to have an adult coming in as president, and today's Obama press conference -- now underway -- is a case in point.

At the presser, Obama made his "green team" official: Steven Chu, a physics Nobel laureate, is his new energy secretary. Carol Browner, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is the head of a new policy council to coordinate climate, environment and energy issues. And Lisa Jackson, the chief of staff for New Jersey's governor, is head of the EPA.

"My administration will value science," Obama said, in what sounded like a pointed reference to his predecessor. "We will make decisions based on facts."

Obama went on to describe combating global warming as "a leading priority of my presidency and a defining test of our time."

The glowing praise from liberals of Chu would seem to constitute yet another blow to the "angry left" meme. More broadly, Obama's lines today will encapsulate for liberals as strongly as anything Obama has said just how big the potential of the moment feels right now, since the previous administration's disdain for "science" and "facts" contributed perhaps as much as anything else to the nightmarish quality the last eight years held for them.
A bit of that's worth quoting again:
"My administration will value science," Obama said, in what sounded like a pointed reference to his predecessor. "We will make decisions based on facts."
Wohoo, we have an adult in charge!

What should the new Administration know about drugs?

Via Megan, some facts.

Sunday, December 14

Thursday, December 11

Condensed inspiration

Via C11.

Omens of quick change

Obama going to Cairo in January?

Color me optimistic, but I have a mental image of a reconciliation speech that will go down in history alongside "Tear down this wall".

Wednesday, December 10

Bravo, Steele

Via Sanders:
“They have been beating me upside the head with it and let me give it to you straight on: Wake up people. I mean what are you going to do? Are you going to kick these folks out of the party? I have watched this party self disintegrate for the last four or five years. I’ve watched this party isolate itself from itself.”

“This may be a unique opportunity to build a relationship or a bridge between the conservatives and the moderates in our party and so she asked me to serve on her board and I said well this will be good. It’ll be a pro-life conservative voice on a board with a pro-choice leadership that is looking to elect moderates. We have to elect moderates in the party.”
Also, his plan is now up. Click the link in the upper-right of the Scribd to read fullscreen.

The Next Right just posted a straw poll which looks encouraging.

Blagging is light

..for end-of-semester work.

But I'd like to share this site: memeorandum.

It's a great resource for the topics it covers; much better than Google News.

Thursday, December 4

Comparative public opinions on healthcare

My libertarian friends and I used to joke that it would be nice to reach the day when we could disagree again. Reading Andrew Sullivan's reply to my post on the United Kingdom's National Health Service, I think we're there.
He then showcases some data. Interesting.

Tuesday, December 2

Monday, December 1

Go Steele, go.

A week ago I offered my not-so-prestigious endorsement of Michael Steele for the RNC.

So I'm not at all surprised to find Andrew highlighting:

The Christianists are concerned about Michael Steele heading up the RNC. He's not fanatical enough on abortion:

The Republican National Coalition for Life and the Rev. Donald Wildmon's American Family Association both have came out against Mr. Steele because he and former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman were co-chairmen of the centrist Republican Leadership Council and because of his unclear comments about abortion on "Meet the Press."

He's soft on the gays too, apparently. The Washington Times, defending Steele, gets a little testy:

Republicans who are questioning Mr. Steele's credentials need to ask themselves why they find him so "threatening" and let his actual words speak for themselves.

And the beat goes on.

UPDATE: someone from Steele's home state of Maryland links me to

Alas, the "Steele Plan" section is "Coming Soon!".

Friday, November 28


Jon Swift's post from last year aged well.

"Stamping your feet and declaring Islam is the enemy doesn't help us"

Freddie critiques Rod's "not all Muslims, nor, possibly, most Muslims, are behind these attacks" commentary.

Broader lessons from the Bush years

Glenn Greenwald on Mumbai, the NYT's revisionism, and lessons not learned:
It's that temptation to which most Americans -- and our leading media institutions -- succumbed in the wake of 9/11, and it's exactly the reaction that's most self-destructive.


What happened in the U.S. over the last eight years is about much, much more than what "the Bush administration" did. It begins there, but responsibility in the post 9/11-era is much more diffuse and collective than that. Shoveling it all off on the administration that is leaving, while exonerating our culpable media and political institutions that remain, isn't merely historically inaccurate and unfair, though it is that. Allowing that revisionism also ensures that the critical lessons that ought to be learned will instead be easily and quickly forgotten when similar episodes occur here in the future.
Read the whole.

Wednesday, November 26

Blame the media, Jihadist edition

Via Andrew, Al-Qaida is pissed:

Global reactions to Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri's controversial condemnation of U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama as a "House Negro" have begun to pour in -- including via the top jihad web forums used by Al-Qaida to disseminate its propaganda. Though hardcore Al-Qaida supporters have predictably dismissed any criticism of Dr. al-Zawahiri and are fiercely backing his choice of words, there is a rather ironic (if not entirely unfamiliar) twist to this issue. After observing international press reporting on the incident, these same supporters are now bitterly attacking the media for its "unfair" pro-Obama bias and for deliberately "confusing" the meaning of al-Zawahiri's message.

Churlish Republican partisans and Al-Qaida jihadists against Obama, unite!

Same shit, different horse.

Monday, November 24

Why I love Ross

Recall my shrill post decrying social conservatives' failure to keep Bush Republicanism in check -- as exhibited by his cronyism and response to terrorism with things like Iraq, torture, and Gitmo.

Douthat -- himself a social conservative, of course -- puts it more delicately:
No, social conservatives aren't the problem for the GOP. But they haven't been the solution, either: Too often, on matters ranging from the Iraq War to domestic policy, they've served as enablers of Republican folly, rather than as constructive critics. And calling Catholics who voted for Obama "mindless" and "stupid" is a poor substitute for building the sort of Republican Party that can attract the votes of those millions of Americans, Catholic and otherwise, who voted for the Democrats because they thought, not without reason, that George W. Bush was a disastrous president whose party should not be rewarded with a third term in the White House

Link blag

Andrew Sullivan: basic. human. rights.

Megan McArdle: All your toxic assets are belong to us

Culture 11 diaries: Intellectual rot in the Centre-Right, Pro-life incrementalism

Sunday, November 23

Readings on Iraq and Israeli-Arab peace

TPMCafe's Rosenberg: The Arab Peace Initiative Is The Answer
Forget what some Israeli officials and Jewish organizational types say about the Arab League plan. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. I say that because every provision in it requires the agreement of both Arabs and Israelis. So what if its language on borders presupposes full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-'67 lines? So what if it contemplates the return of more refugees than Israel can handle? Or that it envisions the full return of East Jerusalem to the Palestinians?

None of that matters because the language of the Arab Initiative represents the maximum Arab position, an opening position. The Saudis (and the other Arabs) are not saying "take it or leave it." They are saying, "let's negotiate."
WSJ: Obama Favors Republicans With Scowcroft Ties
Mr. Scowcroft, who stayed neutral in this year's presidential campaign, is a prominent advocate of a "realist" approach to foreign policy that favors deal-making over the ideological commitments the second Bush administration was known for.

"He said before the war that this is a war of choice that we shouldn't be engaged in. I think that has resonated with Obama," said Amy Zegart, a public-policy professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who served as an adviser on national-security matters to Mr. Bush's 2000 campaign.

In the interview, Mr. Scowcroft said the Bush administration's two terms were "difficult years." He said Mr. Obama's election left him optimistic that the nation might now go down a different path.

"The general mood of the last administration has been more a combination of idealism and self-assertion," he said. "And if the election was a vote on foreign policy -- and I'm not sure it was -- then you can say, yes, that idea has been rejected in favor of realism."
I'm pretty sure it was, at least among the folks I know. Bush's approval rating didn't enter sub-30s because of the economy.

Color me hopeful, this is the kind of change we're looking for. If Obama-Clinton-Jones can shepherd an orderly withdrawl from Iraq and negotiate a lasting Israeli-Arab peace deal...well, I don't have to tell you, that'll be the story of the century. Or at least a couple decades.

Obama doesn't kid around

Secretary Clinton. Remember this debate?

We all laughed, but apparently the man means what he says.

Message to the religious right

Where were you?

Pro-life irony

she had me at hello [Kathryn Jean Lopez]

Judge Edith Jones, delivering this year's Olson lecture, just welcomed her son, daughter-in-law, and "granddaughter to be" to the Mayflower here in D.C.

I assume K-Lo's excitement stems from Judge Edith Jones' daughter being pregnant.

But what apparently doesn't occur to either of them is that "granddaughter to be" is not the same as "granddaughter".

Saturday, November 22

The judicial parallel of abortion and gun rights

And as Lincoln said (sort of), a house divided against itself is really interesting.
That's the conclusion to George Will's look at the (lack of) abortion and gun rights in the Constitution.

Michael Steele for the RNC

I think he has the right ideas for beginning to turn the party around. (via Bennett, worth the listen.)

I don't agree with all he has to say, certainly, but incrementally it's a fine step in the right direction from what we have.

Crying winter

David Frum thinks Obama is AWOL.
The worse things look in November and December, the more indelibly the new team can stamp the outgoing team with the stigma of failure. It's urgent for Barack Obama that the Republican brand remain discredited not just for a season or two, but until November 2012.

Times may remain tough for some months to come. The worse Bush looks in 2008, the longer Obama can blame him for the problems of 2009, 2010, 2011... who knows how long?

Democrats campaigned against Herbert Hoover into the 1960s. John McCain campaigned against Jimmy Carter 28 years after the failure of that presidency. George W. Bush will be a Democratic byword for a generation to come — and if it takes one unnecessarily nasty winter to maximize the impact of the byword, that seems a price that Democrats are more than prepared to pay. Or more exactly: to have Americans and the world pay.
Oh yes, I'm sure Bush's name will be invoked for a generation. I'll be doing some of that invoking myself, such as the next time a Palin or a Huckabee is nominated for their faith rather than good ideas and competence.

But as for suggesting the Democrats are artificially lengthening the crisis: Huh?

Firstly, if Obama was taking a very active hand in matters, I'm sure conservatives would decry that on "only one president at a time" grounds. It's not a cop-out reason for inaction.

Yes George W. Bush is the lamest of lame ducks, but that's hardly Obama's fault.

Secondly, I think he seems to be making his intentions for recovery clear, at least in words. Here's the second weekly address:

Transcript , NYT report , NBC report.

Robert Reich writes about how Obama is already taking charge. What part of all this is being AWOL? What more does Frum expect?

Here's another thing:
The persistence of emergency into January will enable the incoming Obama administration to easily enact all its legislation, including legislation unrelated to the crisis --like a big new healthcare plan.
The near bankruptcy of the Big Three has nothing to do with our inefficient health care system? Nor do the rest of our economic woes? Seems off to me. Granted, it's not the direct cause of our problems, but it's certainly exacerbating them. You can't call it unrelated.

Notes from Utah's holy wars

NYT: "there is a Starbucks within walking distance of campus"

And later:
“It’s like a lot of other rivalries, except for those at the extremes,” said Michael Anastasi, managing editor of The Salt Lake Tribune. “For them, it’s not only that your school is weak, you’re going to hell, too.”

Friday, November 21


What happens if you stop smoking right now?

Card check and the secret ballot

I've been idly wondering liberals were so keen on card check legislation, thinking it a little absurd that they'd want to do away with the option of secret ballots. I thought it was a sign of how badly union leaders have the Dems by the balls. (which doesn't make much sense either, but it's the best I could come up with myself)

However, as Klein explains, the secret ballot option is still there. All this does is prevent employers from requiring the costly, time-consuming procedure if not enough prospective union members wish it.

The right kind of change isn't a lurch to an inexperienced and dovish left.

Jeremy Scahill isn't happy: This is change? 20 Hawks, Clintonites and Neocons to Watch for in Obama's White House

I actually think a good number of these old hands are the right kind of change. I never expected nor wanted Obama to fill his administration with far-lefties. He's much too practical for that. All that screaming about his liberal voting record before the election was a silly distraction from his stated aims.

Clintonites who've individually shown themselves to be competent over the years are desirable. Remember, Clinton's was a successful administration! The hard left wasn't stoked about his people then nor now, and of course neither was the hard right, but this is a FEATURE.

Hawks are also desirable, to an extent. We'll always need people who are serious about national security. But we need a responsible decision-maker in charge as well. Obama campaigned on withdrawing from Iraq and stepping up efforts in Afghanistan, and by all indications that's what he's going to do.

The change we voted for wasn't to some radical liberal agenda the NROites were foaming over, but rather away from the Bush-Palin-Huckabee ignoramus axis.

We need a change in competence that avoids quagmires like Iraq. Surrounding yourself with a bunch of newbie doves wouldn't be a responsible change for the better. It'd be swapping one set of problems for another.

Initially I wasn't thrilled with Obama's reconciliation with Lieberman and the prospect of Hillary as SoS, but there is some logic to both. Obama basically owns Lieberman now, and can pretty much twist him into voting any way he wants on fillibusting, etc. That can be useful.

I'll let Frum explain Hillary.

Thursday, November 20

Wednesday, November 19

Social conservatives have an incompetence problem.

Conor Friedersdorf differs with Kathleen Parker.

The part he quotes from Parker is bad, certainly, but bad arguments don't exempt social conservatives from correct blame...
Blame religious voters enthralled with Sarah Palin for being cheap dates, or for caring so exclusively about shared religious values that they ignored her deficiencies as a candidate, but even having done so it remains the case that John McCain and his campaign are the ones who bear blame for her nomination, and that plenty of non-religious conservatives made fools of themselves over Palin as absurdly and excessively as any religious conservative of whom I’m aware.
Sure, McCain deserves plenty of blame for gambling with an unvetted unknown who he'd only met once and who proved disastrous on the mainstream national stage. But a necessary part of the blame lies with the evangelical base for motivating his bad decision. Had they been more amenable to his other VP options or just to McCain on his own steam, he would have been more likely to choose a politically viable candidate who wouldn't cause as many people left of center and some center-righters like myself to recoil in Sullivanesque, dream-haunting horror.

He mentions non-religious conservatives, and the same analysis applies. Naturally they weren't excited to promote Palin because they cared about her religion on a personal level, but rather because of her vast "political talent" of inspiring hordes of adoring evangelical fans to volunteer and turn out to vote for the Republican ticket and create the short-term illusion that Republicans stood a chance at defying the odds enough to hang on to the White House after the most unpopular Presidency in the history of approval ratings.
One need not be a religious conservative or agree with their agenda to see they’ve gotten precious little of what they want under George W. Bush
True, but they are the ones who kept him politically viable amidst his many other failures, because he was still "one of them", ineffectual social agenda notwithstanding. I really don't see how a non-evangelical President would have been allowed to get away with the same arrogant, reality-defying job performance as Bush. Without evangelical support he would have been impeached already.

Neocons hawks remain neocons hawks and their support for Iraq+Iran wars come hell or high water continues to be predictable, however tragic. That's a different kind of blame. So-cons had a real choice in the matter. They are the largest block of irrational enablers who defended, excused, or simply denied Bush's incompetence and caused Palin's farcical candidacy to be exalted for her "immense political talent" of winning their adoration.

Recall less recent history. Southern evangelicals and Dobsonites are the people who deprived us of the John McCain of 2000 and the Colin Powell of 1996. Despite some of Parker's unsound arguments, the fury many of us feel towards George W. Bush and Sarah Palin's enablers is a righteous one, and it's not going away. They must redeem themselves if the GOP's cohesion is to be restored.

Alas I fear the timeframe will be measured in decades. Maybe an intelligent so-con like Jindal can right the ship, but I remain very skeptical. Plus we're still talking 2016 at the earliest.

"I already have a Church"

Douthat draws some lines on the pro-life movement.

Tuesday, November 18

Cheney and Alberto Gonzales indicted

In south Texas. Will this get anywhere...

You call that change?

Hillary Clinton may be Secretary of State.

Joe Lieberman keeps powerful committee chairmanship.

Ugh. Not what I voted for. Neither in the primary, nor in the general.

Update: Klein explains the Joe situation. Color me a little less perturbed.

Sunday, November 16

More on federally-funded embryonic stem cell research

An NROite is unimpressed:

Green’s Bad Advice [Yuval Levin]

Ross Douthat and Matthew Franck have both offered good responses to Ronald Green’s extraordinarily silly op-ed offering the President-Elect some advice about stem cells. Green somehow imagines that the way to diffuse opposition to the destruction of embryos is to do exactly what the opponents oppose, and so he proposes to Obama that he have the NIH “invite” parents whose IVF embryos are frozen to donate those embryos to research so that they could be destroyed for their cells. Green suggests this is some kind of middle ground, but in reality his proposal would actually go further than the two stem cell bills President Bush has vetoed in the past few years, which would have allowed funding for research on cells from embryos donated for research (and so would have created a taxpayer-funded incentive for the destruction of embryos), but would not have had the government actually approach parents who had not decided to give away their embryos for research and invite them to do so. Green’s op-ed is confused and ill-informed from top to bottom, and of course as usual it simply ignores the substance of the ethical dispute surrounding the taking of human life for research—a dispute which, as I argue in my new book on science and politics, is fundamentally about the American commitment to human equality.

The real common ground in this debate is emerging in the increasingly successful efforts to develop cells with the abilities and characteristics of embryonic stem cells but without the need to use or destroy human embryos. But every indication so far certainly suggests that Obama’s approach will be closer to Green’s than to President Bush’s attempts to reach and expand that common ground.

We know these embryos are going to be destroyed anyway, and we know they aren't protected "persons" under U.S. law and that private and state-funded research will go on, because the U.S. is not a "life begins at conception" theocracy and I dare say never will be.

The problem with not allowing federally-funded scientists to work with more than a few stem cell lines is that it stifles the give-and-take with other scientists that's so helpful to progress. The Bush Administration has gone and erected a Berlin-wall-style barrier around the public sector. Federally-funded scientists are having to avoid data garnered from embryos like the plague, lest they lose their grants or be held liable for breaking the law. They cannot use any published findings from the private sector in their work. This really doesn't help anyone, considering that -- as Green points out -- the "life and death decision" had already been made. Green's argument is that the government shouldn't fund the destruction of embryos, but that it should be able to work with those that are already going to be destroyed.

The common ground Levin is looking for -- the use of non-embryonic cells -- would actually be accelerated if public and privately funded scientists were allowed to share data and work together as much as they do in other medical & biological research, uninhibited by the Bush Administration's arbitrary regulation.

I was particularly appalled by the conclusion of Franck's "good response":
Green is bylined as the pro bono chair of the "Ethics Advisory Board of Advanced Cell Technology, a company involved in stem cell research." Here's a question for our ethics advisor: Can he name another moment in American history in which the government proposed that parents offer their children to be killed for the pursuit of federally funded scientific research?
Setting aside the immediate issue of contention here (the personhood of "child" embryos), Green is not proposing that parents "offer their embryos to be killed". Rather, Green is proposing that embryos which are going to be killed anyway be permissibly used by federally-funded scientists in conjunction with non-federally-funded scientists who are already free to do so.

Franck may not find this difference meaningful, or he may wish to ignore it, but in any case this is not a good response.

Saturday, November 15

Embyronic fascination

Ross quotes:
... As with ultrasound technology--which permits parents to visualize a fetus in utero--ivf allows many patients to form an emotional attachment to a form of human life that is very early, it's true, but still life, and still human. People bond with photos of three-day-old, eight-cell embryos. They ardently wish for them to grow into children. The experience can be transforming: "I was like, 'I created these things, I feel a sense of responsibility for them,'" is how one ivf patient put it. Describing herself as staunchly pro-choice, this patient found that she could not rest until she located a person--actually, two people--willing to bring her excess embryos to term ...
What a weirdo. If people want to bond with embryos they've created that's their right, but I have no greater care for any human embryo than I would for, say, a monkey embryo or a cat embryo. Nor a full grown monkey or cat, for that matter. What makes a person a person is some kind of sapience (or perhaps, consciousness). The precise nature of this is difficult to define, but it certainly requires a brain. Embryos don't have brains. They have a full set of DNA, but so does one of my live skin cells, any of which could be grown into a clone of myself with advanced enough medical technology. Point is, they aren't people unless they actually grown into people. Whether that happens naturally (in a womb) or artificially (with a cloning vat) is entirely beside the point of whether the end result is a person.

But I digress. The plan Ross quotes beforehand in that post to only federally fund research that utilizes embryos left over from IVF (which otherwise get incinerated) sounds good to me.

Weekly address

You know those weekly Democratic and Republican radio addresses? I never understood who cares enough to listen to them nowdays. Senior citizens, perhaps? To me AM/FM radio may as well be the telegraph: both are an archaic communication technology I have no use for.

I'm supposing those addresses were available as podcast/streams online, but that's really not very exciting. In this century, who really wants to merely listen to the audible voice of a politician, even a president's?

Enter youtube:
For the first time, the weekly Democratic address has been released as a web video. It will also continue to air on the radio.

President-elect Obama plans to publish these weekly updates through the Transition and then from the White House.

Today's address from the President-elect concerns the current economic crisis:

Of course this particular video is boring: "bad economic news, bad economic news, bad economic news, but I have a plan, I have a plan, I have a plan!"

In the future, though, once this crisis we've already heard so much about passes (a year from now?) these may be about more exciting issues. Like, humanitarian aid in Darfur or something.

Friday, November 14

Daily Show writers panel, now with video

Earlier, I linked to NYT's coverage of a panel discussion of Daily Show writers.

Now you can watch some video of it.

Catholicism, Conservatism & Conservation

The crack at 5:33 is hilarious.

But seriously, nice to see this Church cares. It must help to not be obsessed with Revelation like evangelical fundies. (Why worry about the environment if you think Jesus is coming back Real Soon Now?)

I was interested to see Howard Dean claims otherwise:
Dean said that the Democratic Party was now a big-tent party. “We didn’t have just one message,” Dean said, speaking of those Democrats who ran for Congress and other positions. “You could be pro-life, pro-choice, a conservative and get supported and get resources.”

Throughout his term as DNC chairman, Dean also tried to open a dialogue with people who rarely voted Democratic. “We began a dialogue with evangelical Christians, especially those under 35, and I think it paid off,” Dean said. “We noticed from all data we were collecting that they were worried about the things Democrats are worried about: poverty, climate change, Darfur. And now they don’t have to feel that just because a Republican didn’t win they don’t have a friend in the White House.”
Evangelicals care about climate change now? I guess some may have come around, and Dean wants them in the Democratic tent. This is news to me, though. Of the evangelicals I know who are politically active, almost all are Republicans who flatly deny climate change science and say it's all a hoax, not really man-made, etc. It seems that's what happens when you buy into the right-wing coalition's corporate exploitation of the environment because you care more about fetuses than the planet.

But here's an interesting diary at Culture11:
These days, it seems rather odd to use the word "conservative" and "environmentalist" in the same sentence. But that wasn't always the case. Recently, I interviewed Jim DiPeso, who is the Policy Director for Republicans for Environmental Protection, a national organization for "Green Republicans." The group's mission listed on their website is this:

Republicans for Environmental Protection was founded in 1995 to resurrect the GOP's great conservation tradition and to restore natural resource conservation and sound environmental protection
as fundamental elements of the Republican Party's vision for America
Always nice to come across real conservatives who care about conservation.

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