Thursday, April 30, 2009

Rep. Foxx calls Matthew Shepard murder "a hoax"

Good Lord. Judging from the press she's getting (and the reaction she's undoubtedly getting from Republican leadership -- at least, one hopes), I'm gonna go out on a limb here and bet that she does not make this mistake again.

Just so we're all clear on the story, this is what happened to Shepard. From an AP story dated Oct. 9, 1998 (via LexisNexis):
Shepard was found Wednesday evening by a man on a bicycle who at first thought he was a scarecrow or a dummy because of how he was tied to the fence.

He was unconscious, and his skull had been smashed with a handgun. He also appeared to have suffered burns on his body and cuts on his head and face. The temperature had dropped into the low 30s during the more than 12 hours Shepard was left outside.

From Shepard's Wikipedia page:
The beating was so severe that the only areas on Shepard's face that were not covered in blood were those where his tears had washed the blood stains away.

The men had a gun and some sort of cutting implement, yet instead of a quick kill and hiding of the evidence (or, I dunno, maybe just robbing him!), they chose to torture and mutilate the kid, tie him to a fence post, and leave him to die of hypothermia. And this horrible woman wants us to believe this was not a hate crime.

You can argue against hate crimes laws without downplaying the atrocity of hate crimes themselves. You can talk about "thought crimes" or relying on individual judges in individual cases to make the right calls or whatever, but don't try to tell us that Matthew Shepard was just some dude killed for drug money. It insults our intelligence and alienates the generation of Americans who were touched by this crime (my generation, in point of fact).

Perry all bluster

What happened to that independent spirit, Governor Perry? From AP:
AUSTIN (AP) - The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 16 cases of swine flu in Texas, and Governor Rick Perry has issued a disaster declaration for the entire state.

Perry's disaster declaration, which he announced Wednesday, will allow officials to begin emergency protective measures and seek reimbursement from the federal government. Perry also said the CDC has approved his request for additional courses of antiviral medication.

You want help from whom? Hypocrite.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

either very good reporter or very good politicians

This is the most sensible version of a gay marriage bill I've ever heard. From the Concord Monitor:
The New Hampshire Senate voted, 13-11, today to allow adult same-sex couples to marry, approving an amended version of a House-passed bill after a vote to kill the legislation altogether failed by the same margin.

The bill passed by the Senate recognizes a distinction between civil and religious marriages and allows religious denominations to decide whether they will conduct religious marriages for gay or lesbian couples. Civil marriages would be available to both heterosexual and same-sex couples under the law. “This bill recognizes the sanctity of religious marriage and the diversity of religious beliefs about marriage while still providing equal access to civil marriage to all New Hampshire citizens,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan, an Exeter Democrat.

There's an important fact present in this story that normally you never hear, and another important fact that's missing from this one. The recognition of a distinction between civil and religious marriages, and the inability of the government to force churches' hands on marriage, is an extremely important point in the general debate, and it's wonderful to be seeing it in a newspaper for once. I don't know if that language is a peculiarity of the bill or if the reporter is just taking the extra time to explain that point, but kudos to whichever one is responsible.

What's missing, and what makes the previous important point kind of funny, is that in practice this distinction exists in the marriage laws of all states. Unless I'm mistaken, nowhere is it law that a church is obligated to marry people it doesn't want to. This is why, for instance, clergy can insist that the groom and/or bride belong to their church, or attend the church's own pre-marriage counseling, or do the ceremony how the church wants it or whatever other prerequisites they want. If you don't like it, you can always go to the courthouse. Nor do churches have to recognize marriages performed by other churches or the JP. Nor, for that matter, does a ceremony performed at a church automatically create a legal union if that union is precluded by state law.

The only difference is whether or not gays can have a civil marriage.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

it's like they're trying to kill us

Let's not forget two things:

1. The Republicans had $900 million for pandemic flu preparedness stripped from the Stimulus Bill, arguing specifically that it had no connection to the economy. The stock market this week has already tanked because of fears associated with swine flu. Nevermind how much better prepared we'd be had that money been allocated.

In their defense, as RNC chairman Michael Steele so persuasively puts it, had they known a pandemic flu was on the horizon, they might have voted for pandemic flu preparedness:

2. Flu vaccination and medical matters are handled by the Dept. of Health and Human Services. Now would be a great time for an HHS Secretary to take point on the swine flu outbreak, right? Nope, sorry. Not that the Administration is dragging its feet: President Obama nominated Kathleen Sebelius weeks ago. She's still not on the job, though, because the Republicans have been blocking her confirmation.

notes on the Specter switch

1. Experience is a harsh teacher. For the last several election cycles, Republicans have been a lot dumber about primaries than Democrats, but they've never paid for it like this. When Democrats primary their incumbents, they typically have done it in districts where the incumbent is either a) corrupt and universally unliked, or b) significantly more conservative/pro-Bush than the district as a whole. You want your primary contender to have the best possible chance of winning without giving the other party an opening. This is why, for instance, the Democrats never mount serious liberal primary challenges to people like Nebraska's Ben Nelson, a very conservative Democrat in a very conservative state. You take what you can get.

In the case of Pennsylvania, however, for the second time the Republicans have floated a hardline challenger against a moderate in a moderate state. The first time Specter barely survived; this time, with a GOP electorate freshly (and heavily) pared of its moderates, Specter was dead in the water, down some 20 points in recent polls to Pat Toomey. What was their long strategy? Do they really expect Toomey to win a statewide election in a state that endured several months of thorough soaking by the McCain campaign and still voted for Obama by 10 points, a state previously won by Kerry, Gore and Clinton? Need I remind you how well the last hard right Republican performed in a senate election in Pennsylvania?

This was pure electoral strategy for Specter. He was not going to survive his primary, and Pennsylvania has a "sore loser" law that bars defeated primary contenders from running in the general as independents a la Joe Lieberman. He could have gone Independent before the primary, but would have faced significant structural disadvantages endemic to running independent campaigns. Defecting was probably his only viable strategy. It's just more proof that Specter is the most typical of politicians, utterly lacking in principles or convictions, with one very big exception: he's avidly pro-reelection.

2. This was a huge failure for one person in particular: RNC chairman Michael Steele, who thought the answer to catastrophic electoral losses is to bring the hammer down on the few remaining moderates. The last three Republican senate moderates got spooked a couple of months ago when Steele went all "yer with us 'er agin' us" on them, implying that he would seek to primary senators who voted for the stimulus. He even threatened to withhold RNC funds from them, a particularly nasty threat since the RNC is the only fundraising vehicle they have that can keep pace with the Democrats now. This signals a dramatic departure from standard party practice, and it did not go over well.

Well, Michael, what did you expect them to do?

Steele is a year and a half away from his first election as RNC chair, and he's already lost a Senate seat and a House seat, and has all but assuredly handed the Democrats their first filibuster-proof majority since the Carter Administration, just in time for the new administration to pass a sweeping agenda.

3. Here's another fun little clusterf**k for the GOP: they can't redistribute Specter's committee seats until the full Senate, including the Democrats passes a new organizing resolution. Until then, the Democrats essentially get a free seat. One of those seats is Arlen's favorite: the Judiciary Committee, which reviews Obama's judiciary nominees. It's now 12-7 in favor of the Democrats until the new resolution. Another of his seats is in Appropriations. Democrats can stall on this as long as they want, while untold important matters pass through those committees, and even better, some people are now pressuring the Democrats to refuse any resolution unless and until the Republicans drop their court battle against seating Al Franken.


4. The big winner on this deal: Vice President Joe Biden, who apparently was the front man in the effort to convert Specter. More proof that Obama is a better decision-maker than I am.

5. Specter's jump appears to have profoundly affected Olympia Snowe, the Maine Republican who's probably the most liberal Republican in the Senate, and actually quite close ideologically to the Blue Dog Democrats. She isn't under any electoral threat (she's not up until 2012), but she's clearly voicing some serious discontent with the GOP right now. After Judd Gregg retires next year, she and fellow Mainer Collins will likely be the only Republican senators between Quebec and North Carolina. You've gotta think she's wondering right about now what exactly she has in common with all these southern-fried hateful bigots.

wash your hands, kids

Swine flu reaches northern Indiana.

UPDATE: It wasn't just Northern Indiana. Case confirmed on Notre Dame campus.

holy cow

Arlen Specter switches parties. Democrats now have 60.

"It's not about 'The A-Team;' it's the J-Team"

For some reason, stories of certain people doing mundane things are hilarious.

Too bad he didn't get picked.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mary Ann Glendon shivs the President

If you haven't heard yet, you probably will: this year's Laetare Medal recipient, Mary Ann Glendon, is boycotting Notre Dame's commencement because the Dark Lord, Barack Obama, will be there. Glendon served as Ambassador to the Vatican from '07 to '09, and it's not like this is the first time we've seen Bush Administration officials turn around and attack the new president after serving in that trainwreck. Nevertheless, it's particularly rich coming from this Great Moral Arbiter who, so far as I can tell, was hunky dory with her old boss' frequent, gleeful, and unrepentant use of the death penalty, not to mention sanctioning of torture, mendacity, and killing of hundreds of thousands of people in an unjust war. Barack Obama being pro-Roe, however, totally crosses the line.

I know it may seem like I'm spending a lot of time on this subject, but what can I say? This really sticks in my craw. Ths kind of double-standard makes practicing Catholics (and Christians generally) look a little, well, "weird" to everyone else, especially the inflation of gay marriage and birth control and stem cells and, yes, abortion to the status of absolute moral sine qua nons, when these same people have no comment or waffle or find some sort of "nuance" on torture, preemptive war, child molestation, worldwide poverty, etc. Where was Glendon when George W. Bush was accepting the very same degree from Notre Dame in 2001, with the blood of dozens of prisoners fresh on his hands? Where was Bishop D'Arcy when Catholics were clamoring for someone in the clergy, anyone at all, willing to say that any priest caught molesting children should be cast from the Church and left to the mercy of the American legal system?

From what I can tell, she's also very fond of calling herself a feminist while lecturing other women on what they should be doing with their bodies, so I'm not exactly crushed that she won't be gracing the stage this year.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Joe Barton overestimates his own intelligence

There was a story I heard around right wingers about George W. Bush, and it typically revolved around some high-level meeting or other with some expert giving a presentation. The people at the table would take turns grilling the expert on various things, and then George W. would pipe up after seeming to have been bored with the whole thing and ask some incredible penetrating question that really "pierced to the heart of the matter."

I'm as skeptical of this hagiography as you are (though I have no doubt that Bush spent lots of time in meetings looking bored), but it says something about the perception of intelligence in certain quarters of the country. Here Bush as portrayed as having some ultra-honed "common sense" that more than makes up for his lack of knowledge and intellectual curiosity, and in fact allows him to outwit experts in their own areas of expertise.

It must be from this same perception of intelligence that causes Rep. Joe Barton (R-where else?) to make a fool of himself thusly. Here he is playing the part of the Incredible Man with Uncommon Common Sense:

Ouch, right? Not so fast: Barton apparently later tweeted:
"I seemed [sic] to have baffled the Energy Sec with basic question - Where does oil come from?"

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

no heroes, only dolls

It's that time of year where people are starting to talk more about TV shows that are getting canceled and ones that are getting renewed, generally both despite their quality. I've heard some complaints about the possible fate of Chuck (which I haven't watched), Terminator (which I have, and it's good) and Castle (which I have, and I'm sorry, but it's crap).

The one that everyone's talking about, though, is Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, which you may have heard is in serious danger. Having watched this show, I think there's a lot to talk about in it. A whole lot, the more I think about it.

I haven't been sure about the show since it debuted. I wondered for a while if that was common among Whedon fans, seeing as I'm one of the rare ones who never got into Buffy or Angel, but my general impression is that it's not considered one of his best.

On the other hand, it should be noted that the show has gotten much better since "Man on the Street" (the one about Sierra's rape). In the earlier episodes, when the show appeared to be dealing primarily with the connections between eros and identity, it wasn't as interesting because of the "ick factor" of the central premise, which constantly asserts itself into any attempt to engage the show intellectually. Besides the almost objectively better writing quality of "Man on the Street" and later episodes, I feel like it was the first one where the writers acknowledged to us that they realize how creepy the premise of the show is, where they really embraced it and transitioned the show into a meditation on consent and domination.

Sady at Tiger Beatdown is right: it's a show about patriarchy, and is so in ways so obvious that I can't believe I didn't recognize it earlier.

That realization changed my perspective on the entire show. Dollhouse has several major problems, including Eliza Dushku's limited range and the incredible implausibility of such a company as the Dollhouse. Perhaps the biggest, though, is the lack of anyone in the cast to become invested in and identify with. The characters are uniformly unlikeable because they are, to a man, either:
    a) perpetuators of an organization that engages in a form of human trafficking, or
    b) utterly passive ciphers.

Even the characters that the show seems to want you to like, Boyd and Ivy and the doctor and sometimes Adele, are primary actors in what can only be described as Echo's forced prostitution. Meanwhile, Paul Ballard, who's supposed to be her Knight In Shining Armor, has an "ick factor" of his own: he seems primarily motivated by his own obsessive desire to have her for himself.

Once the oppression becomes the focal point, however, those roadblocks become interesting in their own right, how the characters, otherwise perfectly normal and likable people, deal with and rationalize their own involvement in the oppression of other people. Furthermore, they deal with the gross moral contradiction in what they're doing to varying degrees. While it seems to keep Boyd up at night, Topher (interestingly, a character clearly modeled after Whedon himself) seems utterly unconcerned by it, treating it purely as a scientific exercise. Adele has marshaled a litany of excuses, generally relating to the "good" they do, yet she [SPOILER ALERT] herself frequently indulges herself with one of the actives. When she eventually stops, it isn't because she recognizes the doll's humanity and the way she's abusing him, but rather how pathetic she is to fall for a false person.

And yet, you can't just say "f*** Boyd," because his personal struggle with what he's doing becomes itself endearing. Adele's moments of weakness are humanizing. Topher is utterly despicable especially in his faux-lovable geekiness, but that fact becomes particularly interesting in light of the realization that Topher is Joss Whedon, taking beautiful women, replacing their identities with ones he's tailor-made for the "job," and sending them off to amuse other people.

This, of course, means that the show carries entirely too much intellectual heft to survive on network television.

where do those Hill Country Texans come up with them?

I don't particularly care about the mayoral race of a city I haven't lived in since 8th grade, but this guy has the GREATEST. NAME. EVAR. It's almost as perfect having a University of Texas quarterback named Colt McCoy:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

should have made the bet

w00t! I knew he wouldn't let us down!

The genius' argument: there is nothing as patriotic as rebellion. Similarly, we did not commit treason when we declared independence from Britain.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind

A cunning plan. Terry McAuliffe, ladies and gentlemen, the mastermind behind the great Democratic National Committee juggernaut of 2001-2005, and current candidate for the Virginia governorship.

an interesting turn of events in Texas

Texas' current governor Rick Perry is in trouble. His approval ratings are in the toilet, he's closely linked to Bush, he's had myriad failures in dealing with the legislature, and popular Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (the one who probably should have been John McCain's running mate) is seriously mulling a bid for the governor's mansion. In every poll showing a head-to-head matchup, she cleans his clock.

So it appears the teabagging protests have provided "Governor Goodhair" a unique opportunity. He's trying to make deep inroads into Texas' "fringe wacko" demographic to combat Hutchison's lock on "moderate" (relatively speaking) Republicans.

So at what point are we allowed to say that Rick Perry hates America?

As an aside, now that we're talking about returning America to the 1860's, anyone have any bets on whether Ron "The Pirate King" Paul will jump on this bandwagon? Or will he make an end run around it by advocating a return to the Articles of Confederation?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

the other economic shoe

The next phase of the economic shipwreck: credit card companies.

Ron Paul wants us to issue letters of marque

This is the genius that set all those conservative technocratic hearts all aflutter. Idiot.

it's the election, stupid

This is not a protest about taxes, because 95% of Americans (and probably 100% of the teabaggers) got a tax cut this year. This is not about spending or the size of the government, because there were no such protests when George W. Bush broke Clinton's balanced budget and put the government on steroids. This is not about freedom, because there are no rights being curtailed whatsoever.

The teabaggers are protesting losing Congress and the presidency to the Democrats. That's it.

it goes with everything, even the Revolution

Ladies and gentlemen, the BA-K-47.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

easy way to check for conficker worm

According to this article from Yahoo! tech, you can tell if your computer has been infected with the conficker worm by clicking this link. There are 6 images on it, all taken directly from 6 different security websites. Since this worm (like many others of its kind) blocks your computer from accessing security websites, it will block you from seeing the images on the top row. If you can see all 6, you're in the clear.

Monday, April 13, 2009

applauding the wrong state

Maureen Dowd, as usual, with so much cleverness and so little insight. Remember what I said about some stupid arguments flying around after this kind of court decision? Let's get one thing straight: the decision by the Iowa Supreme Court on gay marriage does not mean that Iowans are more progressive than Californians. There are a lot of specious arguments being pushed about this issue, but this one's so obviously dumb that she needs to get called out for it.

And no, her point is not bolstered by the fact that Iowa chose Obama and California chose Hillary in the primary. There was no small amount of debate between many very liberal people on which candidate was more liberal (Paul Krugman, for instance, was absolutely sure it was Clinton), as if that was the primary reason most Democrats voted for their respective candidate, anyway.

The galling thing about this bandwagon to crown the Midwest as the new home of Enlightened America is that it draws attention away from the really big and lasting gain for gays that occurred in Vermont last week, where the state assembly became the first body in America to legislate gay marriage, and did so over the governor's veto, to boot. Vermont opens the door for other like-minded states to follow suit, and if gay marriage is going to gain a footing in any part of the country, it's going to be in socially liberal New England, not in the Midwest.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

too busy judging to listen

If given a choice between two people to have lunch with, I'd definitely choose Jesse Taylor over Rick Warren. Similarly, I'd rather hang out with the commenters of Pandagon than the congregation of Saddleback Church.

That being said, I think this (both the post and the comments section) is pretty unfair. He's and his commenters are not even listening to what Warren is saying.

One of the major points of The Purpose Driven Life, from what I understand, is that even good people like you do bad things. No matter how solid you think your morals are, and how ironclad your willpower and well-arranged your priorities, you are still human; you can't really guarantee that you'll never succumb to temptation. All people are imperfect and have vulnerable moments. If you want to keep yourself from committing certain acts that can damage your life or obstruct you in achieving your goals, the best way to do so is to avoid ever being in a situation where you will be tempted in the first place. If you want to stop smoking, for instance, don't just put down the smokes and swear an oath to quit or steel yourself or whatever: throw away the pack, stop hanging out with smokers, avoid your triggers like alcohol or coffee, keep people around you who are willing to help, and don't drive by the smoke shop.

Anybody who's willing to stop being a jerk for a minute and listen will instantly recognize that this is good advice. In fact, it sounds almost exactly like the advice professionals give on things like smoking.

Rick Warren is a pastor and inspirational speaker. That's what he does for a living. As we've seen over and over again, the biggest threat to a major religious leader's career is personal scandal, almost always relating to sex, money, or power, and it's very common for them to fall for one of them at least once. Warren is saying here that he recognizes that he's not some superhuman who's impervious to the lust for power or, well, lust, but his career and position within it makes succumbing to such temptations especially dangerous, so he takes extra care to avoid situations where he might face temptation. If Jesse Taylor meets someone during a business trip (say at Netroots Nation or something), really hits it off with them, and has a steamy romp in the hotel bed that night, he'll have his conscience to contend with and may get caught by his significant other, but that would be it; if Warren did the same thing, he'd lose everything, and become an instantly recognizable national object of scorn, to boot. Oh, and because his face and name are well-known to so many people, it's much more likely that he would get caught.

He takes the extra precautions to avoid temptation, and keeps the file to remind him of what he stands to lose. It's a little obsessive, but otherwise perfectly logical. To say this is Warren admitting that he's "so incapable of basic human interaction that you must literally be monitored around half the human race at all times," is silly.

There are plenty of places where liberals and feminists have a perfectly legitimate beef with Warren. There's no need to cheapen the discussion with these glib caricatures.

home sweet home, still making Texas proud

Lubbock's finest on the job.

"Secret #9: We are terrified when you drive"

At times it seems like we're making huge strides in gender equality and breaking down old stereotypes, and then an article like this appears on my Yahoo! homepage.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

yet she gets paid to write it

It's become like clockwork. Once every couple of weeks, I glance at the Salon article titles and see one that makes me think: "What the hell? What planet is that wanker living on?" It always turns out to be Camille Paglia's biweekly column.

This week she slaps down Obama for totally botching his first major trip abroad and the G-20. He sure embarrassed the hell out of all of us on that gaffe train, am I right?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Iowa Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage

Whoa. From TPM:
Iowa's Supreme Court legalized gay marriage Friday in a unanimous and emphatic decision that makes Iowa the third state — and first in the nation's heartland — to allow same-sex couples to wed.

In its decision, the high court upheld a lower court's ruling that found a state law restricting marriage to between a man and woman only violated Iowa's constitution.

"If gay and lesbian people must submit to different treatment without an exceedingly persuasive justification, they are deprived of the benefits of the principle of equal protection upon which the rule of law is founded," the court stated in its ruling.

The first thing I will contribute to the din surrounding today's events is that this is a decision of the Iowa Supreme Court, which means they decided that the Iowa state constitution left no room for hedging on marriage rights. That constitution, according to the decision, contains an equal protection clause that precludes the statute in question. Whether or not you agree with gay marriage or "the Bible says so" or it's nature rather than nurture or it puts us on the road to Santorum's famous man-on-dog sex is all irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what the statute says, and what the Iowa state constitution says. So to all the pundits and columnists and talking heads sure to flog this story: until you have read the relevant passages of those documents (along with similarly relevant court precedents, of course), you have no standing to opine on whether these judges made the right call whatsoever.

The second thing I'll add is that I will be shocked if Iowa hasn't passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage by the end of 2010.

"Can you fix my clock? It's out of time."

Just finished season 4 of The Wire. No question: it's the greatest show ever made. It's so brutally honest and unsentimental. As much as I love Dexter, it indulges in all the television fairy tales indicative of Hollywood. It shows a world where all people are beautiful and the "good" guys always win in the end, where people (aside from Dexter, anyway) can be cleanly separated into "good guys" and "bad guys," and where everyone who commits a violent crime does so because they're evil and deserve to be killed. The justice system is flawed specifically because it offers bad people things like the right to appeal and legal representation. And the good cop ladies chase down the bad guys in heels.

The show I just finished is a meditation on corporate inertia, on the way large organizations swallow up their members and force them to submit to the status quo, no matter what their original intentions and how committed they are to changing things for the better. This last season was focused on inner city schools, specifically how and why they fail to keep so many kids out of the drug trade and fail to improve kids' cognitive skills, failures that occur in classroom management, in the curriculum, in the administration and allocation of funds, and in the methods of evaluation.

One season to go.

Joe Donnelly: too weak to make the hard choices

Speaking of unserious... From the South Bend Tribune:
Indiana U.S. Rep. Joe Donnelly, D-Granger, has broken ranks with fellow Democrats and voted with the state's four Republican House members against President Obama's $3.6 trillion budget plan.

The House passed the plan 233-196 Thursday. Donnelly was among 20 Democrats and 176 Republicans who voted against the proposal. All four Indiana Republicans were among those voting no.

Donnelly says he voted against it because of "the growing national debt which our children are being asked to bear."

Apparently Joe wants the government to stop spending during a major recession. Or does he? We'll never know, but no one will ask him how he expects to lift the country out of the gutter. No one will tell him that there are only two ways to lower the deficit (dramatically cutting spending or raising taxes) and ask him which of those he wants to do in the middle of a recession.

Which is it, Joe? You can't claim credit for stimulus money coming into the district and then vote against the budget because it increases the national debt.