Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I don't pray often.

But I will be saying a prayer tonight for Ted Kennedy and his family. Love him, hate him, anywhere in between: no one deserves what happened to Ted Kennedy the other day and what will happen over the next year.

The blogosphere coverage, even on the right, has been overwhelmingly gracious, if at times slightly (and confusingly, since Kennedy is a devout Roman Catholic) preachy. A few tasteless shits ruined a predominantly good-willed Freeper thread, and if you think for a second that the Free Republic shut down its message boards because people were being too vile, you get a sense of just how much people have supported Ted and his family, and just how loathsome a human being you have to be to get pleasure out of this diagnosis.

Finally, take a look at this video of Senator Byrd upon hearing the news. I promise, it's gut-wrenchingly authentic and beautiful. Try not to cry.

Sunday, April 13, 2008


A case could be made that Christian fundamentalism is a uniquely harmful set of beliefs. This sucks.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Some Good Reading

Dan Savage's column today was a really touching, honest, and insightful eulogy for his mother, who just died. Go check it out.

And, The New Republic has an article on why you aren't being a douchebag or a sexist by suggesting that it might be best for Hillary Clinton to step aside.

Obama on Foreign Policy

He said:
I would like somebody [as a running mate] who knows about a bunch of stuff that I’m not as expert on, I think a lot of people assume that might be some sort of military thing to make me look more Commander-in-Chief-like. Ironically, this is an area–foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton or Senator McCain.

It’s ironic because this is supposedly the place where experience is most needed to be Commander-in-Chief. Experience in Washington is not knowledge of the world. This I know. When Senator Clinton brags ‘I’ve met leaders from eighty countries’–I know what those trips are like! I’ve been on them. You go from the airport to the embassy. There’s a group of children who do native dance. You meet with the CIA station chief and the embassy and they give you a briefing. You go take a tour of a plant that [with] the assistance of USAID has started something. And then–you go.

You do that in eighty countries–you don’t know those eighty countries. So when I speak about having lived in Indonesia for four years, having family that is impoverished in small villages in Africa–knowing the leaders is not important–what I know is the people. . . .

I traveled to Pakistan when I was in college–I knew what Sunni and Shia was [sic] before I joined the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. . . .
Zuzu thinks this is both ridiculous and a sexist dogwhistle:
1) He lived in Indonesia from the ages of 6 to 10, 40 years ago. I lived in New Jersey from birth to age 13. Can I be governor when Corzine leaves office? 2) As I discussed in comments to this post, dismissing the diplomacy that Clinton did as “having tea” or being “just a wife” or doing no more than watching “children do native dance” is sexist, because it diminishes the role of women in diplomacy and it ignores the fact that a lot of diplomacy is, in fact, simple schmoozing.

I don't think it makes as much sense to read these comments in the context of the Obama campaign's sexist dogwhistles—of which it certainly has a history—as it does to read these comments in the context of their mistrust-of-Washington dogwhistles, on which Auguste wrote a great post yesterday. For one, unlike "having tea" or "being a wife," Obama's description of diplomacy isn't really a gendered one. In fact, he says he's been on those trips, in that role, himself. Sure, he downplays Clinton's experience in foreign policy, but there has to be a way to do that without being the same as those who say "Clinton is unfit to be Commander-in Chief because she's a woman." Instead, I think Obama argues that the kind of experience we have conventionally valued in foreign policy isn't the kind we should value in this election. He argues that interacting exclusively with the global elite won't help solve the problems of the global poor. He argues that he can step outside of our clearly broken system of interacting with the world by virtue of his lack of conventional experience. Those are all fairly compelling arguments in light of a Bush administration that was both profoundly experienced and profoundly misguided. Diplomacy may be simply schmoozing, but doing foreign policy means more than seeing the world through the lens of the policy-making elite. Obama means, I think, to point out that his set of foreign experience helps him look outside that lens better than McCain or Clinton could.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Thoughts on Gov. Spitzer

Well, if you haven't heard by now, Governor Spitzer of New York has been exposed in connection to a prostitution ring. We'll know more as the day and week goes on, I'm sure. A few initial thoughts:
1. Bad move, Governor Spitzer. I pretty much agree with Scott here:
If poor sex workers are thrown in jail under existing laws, then affluent white johns sure as hell should be too. This goes double for people who have positions that might allow them to work to repeal laws they don't feel are just.

2. I don't really have an opinion on whether, prima facie, prostitution should be legal or not. I don't really see what's wrong with the idea of selling sex, if it's done safely and consensually, so I suppose I would err on the side of making it legal, like any other service. On the other hand, I do think that whether or not prostitution is legal, there needs to be a way to ensure it is safe for everyone involved, particularly the prostitutes. That may be much easier if it is legal. This is all relevant because Governor Spitzer's record on the subject of prostitution is short, but it indicates that he mostly just sought to protect the prostitutes themselves, rather than punish them or the johns. He isn't in particularly deep shit on the hypocrisy front here, although his anti-corruption stance rings vaguely false in light of his criminal behavior.

3. The comparison will inevitably be made to the Republican sex scandals of 2006-07. It's a poor comparison. What made the Republican scandals so deliciously bad for the politicians involved was the hypocrisy they exposed on social issues having to do with sex. Governor Spitzer wasn't really a hypocrite here: his public policy stance on prostitution was limited to punishing sex trafficking. I don't see anything more than a tenuous connection to his anti-corruption stance, since hiring a prostitute isn't unique to being a politician—it's hardly as if his office shielded him from the consequences.

4. Via feministing, Dana Goldstein makes a good point (actually, she makes several, but I though this was particularly on the mark):
When politicians are caught cheating, I wish they'd leave their wives in the green room while they address the press. You're in the dog house, and it should look that way. Those "stand by your man" visuals are tired and demeaning.
Seriously. She shouldn't have to stand there and take responsibility for your fuck up. Also, you aren't fooling anyone with the display of marital solidarity: she's pissed.

UPDATE: Looks like Spitzer may have mistreated the sex workers. If that's true, all bets are off—he's a hypocrite and an immoral douchebag.

UPDATE 2: This is hilarious:

Saturday, March 8, 2008

"Summer's here and the time is right/for dancin' in the streets!"

The radical Islamists, the al-Qaida … would be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on Sept. 11 because they would declare victory in this war on terror.
This was what Steve King (R-IA) had to say about what would happen if Barack Obama were elected president. One funny thing about this little quip of Steve's is that he wasn't even basing it primarily on Barack's stance on the war in Iraq; rather, King's special brand of reasoning led him to this conclusion:
his middle name (Hussein) does matter. It matters because they read a meaning into that in the rest of the world. That has a special meaning to them. They will be dancing in the streets because of his middle name. They will be dancing in the streets because of who his father was.
Beg pardon? "The al-Qaida" will be dancing in the streets because Barack's father was Kenyan? Huh?

But really, the most absurd thing about Steve King is that the doomsday scenario he identifies is really not all that bad. In fact, it says something about the neo-con mindset that making sure Islamists are never happy is their primary goal. Never mind the human cost in American and Iraqi lives: it's more important to make Islamists angry. Let's think about this "dancing in the streets" concept for a second. Islamists are happy, and it didn't (unlike Sept. 11) cost us anything, especially not any lives, to get them that way. Happy Islamists are less likely* to go blow themselves and/or their neighbors and/or American troops up. So really, Steve King thinks that his own pride in not having other people think they've won is worth the continued deaths of American troops. (Once again, the right demonstrates that it hates the shit out of our troops). In reality, Bush's war on terror is a lose-lose situation. We can never win, because we're trying to stamp out the people who hate us, and the more we do that, the more people hate us. They can never win, because they want us to stop being douchebags in our foreign and economic policy, and the entire premise of the war on terror is foreign and economic douchebaggery. The world King proposes actually transforms this lose-lose situation into a win-win. We win because we are no longer hated, and therefore no longer attacked—and let's be clear, this is a war to defend our way of life, according to Dear Leader. The moment we are no longer attacked, we win by the Bush administration's definition. They win because...well...according to King, they think they've won. They're dancing in the streets declaring victory. I don't really care why they think they've won as long as they stop attacking us and their countrymen and -women.

King cares though, because at the end of the day, the lives of Americans, Afghanis, and Iraqis just don't matter very much to him.

*This is one situation where the "embolden the terrorists" scenario is even less credible than usual. Let's think about why Islamists would dance in the streets. Well, it would be because they perceive the U.S. as having installed a president who was Islam-friendly. Is there any mindset in which it would make sense to then turn around and attack the entity that you just celebrated?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

TIME: But apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln...

So in the most recent piece of dipshittery to come out of TIME magazine, John Cloud wrote a gem about the recent Lawrence King murder. After the obligatory "what a tragedy" crocodile tears, Cloud settles in on his point, which is that gay rights groups overreached after the murder by calling for passage of the Matthew Shepherd Act and saying such extremist, incendiary things as
Our hearts go out to Lawrence's family — and to all young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender kids who are — right now, right this minute — being bullied and beaten in school while adults look the other way.
Here's his response:
GLSEN itself has published a great deal of survey data showing that most gay kids aren't suffering the way King did. Though the organization paints a still overall grim picture for young gays, fully 78% of gay and transgender kids say they feel safe at school, according to a 2005 GLSEN report. According to another GLSEN survey released in 2006, only 18% of gay and transgender students said they had been assaulted in 2005 because of their sexual orientation (only 12% — probably many of the same kids — said they had been assaulted because of the way they express their gender).
Let me get this straight. 22% of LGBT kids in America don't feel safe in their schools, and a full 18% have been assaulted, and that's a good thing? Cloud does a complicated dance around the facts here, obscuring the number of kids who aren't safe by focusing on the ones who are. But his reasoning makes about as much sense as responding to a tragedy like the World Trade Center attacks with "but think of how many people didn't die that morning!" It's as wrongheaded as the apocryphal reporter who asked Mary Todd Lincoln after her husband's assassination, "but apart from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?" (Incidentally, less than 10% of U.S. presidents have been successfully assassinated. Better end the secret service: our president is clearly safe.)
Of course, King wasn't just teased — he was put to death. But GLSEN has found that the frequency of anti-gay harassment and assault at schools has dropped steady through this decade.
The most infuriating part about this article is how close he gets to making the right arguments, but how he just can't hold course long enough to actually seal the deal. "Kids are dying because of their orientation...but not as many of them, so it's ok."
Still, it's hard to look at the photo of King's fragile little face and not want to do something. Expanding federal power to prosecute hate crimes sounds like a good idea, unless you are (as I am) opposed to the whole enterprise of criminalizing people's thoughts.
Oh dear. Not this again. This is really a singularly embarrassing legal argument to make. I'm not a lawyer, but even I know that a fundamental principle of criminal law in the United States (and almost everywhere else) is mens rea, which translates literally as "guilty mind." Mens rea is the difference, for example, between murder (which requires malice aforethought) and manslaughter (which only requires negligence). To distinguish between them, you need—you guessed it—to figure out what people were thinking before and during the crime. Nearly every crime in the United States legal system has an element of mens rea—that's how essential criminalizing people's thoughts is to the way law works in this country. So really, it's more than a little specious for Mr. Cloud to suggest that hate crimes legislation uniquely criminalizes thoughts, and it certainly indicates more about his vacuous desire to wish away hate crimes than it does about his knowledge of the law.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008