Wednesday, July 31, 2002
Heritage of Hate
According to this story in the Memphis Commercial Appeal, the Sons of Confederate Veterans are meeting and having elections in Memphis (beware: link comes with music). A particularly charged election is the one for "Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia". One candidate for that post, Kirk Lyons, has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white supremicist. (Go to this link and scroll down to the heading "Lyons Gets a Licking".)
I know it's likely that these "Confederate" folks are going to talk up how they're all about "Southern heritage". They'll try to play their "states' rights" cards. But the fact remains that the right the states who seceeded from The Union were concerned about at the time was the right for their white citizens to own slaves.
While it's entirely appropriate to pay respsects and admiration to the individuals who fought for what they believed, even if viewed from this time (and by some at those times) what they believed was the horrible evil of slavery, this "Heritage, not Hate" mantra ought to be seen for the lie that it is. The heritage in question is one of hatred, of defilement of the better human spirit. It's a heritage of hate built on the shameful institution of slavery and dedicated to noxious racist propositions.
Tuesday, July 30, 2002
The Never-Ending Saga of Gay Republicans
Here's a story from the Orlando Sentinel about Patrick Howell, a candidate for the Florida House of Representatives district currently held by Republican rep Allen Trovillion. The district has been changed by the Florida legislature to one which is predominantly Democratic. Trovillion can't run for re-election because of term limits.
Here comes the twisted parts. And there's going to be a quiz....
Given the Opportunity...
This story at CNN tells of Cuban youths using the opportunity of the World Youth Conference in Tornoto to defect.
Saturday, July 27, 2002
Ted Barlow links to a blog that links to a piece complaining, with some justification, about David Letterman's not being nominated for an Emmy for "Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program". Ted includes a link to Letterman's comments on returning to the air after the 11 September 2001 attacks.
Like Ted, I didn't get to see Letterman's monologue the night it happened. It's powerful and deserving of mention and praise, even if you've heard it or read it before.
Friday, July 26, 2002
Clowns Left, Jokers Right. One More Time
Howard Owens at Global News Watch has a nice piece titled Ninnies of Negative Spin taking the extremists on both sides of the political aisle to task for repeatedly predicting imminent dictatorship in the USA while never letting the facts on the ground get in their way.
It is thoroughly distasteful to see political discourse in this country reduced to an endless stream of ad hominem attacks. The vast majority of Bush's critics undercut their credibility through their relentless diatribes against the man and his policies.Howard's got similar words for those who previously talked up the impending Clinton dictatorship.
From The Onion, 16 November 2000. Used without permission.
Terrorist Training in... Alabama
This piece from ABC/Disney News (via Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs) tells of "[a] training camp linked to Islamic militants".
In Alabama? Good grief.
When I read that Chaim Potok had passed away this past week, I noted that I couldn't place exactly who the gentleman was. Sure, the names of the published works resonated with distant parts of the memory, but I had a sense that there was something of his that I had connected with in a deeper sense at some point in my life.
I found the object of that connection while going through my collection of saved items that have once been on my bulletin board. Amidst a photocopy of Rocky and Bullwinkle figurines smushed against the copier glass, images of Zippy the Pinhead and of The Simpsons, of a piece by Mike Barnicle describing the future execution of an eight-year-old perp (Aside: Everyone with a lick of sense knew he made up the details of his stories. That was a lame excuse to run him out of the Globe), a Far Side "Boneless Chicken Ranch" card, and a photo of Georg von Békésy, I found a copy of a speech that Potok gave at the University of Pennsylvania in 1983 (as best I can figure from the honorary degrees on this list).
The printing of the speech -- I believe it was from The Boston Phoenix, although it could've been from The Real Paper (if The Real Paper was still being published at that time) -- was titled "Our Age of Permanent Apocalypse".
I'm not sure if that was Potok's title or not. My Google search for the term "Permanent Apocalypse" suggests that the term is from Susan Sontag. But while Potok's speech does have elements of what might be identified "relatavisim" (or even of postmodernism, even as he suggests the existence of something less relative -- e.g., "Think about the meaning of things. A thing does not exist unless a word calls it into life. We damage our most unique possession when we abuse language") the bulk of it is a somber discussion of life in a nuclear age.
Were it not for the events of 11 September 2002, many of his words might seem from a distant time. But the attacks on the USA of that day brought back, to may of us at least, the notion that forces beyond our individual control might result not in the kinds of accidental or senseless loss of life that affects us all on small to medium scales, but a near-global unleashing of death and destruction. And in that once-again changed context, his words are no longer anachronistic (if they, honestly, ever were).
The first section of the speech describes the then fairly recent (at least to a native New Yorker) phenomenon of the evangalistas preaching Biblical death and destruction.
I would turn on the radio or television to certain stations, because I wanted to know what was happening outside the four square yards of my private reality, and strange words would fill the air of my hotel room. Did I know that this was the end of days and that the four mighty beasts forseen by Daniel are soon to rise from the sea and there are to be great portents in the sky, as described by Saint John, and a seven-headed dragon will sweep stars from the heavens and a leopard-like beast will soon arise, together with angels and fire and a great voice? "Everything accursed shall be gone henceforth. And the throne of God and the Lamb shall be in it, and his slaves shall serve him.... And there shall be no night anymore... because the Lord God will illuminate them and they shall be kings forever and ever...."The next section deals with the human response to such a situation.
What am I doing here?He then describes what he sees as the possible responses: (1) Physically drop out (like the Essenes); (2) Adopt fundamentalism. Here, he didn't get into his own Hassidic background, and he didn't mention the then seemingly-growing Christian fundamentalism, the source of the televised apocaltyptic concerns, much less the Muslim fundamentalism that is of such concern today; or (3) Live day to day:
There is a third choice. You can live on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis, concentrating on each activity as it comes, seeing the world as at times an interesting and at times an exhausting challenge, expecting no sudden transformations, and committed to the steady, gritty labor of slow progress. You work hard and you play hard -- in the teeth of the apocalypse. From time to time you wonder if what you do and how you live are worth all the effort -- and you continue to work and to play, hard.The final section of the speech is a set of admonitions to the graduates: The kind of attempt at transgenerational wisdom transfer that ought to be part of every commencement speech, but that so rarely is effectively accomplished.
Remember that we are fragile creatures; that the small green spinning mote on which we live is fragile, too. We have always lived on the edge of endings. The illusion we have had of limiteless power and progress is a dream less than two-hundred years old. We will not fade away if it is now tempered by reality.So, even though I have read none of Chaim Potok's books, I feel comfortable saying that some aspects of this man's life contributed to the decency, to the thoughtfulness, of this world. His passing is something to mourn; his life, something to appreciate.
Thursday, July 25, 2002
The Nature of Honest Inquiry
"If I'm wrong about this, tell me": Ken Layne, in this log entry.
It's not the particulars of Mormons in Timbuktu he's talking about that interests me; it's that he'd include the quoted statement. To me, that's face-value evidence of a prevailing interest in getting to the truth, even if such a process is messy. It's 180-degrees away from "I know the truth, and now you do, too" framings.
Theorems are Proved; Theories Fail to Be Disproved
Karl Popper is getting some attention: for instance, this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Thanks to TAPPED for pointing this out in this entry.
Tuesday, July 23, 2002
Marcus Needs Links
Greil Marcus's "Real Life Top 10" column at Salon is worth a regular read whether one agrees with every last point he makes or not.
The most recent features this gem:
The great historical struggle to create that union was the subject of the [S. F.] Chronicle's broadside, which one can hardly imagine running in any other major daily in the country. It pulled no punches. "Ever since Sept. 11," the writer began, "President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft have tried to quash dissent by questioning the patriotism of people who seek to protect our civil rights and liberties." The writer went on to trace the history of our best-known patriotic traditions, rituals, sayings and songs, from the Pledge of Allegiance to the motto on the Statue of Liberty to "America the Beautiful," noting that the latter was written in 1883 by Katherine Lee Bates, a feminist professor of English at Wellesley who lived "for decades" with "her life partner Katherine Coman, an economist and social historian. It's unlikely that those who sing the stirring words 'and crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea' know that a progressive lesbian who agitated for a more democratic America authored these words." In other words, the writer was saying, the story of the country is a continuing story, and it starts again when you lift your eyes from the paper.The entire Chronicle (or Comical, as my San Francisco friends say) editorial is still online -- for free, even (for a few more days) -- here.
Marcus is publishing in an online medium. He needs links. Someone get that man a blog.
Our Dysfunctional Political Family
Richard Bennett in this log entry, talking about the messed-up-mom movies brought to the fore by Moira Redmond in this article on Slate:
These flicks all tend to romanticize the dysfunctional family, something we've all done on a national scale since Sept. 11th - we still have our differences with each other, but our common bonds are more important. So we recognize that our American family is full of political dysfunction, but we don't allow that to divide us the way we once did. Recognizing that both moms and dads, liberals and conservatives, are capable of screwing-up is all part of the story now."[B]ut we don't allow that to divide us the way we once did." Sweet. It's an idea that's still got room for growth, at least in my opinion, but it's a sweet one, nonetheless.
U.S. Changes Iran Policy
This story in the Washington Post tells how the Bush administration has moved from a policy of engaging Iranian Prime Minister Khatami (so-called reformer) toward one of direct engagement with the Iranian people.
Bush signaled the change publicly in a strongly worded presidential statement in which he praised large pro-democracy street demonstrations in Iran. The shift cheered foreign policy experts who had urged a tougher approach toward Tehran and was a setback for the State Department, which had spearheaded efforts to engage the Khatami leadership.
Monday, July 22, 2002
Gay Bashings Still Happen
I was in Tampa (though not at Tampa Pride) when this happened, but I only found out about it today. Here's another story on the same incident. The latter one includes photos of the guys who got beat up.
Sigh. Every so often I convince myself that the whole awful Matthew Shepard episode -- especially with the conviction of the perps -- pretty much put an end to gay bashing in the USA. And I'd venture to say that the rate of incidence is way down.
But any incidence of such is still intolerable.
Mixing and Other Racial Matters
Mickey Kaus talked about it on Sunday, 14 July. Today sees Andrew Sullivan talking about it. What is it?
Racial mixing, that's what. Both Kaus and Sullivan seem weirdly fond of the dated "miscegenation" term, though.
I guess it's too late for a candidate to run on a "Color Blind 2000" platform.
In addition, Stuart Buck has an entry with a link to an article in the (Nashville) Tennessean about Carol Swain, the author of a new book arguing that affirmative action actually increases the separation of the races. She also argues for limits on immigration to increase national cohesion.
My only comment is that I think it ought to be noted that much of this was covered by Michael Lind five or more years ago in his The Next American Nation. From the article on Swain, it's not too difficult to imagine that his take and hers will vary somewhat in their larger frameworks. Still, ideas like getting rid of "statistical" racial identification check offs on census and other government and other institutional forms isn't a brand new idea.
Sunday, July 21, 2002
More Music, More Community
Today's Memphis Commerical Appeal features this nicely done article by Pamela Perkins about the Stax Music Academy.
The academy is designed to combine state-of-the-art equipment with traditional music values, strict academic standards and character-building skills to revitalize the neighborhood through its youth.This is an ambitious non-governmental community-based attempt at community development by focusing on young people.
Though Parker doesn't doubt the academy will produce a celebrity, its focus is human development.If nothing else, click on the link to the article just to look at the gorgeous accompanying photos by Alan Spearman.
Addendum I: Soulsville, USA. Warning: Big ol' honkin' Flash intro.
Addendum II: Compare and contrast the Stax Music Academy with what's reported (by Tony Woodlief) here.
This Week in Global News Watch
Howard Owens at Global News Watch has had a number of good posts this past week. I really don't have a lot to say about them beyond I enjoyed them, but I'd like to point any readers (hah!) to some of them.
There's other good stuff. I believe that Howard knows that I'm to the left of him on just about everything, but I still think he has a lot to say that's worth reading.
Addendum: In this entry, Glenn Reynolds argues that the problem with TIPS is bureaucratic. That if the FBI couldn't process suggestions re possible terrorist activities from its own agents, how can it handle input from a several orders of magnitude larger number of citizens. Does make ya go "hmmmm", now, doesn't it?
Bring Back "The Loyal Opposition"
I know I'm a politically insignificant ant in the boonies, but it does seem to this politically insignificant ant in the boonies that the degree of scorekeeping and political oneupsmanship going on within the leadership of The Republic and among pundits at all levels is unseemly given the degree of threat we remain under.
I'm not so naive as to imagine that political jockeying ought to or will cease just because we're in, or ought to be in, a war with people who want to kill if not all of us, most of us, us being, in this case, US nationals. But it does seem to me that the wake-up call of September 11, 2001, should include more than just preparation for and conduct of operations against those militant Islamists and other yahoos who worship the cult of suicide and martyrdom.
Look, people. Those murderous suicidal bastards are not going to make a distinction as to your politics regarding redistribution of income, regulation of accounting, or how much civil liberties can be infringed for security purposes. They want to kill you, whether you're a weekly churchgoing Christian, a secular Jew, or a libertine atheist.
That fact suggests to me that we need to reduce the frequency of occurance with which we demonize our political opponents. We no longer have the luxury -- as if we ever did -- of treating them as pariahs. They are our fellow countrymen, and the degree to which we can find common ground and accomodation with them regarding non-war issues impacts the degree to which we can successfully win the war we did not invite.
The ends do not justify the means; instead, the means determine the ends. Always. Life is not what the physicists would call a conservative system. The paths we take to get to desired outcomes matter, because two paths in life only lead to the same outcome to the degree that you choose to ignore other attributes that aren't the same when the attributes you are concerned about coincide.
I do not care to die because neither the political leadership of the nation nor the more influential among Beltway political operatives and media pundits nor even those other poltically insignificant ants in the wide-open world of the blogoverse could not refrain from sticking in the knife and giving it a good twist or two for old times' sake. Let it go, folks.
We have new, honestly life-threatening challenges to deal with. That doesn't mean that other disputes won't continue to arise or shouldn't be dealt with openly when there are differing opinions about how to procede. It does mean, to me at least, getting back to the idea of an openly loyal opposition, with greater frequency of emphasis on the loyal part than has been seen for a while.
Is Spectral Regulation an Infringement of Free Speech?
In this log entry, Stuart Buck (blog link here) quotes parts of an e-mail from the Social Science Research Network which included an abstract regarding whether the US government's refusal to license use of parts of the electromagnetic spectrum amounts to a government interference in freedom of the press. (The excerpts are included in Stuart's entry.) The bottom line of the abstract is
...[E]ven if one accepts the current state of the doctrine, theIf that was held to be the case, that would open the door to all kinds of low-power spread-spectrum communication technologies.
I'd imagine that the technological evoution from now-seemingly-simple narrowband radio-frequency (RF) technologies like AM and FM to broadband technologies like spread-spectrum will have to be part of the arguments. At the time, the first justifications of government allocation of RF spectrum were based on the idea that any RF communication channel took a certain amount of spectrum: 20 kHz for broadcast AM (with stations at odd multiples of 10 kHz), 200 kHz for broadcast FM (with stations at odd multiples of 0.1 MHz), and similar for the existing point-to-point technologies.
Spread-spectrum and CDMA and UWB are all technologies that have come into being since the initial Depression/WWII-era founding and empowering of the FCC. The development and/or widespread commercial and consumer application of those technologies is a fairly recent event. The idea that you may not want to take away the FCC's power to allocate specific chunks of the spectrum to specific users of technologies that require specific chunks of spectrum but deny them regulatory authority over technologies that don't negatively impact those older narrowband approaches seems like an idea that ought to develop clout over the near to moderate term.
Addendum: Stuart's entry also includes a link to this paper regarding the same issues that he contributed while he was in law school. That article includes more definite background on the history of spectrum regulation than I included from sketchy memory above.
Is There a Political Scientist in the House?
It's fairly easy to understand how the structures of more local government (e.g., county and city in the USA) differ from the structures of more distant government (e.g. state and Federal). For example, the need or justification for multiple chambers in representation at the local level is hard to come by (at least for me).
But how comes it that at the local level there are all these almost-hairbrained seeming schemes regarding election of the local representative body. I'm talking about whether to have few or a large number of districts, the distributions of "at large" seats, of "superdistricts", and of overlapping districts, of having multiple representatives per districts or overlapping term intervals, etc.
An example of some of the issues can be found in this story in today's Daytona Beach News-Journal. Volusia County has a manger-council type of govenment, so the only county-wide lawmaking elected officials are the holders of the at-large seats on the seven member County Council.
Both at-large seats and superdistricts (we had those back in Shelby County (Memphis), Tennessee) strike me as wrong. I always thought the better principle was to have more representation coming from smaller, distinct districts. Even at the level of county or city government.
The article pointed to does mention some of the supposed problems that at-large seats, etc., are supposed to solve.
A council composed entirely of single-member districts will often fragment because of gulfs between interests and make little progress, according to the experts. A council composed entirely of at-large members will often consolidate power in a small influential group and many times cuts out minority representation, [unnamed -- my addition] experts said.I would really appreciate any pointers to the reasoning among, say, PoliSci types for why this is held so, or for why larger councils with smaller districts aren't the solution. Excepting increased cost, of course.
Aside: Back in Tennessee, they unfortunately changed the names of the default county government structures. The representatives went from being the County Court to being the County Legislative Body, and the County Judge went from being the County Judge to being the County Executive. How much money did some loser political science consultants get for that, or was that more homespun wisdom from the Tennessee legislature?
I once again found the "Links" page of my first (1996) set of web pages, and I've added those to the Cheezy Home Page. Or, you can follow this link if you wanna see a weird mix of Memphis and Music, and of Thoughtfulness from folks like Lincoln, MLK, Faulkner, and others. Even Jay Kenney.
Saturday, July 20, 2002
Silence is Golden
From The Vicar's Diary at the Discipline Global Mobile web site (and also at The Vicar's own site).
On a different note, I must offer my support to Mike Batt, whose new group the Planets are apparently in dispute with the inheritors of John Cage's catalogue, who are claiming that the One Minute's silence on the Planets' album is a quote from JC's piece 4 mins 33 of silence. And that he should pay them publishing.
Addendum: Michael Porter in this same-titled-as-above entry at his Views from the Outside blog has a pointer to more info on the lawsuit mentioned by The Vicar in the above. Michael's also got an image of the score for "A One Minute's Silence".
Friday, July 19, 2002
Men Walk on Moon
Instapundit points here to reminders that once upon a time men walked on the moon.
So why don't we -- the planet, if not the USA -- have a permanent base there?
Eric S. Raymond's been to Texas, and he's raving about their barbecue in this log entry. It's a well-known phenomenon, though, that since the various kinds of barbecue remain largely regionally fragmented, then if you mention BBQ particular to one region, others will mention their own favorites. The comments following his log entry reflet that.
Having lived in Memphis and not seen either of Memphis's two types of barbecue -- the wet being chopped, not pulled (as claimed at one of the links below -- pulled is served more in Middle Tennessee), pork, served with cole slaw on a hamburger bun; the dry being pork ribs -- mentioned in those comments the last time I looked, I Googled the phrases "regional barbecue" and "regional bbq" and come up with a couple of interesting links.
Still More on Gay Marriage
In this entry today, Andrew Sullivan once again explains how denying same-sex couples the ability to get legally married -- in one fell swoop, not through the kinds of contortions I describe immediately below -- is a denial of a basic human right.
Homosexuals are non-citizens of this country in one of the most fundamental ways imaginable - they are barred from having any actual chosen family. Think about that for a minute.... That's worse than discrimination. It's being erased from citizenship in one of its most important manifestations. That erasure must and will end. And maybe sooner than we think.
Going to the Lawyer and We're Gonna Get Married in a Functional-Equivalent Sense
Today's the big day. After going on eight years, Mack and I are off to see the lawyer to sign the papers that create the legal structures that give us some semblence of the arrangements straight people get by taking a couple of vows and signing one document at the Justice of the Peace.
There are durable powers-of-attorney to sign giving us mutual access to each other's financial and legal instruments, most of which are already jointly held. There are health-care surrogate (medical power-of-attorney) documents to sign making each of us the decision maker in medical matters should the other become temporarily incapacitated. There are living wills to sign giving each of us responsibility for deciding if or when to pull the plug should the other enter a life state from which he is likely never to return that requires inhuman mechanical life-support just to keep the body alive.
Of course, the degree to which various family, legal, and medical individuals will accept those documents as binding without further challenges remains unknown. The PoA will likely be no problem at all. I think it unlikely that either the health-care surrogate or living will would be a problem unless we run across someone acting ridiculously homophobic in some medical establishment someday. Thankfully, that's a fairly low-probability event. If I understand correctly from the lawyer, the health-care surrogacies and living will should be valid anywhere in the USA and, with original copies, in parts of the rest of the world.
We're still working on the wills. Clearly, we don't anticipate trouble from our families, or we'd be worrying about that more right now, too. That, and, as mentioned above, the fact that most everything is already jointly held. We do have to deal with what should happen if we both left this world at the same time (which, in Florida, means within 60 days of each other).
One of the upsides to being a childless couple is that when you die it's easy to have arranged that what meager wealth you accumulate in this lifetime goes to further causes you'd like to support rather than to shiftless, ne'er-do-well, children. Or even to loving caring children. We're looking for foundations that supply scholarships to homofolk who want to study engineering. We may have to create that ourselves, but if any reader has pointers to appropriate existing scholarships, we'd love to hear about them.
Policing the Looneys
Mickey Kaus has another entry today in which he keeps the focus on outrageous comments by some on the far left. Previously, he's pointed to Media Whores Online; today's entry points to this awful comment on the Bartcop forum from some Network 54 DNS domain. (Kaus sez Bartcop is affiliated with MWO.)
Kaus is doing a great job with this. He's certainly doing a better job than the responsible right did of policing the looney right back during the heyday of militias, etc.
Thursday, July 18, 2002
Gay Marriage Ban Defeat in Massachusetts
The Boston Globe reports here that the Massachusetts legislature (aka "those crooks on Beacon Hill"), acting in its capacity as constitutional convention, defeated an anti-gay-rights proposal.
The proponents of the ban had some 130,000 signatures for a proposed amendment to the Massachusetts constitution that would ban gay marriages: A kind of "Defense of Marriage Amendment" for their constitution. The proposal only needed 25% support in the constitutional convention to be put on the ballot for voter consideration. Instead, though, a vote to adjourn the convention, which only needed a simple majority to pass, carried 137-53 (72.1%).
The good news is that there was almost a sufficient supermajority to block the proposed amendment from consideration if it had come to a vote; the bad news is the bad will that comes from using procedural moves to prevent the amendment from even coming to a vote.
Yeah, yeah. It's Massachusetts, and the proponents of the amendment would've likely used every procedural tool in their arsenal to push for the measure. It's not the kind of thing that's formally wrong in any kind of political sense.
Still, we need to get to the point where fewer than 130,000 people in an ostensibly liberal state like Massachusetts sees gay marriage as a threat. That's not going to be accomplished by political maneuvering or by the machinations of the various gay-rights organizations.
It's going to be accomplished by person-to-person education; i.e., more and more gay people coming out of the closet and making sure that the straight people among their families, their friends, and their co-workers open their eyes and see that we gay people have the very same right to live as couples -- with all the legal perks and privileges -- as straight people do.
Aside to the Florida legislature. Uh, yeah, that includes adopting kids, too.
Wednesday, July 17, 2002
"Racist" as Noun vs. "Racist" as Adjective
In this entry yesterday, in response to the following comment by Lynn Hendy, president of the property owner's association in a well-heeled resort community that's overwhelmingly of the black persuasion
This is a historically black community.... I'd like it to stay that way. White people can go anywhere. But how do you say that without sounding racist?Andrew Sullivan wrote
Actually, Lynn, you can't say that without sounding racist. When you say that, you are a racist.Actually, Andrew, you can't say that and be very accurate, at least not unless you use a definition of "racist" in which exhibiting any single smidgeon of racist behavior is the defining attribute of being a racist.
But racist as a state of being depends on a lot more than just an isolated comment. It's not something that can be ascertained from a single comment, even in the context of trying to maintain a community as all one race or another. The comment is clearly problematic: even the speaker acknowledges that. But to take that single comment beyond even the context that it's made in as evidence that the speaker is a racist person just seems wrong to me.
The simplest way to put the distinction is that "racist" as an adjective is a lot more likely, to me at least, to be an accurate usage than "racist" as a noun is. To the degree that we can focus on what people say and what people do and appropriate words to describe that (adjective), and that we can avoid trying to pin labels on what people are (noun), I think we can improve communication between people with different points of view. Whether a comment is racist or has racist overtones is a lot more tractable of a subject than whether or not a particular individual is racist. Less in-your-own-face explosive, too.
Self-serving example: The other day, in this blog entry, I griped about Charles Johnson using what I thought was a homophobic spin to his comments about the idiotic things George Michael had been saying. That he used what I think is clearly a homophobic framing doesn't mean that Charles is a homophobe. How the hell would I know whether he's a homophobe or not? Since most people aren't homophobes, the presumption ought to be that he's not.
Similarly, outside other evidence that wasn't presented, why should anyone believe that Lynn Hendy is a racist?
How Quickly They Turn
What was it -- just a few weeks ago -- that you couldn't turn on the teevee or bring up a randomly-selected major or minor media outlet's web page without reading something warm and glowing about burnt-out babbling rocker Ozzy Osbourne? It was a big Ozzy lovefest, especially among M-TV executives and Viacom stockholders, but also seemingly extending into the political leadership of The Republic. Oz upstaged the President at some political dinner or something (forgive me if I didn't get every last detail of that important occurance right). Dan Quayle sucked in some media attention for himself -- or some media types sucked Dan Quayle in for some humor factor -- by commenting on Ozzy as role model vs. (of course) fictional character Murphy Brown.
How quickly they turn on you, especially after you get a new high-paying contract.
Neither this piece, which appeared in The New York Times a day or so ago, nor this piece currently on Salon's web site paints a glowing portrait of the loveable clown. The NYT piece has the somewhat pretentious theme that Ozzy is the looney boomer parent that has to be indulged and taken care of by a later, more responsible, generation.
Who was this crowd? Most teenagers attending Ozzfest last week had cell phones to connect them quickly to their family and friends, whereas back in the 70's Black Sabbath cultivated the sort of fan who was alienated far beyond a roam signal. The Scranton crowd was full of people who had things to do in their lives. Mr. Osbourne, working his usual shtick, hectored them to go crazy. It was so obviously silly, not just because it's what he always says, but because one would be ejected by the security force for going crazy. In this way, Mr. Osbourne forced his fans to take the parental role: to indulge him. They weren't lost, and this was not a concert promising salvation through bad behavior.The Salon piece is more about how, ultimately, it's not cool to laugh at Ozzy just because he's a freaking mess.
...[T]here is something distasteful about the show goading us to mock him, while nary a word is ever said about his very real musical accomplishments. Would we want to visit a blues great in the old-age home and chuckle as he gums his oatmeal, or stop by a rehab facility to laugh at a jazz giant as he tries to kick his junk problem? Why don't we just drop in on Syd Barrett or put a sandbox in Brian Wilson's front yard and laugh at them for a while? Goofing on Oz is hardly any better.
It'll be interesting to see how another season of "The Osbournes" really plays out. I'd put my money on its not having long enough legs to last that long. M-TV is likely going to find themselves holding onto a dog of a show. I could be wrong about that, though, and, to hedge that bet, I'd also not be surprised to see "Brian Wilson's Sandbox" or "Syd Barrett's Psycho Ward" airing somewhere within the next year or two.
"Do You Admire Terror?"
Charles Taylor at Salon wrote this review of Martin Amis's new book Koba the Dread: Laughter and the Twenty Million. I know it's somewhat unfair to talk about the book's contents based on a review instead of having read the book myself, but Taylor reports that Amis includes in the book some comments directed toward Christopher Hitchens.
"Do you admire terror?", Amis asks Hitchens. It's a fair question given Hitchens's unapologetic leftist point-of-view, even as he is currently somewhat of a dandy in unlikely circles because of his clear support for the war in response to warmongering Islamists.
It's a fair question for any apologist for Stalin or Castro or Mao (or, of course, Hitler). It's a fair question for any apologist for any dictator with totalitarian leanings (distinct in my mind from either simple facist, simple nationalistic, or simple kleptocratic), or for any supporter of Marxism. As Taylor notes, "Despite the fact that it can be plausibly argued that true communism has never been achieved, by now it's clear that every state that has attempted it has perpetrated totalitarian outrages. In the end we find that the differences among all the variations on the theme are less striking than the similarities of the experiences of those who had to live under those regimes."
Amis's book sounds good, but I think I owe it to myself to read The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956 first.
Tuesday, July 16, 2002
Tell Me Something I Don't Know
L. A. Times headline: "U.S., Allies Disagree Over Arafat". Like, duh.
Life, Art, Comic Books, White Supremacists, a Harvard Girl, and a Hollywood Lunch
This story in today's New York Times tells of a couple of two-bit white supremicists in Boston who planned to blow up and/or kill Jewish and/or African-American individuals, groups, resources. Ugh.
This AP story covering the same territory in the Boston Globe (hmmm -- you'd think the Globe would sic at least its own journeyman reporter on this) notes that the male part of the pair has a mixed-race background. The female half -- who met her boyfriend via corresponence while he had been locked up -- had tried to get a good friend -- a Harvard student, no doubt -- to remove evidence from the couple's apartment. The female half's lawyer portrays her as a pawn of her boyfriend, whom she met via correspondence while he was in prison. No, it wasn't the usual "nice women who love bad men" story: She was soliciting inmates to join the white-power groups she belonged to.
The evidence cops have collected from the couple's apartment includes comic-like sketches of white supremacists blowing up ADL offices and housing projects inhabited by black folk. His lawyer says they're just drawing; the cops say they're plans.
If the potential outcomes of these bozos wasn't so ugly, this would be funny, like some lame Hollywood pitch gone bad. "Okay, okay. It's like 'Good Will Hunting' with a little bit of a 'The Believer' edge. You've got this half-white, half-black guy and his white-supremacist letter-writing girlfriend. And he's a comic book artist, too. But we need more babe action."
"How about a Harvard girl for her best friend?"
"Are you kidding. No one would ever believe that."
Monday, July 15, 2002
Mike Silverman has this entry (within Blogger limitations) on a gay-male couple -- one Palestinian, one American-- who are in a legal (and possibly physical) no-man's land. They got run out of the West Bank (with help from the Palestinian one's brother) to Israel for being gay. The Palestinian can't stay in Israel, where the couple has been in hiding. He can't seem to get asylum anywhere (not Israel, not Europe, not the USA). And, he's got medical problems (cataracts).
Advocates for gay rights in Israel are trying to raise money to support these guys. More detailed info is here (again, courtesy of Mike Silverman).
Of course if homo-people could get married, the couple could just locate in the USA. Take it away, Andrew Sullivan.
Sunday, July 14, 2002
Statute of Limitations
Can we please stop playing "gotcha"? I don't really give a rat's ass if W engaged in insider trading fifteen years ago. It's just not as important as our getting to where we need to be: regarding corporate responsibility, regarding Iraqi development of weapons of mass destruction, regarading Islamist groups that would be happy to see us all dead.
I suggest that in the future, the outgoing president pardon the incoming president for prior fiscal or investment indiscretions.
Let's find a way to move forward rather than continuing the nastiness of the last umpteen years. It's played, people.
Let's face it, Charles Johnson's mentioning the fact that George Michael got busted for cruising a public bathroom any time he mentions George Michael (example here) is homophobic (not literal "afraid of fags", but metaphorical "fags bad") behavior. George Michael is saying obviously stupid things, so just call them stupid things without dredging up issues that have nothing to do with the stupidity of what George Michael is saying.
Note, I'm not saying that Charles Johnson is a homophobe, I'm saying the behavior is homophobic. I'm not defending George Michael for crusing some public bathroom or for being a closet case for however many years. Or for saying patently stupid things about the state of affairs in the USA. I am saying, however, that since the fact that George Michael got busted for cruising has nothing to do with what he's saying now, what's the point of bringing it up, except to play some larger "homos icky" feelings.
Clowns to the Left, Jokers to the Right
Gary Leff, the frequent-flyer guy, points in this log entry to some pointing to Ann Coulter's not necessarily getting every detail correct. In doing so, he makes the very sensible point that, "Conservatives, like liberals, need to look in the mirror and be honest with themselves about their discourse."
Here's another example: Yesterday, in this entry, Howard Owens quoted this fantasy about how aliens might view the world if they bought some fictional leftist perspective. Then he goes on to berate leftists for having that perspective in the first place.
Problem one is that the piece was a pure piece of imagination written by someone of the righter-wing pursuasion. Sure, it's based on elements of idiotic left-wing blather from various places, but it wasn't like any one left-wing idiot said the particular things referenced in the piece Howard pointed to.
Problem two is that of painting with broad strokes, of pointing to something that's supposedly stereotypical as if its representative of every member of some class sharing some attribute. Unfortunately for those, left or right, who would try to paint with some broad characterizations, as individuals, people don't by and large fit into the cubbyholes we want them to. So, in trying to dismiss either "leftists" or "right-wingers" or "liberals" or "conservatives" as all having identical horns and pointy tails, we miss the fact that, by and large, they don't.
The only secure tactic is taking what individuals say on an individual basis. It would be wrong for me to characterize what Howard Owens did as a characteristic of conservatives, just as it was wrong for him to identify some fictional statements as stereotypical of "leftists". If he or the author of the fantasy want to verbally smash Chomsky for saying stupid things, more power to them. But is it really right to try to frame anyone who shares any aspect of Chomsky's thinking as "leftist" and, therefore, deserving of the same derision?
It would be wrong for me to point the lack of appropriate parallel contrast between using "leftists" the other and "conservatives" for the self, as Howard did, as stereotypical of conservatives, just as it's wrong for Ann Coulter to try to pin the actions of individuals on "the left".
Until we start to deal with each other as individuals who hold varying views and who are all part of this life we find ourselves in, we won't be able to get beyond "I win, you lose" kinds of framings. Of course, it's not too much of a stretch of the imagination to think that that result is exactly what the users of that kind of framing have in mind. One doesn't come to expect much in the way of self-criticism, of fairness towards others' points of views, of giving others some benefit of the doubt (no, we don't want to do that to the extent of unreasonably risking our safety and security, but we're nowhere near that threshold) from individuals who think it's more important for them to be right than it is for us all to somehow get it right.
In another entry here, Gary points out that today, 14 July, is Bastille Day. Sometimes I think many of those who so quickly dismiss the comments and perspectives of others would be happier, would find themselves naturally at home, in the midst of the French Revolution, not among those who founded this nation. Their certainty of point of view has more to do with Romanticism than it does to do with the questioning thoughtfulness of The Enlightenment.
Friday, July 12, 2002
The Pledge issue has probably run its course. Most folks with anything to say about it have likely already weighed in with their comments. That would mean it's probably time for the rest of us to shut up.
Please indulge me in one last set of comments, and then I will try to do my best to do just that regarding this issue. Reserving, of course, my right to say more should circumstances warrant. Say, along the lines of my comments yesterday about this TAP Online article and how political writers who try to use statistical reasoning ought to use mathematically sound statistical methods. And basic accurate language.
So, onto those "final" points.
I hope I didn't sound like a victim. I'm pretty sure I didn't in anything I posted here, but I did gripe to a correspondent that after the Ninth Circuit's judgement and after posting my initial comments about it (no link at the moment, because archieves seem to be down right now) along the lines of "I figured out how not to say 'under God' when saying The Pledge while I was in high school," I started to wonder why in tarnation *I* had to go around omitting "under God" when I said The Pledge. Why was the onus on *me*?
That's pretty darned close to a victim mentality, and I'm not one to support victim mentality in matters of political dispute. Yes, it's an inconvenience to me, and, yes, I wish I didn't have to do it, and, yes, I think the larger civic life of The Republic would be enhanced by not having those two little words in The Pledge. But, let's get real, it's not a matter of life or death, and there are other issues that likely will determine the continued success or not of The Republic.
This comes into play because the issue of what the eight year old whose father brought the suit believes has come into play. Her mother says that the little girl is a Christian, which, to me, means that the mother takes the little girl to church on Sunday. The moment I heard the teaser for the teevee news at eleven last night regarding the mother's claims, it became clear to me that this lawsuit was just another part of the battle between the father and the mother regarding the raising of the daughter. You only have to go back to the NYT article on the father (again, the link is somewhere in the archives not currently on line) and read just a tiny bit between the lines about his statements of family law being his larger concern to see how the lawsuit regarding The Pledge fits into that.
Of course, part of the taking of the victim's perspective is required by law. Without a claim of injury, of being some kind of victim, there's nothing to sue about. And, in what I've read since the news in the most recent cycle about this regarding the mother's claims, the father is sticking to a line that he, not the little girl, is the victim. That he ought to be able to decide what she gets exposed to in matters religious, not the schools.
My personal opinion is that free and responsible individuals are and ought to be able to decide for themselves their own beliefs regarding the existence of one or more divine entities or distributions. Children are not quite free and responsible individuals: we leave much of the deciding of what goes on in their lives to the parties responsible for the children, which is usually the parents of those children. We have fair civic expectations that those parents will raise those children in a manner that facilitates the children's participation in civic life. As the child grows, we increase the degree to which children enrolled in public schools are exposed to matters of civic responsibility that come with being part of a society that values the freedom of its members.
It seems to me responsible to describe to older children and younger adults the varieties of religious belief among the members of the civic population in accurate unbiased terms: that in the USA the largest fraction is some variety of Christian, that there are numerous Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists among the other worldwide mainstream religions, that there are believers in statistically more ideosyncratic religious ideas with smaller populations, and that there are some atheists. And that this should be done without rancor or dismissal on the part of the instructors, regardless of what those individual's beliefs are.
I started elementary school in 1962, the year of the US Supreme Court's prayer in public schools decision. I don't recall any classroom prayer in my school, even after JFK was shot and killed, until I reached the sixth grade. My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Lewis, started class each day by having us recite The Lord's Prayer. At the time, it never occurred to me to complain, even though I probably knew that we weren't supposed to be doing that according to the highest court in the land.
I'm also pretty sure that Mrs. Lewis knew that the highest court in the land had said she wasn't supposed to do that. She didn't let that stop her. She also read to us apocalyptic stories that, at the time, I just thought were kinda gorey horror tales, but that I now see on reflection were really predecessors of the Left Behind series so popular with some.
Now my parents pretty much left my religious life to me. My mom had taken me to the local Baptist church in my home town (Centerville, Tennessee, population 2500 at the time and the only incorporated town in Hickman County, population about 12,000) when I was real little. When I was in the third grade, I started going to the Methodist church with a friend. And it was while I was in the sixth grade that I joined that church (and am still, technically, a member). My guess is that my parents would've taken any complaints on my part -- not that I'm sure I'd've had them at the time -- about Mrs. Lewis's action with little concern. My mom was simply religious, and my dad was not religious (to my knowledge). But they could both tend to the "don't rock the boat" perspective in such matters.
So what's the point of all this rambling background? In the context of "life's not fair," it becomes important for parents wishing their children eventually to make their own choices in matters of belief to explain the nature and history of the "under God" insertion into The Pledge. (Should the Ninth Circuit's decision be upheld on review, it, similarly, would become important for those to whom those words are a great matter to explain the same, from that other context, to their children.) Regardless of the ultimate outcomes of court decisions in this matter, each child will hopefully grow into a responsible free individual capable of deciding their own beliefs for themselves. The parent's role is to be honest about their own beliefs, about the beliefs in this society and the larger world.
Yes, this has the downside of opening up the number of options, not closing them down. But I don't get the impression that even proponents of having "under God" in The Pledge are in favor of closing down the ability of others to think freely. And thankfully, we have a long history of tolerance of others' beliefs and respectful disagreement regarding such.
So, the way out of victimology in this matter is to recognize our own responsibilities. First, no matter what the law, as long as excessive physical abuse is not involved, we can largely determine our own beliefs. The subtle kind of endorsement of monotheism implemented by the use of "under God" is ignorable -- not passively ignorable, but actively ignorable -- in this nation. No jackbooted thugs come for us in the middle of the night if we believe otherwise, or if we omit the words while saying The Pledge, or if we don't say The Pledge at all.
Second, if we honestly believe the words "under God" should not be in The Pledge, we have a responsibility to say as much and to try our best to explain the reasons such. I believe the words should not be in The Pledge. I believe the varieties of belief in this nation are sufficiently broad that the single phrase "under God" both does not capture them adequately and also actively frames monotheism as a desirable norm, not just a statistical one.
Third, I think the debate about the use of "under God" in The Pledge is distinct enough from debate about religious behavior in other aspects of civic life that what we decide to do in one regard doesn't necessarily determine what we do in others. The guy who brought The Pledge lawsuit has stated his opposition to prayer and Bible readings at presidential inaugurations. It seems to me that it each president should decide the appropriateness of such at each inauguration: we don't need for the courts or the Congress or some Constitutional Convention to tell each and every president how his or her inauguration should run.
Similarly, legisilative bodies should be able to decide how to conduct their daily business. If they decide as an ensemble through fair and legitimate rules to have a chaplain and have a prayer, more power to them. And similarly should they decide otherwise.
Lastly, I would rather see this issue settled through a political than a judicial process. Candidates for legislatures and Congress and executive offices and judgeships (where appropriate) should say what they believe in these matters and what they think policy should be. I am clueless enough to believe that in the long run, the civic life of the nation would be enhanced if politicians would be honest about their own beliefs rather than sucking up to those who express their beliefs loudly.
So that's my way out of my own victimology. I have lived with omitting "under God" from my personal saying of The Pledge for my entire adult life. It hasn't killed me. It similarly wouldn't kill those who believe it ought to be there to add it silently as they say a Pledge that omits it. That means that any victimology adopted by those who support maintained inclusion of "under God" in The Pledge is as suspect as my own victimology was.
That puts us, luckily, in the same boat, because we are all in the same boat, whether we like it or not. Instead of sniping at each other, we ought to be watching each others' backs.
Thursday, July 11, 2002
About that "Dry Run"
Jay Zilber digests (here, but beware dreaded Blogger archive bug) the Newsmax article linked to from all over the place yesterday. His take is that the anonymous story from some pilot about hearsay about a possible Islamist terrorist dry run along the James Woods lines is likely bogus, but that there's good reasons to read the Newsmax story, anyway.
Who Says The Pledge?
In an entry here, TAPPED thinks this article online from its parent, The American Prospect, has the goods on vouchers via an argument that kids in private and parochial schools don't even say The Pledge of Allegience.
Uh, TAPPED? Prospect? You can pretty much bet your bottom dollar that outside the BosWash corridor on the East coast and outside Seattle, San Francisco, and L.A. on the West coast, kids in private and parochial schools across the USA are almost overwhelmingly saying The Pledge at the start of the school day.
And don't forget that lots -- lots -- of those private schools are post-integration/post-busing schools affiliated with Protestant, often fundamentalist, churches.
Maybe y'all should get out of the Beltway a little more often.
Addendum. I probably shouldn't have used "overwhelmingly" in the above. I honestly don't know what the statistics are, although my intuition is that some majority of private and parochial schools are starting the day with The Pledge. Along the same lines, though, TAP Online shouldn't have said "vast majority" to refer to 15 out of 26. 14 would be a bare majority, so I don't see how 15 would be a vast majority. Wouldn't "simple majority" be a more accurate word choice?
Addendum to the addendum. If one really wants claims of how many kids in private and parochial schools are saying The Pledge to have some meaning, wouldn't one really want to compare those relative frequencies to the relative frequency of kids in public school saying The Pledge. Then one would do some kind of statistical test to see if any difference was not accounted for by chance.
I know this is asking a lot of political reporters, but if they're going to use statistical evidence, they might as well resort to the tools of statistical reasoning.
Discovering the Warblog Watch clowns and writing about it here, Mike Silverman asks if being for the war destroys one's liberal credentials.
I think it enhances them. I also think "militant centrist" is still open for use.
Brain Lamb, Brain Lamb, Brain Lamb...
There's a nice story here in the Washington Post on the C-SPAN founder and leader. The link is from Drudge.
Quote of the Day
"Sometimes I feel like I'm a member of a bucket brigade where some of the other members think we should be fighting a different fire, others insist is that water is stifling the rights of fire, and others deny the existence of fire in the first place." -- James Lileks in his Bleat for today.
Tuesday, July 09, 2002
"People are very conservative, really. They're like Homer Simpson; they like their beer cold and their queers flaming." -- Andrew Sullivan in an interview with Time Out New York (via, er, Andrew Sullivan).
Monday, July 08, 2002
Survivor Benefits for Domestic Partners
I was in Tampa over the weekend. The local Gay Pride celebration was going on (although that wasn't my reason for being there). The local paper, The Tampa Tribune carried this article about a cop who was killed on the job last year, and her surviving domestic partner's attempt to receive her pension.
I know that many would like to see us go directly to gay marriage. I think that's the long-term way to go. But in the meantime, securing domestic-partner benefits is the way I think we have to go. It's doable in different contexts (private and public), and it's doable at different levels (city, county, state, federal employees regarding government entities).
I'm working on securing such by my employer. It won't do my partner as much good as it could have by the time I might be able to get this worked through, but it will be the right framework to have in place for others who will benefit. It's unlikely we'll secure marriage rights here in Florida anytime soon: we can't even legally adopt as couples here. But individual corporate and governmental entities can and should implement DP benefits.
That won't end the necessity of jumping through other legal hoops regarding disposition of property, health-care surrogacy, etc., but it will make a few aspects of contemporary life -- oh, paying for health care -- easier to come by.
The Lone Inventor
I'm reluctantly commenting on this piece in The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell on Philo Farnsworth and his relationship with RCA and "General" Sarnoff. I haven't read the two books referred to in his piece (The Last Lone Inventor, by Evan I. Schwartz, and The Boy Genius and the Mogul, by Daniel Stashower).
Still, I don't see how you can comment on the relationship between Farnsworth, his inventions and their contribution to television, and RCA and not comment on how RCA behaved in its relationship with Howard Armstrong and his inventions regarding radio. It was Armstrong's invention of the feedback amplifier that made the vacuum tube a useful device; it was Armstrong's invention of superheterodyne modulation schemes that made broadcast radio technology possible; and it was Armstrong's invention of frequency modulation that made high-fidelity radio happen.
Armstrong's fights with RCA over his patents to two of those three -- if I remember correctly, the US Army was assigned his superhet patent, because he was in the Radio Corp (Colonel Armstrong led to "General" Sarnoff) at the time -- technologies is an important part of the context of Farnsworth's similar fights. And the outcome of the Armstrong situation -- Armstrong dead by suicide, but his wife's eventually seeing his ownership of the inventions rightfully restored -- supports the idea that the lone inventor could make advances in technology happen outside the corporate environment.
Of course, Armstrong wasn't quite as lone as Farnsworth: he had his connections with Columbia University. The differences and similarities in their talents and temperments is worth study. But the impression I got from Gladwell's piece is that RCA and Sarnoff shouldn't be considered to have acted too improperly regarding the matter of Farnsworth's intellectual property -- that any blame lies more with Farnsworth than with RCA -- and I think that, given the history of the Armstrong cases, that's a tough claim to support.
Still, like almost everything else that Gladwell writes, the piece is well-written and very readable. And I owe it to myself to read the sources mentioned there. Two sources on Armstrong and Sarnoff are Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio, by Tom Lewis (Harper Collins, 1991), and Edwin Howard Armstrong: Man of High Fidelity (can't find the reference; it's older and likely out of print).
Beliefs of The Founders
In comments on N. Z. Bear's site responding to this log entry (which links backs to my comments below), Howard Owens says (his post here also referred to in N. Z. Bear's entry), "Furthermore, the mingling of piety and government matters didn't end with the Declaration, but was carried out by every Founder throughout his life of public service. The minglings are numerous and well documented."
Well, let's have the documentation then. I'm saying this with a mix of ignorance and of my own sense that things are not so simply stated. I am not personally aware of a single work that describes this claimed mingling of piety and civic contribution, but I'm not in the social stream that views such a perspective as essential to the progress and civic virtues of The Republic. I'm not claiming such a work doesn't exist: just that I don't know what it is. I'd be happy to check it out if it does, and if it doesn't, it'd probably make a good read for someone to research and write.
I've read biographies of a few of the Founders, and I'm generally aware of the history of the nation from the late colonial times into the beginning of Constitutional government. My own sense of the Founders' relationships with public and private expression of their own beliefs regarding the existence or lack thereof with Divinity -- or even with divinity -- is that it, like almost everything else in this world, has a distribution. In time and across the members of the class.
If Howard is claiming as much uniformity across the class of Founders as I'm reading him to be, then I'm openly skeptical that that was or could've been the case. And we haven't really defined who the members of that class are too well for the purposes of this discussion. There are several options: the small set (e.g. _Founding_Brothers_: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Jay), the Constitutional set (member of the Convention), the Revolutionary set (members of the Continental Congresses), the governing set (members, or even just leaders, of the state legislatures at those times). Surely the chosen set will have different distributions regarding the attitudes of the members towards relationships between civic action and religious expression. Tom Paine anyone? Jefferson?
Furthermore, we only have to look at several individual members of any definition of The Founders to see that their personal religious beliefs and their willingness to express those beliefs sometimes changed over the course of their lives. Take Franklin, with whom I am most knowledgable, as an example. From those initial comments of a young skeptic who was oppressed by Boston's Puritan heritage and beliefs, Franklin's beliefs held the form of largely unarticulated deism over most of his life, with increasing instances of a kind of evolving Theism as he aged. And, in Franklin's case, you can't discount the statements he made about the practical utility of belief in the existence of a divine entity as a reason for people to behave in productive and civil ways as being components in his evolving beliefs.
Again, I may be misreading the degree to which Howard is claiming uniformity in the beliefs or statements of The Founders regarding the mixing of religious and civic natures.
Let me raise a second issue, then: What is the proper degree to take The Founders' attitudes and wishes into consideration in our making of contemporary choices? Surely it is very important to try to understand what The Founders were thinking and saying in the times of The Revolution and The Convention. There is a wealth of insight into the laying of the national foundation in those writings. The Founders, as an ensemble, were aware of Posterity; many of them as individuals approached their actions with an eye on history. For that we can only be grateful, because they have left behind a record (well, excepting the debates at The Convention) of what they were thinking -- or of what they decided they wanted to say they were thinking -- at the time. As we make our choices in our own times, being aware of what their attitudes were is a great resource.
But numerous aspects of this nation haven't exactly evolved the way The Founders (or, more usually, some subset of The Founders; e.g., Hamilton, Jefferson) hoped. We should give essential and respectful consideration to The Founders' attitudes and hopes, but no more than that. And we should be very careful that we give the consideration to what The Founders actually said, not to what our own contemporaries say that The Founders said or believed.
But what The Founders believed and hoped then doesn't trump or inordinately determine our own choices now. We are free, and we are responsible, and we are accountable. Just as it is ridiculous in my opinion to even discuss whether The Declaration should include reference to a creator -- it does -- or whether the National Anthem should include reference to trust in God -- it does, even claiming that it's the motto of the nation -- the real question to me is how do we move forward in a nation of close to 300 million people with an incredible diversity of beliefs.
My own opinion is that references to a single divinity in contemporary national statute law is more centrifugal than it is centripetal. We are a nation of individuals of various beliefs: some believe in one god, some in three-in-one god, some in zero gods, and some in many gods. There is no one-size-fits-all way to describe that situation. To accurately reflect the history of belief in this nation as being overwhelmingly Christian, or to accurately state the state of belief in this nation as being predominantly Christian (the old "what would a Martian say?" approach) doesn't mean that we should have statutory (or, "heaven forbid", Constitutional) statements regarding religious belief as law of this land.
Previously, I suggested "rolling back the clock" to undo the mid-1950s introduction of "In God We Trust" on money and the addition of "under God" to The Pledge of Allegience. I still think those would be wise actions. But I also think that to go back and change -- or even make much comment on -- the existence of references to divinity in The Declaration or The National Anthem would be too ridiculous to consider. The time frames are sufficiently different to make treating my suggested roll back and messing with The Declaration easily distinguishable.
Let's make our world one that respects the rights of individuals to believe what they will, not one that in any way uses governmental authority to promote one flavor (or several versions of one flavor) over any other.
Finally, this is an issue that reasonable people can and will disagree on. A respectful attitude towards those who hold differing views regarding this is, in my opinion, a sensible and appropriate way to behave. Those who want to frame this kind of discussion in terms that denigrate the beliefs and opinions of those who disagree should be denounced. Believing differently about an issue of importance is not necessarily (not even likely) a matter of ignorance or "lack of education". It is about having different individual histories. It is about true diversity. If we want a world that respects diversity, we start by respecting diversity.
Williams on Ice
Ted Williams's son had his dad frozen. The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy comments here
According to one person close to the late slugger, Williams wanted to be cremated and have his ashes distributed over the Florida Keys. (The story also includes a quote from Williams's friend Johnny Pesky along the lines that Williams was an atheist, but that quote seems to have more to do with Williams's not wanting a funeral than with what Williams wanted to happen with his mortal remains.)
While it's kind of reassuring to know that even the famous and wealthy still make the same kinds of death-planning screwups -- starting with "what to do with the body" and continuing with putting ne'er-do-well children in charge of the estate -- that lots of ordinary people do, you'd think that at some point more people would realize that if you want your plans for what happens after you die to actually happen, you have to make a fair number of steps while you're still alive.
People will likely go on and on about the weirdness and possible venality of the son's choice to have his dad frozen -- Shaughnessy: "There are only two ways to think of this: Best case - The son is in denial and thinks he can bring his father back to life. Worst case - John Henry hopes to profit from prospective cloning or DNA distribution." -- but the fact remains that with a small number of steps, Ted Williams could've made it near certain that he'd've been cremated in line with his own wishes for what should happen to his body after his death.
Friday, July 05, 2002
From the New York Times story blowing chances that one particular plan for action in Iraq will be used. The story is here.
So who's the anonymous source for this story? My guess would be General Downing, but that's just a guess. Regardless of the identity, since when does one individual outside some specified chain of command get to decide that a particular policy is right or not.
This doesn't come across as whistleblowing. I can only hope this is part of some legitimate disinformation campaign. Otherwise, both the source and the Times need to do some serious rethinking of what they say and when they say it.
Thursday, July 04, 2002
Fact Checking the President: What the Founders Didn't Do
Most of the major news outlets are carrying something about President Bush's speech in Ripley, West Virginia, today. In the speech, Bush claimed, "The founders humbly sought the wisdom and the blessing of Divine Providence." While that's, in some sense, true, it's not absolutely true. Sometimes, The Founders choose not to engage in prayer when conducting their business.
According to H. W. Brands in his The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin (Anchor, 2000), Benjamin Franklin proposed that every session of the 1787 Constitutional Convention begin with a prayer, and the convention rejected his proposal.
Perhaps President Bush is referring to the Continental Congress's meetings as Franklin did above, not to the Constitutional Convention. Even then, the historical fact, which no amount of wishing and hoping can change, is that the record is mixed at best regarding prayer by The Founders. And at the time of the drafting of the document by which we conduct our political lives, the Constitution, the choice was not to pray each and every day.
And Reasons to Love the USA
Here, from Lileks's Fourth of July Bleat.
Fifty Ways to Love the USA
Here, courtesy of Mike Silverman.
What Anarchists Don't Get
"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." It's not just nice words: it's a practical matter of getting from what almost any free individual would come to as a reasonable set of rights for free individuals to a situation in which those individuals are actually free to practice those rights. Legitimate government is one of the great creations of the human social animal.