Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Who needs parody?

Yesterday (Wednesday) President Bush, who was busy getting snubbed by al-Malaki in Jordan, is reported to have said, “I know there’s a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington [on the Iraq Study Group headed by Baker] mean there’s going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. This business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever.”

Truer words were never spoken by our president.

Weather-Related Post

It's about two hours from December here in Our Nation's Capital. And it's almost seventy degrees. To be exact, 68 degrees. Walking home tonight, people were sitting out on patios and retaurant decks, eating and drinking, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather.

I know it may be snowing in the Midwest. Is it? If so, then I'm jealous. It's still summer here.

What's in a Kname?

Ruh-ro! We would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids.

Down here at an unnamed college somewhere in the middle of TN, the SGA has stirred up a duststorm with a resolution to rename the military sciences building on campus, home of ROTC. The name of the building? Forrest Hall. As in Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate General, millionaire slavetrader, and first Grand Wizard of the KKK. This apparently explains why I've been getting so much racist spam on the university e-mail system. The kerfuffle has exploded into the local news, reminding locals of a bitter debate only a few years ago about Vandy's "Confederate Hall." Students on both sides are circulating petititons. A guest columnist in the Nashville Tennessean informed us that NBF was a wonderful man, that he didn't really massacre a garrison full of black POWs during the war, and that the 1870s Klan was a noble civic organization saving civilization from criminals and carpetbaggers. Yeesh. And Hitler was nice to dogs.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a meeting with various muckety mucks in which the Chief Muckety asked for advice on handling the flap. Understandably--given the array of incompatible interests on the two sides--their instinct is to punt, to treat this as a "teachable moment" while avoiding taking any position whatsoever in hopes that the mess will just go away. How this can be a teachable moment when no one has an official position or knows exactly WHAT we ought to teach is a question no one asked. You can't blame them for not wanting to jump on a hand grenade. From an administartion standpoint, this issue is a guaranteed loser.

Lost amidst all the debate about whether NBF was a racist is the question of why the hall was given that name in the first place. Is it simply because he's a local hero and it's a military building? NBF's true history would seem to matter less than what he symbolized when the hall was named. So when was it named?

1954. I wonder if that's significant? What else happened that year?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Breaking News -- Leaked Memo from al-Maliki's Security Adviser

Following is the text of a Nov. 8 memorandum prepared for cabinet-level officials by Muwafaq al-Rubaie, the Iraq national security adviser, and his aides on the National Security Council. The four-paragraph document, classified secret, was read and transcribed by Freedom from Blog.

We returned from the United States convinced we need to determine if President Bush is both willing and able to rise above the partisan agendas being promoted by others. Do we and President Bush share the same vision for Iraq? If so, is he able to curb those who seek American hegemony or the reassertion of colonial power? The answers to these questions are key in determining whether we have the right strategy in Iraq.

Bush reiterated a vision of Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish partnership, and in my one-on-one meeting with him, he impressed me as a leader who wanted to be strong but was having difficulty figuring out how to do so. Bush pointed to incidents, such as the use of American forces in the Sunni triangle, to demonstrate his even hand. Perhaps because he is frustrated over his limited ability to protect American forces against terrorists and insurgents, Bush has been trying to show strength by standing up to the Iraqi government. Hence the public spats with us over benchmarks and the Sadr City roadblocks.

Despite Bush’s reassuring words, repeated reports from our commanders on the ground contributed to our concerns about Bush’s administration. Reports of nondelivery of services to US areas such as New Orleans, intervention by the president’s office to stop military action against Iraqi targets and to encourage them against Iranian ones, removal of America’s most effective commanders on a partisan political basis and efforts to ensure American puppets in all ministries in Iraq — when combined with the escalation of Marine's (JARHEADS) [the American name for the Marines] killings — all suggest a campaign to consolidate American power in Baghdad.

While there does seem to be an aggressive push to consolidate American power and influence, it is less clear whether Bush is a witting participant. The information he receives is undoubtedly skewed by his small circle of Neocon advisers, coloring his actions and interpretation of reality. His intentions seem good when he talks with Iraqis, and sensitive reporting suggests he is trying to stand up to the al Qaeda hierarchy and force positive change with the Iraq Study Group. But the reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests Bush is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not sufficient to turn his good intentions into positive action and outcomes.

HATE It When That Happens

Boy, sometimes you fly all the way to Amman, Jordan, to meet with your pup-, er, I mean the prime minister of a sovereign country, and he snubs your ass. Just because your national security adviser called him clueless on the front page of the paper of record. Ouch. And you thought the war was a disaster. It's running smoothly compared to the diplomacy. Tonight, at least.

Update: No need for this courtesy "trilateral" meeting today, so not a snub.

"The situation in Iraq is what it is." So says State Department official Satterfield. And what it is . . . is a civil war.

Update 2: Richard Hass, one-time Prince of Darkness and former Bush administration State Department official, just said (on Hardball) that the "pick a winner" idea is one of the worst ideas he's heard in a long time. WOW. It must be a bad idea. I mean, it sounds like a bad idea, to me. But one of the worst ideas . . . in a long time? If I'm not mistaken, the actual decision to invade Iraq was not . . . a long time ago. So, then, "pick a winner" is about as bad an idea as invading Iraq. As I said, WOW.

Just to make this clear: The war was a mistake. At this point, even the supposed benefit of removing Saddam Hussein from power looks less beneficial. It was never really beneficial to the U.S. If you disagree, think about how much better off the U.S. was when regional power Iran was counter-balanced by Saddam. See what happens when you upset a balance of power? But it's really hard to believe, at this point, that the Iraqi people as a whole are even better off with Saddam gone. Certainly the hundreds of thousands of them that have died "excess deaths" over the pre-war death rate are not better off, and most indicators in Iraq are negative since "shock and awe." At this point, we have achieved nothing positive. (We have "achieved" much, if "achieve" can be coupled with the term "negative.")

The Blue and the Gray

NBC shook up the "Is Iraq actually in civil war, or on the brink, or spiralling toward, civil war" discussion this week by making the call--somewhat like calling an election?--that the situation in Iraq is a civil war.

Why did it take so long? It took so long because, of course, the terms of this debate are, well, if not controlled by, at least heavily influenced by the Administration, and what it is willing or ready to "admit." This bunch has decided that, so long as they don't conceded bad facts, they can at least delay bad news . . . by creating a "debate" over the terms rather than over the substance of . . . what is actually happening in Iraq. And that has been a civil war, for quite a while now.

The news surrounding Bush's visit to Amman today is interesting. It looks like Bush is going to push Maliki for his (Maliki's) strategy for controlling the violence. If Bush doesn't have a strategy, why should Maliki have one?

The question now is when--not if--the Bushies are going to throw Maliki under the bus. The Hadley memo, leaked recently, suggests that that is coming soon. ("Maliki, you're on notice.")

But it's hard to believe that anyone else can get this situation under control. So throw Maliki under the bus, and replace him with . . . ? But canning Maliki would change the news coverage, at least for 24 hours. ("Strong leadership.")

Saturday, November 25, 2006

My Christmas Wish

World Peace, of course.

But seriously, My wish is that no one feel obligated to buy me a gift. I am old enough, and affluent enough, that I own everything I need, and most of the things that I want. Many of the things that I "want" I don't even have room to store. This is a serious problem if you live in an urban environment and want a sea kayak or an expedition-length canoe. I barely have room for a mountain bike.

But I am forced to come up with lists for loved ones to demonstrate their love for me through commerce. Oh, well. I am just one person, crushed by the unstoppable onslaught of capitalism.

Consider this a discussion thread: Christmas wishes, anyone?

Friday, November 24, 2006

Wussy Bushy

Wussy Bushy sat on his throne
thinking of ways to make Saddam's statue fall prone,
but all the king’s warplanes and all the king’s men
couldn’t put Iraq together again.

Reflections on Mini-Me

In Austin Powers: the Spy Who Shagged Me, Dr. Evil tells his son, Scott, that he's replacing him with the rapacious clone, Mini-Me, since Scott is only "a little bit evil." For whatever reason, the last two and a half weeks of fatherhood have gotten me thinking about evil. Maybe it's the protector instinct, the one that now makes it difficult for me to see violence on TV (I had to turn off a Law & Order in which a class of schoolgirls was held hostage) or even listen to music that rocks especially loudly. More likely, it's the stress that comes from 24-7 management of a gyrating howler monkey. She's cute and I love her. But she's a little bit evil.

For years I've been teaching Augustine's Confessions in my Classical Political Theory class. I've always reveled in his account of infancy, which I tell students is the "South Park" view of childhood: angry, vengeful little creatures whose every act is driven by a sinful self-will. Not that I completely believed this account. It is, however, a wonderful antidote for the syrupy sentimentalizing of babies and youthful innocence so common in our culture, and I typically find that students are shocked and offended by it--especially when I highlight its essential relation to the Christianity they overwhelmingly embrace yet rarely comprehend. Augustine's account is not without nuance. He rejects the Bushatista view that suggests evil must simply be eradicated in those individuals or cultures to whom it is attributed. Instead, he's showing the inescapablity of evil within the human condition, even among "innocent" children who cannot possibly know that they are sinners. Will and intellect are distinct faculties, and the will's corruption precedes the understanding's development. Babies must be taught--corrected (adults who act like babies are not so tolerated, after all)--and treated with the patience and mercy necessary for those who know not what they do. That parents actually do this is a testimony to both the beneficence of creation and to the ultimate power of good over evil.

As a new father, I've gotta give Augie some serious props. Lang is nothing if not willful. God bless her, she's trying to break us. There's the ordinary stuff: the spit up, the flailing arms, the projectile poops and the mid-diaper-change pees. If you've had pets, this is a change only of degree not kind. But it is really hard to be mentally prepared for the cries, those bloodcurdling screams that erupt periodically from her infantile id. Commonly at 2 AM. Often nonstop from 2 AM to 4 AM. The same evolutionary biology that programmed babies to look like their fathers (presumably so that we'd stick around) found a foolproof way to make sure that baby's needs get noticed. Their vocal cords have all the skill of a flaying knife, peeling the skin off mom and dad's ears. It's hard to believe it's not willful, since, by day, she's ususally an angel. When the stakes are low, she lets us be. She's just waiting for her moment of maximum impact. I could be wrong, but I suspect that Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde was inspired by childbirth.

Thankfully, Lang gave us a first-time break last night--she settled down right after her 3 AM feed. Must have been the Turkey Day tryptophan seeping through the breast milk. Whatever the cause, I'm very thankful this holiday both for my daughter and for my first decent night's sleep in weeks. Together, the lack of sleep and the intensity of the cries had bludgeoned me into a shellshocked and zombie-like trance, making me wonder how so many babies actually survive infancy. The reserves of human virtue must be far greater than I had presumed. Conversely, I now know I'm not as patient and unflappable as I had once thought. Or maybe, as my sister suggested, our narcissism triumphs over our annoyance, proving Adam Smith's theory on the hidden benevolence of egoism. Thank God for that.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Michael Richards Rant

So I'm sure everyone has seen the video of Michael "Kramer" Richards responding to a heckler with a hard-to-believe racist rant. When I first read about this, I was skeptical that it was that bad. But the video removes all doubt--it was much worse than the initial story led one to believe.

But this isn't one of those "condemn racism" posts--of course, racism is evil. But here's my thought on this. If you watch the video, don't you get the sense that Richards is "hepped up on goofballs," as Chief Wiggam might say? It's a short clip, but he sure as hell comes across as . . . under-the-influence of some illicit substance.

This is not to excuse Richards's words; high or not, there's no excuse. But my thoughts on watching the video.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Lieberman is an Asshole

So The Last Honest Man is on Insanity and Colmes, where he thanked Sean Insanity for his support in the election. He went so far as to say that he thought Insanity's support helped him with some voters. But just a minute before, he had said that he wanted to get past all that icky partisanship. Well, I'm sure your buddy Sean Hannity shares that goal, too, Asshole. Praising Hannity is the mark of statesmanship. He's a model of reaching across the aisle--to stick the shiv in deeper. When Lieberman says that he will only be guided by his own conscience . . . that should scare you.

Btw, I'm urging all my friends to set up Connecticut for Lieberman parties in each of your states, so we can purge the bastard from that party, too.

Update 1: The Last Honest Man just said that both parties are on "probation." Really? Well, one party lost the last election . . . and one won. And they're both on probation?

Update 2: Hannity is urging Lieberman to run for president as an Independent. OMG. Hannity: "Joe, screw the national Democrats like you did to the Democrats in Connecticut." Lieberman laughs.

Update 3: Lieberman won't support Gore if he runs again. Well, fuckin' duh. Another reason to support Gore.

[Sorry that this post is vulgar. But The Last Honest Man is an obscenity. No doubt about it.]

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Does This Need an Explanation?

Well, then, it's for history to decide whether the Iraq War was a failure. Or, is it? Could it be that . . . looking to history to pull ur bacon out of the fire is a . . . sign of . . . failure?

Successful leaders control the political definition of their actions, the terms in which their places in history are understood. The failures are those who, upon leaving office, look to some distant time in the future when people might begin to appreciate the wisdom of what they did.

--Stephen Skowronek, The Politics Presidents Make (1993), pp. 17-18. Yeah, I think that that is about right.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Bo Schembechler passes into the End-Zone

Bo Schembechler, the irascible legendary coach of Michigan, just followed Woody Hayes into the great beyond. He was a guy whom I loved to hate, but the UM-OSU rivalry sure was fun to watch when those two went at it. The first college football game I ever attended was Ohio State vs. Michigan State in 1974. Woody’s OSU team came into Spartan Stadium undefeated and ranked #1 that day, but the unranked Spartans beat them on a controversial last call of the game. At that time I hated Woody Hayes – I still remember a sign being carried around at the game that I applauded: “Squeeze Woody’s balls green!”. But about a decade after Woody’s ignominious exit from football, he was asked to give a graduation speech at Ohio State. A friend of mine was graduating that day (mid 80s), so I went down to attend and got to hear him talk. He was still a fiery son-of-a-gun, but he also had another side to him that was -- I don’t know how else to put it -- pure, unadulterated, “awe-shucks” Ohio. His oratorical skills were impressive, and his speech, which concluded with a loud and thunderous standing ovation, brought tears to his eyes and just about everyone else’s. After that speech I understood why Ohio loved him, and I actually began to like the guy myself. Then after he was already dead, I ended up going to OSU for grad school and thus witnessed the UM-OSU rivalry up close. Bo was always still around then. I think my favorite Bo moment was when, as Athletic Director, he fired the basketball coach Bill Frieder, who had announced on the eve of the March Madness tournament that he was taking a job elsewhere. At the press conference to announce the firing, Bo said something to the effect “I want a Michigan man coaching Michigan!” Well, Bo, may the turf always be light on you, but tomorrow Go Bucks!!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Still the One

So, Sue Kelly, the Republican incumbent in New York-19, conceded today. So Rockin' Democrat John Hall, of the 1970s band Orleans ("Still the One," "Dance with Me"), will be representing New York's 19th district in the 110th Congress. Stephen Colbert recently interviewed Hall on "The Colbert Report." The video is worth watching. So watch it. You got the time.

Hoist. Own. Petard.

This one may only be funny to the Vanderbilt folks out there. This link to the latest book by "Big John" Geer may make the joke make sense even for non-Vandy folks. I should add that John Geer is a friend of mine, but boy, this ad raises some serious questions . . . .

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Lang Rode Home

I've largely skipped politics this week to study the ancient art of "baby whispering." If baby pics are not your cup o' tea, skip on down to Frances and Paul for trenchant commentary. But just in case you're curious. . . .

It's Always About Us

Flying around the blogs today is an internal Fox News memo instructing its reporters to be on the look out for any Iraqi insurgents thrilled at the prospect of a Democratic controlled Congress.

Of course, as noted earlier, it looks like all the cable news channels got the same memo.

It's long been true that the only real interest the US news media take in the Iraq War is how it plays back into domestic politics. But, even worse, our politics is so delusionally self-centered that our journalists and politicians never fail to assume that Iraqi insurgents are equally obsessed with the ins and outs of our party politics.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Myth of the "Wise Old Men"

So the Bush administration is (purportedly) going to consider the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, or Baker-Hamilton Commission, as it's sometimes called. No one is saying very much about what will actually be in the ISG's December report, and, at this point, it's not clear to me what the ISG can say. There are really no good options in Iraq at this point. The U.S. can begin withdrawing, in which case the country will (unarguably) collapse into an even more violent civil war. That's not a policy success. Or we can stay, indefinitely, in which case the country will (arguably, although I think so) continue along in the current violent civil war. Or we can stay and send more troops.

Or maybe not. This position faces two major difficulties. First, there really aren't more troops to send, not in the short-term, and no plans to increase the number of troops available into the future. Second, it's never clear to me what these troops are supposed to do, once in country. It's not like our forces in Iraq are fighting some kind of traditional war. It's a combo training and counter-insurgency operation. So just putting more troops into "the battle" is not really a solution. (Some war hawks talk like, with troops, we could "crush" the "terrorists." This is clearly just silly chest-thumping.)

So, my sense is that the ISG isn't going to say very much. Certainly not going to say anything we haven't heard before--maybe from the Democrats, even. Some of the ideas being floated sound like Kerry's proposals in 2004, like a regional summit. And I don't believe that the administration will change course based on the report. It has dug in so far, with Stay the Course, and with claiming that the only way to lose is to leave, that its options are limited. Bush has said that this will be a problem that his successor will have to solve, and that still seems right to me.

But it's fascinating how the Establishment and punditocracy (to the extent those are not the same thing) are falling all over themselves praising, in advance, the return of the "adults" like Baker and the new SecDef. Every time a U.S. president gets himself into trouble, the cry goes out in D.C. for that president to reach out to the "Wise Old Men."

But the Wise Old Men don't know what to do, either.

The interesting question is whether the Wise Old Men ever know what the troubled president they are supposed to help should do. I don't know-this is not my field. But given the present situation, I'm skeptical. Maybe what the Wise Old Men give you is a break in the bad news cycle; bringing them in makes you seem like you're responding to policy (and political) failure. Plus, the Establishment loves the silver backs. Because they are the Establishment.

Down with the Establishment!

Mangia, mangia!

At the La Biennale di Venezia exhibition, some Italian scientists have unveiled a special cement that can be painted on buildings or roads that actually reduces pollution and thus also protects structures, such as ancient monuments, from damage-causing smog. They call it cemento mangiasmog (pronounced chaymEnto mAnja-smog), or smog-eating cement. In tests they've conducted, it has reduced pollutants in the air associated with auto emissions and factories by 45%-60%. Check out the story here in English.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Fall Continues

Here are a few pictures I took yesterday hiking at the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, both along the Billy Goat Trail (section A) and the towpath itself. It was, as you can see, a beautiful fall day, although I think you'd have to say that the leaves are past peak. Including a picture, using digital zoom, of rock climbers on the Virginia side of the Potomac.

"Terrorists React"

That's the screen caption on MSNBC this morning. All the cable news networks are using this particular frame as a way to link Veterans' Day commemorations with Tuesday's election results. Amy Robach just questioned VA Sec. Jim Nicholson with a seeminly endless series of variations on "Have these election results emboldened the terrorists?" and "Is Al Qaeda celebrating?" and "What does this do to the morale of the troops?"

This is outrageous. Have Bush's speechwriters found new jobs as cable journalists/propagandists? Someone should tell our news anchors that virtually EVERYONE in Iraq is happy about Bush's downward political fortunes and, more importantly, Rumsfeld's firing. Check out Juan Cole's translation of the editorial on the subject in Baghdad's newspaper. Nobody there has forgotten Rumsfeld's responsibility for Abu Ghraib and for the failure to secure the country after the invasion. A failure that has destroyed Iraqi society, led to civil war and the outmigration of Iraq's professional class, and unleashed the anti-modern theocrats in both Sunni and Shiite communities.

I realize that the news media deeply desire to portray our heroic troops as "fighting terrorists" in Iraq, but unfortunately, that's not what they're doing. First of all, it's worth remembering that there were no terrorists in Iraq until the US invaded. But the US troops are primarily fighting insurgents who oppose the US occupation of their country. They're also attempting to stop the death squads and torture chambers set up by the government the US installed in Iraq. And they're trying (unsuccessfully) to keep sectarian violence from exploding. "The terrorists" really are the least of America's problems in Iraq.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Elections & Imperialism

Just one quick point about the democratic elections, which, despite the fact that Bush and the Neocons have managed somehow to give democracy a bad name, have left me utterly stunned, elated, and have restored my faith in the American people. It was Kleon of Athens (made famous by his being skewered by Aristophanes) who during the first phase of the Peloponnesian War once delcared "I have often before now been convinced that a democracy is incapable of empire." Thucydides claims he said this during a debate over whether or not to punish without mercy one of Athens' rebellious allies (the Athenians this time voted for leniency). Kleon hit upon something here: real Democracy is incapable of empire, because a real empire requires a brutalism and costs that a majority of people over time find abhorrent. So, a majority of Americans wants to pull back from our Imperial nightmare in Iraq. A lot of Neocon ideologues, however, think of our empire as a moral necessity, including permanent bases in Iraq. These are the kind of men who in history contemplate, and then sometimes attempt, a military coup. The seeds that could lead to this sort of military coup have long since been sown in American society (the Military-Industrial-Congressional-Religious Complex), and with a little water could even sprout here. Not that I think it likely, I only think it possible, because I'm sure guys like Rumsfeld and Cheney really deep down inside despise democracy, because, as Rumsfeld more or less said yesterday, the masses are too ignorant to understand the complex operations of holding onto empire. In fact, I think nothing makes it more certain that they really could give two shits about democracy than the fact that this is the alleged reason we are in Iraq. Like #3, then, I don't expect there to be much bipartisanship for long, because one thing the new Congress will have to address are the assaults that the Bush Administration has made on the Constitutuion (wire taps, habeas corpus...), and most especially the unitary vision of the executive branch. So next year I won't be surprised if there's a bloody battle over these topics -- possibly a constitutional crisis or a series of crises.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Webb Wins!

Olbermann just announced that AP was reporting that Webb will be announced the winner of the Virginia Senate race and that Allen will concede tomorrow night. Great news. (NBC News is now declaring Webb the victor.)

That means that the Democrats picked up the six seats they need for majority "control" of the Senate (not that 51 senators can really control the Senate). The projection now is that the Democrats have picked up 32 House seats. A tremendous victory, made possible by the president's incredible incompetence and the GOP Congress's curious mix of do-nothing-ness and corruption (a toxic legislative cocktail).

A battle won, nothing more. Don't believe all the GOP bipartisanship talk, or anything the president said at his presser today. "I want to work with the Democrats." Sure. At this point, anyone out there still believe anything this man says? Not me.

Tester Declares Victory & Rummy Resigns!

CNN just had a red banner on top of their web site stating that Tester has declared victory in Montana. Now we just need Webb in Virginia. But Tester's declaration was followed by an even better red banner stating that sources tell CNN that Rumsfeld has resigned!!! Now that's democracy in action. Unbelievable news...

Running the Table

Man, what a night! Although the counting is still not over, it looks like the Dems will control BOTH the House AND the Senate--a point I haven't heard any of the newsies make--at least if the preliminary results in Montana and Virginia hold up. Since I don't have time for a long post, I'll bullet-point my thoughts on the dusk/dawn.

1) GOP spin has gotten a lot more humorous now that they've lost. Ex: "They came to Washington to change the culture, and the culture changed them" (McCain, et al.). Bullshit. They were corrupt from day 1 of the "Revolution." Does anyone really think that Gingrich and Lott were substantially more enlightened leaders than Hastert and Frist, or that GOP aims and tactics changed over the years? Nope. They came in to sack and pillage, and that's exactly what they spent 12 years doing. Down with the Huns!

2) Even the races the GOP thought would be close turned out not to be. Menendez (NJ) and Cardin (MD) both won by large margins (10 and 8?), even as Ken Mehlman was running around late last night screaming for the cable news stations to withdraw their calls for Cardin. Chaffee lost by a robust 6. Talent lost to McCaskill by 3--I didn't think we'd win there.

3) Goodnight Macaca. The GOP will pressure Allen to fight out a recount, if for no other reason than to stall the press from reporting that the Dems have seized the Seante. Delay the reckonning. But Allen is dead in 2008 no matter what. The clear beneficiary is Mitt Romney, who was smart to sit this year out. For me, beating Allen (if it holds up) is the most satisfying win of the night.

4) TN. The only Senate seat that seems to have gotten away, although it is a GOP hold. And note that we've replaced Bill Frist, a well-scrubbed right-wing wackadoo with the political instincts of a dung beetle, with Bob Corker, a good and decent man with a record of accomplishment and moderation. Let's hope he doesn't get corrupted by his party. The campaign was not reassuring, but I've got hope for him. In a side note, Ford was replaced in the House by Steve Cohen, who some of you TN ex-pats may remember as the farthest left-wing member of the state senate. Cohen has been known to smoke pot and has hard-core libertarian instincts, and he thrashed Ford's ne'er-do-well little brother Jake, who ran as an Indie. So that seat will move to the LEFT.

5) Gays in TN. One key reason Corker won is that the right-wing base that distrusts him turned out anyway to vote on an anti-gay marriage constit. amendment. The amendment was approved 81% to 19% (yes, I was in the 19%). This despite the fact that the amendment was purely symbolic, gay marriage already being specifically against the law in TN. (And, no, TN courts are not liberal like in NJ or MA.)

6) Despite a lot of blogger bitchin', I don't think there's anything wrong with the MSM spin that the new crop of Dems is "centrist." Whether or not it's true, it's a good narrative for us, and it counters the Pelosi demonization rag.

That's all for now.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Voting Machines

I voted today in Cleveland using a Diebold machine. As everyone on this blog knows there have been many articles written about how easy it would be for party operatives to hack one of these machines. The actual touch-screen process was easy and it appears that it was backed up by a printed receipt (which I didn't get to keep). But each voter needed a "key card" to vote and there appeared to be only one key card per machine, so you had to wait for one voter to finish and return the key card to the proper poll-worker at the desk and then this person would hand it to you. Even though the polling station wasn't that busy, there was a lot a confusion and delay about getting and handing back this little key card, and I could have easily walked off with it after I voted. This is a big problem and is going to cause delays, even if they have plenty of extra cards and losing one doesn't pose a security concern.

Birth of a New Era

No, this isn't a midterm elections post. This is a news bulletin to FFB readers that one of our regular bloggers TenaciousMcD is now the proud father of a baby girl. Baby and mom are doing well, I hear. More news to come, I hope! But in the meantime, big big congratulations to the McD family!!

And, of course, one hopes that today will herald a new era in more than one way!

The Marathon Is Over

No, not the election. The New York City Marathon. And as some of you know, Lance Armstrong ran his first marathon in that event. He ran just under three hours, a perfectly respectable time. But the interesting thing was what he said afterward:

For the level of shape I'm in now, that was, without a doubt, the hardest physical thing I've ever done. Even the worst days in the [Tour de France] . . . nothing left me feeling the way I do now, in terms of sheer aches and soreness.

I've never ridden the Tour de France, not even a century ride. But it doesn't surprise me that even the great Lance Armstrong found the marathon a whole different kettle of fish. The thing about the marathon isn't the cardio part. If you get yourself into relatively good shape, you could, in theory, run forever. There are two problems with this: (1) your body can't store that much energy; really, it can only store about 20 miles of energy, without having to start burning fat, which is much less efficient; and (2) your joints and soft tissues--feet, ankles, knees, hips--take a real pounding in running 26.2 miles. In terms of (2), each mile is progressively harder, more painful. Even as challenging as cycling is, there is no pounding. And you can take in calories (refuel) in a way that a marathoner really can't.

Monday, November 06, 2006

He Does It His Way

So, Michael Steele is back on the air with another ad, this one with Steele sitting on the front steps of his house (not his house?), with his two teenage sons. Good-looking young men. It's intended to be a humanizing ad, which seems like an odd choice the day before the election. But maybe Steele needs more humanizing, given the negative ads that have been running against him. The whole ad consists of Steele's two sons making fun of him, telling voters that their dad isn't as cool as he thinks he is. He doesn't know how to use computers, and, oh, yeah, his musical taste is questionable . . . . The commercial seems designed to tell voters that Steele, a middle-aged black man, likes Sinatra. (The joke here is partly that his sons can't even remember the word "Sinatra.")

Now, it's entirely possible for Steele to like Sinatra. He even seems like a Sinatra guy, now that this fact is out there. But, if so, then he's a lot less cool than his sons know. More importantly, what is the politics of a black Republican candidate liking Sinatra? Because it's not clear how this revelation will help Steele among black voters. (My sense is that he needs to win about 20% of the black vote to have a chance in Maryland.) Could the calculation be that, if Steele, as a black man, likes Sinatra, that will reassure some white voters in Maryland who may not be 100% comfortable voting for a black candidate, even a black Republican? "Well, hon, he likes Sinatra, so he can't be all bad." Is that the targeted demographic here?

But then the commercial turns back toward the politically viable, I think. The sons also have trouble remembering "Motown." Now, maybe Steele likes both Sinatra and Motown. Sure, could be. But why not lead with Motown? Motown is a lot cooler than Sinatra, and no black voter is going to think, "The man likes Smokey Robinson, and he wants my vote? F**k that." And there can't be many white voters, even in Baltimore, who have strongly negative feelings toward Motown, can there? I mean, that's about as mainstream as music gets these days. So, I don't get the Sinatra thing. It must be true.

One final point on this ad: Steele would never have made this race as close as it is (and it's possible, although I think unlikely, that he will win) if he didn't have a lot of charm. But his charm wouldn't have gotten him this far if he hadn't had tons of cash to spend on television ads. He was on-air early and often, and a new ad in the last days . . . he's always had serious cash on hand, from what I can tell. My question is, where did all this money come from? It is an open seat, so I guess that explains some of it. But is it the case that national Republicans have been contributing, generously, to this campaign?

Those commercials, btw, wouldn't have gotten Steele this far if they weren't also terribly misleading. Steele isn't just running away from the president. He's running away from himself, his own record, his past statements. And I think that, in the end, the national Democratic and Cardin ads will be enough to remind voters where Steele really stands on the issues.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Worst Sex Lies, Ever

OK, so FFB has been all sex, all-the-time lately. But you have to admit, the Rev. Ted Haggard's troubles this week highlight even more hypocrisy among the leaders of the religious right (at least Joel Osteen is still clean, although . . . three dollar bill, anyone? Have you seen him on tv?). But more to the point. The worst sex lies, ever. Period.

First, Haggard says that the claims of his accuser are untrue, and he has never spoken to his accuser.

But if you're going to make this work, there can't be any evidence. And then there are those pesky taped phone conversations. If you've heard those, you know that the voice on the tapes is Haggard. I'm not a voice-match expert, but there's little doubt. Oh, yeah.

So, then Haggard changes his story and says that he did talk to his accuser, and that he did so to buy drugs. He bought the meth, sure, but he claims that he threw the meth away and never used it. OK. Not quite "I never inhaled," but pretty strange defense, to be sure. But even so, how, exactly, did Haggard get the accuser's number? Oh, it was a referral, by his hotel. A referral for what? For a massage. (Most Denver hotels don't give referrals for meth buys, it seems.)

OK, let's stop right there. I know some Christian evangelicals, and this is already pushing the limits, if not beyond. A massage? A (gulp) same-sex massage? There's almost a Pulp Fiction moment here, too. Oh, come on, that's not sex. "Would you give me a foot massage?" Because the admission (even) of a same-sex massage is problematic, it seems (to me) like a strange defense to try to make. Oh, I never had sex with him. Just a massage, and some meth, which I didn't use.

So today, or last night, Haggard fessed up to sexual immorality. Well, fuckin' duh.

Some might still like "I did not have sex with that woman. Ms. Lewinsky," as the worst sex lie ever. But we know now that Clinton was just excluding oral sex from his definition of sex. He didn't say, well, I did get a massage from that woman, but that was it. And she sold me some drugs, but I didn't inhale.

And for the Clinton analogy to be perfect, Clinton would have had to have been an advocate for celibacy. And, I think it's universally agreed, he's never been confused for one of those.

Dusk Falls on "the Conservative Era"

Elections aren't until Tuesday, but we're already hearing "pre-mortems" on the vaunted Republican Revolution that led to GOP takeover of Congress in 1994. The reflexively cautious CNN has been running hour-long segments on "Broken Government" and "What Went Wrong with the Right," where rightist luminaries such as Grover Norquist and Bruce Bartlet explain why the GOP deserves its imminent and ignominious implosion. Even reliably-red cable news hosts such as Joe Scar have gotten into the feeding frenzy. And, in a sign of GOPocalypse, George Will has actually written cogent columns this week, suggesting--without a trace of that unhinged quality he's cultivated ever since the political earthquake of 1992--that George Allen is running a disastrous and demagogic campaign against the vastly superior Jim Webb in Virginia. If that weren't enough, Vanity Fair has just released a story on the "neoconservatives" where Richard Perle, Ken "Cakewalk" Adelman, and David Frum complain that the Bush administartion is filled with morons and milquetoasts, confused incompetents who just didn't know how to listen. Amen, my brothers. Too bad you weren't "in the room" back in the day. You were? G-Oops!

I don't know how these elections are going to turn out. My guess would be a Dem House (+25 pickup for D's) and a GOP Senate (+4 D's), both by small margins. Your guess is as good (and probably better) than mine. Frances knows the exact answer, but she's apparently not telling.

Horserace aside, I've been trying to think about the larger meaning of the GOPocalypse in light of modern American history. Someday, I expect that historians will refer to our time period as "the conservative era," much as the 1820s and 30s were "the Jacksonian era," the 1870s-90s were "the Gilded Age," and the 1890s-1910s were "the progressive era." Indeed, the era through which we have been living is a convenient bookend for the twentieth century, beginning as it did with the Progressives, a movement to which conservatism provides a mirror, as its inverted reflection. Both movements developed, at least in part, as middle-class idealists and populist radicals jockeyed to mold inchoate forces of public restlessness and discontent with the prevailing establishment. In each era, the reigning movement drove politics in both parties simultaneously (if not equally), and you could make a case that the most practically successful president of each era came from the less-naturally hospitable party: TR the progressive Republican, Clinton the conservative Democrat.

In the MSM, the most common Prog-Con comparison we get comes in the frequent--if confused--claim (made, for example, in the CNN shows mentioned above) that George W. Bush is pursuing a "Wilsonian" foreign policy. The heart of the claim comes from the Bush administration rhetoric about "promoting democracy" abroad, although this is the least plausible connection between the movements. Unlike Wilson, who promoted election reform and industrial democritization at home, Bush has never believed in "democracy" per se, as both the 2000 election and his consistent scorn for democratic norms demonstrates (reasoned discourse, government transparency, etc.). His use of that rhetorical ploy to defend the Iraq War was a post hoc marketing change, never an underlying rationale, a point that Frum, Perle, et al. have been trying in futility to make--for their own absolution. Unlike Wilson, who was an internationalist, a multilateralist, and a reluctant warrior, Bush is a warmongering jingoist who has consistently scorned the global community. The idea that Bush, who made John Bolton his UN ambassador, could be the proper heir to Wilson, who spent all his remaining capital fighting for a League of Nations, is frankly obscene.

Nonetheless, there are other (better) parallels. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Age of Reform (1955), Richard Hofstadter writes that,

The Progressive mind, I have said, was preeminently a Protestant mind; and even though much of its strength was in the cities, it inherited the moral traditions of rural evangelical Protestantism. The Progressives were still freshly horrified by phenomena we now resignedly consider indigenous to urban existence. However prosperous they were, they lived in the midst of all the iniquities that the agrarian myth had taught them to expect of urban life, and they refused to accept them calmly. Here it was that a most important aspect of the Protestant personality came into play: its ethos of personal responsibility (204).

I'm struck by how much of this description (e.g., its moral anti-urbanism) could apply to the conservative movement, at least as it came to understand itself in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when liberals routinely seemed to reject personal responsibility in the name of social guilt and nannyish government. We might also note that the evangelical strain in the "Protestant conscience" gave both Progs and Cons a deontological orientation, the kind of moralism that expresses itself in self-righteousness and categorical imperatives. Of course, the differences here are also profound. When the Progs championed "personal responsibility" they meant for the problems of society, not simply for your own personal material and spiritual well-being. Whereas progressivism made its individualism altruistic, conservatism made its individualism narcissistic.

As a result, the conservative movement can claim few if any of the accomplishments of the progressives. Its idealism was almost immediately captured and corrupted by the imperatives of American business. Appropriately, given its self-obsessions, the corruptions its ascendency has revealed--Enron, Abramoff, Ney, Cunningham, DeLay, Foley, even Clinton--have almost always been it own. Similiarly, whereas the progressives were able to create systematic institutional reform (income tax, direct election of Senate, etc.) since they saw the individual conscience as working within an interconnected society, conservativism has exposed only the endless personal failings of its practitioners, as Ted Haggard's humiliating fall from grace this week richly illustrates.

Hofstadter reports that the progressive movement collapsed from public exhaustion over WWI, and that, "by pinning America's role in the war so exclusively on high moral considerations. . . and by linking the foreign crusade as intimately as possible to the Progressive values and the Progressive language, [Wilson] was unintentionally insuring that the reaction against Progressivism and moral idealism would be as intense as it could be" (278). Hard not to hear echoes of Bush's war in these lines, especially when, on the eve of the election, it's Iraq that threatens to kill the conservative majority. The movement too?, we might ask.

Just as the Prog-Con mirror reflects unflatteringly on the latter's domestic achievements, so will be the case in foreign policy. As unpopular as it became after just two years, WWI was a stunning victory for the US, both in terms of immediate result and its long-term power implications. Not so Iraq, a narcissistic misadventure if there ever was one. Wilson's diplomacy, if overly triumphalist, was also scrupulously self-sacrificing. Bush's relentless quest to use the Iraq War for partisan and special interest advantage has resulted in a very undiplomatic defeat. The Dems lost everything in 1920, as Progressivism gave way to "the Dollar Decade." Even the New Deal, at least as Hofstadter describes it--practical, experimental, anti-ideological--was as much repudiation of Progressivism as culmination. Where, we are left to wonder, will the pending collapse of our era's reigning orthodoxy leave us?

Friday, November 03, 2006

Why Do I Not Feel Reassured?

Paul, thanks for the correction. It's nice to know that your earlier remarks in celebration of man-on-sheep lovin' were merely a rhetorical flourish. However, after having placed them in a "rant" in which you decried any and every doctrine of sexual restraint as the result of anachronistic and silly religion, while citing in your defense an anachronistic and selective (if not so silly) classicism, you can surely understand why I missed your supposedly more enlightened point about "consenting adults."

Unfortunately, the line drawn at consenting adults will not do as a lodestone for sexual morality, since it offers nothing but laissez-faire bromides on issues such as adultery, incest, polygamy, prostitution, and even the prior example of #3 masturbating, Diogenes-style, in the street. After all, if you don't like it, just don't watch: "change the channel" as the self-righteous libertarians like to say. If sex is an activity like any other, then public masturbation is a form a symbolic speech that cannot be silenced by a "heckler's veto." My offense at #3's behavior offers no justifiable limitation upon it.

Given your earlier poo-pooing of the Foley scandal--which I'll agree does not make the top-10 list of GOP sins, even as it still merits justified derision--and your more recent anti-virginity jeremiad, I'm also not sure that the "adult" in your "consenting adults" is as significant as it purports to be. Do we really need the extended history lesson here? I understand full well that extreme "sex is evil" doctrines have derived from dubious arguments. For what it is worth, the doctrines you describe below bear little relationship to any Christianity I've ever known, except in anti-religious diatribe. Still, whatever their origin, the shrillness of the chastity-belt purists you have so carefully (and shrilly) exposed in no way diminishes the points that (a) sexuality is a morally-normed realm of human activity, and (b) an ethos of restraint has significant advantages over one of unlimited ejaculation.

Sex is a beautiful and complex human experience, one that should neither be commercialized via prostitution nor entered into lightly by those too young to properly prepare for it or deal with its many and varied consequences: pregnancy, STD, jealousy, betrayal, etc. Much of the power of sex comes precisely from its privacy and intimacy, coupled with its connection to emotions such as "love," which are no less real for being socially and historically conditioned. A doctrine of restraint, as opposed to license, recognizes this, seeking to constrain sexual activity in the name of its elevation (dare I say "sanctification") through "domestication." Of course, not all sexual experience can be so confined. Try as they might the Montagues and Capulets could not keep their young lovers apart. And no amount of social restraint will prevent phenomena like prostitution, porn, and adultery from arising on the margins of society. Sometimes dirty and illicit is fun--also, as a result, dangerous and antisocial. So let the margins remain the margins and the norms remain the norms, lest we discover that the boundaries we found it so easy to deconstruct leave us standing naked and exploited on the public square. If I recall, this is the point Aristophanes was trying to make in the Assembly of Women.

To return to the original issue, this debate began at SA when Sam expressed some curiosity over the public's ambivalence over gay marriage before launching into a "critique of heteronormativity." Since I'm the only one involved in this debate who seems to have experienced any of that ambivalence, I'll try to explain it. Like the public at large, I have a great amount of sympathy for "gay rights," at least in the abstract. I do not consider homosexuality sinful, and I believe in gays' rights to equal dignity as citizens and human beings. More specifically, I fully support gay partners' rights to inheritance, hospital visitation, and caretaker decision-making. I also believe that gay parents and their children will greatly benefit from the legitimacy that comes from either civil union or marriage. I've written on all this at FFB before.

BUT--and here comes the ambivalence--no matter how much I sympathize, I cannot eliminate a suspicion that gay marriage is the camel's nose under the tent for a more radical agenda, one that seeks a "transvaluation of values" with regard to bourgeois sexual norms. First you relax the norm, and then you dissolve it altogether. As long as the gay rights movement is acting for equal inclusion within a well-established and crucially important social norm like marriage, we're all on the same page. But that doesn't sound like it's enough, since everyone else who has commented in this debate has found that position not just insufficient but offensive. Sam wants to overthrow "heteronormativity" (to replace with "queernormativity"?), Frances wants to legalize prostitution, and Paul thinks teen sex, bisexuality, and even bestiality are within the "normal" range of human behaviors, not to be disparaged by us silly religionists, inspired as we are by magic beans, inferior texts, and sex-hating, power-craving priests.

This is where I get off the train. I'll sign on for equal dignity but not for sexual revolution. Especially not if that sexual revolution looks like it can't think beyond some false dichotomy between Puritanism and laissez-faire. Many middle-class, religious heterosexuals want to respond with human sympathy to the very reasonable pleas of gays for justice and equality in marriage. We just don't want to pull back the veil on our wedding day to find that, instead of a blushing bride, we've put the ring on Jerry Springer's finger and he's puckered up and waiting.

Like a Virgin


In reference to your post here, which was in response to my post here, I just want to point out that I made it quite clear more than once that I was advocating consenting sexually mature humanoids having sex with each other, not with animals. All this reminds me of a remake of a Bob Dylan song I just heard on NPR yesterday that went something like “Genghis Kahn couldn’t keep / all his men supplied with sheep...” At any rate, the bit about the sheep was merely an over-the-top rhetorical flourish meant to point out that there never has been some golden age when “married” men and women only had sex with each other inside the bonds of marriage, which seems to be a common misconception by some evangelical Christians these days (although given that the leader of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard, was just outed, maybe they’ll reconsider – nah, I’m sure they won’t.). And I refer to the Greco-Roman practices, not only because I know them better, but because they are documented better than other pre-Christian cultures. In addition, Christianity was born in the Greco-Roman world and so Christianity (and thus modern Western society) has inherited and re-interpreted almost every existing pagan practice.

Like you, I agree that the state has the duty and obligation to legislate human behavior, including matters impinging upon sexuality such as the age of consent. The only provisos are that it should do so rationally (as you say) and humanely. The problem with most Christian teachings on sexuality are that they have no rational basis anymore, and when you point this out to Christians, they say stupid things like, “Well, it’s in the Bible or the Church teaches it, so it’s God’s will and we just don’t understand his reasons.” They are also not humane (sex is evil). So they want to legislate public policy based on their faith in the Bible or Church teaching. Which brings up another point. You’ve probably got better things to do than get caught up in such lengthy blogs, but I’d like you to clarify your sentence that I somehow argued or implied that "a practice [which] began with the Christian Church ... must ipso facto be unjust." This reminds me of the scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, at which I must digress:

Yeah. All right, Stan. Don't labour the point. And what have they [the Romans] ever given us in return?!
The aqueduct?
The aqueduct.
Oh. Yeah, yeah. They did give us that. Uh, that's true. Yeah.
And the sanitation.
Oh, yeah, the sanitation, Reg. Remember what the city used to be like?
Yeah. All right. I'll grant you the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done.
And the roads.
Well, yeah. Obviously the roads. I mean, the roads go without saying, don't they? But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the roads--COMMANDO:
Huh? Heh? Huh...
Yeah, yeah. All right. Fair enough.
And the wine.
Oh, yes. Yeah...
Yeah. Yeah, that's something we'd really miss, Reg, if the Romans left. Huh.
Public baths.
And it's safe to walk in the streets at night now, Reg.
Yeah, they certainly know how to keep order. Let's face it. They're the only ones who could in a place like this.
Hehh, heh. Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh.
All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
Brought peace.
Oh. Peace? Shut up!

There, I feel better. But back to the thread at hand. I assume you’re referring to the practice of marriage. But I never said or implied marriage began with the Christian Church. In fact, there really isn't anything about marriage that the Christian Church invented, other than infusing existing practices with theological significance (i.e. making it a sacrament). So Christian teachings on sexuality are almost all theology – and a theology almost entirely based on practices started in pre-Christian cultures for particular reasons that made sense within a particular society at a particular time, but no longer did at the time when Christianity was born. Here’s a big example of a pre-existing sexual practice that the Christian Church has ripped from its original social context and then re-interpreted in the light of non-rational, theological thought:

Virginity. A woman’s virginity originally operated as a way to guarantee that she gave birth to a son of your own blood who was a suitable heir for your legacy. This is an entirely rational thing to do, IF you think there’s something special about your own genos and if traditional inheritance practice requires you to have a son from your own loins (note how Abraham takes Hagar to have a son when Sarah can’t instead of adopting). So that's why every god only ever rapes/seduces a virgin. There are no exceptions to this rule. Stories of seduction by Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo and the rest of the pantheon exclusively involve virgins because impregnating a virgin was the mortal ideal as well. Often these stories of virgin seduction are made more dramatic by having the god get to the virgin on the night of her impending “wedding” to a mortal. Thus Zeus disguises himself as Amphytrion and sleeps with Alcmene on her wedding night, and then the real Amphytrion follows soon after the god (undoubtedly the second performance wasn’t as good as the first). Alcmene then gives birth to twins: Zeus is the father of Heracles, and Amphytrion the father of Iphicles.

On the mortal plane, as the earthly father of a daughter, you guarded her virginity, not because you wanted her to remain “morally pure”, but because you wanted to make sure that her future “man” would be certain that any child born from her was his. Otherwise she was spoiled goods. That’s why you married her off as quickly as possible after puberty – girls in antiquity usually were “married” sometime between 14-16 years of age to older men of 20-30 years of age. To put it another way, in antiquity probably 80-90% of marriages would be considered illegal in most US states today. Well, as this sociological obsession with blood-lines begins to break down (in large part because of laws legalizing adoption), what does the Christian Church do? It comes under the spell of certain philosophies just becoming popular that argue that all material and matters of the flesh are not divine, or even “evil”, especially Eros. Christianity then keeps the traditional stipulation that girls must remain virgins and adds that this is necessary because sex is “sinful” and of the flesh, and this change also requires that men remain virgins. So now sex becomes something earthy, material and sinful, and only tolerated inside the bonds of marriage to procreate. In fact it’s so “dirty” and non-divine that now as a part of the sacred story God must come upon the Virgin as a spirit, not to ensure that she gives birth to his son, but to make sure that she miraculously remains a “virgin” with undespoiled flesh and worthy of giving birth to the son of a god. In short, the Christian teachings on virginity have completely ripped it from its original, rational function and sociological context and infused it with an irrational, spiritual and theological significance.

And then, as the circle of the earth has spun out the years, decades, centuries and millennia, we arrive to modern times when society has changed even further. Now girls/women and boys/men are educated up into their 20s and 30s, so marriage isn’t such a great idea until that education is well under way or over. But the biological drive remains as strong as ever – humans have evolved, like all life forms, to start having sex soon after puberty is reached. Meanwhile new, reliable contraceptives have come on line to avoid unwanted pregnancies and STDs, and what do most Christian churches say? Pre-marital sex is evil, and use of contraceptives before marriage is evil and the Catholic Church even says all use of contraceptives is evil (“Every sperm is sacred...”). This is just stupid and then impacts public policy like refusing to hand out condoms to teens and promoting abstinence programs up into the late twenties and encouraging over population.

So I guess what I’d like to know is, what new benefit(s) do you think that the Church and Christian teaching has/have brought to marriage and sexuality for society as a whole? Do Christian teachings about homosexuality, bisexuality, prostitution, or adultery stand up to rational inquiry any better than virginity? I think not.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Disillusionment and Despair

This is one of the most depressing stories out of Iraq I've encountered in a while. Young woman out of Flagstaff, Arizona, talented in foreign languages, volunteers for intelligence duty in Iraq. In the fall of 2003, just as the pressure to produce actionable intelligence on the budding insurgency was intensifying, she is dispatched to "the cage," an interrogation unit in Tal Afar. After only two days at the prison, she objects to the harsh interrogation "techniques" being used. She refuses to continue in that post and gets reassigned. Shortly after, she kills herself with her own rifle.

I can only imagine the disillusionment that a well-brought-up, patriotic young Mormon woman would have experienced when she saw the government that she had been taught to love torture detainees in its custody.

Baaah Humbug, or A Good Night's Sheep

Well, Paul has convinced me--we should all be fucking livestock! I sure am glad the Greeks thought of it first.

To clarify, no one in the debate at Second Americano was arguing against gay marriage (or civil unions, etc.). Certainly not me. I didn't take a position one way or the other, except to say that I thought it was smart and responsible politics on behalf of the gay rights movement. The debate was simply over whether one could exercise ANY social reasoning concerning sexual or marital norms, or whether one should instead defer to unfettered and unjudged individual choice. I'm really not sure how we can avoid making at least SOME judgments about these things, even if only to define the "age of consent," although I see Paul's not too enthusiastic about that idea either.

So I'll go out on a limb. Old men making hot, horny love with sexy, sexy 12 year olds is probably, oh what's the word?. . . wrong. Incest too. (Dude, didn't you read Aristophanes' Assembly of Women?) Polygamy is a recipe for the exploitation of women, especially ones too young to defend themselves. Adultery undermines the bonds of trust that allow a family and the children within it to flourish. When the family breaks down, it has an especially harsh effect on the poor, as both rural and inner city experience show. And having sex with animals is, well, really frickin' gross.

The idea that the state, which has some interest in promoting social health (um, Aristotle?), has no business in these matters, or that we, as social thinkers, must refrain from making any judgments, strikes me as an adolescent libertarian fantasy, much as Gloria Steinem's line about fish and bicycles is a silly ideological fantasy about the radical autonomy of the sexes with regard to each other. I'm also entertained by the suggestion that if a practice began with the Christian Church it must ipso facto be unjust. Hey, I distrust Catholicism as much as the next guy (more!, I am a Protestant, after all), but let's cut the papists a break: Christian marriage was NOT an irrational totalitarian plot dreamed up by ironically-inclined (or "reclined"?) pederast priests during idle moments between seducing boys in the confessional. It serves reasonable social purposes, although it may often have been applied in ways that were too extreme, unitary, and unrealistic.

Social reasoning may be messy and imperfect, but it is certainly better than the alternative, especially in a pluralistic democracy where it is open to revision. This is a "civilization" we're living in, and I don't think it's too much to ask that people not gratify every little sexual desire that comes their way. Or normalize each and every fetish. You certainly don't want #3 masturbating in the street in front of your house--I hope. And don't cite Diogenes on me, 'cause that guy was a freak. Open your mouth and say "Baaaah!"

Holy Ejaculations!

I see some of the regular FFB bloggers were over at secondo americano (who’s the primo americano?) ejaculating precious blogging fluids into a discussion concerning the NJ ruling on gay civil unions/marriage, and on the topic of “heteronormativity.” Leave it to sex to arouse everyone. On the other hand, this is just one of those fucking topics that gets me off – on a rant. I really can’t understand why it really matters how two consenting humanoids spank their mature sexual organs and even less why this is the subject of politicking. I mean, if two sexually mature and consenting humanoids aren’t free to use their private parts as they privately see fit and choose their own life’s partner to whom they can bequeath, or from whom they can receive, property and have it recognized by the state, then what kind of fucking freedom do they really have? No, we need to regulate sex, why we even need to extend abstinence programs for singles in their late teens and twenties, cause we don’t want them to dirty their temples with sex before their holy day of heterosexual marriage. And as for the Foley affair, I am just so SHOCKED and APALLLED that a Congressman wanted to have sex, especially with 16-year old boys. And while I’m happy that the Republican Party’s puritan attitude that homosexual sex is the abomination that causes desolation has been shown to be just hypocritical window dressing for the religious right wing nuts in their party, nevertheless I can’t help but feel this entire incident is just so overblown. It’s not like he’s a Catholic priest pretending to be a celibate holy man. Sure, this is an instance of poor judgment by Foley, and in some states it may even be criminal, but come on, this sort of sexual behavior is well within what you would expect of humans (and historically it is also within norms) and should not be on the front pages of our newspapers, much less a national factor in the election on November 7, especially given that the Republicans have been buggering the American electorate and world for the last 6 years on more serious and consequential matters. Hell, when I was 16, I seem to remember that I was perfectly capable of telling any randoid where he could put his tool and then get on with my life without worrying whether sulfur was going to rain down on the nation. Do we really expect that our politicians will not want sex with younger lovers? What unrealistic view of humanity’s silly vices of the flesh is this?

And as for a monogamous, heterosexual relationships in holy matrimony -- this has been anything but the historical norm. In fact, the entire freakin’ idea of monogamous matrimonium sanctum in the West is just a Catholic Church construct. Before the Catholic Church took over most of the Roman Empire’s civil functions, the operating phrase was matrimonium iustum -- legal marriage. So the Catholic Church, as it so often did, just took the inherited Roman Imperial construct and infused it with greater spiritual significance by making it one of the sacraments in order to, in my opinion, control their flock. It’s no surprise then that marriage, birth and baptism records still persist in a parallel universe between the Church and State. Before the Catholic Church, the Roman Empire and the various Greek city states each propagated their own standards of matrimonium iustum, not because of some spiritual sense that “legal marriage is only between a man and woman”, but to regulate the transfer of property and, more importantly, the transfer of citizenship. Yes, in the ancient world the biggest point of a legal marriage was to decide who was born a citizen of the state, and since “gay” men were automatically citizens and weren’t going to procreate anyway, they didn’t give a damn about it. And the converse was also true -- since the point of legal marriage was deciding who was a legitimate male citizen at birth, marriage only concerned heterosexual couples who procreated. In fact, in Athens it wasn’t until after about 450 BC, when Perikles passed new citizenship legislation, that both parties of a “heterosexual” couple had to be born to parents who were also born as “citizens”, in order to legally “marry”, which didn’t mean they couldn’t shack up with others, they just couldn’t produce a male offspring who could become a citizen (and thereby own property) and they couldn’t produce a female offspring who could one day give birth to a male citizen. Before Perikles, just the man had to be born an Athenian. And the point of Perikles’ new legislation was probably to restrict state welfare programs, which were becoming quite popular, to fewer citizens.

As for men, they could have one “legal” wife to bear a legitimate, male citizen and heir, but they could have many different partners, women, 16-year old boys or men, slaves as they chose. Zeus was the model citizen, with his many affairs, even with his boy-toy Ganymedes. Not that Hera or the other women were happy about this double standard, but as long as she remained the designated heir-bearer, it was probably better if he were off screwing someone or something else since there was no reliable contraceptives and childbirth was a dangerous business. The woman? Well, she had to be secluded in the house to guarantee that she gave birth to your son of your own blood and not another man’s. But she too could have liaisons with other females (Sappho for instance was married, had a daughter, but also carried on with younger women). So, in many ways, bisexuality was the norm, at least it was in Greece. And a sexual purity didn’t exist as a concept for men, and for women it had nothing to do with some spiritual ideal, it was just a practical matter for a man to ensure that his son was really the son of his own blood and the one to whom he could hand off property in good conscience.

That brings up the issue of inheritance. The property passed to the eldest, male heir of your loins or the eldest male relative closest in kin, never to your wife (who was not of your kin/blood). If you had no male heir but you had a daughter, then the daughter just became a place holder until she gave birth to a male, at which point the property reverted to the boy upon his 18th birthday. So, to pass on your property you needed a male heir, whether you were gay or straight. And since about 20% of couples were infertile or didn’t produce males, and some males never wanted to marry women, they created the system of adoption. So many men never married – they’d pick their main squeeze (didn’t have to be a citizen, could be a him or her) and they just adopted a male heir to pass on their property. Once the Romans changed the law to allow for women to inherit property, then the issue of wives (and thus non-blood relatives) inheriting their husband’s property arouse, and this complicated matters, but this was late in the game.

But of course there was a time when the state didn’t exist so citizenship didn’t exist. From time immemorial the tradition was just to hand off one’s property to one’s eldest son, and naturally one could only hand off property to a son if one had one, which required heterosexual sex or adoption. But that didn’t stop men from doing it with other women, men or adolescent boys or slaves or sheep. I seem to recall those ancient Israelite Kings had a lot of action going on. And there isn’t even a special Greek word for “husband” or “wife”. If you designated a woman to be the mother of your intended male heir, then she became “your woman” and you became “her man.” Of course the ones who got to be the match-makers were the two fathers. They’d get together and say, “Hey, my boy could father an heir with your daughter, if you provide her with an adequate dowry, what do you think?” And the other one would say, “That sounds good. I’ll throw in a few cows.” And the other would say, “When should we do this?” And the other would say, “Oh, I dunno know. How about today?” “That sounds good to me.” “Let’s hire a cook and throw a party. It’ll give the women a chance to dance.” “Yes, we’ll make it an all nighter.” And at the party the father would give his daughter away and the newlywed woman, or really girl of 14-16, would enter her new husband’s house and live there with her in-laws.

Where does that leave us? Well since we have universal rules governing citizenship and we’ve broken the tradition of only passing on our property to a male heir of one’s blood or to a son by adoption, and now men and women who are not related by blood can become the heirs of their spouse’s property including Social Security, then I see no reason why gays shouldn’t be able to go through matrimonium iustum to designate one person of their choosing to be their legal heir..., including state benefits afforded to heterosexuals (who get such state benefits regardless of whether they have children or not). As for Churches, if they don’t want to marry gays in matrimonium sanctum, let them discriminate as they wish. But matrimonium iustum should be available to all, equally.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

I'll Let the Zoroastrians Alone

I'm pretty sure TMcD is not trying to accurately describe this fairly innocuous post of mine on "The New Atheism." My goal is not to destroy all world religions. (That would be a rather grandiose goal, huh?) But I like the idea that there are those, maybe even radicals (?), who are willing to publicly denounce supernaturalism in all its forms. And I really like it when they take on faux agnosticism.

I believe in freedom, dude. Like, the freedom of conscience and everything. So, no, I am only advocating the freedom of atheists to call into question the tenets of others' (supernatural) beliefs. Now, maybe the calling into question those tenets does threaten to destroy religion, from the perspective of a believer. But what does that say about belief?

A Welcome Musical Interlude

After debating, over at Second Americano, the benefits (or lack thereof) of de-"norming" heterosexuality, marriage, and related forms of oppression, and before responding to #3's call for the destruction of all world religions in the name of a dogmatically atheist scientific "rationalitism" (woo-boy!), I thought we could use an earwax cleaning from Planet Notyetinsane. A musical enema, as it were.

Good news for you Chicagoans: Nashville's best band, the beloved but currently unsigned Features, will open for Jack White's Raconteurs at the Riviera Theater on Dec. 30 and 31. Mrs. TMcD is jealous of anyone within driving distance, and I can't blame her. If you get the chance, by all means, GO SEE THEM. As opening act, we've seen the Features blow both Kings of Leon and Fountains of Wayne off the stage, but besting the Raconteurs will be a more Herculean task. Worth the money to see them try.

Otherwise, here's what I've been listening to lately. TV on the Radio may have the most hyped CD of the year, Return to Cookie Mountain. Their live performance of "Wolf Like Me" on Letterman a couple of months ago was one of the most rivetting things I've seen in a long time. The CD itself is more of a mixed bag. Playing the old rock game of mix & match, take David Bowie ("Ashes to Ashes" era), Peter Gabriel (the more African-inflected stuff), and Prince ("Sign of the Times" era), and throw them in a blender to get TVotR. The Thin White Duke even appears on some backing vocals. The first few songs are intense and droney, but not especially ingratiating. When they hit their stride in the middle section of the CD with "Wolf," "A Method," and "Dirtywhirl," they're a mighty band to reckon with. The hidden tracks are also better than the openers.

Yo La Tengo also have a really enjoyable new disc out, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass. If you're not familiar, they're a missing musical link between Sonic Youth and Belle & Sebastian. An earlier YLT disc I've got was way too ethereal for my tastes, but this one creates an appealing blend of late-80s alternative and 60s sunshine-pop.

But the best CD I've heard so far this year has got to be M. Ward's Post-War. This is an album of wistfullness and joy, and I heartily recommend it. Imagine a less cynical Tom Waits singing for a sweeter, happier version of the Pixies, with the whole thing mellowed out to a Jack Johnson- or Norah Jones-speed campfire jam. I know, I know. That doesn't make any damned sense. But the CD is incredible from start to finish. It's fresh, it's retro, it's alt rock, it's Americana. You'll like it. Trust me.

What are y'all listening to?