Rantophilia

Cincinnati & national politics -- movies -- music -- law

Monday, June 30, 2003

Professor Cole Gone Wild!


Learned of this through Notes From Ground Level, but here's a link to Professor Cole's rant about Maureen Dowd, liberals, and the racism of affirmative action, for ease of surfing. Now, Greg L. Mann does a fine job of pointing out the factual error in Cole's harange, but I feel the need to comment on Cole's Stanford-related diatribe:

Let me illustrate my point. I am willing to bet that I am the only member of this list who feels compelled to put his standardized test scores and National Merit award on his CV. Why do I do this? For those of you who do not know me personally, it is not a matter of braggadocio. Every September I have to deal with nearly 60 prima donna first year law students whose first and only (initial) reaction to my skin color is that they have been cheated out of a "real" Contracts professor, and are stuck with an "Affirmative Action" instructor. Many of them come around when, as some "gunners" often do, they look up my CV and find that I have outscored virtually every single one of them on the test around which they have centered their lives, the LSAT. Others usually come around by mid semester when they have had an opportunity to compare my teaching to that of their other instructors. If numbers (standardized test scores and teaching evaluations) could obscure my skin color, my life would be heavenly.

Unlike Mr. Mann, I am an alum of Stanford Law School (though I never had the now-questionable pleasure of taking Professor Cole's class), and I am certainly willing to concede certain points. For instance, while all sixty of his first-year law students may not be prima donnas, at least fifty of them are. Likewise, I have no doubt that a certain number of gunners do check out his CV during the semester (assuming they didn't read it as soon as they learned he was their professor). What I don't buy is the allegation of automatic racial stereotyping. Certainly, some students have only one reaction (and various race-related incidents at SLS during my time there attest to that), but not all students are as ridiculously race-conscious as Cole would paint us. And I would wager that among those whose first thoughts on seeing Professor Cole involve his race, there are a very respectable number (of all races) whose only race-based reaction is, "Cool. Not another old white guy."

Point / Counterpoint?


The Enquirer boasts a pair of editorials today debating a bill before the Ohio legislature to reform the tort system in Ohio. On the pro-reform side is Senator Steve Stivers, the sponsor of the bill. On the anti-reform (or shall we say, pro-tort) side is Dennis L. White, the chair of the Ohio Democratic party. What is glaringly absent from the discussion (and the Enquirer) is the actual text of the bill, which I link to here.

Anyway, why is this debate interesting? Mainly because White does such an unimpressive job convincing us why Stivers is wrong. My main problem--the bill cuts off product liability claims that accrue more than ten years after the manufacture of the product. Stivers uses an example of why this is appropriate: "under today's standards, an architect working in Ohio faces liability for life on his designs, and could be sued even though someone else may have negligently maintained the property." I guess I don't see the problem. If the architect did nothing wrong, then she will not be liable. If so, why should she escape liability automatically? One reason: juries get it wrong. If that's the problem, require bench trials. But the real problem is that businesses say, "Jump!" and Sen. Stivers says, "How high?"

Thursday, June 26, 2003

One Further Note on Lawrence


Checking out the fair and balanced news provided by Fox News on the Lawrence decision, I came upon this choice bit of commentary by Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Andrew Napolitano: "That's almost one of the reasons the court invalidated the statute -- because Texas itself didn't enforce it within the past 10 years with the exception of this one case." An incisive look into how the Supreme Court ruled in a parallel universe.

Lawrence v. Texas


The Supreme Court's ruling today pretty much invalidating sodomy laws everywhere has some, like Greg L. Mann over at Notes From Ground Level, veritably jumping for joy. Which, you know, is great. I'm thrilled that a law that clearly discriminates against homosexuals is gone, but I can't join in the fist pumps and jubilation (and Scalia-bashing) without any reservations. But first, my general thoughts:

1) Kennedy's opinion was eloquent and contained a number of nice platitudes.

2) O'Connor's opinion, while less eloquent, was an interesting, if fuzzy, step in a good direction in equal protection law.

3) Scalia, like Thomas in the affirmative action decisions, let a ridiculously strident tone get in the way of the handful of good points that he had.

And it is those good points and the way that Scalia so vitriolically attacked the Roe and Casey decisions that bear further mention.

First, Scalia makes the very supportable argument that this decision is judicial activism run amok. Without explicitly holding that consensual sex is a fundamental right (though that could certainly be implied), the Court basically drew a line around the consensual, adult bedroom and told the government that it may not cross that line. Specifically, the court held that that line may not be crossed on the basis of imposing popular morality. But Scalia makes a facially good point that morality underlies much of our criminal code. "Thou shalt not kill" and many of the other commandments are translated into law. He also makes a facially good point that almost any law can be seen, at least generally, to have the purpose of discriminating against a group: laws against embezzlement are aimed only at embezzlers; laws against murder, murderers, etc. Scalia's argument fails for two reasons, though: 1) O'Connor didn't say that laws that express disapproval of a group are bad, but that "[m]oral disapproval of a group cannot be a legitimate governmental interest under the Equal Protection Clause because legal classifications must be drawn for the purpose of disadvantaging the group burdened by the law." In other words, moral disapproval is not enough . 2) His doomsday slippery-slope predictions about laws preventing prostitution, gay marriage, adult incest, etc. are bogus. With varying degrees of success, I believe that a majority, if not all, of those laws can be justified on some other basis than mere "morality" or morality "euphamized" into some sweeter-sounding justification. (I'm essentially explaining what Greg L. Mann noted, but did not delve into, here.)

(One aside: Is it just me, or does Justice Scalia have a Joey Tribiani-like relationship with the phrase "so-called," as in "so-called homosexual agenda." It appears to me that his use of this inflammatory modifier is not justified by the context in which he uses it.)

Anyway, moving beyond the morality question, Scalia's attack on Roe and Casey also deserves a bit of additional discussion. Without going to to the merits of either opinion, I think that Scalia's broadside should stand as a wake-up call to abortion rights advocates around the country, because it makes clear that if the complexion of the Supreme Court changes any time soon, those two opinions may be overturned. But I think that the mistake would be to use this as an excuse to focus efforts solely on making sure that the next Supreme Court Justice is pro-choice or pro-Roe. Rather, abortion rights advocates would do well to take a lesson from Scalia's dissent, a lesson on which he is correct about the importance of the democratic process:

Let me be clear that I have nothing against homosexuals, or any other group, promoting their agenda through normal democratic means. Social perceptions of sexuality and other morality change over time, and every group has the right to persuade its fellow citizens that its view of such matters is the best.


And pro-choice folks should learn another lesson as well from this opinion and its quick (at least in Supreme Court terms) overturning of Bowers v. Hardwick: change achieved through the courts can be very fickle and can change on a dime. Changing societal opinions is a slower process, but one that is far longer-lasting. And abortion rights advocates have been relatively silent (compared to the anti-abortion crowd) in the public arena for far too long. It is time for them to speak out and try to convince people, rather than merely courts, that they are right.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Sodomy Law


For those who care, this will be my day to talk Supreme Court, so let's get started with a little news.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Bush's Website


Slate has an funny profile (with screen captures!) of the beta of W's '04 election web page. Great stuff and ripe for some good parody once it actually does go online. Anyone with actualy html scripting knowledge interested in creating a georgewbushisaliar.com or something like that? (If only I could. If only I could.)

Thomas's Dissent


I still haven't posted my thoughts on the affirmative action opinions handed down by the Supreme Court on Monday. I intend to, but I haven't yet formulated them to my satisfaction. Stay tuned. Until then, check out Maureen Dowd's column in today's NYTimes. I'm not usually a fan of hers, but I think it's an interesting political take on affirmative action as it applies to the Supreme Court.

Impossible to Resist


It's amusing the weird corners that gun nuts paint themselves into sometimes. Take Bronson's Enquirer column today (hooray! he's back!) about the dangers of pit bulls, where he opines: "Owners insist pit bulls are as harmless as a Pekinese if they are trained right. But a bazooka is as harmless as a .22 if you don't pull the trigger." As harmless as a .22. I'll remember that if anyone ever tries to mug me carrying a mere .22.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Affirmative Action


For those whose heads have been firmly ensconsed in their nether regions: "Split Ruling in Supreme Court on Race and University Admissions." Stay tuned.

Lewis v. Klitschko


I'm not much of a boxing fan and only watched the match between Lennox Lewis and Vitali Klitschko because my girlfriend and I found ourselves somewhere with HBO when the fight rolled around. Nevertheless, the match made quite an impression on me (and one that differs greatly from Greg L. Mann's over at Notes from Ground Level), so I thought I'd give it a blog. Specifically, I couldn't get past thinking that watching these two guys fight was like watching two big drunk guys slug it out outside of a biker bar. While both Klitschko and Lewis are big guys, neither one of them seemed to be in particular good shape. Lewis looked worse, though, almost as if he had just stepped off a bar stool directly into the boxing ring, beer gut and all. And then to call what I watched boxing would seem like an insult to the sport. Klitschko lumbered around the ring with his hands down near his waist, apparently content to defend himself by attempting to duck and dodge Lewis's punches. Lewis wasn't a whole lot better. Though he actually put his arms up defensively on occasion, he contented himself with a flurry of punches to start each round. He would then tire and stand in one spot, defending and throwing an occasional counterpunch. I see better fights in hockey or, hell, at a Reds game. These guys get paid money to fight? Sure, Klitschko bravely fought through a river of blood streaming down his face, and his eye resembled a piece of sirloin on a butcher's block, but the competing celebrations between the two boxers at the end was a joke. Not to mention the astounding amount of bluster both showed in their post-fight interviews. Both should have been apologizing instead. Not that I think this is the best that boxing has to offer -- I've seen better in Cincinnati. But I guess that explains why it wasn't on Pay-Per-View.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Hulk



Can't wait to see it, after reading the reviews that range from venemous (the NYTimes and Salon, where Charles Taylor might as well save us the trouble of reading his length "review" by telling us upfront that he hates Ang Lee and will hate everything he ever makes) to glowing (James Berardinelli) and with some lukewarm stuck in the middle (Roger Ebert). At least I know I'll have an opinion. But I feel the need to weigh-in on the CGI Hulk controversy -- is he "realistic?" My thought -- who cares? He's a comic-book character. Spider-man hurtling through the skies of New York didn't look real. It was rather clear that Spiderman was flying across a bluescreen sky. The biggest weakness of the X-Men is that they look too darn real. Just give me a good movie with a halfway decent Hulk and I think it's just dandy. On the same topic, what's with the "shouldn't his pants break when he turns the Hulk" discussion? Again, who cares. Sure, suspension of belief doesn't cover everything, but you have to at least try.

Bronson-mania!


I was looking at the Enquirer website today, hoping that Bronson had returned from his unannounced vacation. No luck. No column. Undeterred, I delved deeper. I went to the "More Enquirer columnists..." page, where Bronson's mephistophelian grin resides next to Denise Smith Amos's Glamour Shot(R) and above Randy McNutt's goofy smile. Clicking through brought me to Bronson's little bio page, where I found this pleasing nuggest, "Conservatives in the media are about as common as Christians at an ACLU convention, but I like to go against the current." And that got me thinking, "What does this sentence mean?" I decided that Bronson is either anti-Christian or anti-semitic, or is merely acknowledging the prevelance of conservatives in the media. If you come up with any more interpretations, please let me know.

Go Cardinal!


Two inspiring bits of Cardinal sports news.

First, Stanford advanced last night and will meet the Rice Owls in the championship series of the College World Series. While I have to root for my law school alma mater (sorry Greg L. Mann), I wouldn't be too upset if Rice won, thereby clinching their first national championship in any sport.

Second, watching Sportscenter this morning, Stanford grad Mark Madsen appeared at number six on the Top Ten plays of the day stage-diving at an appearance for American soldiers. It amuses me that Madsen has become the official mascot of the NBA. He should be required to show up at every game dressed in a twelve-foot tall costume that looks like a cartoon of himself and dance around.

Private Lynch


Nicholas D. Kristof's column in the NYTimes today puts forth an alternate story of the saga of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, the American POW that the government led us to believe had been rescued from imminent death in a gritty firefight. The complex and more honorable story of both Iraqis and Americans that Kristof describes rings more true to me than the testosterone-addled version we were first told. Another example of how the Bush administration opts to tell simple lies rather than the profound truth.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

My Own Feelings, Succinctly Put


Julia Reid of Hackensack, NJ wrote in a letter to the editor published in the NY Times today:


You quote Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House, as saying, "Does even the most left-wing Democrat want to defend the proposition that the world would be better off with Saddam in power?" ("Republicans Dismiss Questions Over Strength of Evidence on Banned Weapons in Iraq," news article, June 18).

Of course no one wants to say the world would be better off with Saddam Hussein's sadistic and brutal regime in place, but that isn't the question on the table. The issue is whether or not the end justifies the means.

Yes, removing Saddam Hussein is ultimately a good thing. But if deceit and manipulated information are what got us to this point, we must cry out against it.

We have no guarantee of being "better off" the next time our government uses such tactics.

Allowing our leaders to set this kind of precedent would be playing a dangerous game. We must refuse to play; that is the heart of the matter.


I couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

What a Gambit


The political shenanigans in Texas continue with the call for a special session to consider the same redistricting plan that drove Democrats to flee Texas and deprive the legislature of a quorum. This time, though, Governor Perry is playing hardball. He's saying that until Democrats take up the redistricting plan, which would hand over five of the Texas' thirty-two seats seats in the House of Representatives to Republicans, he won't open up the special session to other issues, like funding for hospitals. Sounds like extortion to me.

This whole story and some recent reading over at the disturbing The Brothers Judd blog has gotten me thinking about the state of American politics today. I don't know if, like a puppy, I have finally opened my eyes and now see the world as it always has been, or if this sad state of affairs is new, but I see so much partisanship and vicious anger between those who call themselves the right and the left. And I know that it cannot be good for this country. I long for the days when politicians and ideas could be judged on their merits, not on their placement along of a political spectrum. Were these days only in my head? Are we destined to fight each other forever? Can some semblance of reasoned moderation prevail?

A maxim that I came up with years ago keeps returning to my head: This country is better off when its President is of one party and its Congress is controlled by another. Then, compromises must be reached and no party can force its agenda without regard for those who disagree.

Odd


Article on nudist camps for teeagers here. Weird. My personal favorites are the necessarily arty photos.

The Death of Artful Music


Just have to throw my two-cents in about this article by Sahar Akhtar in Salon. Akhtar argues that iTunes, which allows customers to purchase songs individually, is a harbinger of the death of artistic innovation in the music world. It's an intriguing, if thoroughly misguided, argument.

Basically, Akhtar's argument goes like this: in order to be economically viable, the single format of the old '45s and new(ish) CD singles requires musicians to create music with instant appeal to a wide audience. Such music tends to be variations on well-worn themes because people generally like what they know. On the other hand, albums force musicians to fill more space, but not all of that space needs to be taken up with songs that are intended to be popular. I.e., an album can be sold on the strength of a few songs, while a single has only one song and a B-side to sell itself. While some musicians use that extra space to include uninteresting filler, other musicians to innovate and experiment. Akhtar points to the Beatles, the Doors, and Tool as examples of such innovators.

Akhtar then asserts that iTunes is like the single format taken to the extreme. Since songs are purchased individually, each song has to sell itself. And, since iTunes and its ilk will supplant traditional CD and album buying, record companies will support only those musicians who make a string of singles. Musicians, who are the whim of record companies for financial support, then will only create singles and thus will not innovate.

But I think that Akhtar's argument begs one simple question: what would the innovators that Akhtar cites have done in the face of iTunes? Under Akhtar's theory, the Beatles, if they were starting out today, would not have innovated. Same with the Who or the Doors or R.E.M. or Nirvana or any other watershed band you can think of. But this is just ridiculous. Artists strive to innovate, and many musicians are artists. Many of my favorite bands are not popular and never will be, yet they continue to create music. Look at Sonic Youth or Yo La Tengo or my favorite Cincinnati band, the Ass Ponys. All are great musicians who have never achieved financial success. Yet, they continue to create music and innovate, and there is no reason to believe they will not continue to do so in the future.

Of course, it is possible that musical innovators will no longer innovate solely within the artificial constraints of a 74 minute CD. Instead, the possibilities for innovation are virtually endless. Musicians could release longer thematic albums (though, that might not necessarily be a good thing -- Use Your Illusion I and II, anyone?) or constantly evolving musical pieces released, like old novels, in serial. No matter what directions artists look to pursue, however, where Akhbar sees the freedom that iTunes provides as encouraging the creation of stricter prisons, I see the opposite. Liberated from the confines of the album and single formats, musicians will be free to create whatever they wish and that freedom, in the hands of true innovators, can only be good for us all.

Additionally, the online music format permits even greater innovation because, by cutting out the manufacturing side of the music business and thus lowering overhead, it encourages a democratization of the music business. Now, the cost to create a song is simply that -- the expense of recording the song. That artist can then sell the music on iTunes or a competitor (and it is only reasonable to imagine that competitors will spring up that are willing to carry music produced by unknown artists). Fewer sales will be necessary to recoup the limited overhead.

The same theory applies to bands who work through labels that would provide lesser-known artists with increased promotional capabilities. Those labels would market the band, but the pressure would be less for a band to create a radio-friendly hit because the label would not need to sell as many songs to recoup costs. Some artists -- the Brittanys, Christians, and Justins who are enamored with fame -- will continue to focus their efforts on creating hit singles, of course. But others could happily subsist in modest popularity supported by a listening public interested in innovation.

Problems at Home


In Salon today, Andrew Sullivan excoriates "the left" for its inattention to the student uprisings in Iran, contending that it's not that the left sympathizes with Iran, but that it "hate[s] the American right more than they hate foreign tyranny." It's a wonderful attempt implicitly to characterize the left as divisive and hateful from a guy who reductively splits America into "the left" and "the right." But beyond that, I would posit another reason why the left is focused more on the right than on Iran--because it's the right, through the Bush administration, that's currently wreaking havoc on our country. And while Bush would like to distract the American people from the problems here in America--the lies perpetrated by the Bush administration, the floundering economy, and the wholesale evisceration of civil rights, to name a few--it is more important to take care of those problems, which affect us all every day, than to celebrate the tentative progress of democracy in a far-off land.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Sodomy


(As an aside, the one column I wrote in my undergrad campus paper that was titled, "Sex sex sex sex sex," engendered the greatest response of all of my columns, though it was not anywhere close to being the best. Maybe titling a post, "Sodomy," will have a similar, if somewhat naughtier, effect.)

Anyway, I tracked down this interesting piece at The New Republic on-line, in which Joseph Landau, an associate at Cleary Gottlieb in NYC, talks about how anti-sodomy laws have been used by courts to deny homosexuals legal protections (such as protection against employment discrimination) and other rights (such as custody of children). As paraphrased by Landau, courts say essentially, "if a state can criminalize gay sexual conduct, it can certainly commit lesser evils, such as denying gay people a job."

Landau peppers his article with troubling anecdotes of children being placed with abusive fathers rather than lesbian mothers and lesbian applicants for jobs being quizzed about their compliance with sodomy laws. However, at the end of the day, these stories are not surprising. Like art, penal laws not only reflect life; they also influence it.

What gets me is that the correlation between anti-sodomy laws and more systemic discrimination against homosexuals in the legal system puts the lie in the neocon argument that such laws aren't really discriminatory because they just forbid an act and don't treat any one group differently than any other. Facially, that's true: a heterosexual male is just as forbidden from having sex with another male as a homosexual one. But Landau's article shows that homosexuality and homosexuals are defined as a practical matter by the sexual acts in which they engage, so outlawing the act has far more sweeping implications than "just" outlawing a set of sexual acts.

Also, I think Landau's article unintentionally sets forth a powerful example of why separation of church and state is necessary. First instance, I agree with the D.C. Circuit's conclusion that it's contradictory for a state to outlaw the acts that define a certain class of people (for good or ill), yet extend them protections in another arena. After all, in order to provide a coherent and consistent guide to conduct, the laws must be taken as a whole. Thus, when the state outlaws something on the basis of a religious doctrine (and proponents of sodomy laws uniformly justify them on a religious basis, not some general concept of morality), that religious view, and thus the morality of that religion, necessarily goes further than just that one law. And those who agree with that view are empowered by seeing their perspective reflected in the law, while those who disagree are marginalized. Of course, all laws marginalize one group of people or another, but the key here is that our country was, to a large extent, founded by folks escaping marginalization (and outright persecution) on the basis of religion. This legacy is ensconced in the First Amendment.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Bill Keller, or How to Start Worrying, Kind of, and Still Love the War


Check out this entirely strange op-ed column from Bill Keller in the New York Times. It's informative because, by trying to simultaneously express his support for the Iraqi war and criticize how we ended up fighting it, Keller ends up saying exactly nothing. Or, more precisely, he points out everything that he thinks went wrong on the intelligence front, but sounds only mildly troubled by it. I find the almost-blasé attitude toward the whole thing interesting for two reasons: 1) it reflects what seems to be the blasé attitude of the nation as a whole; and 2) from a political perspective, it highlights the potential problem faced by a Democratic candidate attempting to fight against Bush on this issue. How can one support the war, which I think a Democratic candidate must if he hopes to win, yet still point out that Bush and his staff lied through their teeth with sufficient vehemence to get people outraged, which I also think is necessary? I don't have the answer, but I find Keller's relative ambivalence disheartening.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

The Vigilante Saga Continues...


Mere weeks after a grand jury (or, by proxy, the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office) decided not to indict Harold "Hal" McKinney on charges stemming from his shooting of a robber in a Northside bar, McKinney apparently now hopes to parlay his newfound fame into a full-time job ... as a member of Cincinnati City Council. I didn't catch the Enquirer article announcing his candidacy over the weekend, but here it is. Rather, I learned of it in a truly bizarre profile by Kathy Y. Wilson in her Citybeat column, "Your Negro Tour Guide."

Wilson's profile make me think that McKinney is not only dangerous -- (Who thinks it's a good idea to carry a semiautomatic weapon into a bar? Okay, apparently a Hamilton County grand jury does, but the Ohio legislature doesn't and made it a crime.) -- but also kind of loopy. He believes (apparently unaware of the numerous statistics to the contrary) that the country is being overrun by crime. He wears a bulletproof vest for strolls around the neighborhood and keeps a number of firearms around his house. Mind you, not locked up in any safe manner, but literally just lying around his house. Not to mention that his housewarming gift to a new neighbor was "a 'No Trespassing' sign and hollow points."

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I don't have drug dealers hanging out on my street and no one has ever threatened any member of my family. McKinney's perspective is necessarily different from mine. But even taking that fact into consideration, I have no problem calling him paranoid and scary. I would have a major problem calling him City Councilman, though.

Of course, just because he's running doesn't mean he'll be elected. And up to this point, the Republicans and Charterites have shown good sense by not endorsing him. I just hope Cincinnati also shows good sense by not electing him.

One last thing on McKinney -- apparently, even if he doesn't get elected to City Council, he's pursuing another career -- as a member of the Cincinnati Police Division. Given his propensity for pulling the trigger, he should fit in just fine.

Strange Vindication


As a computer game fan (and one-time rather hardcore player), I feel a sense of strange vindication seeing a lengthy article in the NYTimes about people who play computer games religiously. While my initial reaction is something like pity for the subject of the article, the more that I think about it, the more I can understand, and I'm impressed and almost thrilled by his choice of diversions.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

GOP Snubs Democratic Call for Iraq Probe


This is ridiculous and offensive. That the very real questions about whether the Bush Administration's claims about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were factually accurate should be dealt with behind closed doors is offensive to the idea of government accountability. According to the Bush Administration before the invasion, these weapons were the main justification for putting the loyal men and women of the American armed forces in harm's way. Now, Republicans are unwilling to test those claims publicly. This is not a routine situation calling for "routine oversight," as Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) would like us to believe. I am outraged.

Judicial Politics


I don't know if Sunstein and Schkade have published the results they discuss, but this article about the impact of politics on judicial decisionmaking is worth a read.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Missing the Point


As everyone knows, the press has finally locked onto the story of whether or not the American people were deceived by Bush (and by "Bush," I mean the Bush Administration generally) in the lead-up to the war in Iraq. Paul Krugman takes aim at the topic in today's New York Times. The Cincinnati Enquirer's editorial pages are abuzz with readers bickering over whether the fact that no WMDs have been found yet in Iraq show that Bush lied or whether we ought to give those searching for WMDs more time because Iraq is a big country. And Bush himself has begun speaking on the issue, saying yesterday, "Iraq had a weapons program. Intelligence throughout the decade showed they had a weapons program. I am absolutely convinced with time we'll find out that they did have a weapons program."

And while I'm glad that these issues are coming to light, I think a lot of people are missing the point.

First, let me start with the common argument that the war was justified because Saddam Hussein was a bad guy who had killed a lot of people. This is a debatable point that begs questions like, "What about all those other bad guys who kill people in places like Africa and South America? Why don't we go after them?" The response: we had to start somewhere; who's next? However you slice it, this isn't a battle worth fighting for those troubled by Bush's tactics because it's unwinnable. The mass graves will always be there and Saddam was a bad guy. But, it's also an irrelevant question because the issue is not whether the world is a better place after the war (unless we are to believe that the ends always justify the means), but whether Bush lied to pave the way to that better place.

Which is how we get to the next debate over whether there are WMD in Iraq. Nothing conclusive has been found yet. Okay. So I say that they're not there, and Bush says they are and we just haven't found them. And I don't win this argument, because it's impossible to prove a negative. So, unless Bush is willing to concede that they will be found in a set period of time, he can drag the argument out eternally. And Bush is too smart to do that. He's already telling us to wait, but never says when the wait will end. And if we buy into that and just sit back patiently, we're left waiting. Until there are new "threats" posed by Iran or Syria or increased terror alerts to distract us. Or until they find something. And then they wag their fingers and say, "I told you so," and we're left never having gotten to the more nefarious deception underneath.

The first deception. The one about intelligence: What intelligence did Bush have? What pressure did he bring to bear on the intelligence community? Did the intelligence comport with what we were told? Who made the mistakes and how did Bush let it happen? Those are the more important questions to which we are entitled an answer. Whether Saddam had WMDs or not is, at the end of the day, irrelevant. If the intelligence incorrectly pointed to their existence, we can fault the intelligence community. But if the inteligence was inconclusive and Bush lied about it, then we can fault Bush.

So I think we demand that the questions be asked and that answers be given publicly. No more secret briefings. No more anonymous sources at the CIA. Answers. Brought out in the open. What was the intelligence that convinced Bush to state so unequivocally that Iraq had WMDs and was prepared to use them? I demand to know.

Because the wrong answer to that question would bother me the most. It's not that we went to war. It's not that WMDs weren't found. It's if Bush felt the need to lie to me to get my support for the war. Because lying to the American public shows a lack of moral clarity. It shows that he put people in harm's way for a lie. And it shows that he doesn't trust the very people he is supposed to serve.

Weapons of Mass Destruction


Lost a longer blog on this subject to whatever site maintenance Blogger was perpetrating, but it was inspired by this article. Apparently, the US government has submitted a report to the UN Security Council indicating a "high probability" that al-Qaeda will use weapons of mass destruction to attach the U.S. within the next two years. To me, the report and its timing beg a number of questions: does the timing of the report have anything to do with Ashcroft's recent push to expand the USA PATRIOT Act? How can we trust the Bush Administration on this after being hoodwinked on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Is this all part of the what sometimes seems to be the plan of the Bush Administration to keep Americans off-balance and afraid?

But for now, I'm willing to give the Bush Administration the benefit of the doubt. The proof will come, though, when we see if Bush et al. use these sorts of reports to their advantage politically and in furtherance of the neocon agenda. It seems to me that nothing has been off-limits to politicizing in this administration. It's a scary time not to be able to trust your government.

Monday, June 09, 2003

10 Commandments


As already blogged at Notes From Ground Level, an interesting story has been developing throughout the day at West Union High School in Adams County, where a reported 400 people showed up to protest the removal of stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments. After several hours of protests, ten protesters were arrested and the tablets were removed.

The more interesting story (as NFGL also notes (drat!)) is the online poll that WLWT is conducting, asking, "[S]hould public school districts have the right to erect monuments with the 10 Commandments, even though it may violate the U.S. Constitution?" 71% say yes. Given the posture of the question, the offshoot is that if Congress were to pass a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution creating a right for public school districts to erect such monuments, that amendment would be ratified in Ohio. Good for us.

About-Face (pun intended)



In an attempt not to look like a heartless Republican just trying to shovel truckloads of cash into the pockets of his rich buddies (i.e., in an attempt to look like the "compassionate conservative" that he campaigned as), President Bush apparently will support extending the child tax credit to poor families. With this in mind, let's recall Ari Fleischer's explanation of the propriety of not extending the tax credit to poor families:

[F]or people who have had their entire income tax burden forgiven, I think they're very appreciative of the fact that they pay no income taxes in America and still benefit from a national defense, which is paid from income taxes; they still benefit from school programs that are paid at the federal level income taxes. They still benefit from a host of programs that income taxes help them in their daily lives; yet they pay zero income taxes. In fact, they get back money from the Treasury which is in the form of public assistance, above and beyond income taxes.

I guess poor people should be extra "very appreciative" now. I just hope they're as appreciative as the big businesses (like IBM, General Motors, Microsoft, Worldcom, and Enron) that manage to avoid paying any federal corporate taxes despite multi-billion dollar reported profits.

Luck


Sam Mendes is one lucky guy.

Friday, June 06, 2003

Chicken


It's good to see Democratic pressure actually come to something, what with the Senate passing a measure to extend the increased child tax credit to cover folks that make less than about $27,000. (I earlier said that the excluded group ended at families that make around $20,500, but it appears that my understanding of the underlying math was flawed. Apologies.) Of course, that $3.5 billion measure apparently came with $6.5 billion in concessions, to bring the total cost to $10 billion. Among the concessions is an extension of the credit to wealthy families. To paraphrase Bush, "Leave no rich child behind."

More disturbing is the proposition in this editorial by Paul Krugman that the Bush administration is pushing these huge tax cuts for the purpose of creating skyrocketing deficits and prompting a fiscal crisis. Once the crisis comes to pass, the administration and its lackeys in Congress will use it to justify cutting back on social aid programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. In other words, the administration will return us to the pre-Eisenhower era.

Is this administration willing to push the government to the edge of fiscal collapse in an extravagent policy gamble? Once upon a time, I would have said, "No." I would have assumed that the administration was merely being short-sighted and stupid. But having watched the neocon radicals in the Bush administration systematically (and with admirable effectiveness) dupe the American people into going to war on false grounds over the past year, I put nothing past them now.

The Republicans have already won the battle in at least one way. They've passed tax cuts with an unreasonably low price tag based at least somewhat on sunset provisions which would cause the cuts to expire in a decade. But repealing those provisions will be easy; it will maintain the status quo. Enforcing the sunset provisions will be hard; from a rhetorical standpoint, it would be the equivalent of a tax hike.

So, right now I'm willing to believe that the neocons are playing chicken, wagering that the deficit will eventually get bad enough that people will be willing to accept major cuts in social services in order to maintain the fiscal stability of the country.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

An Additional Ashcroft Note


Just picked up this quote from the NYTimes article on Ashcroft's appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. When responding to the criticism in an internal Justice Department report on the treatment of 762 individuals detained after 9/11, he said, "None of the individuals that were the subject of the report of the inspector general, none of those individuals was in the United States legally. All of them were illegally here." Apparently, this excuses any mistreatment. I see it as a startling and scary example of the hatred aimed at non-Americans, particularly those of the wrong color, that is a mark of Ashcroft and the Bush administration.

Expanding the USA PATRIOT Act


This is scary. Attorney General Ashcroft is asking the Senate to expand the powers of the Department of Justice under the USA PATRIOT Act to permit indefinite detention of suspected terrorists before trial, the charging of anyone who is a "material supporter" of suspected terrorist groups, and punishment of life in prison or the death penalty for any terrorist act. General Ashcroft's justification for these changes echo the typical Bush administration thought process -- "the ends justify the means."

For instance, Ashcroft noted that under threat of the additional penalities already provided in the USA PATRIOT Act, a number of detainees are cooperating with the Justice Department. Apparently, this means that if we pump up the penalties to the maximum possible -- death -- detainees will fall all over themselves to cooperate. This may be true. But we could use this theory anywhere -- make using drugs a crime punishable by death, and the users would roll on their suppliers; make embezzlement a crime punishable by death, and I bet the folks at Enron would have been far more cooperative; make stealing a crime punishable by, oh heck, severing one's hand.....

If it would be effective, why don't we use the Ashcroft Theory of Extreme Punishment everywhere, then? Because ordered justice requires that punishment be proportional to the magnitude of the crime. Of course, one could argue that every act of terrorism is on par with the worst possible crime, but I don't agree. Certainly, some acts of terrorism as horrible. We need not look far for examples. But to say that every act of "terrorism" is potentially a capital crime is ridiculous.

The problem, of course, is how to convince a scared public that, in the long run, this is not the best way to go about the war on terrorism. I think that the reference I've seen to past incidents, like the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII, is a good start. But I don't know if anything can work until Americans become convinced once again that America is much stronger than our current administration wants to make it out. Not to wax too melodramatic here, but America is an idea as well as a nation, and the idea of American is in some ways more dear than the nation itself. For, without the sanctity of the idea, we are just one country out of many, and one to which I feel no special attachment. And terrorist attacks are a far less dangerous threat to the stablity of our nation than Ashcroft's attacks are on the idea of America.

No Williams Grand Slam Final


After four annoying all-Williams Grand Slam finals, I'd like to take a moment to celebrate a no-Williams final in the French Open. Serena lost in three sets to Justine Henin-Hardenne, who will now meet Kim Clisters in the finals. Haven't been able to find any Serena quotes yet, but the Yahoo! Sports article I've linked above points to the latest Williams excuse losing -- the crowd. Which brings me to what annoys me about the Williams sisters: for being so clearly dominent in the sports of women's tennis, they are some of the worst losers in all of sports, never able to acknowledge the superior play of another player. It's always injury or sickness or something that kept them from playing their best, because, according to them, if they played their best, they're unbeatable. I don't buy that, and, even if it were true, I think it's just ridiculous for them to say.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Introducing... the Loquacious CD Review Column!


This is the first installment of what I have cleverly titled, "The Loquacious CD Review Column." This (semi-regular) column will be published every time I pick up some new CDs and have had a chance to listen through them a couple of time. Then, I will share some brief thoughts about each CD (and thus the irony of calling it the Loquacious CD Review Column). On with the show. (BTW, this column is brought to you, at least unofficially, by my favorite online CD store, mymusic.com, where you can get CDs at a surprisingly reasonable price, for very little in shipping, and nothing in sales tax).

Idlewild -- The Remote Part

Solid rock album. Catchy songs constructed in regular verse chorus verse format. Intriguing song entitled "American English," which features the chorus, "Then you contract the American dream, you never look up once / You’ve contracted American dreams, I require you to stop and look up / Sing a song about myself, keep singing the song about myself / Not some invisible world." What does it mean? Not 100% sure, but it makes me keep listening. 4 stars out of 6.

Steve Earle -- El Corazón

Okay, so apparently Steve Earle has some sort of history involving drugs, jail, and the fickleness of success. I don't know much about that and can't really find it in myself to care. What I can appreciate, though, is the honesty that permeates Earle's roots rock and country sound on El Corazón. From his strangely political folk ballad "Christmas in Washington" to the breakup tune "Poison Lovers," you get the sense that Earle's speaking from his heart. I dig that. 5 stars out of 7.

Coldplay -- A Rush of Blood to the Head

Coldplay's first album ("Parachutes") pretty much bored me outside of a couple good tunes, the singles "Yellow" and "Trouble" in particular. This disc is a vast improvement. Coldplay doesn't shy away from rocking out and even being a little "difficult" on occasion. Take the lead track "Politick," which begins with thumping drums and atmospheric cords. Olé! Not that Coldplay has lost their knack for the dirgelike pop ("The Scientist" and "Clocks"), but at least they're not only about the dirges. 4 stars out of 5.

The Libertines -- Up the Bracket
Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- Fever to Tell

Who's up for some '70's rock revival? So, the Strokes got you sweating and your heart beating in time with the music, but what do you do now? The Libertines and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have their answers. The former are a straight-up follow-up to the Strokes catchy, poppy "Is This It?" Kick it off with "Vertigo" and "Death on the Stairs," and you imagine that you're jumping around in some smoky NYC club. Good for you. They're more fun than they deserve to be, but haven't really gotten stuck in my craw. Call me old. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs take it a step further, mixing in a little '80's melodrama in with the amazing charisma of lead chantreuse Karen O, who's just a bottle of spit, venim, sugar, and spice. Some of the songs pass by like dreams, but the spastic rants of "Tick" and the sultry sex of "Rich" are hot hot hot. The Libertines: 3 stars out of 4; Yeah Yeah Yeahs: 7 stars out of 8.

And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead... -- Source Tags and Code

Yes, if you go to the homepage of And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, you will find most of it written in what appears to be Latin. Then if you listen to their most recent LP, you will hear a bunch of screeching guitars and wailing vocals that you can't really imagine the Romans digging. But then, I think that sort of initial turnoff is what the dudes in AYWKUBTTOD are trying to accomplish. It makes you feel like you've really earned it when you realize that there are melodies underneath and those melodies are pretty. (There may also be lyrics hidden beneath those buried melodies, but that's a level I haven't yet reached.) It's abrasive but pretty. Epic and invigorating. Well worth the effort that it demands. 14 stars out of 17.

The White Stripes -- Elephant

They're red, black, and white. Rolling Stone gave their latest effort a five-star review. Who am I to try to review this? No one really, and while I'm not willing to declare perfection yet (really, I can think of only one album offhand that I'd give a purely perfect rating), this is a damn fine effort. The rolling bassline of "Seven Nation Army" is almost too good. The searing blues of "Ball and Biscuit." I love hearing Meg White get her turn at the vocals in "In the Cold, Cold Night." And the witty coda of "Well It's True That We Love One Another" leaves you will a post-coital smile. They haven't saved rock from Fred Durst yet, but they're a damn sight closer than most. 12 stars out of 13.

50 Cent -- Get Rich or Die Tryin'
Eminem -- The Eminem Show

Hand on the Bible, I swear that I am not an afficiendo of rap. That's not to say that I'm not a fan. But I don't know Naz from Tupac or Big Pun from the Notorious B.I.G. Still, I enjoy some good beats and fine wordplay on occasion, so I was intrigued to check out Eminem's latest and the album that set the record for the most albums sold in its first week, 50 Cent's first effort. Now, to lay the rest of my cards on the table -- what I don't particularly care for in rap is the puffery, the "I'm the best fucking rapper ever" stuff. It can be clever, but mostly it just gets old. Which is why I don't really love 50 Cent's album. That's not to say that it doesn't have catchy tunes (see "What Up Gangsta," "Patiently Waiting," "In Da Club," and "Wanksta" to name a few), but most of it is just talking about how 50 Cent is the shit. He may well be, but I don't care. It's only when he talks about subjects that seem a little more heartfelt, like the scared shitless ballad "Gotta Make It to Heaven" or the can't-back-down "Many Men (Wish Death)" is he interesting. Eminem, on the other hand, is the equivalent of that guy you know who never shuts up about himself. Ask him for the weather and you get thirty-minutes on meteorology. I love it. With a few exceptions (the obligatory sex rap "Drips" and the failed attempt at playing both the softie and bad-ass in "Superman" -- oh, and "My Dad's Gone Crazy" kind of stinks too), Eminem and his team of producers hit on all cylinders. Rarely have I heard in any popular music such genuine vitriole as in "Business" or tenderness as in "Hailie's Song." And he hits some real political points in "White America" and "Square Dance." I don't want to get into a discussion of Eminem and politics right now, but there's an argument to be made that Eminem has a political caché great than any other pop musician. And I think that he deserves it. 50 Cent: 1 star out of 2; Eminem: 10 stars out of 11.

A Slow News Day?


Look, ma . . . an article about nothing!

Monday, June 02, 2003

Culture of Lies


Check this out: a former two-time Miss Vermont has received an ex parte restraining order preventing an ex-boyfriend from publishing a true account of his relationship with her on his website. The former Miss Vermont, who now crusades for sobriety and abstinance, says that the account invades her right to privacy. The ex-boyfriend says that she was anything but sober and abstinent. A Florida state court agreed with Miss Vermont.

Clearly, this is ridiculous from a First Amendment standpoint. But this bugs me in a different way, too. And maybe I'm reading too much into this. Still, it seems to me that we shouldn't be surprised that our former two-time Miss Vermont would argue this and that a judge would agree. After all, haven't we become a society that is dominated by the perception of reality rather than reality? Nowadays, what is true is what people believe, not the other way around. Look at our president. Look at the war in Iraq. Look at the consolidation of media outlets. Look at the Savages and Coulters and Limbaughs who dominate the airwaves. What's the premium on truth, when truth so rarely wins out?

Or maybe I'm just reading too much into this.

The Perils of Being a Grad Student


Even ignoring the geeky-coolness of this, I like the fact that they've considered hanging a graduate student out the window of a tall building.