Saturday, November 17, 2007

Well, Yes, But...

My chum Jerry sent a link to this thought-provoking entry from The Seminal:

You know what I really endorse? Change.
Posted by Jake

I was reading over what I wrote a few weeks ago in regards to my endorsement for a Presidential Candidate, and I must say I am kind of disappointed in myself. I should’ve had the onions to say what I really feel, what is really going on in the attic and what I feel deep down in the basement. So here it is: I’m not happy with anyone running for President, on both sides of the aisle. The Democratic Party is truly squandering an amazing opportunity to remake the party into the party that President Truman believed it to be: the party for all (yes, history fans, look it up). Why do I have to choose between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama or John Edwards? Is this truly the best that we, and I’m speaking as a card-carrying voting member of the Democratic Party, can do? Same ole shit with different people, sort of, saying it over and over again.

People who know me--and people who don't know me but have read some of my stuff (this, for instance) know that I share Jake's current disgust and dismay with the Democratic Party. But the problem is, what to do?

Well, Jake has reached a decision:

From here on out I refuse to endorse or vote for anyone who is linked to an individual who has already been in a major office. No more Jr’s or the III’s or spouses or anything. One family gets one shot. This is America, and last I checked it’s a democracy, so why should families “own” Senate and Congressional Seats, be entitled to the Governors’ Mansions, or even worse the Oval Office? Hillary is the most qualified? Why? Because she slept with, at least once, President Bill Clinton? Why don’t I see Monica Lewinsky on the ballot in Iowa, if that’s all it takes (and she might’ve earned it more!). I’m flat out tired of these no-talent ambitionless hacks running our government, and that goes for my good friends Ted Kennedy, Evan Bayh, and Bob Casey Jr. Granted, Senator Kennedy may go down in history as one of the greatest United States Senators ever, and perhaps the best overall ‘politician,’ but he certainly rode the coat-tails of his brothers, he’s just unique in the sense that he didn’t get close to the Promised Land. Also, if Senator Kennedy’s name was, perhaps, Senator Smith he’d go no recognition for what he does…in other words he’d be Senator Robert Byrd. (Read the rest of Jake's essay here.)

It's an interesting and understandable position Jake has climbed up onto, but in the end it smacks of slicing off one's nose, for you automatically rule out potentially qualified candidates simply because of their family trees. Jake himself concedes that Senator Ted Kennedy "may go down in history as one of the greatest United States Senators ever"--but if we follow Jake's no-relatives formula, we're depriving ourselves of "one of the greatest United States Senators ever." How is that progress?

And why, in the end, should I care about Ted's brothers? Or Hillary's husband? Or the current president's father? Or any of it? One hopes--naively, but still--that we voters choose candidates based on qualifications, whatever exactly that means, rather than family ties. For that matter, one hopes that we don't discount a given candidate simply because we didn't like his uncle, or her second cousin once removed, or whatever.

In an ideal world, we would judge a given candidate on his or her own merits. Yes, I have noticed that this is not an ideal world. But I don't think that that means we should stop trying.

Jake does, later, offer this:

The meat, my friends, is who candidates really are. What if a candidate didn’t have to promise anything to anyone but rather make an honest promise to the voters? If a candidate didn’t need to spend every other day hob-knobbing at some fundraiser in a converted gymnasium with shitty food (yes, $10,000 a plate still gets you shitty buffet style food) then maybe they’d come up with real solutions to real problems.

Which shows that his heart is in the right place. Still, the way things are today, I can't advocate dismissing anyone out-of-hand simply because of his or her last name, or having held office at some level, or having the wrong color hair. The stakes are too high.

Linguistic Sleight-of-Hand

This from the Los Angeles Times:

    Bishops issue guidelines for Catholic voters
    They say church members who back candidates for their support of abortion or other 'assaults on human life' are guilty of cooperation in 'grave evil.'
    By Theo Milonopoulos, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

    November 15, 2007

    BALTIMORE -- -- Catholic voters who back candidates because of their support for abortion or other "assaults on human life" would be "guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil," according to a statement adopted Wednesday by U.S. Catholic bishops.

    The bishops defined what they called "threats to the sanctity and dignity of human life" as human cloning, embryonic stem cell research, racism, torture and genocide. (The rest is here.)

And away we go again.

Well, first off, I do wish the bishops of my church could scrape up equal concern for "the sanctity and dignity of human life" when it comes to those who, as children, were sexually abused by a trusted parish priest--and, for all I know, those children who are still in harm's way. From where I sit, rhetoric aside, the bishops have done a better job of blaming the victims, obstructing justice by playing musical-priests, and insisting that anyone who wants justice in the matter is somehow "anti-Catholic." But evidently that's neither here nor there.

Second, I'm always intrigued by what I have come to think of as linguistic sleight-of-hand in "pro-life" parlance. There's the term "pro-life" itself, of course, adopted in place of the original "anti-abortion" label when some members of the we'll-make-your-decisions-for-you crowd thought that "anti" sounded negative. Which of course it does. So--presto!--they dub themselves "pro-life," 'cause they're in favor of life! Well, sometimes. Not too choked up about those guys on death row, you know. And not exactly incensed about innocent lives lost in a misguided and pointless war in Iraq. Nor are we quite as fervent, quite as organized, quite as "pro" about the people of Darfur. And so on.

So, really, not so much pro-life. per se, as...well, anti-abortion.

Or, more honestly, anti-choice. Abortions are still going to happen, legally or otherwise, just as they happened before Roe v. Wade. The question inevitable comes down to who gets to make the decision.

The other aspect of this linguistic sleight-of-hand (or, if you prefer, dishonesty) is in labeling those of us who support a woman's right to make her own health-care decisions as "pro-abortion."

For the record, no one is pro-abortion. I'm so confident in that statement that I'll say it again: There is no such thing as someone who is "pro-abortion." There is no woman on the planet who takes the decision lightly. There is no one who thinks it's a "good" idea. Those are fabrication invented by the anti-abortion lobby*, a way of demonizing those who hold a contrary opinion.

So, too, is all this "culture of death" nonsense. If you're worried about a "culture of death," dear bishops, then have the stones to really, really come out against a war that was built on the lies and incompetence of the denizens of Pennsylvania Avenue. Be as forceful about it as you are about abortion: Tell politicians that they put their immortal souls in peril if they do anything at all to support this illegitimate war. Ditto fro capital punishment: You've spent the past quarter-century "urging" governors to refrain from employing the death penalty. Gutless. If you're really "pro-life," if you're really concerned about a "culture of death," then start telling these governors that they're going to hell if they throw the switch or jab the needle. And start preaching to your congregations that they're going to hell if they vote for a politician who favors of capital punishment.

Fair, after all, is fair, and honesty is honesty. If you're pro-life, then be pro-life. If you're "pro-life" but also pro-death penalty, then you're not pro-life, are you? You're just anti-choice, and you should have the courage to identify yourself as such.

And so it is that despite my bishops' best efforts to control my thoughts, heart, and consciene, I will continue to use the gifts God gave me to weigh and measure that which is put before me, thank you very much, in full confidence that my soul is not imperiled by my belief that a woman who faces the decision to undergo an abortion is in the best position to decide for herself what she must do--a better position than a bishop, a priest, a legislator, or the nutbar who is so "pro-life" that he's getting ready to blow up the women's clinic.

Indeed, I believe that our souls are more at risk when we abandon those gifts of the Creator--conscience, reason, rationality--and surrender our intellect to someone else. I'm enough of a Catholic to believe in Judgment Day, and I believe that when that day rolls around, it will not count in my favor that even thoughconscience, reason, rationality, and simple humanity told me that X was right, I ignored it because a priest, pastor, a televangeist succeeded in bullying me into doing Y.

And since I am not "pro-abortion," no matter how anyone may wish to tar me, I shall continue in my fervent prayer that our society might someday, somehow reach a point where no woman is confronted with that no-win decision.

* I use "lobby" purposely, for I have come to believe that there exists a whole industry built on anti-choice, "abstinence only," I-know-what's-best-for-you philosophies. Indeed, I am cynical enough to believe that the last thing these people really want is for Roe v. Wade to be overturned, for it would take away a goodly portion of their reason to exist. If there's no "enemy" then we have nothing to fight, and if we have nothing to fight then people will quit sending us money to fight it. It is in their best interests to be constantly "at war." Ditto for the right-wingnuts who insist on portraying Christianity as "under assault." Nonsense. But everybody loves an underdog, and the "under assault" fiction is invariably followed by the pitch for money to "keep fighting for Christ." As they say, follow the money.

Friday, November 16, 2007

It's All in the Wording

So I'm taking another of these online surveys the other night, and a few questions into it hit this one:

    Does your experience with equipment brands at work influence your decision to purchase consumer product brands for your home? For those that there were influenced, check all of the areas that you implemented at home based on your experience at work. Please select all that apply.

Having written a few surveys over the decades, I see immediately the problem with that question, and maybe you do, too. The first sentence is okay, but the second sentence seems to imply a positive experience that prompted me to "implement" an "area" at home. (The second sentence, by the way, is extraordinarily poorly written.) It's just as likely--and has happened on more than one occasion--that an experience with something at the office or in the classroom has convinced me to steer clear of a product or brand. The first sentence above sets the stage for a "good or bad" response, but in the end the survey-taker is simply given a list of product types and asked to check off the ones that "you implemented at home based on your experience at work"--suggesting that you bought such-and-such printer, say, because you liked the model at work...and giving you no place to indicate that you avoided buying such-and-such digital camera because you didn't like the one at the office. (Which was in fact the case for me some years ago.)

Now, in the end, I don't care. I get entered into the drawing for the money I'm not going to win either way. But as a vehicle for gathering information, that particular question doesn't well serve the survey company or its client. Tsk tsk.

Let's Put the "Ho" Back in Christmas!

First this:

But then:

    Ho, ho, huh? Firm denies telling Aussie Santas ho is bad word
    Trainees instructed to say 'ha, ha, ha,' Sydney tabloid reports

    Last Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2007 | 4:18 PM ET
    CBC News
    A Sydney newspaper reports that some Santas in Australia have been told not to say "ho, ho, ho" this Christmas because it could insult women, but the firm that hired and trained them denies it. (

And the holiday season begins.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Seems About Right

Okay, A Few Words

Another batch of quotations that caught my fancy. Most if not all--as usual--from the most excellent A Word a Day.

Sin lies only in hurting others unnecessarily. All other "sins" are invented nonsense. -Robert A. Heinlein, science-fiction author (1907-1988)

No drug, not even alcohol, causes the fundamental ills of society. If we're looking for the source of our troubles, we shouldn't test people for drugs, we should test them for stupidity, ignorance, greed and love of power. -P.J. O'Rourke, writer (1947- )

Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under. -H.L. Mencken, writer, editor, and critic (1880-1956)

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run. -Roy Amara, engineer, futurist (b. 1925)

They deem him their worst enemy who tells them the truth. -Plato,philosopher (427-347 BCE)

Men hate those to whom they have to lie. -Victor Hugo, poet, novelist, and dramatist (1802-1885)

The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart. -Iris Murdoch, writer (1919-1999)

Unless a good deed is voluntary, it has no moral significance. -Everett Dean Martin, columnist, preacher, and philosopher (1880-1941)

Compared to the drama of words, Hamlet is a light farce. -Anatoly Liberman, professor (b. 1937)

You have your brush, you have your colors, you paint paradise, then in you go. -Nikos Kazantzakis, poet and novelist (1883-1957)

Persons appear to us according to the light we throw upon them from our own minds. -Laura Ingalls Wilder, author (1867-1957)

The real measure of our wealth is how much we'd be worth if we lost all our money. -John Henry Jowett, preacher (1864-1923)

The most futile thing in this world is any attempt, perhaps, at exact definition of character. All individuals are a bundle of contradictions -- none more so than the most capable. -Theodore Dreiser, author (1871-1945)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Exercises in Wishful Thinking and Holding Grudges

Well, now, this is just silly in so many ways. Here's what the Associated Press reports today, as captured in the New York Times and elsewhere:

November 11, 2007
Two Faiths Divided on Women’s Ordination Ceremony

ST. LOUIS, Nov. 10 (AP) — The Archdiocese of St. Louis and the Central Reform Congregation are on the same side when it comes to advocating for immigrants and the poor, often finding common ground in a zeal for social justice.

But when the Jewish congregation offered its synagogue for an ordination of two women in a ceremony disavowed by the Roman Catholic Church, it drew the ire of archdiocese officials, who vowed never again to work with the congregation.

Bizarre on the face of it, yes? A religious group that is about as far outside of the Catholic philosophy as you can get (you know: the Jesus thing?) allows its facility to be used by a group with whom the Catholic diocese has issues, and so the diocese decides that we can't be friends anymore?

I've said it before and I'll say it again, apparently: What is this, junior high?

It gets goofier:

The Reform congregation’s rabbi, Susan Talve, informed the Rev. Vincent Heier, director of the archdiocese office for ecumenical and interreligious affairs, of the decision.

Mr. Heier told her it was unacceptable. “It’s not appropriate to invite this group, to aid and abet a group like this, which undercuts our theology and teaching,” Mr. Heier said he told Ms. Talve.

Um. Isn't, like, the whole of Judaism "undercutting" Catholic theology and teaching? Isn't any non-Christian religion? Kind of by definition? It's been awhile since my last catechism class, but I'm pretty sure there was something in there about Jesus being the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world, and I'm also pretty sure that non-Christian religions don't share that point of view. So, given that every Saturday, at least, there are religious services at the Central Reform Congregation that the St. Louis Diocese would not be in agreement with, why the big dust-up over their allowing a bunch of fringey soon-to-be-ex-Catholics use the building?

In a nutshell: Who cares?

And, P.S., Father Heier: Good job of giving these women free publicity.

I also like this bit:

The women are ignoring the warnings of Archbishop Raymond Burke, who said they would be excommunicated if they proceeded with the ceremony.

Which makes the whole business even more of an exercise in so-what. If the women proceed with the ceremony, the bishop will excommunicate them. (Seems to me that if they proceed with the ceremony, they're pretty much thumbing their noses at the bishop anyhow, but that's neither here nor there.) Wouldn't that by and large take care of the whole thing? Why pick on the Jewish congregation at all? If the ceremony takes place in a bowling alley, would the archbishop condemn Happy Lanes and forbid Catholics from bowling there? Actually, I suppose there's a pretty good chance he would, given the AP report... Okay, try this: If the ceremony took place in a city park, would the archbishop condemn the city of St. Louis and move the diocese to another community?

Which is not to say that the women's quest is particularly sane, either. Those who know me know that, if I were in charge of things, you'd have women priests PDQ. But I'm not, and the sad fact is these bogus ceremonies accomplish absolutely nothing. When it's over, the women can SAY they're priests. But they're not--at least not in the Roman Catholic Church. Wishing doesn't make it so, no matter the ceremony attached. They're not legit, they're not recognized, and they have no standing at all in their church. That is, their soon-to-be-former church.

Here's the final gag:

“This is not a lack of forgiveness,” Mr. Heier said, “but we have to stand for something. It’s a matter of principle.”

Ah. Good to know. It would also be good to know precisely what "principle" Heier thinks they're standing on. From here it kind of looks like the principle of proving that the "leaders" of the Catholic church are, often as not, leading the church further and further in marginality.

Anyone Remember Checks and Balances?

I have been a member of the Democratic Party for over 30 years now, and at no point during those three decades have I been more discouraged with and disgusted by my party than I am at this time. This editorial from today's New York Times pretty much sums up my disgust--which further boils down to, Who the hell in the Democratic Party has enough spine to actually honor his or her oath to defend the Constitution of the United States?

Not bloody many, apparently.

Oh, fear not: Next year at this time I'll be voting for the Democratic presidential nominee, whoever she may be. But I'll say this: My days of donating money to the party are over, at least for the nonce. I'll support candidates as they warrant, but nothing more to the national organization. If "organization" is the word I want...

The New York Times

November 11, 2007

Abdicate and Capitulate

It is extraordinary how President Bush has streamlined the Senate confirmation process. As we have seen most recently with the vote to confirm Michael Mukasey as attorney general, about all that is left of “advice and consent” is the “consent” part.

Once upon a time, the confirmation of major presidential appointments played out on several levels — starting, of course, with politics. It was assumed that a president would choose like-minded people as cabinet members and for other jobs requiring Senate approval. There was a presumption that he should be allowed his choices, all other things being equal.

Before George W. Bush’s presidency, those other things actually counted. Was the nominee truly qualified, with a professional background worthy of the job? Would he discharge his duties fairly and honorably, upholding his oath to protect the Constitution? Even though she answers to the president, would the nominee represent all Americans? Would he or she respect the power of Congress to supervise the executive branch, and the power of the courts to enforce the rule of law?

In less than seven years, Mr. Bush has managed to boil that list down to its least common denominator: the president should get his choices. At first, Mr. Bush was abetted by a slavish Republican majority that balked at only one major appointment — Harriet Miers for Supreme Court justice, and then only because of doubts that she was far enough to the right.

The Democrats, however, also deserve a large measure of blame. They did almost nothing while they were in the minority to demand better nominees than Mr. Bush was sending up. And now that they have attained the majority, they are not doing any better.

On Thursday, the Senate voted by 53 to 40 to confirm Mr. Mukasey even though he would not answer a simple question: does he think waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning used to extract information from a prisoner, is torture and therefore illegal?

Democrats offer excuses for their sorry record, starting with their razor-thin majority. But it is often said that any vote in the Senate requires more than 60 votes — enough to overcome a filibuster. So why did Mr. Mukasey get by with only 53 votes? Given the success the Republicans have had in blocking action when the Democrats cannot muster 60 votes, the main culprit appears to be the Democratic leadership, which seems uninterested in or incapable of standing up to Mr. Bush.

Senator Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat who turned the tide for this nomination, said that if the Senate did not approve Mr. Mukasey, the president would get by with an interim appointment who would be under the sway of “the extreme ideology of Vice President Dick Cheney.” He argued that Mr. Mukasey could be counted on to reverse the politicization of the Justice Department that occurred under Alberto Gonzales, and that Mr. Mukasey’s reticence about calling waterboarding illegal might well become moot, because the Senate was considering a law making clear that it is illegal.

That is precisely the sort of cozy rationalization that Mr. Schumer and his colleagues have used so many times to back down from a confrontation with Mr. Bush. The truth is, Mr. Mukasey is already in the grip of that “extreme ideology.” If he were not, he could have answered the question about waterboarding.

Mr. Bush said Mr. Mukasey could not do so because it would reveal classified information about Central Intelligence Agency interrogation techniques. That is nonsense. Mr. Mukasey was not asked if C.I.A. jailers have used waterboarding on prisoners, something he could be expected to know nothing about. He was simply asked if, as a general matter, waterboarding is illegal.

It was not a difficult question. Waterboarding is specifically banned by the Army Field Manual, and it is plainly illegal under the federal Anti-Torture Act, federal assault statutes, the Detainee Treatment Act, the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions. It is hard to see how any nominee worthy of the position of attorney general could fail to answer “yes.”

The real reason the White House would not permit Mr. Mukasey to answer was the risk to federal officials who carried out Mr. Bush’s orders to abuse and torture prisoners after the 9/11 attacks: the right answer could have exposed them to criminal sanctions.

The rationales that accompanied the vote in favor of Mr. Mukasey were not reassuring. The promise of a law banning waterboarding is no comfort. It is unnecessary, and even if it passes, Mr. Bush seems certain to veto it. In fact, it would play into the administration’s hands by allowing it to argue that torture is not currently illegal.

The claim that Mr. Mukasey will depoliticize the Justice Department loses its allure when you consider that he would not commit himself to enforcing Congressional subpoenas in the United States attorneys scandal.

All of this leaves us wondering whether Mr. Schumer and other Democratic leaders were more focused on the 2008 elections than on doing their constitutional duty. Certainly, being made to look weak on terrorism might make it harder for them to expand their majority.

We are not suggesting the Democrats reject every presidential appointee, or that the president’s preferences not be taken into account. But Democrats have done precious little to avoid the kind of spectacle the world saw last week: the Senate giving the job of attorney general, chief law enforcement officer in the world’s oldest democracy, to a man who does not even have the integrity to take a stand against torture.