Sunday, September 19, 2010

Two thumbs up...

on a post asking why does Radio Shack need my phone number to sell me batteries? Though my policy is to tell them my number is 999-123-4567 and my email is billg@microsoft.com, and dare them to prove otherwise.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

I miss Teddy...

... Roosevelt, that is.

Here's an excerpt from a 1910 speech that seems prescient.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Of manhood & gay marriage

A thoughtful piece by Noah Millman about definitions of manhood and the evolution of his own views on gay marriage. I wish I had more time to comment...

(Heck, I wish I had more time, period.)

Generals With Issues

Sometimes you just don't know what to say. I wonder what he thinks about late at night....

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Date Oddness Dept

See, I'm still here... And while reading an article on Salon about the demise of the Dr Demento Show (source of some much-needed comic relief in my teenage years), I couldn't help noticing a slight problem.....




How long has that slide show been up, anyway?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Myers 2, Sullivan 0.

Andrew Sullivan on the Michigan militia that had 9 members arrested for sedition:

Surely we can all assent to the notion that a Christian militia of the type now accused of planning domestic terrorism is not Christian.


PZ Myers, on Andrew Sullivan:

I'm afraid the Hutarees were Christian, real-live testifyin' preachifyin' Jebus-lovin' Bible-readin' Christians. They weren't Andrew Sullivan's preferred version of Christian, but then, a weird gay Catholic has about as much authority to define who gets to be Christian as an obnoxious and flamingly anti-religious atheist.

Then Andrew scores an own goal:

Well I defer to PZ on the spectrum of weirdness, but he ignores my central distinction between Christianity and Christianism.

Christianity flees power as Jesus did; Christianism seeks it above everything else.

Except, of course, that even a casual reading of history makes clear that the Church has not renounced worldly power, but has in fact reveled in it. Andrew's idea that "true" Christianity eschews temporal power is very much a post-Enlightenment idea. Which, clocking in at about 300 years old or so, makes it a relatively new feature in the history of Christianity. One that is by no means settled among those calling themselves Christian, by the way.

If he'd said he didn't like their theology, thought they were wrong, were out of step with the majority of American Christians (or Christians worldwide), that's one thing. But simply defining something he disagrees with and intensely dislikes (for good reason) as outside of "true" Christianity is... well, rather remarkable.

Addendum: Unless, of course, he declares the Church he loves so much to also be outside of "true" Christianity. Which I doubt is going to happen anytime soon.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Quote of the day

America needs two viable, principled political parties--Democrats vs. Republicans. Not Democrats vs. the Stoopid Puppet Dittoheads.

--John A. Farrell, US News & World Report

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Quote of the day

From a friend of mine, on Lady Gaga:

It is like someone put Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, and Yoko Ono in a blender and that is what poured out. I am not so sure that the end product got the best of any of the ingredients.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Housekeeping...

I've added the annoying word-test requirement to comment. I'm spending more and more time cleaning up spambots in the comments. My regular readers (both of you) will just have to deal with the inconvenience. Sorry.

I'm not sure what it is about 2 posts in particular that make them such spam magnets, but oh well, many and mysterious are the ways of script kiddies and spammers...

Friday, March 5, 2010

That's not what it says....

Jonathan Bernstein, a guest blogger for Andrew Sullivan, has an extremely off-base post about the alleged supermajority needed to pass anything, and why California's supermajority-to-pass-the-budget is a particularly bad idea.

His basic point, of course--that requiring a supermajority to pass the budget has caused all sorts of gridlock, the ability of a committed minority to hold the majority hostage, etc. And he's right. But he seems to think Congress also requires a supermajority for almost everything:

While most things are subject to a supermajority in the Senate...

No. Not correct.

The Constitution specifies that legislation passes by simple majority. The filibuster and the 60-vote rule to cloture aren't in the Constitution; they're Senate rules, and only apply if invoked. As has been discussed in earlier posts, this week, on the same blog, the "filibuster everything" approach of this Congress is an historical aberration. The historical norm was to filibuster only on major issues of principle; starting in the early 90s the filibuster was used more, but this Congress is on track to shatter all records, with triple the record number of filibusters of previous Congresses already.

But that indicates that the GOP has determined its best electoral chances lie in causing total gridlock. I'm not sure I agree with them on that, but that's another question. Back to Bernstein:

There's a reasonable argument that Congress should need a supermajority to pass ordinary bills.

As much as I enjoy Heinlein's "The more impediments to legislation the better" outlook, I'm not sure I agree. At any rate, while such an argument might exist, Bernstein hasn't made it, and it's not what the Constitution envisioned. Simply assuming that "of course Congress needs a supermajority to pass most legislation" indicates a depth of historical ignorance that Bernstein's other writings didn't suggest.

Again, his point that even if you need a supermajority for most things, the budget is the worst place to require the supermajority, because the budget simply must be passed, is correct in my view. (And I'm sure he'll sleep better knowing he has my approval...) But the "supermajority" isn't a requirement on the federal level at all, at least not in the sense he seems to be using it. As a practical matter, in the face of a GOP that's going to maintain lockstep even if it drives the country over the cliff? Yes. But that's an argument for changing Senate rules.

[sigh] Of course, changing the Senate rules requires an even bigger supermajority of Senators...


Update: A followup post indicates that his first post wasn't quite what he meant (possible), that I misinterpreted it (more likely), or that he had a sudden epiphany (listed for the sake of completeness). At any rate, he points out, correctly, that the 60-vote rule isn't included in the Constitution and probably wasn't forseen by the Founders.

But to extrapolate [...] to the idea that the Senate was intended to have a 60 vote filibuster rule is...well, Yglesias calls it abject nonsense, and that seems fair to me.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dear Newsweek...

I have received your renewal reminder, and the deal you're offering me to renew my subscription certainly looks like a good deal. Much cheaper than the cover price. Just a reminder of why I've been a subscriber for so long!

Until, of course, I go to your website and notice that you're charging me more to renew than you're charging a new subscriber to sign up for the same length of time. How much more? About 20% more.

Odd that you charge loyal long-term customers more than new subscribers.

At any rate, I've decided to let my subscription run out. After a few weeks, if I miss having your magazine around, I'll re-subscribe and get the cheaper rate.

It seems an odd way of doing business to me. I don't demand to pay less than other subscribers, but I see no reason to charge renewing subscribers more. I guess I just don't understand the magazine business.

Of course, looking at your recent sales and financial figures, neither do you.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Great idea, in theory...

Mark Kleiman is his usual sharp self today, but I'm having a bit of a problem with his take on gay marriage. In his other writing he's usually very good about paying attention not only to what's theoretically desirable but also what's politically practical. But on this question, I think he's off.

As I understand his take on it, the preferred solution would be something similar to what the UK does. If you want to get married, you go to the appropriate governmental office, establish that you meet the relevant legal requirements, take your legally binding oaths, do the paperwork, etc., and at that point you establish the legal basis of the relationship. This establishes all of the legal rights, privileges, obligations, responsibilities, etc. If you wish, you can then go to any religious institution that will recognize your union, and perform whatever religious ceremony you please, or none at all if that's what you prefer. The legal part (in the government office) has no particular religious significance, and the religious part (in the church, synagogue, mosque, sacred circle, whatever) has no particular legal significance.

Kleiman proposes civil unions for everyone (the legal part), with marriage (the religious part) for those who wish it.

And I agree, that model has a lot to recommend it. We could do far worse. It would certainly be better than what we have now.

But I see no way to even begin bringing it about. The word "marriage" is far too loaded. Telling millions of straight couples that they're actually civil-unioned, and only religious institutions can provide "marriage," is a non-starter. Furthermore, the adoption laws, tax laws, insurance laws, inheritance laws, etc., etc., etc., don't say "civil unioned." They all say "married." That's why the word is so important--because that's how the legal basis is defined. We've already seen in New Jersey that saying "civil unions have the same legal rights as marriage" doesn't work--insurers are saying they follow the federal laws, which say "married," not "civil unions." Changing one law--governing who can legally marry--is more do-able than changing all of the other laws from "married" to 'married or domestically-partnered' or whatever the new phrase would be.

Yes, this may lead to a hodgepodge of state laws, until a Supreme Court decision, just as interracial marriages were OK in some states but not others until Loving v. Virginia. Messy, but the political process often is. Marriage is usually regarded as a state matter, with the feds only stepping in on equal-protection grounds. (My preferred solution for dealing with it at the federal level: The feds recognize any marriage that the person's state of residence recognizes. Yes, it has some imperfections and problems, but again, it's a step in the right direction.)

As for the argument that this is somehow telling the Catholic Church that their understanding of one of their sacraments is incorrect: Not at all. I can't get married in the Catholic Church. Nor in an Orthodox synagogue, nor in a Shi'a mosque. But none of those institutions can prevent me from going down to the courthouse and having a civil marriage performed by a judge. The Church may not consider me to have met their sacrament; but they cannot infringe my legal rights, either. We already tell the Catholic Church that they are free to refuse the sacrament of marriage to the divorced, for example. But we do not allow the Church to prohibit anyone else from performing such marriages, either. And as long as the laws are written in terms of "marriage," then nothing else will do. Does Mr Kleiman see a political-feasible way to at least start nudging things toward his desired state of affairs?

As for whether Obama wants to deny gays the rights to marry: I don't claim to know what he wants or doesn't want. But he certainly hasn't taken any actions suggesting he wants gays to be able to marry, either. In the context of his campaign rhetoric about being a "fierce advocate" for gay rights, I think his lack of action is telling. He may want gays to be able to marry, but he doesn't seem to be willing to say much of anything, let alone expend any political capital, on the issue. So far the extent of his "fierce advocacy" has been a cocktail party for gay activists and fundraisers. Which is, as far as I know, one cocktail party more than G. W. Bush held, so I suppose that's something.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Knowing without evidence

Ruth Marcus' column yesterday brings up a number of good points and for the most part, she's on the money. But there's a section that makes no sense at all:

The difficulty lies in how to deal with suspected terrorists at the outset. The Obama administration no doubt would recoil at the back-to-the-Bush-administration atmospherics of indefinitely detaining an enemy combatant on American soil. But what to do in cases like that of Padilla, where the evidence is still sketchy but the suspect too dangerous to remain loose?
Work with me here, Ruth. If the evidence is all that "sketchy," if it's just not possible to point to anything specific to determine that someone should be detained, then how do you know they're too dangerous to let loose? Or are you in favor of allowing detention on the basis of hunches? Well, dude looks like he might do something, so we're going to hold him just in case.

She goes on to discuss one option--allowing detention up to 14 days without judicial approval--but that doesn't address the problem. At the end of 14 days, you've either got evidence or it's still 'sketchy.' Would she still somehow magically just know which people were too dangerous to be let loose? How? It's not like prosecutors have a hard time finding sympathetic judges willing to authorize detention even in marginal cases on national-security issues.

Yes, there are gray areas. But the entire assumption that we should be holding people "just in case" is a threat to the rule of law, which has taken (and is still taking) a beating.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Proportionate Response, Ctd.

Michael O'Hare at RBC breaks down the numbers further.

Also [h/t Andrew Sullivan], the breathlessly-announced new profiling guidelines appear to be more security theater than security.

And in what may be a sign of the Apocalypse, Glenn Greenwald agrees with David Brooks about the futility of expecting Absolute Security from any institution.