June 30, 2005


In many ways I'm as mainstream as they come. When it comes to religion, I'm a struggling but committed member of a mainline (liberal) Protestant church, and am raising my son in that faith. (He's free to reject that faith when he's older, but I want to be sure that he starts with a moral foundation in life so he'll have a basis of comparison. I think it's important for a child to grow up rooted rather than rootless, so I'm starting with The Universe As I Understand It.) I have quite a few friends -- my two closest friends, in fact -- who don't agree. One's nonspecifically spiritual, the other atheist. Somehow, we all get along. Somehow, we look at each other as equally worthwhile and a part of the great American society.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia seems to disagree: "[I]t is entirely clear from our Nation's historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists."

I really ought to read his whole dissent, but I'm not sure I could stomach it.

June 13, 2005


Via Lex: Triangle blogger DrFrankLives takes down Jesse Helms's new memoir with style and panache:

Now, let's not be ungrateful for small miracles. At least Helms admits he was wrong to oppose AIDS treatment and education programs, but look at that paragraph. Implicit in that statement, despite the claim of having learned his lesson, is the reprehensible argument that had AIDS remained confined to a population of homosexuals and intraveneous drug users, it would have been nothing to worry about. Evidently, in his estimation such people deserve to suffer and die.

I don't think the old guy has learned that much at all.

June 5, 2005

After the Cross Burnings in Durham

Nikole Hannah-Jones at the News and Observer points out the divide in the reaction of Durham's white and black communities to the recent cross burnings.

And Rev. Carl W. Kenney in the Independent Weekly thinks that divided reaction highlights the need for healing and renewed trust on all sides:

Something is in the air, and it smells real bad. We have two options. The first is to keep doing business as before. That won't work. The second is to come to grips with how race hinders the progress of Durham. It is time for Durham to heal from within.

April 6, 2005

You, too, could be Physician of the Year!

All you need to do is contribute $1,250 to the NRCC. Nifty plaque included.

Mueller soon found he was not the only winner. There were hundreds of Physicians of the Year present, many of whom found the criteria for being selected equally as opaque.

"You know, nobody knows, so don't feel bad about it," Mueller said one attendee told him. "I think that more than likely it's to get us Republicans together under the pretense that maybe you will work a little harder to keep Republicans in office."

... A Republican spokesman said there were thousands of doctors around the country content with their Physicians of the Year awards, and that there was nothing about the program to apologize for.

(From ABC.)

January 9, 2005

Armstrong Williams Watch

I'm not seeing a lot of support for Armstrong Williams from his ideological soulmates; the conservative commentator and opinion journalist accepted $240,000 in tax money to promote The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. National Review's Jonah Goldberg and the John Locke Foundation's John Hood mince few words.

December 6, 2004


Courtesy of my friend Jon, a reminder of what people are capable of at their best. Rest in peace, Sgt. Peralta.

LUNCHBLOGGING: Beinart Follow-Up

A little lunch blogging at the Schlotsky's with wireless access...

My friend Lex, in his inimitable style, had some issues with the Peter Beinart column I mentioned here, commenting that Dems were actually more serious about terrorism than the Republicans.

Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly also tackled Beinart's column here, and some of the readers' comments stood out, such as:

The Islamic radicals essentially want a theocracy in their own lands. They use modern technology as a means to an end (weapons, airliners) but they don't want to join the modern world. They are no threat if you leave them alone.

Personally, I think that the Republican party and its evil minions are the biggest threat to liberalism both here and abroad. Maybe I have to pretend to believe that Al Qaeda is a bigger threat in order to see my worldview triumphant again, but it would be dishonest for me to say that such an approach is anything other than dishonest.

Continue reading "LUNCHBLOGGING: Beinart Follow-Up" »

December 2, 2004

Tough Medicine for the Democratic Party

The New Republic's Peter Beinart thinks it's past time for liberals and Democrats to get serious about al Qaeda in a hard hitting piece in the December 13 issue (free registration required). Beinart points out that the willingness of the Democratic Party to reject communism during the cold war gave them the strength to advance a liberal domestic agenda (as well as, well, being the right thing to do).

Obviously, Al Qaeda and the Soviet Union are not the same. The USSR was a totalitarian superpower; Al Qaeda merely espouses a totalitarian ideology, which has had mercifully little access to the instruments of state power. Communism was more culturally familiar, which provided greater opportunities for domestic subversion but also meant that the United States could more easily mount an ideological response. The peoples of the contemporary Muslim world are far more cynical than the peoples of cold war Eastern Europe about U.S. intentions, though they still yearn for the freedoms the United States embodies.

But, despite these differences, Islamist totalitarianism--like Soviet totalitarianism before it--threatens the United States and the aspirations of millions across the world. And, as long as that threat remains, defeating it must be liberalism's north star. Methods for defeating totalitarian Islam are a legitimate topic of internal liberal debate. But the centrality of the effort is not. The recognition that liberals face an external enemy more grave, and more illiberal, than George W. Bush should be the litmus test of a decent left.

Today, the war on terrorism is partially obscured by the war in Iraq, which has made liberals cynical about the purposes of U.S. power. But, even if Iraq is Vietnam, it no more obviates the war on terrorism than Vietnam obviated the battle against communism. Global jihad will be with us long after American troops stop dying in Falluja and Mosul. And thus, liberalism will rise or fall on whether it can become, again, what Schlesinger called "a fighting faith."

Provocative, challenging stuff.


The Independent Weekly has a well-reported and balanced article about the dispute between WUNC-FM and the reproductive and abortion rights organization Ipas. WUNC has a very small-c conservative policy restricting political advocacy in its underwriting announcements, which led them to require the removal of the phrase "reproductive rights" from Ipas's announcement.

Ipas naturally balked. While I can see their point, this does seem an area where compromise was possible; WUNC's alternate phrasing, "whose mission is to provide women control over their reproductive health," seems strong and accurate to me. On the other hand, the article quotes a former NPR general counsel as not seeing a problem with the original text. One thing's for sure, the publicity Ipas has gotten from this fight has likely been worth far more to them than the value of the announcements, while WUNC may be feeling the hit from some rescinded pledges.

(IPAS press release)

(WUNC response)

November 28, 2004

Daily Kos Discovers the South

Here's a pretty good diary entry at Daily Kos that, coupled with the mostly-insightful comments underneath, captures the soul-searching that's going on within Southern Democrats post-Kerry.

November 25, 2004

Drum Reviews Lakoff

I'd been debating whether to pick up George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant, which has picked up a fair bit of buzz for it's notion of how politicians "frame" dialogue -- a concept that I spent a couple of years wrestling with in my communications Master's program. There really seems to be nothing new there, other than the fact that Lakoff's popularizing a lot of concepts that gained traction during the general semantics phase of rhetorical study. (See S.I. Hayakawa's important and accessible Language in Thought and Action.)

Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly has reviewed the book, and I've seen his criticisms elsewhere as well:

"Framing," of course, is Lakoff's claim to fame, and he bases his analysis of contemporary American politics on the idea that conservative and liberal worldviews are based on a "strict father/nurturant parent" dichotomy.... As it happens, I think he stretches this metaphor farther than it can reasonably go, but that's not my real problem with him. My problem is that although he does a good job of explaining how conservatives use framing to their benefit, he fails to provide very much compelling advice for liberals.

...Lakoff may have identified a serious problem — for which he deserves credit — but he hasn't identified a serious solution. In fact, here's how he ends the book, with his nomination for a "ten word" philosophy for liberals:

  • Stronger America
  • Broad Prosperity
  • Better Future
  • Effective Government
  • Mutual Responsibility

Maybe it's just me, but those sure don't sound as zingy as Lower Taxes, Family Values, and A Kick-Ass Military. I'm a liberal myself, but even so this list almost put me to sleep. (It's also a list that doesn't strike me as especially liberal. With the possible exception of the last bullet, is there anything there that would be out of place in the Republican party platform?)

November 9, 2004

OK. THIS Guy Can't Be Reached.

An arch-conservative columnist proposes in all seriousness that Congress expel the Blue States from the Union.

November 5, 2004

A Starting Point

Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum says some important stuff in light of some of the excesses I've read in Daily Kos diaries:

Now, needless to say, I don't agree with Wolfe that our sense of morality is "twisted," but I do agree that we probably lose a lot of support we don't need to lose because of a very real — and often dripping — condescension toward anyone we consider less enlightened than us.

Here's the thing: we're never going to win over the hard core evangelicals, the ones who want to ban abortion, teach creationism in biology classes, and recriminalize gay sex. What's more, we shouldn't try. Religious extremism conflicts with the core values of liberalism, and the only thing we can do is continue fighting these folks tooth and nail. No amount of "reaching out" is going to touch them.

But the fact is that we don't need to reach them anyway. We didn't lose the election by much, and there are plenty of red staters who aren't extremists. They're the ones who are uncomfortable with homosexuality, but understand that a steadily increasing acceptance of gay rights is probably inevitable. They don't want to ban abortion, but feel like it's common sense to require parental notification. And they're ready to agree that we need to do something about global warming, but that doesn't mean they take kindly to thinly veiled accusations that they're personally responsible for it just because they drive an SUV or eat a Big Mac.

In other words, they disagree with us, but not so much that they can't be brought around or persuaded to vote for us based on other issues. Too often, though, a visceral loathing of being lectured at by city folks wins out and they end up marking their ballots for people like George Bush.

So maybe we should knock it off. I know it's fun, but most of the time it's pointless and misguided — and it costs us elections and prevents even modest progress on issues we care about. That's a high price to pay for a bit of fun.

And the best part is that it doesn't infringe on our core values at all. We don't all have to start quoting scripture, we just have to dial down the mockery a notch. Why give the Republicans bulletin board material, after all?

Word. Remember, most of the Red States are purple.

The Ohio and Florida votes

The pseudonymous "Hunter," a diarist at Daily Kos, has an incredibly cogent and easy-to-read analysis of voting irregularities in Ohio and Florida. His bottom line: not enough that would make any difference in the outcome, but some anomalies that have to be checked out -- not for Kerry/Edwards' sake, but voters'.

November 4, 2004

But in Purple, I'm Stunned!

(Some of you will get the title reference.) Via Boing Boing, a look at the state-by-state proportions of Bush vs. Kerry voters. It's slightly comforting.

Less so is the USA Today county-by-county map. But think about how close the election was, and try to visualize how much population is crammed into those blue counties. I saw a better county-by-county map four years ago that did the shades of purple thing like above; I wonder where I can find one.

November 3, 2004

Surprising Exit Poll Data

I heard this (from PlanetOut Network) on NPR tonight and was, well, surprised:

According to AP's National Election Pool exit polls in Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio, 4 percent of voters self-identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual, 78 percent of whom said they voted for Kerry; 21 percent voted for Bush and 2 percent voted for independent candidate Ralph Nader. A CNN poll placed the GLB vote at 77 percent for Kerry; 23 percent for Bush.

The gay leaders thought LGBT voters turned out "in record numbers," despite polls showing no change in the 4 percent turnout from 2000 to 2004. What baffled them was the 21-23 percent gay vote for Bush.

"Log Cabin didn't make any endorsement," Log Cabin Republicans Political Director Christopher Barrons told the PlanetOut Network. "I think these are gays and lesbians who went to the polls and made a decision based on a whole variety of issues, and they decided that they still wanted to support the president."

October 7, 2004

Latest SurveyUSA NC poll

Bush lead widens slightly, Bowles lead shrinks to a single point (the recent ads reminding voters that he was [gasp] Clinton's chief of staff?), Easley still in the driver's seat. The details. (PDF) (An NRO contributor believes that a couple of polls are about to come out giving Burr a slight lead.)

Important Flu Column

Take the flu vaccine shortage seriously. With fewer healthy people taking the vaccine, that means there will be more people transmitting the disease to high-risk people. Not good. Wash your hands, everybody...

September 16, 2004

The Pajamahadeen at Work

Investigations: For a week or two now, Talkleft and other liberal blogs have been trying to track down an attendee at the Republican National Convention allegedly caught on tape kicking a female protestor while she was held down by three secret service agents. Julain Sanchez at libertarian magazine Reason's blog IDed the guy when he saw his photo at the National Taxpayer's Union's website.

The original photo showed four of the NTU's summer interns, but the JPEG was quickly cropped to remove him from the shot. Someone managed to save a cached copy of the original photo, though, and it's now posted to Atrios's Eschaton.

Good detective work, and if it leads to a proper law enforcement action, so much the better. It helps that the pictures in question look like they're not faked. But there's still a potential dark side to this kind of public investigation.

Google Stimulus-Response: My friend, News and Record editor Lex Alexander, blogged about this story of democratic demagogy, the case of a Miami professor who has been confused with one of CBS's experts who reviewed the probably-forged Bush National Guard memos. Someone Googled the expert's name, found a link to this professor, and the rabid emails started pouring in.

What happens when the RNC guy is publicly identified, with name and address and phone number posted for all to see? Will there be a proper police investigation? Or something uglier?

("Pajamahadeen" being a phrase coined by National Review's Kerry reporter Jim Geraghty.)

September 13, 2004

The Former Calpundit Nails It

Why is Kerry lagging in the polls? Per Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum:

Now, I happen to agree with Tomasky that Republicans generally go for the jugular more effectively than Democrats, but it's a big mistake for us liberals to kid ourselves into thinking that Republicans win elections solely because they fool people into voting for them. It's not just that this is a debilitating mental attitude — although it is — but it's also not true. Our main problem isn't that this year's campaign has ignored the issues, our main problem is that the #1 issue in this campaign is national defense, and on that issue — like it or not — the majority of Americans favor the Republican position. If John Kerry wants to win, he should focus on the issues, but he has to focus on the issues that matter most in this campaign cycle.

It's all about 9/11, Iraq, terrorism, and national security, baby. This election is going to be won on that issue, and Kerry needs to convince the country that he can handle it better than Bush. And really, considering the botch Bush has made of national security, that shouldn't be all that hard.

Well, maybe. Kos makes some plausible efforts along those lines here and here. But when he writes, "Force Bush to defend his 'war presidency.' He's got nothing to brag about" -- well, it ain't that easy, fella. Obviously, Bush supporters think that Bush has done pretty darn well on national security. Saddam's in a stockade, and we haven't been attacked on U.S. soil since 9/11/01.

If Kerry can climb over that mountain -- and his best chance to do that will be in the debates -- then he can win. If he can't -- well, Maslow's hierarchy is in full effect. More people would have to feel threatened by their current economic situation than by the threat of terrorism. And because our economy is stagnant but not in depression, and because most people do have access to health insurance, and because everybody remembers exactly where they were when they heard about the Towers....

Kerry is going to have to convince a majority of the voters in states holding the majority of the electoral votes that he can do a better job against al-Qaeda. There are a lot of "broken glass Republicans" out there who'd sooner crawl over just that than vote for Kerry, and there are a lot of people sufficiently bewildered by the post-9/11 world that they'll go with what they know rather than turn over the Commander in Chief role. Daily Kos and Atrios readers would say those voters are opting for "stability" over "security." But they're preaching to the choir. It's Kerry who has to make the sale to folks who don't read the liberal blogs.

September 2, 2004

This Here's a Call to Action

William Saletan at Slate reacts to last night's red-meat Republican Convention activity:

In a democracy, the commander in chief works for you. You hire him when you elect him. You watch him do the job. If he makes good decisions and serves your interests, you rehire him. If he doesn't, you fire him by voting for his opponent in the next election.

Not every country works this way. In some countries, the commander in chief builds a propaganda apparatus that equates him with the military and the nation. If you object that he's making bad decisions and disserving the national interest, you're accused of weakening the nation, undermining its security, sabotaging the commander in chief, and serving a foreign power—the very charges Miller leveled tonight against Bush's critics.

There's some hyperbole there, but that pales in comparison to the Miller speech.

Bush and the Evangelicals co-editor Steven Waldman has an interesting column on National Review Online that plausibly describes Bush's appeal to evangelical voters even though he's actually been comparatively tepid in his support of evangelical causes.

There are other, more pedestrian reasons evangelicals love Bush. Evangelicals tend to be conservative, so they like his policies. After all, they mostly voted for the very non-evangelical Gerry Ford over born-again Christian Jimmy Carter. But the connection between Bush and evangelicals is deep and personal — indeed, it's grounded in their reading of how God transforms men and chooses leaders.

It's a short, neutral column worth reading by Bush backers and detractors alike.

By the way, is a site I wish I had more time to explore fully. It's a "multi-faith e-community" that represents a wide range of religious faiths, including a number of flavors of institutional and alternative religions.

August 25, 2004

Ew. Just -- Ew.

Planning a tour boat ride on the Chicago River? You might want to check the Dave Matthews Band's itinerary -- their driver allegedly dumped the tour bus's liquid waste on a bridge over the river. A decent respect for the sensibilities of my readers (both of you) forbids me from going further.

August 23, 2004

The Court of Public Opinion

Some re-linking from friends' blogs: Laura brought to my attention the nasty story of Darla Wynne, a Wiccan in Great Falls, South Carolina. Wynne, who so far successfully has challenged her town's use of sectarian prayers at official functions, has paid for it in the form of intimidation and violence (directed to her pets) from unknown members of her community. Regardless of where you stand on prayer at town council meetings (I like what Lutheran pastor Allen Brill has to say on the subject, though I don't have a big problem with nonsectarian invocations or moments of silence), you'd think that -- in the 21st century -- mutilating a pet parrot for whatever reason would be considered, you know, evil?

Well, backyard religious conflicts don't corner the market on community intimidation. Just ask Specialist Joseph Darby and his wife, (hat tip: Lex Alexander's Blog on the Run, August 18), who blew the whistle on the Abu Ghraib atrocities:

Each day, she would catch another snippet of the hostility brewing around her. There was the candlelight vigil in Cumberland, Maryland, to show support for the disgraced soldiers, including the ones who did the torturing, about a hundred supporters standing in the pounding rain, as if beating and sodomizing prisoners were some kind of patriotic duty. Or the 200 people who gathered one night in Hyndman, Pennsylvania, waving American flags to honor Sivits, the first soldier tried in the scandal. They posted a sign in Hyndman. It said JEREMY SIVITS, OUR HOMETOWN HERO. And the mayor told reporters that even though Sivits would sometimes do "a little devilish thing," on the whole he was "a wonderful kid."

Where were the signs for Joe? Bernadette had to wonder. Where was his vigil? Where was his happy mayor? Where were his calls of support? Down at the gas station, Clay overheard some guys say that Joe was "walking around with a bull's-eye on his head," just casually, just like, oh, everybody knows Joe's dead. Some of Bernadette's family even let her know that other members of the family were against her now, that they couldn't support a traitor.

August 3, 2004

You Can't Let THEM in There!

Via Atrios: Sometimes our elected officials seem to do their damnedest to live up to the worst stereotypes of the south.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Iraqis visiting on a civil rights tour were barred from city hall after the city council chairman said it was too dangerous to let them in.

The seven Iraqi civic and community leaders are in the midst of a three-week American tour, sponsored by the State Department to learn more about the process of government. The trip also includes stops in Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The Iraqis were scheduled to meet with a city council member, but Joe Brown, the council chair, said he feared the group was dangerous.

"We don't know exactly what's going on. Who knows about the delegation, and has the FBI been informed?" Brown said. "We must secure and protect all the employees in that building."

Elisabeth Silverman, the group's host and head of the Memphis Council for International Visitors, said Brown told her he would "evacuate the building and bring in the bomb squads" if the group entered.

July 8, 2004

Trouble in the Base?

Some posters on National Review's blog are almost despairing that "base" conservatives won't be given proper attention at the Republican National Convention in New York -- the primetime speakers will all be moderates like Schwarzenegger, Pataki and Giuliani (more here).

This reminds me of some excesses I read on the liberal activist blog Daily Kos when the rumors that Gephardt would be Kerry's VP candidate were at their thickest. Some folks reacted to Kos's rather nuaunced commentary by sounding like they were ready to jump off a bridge. (Mainly these were people who hadn't really forgiven Kerry for beating Dean.)

It'll be interesting to watch this campaign to see which side gets in more trouble with their base while reaching out to a tiny pool of "undecided", nominally centrist voters. (I'd have to assume that the undecided vote is largely apathetic more than centrist.) The race is a dead heat and is likely to continue to be for some time, pivoting on cultural and economic issues barring a massive change in the War on Terrorism. I still think Bush has the edge, but neither he or Kerry have much of a margin of error if either of them hemmorhage base supporters.

That said, how big are these bases that straight-facedly compare Bush to Hitler or write books titled If It's Not Close They Can't Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends on It? Yeah, there are few undecideds, but there aren't that many Rush Limbaughs and Michael Moores in the general electorate, are there?

March 1, 2004

Conservatives on Campus

Although I agree that there needs to be more intellectual diversity on college campuses (campi?), does anyone else see an irony in campus conservatives claiming the "victim" label for themselves? Of course, I've got friends attached to universities who will tell you just how conservative they are. Universities, like the media, are liberal or conservative in the eye of the beholder. (More about this divide later tonight.)

February 21, 2004

An Alternative for Bush? Naaah.

This very interesting column at TechCentralStation writes about "ambivalent conservatives" who Just Really Don't Care Much about the gay marriage issue. In a nutshell (citing Virginia Postrel): if you're a young conservative in a major city, chances are good you have a gay acquaintance who's in a serious relationship, so your passion for defending "traditional" marriage won't be as strong.

It also suggests a (somewhat unlikely) alternative to my theory about why the President's been so cagey on the subject of gay marriage: on this subject he's genuinely an ambi-con.

The interesting question here is whether Bush would go for the "compromise" constitutional amendment Jonathan Rauch, a conservative supporter of gay marriage, advocates: writing the Defense of Marriage Act into the constitution as "Nothing in this Constitution requires any state or the federal government to recognize anything other than the union of one man and one woman as a marriage." Meaning that a state, either legislatively or judicially (based on the state's constitution alone), could enact gay marriage, but another state would not be forced to recognize it.

It's a very federalist solution, but it would make activists on both sides unhappy. And while young, hip urban conservatives may have gay friends and not really care about the issue, rural "heartland" conservatives prooooobably have a different perspective.

February 18, 2004


"I'm troubled by what I've seen," Bush told reporters in his first public comments on the flood of City Hall weddings that have made San Francisco the focus of the gay marriage movement.

"I have consistently stated that I'll support (a) law to protect marriage between a man and a woman. And, obviously, these events are influencing my decision," Bush said during a picture-taking session with the president of Tunisia and after meeting with Catholic leaders at the White House.

As a self-proclaimed "uniter, not a divider," it looks like the President is playing this issue just about perfectly for the election.

There's no doubt that a major election-year cultural war over gay marriage is coming, thanks to the issue being forced in Massachusetts and San Francisco. According to the Reuters article, 51 percent of Americans favor an outright constitutional amendment recognizing marriage as only involving a man and woman. The Democratic party is divided (so what else is new?) between party activists in favor of gay rights and "heartland" voters who are much more culturally conservative (remember that President Clinton signed DOMA). Kerry has bobbed and weaved a little on the issue, but has made statements against gay marriage in the past.

Meanwhile, a few Log Cabin candidates in California notwithstanding, the Republican "base" and party leadership are remarkably unified on the issue, differing only slightly on the precise tool that should take out gay marriage.

Bush, in a feat of triangulation worthy of his predecessor, has been cagey about whether he would support a Federal Marriage Amendment. As the issue becomes hotter and hotter, and as lawsuits are filed by gay couples married in one jurisdiction or another, his hand will be "forced" by outside events, leading him to a decision which his culturally conservative supporters never doubted he'd make. Not a Pat Buchanan-like, scary culture warrior, but a reluctant defender of the family taking the only possible step.

It'll be interesting to see how, and whether, the Democrats will be able to counter.

January 28, 2004

Call Me Shallow...

The Hutton Inquiry into the death of Dr. David Kelly has just been delivered. It pretty much exonerates Tony Blair of "sexing up" the evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and also meant the resignation of the BBC chairman.

On a whim, I checked out the Hutton Inquiry, and was stopped dead in the first paragraph of the first passage:

Lord Falconer further requested me to deliver my report to him.

"Lord Falconer."

You know, sometimes I envy the British. I've been wracking my brain to find a similarly cool, Dark Jedi or supervillain-like name in government. They have Lord Falconer. We have Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's just not fair.

January 27, 2004

Worst Political Commercial Ever?

Patrick Ballantine's running for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. His new campaign commercial features an unearthly gown-clad child superimposed over North Carolina landscapes whispering, "Believe." Astonishingly creepy.

December 10, 2003

Insert Your Own Snide Headline Here

It's an uncharacteristically conservative blogging day for me. This afternoon on All Things Considered, Guy Raz reported (RealAudio, scroll down to "Britons Protest University Fee Plan") that British students are aghast -- aghast, I tell you! -- that Tony Blair is suggesting that they ought to contribute to their own tuition expenses for University, given the crushing debts the institutions are operating under.

After they've attended school.

After they've got a job.

After they're making the median salary.

At which point they'd be paying, on average, 8 dollars a week for 10 to 15 years for a college education.

Interest free.

Not only do the "self-consciously radical students" decry this as turning British schools into rich-only enclaves just like American colleges, but Blair is having difficulty selling the plan to half his own party.

It's a fascinating, infuriating story with an interesting look at just how competitive Cambridge and the others are (not as competitive as you'd think). Raz's snideness comes through, and for once I don't mind the lack of the "objective" voice.

Playing from the Spite Deck

Back in the days I was playing a certain collectible card game, my good friend Mark had what he called a "spite deck." He pulled it out whenever events in the previous game had frustrated him utterly, and the rest of the players knew that although Mark was unlikely to win from playing the Spite Deck, he would be taking the majority them down with him.

Geopolitically speaking, there's been a lot of playing the spite deck lately, the most recent example being the Pentagon's decision to only award post-war reconstruction contracts in Iraq to coalition members. This is a large, neon middle finger thrust before France, Germany, Russia and Canada, among others. To my own surprise, given my lack of support of the Bush administration, I really don't mind that they're playing from the spite deck this time.

For one thing, despite the Bush administration's diplomatic blunders and arrogance, the failure of the U.N. to enforce its own resolutions can be traced primarily to France and Germany who, it seems, were playing from the spite deck themselves when they decided that the final resolution on Iraq (PDF) for which they had voted didn't mean what it said. Whether you were in favor of the war or not, when you consider that the only thing that might have prevented war was U.N. unanimity in enforcing Resolution 1441, France's intransigence at the Security Council seems at least as spiteful as principled. So there's something satisfying about playing from the spite deck in retaliation -- I don't feel a particular need to welcome French companies to the bidding process and I suspect the Iraqi Governing Council would agree. (That said, I admit that this isn't a great way to thank Canada for at least putting some money up toward reconstruction, nor does it help encourage Russia to forgive Iraq's debts.)

Second, this isn't just about the middle finger. Britain, Spain, Australia and the others put boots on the ground. Reserving the bidding to them may be a small gesture -- a few extra jobs in Birmingham won't help Tony Blair with his backbenchers -- but it's a start.

And finally, there's a smaller but still substantial pot of money out there from the U.N. for reconstruction contracts as well, so the other countries aren't being completely frozen out.

Now, I reserve the right to retract every one of these statements if Halliburton wins all these bids, too.

November 23, 2003

The Hapless Democrats

Time's Joe Klein has a pretty good column about the current Custer-like position of the national Democratic Party: co-opted or outmaneuvered on just about every front.

The week's events illuminate a fundamental difference between Democrats and Republicans on domestic policy. The Democrats are boxed into complicated and unpopular positions because they tend to stand on principle—although the principles involved are often antiquated, peripheral and, arguably, foolish. The Republicans, by contrast, have abandoned traditional conservativism to gain political advantage (with the elderly, for instance) or to pay off their stable of corporate-welfare recipients. Why the Democrats Are All Boxed In

November 18, 2003

Retiring a Catchphrase

A year or two ago, I started using the common catchphrase drank the Kool-Aid (link is temporarily down) when talking about something I'd totally bought into, like a particular product or band. Rather than getting drawn into an argument over why I liked a TV show's plotline that someone else thought dumb, for example, I'd just wave my hands: "What can I say? I drank the Kool-Aid for that show a long time ago."

Obviously, that's a reference to the Jonestown massacre of November 18, 1978 -- 25 years ago -- when over 900 cultists drank poisoned Fla-Vor-Aid willingly, were forced to drink, or were shot at the will of their spiritual leader, the "Reverend" Jim Jones.

On the drive home from work Monday, I heard an NPR interview with a survivor of the cult, Laura Kohl. It was the most difficult 10 minutes or so of radio that I've ever listened to as Kohl, prompted by an impassive Melissa Block, recalled the joy of their communal living, sobbed over the dead and her lost innocence, and wondered about her own culpability.

I remembered seeing the December 4 Newsweek cover story about the massacre. I was eight years old. The magazine was at my grandmother Mabel's house. I vaguely remembered some of the article's text. I remembered registering that the people in the cover image were not sleeping, but I still had enough of my innocence about me that I couldn't deeply, truly visualize what that photograph represented. If I had seen that another two or three years from then, I would have had nightmares.

25 years later, the horror of that old story -- one I hadn't really thought of in years, despite adding that catchphrase to my vernacular -- came home.

If we work hard at it -- really, really hard -- or maybe it doesn't take that much work at all -- we can lose our humanity. We can be reduced to automata. We can do unspeakable things, to ourselves and others.

I can't use that phrase again. It means too much.

Update: For more information about Jonestown, visit San Diego State University's online resource center. It includes a survivor's personal reaction to the catchphrase.

October 18, 2003

He Will Have Much Time to Contemplate His Service

A Guilford College student is being questioned in yesterday's Play-Doh (TM) scare: he somehow sneaked modeling clay, bleach and box cutters onto two Southwest Airlines planes yesterday. He apparently was trying to make the point to the Transportation Security Agency that, um, y'know, security could be tighter.

Considering I'm going to be hopping a plane next weekend to visit one of my dearest friends in Ohio, I think this guy has done the nation a profound service. I also think, given that there aren't any "making a statement" exceptions in federal law against sneaking knives and bleach onto a plane, that he'd better be prepared to face the consequences.

October 13, 2003

The Limbaugh Story

Talk about the blind man and the elephant. Evan Thomas writes a Newsweek piece about Rush Limbaugh's confession of prescription drug addiction.

Liberal cartoonist Dan "Tom Tomorrow" Perkins reads it and almost feels sorry for Limbaugh.

Somebody named "Quiddity" at some blog called "Uggabugga" accuses Thomas of whitewashing Limbaugh: "He's a son of a b----. Don't forget it. And don't let reporters like Evan Thomas mislead you."

Meanwhile, the conservative Media Research Center's Tim Graham writes in National Review's "The Corner" blog that the article "sneers" at Limbaugh: "...Newsweek suggests Rush is a pathetic little man who likes nothing better than scaring young girls from Kansas and their little dogs, too, but are [sic] really powerless."

Further proof that, on a clear day, you can find some people to argue the color of the sky.

For my part, I thought the article was well-reported but displayed a fair bit of anti-Limbaugh bias. I display a fair bit of anti-Limbaugh bias myself -- a few years ago I heard him describe the homeless as "human debris", for God's sake -- but I'd prefer not to see that bias in a major news magazine's cover story.

As for Limbaugh himself, though, I don't find any joy in his addiction. Addiction is hell, and the painkillers he's on are hideously difficult to escape. 30 days of detox may not do it -- he's reportedly tried twice before -- but I can't imagine it being anything but an agonizing process. People like "Quiddity" don't do progressivism any favors by clutching to bitterness in their responses. Bitter people make poor advocates, because it makes it so much easier for their opponents to dismiss them as cranks. (See also my upcoming, long-delayed review of Al Franken's book.) And it dehumanizes the guy -- turns him into an object of scorn in the same way that he did his opponents on the radio. It's "payback is hell" versus "two wrongs don't make a right."

I've actually said a prayer for Limbaugh's recovery. Granted, I now feel like I need a shower. But it's the right way to approach anyone in pain and trying to overcome it.

September 14, 2003

Unsurprising But Sad

A new poll of the Carolinas finds that by a 3-1 margin North and South Carolinians are opposed to gay unions. Nationwide, 39 percent of Americans said that the law should recognize marriage between homosexuals, while 55 percent said the law should not.

September 8, 2003

Jonathan Alter Nails It...

in a Newsweek column about the current state of patriotism.

Perhaps most important, is it patriotic to define patriotism the old-fashioned way—as a kind of narrow nationalism? That jingoistic definition is carrying a price for the president, who must now go on bended knee to allies he so recently scorned. When you’re spending $1 billion a week in Iraq, dissing our friends, as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld have done consistently, seems to be a tad ... counter-productive. Those “freedom fries” in the House cafeteria are burning us now; those gibes that John Kerry “looks French” don’t look so clever.

The column is good enough that I'll forgive him for opening with a Britney Spears quote.

June 3, 2003


Not only did Salam Pax actually exist contrary to speculation, but the Guardian has hired him.

May 12, 2003

The "Shock and Awe" Cliche Goes Domestic

Radio-surfing while running some lunch-hour errands last Friday, I heard Rush Limbaugh guest-host Roger Hedgecock crowing about the Bush Administration's domestic political machine. He said that it would be "Shock and Awe" on an incredible scale -- that the "you're either with us or against us" approach toward state sponsors of terrorism would also apply to domestic politicians -- and Hedgecock was loving it.

I shouldn't be surprised. Politics is, after all, the practice of applying power. And if you've got a lot of power -- a compliant legislature; high approval ratings; a national media easily distracted by bright, shiny things -- the only reason to hold back is the fear of overreaching.

But damn, it's uncomfortable knowing that my politics are the deer in the headlights.

For more on the subject, Boston Phoenix columnist Dan Kennedy has a column about "The GOP attack machine" which, while laying its biases on the table, covers several examples of the current application of "shock and awe" politics.

I'd be really interested in seeing some counter-examples: was the Clinton Administration in 1993 and 1994 sufficiently organized or clever to even attempt to steamroller its opposition? I honestly don't remember...

May 10, 2003

Be Careful What You Wish For, Nawlins

New Orleans basketball fans are discovering, after one year, why Charlotte's reaction to the Hornets' departure was "Don't let the door hit you on the way out":

NEW ORLEANS -- Hornets owners George Shinn and Ray Wooldridge, reviled in Charlotte when they moved the team from there last summer, barely made it through one season before their first public relations debacle in New Orleans.

Last weekend's firing of popular coach Paul Silas has been widely received with disgust by fans and in the local media.

Times-Picayune columnist Dave Lagarde declared that the honeymoon was over.

"The needle on the popularity meter just made a major shift in the wrong direction. The NBA novelty has worn off in an ugly hurry," he wrote.

A similar tone resonated from fan comments in office elevators, talk shows, bars and in letters to the editor.

"I'm glad we got an NBA team after so many years [23] without, but it looks like we?ve been cursed with yet another ignorant owner," Tom Henehan of New Orleans wrote, making reference to former unpopular Saints owner John Mecom.

Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

April 24, 2003

Who's Raed?

Theories are popping up that "Salam Pax" of the Where is Raed? blog may actually be a former Iraqi diplomat's son arrested in New York on March 25, the day after the last blog entry.

Think there's a chance that the pseudonymous Salam Pax is actually Raed Rokan Al-Anbuge, and that his entire blog was a hoax, based on his memories of Iraq and what he was seeing on network news plus inspired guesses and a vivid imagination and maybe information gotten from friends back home? If so, it would explain why he seemed willing to take such a terrible risk, posting comments critical of the regime, and revealing information about himself to a stranger in America. Since he would not have actually been in Baghdad to face the potential hell of arrest by Saddam's secret police, the risk would have actually been negligible.

The blogger admits this may only be a coincidence and there might be a real Salam Pax, but still.... The article linked above also offers an interesting case study of another blogging hoax: Kaycee Nicole, the fictional leukemia patient with a heart of gold (whose photo was actually that of a local high school basketball star whom the hoaxer idolized).

March 15, 2003


Two great sites for reality checks and referencing when someone's forwarded you the latest E-mail scam or myth:

  • Spinsanity is a nonpartisan site that cuts through spin, lies and misleading rhetoric. Great stuff.
  • The venerable "Snopes" site, also known as the Urban Legends Reference Pages, fact check just about every forwarded E-mail and rumor circulating.

March 2, 2003

A Darker Side of Faith

Unlike many of my fellow liberals, I haven't been terribly concerned about President Bush's deeply conservative religious inclinations. (Attorney General Ashcroft's, on the other hand, give me the screaming willies.) He and I have different interpretations of what Christianity calls us to -- especially reagarding social justice in the here-and-now world. But having deeply held, even fundamentalist, religious beliefs isn't an automatic warning bell for me. It's what you do with those beliefs, and what the content of those personal beliefs implies about how you'll govern.

Continue reading "A Darker Side of Faith" »

February 28, 2003

If one more blogger...

...uses the word "blogoverse" or "blogosphere" with a straight face, I just may go completely crazygonuts.

February 26, 2003

The smoking gun?

Ted Bridis of the Associated Press reports: One day before the Columbia disaster, senior NASA engineers worried the shuttle’s left wing might burn off and cause the deaths of the crew, describing a scenario much like the one investigators believe happened. They never sent their warnings to NASA’s brass, according to dozens of pages of e-mails NASA released Wednesday.

February 20, 2003

Basic Economic Theory Falls Down, Goes Boom

Moviegoers Sue Theater Companies Over Commercials

Because, of course, people would rather pay attorney fees and higher ticket prices.

February 19, 2003

News Flash to Protestors: He Doesn't Care

Howard Fineman points out that the massive worldwide anti-war protests literally rolled off of Bush's back:

I don't know what the president was thinking, of course, when, with a characteristic frown and bite of the cheek, he noted that "evidently some of the world don't view Saddam Hussein as a risk to peace. I respectfully disagree." But I’ve covered Bush long enough to make an educated guess.

Here it is. Shaped by the Yale of the '60s and by his own father's career, the president views the demonstrators as weak-willed moral relativists, afraid to take on -- as only faith-filled and freedom-loving leaders can -- forces of evil on earth.

This is not exactly news. What makes Fineman's piece more interesting is that he illustrates his "Yale of the '60s" point with anecdotes from Bush's fratboy days.

February 17, 2003

Wasn't that quite a few years ago?

Quoth the New York Times, a group of liberal broadcasters is trying to put together a package to counter the Rush Limbaughs and Sean Hannitys of the airwaves. And they want Al Franken to lead them.

Well, more power to them, but I'll believe an AM radio liberal counter-empire when I see it. As for Al, he's smart and funny, but the Al Franken Decade expired over ten years ago.

February 16, 2003

Kitty Genovese revisited

District of Columbia police have released a videotape showing witnesses doing nothing to help a man after he was fatally shot at a gas station.

I'll take "appalled" for $200, Alex.

February 1, 2003

In Memory

I happened upon a message board discussion about this morning's tragedy, the destruction of the space shuttle Columbia on re-entry. One respondent described herself as "wondering why they keep going back up there."

For an answer, I turn to a monologue written by J. Michael Straczynski for Babylon 5.

Reporter: "After all that you've just gone through, I have to ask you the same question a lot of people back home are asking about space these days. Is it worth it? Should we just pull back, forget the whole thing as a bad idea, and take care of our own problems, at home?"

Sinclair: "No. We have to stay here, and there's a simple reason why. Ask ten different scientists about the environment, population control, genetics - and you'll get ten different answers. But there's one thing every scientist on the planet agrees on: whether it happens in a hundred years, or a thousand years, or a million years, eventually our sun will grow cold, and go out. When that happens, it won't just take us, it'll take Marilyn Monroe, and Lao-tsu, Einstein, Maruputo, Buddy Holly, Aristophanes - all of this.

"All of this was for nothing, unless we go to the stars."

December 22, 2002

Last mention, I swear

So the full story, according to Trent, is that he was set up: "When you're from Mississippi and you're a conservative and you're a Christian, there are a lot of people that don't like that. I fell into their trap and so I have only myself to blame."

Pure self-delusional crap, a sort of revisionist defensiveness all too common in the South. Considering that the people who pushed Lott off the plank were in the final analysis from his own party, who either genuinely repudiated his nostalgia for segregation or saw an opportunity to cut some dead-weight-with-seniority, you have to wonder just how blind he is.

That last defense of the Good Ol' Boy -- "I'm being persecuted because I'm a Christian" -- is frequently, like patriotism, the last refuge of the scoundrel, to paraphrase Ben Franklin.

Update: Duh. Or, as the folks at National Review's The Corner speculate, Lott's statement could reveal something even more base:

Surely Lott's little tirade has nothing to do with the fact that some Jewish conservative pundits -- Goldberg, Kristol, Brooks, Krauthammer, et alia -- were among those most eloquently urging his departure from the Majority Leader's office. I honestly don't think he means that, but then again, I have no idea what the hell he means.

December 17, 2002

Prediction: It Won't Be Long Now


Lott backers have warned that if he is dumped as leader, he may resign from the Senate, leaving it up to Mississippi's Democratic governor, Ronnie Musgrove, to name a successor until a new senator is elected next year. Musgrove would probably appoint a Democrat, taking away the Republicans' Senate majority.

But White House officials have told Republicans that Bush is willing to accept the consequences if Lott quits and allows Musgrove to replace him, GOP officials said.

December 16, 2002


A Man Out of Time is a fascinating look at the Old South, Trent Lott, and the challenge the "party of Lincoln" has in overcoming its civil rights-era history. Well worth reading.

Alas, Al

He ran a lame campaign in 2000. But if he had the guts to impersonate Trent Lott on SNL, he had to have something going for him. Now I'm actually sorry he won't be running in 2004.

December 13, 2002

Vaccinations, the Military, and the President

Bush's announcement of his administration's smallpox policy was, at first glance, handled exactly right.

The policy itself is a tough call. From the AP article:

Based on studies from the 1960s, experts estimate that 15 out of every 1 million people vaccinated for the first time will face life-threatening complications, and one or two will die. Reactions are less common for those being revaccinated.

Using these data, vaccinating the nation could lead to nearly 3,000 life-threatening complications and at least 170 deaths.

In short, military in high-risk areas are ordered to take the vaccine, but the administration is not recommending mass inoculations. So, how to communicate the risks versus benefits, and how to shore up support within a military whose rank-and-file troops have been suspicious of or refused anthrax vaccinations in the past?

By taking the vaccine himself, but not recommending it for his family and staff:

"As commander in chief, I do not believe I can ask others to accept this risk unless I am willing do to the same," Bush said. "Therefore, I will receive the vaccine along with our military."


"Given the current level of threat and the inherent health risks of the vaccine, we have decided not to initiate a broader vaccination program for all Americans at this time," Bush said. "Neither my family nor my staff will be receiving the vaccine because our health and national security experts do not believe a vaccination is necessary for the general public."

I don't care for W's politics. But I have to admit, his team generally knows how to communicate.

December 11, 2002

Good blog, despite the politics

National Review is a conservative magazine. I'm not (conservative, or a magazine), so I can't say I'm a fan. (Though I give them credit for giving Ann Coulter the boot.) But I really like what they've done withThe Corner on National Review Online, a collaborative blog that includes news updates, back-and-forth debates between NRO contributors, and an odd amount of discussion of comic books.

(What is it with conservatives and comic books these days, anyway? Even John Hood at the John Locke Foundation betrays a way-too-in depth knowledge of comic books. (Though he's wrong about the Golden Age Green Lantern, who was never involved with interplanetary politics -- that was the Silver Age character.) He even mentions Kurt Busiek's Astro City.)

December 10, 2002

A Lott to Answer For

My friend Lex Alexander mirrors my thoughts exactly about Trent Lott's apparent nostalgia for the segregationist Old South. (Check the December 9 and 10 entries.)

While these days I'd much prefer a weakened, slow-moving-target of a Republican leadership, the right thing for Senate Republicans to do would be to usher him quietly out of the Majority Leadership. No bets on whether that will happen.

November 6, 2002

Election 2002

Lessons I'm taking away from this election:

  • My politics are quite out of the mainstream, apparently.
  • In an off-year election, such as Reagan in '82 and Clinton in '94, the President's party is supposed to lose ground. Give credit to Bush and/or his handlers -- he had serious coattails. Almost every candidate he worked hard for won. (The Great South Dakota Proxy Battle between Bush and South Dakota's other senator, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, is still up in the air.)
  • Corollary to the previous point -- Bush's popularity is real. More Americans respect him than not. I'll attribute that to (1) America's increasing fiscal conservatism and (2) the lingering post-9/11 effect.
  • I've read some blogs lately in which Bush is derided as the "President-select" or the "usurper in chief." Sure, guys, whatever floats your boat. But as Cokie Roberts said this morning on NPR (RealAudio), now he's got a mandate that he didn't have after the 2000 election.
  • On the other hand, some Democrats have seen other moderate Democratic candidates -- those who supported Bush on Iraq and tax cuts, for example -- lose. The lesson they're taking from this is that they've got to have backbone and stand for something. Whether, in drawing a distinction between themselves and the Bush administration, they push themselves so far left as to be unelectable by a conservative public remains to be seen.

In other nightmarish news, my wife just called to let me know that she accidentally turned the channel to Teletubbies and now Will is rapturously watching television. No. No. A thousand times, no.

October 18, 2002

The New MSNBC: TechnoBarf

I've felt somewhat dirty for using MSNBC as my primary news source on the Web. But when I'm on a Windows PC, there's just nothing more convenient than that automatic News Menu that scrolls through a bajillion headlines at once. Now they've added the "MSN Navigational Wrapper" around the existing layout and the whole thing's a mess. It's almost as bad as ESPN's site, whose address is itself a litany of Portal Bloat. (Remember Disney's grand portal strategy? I don't even know why they maintain that page. I just clicked there, and I think I was their first visitor in weeks.)

For this aesthetic assault on my sensibilities, I'll be doing my newsreading elsewhere. Google's beta news service is enticing, if its notion of editing by algorithm rather than human is a little creepy. But how can you resist a news service whose FAQ includes gems like:

  • I just did a search, and I wasn't happy with the results. Who should feel my wrath?
  • How could you leave out Lemur News Digest? How do I get it added?