in which i praise rick santorum...

...for being the only candidate to answer this kid's question with an ounce of creativity, and in a way that I think honestly reflects what he considers most important.


qotd (a couple days late)

I missed this one from Thoreau over the weekend:

When Leon Panetta says that the cost of the Iraq War was “worth it”, he’s saying that a six digit civilian body count is acceptable to the United States. And yet we dare to tell ourselves that it’s the Arabs who have a strange savage culture that does not value human life? Look in the mirror, Leon. Every Arab out there right now is justified in asking “Where are the moderate Americans who condemn this violence?


gary johnson to seek lp nomination

Good for him! If he gets it, he'd be the best Libertarian candidate since...well probably ever.

newt gingrich said something i agree with!

"I asked [Gingrich] if he’s elected, how does he plan to engage gay Americans. How are we to support him? And he told me to support Obama," said Scott Arnold, an associate professor of writing at William Penn University.

Story here, though you've already got the meat of it. (via)

In other election news, Ron Paul is now ahead in Iowa. Get ready to hear about those newsletters, again...

UPDATE--Well, that didn't take long, did it?

For the record, I don't think Ron Paul is a racist, but I have a hard time mustering sympathy for him on this. He really fucked himself (and by extension, his supporters) by not taking the Atlantic piece in 2008 more seriously. He should have thrown "whoever" it was that wrote that stuff (cough, cough, Lew Rockwell) under the goddamn bus, and moved on. At a minimum, he should have gotten out in front of it when he realized he was going to run for president one more time.

There's a good chance he's going to win in Iowa, and a not trivial one that he could pull out an upset in New Hampshire. When that happens, the rest of the GOP is going to bury him. And he will have handed them the gold-plated shovel with which to do it.


If I write for another 50 years, and produce a single sentence worthy of Christopher Hitchens' pen, I will consider it one hell of an accomplishment.



peak gingrich?

Have we hit it? A lot of people seem to think so.

Revisiting this post, you can look at the update of the same data set here.

To me, it looks like Gingrich has hit an inflection point, and that Romney's trough was shallower this cycle than any of the previous ones. This is no doubt partially attributable to Herman Cain dropping out completely (i.e., the votes are split among fewer candidates.) Still, if I'm Mitt Romney, I'm optimistic. (Naturally, I am neither.)

Footnote: I feel compelled to point out that this post (and more importantly, its title) went up six minutes before this one did. (My posts are timestamped in PST, his in EST. Not that you care. But sensitivity to attribution is sort of hammered into me in my profession.)


read this

"And I see in Paul none of the resentment that burns in Gingrich or the fakeness that defines Romney or the fascistic strains in Perry's buffoonery. He has yet to show the Obama-derangement of his peers, even though he differs with him. He has now gone through two primary elections without compromising an inch of his character or his philosophy. This kind of rigidity has its flaws, but, in the context of the Newt Romney blur, it is refreshing. He would never take $1.8 million from Freddie Mac. He would never disown Reagan, as Romney once did. He would never speak of lynching Bernanke, as Perry threatened. When he answers a question, you can see that he is genuinely listening to it and responding - rather than searching, Bachmann-like, for the one-liner to rouse the base. He is, in other words, a decent fellow, and that's an adjective I don't use lightly. We need more decency among Republicans."

Andrew Sullivan, officially endorsing Ron Paul for the GOP nomination.

The entire piece is excellent, and well worth reading in its complex, thoughtful entirety.

Paul Constant disagrees.


this week in campaign lulz

Did you hear the one about where Mitt Romney sees a couple of old guys in a NH diner, one of whom is wearing a "Vietnam Veteran" hat, and slides in to the booth with them for a chat-cum-photo-op? And it turns out the other guy is the vet's husband? Classic!

OK, it was actually a pretty low-key encounter, though I really do love seeing genuine discomfort on the faces of politicians when they have to actually talk to real people. Savage writes:

"Let's pause for a moment to appreciate that we live at time when older gay couples in small-town coffee shops aren't afraid to get in the faces of bigoted politicians and out themselves to the national media in the process. It has gotten better."

I think calling Romney bigoted is a bit unfair. Being a bigot requires that you actually believe in something.


a sentence upon which i cannot improve

"If Newt Gingrich becomes president, we all deserve to die in purifying fire."

--Will Wilkinson


credit where credit is due dept.

Kudos to the St. Louis Police Department for dismantling their Occupy encampment without violence. If you are going to do that, this is how you get it done.

I remain ambivalent about Occupy; while broadly sympathetic to (a lot, but not all of) their grievances, I question the effectiveness of tent cities as political speech. All the more so when they occupy a place like Seattle Central Community College (a few blocks from my apartment), which is not exactly a citadel of the elite.

In any case, I have no desire to watch this resolved in a street battle below my window.



posts that will derail my future run for office, vol 38 in a continuing series

When I point out that Newt Gingrich is a gaping asshole, I'm not just saying that to be cute. It's shit like this:
"There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and that things happened in my life that were not appropriate,"

Don't you just hate it when you work so hard you cheat on your wife?

"And what I can tell you is that when I did things that were wrong, I wasn't trapped in situation ethics, I was doing things that were wrong, and yet, I was doing it. I found that I felt compelled to seek God's forgiveness." Gingrich, whose personal history could hamper his efforts to win over social conservatives in a GOP primary, converted to Catholicism in March, 2009. In the interview, he went on to say that he believes "in a forgiving God."

I guess belief in a forgiving god is pretty appealing when you are constantly doing things that require you to seek forgiveness of the people you allegedly love.

Possibly the most insulting dismissal of atheists is that we lack any sort of moral compass. Frankly, my biggest problem with Christianity is not the fairy tales, but rather this tortured notion of seeking god's forgiveness for all the horrible things you do to other people (and with that, the expectation of forgiveness from people--or at least other Christians--implicit in the belief that god does, in fact, forgive you when you ask.)

When there is no god to forgive you, you have every reason to get it right the first time. When you wrong someone, you have to make it right with the person whom you've actually wronged, rather than with some arcane spiritual proxy. If someone doesn't forgive you--you get to live with that! Maybe it will motivate you to grow and be a better person, and not do that again. But what you don't get is that warm reassuring feeling that no matter what you've done, god forgives you.

"I'm not perfect--just forgiven" is just another way of saying "fuck you--god forgives me."

Let me be clear: I don't think Christianity makes people assholes. But it sure can give assholes a lot of cover. Anyone who takes their faith seriously should be insulted when people like Newt Gingrich use it that way.


swimming upstream

Marc Maron captures the zeitgeist of Seattle rather well here:

"I now understand why many people in Seattle don’t dress for the rain or use umbrellas. Two reasons. One, what’s the point. Two, denial. With the amount of rain that pours down why not just transcend the chronic dampness of street and spirit by not acknowledging it at all. Stubborn acceptance. It’s not sad to be wet. Then, on top of that denial, let's pour cups and cups of the strongest coffee in the world into that spirit until it hums and sings the rain away. The vibrations buzzing off the bodies of people in Seattle actually repel water. Genius. When the humming and singing is done, how about some fancy artisanal regional beer or ale or cider—maybe something thick and pulpy—something to take the edge off the caffeinated rain repression.

I think everyone in Seattle is swimming upstream to spawn and die on some level. You definitely need coffee for that. I love it up there. I would live there. Maybe someday I will and when I do I will have a very long beard."


black friday and the heart of darknesss

I have participated in exactly one Black Friday in my entire life.

The year was 1994. I had just turned 17, and was working my first part-time job at a certain Jesus-y chicken joint at the local mall. Having started there the previous December and worked 3 nights a week for the better part of the year, I had worked my way "up" from washing dishes (which I hated) to working the grill (which I actually kind of liked) to working as a cashier (which I hated more than washing dishes.)

The next step was management, one which I had no intention whatsoever of taking.

Suffice it to say, I had through a completely ill-considered combination of work ethic and generally pleasant demeanor made myself sufficiently valuable to the management of the store that my presence was considered indispensable when the mall would open at 7AM the day after Thanksgiving. My shift would start at 6AM.

A digression is in order. If a mall-based food vendor serves breakfast at all, it is generally a very small part of their business. Most fast food outlets stop serving breakfast around 10:30 or 11, and most malls don't typically open until 9 or 10. Also, (typical) weekday morning traffic is a trickle; when and where I grew up, it was mostly old folks doing laps to exercise in a climate-controlled, safe environment. They might have stopped in for a coffee afterward, but that was pretty much it. Saturday mornings were much busier, but the mall didn't open until lunchtime on Sunday, and our store never opened on Sunday at all.

As such, the oven in our store that we used to bake biscuits--our one and only breakfast item at the time--was actually smaller than the ovens found in most homes. I think it could handle two trays of maybe 20 biscuits each. It takes about 20 minutes to bake biscuits properly. So the maximum biscuit generating capacity of our store was about 2 per minute on average, but of course this actually meant a batch of 40 coming out every 20. (You could stagger trays and get 20 every 10.)

As I walked up to the storefront a few minutes before 6, I saw a crowd of about two dozen people lined up, apparently, for chicken biscuits.

We didn't open for another hour. The crowd only got bigger.

Never mind that there was  a  McDonnald's out in one of the lots that ringed the mall, that surely could crank out breakfast biscuits at 10 times the rate we could, or that (being suburban Atlanta) there were no fewer than 3 Waffle Houses within a mile (one right across the street) that had been open all night, as they always were every day of the year. Never mind that if one were a halfway competent southerner, they could themselves whip up a batch of biscuits, and have time to do bacon and eggs on the stove while they baked, in far less than the hour plus they were willing to stand like a bunch of assholes in a not-yet-open mall so that we could do it for them.

When we opened the gate at 7AM, all 12 registers were manned. I didn't stop taking and filling orders for the next 9 hours. By lunchtime, it was fine--pretty much like a Saturday shift on crack, but manageable. But breakfast was pure hell.

I look back at that morning as the day I entered adulthood. I don't think I really understood man's bottomless capacity for entitlement and general depravity until I saw it etched on the angry faces of a thousand middle-aged women demanding a chicken biscuit in a timely fashion on their way to buy Nintendo games at 25% off.

Since that morning, I've found myself in genuinely life-threatening situations a couple of times. I've watched somebody I love die. I've had guns pointed at my face. Strangely, none of these experiences haunt my dreams.

But the hordes of people demanding breakfast on Black Friday still do, and I have a feeling that they always will.

The following summer, I got a job selling swimming pool supplies, and never looked back.


the voice of football

Long-time voice of the Georgia Bulldogs Larry Munson died yesterday at 89 years of age.

The sound of Larry's gravely voice coming out of the radio is probably one of my earliest and most salient childhood memories. Even if the game was on TV, we turned the sound down and turned the radio up so we could hear Larry call the game on WSB. So did everybody else.

He dispensed with any pretense to objectivity, openly cheering for his team even while delivering rapid-fire play by play. His style was often dour, which made it all the more exhilarating when he got excited.

If you didn't grow up in Georgia sometime between 1966 and 2008, you've probably never heard him. So seriously, go treat yourself. (Audio at the link.) He was amazing. You don't even have to like football. (You certainly don't have to love the Bulldogs!)


I spend a lot of my life looking at large sets of numbers, or more often, graphical representations thereof. The goal is to discern patterns from noise.

Humans are inherently a lot worse at this than you may think. More specifically, we are tuned to err on the side of pattern completion, rather than accepting chaos for what it is. We see patterns where there is only noise, and we over-generalize our experiences as representative of the whole. Therein lies the human root of superstition, religion (but I repeat myself), prejudice, racism, nationalism, and in extreme cases, paranoid schizophrenia.

So what to make of the data above? Can we extract any predictive value from this incredibly complex data set, given that it represents the aggregate whims of hundreds of thousands of people each with their own complex prejudices, priorities, and media consumption habits?

Obviously, the people who conduct these polls think so.

Here is what I see:

1--Four candidates who are essentially running as Tea Party/outsider/Not Romney (Bachmann, Perry, Cain, and Gingrich) have each had a surge of support, lasting about a month (we are in the ascending phase  of Gingrich's right now--I predict he will peak in about a week). There is nothing here to predict that any will get a second surge.

2--Paul, Santorum, and Huntsman have held completely steady for the better part of the year. Though individually different, what they have in common is that they all have very strong, very principled, and very limited constituencies. (Paul: paleoconservative/libertarianish, Santorum: family values are EVERYTHING, Huntsman: "just because I'm a Republican doesn't mean I'm a crazy person). I don't see any of them breaking out.

3--The only candidate whose numbers rise and fall nearly perfectly out of phase with each surge among the first group of candidates is Romney. If his pattern holds, his next peak will be just as the primaries get started.

Mitt Romney will be the nominee.

OK, tell me what's wrong with this.

This piece about the difficulty female rock stars have with getting the same kind of action their male counterparts (at least appear to) get on tour is kind of interesting, even though I think it illuminates fundamental differences in how women and men tend to value sex more than anything particular to the gender-defying (still, really?) role of the "girl in a band".

Funny enough, the article starts with a tweet by Neko Case complaining that "Ladies in bands don't get ANY action" which I just happen to know (second-hand!) to be especially not true in her case. A friend of ours found a woman crying in the ladies' room before a Neko Case show, and when our friend asked what was wrong, she replied "Neko Case is having sex with my boyfriend right now!"

(The moral of the story being, of course, that if you go to see Neko Case play, get there early!* But I digress...)

The first problem is who you sleep with. The most obvious candidate is the fan, or, as he's traditionally known, "the groupie." This is a really unappealing prospect. There's something about the power imbalance of that situation that makes me feel sad. I wouldn't want to sleep with someone whose lust is solely driven by the fact I'm in a band they like. In that scenario, I'm up on a pedestal; there's no room for me to impress them. Where's the fun in that? I like the chase. If I don't need to put any effort into seducing someone, there's no tension.

Yeah...I can't really imagine a dude ever saying that, and meaning it. I mean, I do think men tend to bore quickly of women that are complete pushovers in relationships, but that isn't what we are talking about, here.

*I mean absolutely no disrespect to Ms. Case, who has one of the most amazing voices I've ever heard, is one hell of a songwriter, and is free to fuck whomever she pleases without judgement from me. 


paul's turn?

Every candidate gets a week, it would seem.

Mark my words: Gingrich is a bubble. He's an unlikeable blowhard on his third marriage. GOP primary voters will not support him. Especially in Iowa and New Hampshire, where they actually will have the chance to meet him.

Dave Weigel, who (I hope) is paid well to follow this stuff much more closely than anyone should have to, makes an interesting point about Ron Paul:

And doesn't the clown car collision style of the primary help out Paul? The reason for a libertarian or paleoconservative diehard -- or a gold bug -- to abandon Paul is that some other candidate with acceptable values stands a better chance of winning.
I remain skeptical. (I still think it will be Romney, by default.) But this silly season has been sillier than most.

the positive externalities of the first amendment


If somebody were to interfere with [neo-Nazis'] free speech rights, then I would have to take their side on something. I would feel dirty, but I’d do it if necessary. I don’t mind that the ACLU is prepared, if necessary, to use my donations to fight for their right to free speech....I’m just delighted that the ACLU didn’t have to use a single cent of my money to fight for these pieces of trash. I feel cleaner not having to take their side. Here’s hoping that the ACLU will be able to continue not spending my donations on neo-Nazis. That would be a good thing for freedom, and, somewhat ironically, the best way to repudiate everything that the neo-Nazis stand for.



So there are two things I'm kind of into, that for no particular reason I don't think I've written about much at length here, if at all. One of them is stand-up comedy. The other is comic books.

Actually, by the standards of any respectable comics reader, I am a mere dilettante. I took a break from the habit through most of the 90's and aughts, making only the occasional foray back into it. Lately, I've been catching up on some of the good stuff I missed.

And, man do I ever love Preacher.

Preacher is the story of a hard-drinking preacher named Jesse Custer from a rural Texas town who has been possessed by the offspring of an angel and a demon, an entity with unimaginable power but no will of its own. The entity's escape from heaven has prompted God to flee the scene, abandoning his creation. Jesse goes on a road trip to (literally) find God, along with his former girlfriend (who has been working as a hit man lately) and an Irish vampire.

Then it gets weird.

It's bloody, profane, hilarious, and nearly impossible to describe succinctly in a way that does the story credit and also makes sense. (It took me forever just to come up with the paragraph above.) I read volume 5 this week (there are 9, and I'm trying to parse them out slowly) and came across a great scene in what is already quickly becoming one of my all-time favorites. Jesse and Cass (the vampire) are talking about the general depravity of humanity, and Cass refers to our species as a "virus with shoes". At which point I put down the book, and said out loud: "Bill Hicks."

I have mentioned Hicks a few times over the years, to the point where I sometimes find myself making an effort not to mention him too often in writing, comments, or general conversation. Suffice it to say that my admiration for the man and his body of work is...rather high.

And I recognize his jokes from a mile away. As would anyone else who knows and loves him.

So here I sit, reading Preacher, and for a brief moment I find myself wondering if this is a case of a meme (as in the original definition) percolating from fairly obscure early 90's stand-up into late 90's comics, or of blatant plagiarism. I regret having thought this, because I wasn't giving Garth Ennis enough credit either way.

Because when I picked the book up again, Jesse utters two words in the next panel: "Bill Hicks".

I put the book down again, now a big grin on my face. And if Ennis had left the scene there, it would have been a great little piece on its own. A fine place to cut away, a wink and nod to those of us in the know, and on with the story. Again, I failed to give Mr. Ennis enough credit.

What follows is a flashback in which Jesse recounts seeing and meeting Bill Hicks at a club in Texas, back before all his craziness started and shortly before Hicks himself died of pancreatic cancer (in real life). It goes on for several pages, with some of Bill's more memorable bits interspersed. The two meet at the bar after the performance, and Hicks, seeing Jesse's collar, exclaims, "Holy shit, you're a preacher!" To which Jesse replies, "I guess that makes two of us."

I can probably count among my friends and acquaintances maybe a dozen people who are as into either Bill Hicks or Preacher nearly as much as I am. I doubt I would need more than one hand to count the ones that know them both. There's a great rush in feeling that you've discovered something wonderful that not everybody knows about, that not everyone can appreciate. And the irony is in the era of the long tail, of instant access to damn near everything, of endless ways to find new things, that feeling is actually harder to come by. Or at least it feels that way.

back in black

Let's see how this goes. I didn't really set out to redecorate this weekend, but there it is. My main goal was to revamp the reading list to the right (I still don't do the feed thing), and of course encourage you to check out anything there you've not seen before.



When Blogger says something like "we'll save a copy of your current template in case you don't like the changes when you update" what they actually mean is "we'll save a copy of your template from like, 5 years ago and revert it to that." Hope you like the new look, because apparently we're stuck with it for a while. Now I have a lot of sidebar editing to do...(grumble)...


more like this, please

George Will:

Most of the candidates have disparaged Barack Obama’s decision that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq this year. (Ron Paul considers the withdrawal of U.S. assets insufficiently thorough; but, then, he might favor U.S. withdrawal from territories of the constitutionally dubious Louisiana Purchase.) What is the candidates’ objection to Obama implementing the status-of-forces agreement that his predecessor signed in 2008?

The candidates should answer three questions: How many troops would they leave in Iraq? For how long? And for what purpose? If eight years, 4,485 lives and $800 billion are not enough, how many more of each are they prepared to invest there? And spare us the conventional dodge about "listening to" the "commanders in the field." Each candidate is aspiring to be commander in chief in a nation in which civilians set policy for officers to execute.

quick review: red state

Kevin Smith (of Clerks et al. fame) made some waves this year over the release of Red State, the details of which I will not recount here but the end result of which was that there were scant few chances to see it on the big screen, and it is already streaming on Netflix.

Which, frankly, works just fine for me. I almost never go to the movies anymore.

That said, the movie deserves a wider audience than it will probably get, because I think it is one of the better thrillers made in the last couple of years.

The setup is familiar: some teenaged boys answer an online ad promising casual sex in the next town over, show up, and end up getting more than they bargained for courtesy of the local church that is a not-too-thinly veiled fictionalization of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. What looks to be a pretty standard entry into what I call the "rampaging redneck" genre (i.e., The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, pretty much every movie by Rob Zombie) then takes off in some interesting directions. I don't want to spoil it, so I won't go into more detail than that.

None of which--I might add--is terribly ground breaking. But that is not the point. The point is that Smith has constructed a movie that moves fast, changes directions just when you think you know what is going to happen next (a couple of times), and manages to fuck with your expectations just enough to keep you interested, but all without resorting to any cheap M. Night Shamylan-style "twists". Perhaps more impressive, he maintains a high level of tension throughout without any musical soundtrack, and without a single digital effect (the movie was shot for $4 million).

And for the first time in I can't remember how long, the movie clocks in at under 90 minutes. It is superbly edited. No fat.

Beyond the plot points, Smith also manages to toy with our sympathies. Again, I don't want to give too much away. But I imagine many people may find this movie infuriating, and for vastly different reasons.

Bottom like: it's a good thriller (I don't think it counts as "horror" even though it has been billed as such) that moves fast, doesn't waste your time, looks good, and makes you think...but not too much.


(slight return to the horse race)

I think it will be real shame if Herman Cain is forced out of the race because of sexual harassment allegations.

Not because I think he's innocent (I have no idea, and don't particularly care), nor because I think sexual harassment isn't a big deal (it is, because it constitutes a gross abuse of authority). No, I think it will be a shame if this is what knocks Herman Cain out of the race, because then it won't be because of the fact that he is a vanity candidate without any relevant experience, without any coherent philosophy of or serious interest in governing, with an abysmal grasp of the complex issues of the day, and with a fundamental unseriousness in his approach to the office to which he aspires.

(I can't help but wonder how many people who scorned "community organizer" have conveniently overlooked the sheer bullshit artistry that is "motivational speaking".)

Sully's readers make some really good points about Jon Huntsman.

Despite the lackluster and ever-shifting field, I really don't see a way for Huntsman to break out and become a serious contender. Setting aside ideology (and for that matter party affiliation), I'm hard-pressed to think of a better presidential resume for the 21st century than his*. Add to that a personality that (at least publicly) comes across as thoughtful, intelligent, and deliberate and it really does become necessary to ask what it is about this process that so effectively weeds out the best people for the job.

*Regardless of what you think or thought of Barack Obama's resume when he assumed office, the fact of the matter is that in November 2012, he will have been president of the United States for 45 months. It is rather hard to top that, as far as experience goes. There is a reason incumbents tend to win.


what's worse?

That the president is not keeping his campaign promise to have a hands-off approach to medical marijuana in states where it is legal, or that he apparently has no control over his own justice department?

I'd say it's a push. Buck, stopping, etc...

(Aside--speedy recovery, Gino!)


have you told a scientologist to fuck themselves today?

Just a friendly reminder, only abject frauds answer social critics with character assassination.


did we win?

Not trying to be funny here (for once). It's a serious question. What do you think?

Also, this.

(It only took 18 months, but I finally figured out how to copy and paste a URL on my phone. While drinking no less!)

(I didn't want to leave wassisname's ugly bloody mug at the top of the page for more than a day.)


sic semper tyrannis

"To rid the world of Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki and Moammar Qaddafi within six months: if Obama were a Republican, he'd be on Mount Rushmore by now." -Sully


gop debate 9: the electric bugaloo

I got to the gym around 5:30 local time last night, and plugged my headphones into the TV sound thing on the treadmill to watch the GOP debate in progress. I did my three miles in just over 25 minutes (not bad considering I'm coming off a cold), but I only lasted 20 with the debate.

Seriously, it was pretty fucking awful.

Here's my rundown:

Ron Paul--Didn't even speak while I was watching.

Jon Huntsman--Didn't show up, and was therefore the winner. I hope he had a lovely evening.

Rick Santorum--Comes off like a petulant, whiny bitch.

Newt Gingrich--Misses being on TV, is clearly running for vice-president.

Herman Cain--I can't believe that otherwise intelligent people are taking him seriously.

Michele Bachmann--Actually sounds reasonable when she's pointing out the holes in Cain's tax plan. Stopped clock, etc...

Rick Perry--You know what? Seriously, fuck Texas. Everyone who wants to live in Texas, does*.

Mitt Romney--Very good at debating, horrible at making people like him. I'm sure there's a real person in there somewhere, but I doubt we'll ever see it.

Best internet snark of the night: Radley Balko (on Facebook): "Just to mess with people, Fox should do an episode of House that starts like another GOP debate, but then all the candidates collapse, crap blood."

*Possible exception: some Mexicans.


qui bono?

Some interesting patterns in this data set.

Eggheads like Obama. Finance people like Romney.

And the military likes the most prominent Republican non-interventionist of the last 10 years.


riding the tiger, cont'd

I don't have time to compile links and quotes, but it seems that an awful lot of Republican candidates and pundits doth protest too much over the whole "Mormonism is a cult" thing.

Seriously? Where has everyone been? I was taught precisely that from the earliest time I can remember, even in my relatively sane, more or less moderate evangelical church growing up. And I know I am not alone in this.

To have strong religious convictions is to believe them at the expense of all other possibilities, by definition. It is to believe that you are right, and everyone else is wrong. If you think someone else's vastly different spiritual path is just as valid as your own: you may be spiritual, you may be open-minded, and you may be very observant of the cultural rituals of your professed faith...but you aren't particularly religious.

This is one reason why religion is not a very good rallying point for politics in a pluralistic society. Once upon a time our politicians recognized this, and tended to keep that shit to themselves.


they went there

I suppose this was inevitable.

I wrote the following on December 7, 2007, and I am re-posting it in full because I think it still stands.

romney's speech on religious (non)tolerance

Here's the problem with Mitt Romney's Mormonism.

Mormons believe strange things. (In broad strokes) they believe that you lived a pre-mortal life, that your life on earth (what the rest of us call "your life") is just one step in the process of learning the difference between good and evil, that you retain your essential personality (and, importantly, gender) after death, that you will get another body at some point in the future depending on how rightous (i.e., Mormon) you are, with Satan and his immediate associates being banished to some place called the outer darkness, the merely wicked to the "telestial kingdom" which is more or less like hell, (but only for 1000 years), the basically good non-Mormons getting to live in the "terrestrial kingdom" which actually sounds pretty decent, and the good Mormons getting to shag and make spirit babies in the celestial kingdom for all eternity. (Compiled and quickly summarized from here and here.)

I've left a lot out here--mostly because I don't care to get much deeper into it myself--but this pretty much covers the really big theological differences that Mormons have with evangelical Christians. (There's also some stuff about God having a body and Jesus showing up in North America to preach to a tribe of white people, not to mention the whole magic underwear thing, but let's not pile on the Mormons, OK? Seriously. They make good neighbors.)

The thing is...none of this is objectively sillier than what evangelical Christians believe. What makes the Mormon four-tiered afterlife stranger than the Christian two-tiered one? What makes a God with a human-like body stranger than an amorphous spirit who is (according to most modern church doctrines) omnipotent, omnipresent, and omnibenevolent--and yet, is somehow either bound by his own arcane rules of sin and redemption, or disinclined to bend them for the benefit of his people (whom he loves!)

I could go on, but that's a book, not a blog. And it's been written several times over by better writers than me. The only real difference is that there are a lot more evangelicals than Mormons around. So a 2000-year-old Jewish guy preaching a kindler, gentler version of God, being executed by the government, rising from the dead, and ascending to heaven and by so doing making it no longer necessary for people to slit the throats of livestock and set them on fire to make God happy and get into heaven--that makes perfect sense, BUT...that guy showing up in North America a few years later to preach a gospel of celestial procreation is cultish and weird.


Honestly, I have nothing against Mormons or evangelicals. Really, I don't. I just don't share their beliefs. However, neither do I buy into the politically correct nonsense about "respecting the beliefs of others", because respecting the beliefs of others makes absolutely no sense. Either your beliefs are better than everyone else's, or they aren't. And if they aren't then what's the point, exactly?

I believe my beliefs are better than yours. Deal with it.

I do, however, believe in respecting people, if they are worthy of that respect. And I base that judgment not on what people believe, but what they do. Of course, Mitt Romney and the people to whom he was pandering yesterday clearly would not extend me the same courtesy.

Until it becomes socially acceptable and politically feasible for an atheist/agnostic to be out of the closet, this country can lay little claim to meaningful religious tolerance.


a quick thought on the occupation

I generally find nonspecific ranting against capitalism irksome. (Particularly when it is done via a snazzy laptop or iPad.) On the other hand, I cannot help but note that none of Ayn Rand's mythic heroes did anything remotely resembling credit default swaps or mortgage securitizations.

Not everyone who is wealthy is a parasite. But many wealthy people aren't creating much of anything, either.


release the memo

Conor Friedersdorf:

Obama hasn't just set a new precedent about killing Americans without due process. He has done so in a way that deliberately shields from public view the precise nature of the important precedent he has set. It's time for the president who promised to create "a White House that's more transparent and accountable than anything we've seen before" to release the DOJ memo.

I'm honestly ambivalent about the assassination of al-Awlaki. My bias is in favor of due process. On the other hand, it is not as though he was someone in the United States doing illegal things. If he really had--as has been asserted--an operational role in AQ, I think he could very reasonably be considered a legitimate military target first, and an American citizen second.

I think the question boils down to not--as Glen Greenwald and other civil libertarians whom I greatly respect have asserted--whether the president has the power to kill Americans abroad if they are engaged in terrorism, but rather if his citizenship is relevant to whether he was a legitimate target for the military prosecution of terrorists.

(By way of digression--this is a fine example of how messy things can get when the roles of the military and of law enforcement become muddled. But I'll leave that to another time.)

In any case, if the reasoning within the administration is so air-tight, then it ought to be made public.


"Of course, marriage to Newt Gingrich is a temporary aberration, too."

--Paul Constant


sully finally starts to notice romney's "mormon problem"

Writing today:

I am a little [puzzled by elite dissatisfaction with Romney] as well. He's been the best debater and the best campaigner so far. He has executive experience. He's from a blue state. He ran last time. He's got the money. Could it be they worry that Mormonism really could depress the Christianist base a little? Or that Romey would be so weak a president vis-a-vis his party he couldn't truly govern effectively? Since the GOP elites seem to have stopped caring about government a long time ago, I suspect it's the sectarian prejudice that's gnawing at them. Hey: feed the tiger and you have to ride it. A political party not based on religious dogma would not have this problem.

You heard it here first.


base: how low can you go?

Three weeks, three Republican debates, three disgusting outbursts from the audience.

They've cheered executing the innocent and letting the uninsured die. Now they are booing a soldier in Iraq.

Every time this happens, apologists try to parse it. It was just one person. But nobody on the stage saw fit to condemn it.

If this is "real America", then seriously, fuck America.


reality check

Beyond the speechifying and debates, the pundits and the polls, it's really good to remember that the only thing that really matters in a presidential election is the number 270.

Fair or not, the election is in the hands of less than 1/5th of the states. Here in the Evergreen State, it's all academic. Pass the popcorn.

(Map by Larry Sabato, via Sully)


There is nothing quite like a pro-life audience cheering for death.


larry flynt, please call your office...

"I can assure you that there is nothing in my life that will embarrass you if you decide to support me for president."

--TX Gov. Rick Perry, speaking to a group of evangelical voters last weekend.

If that doesn't sound like a challenge, I don't know what would.


god's man in the race

It will come as a surprise to exactly no one that I don't think much of one Mr. Perry of Texas.

Electoral politics is always a matter of choosing what one can accept in exchange getting (some) of what they want. Or at least think they want. It is absurd to pretend otherwise, which is why I find (purely) partisan triumphalism as puzzling as it is irritating.

Nonetheless, partisan flock and flow is the rule of the day in these United States, and though they by no means hold a monopoly on it, this is particularly true among Republicans. (Democrats are more fickle because their base consists of a disparate coalition--minorities, labor, social liberals--that really don't necessarily have much to do with each other except being historically sort of represented by the Democratic party.)

This is why Rick Perry's performance in recent polls actually scares me a little bit.

My liberal friends too often express hope that the GOP will actually nominate a Perry (or a Bachmann), a fringe candidate that could not possibly win in the general election, ushering in a second term for Mr. Obama by a comfortable margin. Though I think such cynicism is entirely justified (and occasionally laudable) in electoral politics--remember all the Republicans licking their chops at the idea of a Hillary nomination four years ago?--I think they give the American electorate's supposed aversion to the fringes a bit too much credit.

Which is to say, I think a dominionist could be the next president of the United States. And everybody who thinks this is just more of the same boilerplate political evangelicalism really needs to take a good look at what that entails. Because this isn't merely a broadly social conservative platform, but theocracy dressed in conservative drag.



Haven't done this in a while...

--Politico on the dearth of smart Republican candidates. I would have called this "The Southern Strategy Comes Home to Roost".

--Brendan Kiley makes the case that just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean that they aren't watching you.

--My perennial sparring partner Foxfier and I (but mostly her) revamp Social Security disability benefits over at Gino's place.

--The president has good taste in books, and some asshole at The National Review says dumb things about it. Does anybody remember when The National Review was staffed by literate, intellectual conservatives?


the grownup in the room

I would like to endorse pretty much everything Paul Constant has to say about Jon Huntsman, here, but especially this part:

The vision that Huntsman has for America—one in which Americans are free to live their lives the way they want, in which everyone has a shot at prosperity, in which government is there to help us out when we run out of choices—should be the baseline, the American concept that every candidate believes in. The argument should come in how we reach that goal.


the state of the field

If you bracket Gary Johnson (effectively ignored by the media and party establishment) and Ron Paul (less effectively ignored), because they are really libertarians rather than "conservatives" whatever the hell that means anymore...the only GOP candidates whose religiosity I don't find somewhere between repugnant and terrifying are the two guys rocking the magic underwear*.

*I can't tell you how happy it makes me that this entry is the #1 Google hit for "magic underwear". I like to think I had something to do with that.


the problem with republicans, cont'd

I had better things to do than watch last night's debate. Which is to say, anything.

But I have scanned through a couple of dozen reactions and summaries, and this one jumps out at me, from Mr. Friedersdorf:

The most noteworthy and damning moment of the GOP debate in Iowa Thursday was when the moderators asked the candidates to raise their hands if they would walk away from a deal that cut ten dollars from the deficit for every one dollar in tax increases. Every last person on stage said they'd reject that deal.

The only hope that lies therein, is that candidates can rarely be expected to keep promises made in debates. Because if this is actually true...if the alleged party of fiscal responsibility would actually dismiss out of hand something that is already too radically slanted towards spending cuts to ever pass...ladies and gentleman, we are fucked.


it's like mike mcginn meets joe arpaio

I don't have it in me to blog about the debt ceiling deal, except to ask congress, "What do you want, a cookie?"

So instead, here's the mayor of Vilnius, Lithuania dealing with cars illegally parked in bicycle lanes:

It's probably staged, but I still think it's pretty funny.


the problem* with republicans, in one sentence

"A fiscal conservative puts living within one's means as the core priority; the current GOP believes that defunding the government should be the core priority."

--Andrew Sullivan

*OK, not THE problem...


where the deficit comes from

(from Sunday's NYT)

A couple of few thoughts:

1) Health care reform under Obama is just over 1/10th the cost of Bush's wars. Remind me when the Tea Party started?

2) The projections are probably too kind to Mr. Obama. He has 1.5 (or 5.5) more years to add new policies that aren't even on the graph yet.

3) That said, I really am less interested in which proportion of the deficit can be laid at which president's feet than I am in noting that the single largest contributor--the Bush tax cuts--seems to have been taken completely off the table. Personally, I dislike the mentality that categorizes tax cuts as "expenditures". But that's really beside the point...the deficit is not merely a spending problem, but a spending and revenue problem. More revenue has to be part of the solution.

4) If you add Bush's and Obama's stimulus spending together including the stimulus tax cuts under Obama (and I think you should, for the purpose of analyzing the effect of policy rather than scoring political points), that is the single biggest contributor to the deficit.


what a fiscal conservative actually looks like

(Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, on his way to a press conference. Yes, he actually does this, and not just for the cameras. Photo by Hugger Industries, generously shared via CC license.)

Seattle has plenty of problems. But its bond rating isn't one of them:

Mayor Mike McGinn's budget director Beth Goldberg introduced several proposals for replenishing and strengthening the Revenue Stabilization Account, the city's "rainy day" fund, which now stands at $11.2 million, down from a high of $30 million in 2008. The proposals include dedicating 0.5 percent of all general revenue tax receipts to the fund, along with half of all end-of-year fund balances in excess of that forecast. The rainy day fund is capped by law at 5 percent of annual general revenue tax receipts, currently about $37.5 million, and the goal would be to rebuild the reserves toward that maximum amount...

...it turns out that fiscal prudence like this has served the city well, enabling it to preserve its AAA bond rating throughout the Great Recession, even as some other municipal governments teeter on the brink of insolvency...

So yeah, Mayor McGinn is a tree-hugging/bike-riding/tunnel-hating/closet-San-Franciscan, but when it comes to fiscal matters, it turns out he's rather, well, conservative compared to say, the debt-addled speculators running the foundering Seattle Times. Even McGinn's opposition to the deep bore tunnel—an obsession that some have used to label him a goofy liberal—is largely based on fiscal concerns: That it is too expensive, provides too little benefit for the cost, and poses an unacceptably high risk to tax payers.

I know this portrait of McGinn as a fiscally responsible budgeter runs counter to caricature, but it's hard to argue otherwise.

What works in Seattle may not work everywhere else. But it is an example worth comparing to say, certain would-be presidential candidates that want you to believe that they are "fiscal conservatives".


the other marriage debate

While I agree with everything Steve Chapman says here, it seems to me that he neglects the most obvious legal argument of all.

When it comes to sexual relationships and cohabitation among consenting adults, Utah takes a permissive approach. If a guy wants to shack up with a lady, that's fine. If he wants to shack up with several, no problem. He can father children by different roommates, with no fear of the law.

But if he marries one woman and represents three others as his "spiritual wives," like Kody Brown? Then he's committed a felony. Not because of the stuff that goes on behind closed doors. It's the public act of claiming to be part of a lifelong "plural marriage" that raises the specter of jail...

In challenging the law, they can cite implicit support from the Supreme Court. In a 2003 decision striking down a Texas ban on homosexual sodomy, Justice Anthony Kennedy granted a wide berth to intimate relationships.

I don't really see what Lawrence v. Texas has to do with this. Or rather, citing that case seems completely superfluous. Utah's law literally bans a man from referring to more than one woman as his "spiritual wife". Isn't that speech? And doesn't the very concept of a "spiritual wife" fall squarely under the purview of "free exercise"? That's a First Amendment slam-dunk, two times over.

Presumably polygamists have been reluctant to take this approach because they'd rather just stay off the state and federal governments' radars. And given their history, I can't say that I blame them. But still...it seems like this wouldn't be a terribly difficult case to argue.


the bachmann family business

I have an increasingly perverse desire to see Michele Bachmann win the GOP nomination. Because it would really put some sunshine on shit like this:

Marcus [Bachmann] is a non-certified Christian therapist who operates a clinic called Bachmann & Associates, which has been accused of practicing "reparative" therapy to supposedly turn gay people straight. It's a practice that's been rejected by every major psychologial and psychiatric organization, but given Marcus Bachmann's assertions that gays need to be "educated" like "barbarians," that doesn't seem like a deal-breaker. Marcus has previously denied that the clinic is involved in "reparative" therapy while conceding that his clinic would, hypothetically, be open to that kind of thing, but only if a patient specifically asked to be cured.

I suppose if an adult of his or her own volition decides to spend money on a cure that doesn't work for a disease that doesn't exist, that's their own damn problem. But it doesn't make the so-called "therapist" any less of a despicable charlatan.

Few things inspire my contempt more than people using religion as an excuse for their own bigotry. But pseudoscience and fraud come in close behind.


ron paul is not running for reelection

...to his congressional seat.

"I have decided not to seek re-election for my House seat in 2012 and will focus all of my energy winning the presidency. My hometown newspaper, 'The Facts' will be running the exclusive story very shortly."

My prediction: Paul knows he isn't going to win the GOP nomination, the lackluster performance of the field at large notwithstanding. He is positioning himself for a Libertarian/other 3rd party/independent run in the general.

Not a bad way to end a storied career in US politics, I guess. As I've mentioned, I like Paul as a lone voice of sanity in congress, but I don't think he'd make a good president. He does have the opportunity to be Ross Perot to Obama's Bill Clinton...which frankly, a GOP that is not serious about governing richly deserves.


"Nearly all children nowadays were horrible. What was worst of all was that by means of such organizations as the Spies they were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, and yet this produced in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the discipline of the Party. On the contrary, they adored the Party and everything connected with it... All their ferocity was turned outwards, against the enemies of the State, against foreigners, traitors, saboteurs, thought-criminals. It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children."

- George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 2

One more reason not to breed:

Authorities say a Utah man was arrested after his two children called police to report that he had marijuana in the house.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports the man was charged Tuesday with two third-degree felony charges of child endangerment and one class B misdemeanor accusing him of possession of a controlled substance.

The homeschoolers really do have a point, don't they?

"the smoking barrel of our thanks"

Wilkinson's still got it:

It makes me sick to think about. Would his life have been wasted like this if Americans did not so strenuously insist on lying to one another about what it is our military men and women really do? Who does it help to continue to so effusively thank Matthew Nielson’s luckier comrades for their service and our freedom? Our gratitude is a rain of grenades over the senior high. Bright-eyed American boys and girls stare smiling down the smoking barrel of our thanks, dying to please.

Not really sure I completely share the sentiment myself, but damn if that isn't some lovely, awful prose.


guest post

by Dave

I'm a Naval Officer. It is a decent-paying gig. But the best part is--for me--retirement is only 6 years away.

It may come to a surprise to some readers that I will start receiving a life-long fixed-benefit pension when I am 42 years old.

In the US, military retirement pay is triggered by 20 years of active service. As currently constituted, a military retiree receives 50% of his base pay and full medical for himself and his dependents ("dependents" is military talk for spouse and kids under 18 ... or 23 if they are in college). Serve 19 years and 11 months, and you get nothing. But once you get to 20, the benefits last for life. Stay on active duty past 20 and the percentages increase ... my dad retired after approximately 30 years and got 75% of his base pay instead of 50%, and his base pay after an extra decade was substantially higher. When my dad developed a brain tumor, essentially the entire medical bill was born by the government. His untimely death was not a financial windfall for the government; because he had agreed to take a somewhat smaller monthly payment, the government now pays a portion of his pension to my mom, who will continue to draw payments (and receive full medical benefits) until her death, or the unlikely event she were to remarry.

That system is bound to end, and I think it is going to end quite quickly. I would say it will end much quicker than the military sub-culture expects, except that the military has no sense that it is even in question.

I've tried to explain this to military co-workers. Almost to a man, my arguments are dismissed in a cloud of entitlement-fueled self-delusion. The military sub-culture, lulled to sleep by repeated chants of "thank you for your service," really expects that in the upcoming budget fight that its stake will be protected by an appreciative middle class. They're in a for a rude awakening.

I generally dislike the "thank you for your service" comments, but I never express my discomfort. And I generally believe that the people who express their appreciation generally mean what they say. But as the federal coffers run empty, politicians will decide whose benefits get cut, and thus the decisions will be inherently political. And military members, prevented (properly) from organizing politically, will find themselves unrepresented and ignored in the political process. And once the Afghanistan and Iraq adventures finally wrap up, the yellow ribbons will go away and an increasingly grumpy and nervous middle class will view 20-year pensions as an unreasonable and unaffordable threat to their financial security. We're already seeing local discussions that relatively generous pensions for police are unaffordable ... once the wars end it is only a matter of time until those sentiments are transferred to the military. The middle class primarily values economic security (understandable I suppose if you have a 30 year mortgage) and will support military pay only until it is perceived as a threat to its collective benefits. Robert Gates stated that the US can have a welfare state or be a world power. Britain faced the same choice after WW2 and ditched their empire with remarkable speed. Until now, the US was able to avoid such a choice due to a combination of economic advantages and borrowing. As that comes to an end, there is no reason to think that the US population won't make the same choice the British did.

Discussions about whether military members deserve their retirement pay largely miss the point. Politicians will cut benefits based on short-term political calculations, not moral considerations. And the military class, largely separated from the general population and and feeling quite entitled to public deference after a decade of "support the troops" rhetoric, will be shocked, and will not be happy. The consequences ... perhaps a discussion for another day.


and what have you (or i) done in the last 10 years?

This is the best news I've heard in a long time:

I’m in Monticello, Mississippi, this morning, where Circuit Court Judge Prentiss Harrell has just signed a plea agreement between Cory Maye and the state. Maye has plead guilty to a reduced charged of manslaughter, and has been resentenced to 10 years in prison, time he has already served. He’ll be sent to Rankin County for processing. He should be released and home with his family in a matter of days.

Unrelenting investigative reporting by Mr. Balko has literally saved a man's life, and now helped win him his freedom.

Background here:


(probably more than you want to know)

I can't decide if this is going to ruin my Julianne Moore fantasies, or make them much better.


blog comment of year (seattle edition)

It is this one:

Driving around with a ginormous assault rifle laying on the trunk of your car = embarrassing.

Walking around with a tiny pocket knife in your hand = deadly.

...in reference to this, compared with this.

(In fairness to SPD, I think the department handled the aftermath of the Ian Birk case more or less correctly...he's not an officer anymore, and the bar for criminal charges against an officer for committing homicide in the line of duty is very, very high. But still, the choice of words here is...unfortunate...)


know hope

From The Stranger:

By the look of things, [Washington state is] about to become ground zero in the national battle to legalize marijuana. Tomorrow [This] morning at 11:00 a.m. in the Downtown Seattle Library, a well-organized new campaign called New Approach Washington will roll out the details of a still-partly-mysterious marijuana legalization initiative. So far they're only saying it would "authorize the Liquor Control Board to regulate the production and distribution of marijuana for sale to adults 21 and over in state-licensed stores."

It appears to be an unprecedented attempt to replace marijuana prohibition with a fully regulated marijuana industry...

The backers look powerful. And given that it will be filed in mid-summer, this would be an initiative to the legislature (which goes to lawmakers in Olympia early next year and to the ballot in 2012)...

This could win. This could be the big fight with the federal government. It will certainly stir the debate. It may go to the Supreme Court in a challenge of federal preemption. And these guys are serious.

The "powerful backers" include a former U.S. Attorney.

This could be fun.


az swat team cleared with magical forensics

No surprises, here.

The SWAT team that gunned down a former Marine in his Tucson, Ariz., home was cleared today of any wrongdoing in the incident.

Jose Guerena, 26, was killed in a hail of bullets from the SWAT team, which broke down the door to his home on May 5 while trying to serve a search warrant as part of a home invasion probe.

Guerena did not fire a single shot in the incident, but Pima County Chief Criminal Deputy Attorney David Berkman said in the report issued today that the five SWAT team members were justified in using deadly force because the former Marine pointed his weapon at them.

This territory is well-worn by Radley Balko, so I won't waste time recapping all the reasons why a breaking down someone's door in the middle of the night to serve a damn drug warrant is a really bad idea, or how someone who has no reasonable expectation of having this happen to them (i.e., someone who is not in the habit of engaging in behaviors for which they call in the SWAT team) might reasonably assume that the masked, heavily armed men breaking into his house in the middle of the night constitute a serious threat to himself and his family, and react accordingly.

What galls me about this particular case is this:

"A close examination of the rifle revealed it appeared to have been damaged by being fired upon from such an angle that it must [em. added] have been pointed toward officers,"

This is pure bullshit.

If you have multiple people firing at (and hitting) you, your position (and therefore the position of anything you are holding) can change rather rapidly. He could have been in the process of dropping the gun, falling to the floor, or any combination of things that could result in bullets striking the gun he was holding in a (presumably) parallel, grazing fashion.

Which isn't to say that Guerena didn't point his gun at the officers--the only person that could tell us that for sure is conveniently dead--just that you cannot prove such a thing by merely analyzing the way the officers' bullets hit his gun. And to assert so makes the officers' version of events seem that much more suspect.


a few thoughts on tracy morgan

I listen to and watch a lot of stand-up comedy. I'm kind of a comedy nerd, actually. I've even done a couple of open mic nights myself, and have plans to do more in the future. Which is to say, I enjoy it as pure entertainment, but if someone is really, really good, then I also tend to dissect what they do and how they do it. How they pace themselves, how they construct a bit as variation on a theme, how they set something up and come back to it much later in a way you don't easily expect, etc.

And personally, I don't have much patience for comics that just "tell jokes". In fact, I'm hard-pressed to think of a (good) comic working today that just does joke after joke, with the possible exception of Zach Galifianakis (and even he takes a break from the one liners to do an awkward lip synch or piano bit.) But I digress; my point is, modern stand-up comedy as an art form involves exploring ideas, telling stories, and in some cases pushing right up against the bleeding edge of people's sensibilities.

Getting a laugh involves being willing to say what nobody--or at least most people--don't or won't say.

I really wish that Tracy Morgan's bit that has caused such an outrage was easily available, because I'd like to hear it in the context of his act. As reported, it doesn't sound like it was very funny. And indeed for many people, joking about violence against your (hypothetical) gay son is a bridge too far, because actual violence of that sort is just too common for this to be a laughing matter. Fair enough.

But I'm just too damn in love with comedy (and free speech) to say that any subject is always wrong, always off limits, always untouchable. Which isn't to say that some jokes aren't in extremely bad taste. Many are. Sometimes, this is what makes them funny. Sometimes, it's what keeps them from being funny. And the line there isn't all that well-defined.

Except...in one way it is. The thing that appeals to me most about stand-up is its purity. Success (and failure) in stand-up are completely unambiguous: either people laugh, or they don't. If you construct a highly conceptual, multi-layered bit with perfect timing, and it falls flat--you failed. If you tell a dick joke and get a laugh, you succeeded.

So I think it's important to keep that in mind when considering Tracy Morgan: he went to the edge, and fell off. It happens. But the difference isn't the words he used, or the subject, or even what's in his heart with regard to gay people. It's that the joke simply didn't work. People didn't laugh...and if they had, you'd never have heard about any of this.

I have no idea what Tracy Morgan really thinks about gay people. Nor do I particularly care. In any case, I hope he doesn't end up in "rehab".

Because that time would be much better spent working on better jokes.

war powers, ct'd


I'd argue that the years since Kosovo have shown a desperate need for the Congress to regain control over the vital issue of war and peace. The Founders put it there for a reason. And yet we have turned the president into an emperor who can launch wars at a moment's notice and face little Congressional bowback.

And this is not an abstract question any more. Obama is now engaged in two illegal wars - in Libya and in Yemen.

There was no Congressional debate or vote on these wars - and one is being waged by the CIA with unmanned drones. I think we have learned a little about what happens when you give the CIA carte blanche to run a war with no accountability except to a president who has a vested interest in covering up errors.

And Boehner is correct that Obama owes us an explanation of his views on the power of the presidency. Can he declare war at will? Are these wars not-wars under his definition? What then qualifies as a war for Obama?

I couldn't tell you. What I can tell you is that many supported Obama to end wars - not to extend one, try not to quit another too quickly, and add two more for good measure. And Obama is a sophisticated and learned Constitutionalist. He must have thought about this question. What is his answer?

The administration has answered this, after a fashion, at least in the case of Libya. Short version: congressional approval is unnecessary because the US role is "limited" and the operation is under NATO command. This seems like pretty weak tea to me. I'm no expert on the War Powers Resolution, but I don't think that there is anything in it that makes the requirement to consult congress contingent on the particular command structure or scope of the operation.

The use of drones in Yemen is also troubling, if only because there may very well be no precedent or applicable statute governing the deployment of an entirely unmanned force. If so, this needs rectification sooner rather than later. The placement of American troops into harm's way is certainly the main reason war should approached judiciously and with checks on executive power, but it is not the only reason.


i didn't watch the gop debate tonight

I don't suppose the War Powers Act came up?

(If you just came over from Gino's, the post you need to read is one down.)

guest post

--by Dave from the comments section

President Obama's decision to avoiding seeking Congressional support for his military action in Libya has the potential to create a significant constitutional crisis, and in this case a crisis would involve people with guns and that is obviously is quite dangerous.

I'm a naval officer. I generally don't like making partisan political arguments and I am essentially prohibited from making such statements in public. Even though I have pretty strong political opinions, I'm okay with that; a staunchly non-partisan military is one of our country's great accomplishments. Unlike everyone else is the country, I have people who have explicitly sworn to obey my orders. So I really need to be careful about what I say … my comments could be construed as undermining the constitutional order. And since these people who swear to obey my orders have access to guns, well, that's a big deal.

So saying this could theoretically land me in a bit of hot water, but it needs to be said.

That constitutional order is very important. As a commissioned officer, I have sworn to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. Not to obey orders, but to support the constitution. And while that constitution names the President as the military's commander-in-chief, it also grants a significant war-making role to Congress. And Congress, empowered to both declare war and to regulate the naval and land forces, has exercised that power in the form of the War Powers Act. And my sense is that the administration, by continuing military operations in Libya beyond the 60 day limit without congressional approval, is violating that Act. So what is an officer to do?

I don't think the answer is clear. I might breezily state that a good military officer should refuse any orders dealing with Libya. Legally defensible perhaps, but generally not a good habit to get into. The armed forces should not get into the practice of parsing the constitutionality of orders, especially those from the top.

But, the War Powers Act remains. If the intent was for the armed forces to just obey Presidential orders, congress would have included the part from the enlistment oath about obeying orders in the officer's commissioning oath. They left that out on purpose, creating in the contest of Libya a bit of an ethical quandary.

And let me dispense with the notion that the War Powers Act is unconstitutional so it shouldn't be followed. Well, that might be the administration's take (they've been a bit nebulous on that point).Certainly that's what Yosemite Sam thinks. But that's not for individual members of Congress, or the administration to determine. And it certainly isn't for individual military officers to determine. Of course, George Will quickly dispenses with this line of thought. Responding directly to McCain's previous quote, Will asks: “Oh? No law is actually a law if presidents and senators do not "recognize" it? Now, there is an interesting alternative to judicial review, and an indicator of how executive aggrandizement and legislative dereliction of duty degrade the rule of law.”

So while the War Powers Act might be a bad law, it is certainly a law and it would seem obvious that until told otherwise by the judicial branch, or it is repealed by the legislative branch, it should be obeyed. And that puts the military, especially the military officer corps, in one hell of an ethical bind. And ethical binds like this should be avoided at all costs, because the people who face the prospect of resolving those conflicts have large numbers of armed individuals sworn to obey their orders. So the resolution might not be pretty.

In other words, our American tradition of a military subordinated to the civilian authority depends as much on the civilian leadership respecting the rule of law as it does on the military's respect of the civilian authority. I generally believe that the civilian authority has done that … until now. To avoid the prospect of losing a congressional vote over its Libyan adventure, the Obama administration has done serious damage to our civil/military tradition and has placed our military leadership in quite a quandary.

Have no doubt; the military will continue to follow the administration's orders with respect to Libya. For one, most military members find the idea of disobeying orders to be distasteful at best. And perhaps more importantly, most military members have mortgages so high-minded constitutional arguments pale beside the prospect of being summarily dismissed from the service and facing the civilian economy, which I've heard is having some problems of late.

Of course, as Leoben says, all this has happened before, and all of it will happen again. Andrew Jackson became cross-threaded with Congress and the Supreme Court when he ordered his Postmaster General to disobey a congressional mandate concerning some postal contract. In Kendall v. US ex rel Stokes, the Court pointed out that subordinate member's of the executive branch have as their first duty a responsibility to the Constitution and not simply to the President. Of course, Jackson eventually fired Kendall when he complied with the Court's order, which would have really sucked for him if the concept of the 30 year mortgage had existed in 1838.

Back here in the 21st century, there are plenty of villains to go around. I do not think that Congress has a responsibility to approve the Libya adventure in order to avoid constitutional ambiguity; to argue so would turn the legislature into a rubber stamp. But I do think that this is the inevitable consequence of a half-century of Congressional dereliction with regard to executive power in general and specifically with presidential war-making. The Cato Institute published a very good book discussing this issue in depth.

I do think that the media shares some blame; the self-appointed fourth branch of government would be doing the country a much greater service investigating this issue instead of titillating over lewd tweets. And that goes as much to Fox News and the editors of the Weekly Standard, who apparently have never met a war they didn't like, as to CNN, MSNBC, the NY Times, etc.

I am particularly disappointed in the continued silence of the Secretary of Defense.

And of course, the ultimate responsibility lies with the President. He should, in the name of Constitutional government, seek to resolve this issue as quickly as possible, even if it does result in some political setbacks. Such decisions would seem to illustrate the difference between politicians and statesmen.


mea culpa

Not so long ago, I wrote:

Long story short: Newt is an asshole. One of the most off-putting, arrogant, condescending personalities I've ever encountered. To meet him is to dislike him.

His run will be mercifully short once the good people of Iowa and New Hampshire get the chance to realize this.

Well, it looks like I got that wrong. It now seems that the people Newt really needed to win over were not the voters of NH and Iowa, but his own staff:

Newt Gingrich’s top staff quit en masse Thursday, throwing into question whether his already troubled presidential campaign can continue.

Two sources close to the situation confirmed that campaign manager Rob Johnson, strategists Sam Dawson and Dave Carney, spokesman Rick Tyler and consultants Katon Dawson in South Carolina and Craig Schoenfeld in Iowa have all quit to protest what one called a “different vision” for the campaign.

If it seems like I am enjoying this, it's because I am.


civilization's moving parts

Eli Sanders is covering a truly horrific murder trial for The Stranger. Today he writes:

If you pull way back, and look at the people who created this moment, and the parade of witnesses for the prosecution—just their job titles, not their names or faces—you see the component pieces of civilization, the human architecture that actually creates the conditions for abstract notions like justice and mercy and safety.

The police officer who's seen thousands of bloody crime scenes in his life, and knows the first thing you have to do at the aftermath of a chaotic stabbing is secure the area and ask: Where's the bad guy? Which way did he go? What did he look like? The firemen who wait down the block until the policemen have secured the area, then rush in, rubber gloved and blue smocked, to save and comfort whoever they can. The canine unit that tracks the scent. The emergency room physician who swabs the survivor for evidence and, for a time, with the survivor's best interests in mind, withholds the information that her partner has been killed. The coroner who autopsies the deceased. The crime lab that processes the evidence. The detectives who track down the leads. The social worker who comforts the victims' families. The Metro bus driver who notices the suspect getting off his bus. The patrol officer who races over and arrests him. The state psychiatrists who treat the suspect. The attorneys who prepare his defense. The attorneys who prepare his prosecution. The judge. The bailiff. The jury.

It's taken all of them, and many more people, nearly two years to create this proceeding: A fair trial.

This should give you pause when people speak dismissively of due process, or of "legal technicalities"...of whether certain people deserve such consideration or not. A system of justice is foundational to civilization itself, and it is hard-won.

The people who are willing to so readily cast that aside for mere vengeance are a much greater threat to our civilization than any one murderer, rapist, or terrorist could ever be.



What exactly is Palinization?

As I define it, it is the culmination of many years of unfortunate decisions regarding child rearing -- ill-conceived self-image programs, rewarding mere participation, the alienization of punishment, and the emergence of political correctness.

It is the failure of the education system; the dumbing down of America.

It's the self-righteousness and vitriol of religious factions.

The loss of civility due, in-part, to an erosion of communication skills.

It's the lies of politicians and corporate executives. The slow decay of integrity and honesty.

it's unreality television.

And, it's an uninformed and ignorant electorate; partially the result of a deficient media.

To which I will add: It's the predictable consequence of voters and pundits choosing to support a politician primarily because of how much they appear to irritate the "other side".


i fear sane drugs policy might be like the metric system

Which is to say, the entire rest of the planet will adopt it before we are even willing to consider it seriously.

Dan Savage writes:

The Global Commission on Drug Policy released its report this week. Dirty hippies like George Schultz and Kofi Annan declared our five-decade War On Drugs a failure that has had "devastating consequences" for societies, governments, and individuals. The commission called on governments to stop treating drugs users like criminals, to legalize some drugs, to provide more addiction services, and to go after criminal networks, not small producers. The Obama administration's reaction:

"Making drugs more available, as this report suggests, will make it harder to keep our communities healthy and safe."


And for what it's worth: there wouldn't be an Obama administration to react to this report if the president, back when he was using illegal drugs "frequently," had been swept up by the same criminal justice system he's defending today.



washington, dc, is a very silly place

Via Mike Riggs at Reason:

Once again, the softball team representing the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has backed out of playing a Congressional Softball League game against the One Hitters, a team consisting of members of several drug policy reform organizations and others who support ending the "war on drugs..."

This is not the first time the Czardinals have refused to play the One Hitters.

Czardinals? One Hitters? Seriously, this isn't from The Onion. (I checked.)

In 6 years, the team found one reason or another to avoid taking the field against this team of individuals dedicated to reforming the out-of-date and ineffectual policies promoted by the ONDCP...

"It is really disappointing that the ONDCP not only refuses to have an honest debate with drug policy reformers about the absolute failure of drug prohibition, but also keeps ducking out of softball games with us," said One Hitters team captain Jacob Berg.

To be fair, I don't think I could stomach hanging out with anyone who worked for the ONDCP socially.


on candidates and presidents

Will Wilkinson, on the relative virtues of Ron Paul and Gary Johnson:

As governor, Mr Johnson showed that a non-ideological, pragmatic libertarianism can work as a governing philosophy. But neither full-blooded libertarians nor allegedly liberty-loving tea-party enthusiasts really care much about governing. Libertarians, accustomed to dwelling on the margins of American politics, participate in elections without hope of electoral success, if they participate at all. For them, presidential campaigns offer at best an occasion to preach the libertarian gospel to the wary public, and the more table-pounding the better...

The elements of Mr Paul's past and creed that Mr Somin, Ms Dalmia, and I find objectionable are not really liabilities. They are an important part of what makes "Dr No" a candidate capable of generating surprising amounts of enthusiasm and campaign cash, if not votes. Mr Paul and the tea-party movement are each in their separate ways creatures of Cold War-era conservative-libertarian "fusionism", which remains a powerful ideological and institutional force on the right. In contrast, Mr Johnson comes off as a post-fusionist, libertarian-leaning fiscal conservative. The very existence of such a creature heartens me, but it remains that there exists in our culture no popular, pre-packaged political identity that celebrates and defines itself in terms of these laudable tendencies.

During the Silly Season we call the presidential election in America, people tend to lose sight of the fact that being President of the United States is a job. It requires certain skills, a balanced temperament, and above all, an ability to actually govern. Too often, we view the presidency--and by extension, presidential candidates--first and foremost as vessels for our ideological wish lists. The result is that which makes one a successful candidate and that which makes one a successful president can be very different things.

As much as I like Paul, as much as I appreciate what he has done to bring some of the causes of liberty from the margins of political discourse closer to the center--I honestly don't think he'd be a very good president. Being a cantankerous ideologue makes him a great advocate, and a much needed voice of conscience in the halls of congress. With Johnson, you'd get much of the same ideology, with the "bonuses" of a pragmatic approach and a track record of functioning in an executive capacity.

I realize that to most this is academic; neither Paul nor Johnson have a realistic chance of winning the GOP nomination. Still, until someone resembling a frontrunner emerges from the field, it is difficult for me to tune this out.