Some quick thoughts about this week's (potentially) historic week at the SCOTUS:

1) DOMA is clearly unconstitutional, on 14th Amendment grounds at least. Probably 10th as well. I wouldn't be surprised to see the four liberal justices rule against on the basis of the 14th, with Kennedy (and maybe even Roberts) concurring on 10th Amendment grounds. (I suspect a few of the more level-headed Republicans in congress will live to regret not repealing DOMA when they had the chance.)

2) Chief Justice Roberts' criticism of Obama enforcing DOMA while refusing to defend it in court is valid insofar as one might expect that the President's obligation to uphold the Constitution implies that he ought not enforce laws he genuinely believes to violate it. But of course, had Mr. Obama "the courage of his convictions" he would be roundly (and perhaps rightly) criticized for taking on the role of arbiter of the Constitution, one properly reserved to the judicial branch. In other words. he cannot really "win", here, regardless of what he does. I think the middle course he has charted here is the most prudent, if not the most courageous.

3) Proposition 8 is trickier. It is rather difficult to argue on one hand that DOMA constitutes federal overreach, but that the State of California does not retain the right to determine family law on the other. The way out is of course that Prop 8 also violates the Equal Protection clause. Personally, I think it does. However, I think the Court's aversion to issuing a sweeping ruling that will effectively legalize same-sex marriage nationwide will carry the day. Either Prop 8 gets upheld, narrowly (i.e., in such a way that only affects California) or they dismiss it on the basis of standing.

Between those two, I'd prefer the latter, because that would at least (re)-legalize extant marriages in California.

4) Despite the Court's aversion to another Roe-like ruling, I think they would do both the Republicans and the country a huge favor by effectively ending the substantive policy debate nationwide. Otherwise, we're looking at years of state-level fights on this and the Republicans will have little choice but to own the issue until the current crop of pissed-off old white guys dies off.

That is, of course, no basis at all on which to rule on constitutionality. But there it is.

of apples and trees

I should state at the outset here that it is probably a bit unfair of me to use this piece by Molly Redden about the children of prominent politicians and the rapid evolution of views on marriage as the jumping-off point for the point I want to make, because my beef is rather far from the focus of her piece. That said, sections like this really bother me:

Other political children have been out ahead of their parents, using their famous last names to bring attention to the issue even when their parents still opposed it. The three eldest Huntsman sisters—Mary Anne, Liddy, and Abby—all publicly supported same-sex marriage before their father, Jon Huntsman... Barbara Pierce Bush, one of George W. Bush’s twin daughters, filmed a short spot in favor of a 2011 marriage equality bill in New York State. Her mother, faced with the opportunity to do the same, chickened out, asking that supportive statements she’d made about same-sex marriage be pulled from a pro-marriage-equality ad. (Meanwhile, George W. Bush has given no signals that he’s moving on the issue.) And while being a Republican and marriage equality advocate can be a real bitch—her words—Meghan McCain has pushed the issue tirelessly as a writer and speaker. She apparently won over her mother, who appeared in a pro-same sex marriage photo shoot in 2010; John McCain, however, remains opposed.
The underlying premise to this observation being in any way remarkable is the unspoken expectation that the children--and specifically, the adult children--of public figures are predisposed to share the political beliefs of their famous fathers and mothers (though I cannot help but notice that every example above is a case of daughters and fathers). As though to bear the family name is to inherit the political philosophy.

Ms. McCain in particular--regardless of whether you find her particularly insightful or interesting--has certainly earned the right to be considered in her own right. Not because she's willing to break with daddy on the issue of marriage, but because she has built a career as a prolific writer and engaging media personality. That she would have opinions of her own and express them publicly is approximately as surprising as the sun coming up.


10 years of pointless blathering

(I'm traveling today, but scheduled this to post when I realized the anniversary was coming up.)

I sent the first edition of this place down the memory hole in a fit of embracing impermanence, so I don't have an easy link to show it, but I started blogging 10 years ago today.

I've been able to get to some of the old stuff via the Wayback Machine, and have allowed myself to indulge in a little bit of reading myself. As one might expect, this activity elicits more or less equal parts nostalgia and cringing. I think I'm a better writer, now. I'm less strident in my opinions (really). I'm definitely less ideological, and specifically less reliably libertarian.

Probably the most important difference between then and now: nowadays, for every post you see here, there are about three that get started and never posted. Editorial discretion was not something I possessed 10 years ago.

Anyway, thank you for your attention. 

Some high (and low)lights from the early days:

My first post (other than a quick hello earlier in the day) from March 26, 2003:

First line out of today's CBS coverage of the war: "As the war many hoped would be short enters its second week..."

Umm...excuse me? How short were we expecting this war to be, boys and girls? Did you think that we would start bombing on Friday and US GIs would be dancing in the streets with the women of Baghdad by the next weekend? The last Gulf War's ground campaign took 100 hours, but let's examine a few crucial differences:

1) In '91, Iraq was occupying Kuwait. They were easily cutoff from their supply lines. Furthermore, the objective was to get them out of Kuwait, NOT to CONQUER IRAQ.

2) The '91 ground campaign began AFTER 39 days of relentless air strikes. The Iraqi army was pretty much beaten by the time American soldiers were within firing range. They were essentially there to mop up.

3) In '91, we weren't marching through the homeland of people who might resent foreign invaders, regardless of how noble said invaders intentions are reported to be.

What are they teaching in journalism school these days that the average reporter can't see the differences? If they can't analyze the situation just a tiny bit more critically than this, what exactly are they here for?
(I wish I knew as much now as that guy thought he did, then.)

More on Iraq, from March 31, 2003:

I don't think for a moment that the primary goal of this campaign is "liberation", regardless of how often the president and his mouthpieces say it. The goals of this war are to depose an unfriendly, but weakened, regime, and in doing so, send a message to the Pakistans and Saudi Arabias of the world: take care of the undesireables in your backyard, or we will take care of you. It is a dangerous foriegn (sic) policy gambit, at best, and one that I think will keep our forces perpetually engaged for years, perhaps decades. [emphasis added] Liberation isn't the objective, but for the people whose homes and lives will be destroyed in this process, it is the least that we can do.
 (I really take no pleasure in having been more or less right about this.)

 My first foray into obituary, from June 25, 2003:

"...such is the duality of the Southern Thing."--DBT

The City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia lost two icons of our recent history this week: Maynard Jackson on Monday and Lester Maddox just last night. Jackson was Atlanta's first black mayor; Maddox was the state's last segregationist governor.

Both men were incredibly complex; whereas Maddox was notorious for meeting would-be black customers to his restaurant with a pistol and friends armed with pick handles, and was elected to the governor's mansion as a hard-line segregationist, as governor, he appointed more African-Americans to public positions in Georgia than anyone who had proceeded him, and his administration is still regarded as one free of corruption...not a small feat for a southern governor. Jackson, on the other hand, was involved in the civil rights movement, a friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and is widely credited for making Atlanta a modern city of the "New South"; there are also many who've criticized his administrations (both in the 70's and the 90's) as using affirmative action as a system of patronage, quotas and set-asides as cover for graft. Even when he was succeeded by Bill Campbell in 1994, it was widely believed that Maynard was still running the show...and personally benefitting from racial preferences in city contracts.

Don't misunderstand what I'm trying to say here...far be it from me to cannonize Maddox or to demonize Jackson; both men contributed the growth and evolution of the place I call home. Both built, reformed, fought for what they believed, left their respective marks--and both were undeniably human.

I think that we too frequently see our leaders as larger than life. We project our ideals onto them. We credit them for single-handedly winning wars, freeing people, and changing the world for the better. We blame them for bad economies and moral decline.

Maybe that's just easier than all of us accepting responsibility for the world as we continually remake it.
Media criticism from October 8, 2003:

By the way, the FCC says you can say "fuck" on TV now, as long as you don't use it to describe the act of fucking. So you can say, "this is fucking great", "that fucking sucks", and even possibly "fuck you you fucking fuck", but you can't say "Honey, I'm home! Wanna fuck?"
Late-night TMI from the Fall of '04 (when your host was writing his dissertation):

...you cannot comprehend how disgusting I am right now. I think I went to the gym last night (was that last night?) and skipped my shower this morning to go directly to the office from bed. I think I've worn these pants for three or four days in a row. I had onions for lunch. Coffee all day. The way I smell is offensive to me right now. I feel like I should ride the bus home even though my car is here. I was in the bathroom down the hall (which is actually accessible from the main part of the hospital) washing my face just to wake up. I was afraid one of the security guards would come in and think I was a homeless person.



Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.

Under my window, a clean rasping sound   
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   
My father, digging. I look down

Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   
Bends low, comes up twenty years away   
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   
Where he was digging.

The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.

By God, the old man could handle a spade.   
Just like his old man.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.

Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.


this and that

--Requiem for a badass. This guy tried to kill Hitler twice (in one case volunteering for a suicide mission to do so), ended up in a concentration camp, and still managed to die an old man in his bed at the dawn of the 21st century. Definitely something to keep in mind when your plans fall through.

--There's a lot of talk in Seattle these days about how increasingly dense and vertical development threatens what is apparently our city's greatest asset: views of the Space Needle. I think that this is an excellent response to that. 

--A paper in Nature The Lancet this week shows that clogged arteries were probably fairly common among our pre-agricultural ancestors.  This is interesting for a number of reasons, among them that it ought to really put a damper on the idea that a lot of human disease derives from our "modern" (i.e., post-hunter-gatherer) diet. Eating paleo might very well make you leaner and make you feel better, but you aren't going to cheat death. And cutting animal fat out completely is unlikely to stave off atherosclerosis.

My take is that while a (reasonably) healthy diet is certainly worth having for the short-term benefits (feeling and perhaps looking a little better), there's really no point in expending such a great effort to die with pristine arteries. The best you can hope for by doing so is to die of something even worse, like cancer or Alzheimer's. You might as well enjoy cheese.


seriously, though...

...you should be nice to your bartender. Even if you are a teetotaler.
I would like to congratulate my Catholic friends on having a new pope, and look forward (along with the other 6 billion non-Catholics of the world) to getting back to the business of studiously ignoring him.

mea culpa

I was wrong. Paul Ryan isn't serious about fixing the budget, either.


male bonding

This is excellent:

The oddest thing about my late father was that he didn’t have any male friends. Well, he had one. His name was Archie, and he lived 200 miles away. My father depended on women to answer the call of his self-questioning, and that was an awful mistake. He didn’t see the way male friendship could just fire a different part of your brain. He was surrounded by bright women, women brighter than him, but he missed out on that egotistical refurb, that cool, rough blast of alternative selfhood, which can only come from human adults who pee the same way that you do.

Read the whole thing


this and that

--If you are still getting any "news" from Breitbart, you are officially an idiot.

--What would you do with $400 billion? Well, you could fund the NIH for 10 years, with 5% annual increases, and still have money (about $10 billion) to spare. Or, you could buy 365 airplanes that might or might not work. (h/t to commenter and occasional contributor Dave)

--I was at a cardiology meeting this weekend. There's a lot of money in tubes.

--Have you watched House of Cards? I was put off by Kevin Spacey talking to the camera at first, but it is growing on me. I find the characters a bit two-dimensional, but the story is pretty entertaining. I don't know if this sort of thing (i.e., producing its own content) will ultimately help Netflix fend off the coming wave of competition in the digital streaming market, but it is a substantial improvement over Lilyhammer (which I couldn't get past the first 10 minutes of...seriously, it's terrible.) 


this and that (i'm inna mood)

Looks like we won't have Hugo Chavez to kick around anymore. 

A lot of my friends back in Durham are understandably upset about this little ditty in the Daily Tarheel today. I choose to interpret it this way: even the criminals in Durham know better than to fuck with people in Durham.

I was going to make the observation that The Daily Caller's Taylor Bigler must have written this piece with one hand, until I realized that Taylor Bigler is a woman, which kind of ruined it for me. Then, after a moment's contemplation, made it much, much better.