Friday, December 30, 2005

On Friday Random Nine-Out-Of-Ten

Okay, so New Year's Eve (which is tomorrow, in case you haven't picked out your cheap outfit, your cheap date and your cheap champagne alternative) is really a time to look back on the past year, take stock of everything you've accomplished, and revel in the progress you've made since New Year's a year ago. In theory, anyway. In reality, we tend to look back on last New Year's and realize that we're actually in the same damn spot: marital status, financial status, job, even party venue, same, same, same. Not better, not even worse, just the same. That, I think, is why we drink so much on New Year's Eve.

On that happy note, the Ten. The first one is in honor of the holiday; I'm not going to lie and tell you it popped up there by itself. The rest, though, are random.

1. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, "Auld Lang Syne"
2. Kula Shaker, "Govinda"
3. Queens of the Stoneage, "Little Sister"
4. Basement Jaxx, "Red Alert"
5. The Beatles, "Love Me Do"
6. Franz Schubert, "Lebensmut" from Schwanengesang
7. Blossom Dearie, "Blossom's Blues"
8. Franz Schubert, "Ihr Bild" from Schwanengesang
9. Kay Starr, "My Man"
10. Ella Fitzgerald, "Wait Till You See Him (De-Phazz Remix)"

Dare I try and interpret any of this as a prediction for the coming year? I think I dare not, although Lebensmut sounds promising (note: has nothing to do with smut; translates as life courage or similar, which also sounds promising). Feel free to take your own stab at interpreting, and of course your ten go in comments.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

On executive power

Okay, so within the controversy over Bush's domestic spying program is the question of exactly how far executive power goes. Bush's supporters say that his authority to eavesdrop falls within his powers as Commander in Chief as established in the Constitution. My personal opinion is that, since the tenth amendment says that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people, the power to disregard laws and the Constitution itself is certainly not inherent to the president; in fact, he takes an oath to protect and uphold the Constitution.

Another concern is the fact that Bush defends his actions by saying that sacrificing some civil liberties is necessary in times of war. Technically, however, we're not in a time of war. Article I of the Constitution says that only Congress can declare war; that's one of the essential checks and balances put in place to prevent the Executive from assuming undue power. Bush is, in essence, granting himself unchecked authority in times of war, and unchecked authority to say when those times are.

Once upon a time, another president took upon himself powers not granted him by the Constitution. In 1803, Thomas Jefferson, a staunch advocate of states' rights over federalism, had the opportunity to double the size of the country for a mere three cents per acre. The offer would expire shortly, and a treaty between Spain and France jeopardized the entire deal, but Jefferson felt that he didn't have the express Constitutional authority to execute such a transaction. Caught between waiting for Congress to approve a constitutional amendment allowing the transaction and watching the deal fall through, Jefferson borrowed $15 million from Great Britain at 6 percent interest and bought the land, which most Americans now recognize was a good thing.

But Jefferson wasn't about to fall back on "I did it for the good of the country" as an excuse. He wrote the following in a letter to John C. Breckenridge:
This treaty must of course be laid before both Houses, because both have important functions to exercise respecting it. They, I presume, will see their duty to their country in ratifying & paying for it, so as to secure a good which would otherwise probably be never again in their power. But I suppose they must then appeal to the nation for an additional article to the Constitution, approving & confirming an act which the nation had not previously authorized. The constitution has made no provision for our holding foreign territory, still less for incorporating foreign nations into our Union. The Executive in seizing the fugitive occurrence which so much advances the good of their country, have done an act beyond the Constitution. The Legislature in casting behind them metaphysical subtleties, and risking themselves like faithful servants, must ratify & pay for it, and throw themselves on their country for doing for them unauthorized what we know they would have done for themselves had they been in a situation to do it. It is the case of a guardian, investing the money of his ward in purchasing an important adjacent territory; & saying to him when of age, I did this for your good; I pretend to no right to bind you: you may disavow me, and I must get out of the scrape as I can: I thought it my duty to risk myself for you. But we shall not be disavowed by the nation, and their act of indemnity will confirm & not weaken the Constitution, by more strongly marking out its lines.

In the end, the treaty was ratified, and Jefferson wasn't disavowed. But it's obvious that he took that possibility into consideration when he made the deal. He recognized that, although he acted in what he felt were the best interests of the country, he was doing so outside the powers granted him by the Constitution. If the country disagreed with those actions, he would accept whatever consequences came of them. He didn't try to claim special executive privilege or say that he should be free to act as he saw fit for the benefit of the nation. He owned up to what he did and was willing to accept the consequences.

We are all free to break the law. When we come to a stop sign, the law says to come to a full stop, but we still have the choice to stop or to roll on through. If we choose to roll on through, though, we're also choosing to accept the consequences of violating the law. Sometimes, we can explain our actions to the satisfaction of the authorities; the man whose wife is in labor in the back seat might be able to get off with a warning. But that doesn't mean he didn't break the law. It just means that when he gave his reason for doing it, the authorities decided to let it slide.

President Bush needs to own up to his actions. Instead of saying that the office of the President should make him immune to the law, should give him the power to act as he wishes in the best interest of the country, he should say that yes, he violated the law and the Constitution, he had a reason for it, and he now throws himself on the mercy of the nation. It's then the nation's job to decide whether or not he had good cause to do what he did.

As president of a Constitution-based federal republic, Bush doesn't have the supreme authority of a king or dictator - he's a citizen, a person just like the rest of us, who has been elected to a position of leadership by the people. Nothing about his office gives him any more power than the rest of us have to break the law. Whatever he does, for whatever reason, he must answer to the ultimate sovereign authority in this country. the people.

On weapons and tactics

Okay, so one of my mom's friends from way, way back is a kind of civilian columnist for her local paper, writing quasi-folksy columns every couple of weeks from the perspective of a conservative, wife, mother of four, and specifically mother of a son stationed in Iraq. She reported in her Christmas newsletter that her more politically charged columns have gotten some fairly passionate responses from both sides, and that one person she identifies as an "anti-war activist" has gone so far as to find out where she lives and stalk her.

I don't really know the woman well enough to tell if this is true, but I have no reason to believe that it's fabrication or exaggeration. There are kooks on both sides of the issue who are just obsessive enough to welcome, or even commit, acts of violence; when Cindy Sheehan threatened to tie herself to a fence in Crawford in protest of the 2,000th military death in Iraq, journalist Michael Fumento suggested that "maybe the crows will do the world a favor and eat her tongue out." Nice imagery there, Mike.

This friend of Mom's is kind of a conservative Cindy Sheehan writ small: she's passionate about politics in general and the politics of this war specifically; she's put herself out in the public eye, which does open her up to some amount of criticism; and she has the special and unenviable distinction of having a child in harm's way in Iraq. None of this should insulate her from public opinion, but I'd like to think it might offer some of the same respect that we Democrats have asked for Cindy Sheehan.

What bothers me about this situation, beyond the obvious "stalking is bad, mmkay" moral issues, is one response I got during a discussion of the situation: "Well, it's not like the other side doesn't do it, too." I really, really hate that as a justification for anything, and I particularly hate to hear it from our side of the aisle. We're adults and we should know better. Occasionally, though, even adults need to review our basic kindergarten rules of moral equivalence.

Just because their side engages in personal attacks doesn't mean we should. And I don't mean ad hominem attacks; those are a bad idea from a logic-and-debate standpoint, but they're also kind of fun. But personal attacks in terms of stalking, harrassment, threats or wishes of violence, those are all not okay. Attack a person's opinion or politics if you must, but families, coworkers, pets and most automobiles are out-of-bounds. It's just a matter of common decency. And common decency, for the record, should be liberals' default position. Even if being nice for the sake of niceness isn't good enough for you, consider that in a war of opinion, the moral high ground is the only high ground there is; while they're publicly wishing for crows to peck out someone's tongue, we need to be able to sit back and shake our heads.

Just because the terrorists torture doesn't mean we should. This one should seem so very simple, and yet it isn't. Even beyond the fact that most experts say torture is ineffective for gaining accurate intelligence, torture is wrong. Torture is what Saddam Hussein did and what the terrorists do, and we call them evil because of it; how, then, can we expect to do the same thing and justify it? If, in our efforts to beat them, we become them, what have we accomplished? Our country was founded and has grown on the concept of freedom and basic respect for human dignity. Abandon that in the name of national security, and we're not worth fighting for.

Just because others don't have rights doesn't mean we can't. The Nation's Dictionary of Republicanisms defines "democracy" as a product so extensively exported that the domestic supply is depleted. It's funny 'cause it's true, which makes it completely unfunny. Since the Bush domestic spying program went public, people have been justifying his actions by saying that he was doing it in the interest of national security, that he's charged with the task of protecting the country and that we weren't really using those rights anyway. I can't think of a worse reason to voluntarily give up your civil liberties. I said it above: our country was founded and has grown on the concept of freedom and basic respect for human dignity. Take that away in the interest of national security, and we've got nothing.

All these things we do, we do in the name of security, without recognizing one crucial point: security is an illusion. On September 11, 2001, we discovered, to our horror, that our country is not impenetrable. Laws were passed and liberties curtailed, some out of logic, some out of fear, in the hopes of addressing that. Then, a few months ago, in spite of all of our laws and precautions, Hurricane Katrina wiped out an entire region of the country, and we realized that we're still not secure. We never will be. We could each go and live in individual underground bunkers monitored by closed-circuit TV, protected from acts of terror and acts of God and car accidents and drive-by shootings, and then we could slip on a grape and die on the floor of our kitchen. Or worse, we could live, tucked away in our bunkers, as close to perfectly safe as a person can be, with no life at all.

As illusory as it is, security is no reason to give up everything else that makes this country what it is. We can't become them to protect ourselves from them. Security is no reason to give up our liberty, and it's no reason to give up our humanity. We could get hit by terrorists or by hurricanes of by nothing at all, but all we have is who we are. I'm not giving that up for anything.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

On New Year's resolutions - specifically, screw 'em

Okay, so I am, alas, back from my Christmas break. In case anyone was wondering, it was a lovely one - I finally managed to find the Christmas spirit I was looking for, I managed to stay on my feet when the incense at midnight Mass made me seriously woozy, and everyone who got a gift from me managed to fake enough appreciative glee to satisfy me. Plus, I found the glass pickle hidden in the Christmas tree, which I do every year, probably because I'm the only person who bothers to look.

The next big holiday, of course, is New Year's Eve, which might be spent downtown at a black tie gala where the champagne flows like water or, if the guy's insurance company doesn't get me that check for my medical expenses (anyone want to take any bets?), in my apartment in my comfy fleece pj's and a tiara, watching "It's a Wonderful Life" with my girlfriends and swilling not-quite-bottom-shelf spumante at the stroke of midnight. In all honesty, that second scenario almost sounds like a better evening.

With the new year generally comes New Year's resolutions, and I've made it clear in the past that I'm not a fan. The turning over of a new calendar page seems like a pretty lousy impetus for personal change, compared to any other earth-shattering events that really leave a mark. So I'm not going to make any this year. I will, however, look back on last year's resolutions and see how I did.

1. I resolve to shut up about politics already
Har, har. I'm not sure what meds I was on when I wrote this one. I made the (valid) point that generally, when a political subject arises on this blog, the liberals agree with me (which they'd do anyway) and the conservatives call me a kook (which they'd do anyway), and then I said something about pigs. Well, I'm happy to say that there has been some good discussion, that I've gotten agreement and disagreement from both sides, and that everyone has minded their manners as much as could be expected. This is one resolution I'm rather glad I broke.

2. I resolve to pay more attention to the people who actually have power
This one, I actually managed to keep. With only the occasional glance at the Ann Coulters and Bill O'Reillys and (hee hee) Pastor Swanks of the world, I managed to spend most of my energy on administration figures, legislators, and, of course, football powerhouses. And it's worked out well for me. Expect to see more of this in the future, as debate revs up over exactly how much power the Executive Branch should expect to wield.

3. I resolve to be a better Christian.
Oh, this is a tricky one, because the definition of a "good Christian" is really in the eye of the beholder. My resolution really centered around being a better Christian Democrat, mostly in terms of doing the things Jesus would have me do rather than the things that Pat Robertson would have me do, and I like to think I've done that. Not judging, lest I be judged, is still a bit of a challenge, but nobody's perfect. That having been said, being better is a tricky goal, because there's always another better beyond it, so while I'd say that I was better than last year, I'm still under the obligation to be more better this year.

4. I resolve to date more civilians
Completely personal and unrelated to this blog. I kept this one.

5. I resolve to chill
This one, alas, I was unable to keep. One reason that New Year's resolutions are so hard to keep is that they're often complicated by outside forces. In this case, my resolution to relax more, party more, and drink more decaf was complicated by a work schedule that offered no vacations (plenty of vacation days available, but no time to take them), no lagniappe salary for partying, and no reason to drink anything but high-test (or, better still, freebase the Folger's crystals and then lick the spoon). If I were going to make a resolution this year, which I'm not, it would involve finding a new job that would allow for the aforementioned chilling. Or a rich husband. If that's you, feel free to apply in comments below.

With all of the above in mind, it's been a pretty good year. I hope that your have all been pretty good as well, and if they haven't, I don't want to hear about it. I'm still rockin' the post-Christmas good-will-to-all buzz. Hold off until around January 7, then we can start with the griping. I wish you all a merry Christmas and a happy first week of the New Year.

Friday, December 23, 2005

On Friday not-quite-random Ten, and the meaning of Christmas

Okay, so getting into the Christmas spirit has been a bit of a struggle for me in recent years. I don't really know what it is. It might have something to do with the fact that rather than going to malls and enjoying the bustle and chaos while sipping a peppermint mocha, content in the knowledge that I did all of my shopping online, I get to go and report and try to wrestle a photographer through crowds that look like they're out for blood and a silk pointelle sweater from Banana Republic (cream, size medium, e-mail me for where to send). It might be because I'm just not at home now, and that my little fake Christmas tree isn't the same as Mom's big, real Christmas tree, I live alone and have no reason to hide gifts, and my presents get wrapped without any interference whatsoever from well-meaning dogs. It might be the 60-degree weather here in Hotlanta, pleasant for a walk but completely inappropriate for a one-horse open sleigh; or my urge to put my fist through the radio every time someone sings about having their love to keep them warm; or the fact that people have whined so damn much about the "War on Christmas" that every time I wish someone merry Christmas, I feel like a bible-thumper and every time I wish someone happy holidays, I feel like the Antichrist.

It may be, perhaps, that my shoes are too tight. It may be my head isn't screwed on just right...

But I think the mostly likely reason of all is that Christmas is, I'm sorry, not just about Jesus anymore. And I'm not actually complaining about that. See, I think the problem with Christianity in general is that it's so focused on the guy that we tend to forget his lessons. Praise Jesus, sure, but also don't forget that he wants us to be charitable and kind and forgiving and compassionate. He wants us to comfort the afflicted and do unto the least of our brothers. If you're worshiping the man and missing the message, you've got a rather screwy version of Christianity.

Christmas is the time of year that we celebrate the birth of not just the son of God, but the guy who had the singular goal of making everyone be nice to each other. The Catholic church tells us that we're supposed to get the most excited about Easter, when he died for our sins, in fulfillment of the prophecy and for our salvation and basically making Christianity what it is, and as a Catholic, I buy that. But Christmas is for everyone. You don't have to believe that he died and rose. You don't have to believe that he was the son of God. But we do know that he existed, and we know that he really, really wanted everyone to be nice.

That is what Christmas is about. Even when we can't be bothered the other eleven months of the year, December is when people start donating clothes to Goodwill, serving dinner at soup kitchens, stuffing money in Salvation Army kettles, being good, for goodness' sake. Kids do it out of fear of Santa (and kids, Santa's not the one with an eye on you right now), adults do it out of guilt. It's not really a Christian thing, either; Jewish people do it, too (they do have their own holiday this time of year, in case you've forgotten), as do atheists, agnostics, and the just-plain-unreligious. It's not a matter of remembering the specifics of Jesus's life. It's a matter of living the big picture, even if it's only for those few weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year's.

As a Christian, I'll be sitting down with Charlie Brown and listen to Linus telling me about the birth of Jesus. I'll be putting on my pretty Christmas clothes and going to mass Saturday night, listening to the stories and the carols and getting my good dose of Jesus: The Early Years, as the church prescribes. But if I'm really good, I'll remember to package up our extra food and presents and give them to people who didn't get a Christmas, and if I'm really good, I'll remember to keep doing that all through the new year. Christians spend every December 25th partying about the savior's birth, but that's just gravy. His message is for all of us, and I can't think of a better way to spend Christmas than to live it. Hell, even Ebeneezer Scrooge managed to change his ways.

Your soundtrack for the holidays:

1. Londonderry Boys Choir, "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear"
2. Tchaikovsky, "Waltz of the Snowflakes," from "The Nutcracker"
3. Diana Krall, "Let It Snow"
4. The Wombles, "Wombling Merry Christmas"
5. Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"
6. Londonderry Boys Choir, "What Child Is This"
7. Otis Redding, "White Christmas"
8. St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen"
9. Mormon Tabernacle Choir, "Joy to the World"
10. Sammy Davis, Jr., "Jingle Bells"

I'm going to try to keep to the family thing for the next few days, so don't count on seeing too much of me until after Christmas. With that in mind, I wish you the merriest of whatever holiday you're going to be celebrating. And tell your mom I said hi. Does she still make her green beans with almonds in them? That's some good stuff.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

On something completely unrelated to politics

Okay, so I will get back to the political ranting shortly, because God knows there's plenty to rant about, but right now I'm facing a somewhat more immediate issue. You've all heard me rant about my crappy car and the awesome lengths Volkswagen hasn't gone to in the interest of making amends. My original, and still off-pissingest, gripe has to do with the driver's side window motor, which makes its own decisions about when the window needs to be open and when it needs to be closed and merely rolls its little window-motor eyes when I try to encourage it in one direction or the other. I've joked with friends that, ha ha, some day that window is just going to not come up at all, ha ha, and it'll probably happen at the absolute least convenient time. Like, when it's 26 degrees out or something.

If you're guessing that I drove to work today in scarf and gloves, watching my breath make little clouds in front of the steering wheel, you get a gold star. And this is the absolute frigging last straw (unlike all of the other straws that have purported to be last but have proven, at best, penultimate). Despite my prayers for an apocalyptic impact with an Audi TT driver who immediately admits fault for the accident and offers to replace my car, no questions asked, the best I've been able to come up with is an uninsured Kia, and it looks like I'm going to be pawning my Christmas presents for a down payment on a non-piece-of-shit car.

Here's what I'm thinking: I want a car that's almost completely immune to these pissy little computer problems that keep costing me so much money. We're talking about a car that's slightly more technologically advanced than a Model T, something wholly mechanical but that I don't have to crank to start. I'm still fighting with myself over the issue of airbags, because on the one hand, that's just one more bit of electronics to fail catastrophically when I really need it, but on the other, I'm really too cute to splatter across a windshield.

The general idea is to get a car that never has to go back to the dealership to get its computer reset, and that can be repaired with little more than a torque wrench, some duct tape and appropriate amount of swearing. Here's kind of what I had in mind:

- 1968 International Harvester Scout

- 1970 turbo Mini Cooper

- 1989 Land Rover Defender

Audience participation time - keeping in mind the requirements that I've laid out for my next car, and getting some idea of my personal preferences from the choices I've named above, what do you think? Any opinions on the cars I've listed? Anything I haven't mentioned that I might want to look at? Think that this is just a bad idea in general? Remember that price is no object, assuming that the seller accepts used DVDs and/or sexual favors as payment.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

On people who simply aren't that lucky

Okay, so I love to check my referrers and see exactly how people are finding their way to my little page. For some reason, there's been an awful lot of interest in the Titanic picture I linked to a few months back, especially from people in, like, Denmark. And Iran. But mostly Denmark and Sweden and Germany, because apparently northern Europeans think a sodden Kate Winslet is teh hot, or something.

Anyway, the fun referrer of the day was an MSN search for "did clinton spy."

You wish you were that lucky, Grasper of Straws in Omaha. You do. It would be so nice for you to be able to point at the evil Clenis and shout, "Well, he totally did it too! Clinton spied, too!" It would be so much easier for you if, instead of having to defend your guy against allegations of serious, serious wrongdoing, you could just point the finger at our guy.

But Clinton didn't spy on American citizens, GoSiN. He didn't because it was wrong. The guy couldn't manage to grasp the concept of keeping it zipped in the workplace, but he still managed to not violate the civil liberties of Americans and then go on TV with the defense that hey, I'm the president and I should be able to do anything I want.

Most of the Republicans I've talked to in the past few months have had a solid head on their shoulders, so I didn't expect to have to give this advice, but I'm gonna anyway: don't go trying to deflect the blame here. Don't try to deny, don't try to distract, and for God's sake don't try to justify. We've got a president who is off the freaking reservation, and as the party in charge of the executive branch and both chambers of the legislature, you have the unenviable task of bringing him back in. Sorry, y'all; with great power comes great responsibility.

On my grownup Christmas list

Okay, so we all have Christmas lists, even if we don't write them down and mail them to Santa (or give them to our moms to mail to Santa, and then later find a stockpile of Santa letters going back years and finally figure out why the Santa cookies are gone and Daddy has a milk mustache every Christmas morning). Usually, we think about Christmas presents in terms of things that can be wrapped up, opened on Christmas morning, and left for Goodwill a week later, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that what I really want for Christmas can't be tied up with a ribbon.

Well, one of them can. I'll let you figure out which one.

1. Terror intelligence. I really, really want to know what intelligence the president got that Congress didn't, and vice versa. We keep hearing that President Bush gets certain things in his intelligence briefings, and Congress gets other things; I want to know what each of them knew as they were making their decisions about Iraq.

2. An exit strategy. I'm not going to demand a timetable, because I realize that trying to put an arbitrary time limit to our withdrawal would be foolish, but I'd like to know that someone has actually considered the next steps and knows what we have to do to help Iraq back to its feet and bring our troops home.

3. Generosity. Wouldn't it be great if, as a country, we remembered that poor people are still poor and homeless people are still homeless after Christmas is done? We drop money into kettles for the Salvation Army and we give donations in lieu of Christmas presents and feel really great about making a contribution, and that's a good thing. But if you can't afford to heat your home in December, it's going to be just as cold in February, and we who have so much still have a responsibility to those who don't. I think this is my favorite Christmas wish, becauase it's the one that really could come true.

4. Michael Bublé, shirtless, with a plate of blueberry pancakes in one hand and a Bosch mass airflow sensor in the other.

5. A strong Democratic candidate for 2008. Nobody currently pointed at the Democratic primaries has what it takes to be a solid candidate, much less presidential material. At Doug's Festivus party, the Airing of the Grievances included one moderate Republican who had the following to say: "I've got a grievance with the damn Democrats who couldn't raise a decent candidate in 2004. You give us this rich, weak-ass Massachusetts liberal who wasn't any better than what we already had. If you'd have given me a better candidate, I'd have voted for him." And she was completely right. I voted for Kerry because he's what was available to me, not because I had a whole lot of faith in him as a potential president. When I go to the polls in 2008, I want it to be because I'm so excited about our candidate that I can't wait to cast my ballot, not because I feel it's important to defeat the other guy.

6. Compassion. Right now, the biggest problem we have in this country is that everyone is so damn selfish. The only reason anyone is griping about a "War on Christmas" is that some Christians think that they're the only religion out there worth recognizing, and if you don't recognize them specifically, it's a personal attack. People demonize the poor, but never really think about what it's like to really be cold. People judge pro-choicers without ever considering what it's like to be a pregnant teenager without a supportive family. If we all recognized that the entire world hasn't had the life and opportunities we have, maybe we'd be slower to judge. I had a discussion once with my friends where one said if she were a superhero, she'd want as her superpower the ability to make people feel the pain they'd just inflicted on someone else. That's some cool stuff. I don't know if I like the idea of forced empathy as a weapon, but it would be a really wonderful tool.

So there's my Christmas list. I can't say that I've been a very, very good girl this year, but I have tried. If I find just one of those things waiting for me under my pathetic, two-foot-tall plastic Charlie Brown-looking Christmas tree, I'll consider myself truly blessed. Feel free to put your own Christmas list in the comments; maybe the Solstice Gnome will read it and bring you what you want.

Monday, December 19, 2005

On a government to watch our backs... with spy satellites and a hidden camera in your medicine cabinet

Okay, so in a controversial move, the White House attempted Thursday to draw attention away from the Valerie Plame scandal with the announcement that the NSA has been wiretapping American citizens without court approval since 2002. This came on the heels of a recent announcement that the Pentagon has been maintaining a watch list of anti-war protest groups, leading many Americans to question, "What exactly the hell is going on here?"

The president defended his actions in a radio address Saturday, saying, "'Torture is wrong, spying on Americans is wrong.' Blah, blah, blah. The media undermine the security of this country ever time they publicize something illegal I've done."

Okay, he didn't actually say that. The president maintains that his authority to authorize such searches comes from the 2001 Congressional resolution letting him go after al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. While the NSA has long had the authority to monitor phone calls and e-mails on foreign soil, they can't do so within the US without receiving a court order, and the FBI usually handles such surveillance anyway.

Dick Cheney said in a "Nightline" interview to be broadcast tonight that Congress has been briefed "over a dozen times," and that the program is "consistent with the statutes and with the law," to the best of their abilities. Congressional leaders from both parties have expressed concern about the program, including Democrats Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and Republicans Lindsey Graham and Arlen Specter.

I'm sorry, if the president can't get the approval of Arlen Specter, he needs to give serious question to his surveillance program.

Administration officials have said that the president didn't go to the Congress for approval because he felt that he could authorize the searches under the 2001 "Authorization to use Military Force," the Congressional resolution allowing him to go after al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. They have also said that he totally did go to Congress, and no one had a problem with it. They have also said that he totally didn't go to Congress, concerned that a law allowing the surveillance would never pass because of civil liberties concerns.

Administration officials declined to specify which excuse they plan to use when the shit ultimately hits the fan.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales does acknowledge that the warrantless wiretapping is illegal under the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but says that the program derives its authority from the aforementioned 2001 resolution and from the "inherent powers" of the president.

Senator Russ Feingold said on the Today Show that "nobody, nobody, thought when we passed a resolution to invade Afghanistan and to fight the war on terror, including myself who voted for it, thought that this was an authorization to allow a wiretapping against the law of the United States." If he'd bothered to go to Congress, the president might have learned this, but it's always better to ask forgiveness than permission, right?

Obviously, the biggest concern here is that our Fourth Amendment rights have been violated without any apparent concern for, well, the fourth amendment. The general attitude is that the NSA will only spy on Americans if they meet some arbitrary standard for naughtiness that the government refuses to disclose, and the old Patriot Act defense that "if you're not doing anything wrong, you shouldn't care if they're spying on you" has come out once or twice among the punditry. No one has yet responded to the question of whether they'd submit to random body cavity searches, if they know they have nothing hidden in their rectums.

Outside of the question of civil liberties themselves, though, I am deeply worried that our president believes that he has "inherent powers" allowing him to suspend our consitutional rights at will - and that he has lawyers telling him that he can. I have problems with the president being unwilling to consult Congress because he's afraid they'll say no. I have problems with the president doing something so obviously wrong, and then going on TV and not even having the decency to defend himself, but rather to condemn the media for reporting it.

The government has walked a fine line since September 11. It's not unexpected that national security should become more of an issue after an attack like that, and when people are afraid, they're more likely to be a bit more free with their personal liberties in exchange for the promise of security. When a real threat exists, it's the responsibility of the government to do everything they can within the bounds of the law to address it. But how many rights must we be expected to give away in the interest of national security? We could all spend our lives tucked away in individual Ziploc baggies with constant closed-circuit monitoring and be safe from the threat of terrorism, but do we want to live like that?

There's one more concern that I haven't seen raised yet, and it's got Potential National Security Crisis written all over it. This might be merely the result of my near-obsessive "Law & Order" and "NCIS" habit, but I have to ask: what can be done with evidence obtained illegally? Say the NSA's secret program turns up evidence that an American citizen is plotting with al Qaeda to commit terrorist acts within the US. He's arrested, which is a good thing, and brought to trial, which is another good thing. Then the judge is forced to throw out the evidence obtained by the wiretap, because we're all obliged to follow the law even if the president isn't, and the law says that you have to have a warrant to wiretap. The government is forced to let a terrorist go free because they couldn't be bothered to get a warrant before tapping his phone. How have we been made safer when this guy is back out on the street, fat and happy on the knowledge that he managed to pull one over on the federal government?

I realize that there are still people out there who are deathly afraid of terrorism. September 11 was a scary reminder that we're never completely safe. But Hurricane Katrina should have been a scary reminder that even if we're safe from terrorists, we're still vulnerable to acts of God, and if that wasn't enough, every reported bathtub slippage or choking incident or accidental poisoning should remind us that we're not even safe locked away in our homes. I'll say it again for the slow learners: No matter what, you will never, ever, ever be completely safe. We each have to decide how much of our freedom we're willing to give up in exchange for security. Our president does not have the "inherent power" to make that decision for us.

Friday, December 16, 2005

On Friday Random Ten

Okay, so don't count on a lot of commentary today; Doug's Festivus party is tomorrow, and I need to start assembling my list of grievances, like, yesterday.

So here's the ten:

1. Hepburn, "I Quit"
2. Nine Days, "So Far Away"
3. Jump, Little Children, "Habit"
4. Propellerheads, "History Repeating"
5. Black Masses, "Wonderful Person"
6. Sarah Brightman, "So Many Things"
7. Billie Holiday, "It Had to Be You"
8. The original Broadway cast of Avenue Q, "The Avenue Q Theme"
9. Foo Fighters, "Aurora"
10. Liz Phair, "Why Can't I?"

Thursday, December 15, 2005

On the War on Christmas (ooga-booga!)

Okay, so jedmunds over at Pandagon pointed me at a new blog, specifically at this post, and I'm glad he did. Pia Savage has some really interesting thing to say about Christmas from the perspective of "a New York Jew; a life long Democrat and a card carrying member of the ACLU." It's topical and humorous.

The main point of Pia's post is that she, as a Jew, doesn't want Christians to not celebrate Christmas. All of the Christmas Warriors who feel oppressed by a full twenty percent of the population act like the Evil Secularists want to take away their Christmases, and it's just not the case; we just don't want anyone forcing their holiday down anyone else's throat. She puts it better than I could:
I don't think I believe in G-d but I respect people of any religion who truly believe.  If I were to feel that I was in any way denying you the ability to pray, I would feel that I have failed as both a person and a person who does worship The First Amendment.  I don't care about the manger in the courthouse.  But understand something else.  I care greatly that church and state stay separate.

Beyond that, though, I really feel that I'm missing something about her post. I get the idea of gratitude to your forbears for the struggles they've gone through, and never forgetting at what price your freedom has been bought. I get the idea of gratitude to your country for guaranteeing your freedom when so many other countries don't. But I can't get beyond this one sentence:
As Jews we do feel grateful to the Christians in this country for allowing us to be full citizens.

As a Christian, I really hope Jews don't actually feel that way, Pia.

No minority group should thank a majority group for being so kind as to not violate their basic rights. No black woman should ever thank me for graciously allowing her to sit on the same bus that I do. No gay man should ever thank me for not beating him up as he walks down the street. As a woman, I shouldn't have to send a thank-you card to my editor in New York for not hitting on me when he came down to Atlanta..

We have basic rights not because 51 percent of people say so, but because it's right. The Constitution doesn't grant freedom of religion to Christians, and then grant that same freedom to other religions at the discretion of the majority. It doesn't give us anything; it recognizes that we come by certain rights naturally, as human beings and equals, and that no one, not even the government, can take them away.

Be grateful for what you have. Be grateful for the people who got us where we are, and to the people who protect us now that we're here. But don't thank me for your freedom. I didn't give it to you. You aren't allowed to practice your religion; they're not allowed to stop you.

I'm going to throw out a Merry Christmas to all of my Christmas-celebrating friends out there, and a Happy Hanukkah to the Hanukkah-ing types, and Happy Kwanzaa to those who like Kwanzaa, and Joyous Solstice, and I've run out of holidays so happy holidays to those I've missed. May Cthulhu grant you a quick and painless death in this season of ice. Far be it from me to tell anyone how to celebrate the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Years, but I will make one request: whatever and however you choose to celebrate, celebrate the hell out of it. If you like to go to church and sing Christmas carols, then sing like you've never sung before, and if you like to sit home with your family and talk about solstices past, then sit and talk and listen like you can bring them back by sheer force of memory. Celebrate precisely as you want, and do it with vigor, because despite what the Christmas Warriors will tell you, no one can take away your holiday if you're celebrating it in a way that means something to you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

On not messing with other people

Okay, so in a recent post, I mentioned a conversation with a relative of mine who shall go unnamed, because he's in the kind of profession that discourages public political statements, especially those critical of our current system of government (and I'll stop right there). Although he describes himself as a libertarian-leaning Republican, his political views line up so accurately with my Democratic ones that sooner or later, one of us is going to have to move.

The thing that Nameless Relative pointed out was the fact the original Congress wasn't made up of career politicians; it was made up of doctors and farmers and milliners and all kinds of normal people who took time out of their everyday lives to make laws for the country. In my last post, I mentioned one side effect of this being that legislators really did share values with the rest of the country, because they were the rest of the country.

Another side effect is that they didn't have time to waste on really stupid or intrusive legislation, because they had their own stuff to worry about. They needed to get in, get the most important laws signed, and get out again before the hay got moldy in the field. They were so busy looking after their own stuff that they didn't have the time or energy to stick their noses into other people's business. You know why the Constitution doesn't mention homosexuality? Because my prize ewe is about to have triplets, so I don't care what kind of sex you're having.

Doesn't that sound lovely? Actually taking care of your own stuff instead of paying attention to everyone else's? Think about it: parents too busy actually raising their children to get their panties in a wad about sex education. Religious leaders too busy ministering to their own flocks to try and force their beliefs on the rest of the country. Normal people going about their normal lives, minding their homes and their businesses and, more importantly, their own business.

Example: Everyone is minding the store or the farm or the office, and no one has bothered to raise a fuss about sex education. Kids are taught in school to keep it zipped or use birth control, and it's available to those who need it. Some parents teach their kids to wait until marriage, some parents don't; some kids wait until marriage, some kids don't; and nobody ends up pregnant on prom night. Also cuts way down on the abortion issue.

Another example: Heterosexual people are too busy tending to their own relationships to care whether or not some boys like boys more than girls. The divorce rate plummets, successful marriages are on the rise as gays are allowed to marry, orphanages empty out as married gay couples are allowed to adopt, and as this new generation of children grows up, the nation is that much more fit, fashionable and fabulous.

Yet another example: People of faith are so busy building their own relationships with whatever higher power they follow to care what anyone else is doing. Christians actually try to live the Christianity they profess, Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Wiccas do likewise, atheists and agnostics try to be nice because being nice is better than the alternative, and suddenly poverty and persecution are things of the past.

NR and I decided that the best thing to do would be to tear it all back to code. I'd bet money that a good three-quarters of our existing legislation could be sufficiently replaced with the MYOB Act of 2006: don't mess around in other people's business, and they won't mess around in yours.

The most common criminal act would be a violation of that law. Armed robbery? Messing around in someone's stuff, and messing around with their sense of security. Drunk driving? Messing around with everyone's safety on the road. Polluting? Messing around with everyone's environment. Rape? Messing around with someone's body. Punishments would be meted out accordingly.

Basic minority rights would be preserved by the simple fact that no one is going to mess with you and try to take them away. No one gets to mess with your right to vote, or to get paid the same amount for the same job, or to decide what happens to your body, or to worship the deity of your choice, or to say whatever you want as long as it's true (if saying something that isn't true would mess with someone else's good name).

Wars would only start if we were directly threatened as a country, because otherwise, we'd be messing with a country that hadn't messed with us. The UN would become a worldwide coalition of countries agreeing not to mess with each other, and if someone did mess with someone else, there would be repercussions.

The only problem with MYOB is that it only happens by unanimous consent. Everyone has to agree that if I don't mess with you, you're not going to come in and mess with me. I promise not to try to convert you to my religion, if you'll only leave me to mine. I promise I won't try to control your body, if you'll only leave me to control my own. I promise I won't tell you who to marry, if you'll only grant me the same courtesy.

Of course, if that happened, what would I have to blog about?

On real tolerance

Okay, so I simply do not tolerate intolerance. I find it intolerable. People are intolerant, and I'm all, "I won't tolerate that."

Matt Lavine at Basket Full of Puppies directs us to a comments thread over at Eschaton where he kind of got a less-than-deserved gang beating from the locals (which, to be fair, wouldn't have been so enthusiastic if he hadn't been quite so liberaler-than-thou) when he said that maybe picking on Jesus wasn't the best way to hold on to your Christian base:
All this mockery directed at that which maybe 100 million voters consider to be God incarnate. Brilliant politics as usual, guys, and first-rate manners to boot. Hope it was worth it.

And before you start casting stones, I'm less religious than any of you and more progressive than 95% of you.

Yeah, that last part was kind of dickish, but otherwise, dude's got a point.

Here's the thing about religion: pretty much every major religion, from the various interpretations of Christianity to Islam to Hinduism and even to Buddhism (which I realize is more of a belief system than an actual religion) has some basis in historical record and some basis in pure faith. We can all recognize that there was this guy named Jesus, and he lived about two thousand years ago and he walked around telling people to be nice to each other. When a guy in a dress tells you that Jesus was the son of God and is still hanging around heaven handing out advice, and you believe him, that's where you get religion. It's just crossing that line and believing things that haven't been or can't be proven.

Here's the kicker, though: atheism is just as dependent on faith. I'm not saying it's a religion, because there are all kinds of bullet points that have to be satisfied for something to be considered a religion (interestingly enough, Elvis worship and SEC football both qualify). But just as the existence of a higher power can't be proven, the absence of a higher power can't be proven. There is plenty of scientific evidence out there saying that phenomena we used to attribute to God actually have a scientific explanation; there isn't any evidence that God doesn't exist, period. So to believe that there isn't a god, you're still working from historical record and putting down a layer of faith on top of that. If we're going to be completely honest with ourselves, agnostics are the only ones who can't be accused of blind nuttiness.

Where am I going with this? Nowhere in particular, except to say that messing with anyone because of their belief system is a pretty crappy thing to do, especially for a party that's supposed to be all about tolerance. I still think the whole "War on Christmas" thing is a complete crock, and I don't think that the Democratic party needs to go around endorsing any particular religion, or even religion in general. But we seem to have adopted the attitude that we need to respect every religion except Christianity, because all of the uber-conservative wingnuts out there are fundie Christians. And considering that a goodly number of Democrats are fairly vehement in their Christianity as well, that's a great way to piss off your base.

The difference between rightie-fundie Christians and those of us on the left is that the fundies believe that everyone should believe what they believe. It's not enough that they have their faith; they have to have their faith and share their faith and spread their faith like Ebola in a halo, and if you aren't wishing them Merry Christmas and governing from their beliefs, you're oppressing them. Christian Democrats, for the most part, have their faith, take comfort in their faith, are willing to share their faith if asked, and are willing to live and let live otherwise. They're not hurting anyone. Why go out of your way to piss them off by taking jabs at their belief system when it's just as easy to shut the hell up?

If you want to go after the fundies, don't do it on the basis of what we have in common; do it on the basis of what's different. Don't attack them for believing in Jesus. Attack them for being such bitches about it. Attack them for attacking others, for trying to impose their beliefs on others, for trying to curtail others' rights on the basis of their own beliefs. Point out that there's a whole contingent of Christians on the left side of the aisle who don't act like schmucks and are, on the whole, happier people for it. Prove that you really do believe in tolerance by being tolerant of those who are tolerant. It's what the Flying Spaghetti Monster would want you to do.

Friday, December 09, 2005

On Friday Not-Quite-Random Ten

Okay, so as you know from the post below, I'm in the process of coming to terms with a major change in my life. Any significant loss is going to result in some nostalgia, some flipping through of old photo albums and remembering of good times. This Friday Ten is dedicated to Jump, Little Children, the band that I loved, to all fans who loved it with me, and to Jump, the band that new fans will continue to love long after Between the Dim and the Dark is irreparably scratched in their CD players. When JLC plays their exclusive concert on my iPod, this is how they'll start:

1. Jump, Little Children, "Come Out Clean"
2. Jump, Little Children, "Close Your Eyes"
3. Jump, Little Children, "Habit"
4. Jump, Little Children, "B-13"
5. Jump, Little Children, "All Those Days are Gone"
6. Jump, Little Children, "Come Around"
7. Jump, Little Children, "Say Goodnight"
8. Jump, Little Children, "Dancing Virginia"
9. Jump, Little Children, "Angel Dust"
10. Jump, Little Children, "Words of Wisdom"

Your Far More Random Ten goes below.

On endings

Okay, so I can get very possessive about my music. When I find a good band, particularly a relative unknown, playing small venues in college towns to crowds of the exact same people every time, cutting garage-band-demo-ish albums on tiny indie labels when they're feeling particularly hot, that band becomes mine, and I love it, and it’s mine, and no one will ever love it the way that I do.

Wednesday night, my first and best birthday present (compliments of big brother, of course) was tickets and companionship to Jump, Little Children's Last Hurrah at WorkPlay in Birmingham. It was significant, because the last time I'd seen them live was two years minus six days before, when I was newly single, broke, and miserable (now, of course, I'm no-longer-newly single, still broke, and considerably less miserable). It was also significant because this is JLC's last tour, after which they'll turn their attention to making babies and living like the grownups they somehow became when I wasn't looking.

When I bought the tickets two years ago, I completely underestimated the extent of the masochism involved in subjecting myself to an entire evening of "our" songs, songs that I shared with my ex, resulting in the one and only time I've ever cried during "Made it Fine." Outside of my own misery, the other thing I noticed was that JLC's fanbase seemed much changed since the release of Vertigo. The tiny space of Eddie's Attic was crammed with equal parts JLC's usual crowd, jeans-and-t-shirt-clad and shouting out names to obscure, unrecorded songs for the band to play; and this new, unfamiliar crowd of teenaged girls, all in Britney Spears-style cabbie caps and Ugg boots and skinny scarves, doing this weird clapping thing during the chorus of "Say Goodnight" that interrupted (and spoiled) a really beautiful and powerful melodic line. I didn't recognize these girls. I wondered where I'd been.

I began to realize that these girls somehow thought that the band was theirs. It was like finding out that your high school sweetheart was cheating on you the first week of college with some sorority bimbo. I love him; I've known him forever. Maybe you like the way he looks in those jeans, but you'll never know him or love him the way that I have, the way that I still do.

This band doesn't belong to you, Cabbie Cap Girls. I am Magazine and Licorice Tea Demos. I’ve shaken my ass to "Opium," fallen in love to "B-13," done I won't even tell you what to "Body Parts." I was there for four-hand guitar, for the Bobshevik Revolution tour ("I remember the day my father said to me, he said, 'Bobshevik, you are a doughnut.' And he was right"), for the Vertigo CD release party. I've seen them in Birmingham, in Athens, in a bar in Greenville that's impossible to find. I love the band, I am the band, they are mine and you can't have them.

In the months after, though, I began to notice more and more changes. JLC's sound was becoming more produced, more polished. They acquired a string section, started calling themselves "Jump," and some chick named Amanda started taking more and more prominence in their shows. The ultimate eye-opener, though, came one rainy night as I was driving through Midtown with the radio on.

They were on 99X.

JLC is not 99X. I’m 99X; I have a wallet card to that effect. But they aren't. They're Jay, brooding and taciturn; Jonny, the third-sexiest man ever to wear a vest and bowler hat, doing wonderful and unnatural things with his stand-up bass; Evan, sweating his ass off behind the drums and making "My Guitar" what it was; Ward, very possibly the first cellist ever to get undergarments thrown at him during a concert; and Matt, making love to his accordion, moistening panties throughout the audience with his beat poetry in spite of (or perhaps because of) his eyeliner and snakeskin pants. They can't be compressed into a mainstream radio station format or described using fewer than seven adjectives and several sound effects.

But that's the band that was mine. Even with the truest of love, people change, people grow. Sometimes they grow apart. If JLC wanted to explore, add new instruments, abandon old favorites in favor of new music styles, who was I to tell them they couldn't? Was it right for me to insist that they stay the same for my sake, when their hearts had obviously gone elsewhere? It's always painful, it always feels like a loss, but if I really loved this band, my band, I had to let them go.

When we got to WorkPlay on Wednesday night, Doug and I didn't stand in the middle to jump up and down to "Come Out Clean." We sat at a table at the edge, where I could see Jonny, Jay and part of Matt and pretend the string section wasn't there. The cabbie cap girls were now wearing peasant skirts and shrugs, their Uggs traded for furry Eskimo boots. I listened to the music, cheered where appropriate, laughed at their banter, closed my eyes during "Cathedrals" and pretended that I was listening to my band, the band that belonged to me. And at the end of the evening, I left the band to their Eskimo boot girls; it's their band now. My band, just five guys and their unlikely assortment of musical instruments, lives forever on my iPod, where I can yell, "15 Stories!" and they play "15 Stories," and if I yell, "Again!" they play it again.

They recorded their final album live at the show that night. When you listen to it, know that mine is the voice cheering the opening chords of "All Those Days Are Gone." And maybe they are. And maybe that's okay.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

On people stupider than I

Okay, so you've asked for it in comments, and I do take requests (unlike a certain band which will remain nameless; when you come out for your encore and I shout "15 Stories," you play "15 Stories," dammit). The best requests, really, are the ones that are easy to satisfy, and Ann Coulter stupidity is always a sure bet.

Her most recent act of near-criminal asshattery occurred at UConn, where she managed to get about 15 minutes of her speech out before being overwhelmed with boos, jeers, and chants of, "You suck! You suck!" "I love to engage in repartee with people who are stupider than I am," Coulter said.

Which explains all those appearances on "Hannity & Colmes."

The problem with getting pissed at Ann for this, though, is that this about par for her deeply stupid course. It's not like she, say, called for a terrorist attack on the New York Times building, or advocated converting and/or killing all Muslims in the Middle East, or even proposed the death penalty for the guys who pied her at the University of Arizona. She's only guilty of making her usual stupid, intolerant, hate-filled rant, and of not recognizing when she's actually one of the "stupider" people in the room.

No, what makes me just laugh and laugh is the reaction by Coulter's flying monkeys, leaping to her defense at the slightest sign that someone might not approve of her message. My favorite one was The Conservative Voice, which declared that "Student Protesters Deny Ann Coulter Free Speech."

Maybe I'm just more sensitive to the whole First Amendment thing because I'm a journalist; it's important to know exactly what my rights are as far as freedom of speech and freedom of the press are concerned. I'm far from a constitutional scholar, but I do know for certain one thing about the aforementioned rights: they cannot be taken away by the government. Except under certain specific circumstances, the government can't keep me from expressing what I want to express.

A bunch of students at UConn aren't the government. They're a bunch of private citizens who think, and rightly so, that Ann Coulter is the most toxic and overexposed (and least talented) of the current crop of conservative commentators, and who shouted her the hell down. Buttercup, if you can't hold your own against a bunch of noisy college students, you're really not the cast-iron bitch that you make yourself out to be. Where's the backbone, honey? When met with opposition, do you seriously have nothing better to say than, "But - but - but - Shut up! You're stupid!"

She did actually say more than just that. She also said, "We're having a question and answer right now with the little crybabies."

Crybabies?! They're stupid, and they're crybabies? This coming from a woman who won't appear in public without her bodyguard for fear of airborne pastry reprisals, who couldn't even finish her speech because the nasty, mean ol' liberals were hurting her fee-fees, and she's throwing around words like crybabies? Christ in a rowboat.

The problem with Ann Coulter is that picking on her just isn't fun anymore. Once upon a time, she could be counted on to say the most venemous things, to incite the most rabid hatred, to spew the most outrageous lies without blinking. Conservatives thought she was the hot blonde who spoke her mind, liberals thought she was the poorly disguised plum-smuggler who said ridiculous, racist, sexist things because she thought it would make boys like her. Parsing her hate-filled, inane columns and speeches was like a magical treasurehunt of stupidity. The worst that could be said about her was that she was low-hanging fruit.

Now she's not any fun. Her schtick is old. Her hateful invective has been overshadowed by that of Pat Robertson, her aimless hysteria has been taken up by Alaskan senator Ted Stevens and "Mean Jean" Schmidt, Michelle Malkin has her for racism and sexism, and her basic lack of logic and poor writing skills can be matched by any conservative writer mocked by Sadly, No! or World O'Crap. She is an '86 IROC Camaro in a land of Shelby GT500s; once the inarguable shit, she is now old, rusted, underpowered, outdated, trashy and begging to be put up on blocks.

This is probably my farewell to Ann Coulter. Girlfriend has jumped the shark. Why UConn was willing to pay her $16,000 to come out and speak, I don't know; they had to have realized that her keg of outrageous and controversial statements was well and truly tapped and that they'd be shelling out for dregs like "stupider" and "crybaby." If she starts getting interesting again, if she goes back on her meds and gets downgraded from "raving loon" to "conservative shrill," I might just revisit her. Until then, I'll just leave her sitting on the floor in her darkened living room, licking a cheeseburger, chain-smoking Parliament menthols, muttering "Stupid crybabies, they'll get theirs" so softly that only her bodyguard can hear.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

On Baton Dude

Okay, so the talk of Saturday's ACC championship, in our row at least, was FSU's male baton twirler. This was because discussing the game itself was too painful (what's up, Virginia Tech? Think you can go into halftime with the score tied 3-3 and then just, whoopsy, not play the rest of the game?).

Let me tell you something about Baton Dude: Baton Dude rocks my ass. I know some jokes were made at his expense, and I know I made some of them. I mean, I'm sorry, if you're going to come out with three batons and light the suckers on fire, don't be surprised when the word "flaming" gets thrown around liberally. But the thing is, dude was twirling flaming batons. That's something that I can't do. He was twirling three of them at once, throwing them up in the air and doing all kinds of acrobatics before he caught them, twirling them around his neck - still on fire, mind you - and managing not to singe himself at all. That's fairly impressive.

And this is a man who has to be rock-solid confident in his sexuality. Now, it's not unlikely that his sexuality is male-oriented, and if it's not by preference, it's by process of elimination; I can't speak for all women, but I personally don't see myself gettin' down with a male baton twirler. I just don't see it. Accuse me of perpetuating gender stereotypes, and I'll cop to it in an instant. I tend to like 'em tall and bulky and covered in some kind of automotive schmutz, rather than lanky and Lycra-clad. But that's just me. There might well be a huge underground market out there of women just gagging to hit it with male baton twirlers, figure skaters, cheerleaders and flag boys. Baton Dude could be elbow-deep in it, for all I know. But I know that to get out on that field, to perform as well as he did in front of 70,000 people who all had the exact same thought in their heads, means that he must have been smuggling juevos of pure titanium in that spangled unitard.

So here's to you, Baton Dude. You rock that flaming baton. And the next time FSU plays Georgia Tech in Atlanta, you shoot me an e-mail; this football fan owes you a Mai Tai.

Monday, December 05, 2005

On how They see Us

Okay, so I've gotten a few suggestions from a few people about how to polish up my post on Democratic values, and I told them to get their own damn blog, if they thought they could do any better. No! That's not what I told them. I told them I'd take their suggestions under advisement and consider reviewing that post later on in the month.

But it did get me to thinking about the ways different people see the Democratic party, and government in general. A relative of mine (who shall remain nameless, because he' s in the kind of profession that discourages political statements made on the Internet) pointed out that when the first Congress was convened, it was made up of guys with actual jobs. They weren't going to waste their time on ridiculously porky legislation or laws determining who could marry whom, because they had a tobacco crop that had to come in before it got moldy and my idiot nephew is minding the till at the store and Mrs. Goodman down the street could go into labor at any minute. Party values were closer to actual societal values because legislators were actual members of society.

So here's the audience participation part: What do you consider to be your own personal values, and what do you consider to be the values of your party? I'd love to hear from Democrats and Republicans. And while you're being so introspective, I'd love to know what you consider to be the values of the opposing party. Are you a Republican who really thinks that Dems value the right to marry sheep? Let me know.

Unrelated sidenote: On the off chance that they manage to stumble across this blog, much thanks go out to I HOKIE for turning around and pulling over when you saw we were in trouble. That was a mighty decent thing to do, and it's nice to see that there are still people who look out for other people. Those are some values right there.

Friday, December 02, 2005

On what it means to be a Democrat - the rest of the story

Okay, so yesterday, we looked at Me-Too marketing and the way that the Democratic party will never get any respect or recognition unless it can define some values of its own, rather than trying to compete with the Republicans. Today, we’re going to look at Democratic values and figure out how to sell them to the American people.

Again, people, not dirty. Gutter brains. Another common advertising saying is that people don’t want a 1/8-inch drill bit; they want a 1/8-inch hole. People don’t care so much about the details and features of a product as long as it performs the way they want it to. By that logic, Americans don’t want national security; they want a secure nation. So to differentiate ourselves from the Republican party and create our own, marketable identity, Democrats have to figure out what we want for the country and how it differs from what Republicans want.

In theory, we all want the same thing: a safe country and healthy families. That’s why politics is so damned complicated; as Laura Bush said on an episode of the short-lived That’s My Bush!, “Maybe you can’t unite pro-life and pro-choice activists, because in a way, they’re both right.” The difference really comes in what we don’t want for the country, or more accurately, how we define a safe country and healthy families.

Republicans want a happy and sparkly society on their terms. Those terms usually involve (and I certainly don’t mean to generalize for all Republicans here, but at least for those in the current administration) traditional, two-parents nuclear families; a powerful government that is feared throughout the world; a Christian foundation in all aspects of society; and an unrealistic standard of individual wealth. The Democrats have more malleable terms, ideally centering around the concept that your way might not be the same as my way, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not equally valid: strong families of a variety of permutations; a government that is respected throughout the world; a good foundation for society based on whatever moral code you support; and a standard of wealth sufficient for everyone to live comfortably.

At this point, I am going to have to refer back to something I pointed out yesterday: conservatives, particularly conservative Christians, see the Democratic party as intolerant of traditional values and feel that they’re being persecuted. Whether this is true or not doesn’t matter. What matters is that there is the perception of persecution, and since perception really is reality in the end, we do have to make it very clear that one of the value structures we support is that of the traditional Christian worldview.

So how do we sell these holes to the American people? How do we take all of this information and boil it down from John Kerry to a less verbose, say, Harry Reid? How can we take our values, not just generic good-for--the-country values but specifically ours, and refine them into a bullet point that your average Kroger customer will embrace?

Democrats want strong families of a variety of permutations, whether they’re two-parent, single-parent, same-sex-parent, Christian, Muslim, pagan, take your pick. Strong families need societal support and a healthy environment. We want every child to have a safe and healthy environment in which to grow, and we want every parents to have the resources and opportunities to raise their children within their values.

Democrats want a government that’s respected throughout the world; fear only protects you as long as you’re powerful, but respect protects you all the time. We want a strong country that’s respected as a leader throughout the world, gaining the unconditional support of our allies and inspiring other nations to responsible government.

Democrats want a good foundation for society based on whatever moral code you support. Cooperative society is based on the idea that people don’t infringe on each others’ rights; my right to swing my fist ends at the tip of your nose, and so on. We want a society where people can live their lives and practice their beliefs without interference from the government or each other.

Democrats want a standard of wealth sufficient for everyone to live comfortably. It’s not realistic to expect everyone to be Bill Gates, but it’s also not right that responsible, hard-working people still aren’t always able to make ends meet. We want a country where hard-working people take home enough money to reap the benefits of their hard work, and where no one has to choose between family and financial solvency.

Those are all really, really good things. Now we have four sentences that can fit easily in the space between the lobby and the tenth floor. But what if you’re only going to the sixth? Even Harry Reid won’t do; we need Nancy Pelosi. Those five sentences are going to have to be refined into a few quick, memorable core values.


1. A healthy environment
2. A fair, effective educational system
3. A respectable, responsible government
4. Personal freedom
5. A strong economic foundation

It’s as simple as that.


I don’t actually put a lot of bumper stickers on my car. I like the look of it without. I have been known, from time to time, to stick one on a magnet that can be applied and removed without threatening the paint finish. But not every message has to go on a bumper sticker. It could go on a sign, a flyer, a banner, a t-shirt, an unusually large button. But regardless of the medium, the message has to be strong and quick and memorable. Goodbye, Nancy Pelosi; hello, Howard “Wildman” Dean.

My strength is copy, whether editorial or advertising; headlines and taglines tend to be more of a collaborative effort. But if I had to come up with a quick slogan that Howard Dean could bark in a hypercaffeinated state of ecstasy across a crowded convention hall, it might be something like this.

Strength, security, freedom. For all Americans.

Does it suck? Of course it does. I pulled it out of my butt between trips to the coffee maker. But the point is that it’s brief, it’s memorable, and it embodies the goals and ideals of the Democratic party. If you saw that on a bumper sticker, you wouldn’t expect it to be sitting next to a W sticker, and if someone said that to you, you’d be likely to agree with them. Most importantly, if a candidate told you that’s what he stands for, you’d be likely to vote for him.

Am I an advertising professional? I am not. There are plenty of people out there who have far more experience and far better ideas than I. Some of them, God willing, are employed by the Democratic party. But the fact is, they really aren’t doing the greatest job right now of getting out a simple, cohesive message. Until they do, until there’s an official party line that everyone can get behind and chant at political rallies and print on t-shirts, there’s this. Not great, but good enough.

Hey, there’s something for the Republicans now, too! A rallying cry for the 2006 midterm elections. I am such a political advisor, y’all, seriously.

Vote Republican 2006: Not great, but good enough.

I should totally get paid for this.

On Friday almost-Random Ten

Okay, so it's going to be a mad, mad, mad, mad weekend as I bust it down to Jacksonville for the ACC championships. I'm going to be rooting for the Hokies, which is a completely new experience for me and has required the purchase of a new football-watching wardrobe. I suppose I've gotten a bit spoiled, following a team with such universally flattering colors; red and black will never go out of style, while maroon and orange are quite the challenge to accessorize. On the off chance that ABC turns its cameras on the nosebleed section, I'l be the girl in the brick red (not maroon) hoodie and orange scarf, the only one not gobbling.

Incidentally, kickoff for the ACC game is at 8pm, a mere two hours after the start of the SEC game (and you know that if I could possibly afford tickets to that game, I wouldn't dream of leaving town on such a hallowed weekend; I'd probably be camped out by Gate B of the Georgia Dome, blogging from my cell phone and waiting for the fun to start). That inconvenient timing means that someone is going to have to text message me second-half highlights from the SEC game as they happen. You know who I'm talking to.

Here's a sample of what I'll be listening to on the drive down, taken from my Road Trip playlist:

1. Queen, "Fat Bottomed Girls"
2. The Beatles, "All You Need Is Love"
3. The Rolling Stones, "Paint It, Black"
4. U2, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"
5. Guster, "Mona Lisa"
6. U2, "With Or Without You"
7. Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Scar Tissue"
8. Guster, "Great Escape"
9. U2, "Sunday Bloody Sunday"
10. Jack Johnson, "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing"

Yours go in comments below.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

On what it means to be a Democrat

Okay, so one of the biggest complaints I hear about the Democratic party - and this comes from righties and lefties alike - is that no one really knows what we’re about. The right has it down. They know their values, they know their platforms, and they can recite it all from memory if they can pin you down long enough at a cocktail party. The left has values, I promise, but no one in any position of authority has made the effort to really boil it all down to a few memorable bullet points that can pulled out in answer to the question, "Well, what do Democrats believe in?"

One piece of common advice for job seekers is to have an elevator resume. That’s just a basic rundown of your skills, talents and strong points that can be thrown out in the space of a thirty-second elevator ride. The GOP has it down; ask in the lobby what the Republican party stands for, and by the eighth floor you’ll know that they’re all about national security, entrepreneurship, strengthening our communities and protecting our families. They might not know how the GOP intends to do it, beyond Staying The Course and Fighting For Traditional Marriage, but by God do they know their talking points.

The DNC has talking points, too. Per the 2004 party platform [pdf], we’re all about “a strong, respected America,” “a strong, growing economy,” “strong, healthy families,” and “a strong American community.” These are all good things. So why don’t we ever hear them? Why can Republicans stand up and speak loudly and claim to be the party of national security and family values, when the Democrats support the same thing?


Seriously, that’s all it is. It’s not that we don’t know what we stand for; we all do. And it’s not that the party doesn’t have it organized into the same memorable talking points that the Republicans have; it’s right there on the web site. The difference is that the GOP puts a ridiculous amount of effort into making sure that Republicans are able to spew their official party values in their sleep, while the Democratic Party send John Kerry to blather pedantically for half an hour, bore his audience into a coma and never really land solidly on any of the points he was supposed to make (John, love you, voted for you, but please get a speech coach. We’re thinking clear and succinct, poodle).

One of the challenges with bullet-point-ifying the Democratic party platform is that ours is a party that recognizes (dare I say it) nuances, whereas the GOP is all about black and white. That makes it really, really easy for them. Their goal is to protect our country, so dammit, they’re going to do it at any cost; the Democrats want to protect our country while respecting the rights of our people and the sovereignty of our allies, and that just doesn’t fit as well on a bumper sticker. A reasonable, moderate position takes a lot longer to explain, and that’s why it’s important to boil it down to the most important points.

I won’t pretend to be a marketing or advertising professional. I was an advertising major in college, which I’ll freely admit is a completely different thing; I have little to no real-world advertising experience outside of a couple of low-visibility internships. But even in your basic 3000-level message strategy courses, you learn a lot about reaching people and communicating your message effectively. And since this is my blog, and I can do what I damn well want to, I’m going to take the opportunity to throw down my amateur advertising genius, after which I’ll begin to identify myself as a consultant for the DNC.


Who was it who came up with the idea of a USP? I don’t remember; it’s in my class notes. Every product or service needs to have a unique selling proposition, something that they can claim in their ads that no one else can (or, at least, has). If Colgate whitens with baking soda, then Crest had better whiten while you sleep, or else they have no reason to advertise. If your competitor says, “Our brand burns fat in the shower!” and you follow up with, “Ooh, we do, too! We burn fat in the shower,” then you’re not going to get a lot of work out of your ad campaign.

The GOP has done an awesome job of establishing themselves as the party of national security and family values. We simply can’t jump on that bandwagon, because they got there first. Our only options are to find our own political niche and/or to attack and disprove the GOP’s claims, at which point we can take their place.

Me-Too national security

The GOP says they’re all for keeping the country safe. That’s arguable; if you’re identifying “the country” as the land between the coast of Maine and the coast of California, plus the two little boxes at the bottom of the map, I’ll admit that none of the land or buildings in the US have blown up due to terrorist attack since September 11. But if you identify “the country” as the people who live in it, contribute to its success and depend on it for protection, then I’d say it’s doing a fairly crappy job; sending Americans over to Iraq to fight an ill-conceived, poorly planned war is a lousy way of keeping them safe, as is trying to take away the rights of the people at home.

The Democratic party, on the other hand, says they stand for a strong, respected America. On the surface, it sounds like a great idea; keep America strong so it’s able to defend itself, and try to develop allies instead of enemies so it doesn’t have to. So why isn’t this immediately identifiable with the party? Well, for one, because it takes them thirteen freaking pages in the platform to lay it all out. But also because their strategies for reaching that goal are all Me-Too: Defeat terrorism. Promote diplomacy, peace, and security. Strengthen our military. Achieve energy independence. Strengthen homeland security. Any Republican will tell you that that’s what the administration is doing right now (they’d be deluded, but it’s what they’d tell you).

If we want people to believe that the Democrats are better at defeating terrorism, we need a better plan to do that. We need to show the country that we recognize the real challenges of the war in Iraq. Defeat terrorism? What the hell is that? “Terrorism” is a noun. It isn’t even a concrete noun; it’s abstract. It’s like trying to defeat loneliness or obesity. The Democratic party needs to be the one that will defeat the terrorists and keep new ones from cropping up. That’s the difference; Bush’s strategy is to blow up one terrorist and watch three pop up in his wake. One of our Not-Me strategies for national security has to be defeating the terrorists and stopping the spread of terrorism.

From that point, we can move on to diplomacy, because that’s really the only way to minimize the spread of terrorism. The Bush administration likes to characterize these people as evil and crazy, and there are some of them out there. The fact is, though, the majority of today’s “insurgents” are regular people who are pissed off in an environment that offers them no support, no guidance and no alternative to violence. Desperate people reach out for any support system they can find, and what they find is al-Qaeda standing like crows on a powerline, looking for vulnerable people to exploit. People who feel safe and who feel like they have a realistic opportunity to contribute to their own governance and security don’t blow themselves up in hotel lobbies. Training an army and a police force in Iraq is only a tiny, tiny part of it; empower the Iraqis to govern themselves and give them a sense of security, and the real terrorists will starve. An al-Qaeda operative standing alone is a lot easier to take out than one surrounded by Iraqis who may or may not be insurgents. But self-governance doesn’t mean inserting our own America-friendly politicians or electing a slate of the same guys who were intimidating and overpowering the people before; the people have to be able to trust the people governing them. That’s why another Not-Me strategy should be empowering the Iraqis to govern themselves and take their own stand against terrorism.

Obviously, homeland security is a big issue. The Republicans have grabbed ahold of it and tried to convince us that the only way to keep us safe is to keep us in individual Redi-Kennels with 24-hour closed-circuit monitoring. I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t feel awfully secure that way. Before the government wants to legislate itself the right to spy on its own people, it needs to organize its own intelligence community and find out what information is has already. The Department of Homeland Security was supposed to oversee the various government agencies responsible for our safety and coordinate their efforts; instead, it’s become a day care center where safety officials come and play dress-up and put on puppet shows but never actually cooperate. If your goal is a country that is strong and respected, it has to have people who feel safe and have respect for their government. So another Not-Me strategy has to be organizing intelligence efforts while respecting the rights of Americans.

Me-Too family values

This one is huuuuge for today’s uber-conservatives. They are all about family values, as long as we’re talking about traditional, upper-middle-class, Christian families. Take a step back to, say, a single mother, or a married couple not interested in having kids, or two working parents, and you’re on shaky ground. Another step back into gay-man’s land and you can forget about it.

One thing that I’ve always loved about the Democratic party is that it supports values for all families. Democrats recognize that not everyone lives in the Leave-It-To-Beaver-esque new-cue-lar family, that it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to do so, and that people living in “nontraditional” families have the same needs and values as everyone else. To most liberals, a couple raising kids is a couple raising kids, and the success of the family requires the same support whether the couple is gay or straight. Families need health care and education and a safe place to grow, and that doesn’t change with the number of children or the demographics of the parents.

The Democrats have room for improvement, though, when it comes to tolerance. The joke is that “I absolutely cannot tolerate intolerance,” and Dems have been accused of being intolerant of Hypertraditionalist-Americans who want to impose their ultraconservative values on the counry. I guess there might be something to that; I claim to be tolerant, but if you’re going to try and discriminate against a group of people who have exactly the same rights that you do, I won’t tolerate it. Regardless, the issue isn’t whether or not the Dems are intolerant, but whether or not there is a perception of intolerance. And since there kind of is, we need to make it perfectly clear that we support all families, from the white, Christian suburbanites with Dad, stay-at-home Mom and three little kiddles to the black, Wiccan cityfolk with two working parents. So you could say our Not-Me strategy might be meeting the needs of all families to help them grow strong.

Interestingly enough, Democrats have it easy here, in terms of avoiding Me-Too strategies. The Republicans don’t even see these things as necessary to strong family life. If Democrats want to stand up for families by reforming health care, improving education, and protecting our environment, they can go ahead.

We do have to be careful, though, not to let Republicans claim the mantle of Party of Family Values simply by defining family values in their own favor. They take a more ideological tack, concentrating promoting healthy marriages and responsible fatherhood, promoting healthy choices (including abstinence), protecting the educational rights of parents and students, and promoting a culture of life. Beyond the obvious fact that, as with national security, the Republican party has done a dead lousy job of actually supporting these values, they do sound like really good things. So how do we defend the Democratic party against Republicans who claim those values for themselves?

We make our own. A strong, successful party can’t define itself in terms of other parties; it has to have its own definition. And, as I mentioned before, we’ve got it all over the Republicans in terms of their very own values. You want to promote healthy marriages and responsible fatherhood? Great. Why not make it easier for families to spend quality time together by giving workers a living wage and guaranteeing health care, so that mothers and fathers don’t have to spend all of their time at work to support the family? Why not make birth control and sex education easy and accessible so that couples - married or unmarried - don’t become parents before they’re ready to accept that responsibility? Democrats are certainly in favor of giving parents the tools they need to raise healthy families.

What if you want to promote healthy life choices, including abstinence, and protect educational rights? You don’t do that by watering down a child’s education in order to avoid offending people, or by teaching a restrictive curriculum that gives them the answers to test questions but not to life challenges. Why not give students all of the information they need so they can make healthy life choices? Why not teach them science that’s backed up by scientists, and protect their parents’ rights to give them religious training at home? Why not make sure that all children have access to well-funded public schools, rather than yanking funding out to send them to expensive private schools? It could be argued that we’re all about guaranteeing children an education that will help them face the demands of adult life, and guaranteeing parents the right to teach their own children their own values.

How about a culture of life? Life is precious. So precious, in fact, that it shouldn’t be used to punish a teenager for having premarital sex, or to punish a woman for being stupid enough to get herself raped, or to punish a couple for conceiving an anencephalic baby. All life is precious, including the life of the mother. Life is so precious, in fact, that we should be working hard to make sure that every baby is conceived on purpose, that no woman (or couple) is surprised by a pregnancy that she didn’t expect and can’t support, and that women and men have the knowledge and access to the tools necessary to protect themselves. Democrats believe in respecting all life and guaranteeing that every child is wanted and loved.

What’s next

This is all well and good, but it’s still not an elevator resume. This still requires a lot of talking to explain some fairly basic values. Tomorrow, we’ll look at more advertising message strategy with Selling the Hole (oh, stop that, it’s not dirty), we’ll boil it down to a few core values that Democrats support, and then we’ll look at ways to fit the entire damn thing onto a bumper sticker. Stay tuned.