Wednesday, May 30, 2007

On the protracted court battle that would not die

Okay, so reader Jen kindly hooks us up with this little bit of news from Atlanta:
Gwinnett Superior Court Judge Ronnie Batchelor on Tuesday rejected a mother's plea to have the Harry Potter books removed from county school libraries.

Laura Mallory of Loganville lost her argument for judicial relief.

Mallory argues the "Potter" stories are harmful and promote witchcraft and the occult to young people. Supporters of the "Potter" books say they encourage children to read and should be available to all students.

She argued her position for about an hour Tuesday before Batchelor made his ruling.

"I've done the best I can with all of this," Mallory said after the hearing.

This woman has been through her kids' school, her kids' school's appeals committee, the county Board of Education, and the state Board of Education. With this final loss, she has conceded that no one has actually forced her or her children to read the books in question and that perhaps her crusade to parent everyone else's kids by ridding the world of Harry Potter has been a bit of an overreach on her part.

No, I'm totally kidding. She's considering filing a federal lawsuit.

Incidentally, how did I miss the fact that, back in October, she was blaming Harry Potter for the rash of school shootings (which wouldn't have happened if the kids had been reading the Bible instead, she claims)? They were all straight out of Harry Potter and the Crazed Assault, in which he takes over the Gryffindor common room, lines the girls up, and does the Cruciatus Curse before turning his wand on himself.

In a world as confusing and troubling as ours so frequently is, it's nice to know that some people still have their priorities firmly in order.

On the fundie-mentals of reading: an update
On the fundie-mentals of reading
On Laura Mallory: This Is Your Soundtrack
On offending me with your mere existence
On the reintroduction of rational thought
On not leaving well enough afreakinglone

Friday, May 25, 2007

On Friday Random Ten

Okay, so does anybody hate CSI: Miami like I hate CSI: Miami? Which is to say turn it on every single Monday, watch it, and say, repeatedly, "I hate this show. Why do I watch this show?"

It's David freaking Caruso. It's also the incredible amounts of cleavage displayed by women who, with their jobs that involve crawling around on the floor and bending over dead bodies and crouching over microscopes and whatnot, might normally be inclined to tuck those puppies away lest they make a run for it, but mostly, it's David freaking Caruso. Why do I so dislike David freaking Caruso?

We'll let s.z. tell you, because she doesn't like him any more than I do:
We hate the way he talks — both the way David Caruso reads a line, and the stupid lines they give him to read. For instance, one his team will say something obvious like, “Hey, a dead body!” And EVERY TIME Horatio will reply with something portentous and pompous, like “Not dead … murdered. And it’s our job to catch murderers.” He’ll say it like everybody should be thanking him for pointing this out, because they’re, like, such idiots that without him they would have thought their job was to wear designer clothes and look hot. Oh, wait, that IS their job.

And then crime scene investigator Horatio will single-handedly wrestle a gang of murderous rappers to the ground, and will later later show up at their execution so he can quip something like, “You thought it was cool to hook kids on crack. Let’s see how cool you are in the electric chair, my friend.”

And then he will promise some cute little kid that he, Horatio Caine, will make sure that the kid never gets scared by anything ever again in his life. And then he will be sadly misunderstood by the Italian supermodel/cop who is the widow of his junkie brother, and spend the last five minutes of the program brooding about how life is, like, so unfair.

Yeah, that pretty much covers it. And that's why I was so unspeakably chuffed at the link to the following video, a compilation of David Caruso’s Greatest Sunglasses Putting On Moments from CSI: Miami.

"Or maybe..." (sunglasses) "... he was taken for a ride."


The Ten:

1. Sarah Vaughan, "Polka Dots and Moonbeams"
2. The Beatles, "She Loves You"
3. Alana Davis, "Blame It On Me"
4. Bee Gees, "Staying Alive"
5. Train, "Drops of Jupiter"
6. Athenaeum, "So Long"
7. A Tribe Called Quest, "Phony Rappers"
8. The Dandy Warhols, "Bohemian Like You"
9. Sir Mix-A-Lot, "Baby Got Back"
10. Jump, Little Children, "House Our Father Knew"

Incidentally, my woeful poverty is keeping me in town over the holiday, which isn't entirely bad. While a large body of water would be appreciated, it's nice to avoid the hassle of holiday travel. A few of us are getting together for a brunch at the park on Monday before it gets really hot out, but we're kind of stuck for portable brunch-y options. If all you've got are croissants and Bloody Marys, does it count as a picnic?

Your Ten, your weekend plans, and your brunch suggestions go in comments.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

On the kind of power that doesn't come from a radioactive spider

Oh, fine, have at it. We know you're going to anyway.

Okay, so like many a Marvel superhero, President Bush has an amazing talent for acquiring new powers:
President Bush has signed a directive granting extraordinary powers to the office of the president in the event of a declared national emergency, apparently without congressional approval or oversight.

…The directive establishes under the office of the president a new national continuity coordinator whose job is to make plans for “National Essential Functions” of all federal, state, local, territorial and tribal governments, as well as private sector organizations to continue functioning under the president’s directives in the event of a national emergency.

“Catastrophic emergency” is loosely defined as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.”

Basically, the directive establishes an office under the direct authority of the president to oversee the running of the government following a catastrophic emergency. What is a catastrophic emergency? Whatever the president says it is. When is the catastrophic emergency over, and the localized government allowed to regain authority in their area? When the president says it is.

Bush has established this new office, that of "national continuity coordinator," without approval or oversight of Congress, apparently superseding the National Emergency Act, which would require just that.

According to the directive, the job of the national continuity coordinator would be to insert "continuity requirements" into the day-to-day business of all executive departments and branches to ensure the continued functioning of all branches of the federal government and all forms of localized government. If the "catastrophic emergency" comes in the form of a terroristic threat, national security requirements mean that no warning or evidence of the threat has to be provided; the "national continuity coordinator" would just get to take over.

Even in the case of legitimate emergencies, I don't want President Bush unilaterally assigning someone to be in charge; I doubt anyone has forgotten Heckuvajob Brownie (and successor Ellen Sauerbrey). But that, disturbingly enough, pales in comparison to the fact that the president has the power to declare, without providing justification, a state of emergency and assume unchecked unitary executive authority over all functions of government until he decides to give it up again.

Now, I'm by no means surprised at this development. This is, after all, the man who has declared that he has the right to tap your phone and search your computer without legal oversight. Hell, it's the man who has taken for himself the power to declare any American citizen a legal combatant and detain them indefinitely. If anyone is surprised about this, they haven't been paying attention.

And as always in these situations, I have to wonder: Is that the kind of power that the neocons want to see in the hands of, for instance, President Obama? Or (gasp) President Clinton?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

On regrets (I've had a few)

Okay, so in light of yesterday's post on the origins of misogyny back in the day and the continuing justifications for misogyny now, I was amused to find this post by mcjoan at Daily Kos:
The New York Times chronicles the Right's ongoing, and succeeding, effort to not only curtail women when it comes to what we decide to do about our bodies, but to question our very ability to think for ourselves about life-altering decisions. And the Supreme Court goes merrily along with it:
[L]last month’s Supreme Court decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act marked a milestone for a different argument advanced by anti-abortion leaders, one they are increasingly making in state legislatures around the country. They say that abortion, as a rule, is not in the best interest of the woman; that women are often misled or ill-informed about its risks to their own physical or emotional health; and that the interests of the pregnant woman and the fetus are, in fact, the same....

All sides agree that the debate reached a new level of significance when Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing the majority opinion in the Supreme Court case last month, approvingly cited a friend-of-the court brief filed by the Justice Foundation.... In its friend-of-the-court brief, the group submitted statements from 180 of those women who said that abortion had left them depressed, distraught, in emotional turmoil. "Thirty-three years of real life experiences," the foundation said, "attests that abortion hurts women and endangers their physical, emotional and psychological health."...

"While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained," Justice Kennedy wrote, alluding to the brief. "Severe depression and loss of esteem can follow."

Given those stakes, the justice argued, "The state has an interest in ensuring so grave a choice is well informed."

This, despite that a real research institute, the Guttmacher Institute, has conducted a real review of the studies done over the past 30 years and concluded that legal abortion posed no danger the physical or emotional health of women. That's real statistics, however, real research. We can't expect that, nor the fact that the millions of women who have had legal abortions in the last 30 years are heatlhy, functioning, productive member of society who make critical decisions on a daily basis.

She goes on to suggest that, if it's really in the best interest of the government to save us poor, emotional, illogical women from reproductive choices we may later regret, what other choices should they save us from?

She and Scott Lemieux have a few suggestions:
- Women who get married and later regret it
- Women who have babies and then suffer post-partum depression or psychosis (Scott wonders if this justifies state-mandated abortions)
- Women who think it through, decide to get pregnant, and then lose their jobs because of it, like the ones who worked for Bush's domestic policy czar
- Women who really wish they hadn't voted GOP

I could add:
- Women who bought an SUV back when they needed the cargo room but now really regret it since gas prices have gone up
- Women who got a lower-back tattoo and now feel embarrassed since Britney Spears got one
- Britney Spears
- Women who got a perm because Halle Berry looked so cute with curly hair but now have to face photographic proof of their foolishness every time they open up their high school yearbook (not me)
- Women who bought the first season of Veronica Mars one episode at a time on iTunes and are now regretting it because, since the show's been cancelled, they're bound to put out a special-edition box set any day now
- Women who left college to have babies but, since their husband walked out, are having trouble finding work and now wish they'd finished their degree first
- Women who want to get their tubes tied but can't because the doctor thinks they're too young, and then find themselves pregnant, and then regret not popping the doctor in the nose and finding a new one

Now it's your turn! What legislation should Congress consider for the next session that'll take the burden of decision-making off of us poor, overburdened, emotionally fragile women? Come on, people, be a pal! Save me from myself!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

On "womb envy" and way more than you ever wanted to know about my reproductive health

Okay, so there's an interesting discussion over at Pandagon right now. It started with a rant (he calls it a rant; I think it's entirely coherent) by Joss Whedon* at Whedonesque about the stoning death of Dua Khalil in Iraq and theories on the origins of misogyny (a rant which you should read, because it's really moving). He boils a lot of it down to "womb envy," which led to an enthusiastic discussion of the concept in comments.

The discussion goes kind of like this:
Some commenter without a uterus: I can buy that. Being able to bear children is a pretty awesome trick.
Other commenter with a uterus: You've got to be kidding. You should try it sometime.
SCWaU: Well, that's the point. I can't. But it would be cool if I could.
OCWaU: You should try dragging one of these things around.
SCWaU: Hey, I'd love to try! That's kind of a source of power, if you think about it.
OCWaU: Right, 'cause I feel soooo powerful every month as I bleed profusely from my...

And so on.

And while I kind of make light of the debate here, I actually think it's an important one, because to me, it underlines one of the most important points of the "womb envy" concept: men just don't know. They envy because they just don't know.

Sure, medical science has helped us understand the process of gestation and childbirth. We know the anatomy of it. Children know where babies are made, and then we can look at 4-D ultrasounds to see a fetus in the womb and watch TLC to see a baby coming out of the womb. But to know what it's like to actually have the necessary reproductive equipment and to deal with the day-to-day hassles and maintenance, you really have to experience it directly.

For the record? Women's reproductive capabilities? Not so magical. I've never been pregnant myself, but just maintaining my girly bits in a condition such that I can one day be pregnant is a hassle and a half. Skip to the next graf to avoid TMI and Teh Gross, because there are menstrual cramps, which feel like the equivalent (and I've determined this through extended and frank discussion with my male acquaintances) of getting kicked in the nuts ever half-hour or so for an entire day. There are all manner of substances coming out of said region, of different consistencies and colors and smells and serving different biological purposes. I can generally predict, to the day, when, during the month, I will be a) bitchy and short-tempered and b) inconsolably weepy for no reason but cannot control these reactions. There are times when I will crave salty food like nobody's business but not be able to eat it because I will promptly begin retaining, and this is no exaggeration, as much as five pounds of fluid. Some months, I sweat a lot, and I haven't been able to figure out why. And all of that is just the basic monthly maintenance of the reproductive system. Actually make a baby in there, and you're looking forward to nausea, back pain, fluid retention, weight gain, swollen feet, new body hair, changes in complexion, mood swings, food cravings, breast tenderness, and, of course, labor, after which point your body never completely returns to its former state. It's magical!

And a lot of guys know about all of these things, but they don't really know them. I think some of the guys I know think, when I’ve got PMS, that I’m taking liberties and allowing myself to be snappish and coddle myself as a luxury, because it can’t be that bad, right?

Seriously, guys, it's that bad.

I don't want to pretend that the ability to produce a complete and unique human being from nothing more than a couple of gametes isn't impressive; it is. It's also vital to the survival of the species. It's something that you have to be a woman to do. And I have it on authority from friends who have been pregnant that when you really want a baby, all of the hassle and discomfort is negligible in comparison to the wonders of the reproductive process and the little person you get as a result. Pretty cool.

The capacity to produce entire human beings from our naughty bits is pretty awesome; it's just not simple or easy. And that's something you really have to be a woman to understand, and that's where "womb envy" comes into play. Humans have a natural reaction to things we don't understand: We romanticize, and we fear. Organized religion has its base in all of the things that people haven't understood, things that they've romanticized into a supreme being for them to fear. A woman's role in reproduction, being something that men can't entirely understand, is romanticized into a magical power, and it's also feared, because that power really does have the capacity to end humanity. See previous discussions of Children of Men.

The response has been, throughout time, to marginalize and subjugate women to keep them from exercising this (supposedly) awesome and threatening power. Restrict their freedom of movement. Limit their rights. Convince them, all biological evidence to the contrary, that they are weak and frail and fragile and incapable of [insert activity here]. Dress them up in pointy, high-heeled shoes (or bind their feet) and long, tight skirts (or acres and acres of fabric) to physically hobble them.

Then load them down with catch-22s. They have to be sexually attractive but not superficial. They have to be sexually available but also pure and virginal. They have to be earth mothers raising children and keeping a perfect house, but they also have to be self-sufficient, or else they're just sponging off of their husbands. Convince women that nothing they ever do is right, and they'll spend all of their time making up for it, and not conspiring to weild their magical uterus power against the menfolk.

Commenter Nadai makes a really interesting point:
I think of women’s social position as being akin to that of a person being extorted. An extortionist has to walk a careful line - make the price too low, and you’ve lost money you could have got, but make the price too high, and the victim won’t pay. What counts as “too high” depends on what the extortionist has on the victim. I wouldn’t pay a dime to avoid having it revealed that I once littered, but I’d pay a great deal to keep secret that I murdered my husband for $2 million in insurance.

What patriarchy does is raise the stakes on both sides. It defines the “crimes” of women as being extraordinarily bad, bad enough to be worth paying the maximum. Then it demands payment over and over, every day, in terms of our behavior, our thoughts, our allegiances. Of course we pay. How could we not?

And like with most victims of extortion, there’s no way to end it, no way to get back the incriminating recording or the gun with our fingerprints on it, because the crime we’ve committed is being female, and we’ll keep on committing it every day of our lives.

And the scary thing is that the misogynistic thought processes that originiated with the beginning of recorded history still persist today. Patriarchy has become so ingrained and self-sustaining that some people deny it exists at all, and yet we still have a gender wage gap (Women are just going to go off and get pregnant anyway!) and debates about women in combat (They can't carry the weight! They're too emotional! Men will be distracted!) and restrictions on reproductive rights (Women are too emotional to make these decisions! They might regret it later! Make the sluts have the babies!) and disparities in health care (and I can't even come up with a rationalization for that one). Otherwise (reasonably) intelligent people still manage to believe that women are inherently weaker in science or that men are inherently better leaders.

The question is, since we've been pounded literally since the dawn of civilization that women are these others, that we're inherently different and weaker and that any rights we have must be gradually meted out to us by male gatekeepers and caretakers, how do we move past that? What will do the job? Reruns of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? More stay-at-home dads? An experimental, gender-integrated combat unit in the Army? Give Amy Wynn Pastor her own TV show? Extensive therapy for certain nauseatingly paternalistic Supreme Court justices? I'm open to any and all suggestions.

How do we change the mind of a man who watches a woman push an eight-pound human being through her vagina and thinks, "Yeah, totally the weaker sex"?

*Debate also raged as to whether or not Joss Whedon is actually a feminist at all. I tend to think he is, but YMMV. Discuss at will.

Monday, May 21, 2007

On things conspicuously unmentioned

Okay, so some bloggers have pointed out that, Saturday being Armed Forces Day and all, it was somewhat unusual for President Bush to devote his weekly radio address to... immigration. Not a single mention of the troops.

I can hazard a guess as to why he might not want to draw attention to that particular group of people.

- Saturday, seven American soldiers and a translator were killed in a bombing in Baghdad, bringing to 3,422 the death toll for American troops in Iraq (3,404 confirmed by the DoD).

- Bush threw a tantrum a week ago and promised to veto troop funding - again - because Congress, though they compromised mightily, still refused to write him a blank check for the war in Iraq.

- The DoD has gone back on their promise to give troops 12 full months at home with their families between deployments.

- Bush decided Wednesday that the one thing the troops really don't need is more money or benefits, because they're "unnecessary" (cost of requested pay raise that Bush wants to veto? Six dollars per soldier per month).

So, yeah, soft-pedaling the "support the troops" angle, not a bad idea.

He could probably take some tips from a bunch of eighth graders in New Jersey.

(H/T Blue Gal)

Friday, May 18, 2007

On Sam Brownback: This Is Your Soundtrack

Okay, so it's one thing to be anti-abortion. It's another thing to be so anti-abortion that you oppose it even in the case of rape or incest.

It's another thing entirely to be a man who thinks he has a uterus.

Sam Brownback starts to forget his 8th grade biology lessons at 0:42

But we need to remember that, even if Sam Brownback doesn't actually have a uterus, he has every right to have a baby.

STAN: I want to be a woman. From now on, I want you all to call me 'Loretta'.
REG: What?!
LORETTA: It's my right as a man.
JUDITH: Well, why do you want to be Loretta, Stan?
LORETTA: I want to have babies.
REG: You want to have babies?!
LORETTA: It's every man's right to have babies if he wants them.
REG: But... you can't have babies.
LORETTA: Don't you oppress me.
REG: I'm not oppressing you, Stan. You haven't got a womb! Where's the foetus going to gestate?! You going to keep it in a box?!
LORETTA: [crying]
JUDITH: Here! I-- I've got an idea. Suppose you agree that he can't actually have babies, not having a womb, which is nobody's fault, not even the Romans', but that he can have the right to have babies.
FRANCIS: Good idea, Judith. We shall fight the oppressors for your right to have babies, brother. Sister. Sorry.

The Ten:

1. Under the Influence, "Mama's Room"
2. Dixie Chicks, "Baby Hold On"
3. Dinah Washington, "Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby?"
4. Big Mountain, "Baby, I Love Your Way"
5. Bon Jovi, "It's My Life"
6. Smash Mouth, "Can't Get Enough of You Baby"
7. Madison Avenue, "Don't Call Me Baby"
8. Athenaeum, "If Baby's Gone"
9. Cat Stevens, "There Goes My Baby"
10. Fatboy Slim, "Right Here, Right Now"

On taking that damn gold star back

Okay, so I was so excited.

I was so excited.

I was so excited about the prospect of a day where I got to give President Bush props for something he did right and leave it at that.

I even considered not mentioning this, holding onto it until Monday, just to bask in the glow of our president not screwing something up for the entire weekend.

Dammit, Mr. President:
Troops don’t need bigger pay raises, White House budget officials said Wednesday in a statement of administration policy laying out objections to the House version of the 2008 defense authorization bill.

The Bush administration had asked for a 3 percent military raise for Jan. 1, 2008, enough to match last year’s average pay increase in the private sector. The House Armed Services Committee recommends a 3.5 percent pay increase for 2008, and increases in 2009 through 2012 that also are 0.5 percentage point greater than private-sector pay raises.

The slightly bigger military raises are intended to reduce the gap between military and civilian pay that stands at about 3.9 percent today. Under the bill, HR 1585, the pay gap would be reduced to 1.4 percent after the Jan. 1, 2012, pay increase.

Bush budget officials said the administration “strongly opposes” both the 3.5 percent raise for 2008 and the follow-on increases, calling extra pay increases “unnecessary.”

Bush also opposes a $40/month allowance for military survivors (apparently the current benefits are “sufficient”), additional benefits for surviving family members of civilian employees, and price controls for prescription drugs under TRICARE.

Mr. President, you talk about how important it is to fund the war effort, how important it is to support the troops, and then every time someone tries to approve money for that, you take it away! Mr. President, why? Why are you stealing our Christmas tree? Why?

Try to do something nice for a guy, and this is what you get.

On a gold star for George

Okay, so right on, Mr. President.

No, seriously.

Y'all, shut up, I'm being serious. This is a big deal, because when the president does something right, we need to pay attention.
The Bush administration and a bipartisan group of senators reached agreement yesterday on a sprawling overhaul of the nation's immigration laws that would bring an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants out of society's shadows while stiffening border protections and cracking down on employers of undocumented workers.

The delicate compromise, 380 pages long and three months in the making, represents perhaps the last opportunity for President Bush to win a major legislative accomplishment for his second term, and it could become the most significant revision of the nation's immigration system in 41 years. Bush hailed the agreement as "one that will help enforce our borders, but equally importantly, it will treat people with respect."

Now, I'll grant you that it's not a perfect plan. There are, in fact, a lot of things wrong with it, not the least of which being that Step 1 toward a "Z" visa involves writing a $6,500 check, and if you can afford to do that, you probably aren't sneaking across any borders to clean rich people's houses. And Senate hardliners on both sides of the issue aren't at all unlikely to torpedo the thing on the basis of those flaws.

But look at what it does right:

- It gives immigrants currently in the US illegally a chance to gain citizenship the legal way (which the Dems should like), but it puts them in line behind immigrants who took the legal route in the first place (which the Repubs should like).

- It makes said citizenship contingent both on familial connections (which the Dems should like) and on skills, education, and potential contributions to society and the economy (which the Repubs should like).

- It provides legal status to protect the rights of immigrant workers (which the Dems should like) while leaving business owners with their source of labor (which the Repubs should like).

The bill takes into account the interests of the US in terms of security, the economy, and government resources, but also (which is new, for immigration bills) addresses the positive impact of immigrants on society and addresses concerns for their welfare.

A good start? Absolutely. A solid plan? Not entirely. It certainly has room for improvement.

- Strengthen the provisions for legal entry because of family ties. The current proposal has slashed access for adult siblings, adult children, and parents of US citizens. If we're trying to encourage family values, having the family all in one country is an important consideration.

- Broaden the range of occupations covered under the point system. The current proposal gives more points for high-demand occupations, but as Illinois Rep. Luis V. Gutierre points out, "The landscaper is just as important as the computer scientist." And the agricultural worker, for instance, may well have more positive impact on the economy than the computer scientist.

- Build extensions and permanent residence into the guest-worker program. Currently, guest workers would have to leave the US immediately as soon as their visas expire, without any chance to appeal for permanent citizenship. It strikes me that both the workers, the employers, and the US as a whole would benefit from the stability of continuous employment, rather than a revolving door of immigrants coming in and getting kicked back out. A worker who proves his willingness to contribute to society with continuous employment seems deserving of a chance for permanent residence, especially considering that there are a lot of rather worthless, noncontributing Americans who did nothing more than inherit their citizenship by popping out of the womb on US soil.

- Lower the cost of entry. Or at least work out a payment plan. A $5,000 fine and a $1,500 processing fee is a lot for someone who has probably been picking Vidalia onions for less than minimum wage for the past ten years. A worker who can show a clean work record and pass a criminal background check can probably be counted on to make regular payments, if citizenship is really that important to them.

- Don't try and build a freaking fence around Mexico. Do we really think that's going to work? My parents have a fence around their yard, but their none-too-bright Brittany spaniel managed to find her way to the park every other morning. Aren't there other things we could be spending that money on?

And I hate to say it, since there's so much potential there, but this bill, as it stands, doesn't need to pass. California Sen. Diane Feinstein urged Congress not to "let the perfect be the enemy of the good," but you have to weigh the benefits against the costs. You have to realize who could be hurt in your quest for "the good," and in my opinion, this bill comes off lacking. But it's a good start. It addresses the real issues, the problems with and benefits of immigration and the impact it has on every facet of society, in contrast with past bills that have focused solely on snatching up illegal migrants and pitching them back over the border.

And as I mentioned at the top of this post, as bizarre as it sounds, I have to give a lot of credit to President Bush. The man has made immigration reform a personal goal since his election, and he's making efforts to push it through. And he kind of knows what he's talking about; if you want to understand the impact of illegal immigration on society, talk to the governor of a border state. The fact that he's been willing to compromise, to risk the wrath of Republican anti-immigration hardliners, says a lot about him and his commitment to this goal. Further compromise, compromise that would benefit both the immigrants and the US, could turn this bill into a viable approach to immigration reform.

Just as President Reagan was known (for right or wrong) as "the guy who pulled down the Iron Curtain," President Bush could, if he's open to more compromise, someday be known as "the guy who fixed immigration." And that would leave him with a legacy beyond just "the guy who totally screwed things up in Iraq." Everybody wins.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

On a passing

Okay, so Jerry Falwell has died.

I don't celebrate death. It's not a bad thing; it's just that I find death to be a better time to celebrate life.

I don't crow over death. The worst human being has a family who loved him. And if God has chosen to keep a person on the earth for any period of time, I figure He has a reason for it.

I don't tell other people how to deal with death. It's their choice. Any number of feelings would be completely valid in circumstances like these.

I don't condemn people to hell. It's not something that I'd want anyone to do to me, and it's not something I could do to anyone else, no matter how bad the offense. Besides, it's not my place; I couldn't do it if I tried.

I don't try to tell God what to do.

But I hope. I hope that any legacy of hatred is short-lived. I hope that evangelical Christianity turns back to find its original roots in the compassion of Jesus Christ.

And I hope that God greets Mr. Falwell at the gates of heaven, ushers him inside, and says, "All of that stuff you said I said, I never said. It's time for us to really talk."

Friday, May 11, 2007

On love, love, love

Okay, so some things are just really, really simple:
If a couple of lesbians or gay men want to get married, and they love each other, they should have the right to do that and enjoy all the legalities in our society that go along with that. I have no problem with that at all. I think that people who create these problems of homophobia and the likes of that do us a disservice. We are all human beings and one of the things that should motivate us, most of all, is love.

…Love between a man and a woman is beautiful, love between a woman and a woman is beautiful, love between a man and a man is love…is beautiful too. What this world need is a lot more than what we presently have.
[emphasis mine]

Sometimes it takes a not-a-chance, out-of-left-field candidate to have the balls to say true things.

On George "Pants On Fire" Bush: This Is Your Soundtrack

Stay classy, George.

Okay, so President Bush is a lying liar who lies.

I hate that. Of all the things that could possibly be done to me, being lied to bothers me more than just about anything. When I was growing up, pretty much the only offense considered worthy of a spanking in our house was lying, because it was just that important to my parents. And I feel the same way. There's so much that is involved in a lie: the assumption that you're dumb enough to fall for it, the assumption that you don't deserve the truth (or the paternalistic assumption that you just can't handle the truth), the arrogant assumption that the liar isn't held to the same standards of honesty as the rest of society. Trust is a long time in growing and hard to win back when you screw up once; violate that trust, unashamedly, a dozen times, and there's no going back.

Bush lied about why we were going to war. Weapons of mass destruction, liberation, just stay for a few months, greeted as liberators, all lies, liar. He lied about "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." He lied like a dog during the presidential debates in 2004. A couple of years ago, he lied big about the Social Security trust fund in order to defend his privatization plan. He lied about not being warned about Hurricane Katrina. He lied about the "stay the course" thing. He lied about actually following the Constitution for once and calling off his warrantless wiretapping program.

And on it goes. This time it's not actually him saying the words - it's his favorite defense secretary, Robert Gates - but it's still Bush's lie: We're extending tours of duty in Iraq from twelve to fifteen months, but in return, we're going to guaran-damn-tee that you'll get at least a full twelve months at home between deployments to "provide some long-term predictability for the soldiers and their families."

Except... Kidding! Just kidding:
The Army is sending a company of Europe-based soldiers back to Iraq before the unit has had a full 12 months of "dwell time," or at-home rest.

Members of the 1st Armored Division's 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, Company A, learned Tuesday that they are scheduled to head back to Iraq in November, just nine months after the 150-soldier company left the combat zone in February after a 13-month deployment.


See, this is why I oppose Bush's so desperately desired blank check for Iraq funding. This is why benchmarks and timetables and accountability are so crucial. This is why Congress has not only the right but the responsibility to keep track of what he's doing with the money after he gets it: Because he lies. He lies all the time. And whatever it is he says he's going to do with the money, you can't be sure that that's actually what's going to be done, because he's a liar.

Oh that makes me so mad.

All off that that's why this Friday Not-Even-Random Ten is dedicated to George W. Bush, The Decider, The Comander Guy, the guy who was totally going to bring dignitude back to the presidency. Not holding my breath, there. Honestly.

The Ten:

1. Ice Cube, "Don't Trust 'Em"
2. Endo, "Simple Lies"
3. Lenny Kravitz, "Believe In Me"
4. Sting, "Big Lie, Small World"
5. P.M. Dawn, "Reality Used to Be a Friend of Mine"
6. Joss Stone, "Dirty Man"
7. Dashboard Prophets, "Dismissing the Myth"
8. The Chemial Brothers, "Dig Your Own Hole"
9. Public Enemy, "Don't Believe the Hype"
10. Guster, "Two Points for Honesty"

Your Ten, random or otherwise, goes in comments. But don't let me catch you making stuff up.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

On the Commander in Pampers

Okay, so we can all appreciate the need to fund the troops in Iraq. Whether we begin redeployment now or re-surge and re-surge until my grandkids are heading to Baghdad, the troops who are currently in harm's way need support. President Bush himself has emphasized the urgency of this funding by pushing an April deadline (which turned out to be false) and by castigating Congress for unprecedented delays in passing a funding bill (which also turned out to be false). All other disagreements notwithstanding, pretty much the entire country is united behind the passage of a funding bill one way or another.

So why is President Bush himself standing between the troops and the funding they need?

Last week, he vetoed a bill that would provide all of the necessary funding on the condition that troop redeployment begin no later than October. Despite his enthusiastic use of signing statements in the past, Bush opted not to use one this time, depriving troops of immediate funding when he had the opportunity to do otherwise.

A week later, the troops are still waiting on funding, and Congress has crafted a compromise bill. This bill would continue to fund the war through the beginning of July, allocating $30 billion over the next two months under the generous assumption that Bush will be able to use that time to show progress. Some progress. Any progress. At the end of that period, Bush would be invited to report to Congress on a series of benchmarks and defend the need for further funding through September.

In essence, Congress is willing to put up $30 billion for two months to give Bush the chance to show that progress is being made in Iraq - which he swears is constantly ongoing - and to give them all a chance to negotiate further funding for the war - which we all recognize is necessary for as long as the war continues.

So why is Bush pulling out his veto pen again?
President Bush would veto the new Iraq spending bill being developed by House Democrats because it includes unacceptable language restricting funding, White House press secretary Tony Snow said Wednesday morning.

Bush could have funding for the troops right away. Congress has offered him $30 billion in funding on the sole condition that he do what he's been claiming he's been doing practically since the war began. The compromise provides $30 billion and the time to negotiate further funding on terms that satisfy all parties. He could have the money he's asked for.

But he won't. Because the money's not enough. Because he wants a blank check.

As our troops continue to suffer, as they continue to lack armor and ammo and equipment, as they continue to live in substandard conditions, Bush has the power to fix it. He has been offered a compromise - and a generous one, at that, considering the massive public support for the original bill - to make it better. But he would rather have his tantrum, at the expense of the troops, at the expense of the war effort, because he has to have things his way. And he doesn't care who has to suffer until that happens.

Way to go, Commander Guy.

Monday, May 07, 2007

On dinner with Queen Elizabeth and King George

Okay, so it's a big week at the White House. The White House chef is whipping up some extra-special barbecue, the White House maids are picking up a vast collection of scattered presidential Legos, and the White House event planners are drilling the president on table manners and not laughing at elaborate hats. Why all the fuss? The queen is coming to town.

- Queen Elizabeth, having visited Jamestown and the Kentucky Derby on her fifth visit to the US, flew into Washington today for a state dinner at the White House. Notably, she did not even attempt to land a helicopter in the Rose Garden.

- Voiced concerns about President Bush's more casual, down-home, chicken-fried tendencies becoming apparent at a white-tie dinner with the Queen have been met with indignance from his supporters:
Let's review: George W. Bush is not a country bumpkin. He is not a stranger to formal affairs. He didn't spend most of his youth clearing brush. He knows how to use all of the forks at the table. He's not going to accidentally hawk a loogie into the Queen's hair while aiming for the White House spitoon. He probably even knows how to tie a bow-tie. He is a very wealthy man, the product of a long line of New England aristocracy....The central achievement of his political life has been disguising all of that beneath a thin veneer of "rustic Texan", but the New York Times shouldn't have respected that nonsense in 1999, and shouldn't take it at all seriously now.

As Tom Hilton points out, the public rarely acknowledges that Bush's favorite dusty cowboy hat sits atop a Connecticut-bred, silver-spoon Yale frat boy. And if you want to know where all of that good breeding and home training has gotten him, well, just ask Angela Merkel.

- In light of Prince Harry's upcoming deployment to Iraq - which he insists on serving despite protests from the British government - it is hoped that the president won't inquire about the grandkids.

Welcome, Your Majesty; best of luck, all; and hands off, Mr. President.

On Paris "Jailbird" Hilton: This Is Your Soundtrack

Lucky for her, jumpsuits are in this season.

Okay, so an entire morning of absolute chaos left me unable to post my usual Friday Random Ten last week, and I know that you were all weeping delicate crystalline tears at its absence. I make it up to you today with a Not-Even-Friday, Not-Even-Random Ten that'll blow the socks off even the most world-weary hotel heiress.

It's not news if everybody knows it: Paris Hilton is going to jail. Now, normally, I'd try to avoid such blatant crowing, if only because schadenfreude is bad for the soul (and because it's easy to tempt fate in such situations), but it really can't be helped. When someone that spoiled and entitled finally runs into someone who doesn't decide to let her slide because she's skinny and rich and her parents are somebody, it's... refreshing.

She drives drunk. Not. Okay. Never okay. She gets caught, she pleads no contest, she gets her license suspended. She drives anyway and gets pulled over for speeding and driving without headlights, and the cops discover her suspended license, and gets her car towed. Then she gets pulled over again for driving on her still-suspended license. She is, demonstrably and inarguably, an idiot.

Her defense attorney said that the sentence of 45 days in jail - not work release, not house arrest, jail - was "uncalled for, inappropriate and bordered on the ludicrous. I think she's singled out because of who she is."

No, buttercup, singling her out because of who she is would have meant not sentencing her to jail for repeatedly breaking the law. Jail is what happens to normal people who drive drunk and/or without a license. And that's why this Not-Even-Friday, Not-Even-Random Ten is dedicated to Paris Hilton, the cutest inmate at the Century Regional Detention Facility. Will her time in the clink make the world a better place? Will it bring about world peace? Will it answer all of our burning existential questions? Well, no. But it sure makes me feel better.

The Ten:

1. Jimmy Buffett, "Why Don't We Get Drunk
2. The Las, "There She Goes"
3. Sarah Vaughan, "Poor Butterfly"
4. The Rolling Stones, "You Can't Always Get What You Want"
5. Lo Fidelity Allstars, "Will I Get Out of Jail"
6. Johnny Cash, "Folsom Prison Blues"
7. Elvis, "Jailhouse Rock"
8. Johnny Cash, "Folsom Prison Blues"
9. A Tribe Called Quest, "Public Enemy"
10. Fiona Apple, "Criminal"

Your Ten goes in comments, if you have one, it being Monday and all.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

On the king of America

Okay, so President Bush (a.k.a. The Decider, a.k.a. The Commander Guy) seems to be campaigning hard for the title of The All-Powerful Despot. Despite previous promises that he would disband the NSA's warrantless surveillance program (even though, he swore, the president unequivocally had the right to do it; he just didn't want to anymore), Bush has decided... not to.
Senior Bush administration officials told Congress on Tuesday that they could not pledge that the administration would continue to seek warrants from a secret court for a domestic wiretapping program, as it agreed to do in January.

Rather, they argued that the president had the constitutional authority to decide for himself whether to conduct surveillance without warrants.

Now, the number of secret warrants approved by the FISA court under the current, constitutionally acceptable, program was 2,176 in 2006, a record high. The number of secret warrants denied by said court? One.

The Bush administration has not yet tried to justify their reversal. They haven't argued that the program ties their hands unduly - in fact, they've argued in the past that the president's prefered program sits fully within the constraints of the Fourth Amendment, leaving one to wonder why they can't just go ahead get warrants if that's the case. The administration hasn't argued that having to get warrants within three days after the surveillance is a burden, or that the FISA court is too stingy with warrants, which is demonstrably not the case anyway.

The administration only argued that the president should do this because, under their interpretation of Article II of the Constitution, he could do this.

Yesterday, Glenn Greenwald took a look at an article by Harvard government professor Harvey Mansfield makes the case for a "strong executive." Mansfield argues that the "Office of the President" is "larger than the law" and has the power to act unitarily in those emergencies in which "law does not apply."

This argument that the president's powers increase toward infinity and the people's civil liberties and basic freedoms decrease toward zero as conflict and insecurity increase is deeply scary to me. It would seem to me that, in times of chaos and trouble, when that visceral fear for life and safety starts to overpower the higher faculties, the Constitution and the rule of law may remain as the only framework that keep us from descending into fascism to one side or anarchy to the other. To throw up our hands and hand over our personal freedoms and complete, unquestioned control of our country, shouting, "Save me, Superman!" when our safety is threatened is taking the very real risk that, when the threat passes, we'll never get our country back.

Greenwald quotes Thomas Paine's Common Sense:
[L]et a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve as monarchy, that in America THE LAW IS KING. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other.

Maybe that qualified as common sense back in 1776; such sense strikes me as rather uncommon today. Other sense that should be common is the fact that we elect our president to an office that operates under checks, balances, the rule of law, and mechanisms available to reverse human error and malice; if we were electing a president operating without those failsafes, I daresay we'd hold him to a higher standard of intelligence and integrity.

An ongoing discussion over at Hey Jenny Slater examines the distinction between military coup and populist uprising. With respect to the latter, the question is asked that if such an uprising were to seek a return to the original ideals of our founding fathers, which ideals would those be?

I've got some thoughts, myself. Freedom of religion seemed fairly important to our forefathers, and seemed to be observed in a manner rather unlike our current approach. Freedom from undue government intrusion was particularly important to a country recovering from the totalitarian rule of a king. The idea of a press empowered to serve the people, to investigate the government and hold them to account instead of acting as a mouthpiece. The idea of a president who served at the will of the people, rather than the other way around. When I think about a "return to traditional values," that's usually what I have in mind.

Our current administration seems to have a fixation on fighting fire with fire. We fight torture by torturing, we fight kidnapping by kidnapping, we fight religious intolerance with religious intolerance, we fight against a group of people who hate us for our freedoms! by not having those freedoms anymore. We depose a dictator, led by a man who would be dictator. The result is that that which we fight, we eventually become.

But we already established, 231 years ago and ever since, that that isn't the kind of country we want to have. Our founders enshrined in the Constitution the fact that that isn't the kind of country we want to have. And if our president feels entitled to shrug off the burden of the Constitution that he took an oath to defend and uphold, then we need a different president. And we certainly don't need an administration that exists for the sole purpose of telling him that he's constitutionally entitled to do whatever the hell he wants to do with our country.

On stalling them while I find a way out of here

Okay, so yesterday, Bush vetoed the defense appropriations act because, although it gave him the money he asked for, it didn't give him a blank check to do whatever the crap he wanted to with our taxpayer dollars.

The question may be asked, why veto? Why not just sign it and add a signing statement, which he has done approximately ten billion times (NB: 750-ish times) over the course of his presidency. He loves to sign stuff and say, "Oh, hey, by the way, I don't plan to actually obey this law. The power of the presidency says I don't have to." So if these appropriations were, in fact, so very desperate, so very crucial to have rightthisverysecond, why take the time to send it back to Congress, when Bush has never had any compunctions about breaking his own laws in the past?

Why would you want to slow-walk the appropriations bill, President Bush?

Kagro X might know why.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

On timetables, which are bad, except when they aren't

Okay, so contrary to recent public statements, President Bush actually thinks that timetables are a good thing...
I think it’s also important for the president to lay out a timetable as to how long they will be involved and when they will be withdrawn.

... and exit strategies are a good thing...
Victory means exit strategy, and it’s important for the president to explain to us what the exit strategy is.

... as long as they apply to a president who isn't him.
[Then-Governor George] Bush, in Austin, criticized President Clinton’s administration for not doing enough to enunciate a goal for the Kosovo military action and indicated the bombing campaign might not be a tough enough response.

He also said that if US troops were to remain in Yugoslavia as a residual force, it was important that US troops be withdrawn over time and supplemented with troops from European allies.

But, I mean, that was an effort to remove a genocidal despot from power and restore peace and democracy to an ethnically and religiously divided region. Not applicable even a little bit.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

On fighting them there while they fight us everywhere else

So, flypaper strategy, huh.

Okay, so anyone still convinced that the war in Iraq is going to save the rest of the world from the scourge of terrorism might want to pour a cup of lukewarm tea and sit down before continuing. You ready? Okay. The State Department's 2006 Country Reports on Terrorism, released yesterday, shows that worldwide, terrorism has increased by a whopping 25 percent, that al-Qaeda remains "the most immediate national security threat to the United States," and that Iraq reported a 300 percent increase in terrorism. A total of 74,217 civilians became the victims of terrorism in 2006.

Kind of throws the "flypaper strategy" concept into a whirl.

The report does show that terrorism outside of the Middle East and Southeast Asia is on the decline, with only Cuba and Venezuela significantly supporting terrorism from the western hemisphere. But the government's claim that our actions in Iraq aren't contributing to the creation of new terrorists is belied by the fact that terrorist incidents in Iraq nearly doubled in the past year and incidents in Afghanistan increased by 50 percent. Nonvehicular suicide bombings rose 25 percent. Incidents trend toward more sophisticated and better coordinated attacks.

I don't know, really, what the US is doing in Iraq, because the government has not felt it necessary to share their plan with the American people, or even to give anything beyond a verbal confirmation that a plan exists at all. Whatever was working so well before has been reinforced as Bush surged more troops, and then even more troops. And in the grand traditon of doin' what he's doin', Bush has continued to get what he's gettin'.

So here's what hasn't happened. Osama bin Laden hasn't been captured, and al-Qaeda hasn't been weakened. Iraq has held democratic elections, but its democratically elected prime minister hasn't done anything to indicate his intent to take over responsiblity for Iraq from the US. Muqtada al Sadr hasn't been convinced that he's not in charge, and his militias haven't been disarmed. Maliki has purged Iraqi security officials for combatting said militias too aggressively, and the Pentagon has decided that training Iraqi troops isn't the priority it once was, so I guess that's something.

Doug has the question of the day: If this is the progress that we're making in Iraq, what is wrong with timetables? What is wrong with holding the Iraqi government to account for their failure to govern Iraq - and to hold the US government to account for their failure to accomplish freaking anything since "Mission Accomplished" was declared four years ago? What is it about the Bush administration's "keep chugging, give it a chance to work" strategy that they think will provide impetus for the Iraqi government to start taking responsibility?

I truly believe that, once upon a time, Bush thought he was doing a good thing. I don't know about his motives; maybe he was trying to avenge Saddam's threats against Bush Senior, maybe he was just trying to establish a legacy of Global Peacemaker to follow him into history. But at this point, it's apparent - obvious, even - that he's just trying to slow-walk the Iraq conflict until his term is up and it's not his problem anymore. It's a precariously balanced sinkful of dishes, and if he can just not touch anything, it may just hold for the next year and a half.

What's more, Bush has backed himself into a corner where he can't pull out. He and his friends in government and media have so thoroughly associated redeployment with cowaradly retreat and surrender that even if he acknowledged that it's actually a good strategy and wanted to do it, he couldn't without losing face and shattering the legacy. He's the Decider, and his decision has been made. The difficult step, redeployment, will have to happen sooner or later, but Bush will be safely out of the way.

The State Department's report shows that, whatever the administration has been hoping to accomplish in Iraq, it has not made things any better. One can project from this that, if the current strategy remains in place, things will continue to not get any better and will likely get worse. The Democrats' plan for troop withdrawal may not be perfect, but it's the only plan out there right now that removes the troops from harm's way and gives Maliki and the Iraqi government a reason to start getting their stuff together. And as an added bonus, it frees American troops to address rising threats elsewhere, like al-Qaeda - which has been spreading and growing far and wide as US efforts remain myopically focused on Iraq.

It's a cliche because it's true - if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. But then try something else. There's no reason to be stupid about it.

On a mile in someone else's stylish pumps

Okay, so as someone who has spent a great deal of time walking longer distances than anyone should have to in taller shoes than anyone should really wear, I respect and appreciate what these guys are doing.

There are some complaints in comments at Feministe - they're just dressing in "woman drag," which is degrading and mocking to women; they're not abandoning their male privilege, so they can never really understand; and the most common complaint, they're wearing comfy socks with their painful high heels, which is totally cheating.

While I can understand where these women are coming from, I also can't resist the urge to unbend just a bit and accept this gesture in the spirit in which it was intended. Sure, it's kind of frustrating to have to frame the issue as "domestic violence hurts us all" because "domestic violence hurts women" isn't a compelling enough reason to march. But if the alternative is "domestic violence isn't even on my radar" - and that's the sad and scary truth with a lot of people - I'll take whatever I can get.

The point of the march was that the men were trying to, quite literally, "walk a mile in our shoes" - they were donning the oft-painful hobbles of patriarchal oppression and walking around as a way of saying that, hey, we care about this, and moreover we care about your physical safety, and that's why people need to donate to the Valley Trauma Center. Maybe they were bringing a little bit of humor into a not-terribly-funny subject; I'm certainly not going to slap them on the hand for it, and I'm not sure that bringing humor isn't a good thing anyway.

Maybe in a perfect world, it wouldn't take men in pumps to make people aware of the extensive harm caused by domestic violence. But in a perfect world, there wouldn't be domestic violence at all. Sometimes you have to choose between a less-than-perfect effort and an unsuccessful one. The point of the entire exercise was to increase awareness of the issue in general and raise money for the Center specifically, and also to underscore the fact that you don't have to be a woman to care about domestic violence. And if it takes a hairy, tattooed man in a pair of size-12 Easy Spirits to get that point across, I'm all for it. I'll even walk alongside - in a comfy pair of charming flats.