Monday, July 29, 2002

OH MY GOODNESS! It seems pop tart Britney Spears has turned into quite the angry woman. At a concert stop in Mexico last week, the singing sensation was photographed giving some reporters an obscene gesture. Maybe she should talk to Allen Iverson about how to be a role model?

Saturday, July 27, 2002

JOHN MCCAIN, Democratic Senator, oops, er ah, I mean, of course, Republican Senator from Arizona, has jumped at the chance to appear on Saturday Night Live, October 12, this Fall. McCain, whose recent voting record and political alliances place him to the left of many Senate Democrats, can be expected to be part of a new series of SNL parodies of President Bush. Let me make one thing clear here. I'm not at all opposed to Saturday Night Live's right and duty to spoof, satirize, and poke fun at any public figure or policy. As with England's venerable Punch magazine, political and cultural satire is SNL's job and hardly anyone on American television does it better. None-the-less, SNL is a questionable forum for a United States senator, even granting that Senator McCain would scarcely be the first prominent politician to appear on the program. Perhaps looking ahead to a new career once his days on Capitol Hill are over, the budding Arizona Thespian may be simply seeking an opportunity to hone his stage skills since he admits "... there's a fine line between political theater and theater..." However, this admission of his personal view of politics doesn't absolve the Senator from the responsibility of acting with the dignity of the office to which the increasingly embarassed Arizona voters elected him. Since McCain's oath to uphold the Constitution didn't stop him from urging the passage of the very unconstitutional McCain-Feingold Bill and trampling on the First Amendment's protection of political speech, it's a bit scary to imagine where he might draw the line on Saturday Night Live. Will the honorable Senator climb through an SNL set window wearing a killer bee outfit? Perhaps he will do a samurai spoof using a Japanese katana ala the late John Belushi. Personally, I'm holding out some hope that the clever SNL writers and crew may convince the Senator to do a Gilda Radner skit. For those too young to remember, the late Miss Radner was at her Saturday Night Live best while playing the role of an irate citizen who had been given television time to comment on some current issue. While Radner ranted on, it was painfully and hilariously obvious to the viewer that she completely misunderstood the issues, the problems and had, at best, only a tenuous grasp on reality. The sad thing is that the Gilda Radner role would indeed be an appropriate role, not for a United States senator, but for Arizona's John McCain.

Friday, July 26, 2002

MANY THANKS to The People's Republic of Seabrook and Blogger for their links and accompanying referrals. I'm not sure our Bravenet account can handle this much traffic!
WELL, DUH: "Actress" Pam Anderson while appearing on a recent CNN Larry King Live show, announced that she has hepatitis C, probably contracted by sharing a tattoo needle with drummer exhusband Tommy Lee. Because hepatitis C is a nasty and tenacious affliction, treatment for it is lengthy and not much fun. The former Baywatch star is contemplating about a year of treatment with unpleasant chemotherapy-like side effects such as hair loss and nausea. Nontheless, Miss Anderson is facing the prospect bravely. As she puts it, " I want to do it for my kids, because I don't want to die basically." If it were me, I would do it even without kids, uh, like, totally, basically.
SILLY DEM JUDGES: A Louisiana federal district judge ruled yesterday that an abstinence program funded in part by the government violates the Establishment clause because it advances religion. The funding program provides that "[c]ities, states or organizations that receive the federal grants must use the money to teach abstinence as the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases." The goal is to help adolescents build character and develop the skills to "say no to sex." The basic Lemon test for determining whether government funding violates the Establishment clause goes something like this: Does the grant have the primary purpose of advancing religion? Does the grant have the actual effect of promoting a religion? Does the grant unnecessarily entangle the government with religion? More recently the courts have moved toward a different test: does the grant show that the government is endorsing religion? Also, is the grant neutral with respect toward religion? (That is, can religious and non religious groups qualify for the grant on an equal basis) I won't go into any in-depth analysis, but I think it's pretty clear that an abstinence program does NOT advance religion. (Unless you worship a sex goddess, perhaps? Well no; I guess that would be "targeting" religion) The real issue here is an argument that I heard for the first time when I was in law school -- basically, sexual responsibility (particularly abstinence outside of marriage) is a Christian tenet -- and since no one besides Christians believe in sexual responsibility anymore, if government funds go to support abstinence programs (or anti-abortion concerns, as the second verse of this same song plays out) then they are necessarily going to advance Christianity, which is prima facie a violation of the Constitution. It's a silly argument, and one that absolutely baffled me the first time I heard it advanced. And frankly, it's bad legal analysis. The major failure of this argument (and there are many) is that the government itself has a very strong interest in promoting abstinence among teenagers. Interestingly, the grant was created as part of a welfare reform bill. The clear purpose of the grants is for the governnment to educate teenage girls so that it can reduce the number of unwanted children growing up on welfare. You can't really get much more secular than that.

Thursday, July 25, 2002

ADD THIS TO THE "IS ANYONE SURPRISED?" PILE: I thought the news was supposed to inform you of something you didn't already know was a sure bet.
Jennifer Lopez Seeks Divorce After Less Than a Year -- Reuters.

As the parrot in Aladdin sarcastically said, "I think I could have a heart attack and die from that surprise."
COSTS OF DELAYING MARRIAGE: This essay by Danielle Crittenden has been in my head a long time. While I agree with her arguments in the abstract -- she claims that women give up too much by delaying marriage to pursue independence, because for many or most of them, the opportunities they have to marry in their early twenties do not replicate themselves in their early thirties or beyond -- I think she misses at least half of the issue. It is a paltry sum of men who are marriageable in their early twenties. And there certainly is some value (whether or not it outweighs the costs is clearly one of the questions with which Crittenden takes issue) allocated to the maturity that people gain by facing adult life with the limited resources of singleness. I actually believe that there is a lot of growing up to be done, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually in a person's early twenties. Some of this growing can be done well in the partnership of marriage. On the other hand, I know an awful lot of persons who marry young, and then feel like they've given up the years that most people spend "discovering themselves" in favor of the laborious prospect of making a marriage work. While I praise those who know love early, marry young, and become wizened spouses on the job, it's nearly always those who were born with an extra dose of maturity who do it successfully. I think history has played a cruel joke with respect to singleness -- it's the sexual irresponsibility, relational distrust and stunted maturity that was born in our parents' generation and has been bred in our own.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

BABY-ON-THE-WAY BOOKS: To prepare our son for the impending end of his single-child status, we've been reading to him any book we can find about new babies and older siblings. Some of these books are too saccharine, some are too clinical for a two-and-a-half-year old, and some are just right. The stories about older siblings who throw fits, tantrums and try to give away the baby are probably the most accurate and definitely the funniest. My current favorites are Julius: Baby of the World, by Kevin Henkes (the best line, from the big sister to an unsuspecting preggo woman, is, "You'll live to regret that bump under your dress!") and I Want a Brother or Sister, by Astrid Lindgren. I'd appreciate anybody's recommendations of other good books, sent to jordana-at-sluggy-dot-net.
LIGHT ONE UP FOR ME: Australia's law against airing tobacco advertisements is so strict that a news show that broadcast footage of Russell Crowe smoking was punished for "advertising" and "encouraging" the public to smoke. No joke. I hate cigarettes. I hate the smoke, the smell, and everything else associated with smoking. Smoking holds absolutely no interest for me. But stories like this about anti-smoking zealots and their ever-increasing wish-list of stupid regulations make me want to go out and light one up just to show solidarity. If I didn't hate smoking so much, I'd start.
I WONDER what we'll be renaming our football stadium in Nashville:
Adelphia Founder, Other Top Execs Arrested
-- WaPo.
A REALLY USEFUL DEVELOPMENT: The Rev. Moon is tying up some loose ends in the religious world.
A REALLY USEFUL ENGINE: When my niece started living and breathing the Thomas the Tank Engine videos, books, and toys, I was dismissive of the whole thing -- but then, I wasn't a parent. Then along came my son, a boy who is fascinated by all things mechanical, who lives and breathes planes, trains and automobiles. I kept him on a very tight TV leash and didn't let him watch anything at all until he was over two years old. But during a trip to Portland last winter, out of desperation to save our host's house, I broke down and bought my son a Thomas the Tank Engine video that came with a Thomas toy train. And since then, our lives have been filled with Thomas: Thomas video sessions for potty-training rewards; the original Thomas stories for bedtime reading. What makes all of this Thomas-mania tolerable is that the stories are pretty funny and interesting, and the videos are made using wonderfully detailed and beautiful toy train sets. Yes, Thomas really is a useful engine. (For the uninitiated, that's the tag-line in Thomas stories: everyone wants to be "really useful" -- pronounced with an English accent for best effect.) [Note: None of this praise of the Thomas series applies to the feature film, Thomas and the Magic Railroad, which stars Alec Baldwin and Peter Fonda and is a miserable waste of time and money that should be avoided at all costs -- which anyone could probably tell just from reading the cast.] All of which is to say, I was bemused by some of the reader reviews of Thomas stories on Amazon that Cut on the Bias republished. Many of the reviewers complained that Thomas and his friends get grumpy sometimes and make snide remarks about one another, and they don't want their children to learn that kind of behavior. Good grief. First, little kids don't have to learn how to be grumpy, defiant, and twerps -- it's innate -- and besides, they're going to run into grumpy people. Second, one of the main themes of the Thomas stories (and of lots of children's literature, come to think of it) is that uncivil behavior is, to use another Thomas tag-line, "naughty," and that we should all strive to be good, i.e. "really useful." I guess some parents are just nuts.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

UGH: I'll argue with those who think the circumcision of boys before their eight days old is barbaric (even a Christian can't just toss out 5000 years of Jewish law and history), especially now that local anesthetic is generally used, but I can't argue with those who think the Afghan tradition of circumcizing boys between the ages of two and five without any anesthetic is barbaric. Fortunately, the Turkish doctors who performed mass circumcisions today on boys between the ages of 2 and 11 who had missed out on the traditional ceremonies gave them a local before the procedure was done with a "soldering-iron gun."
IS IT STILL TOO MUCH TO ASK of people who roll their eyes over the Right's "obsession" with communism that they admit the obvious: that communists were as brutal a gang of killers as any in history (including Hitler's Nazis, about whom nobody jokes) and committed murder on a scale as massive as any (including the Holocaust, about which nobody jokes). "But they had such good intentions, you know." Yeah, it probably is too much to ask of them. UPDATE: From the linked WaPo article above, referring to a recently unearthed mass grave in Ukraine:
He paused and left the thought incomplete, returning to the safe ground of forensics. "Of course, I wish I could complete all the skeletons and take everything out of the ground. Look at that one." He picked up the lower jaw of a child. "It has almost all the teeth in it but when we pulled it out of the ground, they fell out. This one doesn't have wisdom teeth -- they grow after 18 so we know this one was younger than that." He turned back to the personal impact. "I don't have any disturbing emotions. When I was 13, I witnessed the death of my friend when a drunk policeman killed him in 1939. We went to the railroad storage area to look for something. Three policemen rushed in and kicked us out. They were all drunk. One of them raised his gun and shot him through the heart. I lifted my friend's head. His eyes rolled back in his head and he died. They just looked and walked away." He paused again and looked back at the table of bones. He picked up a small one, no more than a couple of inches long. "You know what this is?" he asked. It was the shoulder bone of a child.
Yeah, really funny guys, those commies. Uncle Joe, and all that. Can you believe that Ronald Reagan guy? "Evil Empire"? What a hoot! Idiots. You know how some people rub their dogs' noses in it to house-train them? Wish I could rub the anti-anti-communists -- the eye-rollers, the jack-asses wearing the Chairman Mao caps and the Che Guevera t-shirts at the annual WTO-Starbucks-McDonald's-"globalism"-whatever-dude-I-just-wanna-get-high protests -- wish I could rub their noses in their icons' handiwork. They're like Holocaust deniers, just denying a different holocaust.

Friday, July 12, 2002

GRANOLA CONSERVATIVES: I used cloth diapers part of the time, breastfed for 25 months, tried natural childbirth, wear Birkenstocks, listen to hippie-dippie folk music, am considering homeschooling for non-religious reasons, and love to wander through the organic section of the grocery store. My husband doesn't quite understand it and neither do my wacky liberal friends. How can someone be as right-wing as I am and yet like and do all these "liberal" things? What kind of a freak am I? Well, today I found out I'm not alone, and I'm not a freak -- there are other "granola conservatives," writes Rod Dreher on NRO. I should have at least suspected that there might be other granola Republicans. Driving my ancient Volvo 240 wagon (sans Greenpeace and Amnesty International bumper stickers, but sporting a custom horn that played "Dixie") into the organic market parking lot, I might have noticed the irony in my automatic assumption that the other Birk-clad, NPR-t-shirt wearing, flowing skirt types going into the organic market were flaming leftists. But I didn't. I missed a basic truth, obvious in my own life, and the main point of Dreher's essay: people can do the same things for very, very different reasons.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

MANY THANKS to Sand in the Gears and Cut on the Bias for their links to a couple of yesterday's posts.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

FOUL! I'm a big fan of Best of the Web, but I was annoyed by this headline -- "Another Religion of Peace" -- for the blurb in today's edition about the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's suspension of the Rev. David Benke for participating in the post-September 11 interfaith service in Yankee Stadium. The headline, "Another Religion of Peace," alludes to a recurring Best of the Web feature, "A Religion of Peace," which catalogs the many cruel and uncivilized acts committed by Islamic radicals in the name of Islam. The implication of this feature isn't that Islam theoretically must be a violent religion, just that as practiced by many, many Muslims, it often is in practice a violent religion. Anyway, Best of the Web's analogy, between a church disciplining -- in a non-violent fashion, in accordance with its internal law -- one of its ministers for participating in a religious service with non-church members in violation of church law, and Islamists who commit acts of violence and barbarism against infidels for being infidels, is tasteless at best. Look, James Taranto and lots of people may not understand it, but some people who call themselves monotheists really believe there's only one God, and Buddha, Allah, and Gaia ain't Him. And members of some Christian denominations -- apparently including those of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod -- really believe their church is the only legitimate, Christ's-body-on-earth, small-cee catholic church. And because they really hold these beliefs, they cannot in good conscience worship and pray with those they consider non-believers. And when their ministers -- the people in charge of teaching the church's doctrines -- violate those doctrines, they must in good conscience discipline the violators. You can call this "intolerant," "old-fashioned," "uncompassionate," "mean-spirited," or a host of other silly words, but you cannot say the peaceful adherence to deeply held religious belief -- even when it hurts other people's feelings -- is anything like killing people for being "infidels." Now, when these monotheistic, anti-denominational Lutherans start killing people who don't accept their beliefs, James Taranto can crack wise about them practicing "another religion of peace." But until they start rapin' and pillagin' the rest of us in the name of the Cross, it's just obnoxious to compare them to Islamist radicals.
I DUNNO: Noticed that the House of Representatives passed a bill allowing pilots to carry guns if they go through training -- prospects in Senate dim; White House stupidly opposes -- and was wondering: do the folks who oppose arming pilots opposing arming anyone on airliners, e.g. air marshals? Surely not, because, well, what would be the point of having an unarmed air marshal. ("Stop, terrorist! My body is a deadly weapon!") But if it's OK to arm trained air marshals, why not arm trained pilots, and flight attendants for that matter? And another thing: Based solely on my personal experience, (a) most flight attendants are women, and women like guns less than men; and (b) most airline pilots are men, and men like guns more than women. So it doesn't surprise to me that the flight attendants' union opposes a law arming pilots, while the pilots' union supports it. Has anybody written about this interesting and revealing gender difference? I've probably missed it.
COGITATIONS AND RUMINATIONS ON THE TODDLER AS PROTO-TOTALITARIAN: I wonder if the war against Islamism lends support to an argument I've been chewing on: that the Islamist threat to civilization shouldn't be characterized as "religious" anymore than the communist and fascist threats should be characterized as "secular," because what each of these threats have in common, and what drives them, and what makes them so dangerous and destructive of the lives of millions of people, is that they're utopianist ideologies. Communists wanted to create the global worker's paradise at the end of history; fascists wanted to create the perfect nation-state; and Islamists want to create the perfect Islamic state, a polity and economy perfectly governed by "Islamic" ideals. Each ideology seeks to create heaven on earth; each has the impossible goal of human perfection, whether on a national or global scale; and each tries to square the circle of perfecting human nature by killing off imperfect human beings. My point is that we don't need to blame religiously-inspired Islamic terrorism on religion anymore than we need to blame atheistic-materialist-bad-economics-ly-inspired communist terrorism on atheism and dumb economics or nationalistically-inspired fascist terrorism on nationalism. It doesn't matter whether you like religious folk, atheists and dumb economists, or nationalists, none of them are dangerous until they decide to create a perfect society by force of arms. Now all of this cogitation on the common utopianism of religious and secular totalitarians relates to my cogitation on a related theory, that utopianists are just toddlers who never grew up. Despite their messiness and unruliness, the toddlers I've known have all had an instinct to impose their notion of perfection on the world. As a child, symmetry fascinated me. My Lego constructions and my drawings had to be geometric and symmetrical. If I'd known about them, I'd have preferred French gardens to English. In childhood games, I demanded perfect obedience from my younger siblings, and when such obedience did not come, I responded with force, until Mom or Dad threatened me with a good whuppin'. To this day, my wife mocks my cooking, because I insist on seeing whether the meniscus lines up with the measurement mark on our liquid measuring cups. My wife confesses to annoying her parents as a child by reading them riddles from a book, then telling them they got the answer wrong when they did not give the exact, word for word, article for article, comma for comma answer in the book. I see the same instincts in my two-and-a-half-year old son, who lines up his cars in perfectly straight lines, and throws a hissy fit when his perfectly straight building-block tower falls over. Kids don't want to be governed, but they want to govern and bring order to a messy world. Totalitarian dictators are much the same, only they use bigger words and carry AK-47s. But the difference is that most toddlers grow up and out of their instinct to control others. They discover that humans and human affairs are messy and unpredictable, that they often don't live up to their own principles, and that it's hard enough (and much more fun) to control one's own life and put principles and ideals into individual action than to create the perfect society out of zillions of people. But a few toddlers never grow out of their instinctive totalitarianism and, fired by religion, materialism and bad economics, or nationalism, or some other idea we haven't thought about yet, try to impose their order on the rest of us. Now, when these totalitarians were young, they probably just needed whuppin'. But once they grow up, and take up arms against the rest of us, they just need killin'.
HERCULEAN STUPIDITY: "It appears he went there with the intention of killing people." -- FBI agent Richard Garcia, speaking of Hesham Mohamed Hadayet, the man who shot up the El Al ticket counter at LAX. Yeah, I know this is old news, but I'm still struck by how hard this G-man had to work to sound this stupid. A Herculean effort, really.

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Imagine that the Fourth Amendment read:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against non-random searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon random selection, supported by Oath or affirmation, and describing in no particular detail the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Not only could the police could stop and search you as you drove to work, walked to the park, or lounged in your backyard for no particular reason, but they could only stop and search you for no particular reason. The benefit of this system would be equal protection: no one could complain that the government singled him out for search and seizure based on unfair criteria because the government singled him out for no reason at all. It would be equally likely that the police would frisk a middle-class woman walking in a swanky suburb or a young man in an inner city neighborhood. But society couldn't tolerate such a system. First, too many criminals would escape. Since there's a limited number of criminals in society, and a limited number of searches the police can perform, a policy of randomly searching the general population would minimize the number of criminals who would be searched and discovered. But the second, and I think more important, reason society would tolerate this random scheme is the fact that it would be equally likely that criminal and non-criminals would be searched.
IT TURNS OUT that buying a house in Tennessee, packing up a house in Alaska, finishing a job, and moving four thousand miles, all within the next five weeks, is much more taxing than I'd thought, which is why I haven't blogged a blog in many moons, and probably won't for many more.

Monday, July 01, 2002

NO! They Might Be Giants fans, especially fans who now have kids, might want to buy their new album NO!. It is the usual slightly whacked and sometimes incomprehensible stuff I expect from They Might Be Giants, and also bouncy fun for adults and their progeny. My son has been asking to hear the "cool kid's music" a lot. It goes without saying that the title track is his favorite. My favorites are "Bed, Bed, Bed" and "Where Do They Make Balloons?".
WE'RE BACK: We survived our 8,000 mile round-trip trek to the lower 48 with toddler in tow, and we found a house. Blogging may be slow on and off as we pack and Justin finishes up his job.
NEW FACE OF TERROR: Perhaps you were too short-sighted to notice, but Americans are not the only ones under attack. According to this post, animals are the victims of millions of acts of terror, including but not limited to, their slaughter as your food source. This Peter Singer update can speak for itself of the absurdity of the animal rights movement. But one statement stuck out like a sore thumb, and I wouldn't want you to miss it if you skip the article for the sake of time (and sanity). "Conference participant Jennie Sunner called Singer 'fundamental to the movement's inception and its movement forward... I am so relieved he exists...he's so well-reasoned and well-thought-out, that it is hard for someone not to agree,' she added." HEY JENNIE, TRUST ME, IT'S NOT SO HARD.
ABORTION MEETS REALITY: Some of you will find this op-ed interesting.
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