Thursday, December 29, 2005
As I light the candles, I think not only of those particular miracles of enduring spirit and light, but I think of all of the miraculous spirits who have lit and who continue to light our world. How many stories have we heard of people who faced personal hardships, natural disasters, debilitating illness, or tyrannical oppression, and who amazingly endured, tapping some hidden strength, an inner well of miraculous oil, to carry them on long past when reason would have expected them to be exhausted and quit. The man who loses his home, his family, and everything he's built in a hurricane, but returns after the storm waters subside to the arduous work of clearing out the muck and starting to rebuild. The woman who was gang-raped by men of her own village for a crime committed by her brother, and who faced down the ire of her family, her village, and her people to challenge a vicious and unjust tradition. People like these, and many others whom we may never hear about, these are all "Hanukkah lights".
"Baruch atah Adonai eloheynu melech ha'olam she'asah nisim l'avotaynu b'yamim haheim b'zman hazeh v'asah nisim l'anu b'yamim hazeh ub'col hazmanim."
Let us bless G-d not just for the miracles done for our ancestors in days of old in this season, but for the miracles done for us in these days and in all seasons.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Surely I'm not the only one who finds it ironic that the Merriam-Webster "Word of the Year" for 2005 is "integrity". The title is earned by the word with the most online lookups. It is easy to understand why the other 9 words in the Top Ten were looked up in 2005 -- refugee, contempt, filibuster, insipid, tsunami, pandemic, conclave, levee, inept -- each of those clearly call to mind events of this year. But integrity? Who was looking that up? It certainly wasn't Tom DeLay, Karl Rove, Judy Miller, Bill Frist, or way too many others who, like the levees, turned out to lack the integrity we expected. Nor was it Ian Fishback, who knows the word well and would have no need to look it up. Perhaps there was a mass of good people who, like Diogenes, were looking anywhere and everywhere to find a man of integrity. Given the sad shortage of integrity in public example, they resorted to the dictionary. On the bright side, we enter 2006 with that many more people knowing what "integrity" means. Maybe it will inspire some new years resolutions.
Etymology: Middle English integrite, from Middle French &amp; Latin; Middle French integrité, from Latin integritat-, integritas, from integr-, integer entire
1 : firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : INCORRUPTIBILITY
2 : an unimpaired condition : SOUNDNESS
3 : the quality or state of being complete or undivided : COMPLETENESS
synonym: see HONESTY
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Forget whatever you thought about eight nights of gift-giving, and flash back 2170 years ago. The Jews in Israel were living under the yoke of an increasingly tyrannical emperor in Syria named Antiochus. Antiochus was a political descendant of Alexander the Great, who had conquered most of the known world a century earlier. But after Alexander's death, his vast empire became subdivided into several regional empires, and the rulers after him slowly forgot that allowing conquered peoples to keep their own customs and traditions was a key ingredient for keeping the peace. Antiochus started issuing decrees requiring all of his subjects to worship his pagan gods and to abandon their own religions. The Jews were specifically required to go against their religion by eating pork, not circumsizing their children, and paying homage to Hellenistic gods like Zeus. Copies of the Torah were burned, and people following the Jewish Laws were killed. Antiochus ordered the sacred Temple in Jerusalem to be profaned by slaughtering pigs there and setting up an altar to Zeus.
In the midst of this situation, there arose a George Washington figure by the name of Judas Maccabeus, who along with his father Mattathias, and his brothers (known as the Maccabees), organized a guerilla resistance to defend the Jewish people and their faith. The Maccabees were greatly outnumbered and out-weaponed by the army of Antiochus (just like the American Revolutionary patriots against the British), but fought with the fierce conviction of knowing they had God and justice on their side:
But when they saw the army coming to meet them, they said to Judas: How shall we, being few, be able to fight against so great a multitude and so strong, and we are ready to faint with fasting today?The Maccabees routed several armies that Antiochus sent, and eventually won the war and established Jewish religious freedom for the next hundred years. The defining moment of the Maccabee triumph was when they were able to purify and rededicate the Temple, on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, exactly two years to the day after the altar had been defiled. It was proclaimed that an eight-day celebration should be held on that date every year, and that is the origin of Hanukkah (a Hebrew word meaning "dedication").
And Judas said: It is an easy matter for many to be shut up in the hands of a few: and there is no difference in the sight of the God of heaven to deliver with a great multitude, or with a small company:
For the success of war is not in the multitude of the army, but strength cometh from heaven. They come against us with an insolent multitude, and with pride, to destroy us, and our wives, and our children, and to take our spoils.
But we will fight for our lives and our laws:
And the Lord himself will overthrow them before our face: but as for you, fear them not.
1 Maccabees 3:17-22
It seems to me that while this holiday is traditionally a Jewish one, it celebrates themes of defending religious freedom that ought to resonate with all Americans. For Americans who are Christian, they may note that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah (see John 10:22-23), and those who are Catholic or Orthodox will find the books of Maccabees included in their Bibles. But shouldn't any American of any faith understand the appeal of remembering rebels defending their right to worship according to their conscience?
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Friday, December 16, 2005
I'm more interested in contemplating the death penalty in general than in arguing the particular merits of this specific case. In short, I will just say this about Tookie Williams: if the death penalty is ever appropriate, then it is appropriate for this man. He was convicted of multiple murders of the most callous and cold-blooded kind. While he protested his innocence to the end, and duped a few gullible idealists into believing him, there is no real question on this matter. Though there may well have been cases in which innocent people have been executed, this is not one of them. Moreover, he does not dispute that he was a co-founder of the Crips gang, and there is strong reason to believe that he was guilty of much, much more than what he was convicted of. This was an evil man with a formidable legacy of evil. As to his alleged redemption, he never even admitted what he had done, let alone begin to regret it. His touted efforts to dissuade children from becoming involved in gangs are more likely to be a calculated PR tactic. He certainly didn't dissuade his own son from following in his father's footsteps. To me, that's what makes his case provocative. If capital punishment is only appropriate in extreme cases, where guilt is clear and the crime is heinous, one can scarcely imagine anyone more deserving than Tookie. That clarifies the question: is it ever appropriate to execute anyone, even someone like Tookie Williams?
In considering the question, one must distinguish the legitimate from the illegitimate reasons for capital punishment. One important purpose of the penal system is to protect society from dangerous people. That purpose is equally served by life imprisonment without parole as it is by execution. Another important purpose is deterrence, the pause that one criminal's fate may give to another prospective criminal. On that count, actual results should be looked to. I haven't looked into such studies, but my hunch is that capital punishment as it is practiced in the US is a weak deterrent, because it is such a rare and long-drawn process. (Tookie lived a quarter century between sentencing and execution.) A stronger deterrent effect might be achieved if execution were meted out more swiftly and frequently, but that's not possible to do without transforming the US into someplace more like the old Soviet Union or the Taliban or Singapore (all of which had low crime rates for the crimes that they punished).
Then there are the illegitimate reasons for capital punishment. One most commonly cited is that it is "justice" that capital crimes be answered with capital punishment. But justice is a misnomer here, the proper word is vengeance. This is the old "eye for an eye", and it is as barbaric as chopping the hands off of thieves. Believe me, I feel the allure of it too. It's hard to think of the crimes Tookie committed, and not to wish much more painful deaths on him than the one he suffered. But a civilized society must rise above this, or it ceases to be civilized. It has nothing to do with what the criminal deserves. It has to do with what we as a society become if we stoop to blood vengeance. And I'm coming to believe that if we practice capital punishment, we corrupt ourselves.
Another common justification given is that the family of the victims deserve to see the murderer executed. But this is just another spin on the same blood vengeance. If we truly believed that, then we should have a guillotine or a firing squad, and we should allow the families of the victims to pull the trigger, and enjoy the violence of spilling the murderer's blood. If that sounds barbaric to you (and I hope that it does), then ask yourself whether that differs in any significant moral respect from the clinical death-by-injection carried out on Tuesday.
A different argument is sometimes made that it is expensive to maintain someone in prison for life, and why should the good taxpayers be burdened with supporting a worthless life. If one looks only at the ledger, there seems to be an argument there. But one must look at the non-fungible costs. Killing someone because their life "isn't worth the expense of supporting it" is a monstrous precedent. If we do that, we cease to be a society in which life is sacrosanct, and we become instead a society where each life has a quantifiable worth. Once that bright line is crossed, all sorts of questions become fair game, including euthanasia or medical treatment decisions based on how much a given person's life is worth. Should we go around to state hospitals euthanizing patients who are unlikely to leave the hospital but not dying soon and costing the state a lot to support? If that sounds barbaric to you (and I hope that it does), then ask yourself whether that differs in any significant moral respect from killing a prisoner just because it costs a lot to keep him alive?
To recap: the legitimate reasons for capital punishment are uncompelling. The compelling reasons are illegitimate. And even if some extreme criminals deserve death, we cannot be the executioners without becoming barbarians ourselves.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
If the facts are as reported, the air marshals' actions were entirely justified. When a boarded passenger leaps out of his seat, charges up the aisle, claims to have a bomb in his backpack, disobeys commands from air marshals to "get down", and then starts reaching for his backpack, I don't see that the marshals had any choice. They don't have the luxury of waiting for a situation to unfold and gathering information ex post facto. They must react to such a situation immediately and make snap decisions, based on their training. Shame on those who are second-guessing the air marshals' decision based on hindsight. Given what they could have known (and what they could not have known) in the instant, and given what could have happened had there really been a bomb, they did the right thing. The incident is unfortunate and regrettable. But as an air traveler, I for one am reassured to see evidence of an effective air marshal program. We'd all heard that they were around, but never really knew for sure. Now we know. And so do the real terrorists.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Mindful of the direct consequences, many gay people and organizations have argued in favor of FAIR (the law school organization). Commentators (e.g., KipEsquire here) have noted the irony that the appellate decision upholding the law school position was based on the precedents of Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, in which the rights of free association of a private organization insulated the Boy Scouts against government intervention when they booted out a gay scoutmaster. A similar precedent involving gays being barred from a St. Patrick's Day parade was also cited. Yet both of these anti-gay cases were used to support the pro-gay position in this case. What this really shows is that trying to judge a case based on a preferred outcome rather than a principle is a double-edged sword. I haven't seen this analogy drawn elsewhere, but the other case that came to my mind was that of the 1998 San Francisco ordinance that prohibited the City of San Francisco from contracting with companies who did not offer domestic partner benefits. Gay advocates certainly cheered loudly when this ordinance was upheld in large part (with some exceptions) when it was tested in court. Yet the same principle that would enable the City of San Francisco to pull its purse strings to whip would-be city contractors into providing domestic partner benefits is the same principle being argued by the Department of Defense. If one is right, then so is the other. Others have observed that some of the federal civil rights statutes are similarly founded.
I would love to see our military's anti-gay discrimination finally and completely ended, and applaud the law schools who protest against it. And I am certainly queasy about the dangers of a government's "piper-paying powers" when we're approaching $2.5 trillion in annual federal spending. Notwithstanding that, I believe that a court case should be adjudicated on its merits and the principles, and not on a desired outcome. I'd love to see the Boy Scouts accept a gay scoutmaster, but I respect their right as a private organization to set their own policies, and I think Dale (as well as the Paddy's Day parade case) were rightly decided. (Note that also protects the right of Christopher Street West to refuse to allow Fred Phelps and his death-eaters to enter a float in the Gay Pride Parade.) And while I like the outcome of the appellate court in this case, I'm not sure I follow their reasoning. The Boy Scouts were a private organization facing court-ordered contravention of their policies, while the law schools are organizations (some private, some state) facing a hard choice of accepting funding tied to making an exception to their policies for the government. That doesn't seem sufficiently analogous to me. If I were a Supreme Court Justice, I don't think I'd be very receptive to FAIR's arguments either. Meanwhile, the law schools should follow up on Justice O'Connor's suggestion and vociferously protest the military recruiters when they let them on campus.
Sunday, December 04, 2005
Saturday, December 03, 2005
Always bear in mind that when God surveyed his creation he deemed it good. Not perfect, good. As creatures we must recognize the value of other despite any deficiencies. . . . We cannot pass this position off as a 'hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner' exhortation otherwise a commitment to celibacy would suffice. The equation of predilection to actual act has dangerous implications for all Catholics. The inclination to sin, common to all humans and part of our imperfection, should never be squared with sin itself lest we abandon the hope for living in a Christ-like way by overcoming the inclination to sin to instead act with love and justice.To many of us, this new line from the Vatican to exclude men from the priesthood based on who they are rather than what they do appalls the conscience. But perhaps this is because those of us who are shocked have a liberal conscience, which differs from a Christian one. As Jason Kuznicki explains:
To the liberal conscience, there is no sense in which an innate tendency could in itself be morally disordered, and thus the Church’s former position, while regrettable, was at least comprehensible: An alcoholic is sick, not evil, and we try to understand that his actions are not fully his own. Under an analogous reading of the former policy, chastity — a free choice open to everyone — should have been enough.The analogy of homosexuality to alcoholism is a useful one. If a gay Catholic argues that it is unjust to condemn as evil (or "gravely morally disordered") his very nature regardless of his actions, he plays into the "hate-the-sin-love-the-sinner" reasoning, and makes himself analogous to an alcoholic. At best, this earns him only pity and sympathy, along with support and encouragement to suppress his natural inclinations. And a rational bar from the priesthood. (Incidentally, the Vatican has issued similar instructions to bar alcoholics from the priesthood.)
Under the new policy, however, a strongly homosexual orientation, even among the perfectly chaste, is reason enough to bar candidates from the priesthood. As William Saletan complains in Slate, "Through no fault of your own, you’re doomed."
I hate to say this, but… well, yeah. Complaining about it misses the whole point of Christianity.
To the Christian, every one of us is doomed through no fault of our own, every single day of our lives. We stand condemned not because we have done some specific act, but merely because we are human. We are bound for Hell because of Adam’s sin, and because, in the Christian belief, his taint infects us all.
The only proper escape from this trap is to refute the fundamental premise that homosexual behavior is evil. The Vatican position is that homosexuality "does not represent a social value and even less so a moral virtue that could add to the civilization of sexuality. It could even be seen as a destabilizing reality for people and for society." This is just plain wrong. When two people exchange vows of lifelong loving commitment, tend to one another in sickness, support one another financially and spiritually, putting the other ahead of themselves, and sometimes even take on the additional selfless sacrifice of raising children, how is that not a social value, a moral virtue, and the very fabric of civilization, even when those two people happen to be the same gender? How is it that we can recognize and admire these values in penguins, yet miss the same in humans? That's the argument that needs to be made. Such an argument can clearly be made on liberal foundations, but I believe there is an argument to be made on Christian (and even specifically Catholic) grounds as well.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
The relevant case law, Continental Paper Bag Co. v. Eastern Paper Bag Co., was decided in 1908. That case concerned a patent for a machine that could efficiently produce a folded paper bag with a rectangular bottom (you know, the kind you still get in the grocery store today if you don't opt for plastic). Eastern Paper Bag held the patent, and Continental infringed it. That much was already stipulated by the time the case hit the Supreme Court. The matter of contention was whether injunctive relief was appropriate (same issue with both eBay and RIM), and also whether patent rights were curtailed if a patent holder did not put his invention into use (especially relevant to RIM, though eBay may try to make a similar argument). You see, it seemed that even though Eastern had invented the better bag machine, they declined to actually use it, or to let anyone else use it. This offended a number of people (including some appellate judges), and a reasonable argument was made going to the essence of patent law.
Patent law is essentially a contract between society and an inventor, in which an inventor agrees to publicly disclose his invention in exchange for exclusive rights to it for a limited duration. The core of patent law comes straight from Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution, in enumerating the powers of Congress: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries." Thus, the appeal was that an inventor who basically "sat on" his invention and denied society its use was not holding up his end of the bargain to "promote the progress of … useful Arts," and thus should forfeit some or all of his patent protection.
Some lower court judges agreed with this line of reasoning, though making a distinction between "reasonable non-use" (e.g., the inventor did not put the invention into practice for lack of funds or practical opportunity) and "unreasonable non-use" (e.g., refusing to put it into use despite having the means to do so, and refusing to license it to others who could use it). However, the Supreme Court roundly smacked this down. Being good textualists, they did not attempt to divine the underlying philosophy or policy intentions behind the law, but instead looked at the law as Congress enacted it. And they found that Congress gave absolute property rights to the inventor (for a limited time period), regardless whether he put his invention into practice or he locked it away for 26 years. They noted that Congress was indeed well aware of the "non-use" issue, since they had in the 1830s made the patent rights of non-citizens contingent on putting the invention into use, but put no such requirement on citizens. (And even the limitation on non-citizens was repealed only a few years later.) They also found that injunctive (and not just compensatory) relief was tantamount to the right granted to the patent holder. (Though they did choose to "never say never", with a parting caveat of wiggle room: "Whether, however, a case cannot arise where, regarding the situation of the parties in view of the public interest, a court of equity might be justified in withholding relief by injunction, we do not decide.")
I'd say things look grim for eBay (and for RIM), but the Court seems to feel there is something worth hearing. Stay tuned. (Although when the decision is announced, the headline may or may not come across on your Blackberry.)
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
I'm always encouraged by signs of a radical center: the "Gang of 14", the "Blue Dogs" in Congress (a bloc of Democrats trying to be real about fiscal responsibility) or the "Main Street" (a bloc of Republicans trying to be real about stem cell research) are all good things in my book. And there are certainly some encouraging governors with crossover appeal, Governor Mark Warner of Virginia being the most recent example, but I also remember Governor William Weld of Massachusetts (and said to be making a run at New York in 2006).
And of course there is our own Governor Schwarzenegger here in California, who announced a surprising (and welcome) anti-partisan move today. He is appointing Susan Kennedy, a longtime Democrat, as his Chief of Staff. Kennedy has been executive director of the California Democratic Party and of the California Abortion Rights Action League, as well as being an out lesbian who married her same-sex partner in Hawaii in 1999. In response to a reporter's question, she said that she voted for all four of Schwarzenegger's propositions in the recent election. In seeking to downplay partisan labels, Kennedy said this: "I believe in this man [Gov. Schwarzenegger], and I believe in what he's trying to do for this state and where he's trying to take California," she said. "I think a moderate Democrat and a moderate Republican — there is not a lot of light between us."
That's the way I like to see the pot stirred. Heck with this "red" and "blue" crap. Give me an innovative shade of purple.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Monday, November 21, 2005
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Larry D. Faulkner, USN (Ret.)
Pamela W. Faulkner
Highland Park, Illinois 60035
November 11, 2005
Department of the Navy
Office of Admissions, United States Naval Academy
Attn: Capt. K.D. Frye
117 Decatur Road
Annapolis, Maryland 21402-5017
Re: United States Naval Academy Admissions Information Forum
Our daughter, Molly Faulkner, received your kind letter inviting her to attend the above referenced Forum. Both of us have had the honor of serving in the Navy, one for twenty years, the other for eight. Molly's sister recently transitioned from active duty to reserve service with the US Air Force after serving deployments in both Qatar and Baghdad. We have attempted to instill in each of our children a shared belief in the debt of service we owe our Country and have been pleased to see each of them stand willing to take her turn as they reach the age to do so.
Although the source of our bias is reasonably clear, from even an objective standpoint Molly is an exceptional young woman. An avid athlete, she plays golf, basketball and softball for Highland Park High School, but has placed her emphasis on her golf game and works year-round with a private coach.
Also an excellent student, Molly consistently shoulders a heavy courseload including several honors level classes and receives marks earning no less than "high honors" in any given marking period. She is studying both French and Italian and has absorbed some modicum of understanding in Hebrew through several years of attendance at our synagogue Hebrew school. She is involved in several clubs and is active in our synagogue youth group participating in numerous events involving community service. She is respected among her peers as a steady friend and valued by her adult teachers and mentors for her quick mind, giving spirit and willing hands. In short, she is all that you would consider worthy in a candidate seeking admission to the Brigade of Midshipmen.
Unfortunately, we are certain that you will withdraw your current invitation and will not extend another due not to either her abilities or the content of her character, but for reasons beyond her control. However, we would like it to be perfectly clear that when you delete Molly's name from your database, it will be at your behest and not at ours and based upon policy now so outmoded as to appear ridiculous even to the casual observer.
As may be expected given her maturity and good sense, Molly has long recognized an intrinsic truth about herself. Molly is a lesbian. To her credit, and hopefully in small measure to that of her family and friends, she has been in a position to be honest and forthright regarding this fundamental truth and has found acceptance at every turn with no diminishment of either regard or affection. Neither she, nor we, see any cause for dissembling on this point, her father and I because it is against our inclination, and Molly because her sense of honor and self-worth forbid it. We would not even broach the subject were it not for the knowledge that the very sense of integrity and dignity which would make her an excellent midshipman and officer also render her incapable of adhering to a policy which would require her to commit the offense of lying by omission.
It is, again, with great pleasure that we acknowledge your kind invitation and, were it in her power, you would certainly see Molly in enthusiastic attendance at the Forum. We regret, on your behalf, the loss of the contribution she and so many others like her could and would willingly make towards securing our common goals and doing so in a manner that would bring credit to the traditions of the service.
Please don't hesitate to inform us if the policies, which we believe bar you from including Molly in the appointment process, have been rightfully amended to allow the open and unfettered acceptance of those members of our society who have so much to offer in service to their Country.
Larry D. Faulkner
Pamela W. Faulkner
cc: President George W. Bush, Senator John Warner, Senator Carl Levin, Senator Richard J. Durbin, Senator Barack Obama, Representative Duncan Hunter, Representative Ike Skelton, Representative Mark Kirk
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Monday, November 14, 2005
Sunday, November 13, 2005
When UCLA had been advertising the play, their season brochure and radio ads described Measure for Measure as a "light-hearted comedy", which struck me as very odd as I remembered it being rather heavy and not very comical. (In fact, I wondered whether the copywriter even knew the play.) I noticed that in the last week before it opened, the radio ads had changed to describing it as a "subversive comedy". Structurally, the play is arguably a comedy in that everyone is more or less happily married off in the end, but this is not your typical light romantic comedy. The play deals with profound themes of justice versus mercy, and the crucial moment in the play is the confrontation between Angelo and Isabella, where he forces on her the choice of her chastity or her brother's life. She speaks truth to power, but he counters that given his power, "say what you can, my false o'erweighs your true". Not exactly the stuff of comedy. This tension between comedic form and the dramatic moment of the subject makes the play difficult, and presents some hard choices for a director. Is Angelo a puritanical villain, or a virtuous man brought down by lust? Is the Duke a wise and strong ruler, or does he cop out in letting Angelo be the bad cop? And what might Shakespeare himself be saying about strict moral laws? Needless to say there is a lot of scope for a director to take this in interesting directions to overlay current relevance. But that's not the mission of the Globe Theatre, who strive for the authenticity of Shakespeare's time. They chose to emphasize the comedy, not only through the truly comic characters (such as Lucio and Barnardine), but through creative comic relief in interpreting the dramatic scenes (for instance, Angelo's momentary pause and arched eyebrow in II:iv when Isabella enters for the fateful confrontation, saying to Angelo "I am come to know your pleasure"). The Duke is portrayed as a bit doddering and befuddled, adding comic opportunity and lightening his character. (He even makes light of her non-response to his proposal in the end.) This provides balance (and even tips to the comic side) against an unflinchingly austere Isabella, and earnest dramatic portrayals of Claudio, Mariana, and Juliet. The result is a very enjoyable performance that makes you laugh but leave with a slightly unsettled feeling (not unlike the off-note of Malvolio's curse at the end of Twelfth Night), to wrestle with and come to your own resolutions about the themes. And perhaps that is exactly how the Bard intended it.
Friday, November 11, 2005
The Army is the best thing that ever happened to me. My career gave me an opportunity to make what I believe was a significant positive impact on the lives and careers of the numerous outstanding soldiers with whom I served. . . . I would have loved to remain in the Army and I probably would have continued to do well, however the Army's policy on gays in the military made that impossible. Two decades of always having to look over my shoulder were enough."
— William Winniwisser, Lt. Colonel, US Army (1982-2002)
I did not accept my homosexuality until my last tour. Those years were difficult. I couldn't seek counseling because I had to use military medical facilities and didn't know who I could trust. Before I retired, my best friend — an army officer who was also struggling to accept his homosexuality — committed suicide. I had to cope with the pain alone, in silence, lest I risk being discovered myself. After all I had given to the Navy, living in fear of losing my career or my pension seemed like an unjust reward.
— Nick Marulli, Petty Officer First Class, US Navy (Retired)
My bosses identified me as "the best staff officer in the battalion" and "best company commander in the brigade." More importantly, I earned the trust and respect of most the soldiers I led. As a matter of conscience, I resigned my commission because of the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. . . . When I got out (literally and figuratively), I outed myself to as many people as I possibly could. About 80 percent of those I told said something like: "Yeah, we knew, we didn't care, we wish you had stayed." Another 15 percent expressed surprise, although I had never made any attempt to pass as heterosexual. This group was usually very supportive as well. Only about 5 percent decided that they couldn't be my friend if I was gay.
— Rebecca Kanis, Captain, US Army (1991-2000)
At this early point in my career, a young Hispanic marine from another platoon "came out" as gay to a chaplain. I watched the chain of events that took place very carefully. It confirmed my views about Marine leadership. This young man was afraid that if his peers found out that he was gay they would beat him up — maybe even kill him. Nothing was further from the truth. The first sergeant took time to speak with the young man and find out what he was all about. His company mates looked out for him and took care of him until he was discharged. There was never any discussion about his shower or living arrangements. We Marines were all brothers and the first sergeant made sure everyone understood that. Leadership creates the mindset of an organization, and the leadership in my unit set the standard.
— Phil Adams, Captain, US Marine Corps (1983-1992)
Thursday, November 10, 2005
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
It should also be noted that "good government" propositions (i.e., the sort that propose a general improvement in some aspect of government function) seldom succeed even when they are superbly sound and reasonable. This comes down to just plain politics and social psychology. By their nature, good government proposals are something that a broad number of people may approve of, but won't feel very strongly about. At the same time, any constituency whose ox is gored by the proposal will oppose it vehemently. And in elections, when it comes to putting "wood behind the arrow" (raising campaign funds), the vociferous few will decisively overcome the mild inclinations of the many. When it comes to something like independent redistricting, those who will be most vehemently against it (incumbent politicians and partisan hacks, often of both parties) are by definition those who are most politically powerful. It's a wonder when any such proposal passes. Note that as the alleged "Republican power grab" was going down in flames in California, a similar redistricting measure in Ohio, labeled a "Democratic power grab" by the GOP-dominated incumbents in that state, also went down. If only our Governor had put more muscle into pushing the merits of good proposals rather than picking fights with teachers and nurses. Alas, it was a bad day for good government.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
According to Assemblymember Jackie Goldberg, "the corporate takeover of California is what is being proposed". Her arguments against Prop 77 were disingenuous and designed to appeal to left-wing emotions rather than reason. She says "No state uses retired judges. In fact, almost all of them do it the way we in California currently do it." In actual fact, 20 states have some form of district drawing commission separate from the legislature, and the only reason 29 other states currently do it the way California does is that it is notoriously difficult to wrest the district drawing power away from the legislature, when keeping it is one of the few things that both red and blue partisan politicians will agree on. She goes on to say, "Think about retired judges. Currently almost all of them are going to be Anglo males, largely drawn from the men appointed by [Republican] Governors Wilson and Deukmejian. This does not sound 'non-partisan' to me." The statistical claim about retired judges is debatable, but more importantly, she obtusely ignores the provisions in Prop 77 that make it scrupulously non-partisan, similar to a jury selection process, with representatives from both major parties getting both selections and vetoes over candidates drawn from a random pool. And then voters get to approve it. It should sound very non-partisan to anyone who will bother to actually read and consider the proposition, but for Democrats like Assemblymember Goldberg, the actual details of the measure are irrelevant. It was put up by Governor Schwarzenegger, a Republican, so it must be evil. (Ironically, a very similar measure, in aims if not methods, on the ballot in Ohio is being strenuously opposed by the Republicans, as they are the ones who currently control Ohio's state legislature.)
According to activist Jamie Court, a whole slate of our ballot measures are part of a vast right-wing conspiracy emanating from Washington: "Some of the nation's leading conservative thinkers and strategists are seeking, through Schwarzenegger's initiatives, to alter the balance of power between the right and left wings of California politics. Their hope is to turn California red in '08 and pioneer a new gospel that can spread across the country." With hysteria like that, all of the oxygen is sucked out of the room for any reasoned debate on the merits. What could one possibly say in response?
Voting on such an irrational basis really galls me, but at the same time I'm not sure I can blame them. In a better society, such suspicion would be uncalled for. The problem is, people have been given reasonable cause for suspicion. After Tom DeLay's baldly partisan hijacking of the redistricting process in Texas, any reasonable person's hackles should be raised when redistricting is put on the table. And while President Clinton famously surrounded himself with policy wonks, President Bush infamously surrounds himself with political strategists and spin-doctors like Karl Rove. While the untrustworthiness of most politicians is as old as dirt, it sure seems as though today's politicians are breaking new ground for shamelessness. (Republicans are by no means alone in this, but they're doing the worst of it at the moment, only because they are in control at the moment.) If Prop 77 goes down, I lay some of the blame at the feet of Tom DeLay and Karl Rove.
Sunday, November 06, 2005
Saturday, November 05, 2005
Thursday, November 03, 2005
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
In addition to this well-founded meta-position of voting NO on 80, I have a "meta-philosophy" on initiatives in general. When I doubt, one should always vote NO. Not only is it the safer position, but perhaps if more initiatives are defeated, people will become more discouraged from submitting more initiatives in the future. We have too many initiatives as it is, with too many of them hitting on topics that are no business for an initiative. Prop 80 is a fine example of the sort of initiative that needs to be discouraged.
As if that weren't enough, the text of the proposition contains wording describing abortion as "the death of the unborn child", which may have unintended consequences beyond this proposition if it becomes installed in the State Constitution. (Actually, some would argue that the consequences are fully intended by the proposition's proponents, intending to establish a pro-life beach-head in the Constitution.) A parental notification statute in Pennsylvania containing a nearly identical phrase has had the unintended(?) consequence of constraining stem cell research in that state. California, having just authorized a substantial state investment in stem cell research, certainly doesn't need this to become a spanner in the works.
The proponents' argument in the ballot pamphlet starts with the observation that a teenager can't get a flu shot or even an aspirin from the school nurse without parents being notified, but they can have an abortion in secret. Granted that's a jarring juxtaposition, but what's wrong with that picture is that the school nurse can't give a child an aspirin without fear of being sued. In the case of reproductive health services, the state has long recognized the importance of teens having confidential access to such services, and because of their importance, have created a special "safe haven" for teens who need such services and the medical practitioners who treat them. (Such laws go back to the 1950s, so I would say they have stood the test of time.)
Finally, one should keep in mind the larger picture, in that teen pregnancy rates, birth rates, and abortion rates have been dropping nationwide in the last 15 years, and even more so in California than the nation overall. Obviously the policies of the last 15 years are moving us in the right direction, and this misguided proposition seems unlikely to improve that and would possibly move us backwards.
Monday, October 31, 2005
Our intrepid team met on a cool sunny Saturday morning at Red Box Station on Angeles Crest. We started off inauspiciously, with a search for a supposedly easy geocache right there at Red Box, but came up empty, so we decided to just get moving. After dropping cars at Eaton Saddle, we started off at 4301' altitude, following a private paved road winding up through pine trees to a saddle (5500') where we took a single-track spur trail to our first peak, Mount Deception (5783'). The trail was pretty steep at first, but then turned to gentle ups and downs through beautiful high chaparral of manzanita and some huge yucca skeletons (some of them nearly 30' tall). We had breathtaking views of the whole San Gabriel range, and although the LA basin was covered in a layer of white, we could clearly see the upper reaches of Catalina Island peeking out above the white. At the summit, while I was focused on my GPS, Katy spotted a rock cairn that hid the Sierra Club summit log, so we stopped to sign. And a little further when we zeroed in on the first cache, Katy was the first to spot it. A small 5x3x2 container had some prizes in it. We all signed the log, and Katy took a geocoin trading it for an outrigger race medallion. I left a scorched geocoin that I had retrieved from a melted cache after the fires in the Simi hills last year.
We then dropped back down to the saddle and hiked around to Mount Disappointment (5948'), which has a flattened top with a bunch of comms antennas on it. Just beyond the summit was a pile of boulders which we scrambled around for a while, searching all the crevices for the cache. Just when we were about to give up, I found the small cylinder hidden under a large boulder and concealed by another rock. It was about noon, and it was a nice spot to enjoy our lunch. From there, we could look down on Mt. Deception where we'd been, up to San Gabriel Peak where we were headed next, and across to Mt. Lowe and Mt. Markham, which we'll hit another time.
Back down to the next saddle (5704') and then up a winding single track trail to San Gabriel Peak (6137'), which I believe is among the highest in the front range. That was another tricky cache, which turned out to be a fake rock hide-a-key, hidden amongst other rocks, but with persistence we eventually prevailed. After resting and enjoying more views, we headed back down, taking a different path off the shoulder to hook up with the Eaton Saddle fire road (5270'), through a tunnel, and back to the cars at 5108'.
Friday, October 28, 2005
On philosophical grounds, I'm generally opposed to tenure as a concept, except in special cases. In general, people should be entitled to keep their job so long as they are performing productively in a valuable capacity, but when they cease to perform well (or their services otherwise cease to be valuable), it's unreasonable to artificially constraint the termination of the employment relationship. That's the way it works for most of us in the "real world", and I see no philosophical reason teachers should be any different. I mentioned that there are certain cases where tenure is justified: a Supreme Court Justice is one example, where the lifetime appointment is important to preserving independence from political pressures. And in university academics, I can see the case for it, where research should be kept free from intimidation against unpopular inquiries. But I don't see any case to be made for public school teachers needing tenure any more than waiters, actors, salesmen or accountants need tenure.
That being said, I think there is a current pragmatic (non-philosophical) justification for public school teachers to have tenure, and that is because tenure as a benefit is a modest form of non-cash compensation to help make up for the fact that teachers are paid less than they ought to be. I would love to see tenure tossed on the scrapheap, and merit pay introduced instead of a rigid seniority system, but coupled with a substantive overall increase in pay across the board. I get this idea from Matt Miller, who has written extensively on this, and has run some numbers and some political surveys to show that this really could work. I highly recommend his book "The 2% Solution: Solving America's Problems in Ways Both Liberals and Conservatives Can Love". You can also find a synopsis of his win-win education reform proposal in this article.
Education reform is desperately needed, and if a more credible and comprehensive solution were put on the ballot, I'd happily vote for it. In the meantime, while I support what they're trying to get at with Prop 74, I don't think I can support this "half measure", which is all stick and no carrot.
Thursday, October 27, 2005
As to what happens next, I think Kip's read is as good as any. Edith Clement has the New Orleans angle, she's got the experience, the conservatives are confortable with her (I think?), and yet she doesn't seem quite the fire-breathing ideologue of say a Janice Rogers Brown. Stay tuned.
As background, it's important to understand that California has been in a down-spiraling fiscal mess ever since the Internet boom caused state revenues to boom as if the state had won some lottery. The state government increased spending commensurately, like those lottery winners you always hear about who blow it all and end up broke. Sure enough, after the Internet bubble burst, California has been piling debt upon debt ever since. This is compounded by the operation of a 17-year-old measure (Prop 98) that guarantees a minimum spend on education, based on formulas that increase over the previous year, such that windfall spending in one year raises the bar that much higher forever more.
Although there already exist current spending limits and balanced budget requirements, analysis shows that these are not sufficient to avoid similar messes in the future. Research indicates that only a rigorous requirement to balance actual spending to revenue (not just the budget as forecast) is effective in avoiding mounting deficits. The current requirements insure only that a balanced budget is passed at the start of a fiscal year, but do not protect against that budget falling out of balance when actual revenues fall short of what was estimated. Proposition 76 would provide two important protections: first, to limit spending to a measured growth (avoiding the drunken lottery winner syndrome), and second, to require budgets to STAY balanced. (The analysis of the California Policy Institute suggests that the spending limits would play an even greater role than the "anti-deficit" requirement.) Two independent studies have done a retrospective analysis on how California might have looked if had Prop 76 15 or 25 years ago, and it looks pretty reasonable. In short, Proposition 76 seems likely to be effectively beneficial for future fiscal sanity.
The Proposition also tweaks the old Prop 98 education funding guarantees (which had previously been tweaked by Prop 111). The changes are too technical to explain in this already long blog, but after studying them, they seem reasonable to me. There is a lot of heated rhetoric out there about $3.8 billion that the Governor "cut" from the education budget, and how this proposition will cause a reduction in funding. The reality is that that $3.8 billion was money the state never had in the first place, and only existed in the hypothetical budget requirements created by the perverse combination of Prop 98 mandates in the wake of the boom spending spree. ("Hypothetical" is a diplomatic description of that "budget". "Fantastic" might be more apt.)
Probably the most controversial aspects of the proposition concern the expanded powers given to the Governor. Under the new measure, if the budget falls out of balance, the Governor can declare a fiscal emergency and convene the Legislature to address it. The Legislature then has 45 days to enact correcting legislation, and if they fail to do so, the Governor has unilateral power to reduce State spending by making cuts at his discretion. While there is a definite shift in balance of power going on here, it is not quite as dire as the shrill warnings of the measure's opponents claim. "It places everything at the whim of the Governor!" they warn. Yes and no. For one thing, the Legislature always has the "right of first refusal" to, um, actually do their job and pass a budget. And even if the Legislature abdicates their responsibility in the first place, handing this new power to the Governor, the Legislature can always "get their act together" at a later time. In other words, if the Governor's cuts are not to their liking, they can always pass a new budget more to their liking, so long as it addresses the fiscal requirements. It should also be noted that the Governor already has a fair amount of power with the ability to reduce budget line items before signing a budget. All that being said, I do think that this goes too far. However, I think the benefits of the overall measure outweigh this queasy part. Also remember it's not uncommon for propositions to get tweaked by later propositions, and this seems to me the most likely part of this proposition (should it pass) to be tweaked in the future.
The other part of the proposition that I have some misgivings about is the automatic extension of the prior year's budget if the government can't get a new budget passed. It's a bit disconcerting nearly every year in June when the state government comes to a near-screeching halt when the budget expires and the Legislature hasn't pulled together the new one. But that screeching puts great pressure on them to finally get the job done. This auto-pilot budgeting makes the stakes too low for obstructionists in getting a new budget hammered out.
On the upside, other provisions tighten up the loopholes that have allowed all-too-frequent raids of "special funds" to keep the general fund afloat. When Californians voted for a gas tax that was to explicitly fund transportation projects, that's what we should get. Not a transportation fund full of IOUs from the general fund while the pot-holes go unfilled.
I glanced at the "pro" and "con" arguments in the ballot pamphlet, not that these are explicitly illuminating, but they are implicitly so. On the "rhetoric" meter, usually the sides are more balanced between reason and hysteria, but in this case the "con" arguments sounded much more hysterical to me, while the "pro" arguments sounded much more reasonable. Endorsers included the Governor, California's current Finance Director, a UCLA economics prof, the state Secretary of Education, and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association president. Opponents included the teachers union, the nurses union, the firefighters union, and the law enforcement union. (Draw your own conclusions from that.)
In sum, while there are parts of this proposal that definitely make me a bit queasy, I think the overall package is needed, and the benefits outweigh the misgivings.
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
After the 2000 census, California's Democrats and Republicans, though extremely polarized in the legislature, struck an unholy alliance in which they colluded to preserve all incumbent parties by drawing a new district map that would make Elbridge Gerry blush. A simple glance at the Senate district map for the Los Angeles area (shown here) should make that perfectly clear. We live in Senate district 22 (shown in brown), in the narrow isthmus that inexplicably connects an amorphous swatch of downtown and east Los Angeles with a mickey-mouse cut-out of Pasadena. As strangely shaped as my Rorschach test of a district is, it is by no means atypical. In fact, when I looked up "gerrymander" in Wikipedia, I found a California congressional district as one of the casebook examples. (Unfortunately, California is not unique in this respect. Illinois and the Texas travesty provide other examples.)
Proposition 77 would take district-drawing out of the hands of the legislature and assign it to a panel of retired judges, chosen through a thoroughly fair and assiduously bipartisan process, and with final approval from the voters. So why would anyone oppose it? Ironically, neither of the major parties are happy about it, as it will likely undo the cozy "safe" districts they had carved out, and possibly create some real competition. What arguments do they put against it? They start with the general smear of trying to associate this initiative, along with most of the others, with Governor Schwarzenegger, whose popularity is sagging lately. One would hope that people would be smart enough to vote on each proposition on its merits, rather than take them all as a referendum on the Governor. Regretably, many people will do just that. There's also the more focused smear of accusing this proposition of trying to "do what they did in Texas", which is an ironic accusation. There is a superficial similarity in that Prop 77 would trigger a redistricting outside the customary decennial cycle, but there the similarity ends. Prop 77 will actually protect us against the blatant partisan redistricting that was done in Texas in 2004 (and in California in 2001). The sooner the better. They cry about "added costs" of "extra elections", but that's bogus. The process will require no extra elections, and is structured to cost half of the current process. They sound the alarm that "three unelected judges will decide everything" (I've spared you the all-caps and exclamation points used in the ballot pamphlet). Well, yes, that's the point: the current problem is that the elected officials have an inherent conflict of interest. And they appeal to partisan fears, warning that "it's a Republican power grab". Um, no, it's a power grab by the people away from the unholy alliance of incumbent partisans.
There is absolutely no good reason to vote against Prop 77 and every good reason to vote for it. Vote YES on 77.