Monday, January 31, 2005
Cafe Atlantic, 53 E. Union St., Pasadena, (626) 796-7350
Sunday, January 30, 2005
Friday, January 28, 2005
Basically, there are four things that impact Social Security: how much tax does each worker pay into the system, how much benefit does each retiree draw out of the system, how many workers are there compared to how many retired people, and how long are retirees living? The reason that there will be a problem at some future date if we don't fix the system is a combination of: retirees are living longer than they used to, we have fewer younger people than older people (that "baby boom" generation starts to retire in a few years), and the benefits are increased every year. But it's hard to conceive of whole populations and life expectancies and so on, which is why I like to boil things down to an analogy.
Consider our three roommates, who pay $400/month each for a $1200/month apartment. Now let's assume that at the end of the year, two things are going to happen: The landlord is raising the rent to $1400/month, and one of the roommates is moving away. The two remaining roommates basically have three choices:
(1) cough up $700/month each to pay the increased rent between just the two of them
(2) find two additional roommates to share the increased rent; or
(3) look for a cheaper apartment that rents for only $800/month
There's just not really any other way to make ends meet.
With Social Security, longer-living retirees and increasing retirement benefits are like the rent being raised. And the smaller number of working people compared to retired people is like losing a roommate. Likewise, there are only three basic ways to fixing the problem with Social Security:
(1) raise the Social Security taxes on workers (i.e., cough up more rent)
(2) increase the retirement age, which effectively increases the ratio of working people to retired people (i.e., find additional roommates to share the rent)
(3) decrease Social Security benefits (find a cheaper apartment)
You'll notice that "privatization" of Social Security is not among these options. As I explained in the previous post, privatization would be the equivalent of the landlord switching the terms from month-to-month in arrears to one-year-lease paid in full up front. Obviously, that would be no help at all to the remaining roommates in trying to deal with higher rent split among fewer people. That's because privatization won't do anything at all to fix what is broken with the system.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
An analogy may be helpful here. Let's consider three roommates who put up $400 each for a $1200/month apartment. And let's say their landlord has been charging rent monthly in arrears, meaning that on February 1, they pay $1200 rent for January, on March 1, they pay $1200 rent for February, etc. Over the course of a year, the roomies are paying $14,400 (i.e., 12 times $1200) in rent. Now let's say that the landlord gives them notice that starting in March, he wants to convert to a one-year lease (instead of month-to-month) fully paid in advance. So on March 1, the roomies will need to somehow cough up $1200 (for February in arrears) plus $14,400 for the year starting March 1 thru the following February. Note that the landlord has not raised the rent at all. It's still $14,400 per year just like it's always been. And in the long view, the roomies will not have to pay any more than they have been paying. But in the meantime, the cash flow is a bitch -- they're going to have to come up with an extra $14,400 on March 1! Now these roommates can afford their $400 each month, but there's not much extra in their budget. Their only option will be to take a cash advance on their credit cards, and then try to keep up with the minimum payments each month as the interest accrues. Note that there is never any future "windfall" where they'll be able to catch up. They can pay down $400 on the credit card each month, since they won't have to pay rent again for another year, but when the following March comes, they'll have to pay $14,400 once again, and they won't have saved anything. Plus the credit card won't be fully paid off because of interest. Unless the roommates get raises, or the landlord lowers the rent, or one of them wins the lottery, they can never catch up again, and will only fall further behind.
Since Social Security is a "pay as you go" system, converting it to private accounts would be just like switching from paying your rent in arrears to paying it up front. While technically it's true that you're not creating any more obligations than you already have (just as the roomies were going to pay $14,400 each year one way or another), the cash flow disruption can still wreck the finances. And the need to borrow money to handle the cash flow will add an ongoing cost of interest payments. It's also important to note that once you take out that loan, you can never catch up again. There's never any windfall in the future that allows you to recoup. Social Security is the just like this rent scenario. If no other actions are taken, simply switching to privatization will require the government to borrow money to meet all of its current obligations. The interest on that debt could be $200 billion every year. And it's not like the "transition cost" of privatization will get recouped sometime later. There is no future windfall. Those $200 billion interest payments recur each year indefinitely (and grow as the interest compounds). It may not be technically correct in accounting parlance, but I think I'd call that a transition cost. Wouldn't you?
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Procreation is the act that leads to bringing a new child into the world. Childrearing is the provision of love, support, guidance, and resources over nearly two decades. While childrearing naturally and optimally follows procreation, the two acts are distinct and separable. Our society is painfully aware that the ability to produce children does not necessarily coincide with the ability to raise them. Sadly, many children are born to parents who are not prepared or able to take care of them. Happily, many couples are willing to adopt children which are not their own, a act of great altruism generally viewed as admirable. In fact, adoptive parents are likely better equipped and on average more successful at childrearing than natural parents, since there are no unintentional adoptive parents, and (unlike natural parents) adoptive parents must interview for the job.
Now that we have distinguished these concepts, we must ask whether marriage is for procreation or for childrearing. And I think we would have to answer that procreation (a one-night act) is secondary to childrearing (a two-decade act). It is the long haul of childrearing that the institution of marriage is well-designed to support. Naturally we like to see the two go together, but given a choice between a family of adoptive parents versus two people who accidentally produced a baby, it should be clear in which context the essence of marriage belongs.
Finally we return to the question of whether marriage, insofar as it is for childrearing, is intrinsically heterosexual. Granted, procreation is intrinsically heterosexual (although some homosexual couples do procreate by means of more complex arrangements involving third parties). But childrearing -- which we have said is the provision of love, support, guidance, and resources over a long haul -- does not logically entail heterosexuality. Many homosexual couples have proven to be competent parents. (Here is one example where a Florida family court judge praised two men for being model parents.) While some will claim that proper child development somehow requires both male and female models, it is a narrow view of the world that insists that only men have stereotypically "male" attributes and only women have "female" attributes. Moreover, unless the family lives in a cave, the children will meet other people of both genders (extended family, teachers, friends) who will have some part to play in shaping their understanding of the world. What I think most people can agree is truly essential is to provide a stable, secure, and loving home. And it is the marriage of two loving committed spouses -- straight or gay -- that is best suited to provide that environment.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Some will protest that we must have faith in the Bible, and that the Bible takes an unfavourable view of intimate same-sex relationship. But I would answer that Christian faith is not an uncritical repetition of a received text. It is a mindful commitment to the power of love, to which the text seeks to give witness. Every generation of the Christian faith must decide how they will honour that demand of love in the living of their days. Changing circumstances and changing ideas are not the enemy of faith.
I guess some tradition-loving "conservatives" can support gay marriage after all.
Sunday, January 23, 2005
I think the answer is complex. The tsunami was sudden, creating all its casualties in one dramatic stroke, while most of the other disasters are ongoing crises with relentless casualties drawn out over time. It is our nature to give inordinate weight to sudden dramatic losses of some number of people, in comparison to much greater losses that occur gradually. It's the same reason that many people fear airplane crashes yet have no fear of driving on the highway, even though the latter is statistically much more dangerous. For some, a natural disaster may inspire more sympathy than victims of human causes such as wars. For some, even disease or hunger may be perceived as at least partly deserved (e.g., thinking that AIDS is the desert of the promiscuous, or that poverty is the desert of the lazy). For some, the tsunami may have seemed "closer to home" than other "third world" crises, because it affected some "first world" people, not just National Geographic poster children, but also models, photographers, and Oprah's designer's boyfriend.
However you may have been motivated to give to tsunami relief, you deserve to feel good about your generosity. But it's also worth taking a moment to think about what you give, when you give, and how you give. Think about some of the other crises in the world (I've given several examples already: strife in Sudan, locusts in Sahel, AIDS, tuberculosis, etc). Are they any less deserving or compelling than the tsunami? If so, why? If not, will you donate to these causes also?
Saturday, January 22, 2005
But this description makes the film sound way too dry and pretentious. Not at all. It sneaks its philosophical musings across in a sexy and engaging film noir. I was drawn in to this film, and each new development was a surprise, both revealing more and adding more to the puzzle. (I'll say nothing about specifics of the plot, as I wouldn't want to give anything away.) Almodovar's direction was brilliant as ever. His camera deftly conveys volumes of emotion often with little needing to be said. This is true in the powerful scenes between a priest and a young boy, as well as a lighter scene when a director gives a sexy actor the up-and-down gaze. (And David Hockney would love the art of Almodovar's swimming pool scenes.) Gael Garcia Bernal is phenomenal in a multi-faceted, complex role, including a role in a role in a role. (And I'll admit he's quite easy on the eyes as well, and fittingly rhapsodized by Almodovar's camera. There's plenty here for those who seek a sexy visual feast, but truly none of it gratuitous -- every scene is about the story.)
With this great film coming shortly on the heels of Testosterone, I'm fast becoming a fan of this emerging niche genre of Latin gay film noir. While Testosterone was a great roller-coaster ride and a classic film noir with a gay sensibility, La Mala Educacion does all that and one better, with the added dimension of philosophical intrigue. (Of course, as the film plays with the relationship between screenplay and real life, one can't help but wonder the relationship between this screenplay and Almodovar's life. Alas, and perhaps appropriately, that will remain a mystery.)
Friday, January 21, 2005
advice and consent, n.p. from the U.S. Constitution, stipulating Senate confirmation of Presidential Cabinet appointments. The "advice" refers to blustery harangues given by minority party Senators for the benefit of C-SPAN and the Congressional Record (but not actually for the President). Unlike the normal use of the word "advice", this form of "advice" is given after the fact of the appointment rather than before, and is not expected to be heeded. The "consent" is customary, and is often given whether or not the Senator actually consents. Hence, a common preamble to the "advice" goes something like "I'm going to vote for you, but let me spend a few minutes going on record as to why I'm not happy about it."
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
He compares this to other categorical claims such as "No liberal can support slavery." That's actually an interesting analogy. Certainly today it would be incomprehensible for a liberal to support slavery. However, it is quite possible to imagine an early 19th century liberal -- holding the same principles as liberals of today, but applying them with different premises, and coming to a conclusion in support of slavery as it existed before the Civil War. That historical liberal could well have held the same truths we hold as self-evident, but would have found no inconsistency in not applying them to black slaves any more than to women or children. Slaves, like women and children, were dependents to be looked after, human but not citizens. (I tread on sensitive ground here, so just in case anyone is unclear: I am by no means justifying slavery. But I am explaining how someone at that time could have reasonably been both a liberal and a slave-holder. The liberal principles didn't change, but the understanding of the world changed the premises, and thus the conclusions.)
In the same way, it is perfectly conceivable that two people could both be "conservative", but come to different conclusions about gay marriage (and its legal recognition). Here is a good example. In a follow-up post, the Anal Philosopher quotes Princeton professor Robert P. George: "It is certainly unjust arbitrarily to deny legal marriage to persons who are capable of performing marital acts and entering into the marital relationship." I am in complete agreement with Prof. George on this principle. However, Prof. George (who manages from this auspicious start to reach the wrong conclusion) must disagree with me about the fact that two men or two women are indeed capable of performing marital acts and entering into the marital relationship. (Note that the marital relationship does not depend on a state-granted marriage license. Rather, the relationship stands prior to and independent of the state's acknowledgement of it.)
Certainly, the term "conservative" as it is applied in contemporary American politics refers to an amalgam of neo-cons, theo-cons, libertarians, traditionalists, and more. Certainly there are those from the more libertarian strand of conservatism who have begun to recognize that their principles might impel them to accept gay marriage. (Barry Goldwater and William Safire come to mind.) And Jonathan Rauch, in his book Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America, mounts a quintessentially conservative argument for gay marriage. Indeed, it turns out that conservative principles and conservative reasoning can lead one to support gay marriage.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
This diatribe was inspired by an ongoing topic over on GayPatriot blog, where there's much disappointment and frustration that Andrew Sullivan has somehow broken faith with conservatives. Many other bloggers piled on (eliciting at least one decent rejoinder from PikeSpeak). The truth is that Andrew Sullivan is as independent-minded as he ever was. He refused to go along with LGBT group-think, and he likewise refuses to go along with conservative group-think. When there was a Democratic administration, that was the focus of much of Andrew's criticism, and the conservatives were loving him. Now that there's a Republican administration, and they logically get the brunt of criticism (since it is they who are setting the policy agenda), the conservatives are bemused by Andrew. Though the political winds have shifted, he continues to chart his own course with passion and intelligence. I admire him for that and strive to do the same.
When reading anyone, don't fall into the trap of putting them into a box according to some "with us or against us" scorecard judgment (or "Litmus test", as our President likes to say). With just about anyone, if you listen carefully, you'll find some points of agreement and some points of disagreement. Nobody is always right, and nobody is always wrong. Even if you disagree with someone, it's healthy to read intelligent opinions that differ from your own. And to take the challenge of truly considering them rather than simply dismissing the source. Focus on individuals rather than groups, and the merits of issues rather than their affiliation. Do that and the quality of discourse will greatly improve.
Monday, January 17, 2005
While I can share Senator Miller's appreciation for the oft-neglected prophet Amos, I can't agree with his conclusions on the matter. Amos raged against a people who had become decadent in their wealth and uncaring for the poor among them, and who abused the courts to dishonestly favor the powerful against the poor. You'd think that Senator Miller, wielding the words of this Old Testament prophet, would be leading up to introducing some new initiative to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, shelter the homeless, or at least provide basic medical coverage for the 44 million uninsured Americans. No such luck.
Amos was quite concerned about fair courts, and it's hard to imagine he'd have been impressed with the misguided and misnamed Constitutional Restoration Act that Zeller was endorsing -- an effort to circumvent our fundamental checks and balances, and undermine an independent judiciary.
The most ironic kicker is the Liberties Restoration Act, whose purpose was to protect Judge Roy Moore and other public officials who don't get the separation of church and state. Amos tells us that the Lord especially despised people who came to the Temple to make ostentatious sacrifices, but then kicked the widow and denied the poor on their way back to their mansions. This sanctimonious defense of Ten Commands monuments (from a bunch of people who probably couldn't even name more than three commandments) is just the sort of empty piety and hypocrisy that brings down the Lord's wrath.
Miller should be particularly mindful of what Amos relates about nations who neglect the poor and interfere with the courts, while making empty shows of piety:
"I will destroy her ruler
and kill all her officials with him,"
says the Lord. [Amos 2:3]
Sunday, January 16, 2005
- Read his speeches. Even better, look and listen. King was a brilliant orator.
- Read the prophet Amos. This is the source of one of King's famous passages "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream" (Amos 5:24, cited in King's "I See the Promised Land" speech). It's a short book tucked away at the back of the Old Testament, but filled with the great language of a prophet railing against the injustice of a people who abuse their obligations to the poor and defenseless, while going through the motions of religious piety.
- Read Shelby Steele's A Dream Deferred: The Second Betrayal of Black Freedom in America. This book is imperative reading for anyone wrestling with the issue of the justice of racial preferences. While Steele believes that racial preferences defy the best democratic principles of our country, this book reaches more profoundly than that argument. Steele offers a powerful analysis of why racial politics remain so compelling, even as their practical effect is to work against their purported goal of freedom and equality. He ultimately broadens his analysis to find that the success of racial identity politics has inspired the spread of a whole market in redemption for any group that can claim to be aggrieved. This enlightening diagnosis rings all too true. (My full review is about the 4th one down on Amazon, or can be found here.)
If you don't have anything nice to say, come sit next to me. And go see this play!
Thursday, January 13, 2005
If you haven't noticed La Conchita as you passed it on your way up to Santa Barbara, it's that one-street town squeezed in between the coast highway and the 600-foot bluff towering over it. The bluff has been called the most mudslide-prone stretch of California coast, and this isn't nearly the first time the mud has buried the town. While I can understand the seduction of a small town with the Pacific at your doorstep, surely those who moved in after the big slide of 1995 had to notice the posted "danger" signs.
Do those doggedly determined residents have a right to live on their own land, despite the clear risk? Absolutely, they have that right. The right to live where and how one wants is among the most fundamental. It is essentially American to be able to take our own risks. If people choose to live under an unstable hill, or at the edge of a fire-prone canyon, that should be their choice. But at some point, that choice to take such risk must constitute opting out of the community's responsibility for their welfare. The lines are certainly drawn clearly enough in the insurance market. I don't imagine the La Conchita folks were ever able to purchase any home insurance. Yet some think that the people of Ventura County should all share the cost of building a $45 million retaining wall that might protect the town from another slide, or that the County should condemn all the homes and pay market value for them (an equally costly proposition). That hardly seems reasonable to me. People have the right to take their own risk, but they don't have the right to drag the rest of us along on the downside of their risks. That's like smokers complaining about paying higher insurance rates. I say whoever wants to should be allowed to live in La Conchita, but that all who make that choice have to put up a $10,000 bond to cover the costs of their next rescue. Isn't that the American way? Liberty and responsibility.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
The answer, I think, lies in Thomas Kuhn, the famous philosopher of science who wrote The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he articulated a theory of science as being embedded in tradition. The scientific community operates within a received and established paradigm for understanding the world. When anomalies arise that the paradigm has trouble explaining, the community generally resists giving up the paradigm, until a sufficient crisis gives rise to a new paradigm that eventually supplants the old. The community undergoes a paradigm shift over time as some people are converted to the new paradigm, while stubborn holdouts eventually die off. His classic example is that of the Ptolemaic theory of the universe revolving around the earth, which was only slowly supplanted by the Copernican heliocentric model. The Ptolemists went through increasing gyrations to keep their model consistent with planetary observations. Note that Copernicus' theory, while clearly simpler, was not clearly better at explaining the phenomena (at least until Kepler later improved it). The choice of which theory is "better" cannot be proven in any objective context. There is a largely unacknowledged amount of aesthetics involved. The competing paradigms are ultimately "incommensurable". As Kuhn says, "The competition between paradigms is not the sort of battle that can be resolved by proof."
And so it is with Lincoln being gay (or Michelangelo or Shakespeare or whoever). I was struck reading Andrew Sullivan's defense about the arguments he made, often ending with "sound familiar?" or "ring a bell?". Yes. To me. And to Andrew, and to others who share (or at least truly understand) the coming out experience. But not necessarily to others who don't share that life experience or sensibility.
Kuhn uses the word "conversion" to talk about scientists accepting a new paradigm, suggesting the analogy with religious conversion. "Paradigm shift" and "conversion" are both words I find very appropriate to describe the process of "coming out". There was an "Aha!" moment when the lightbulb went on, and I looked back and suddenly understood earlier life experiences in a whole new way. It was a revelation. Why hadn't somebody told me I was gay sooner? It seemed so obvious in retrospect. Conversion is exactly the right word for such an experience. While I can remember how I used to think, post-conversion it is simply no longer possible to think that way. The new way of seeing the world is clearly right, and everything is reinterpreted in the new light.
The coming out "paradigm shift" is the lens which provides a window into fellow homosexuals (our "gaydar"). I was keenly aware of this when studying Michelangelo in college, and coming to my own realization that he was gay. It was obvious to me. And yet it was dismissed by my professor - oh no, that was merely the Neo-Platonism of the time. Sheesh. Read the sonnets! His love for Vittoria Colonna was Platonic, his love for Tommaso Cavalieri was more. He loved her virtue and his physical beauty. It may be that Michelangelo's feelings for the handsome Roman knight were never physically acted on, but that doesn't deny the truth of what those feelings were. And I can recognize them clearly, because of my own experiences before coming out -- loving women in a certain way but without that physical element, craving the company of men without fully understanding why. As I learned of Michelangelo's life, there was that lightbulb-flash of recognition.
Can it be proved? No. The best we can do is to try to persuade others that this theory is a "better" explanation. As a cultural paradigm shift takes hold, in which more people are aware and sensitive to the gay experience (after all, even savvy straight people can acquire a "queer eye"), more people will recognize the better explanation for the facts. And they'll wonder how they could have ever thought differently.
Sunday, January 09, 2005
The acoustics in the theatre at the Norton Simon were wonderful. We sat in the last row of the upper balcony, but aside from a low hum from the central heat, we could have heard a pin drop on stage. And with the beautifully soft and mournful "When I am laid in earth" from Dido at the end, we practically were hearing a pin drop (or a heart break). Afterward, it was delightful to be able to wander some of the museum's galleries, especially to see the marvelous Romanelli tapestry cartoons of Dido and Aeneas.
The story is a classic that many have put their spin on (Virgil, Justin, Marlowe), but I'm surprised that no one modern has picked it up. While the traditional focus is on Dido, Aeneas could be such a modern hero faced with an existential choice of clashing values -- love or duty.
Friday, January 07, 2005
Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, Sheik Fawzan al-Fawzan, a professor at al-Imam University, had this to say in a television interview:
The question: "How can you believe in a God who permits suffering on this scale?" is therefore very much around at the moment, and it would be surprising if it weren’t - indeed, it would be wrong if it weren’t. The traditional answers will get us only so far.
The extraordinary fact is that belief has survived such tests again and again - not because it comforts or explains but because believers cannot deny what has been shown or given to them. They have learned to see the world and life in the world as a freely given gift; they have learned to be open to a calling or invitation from outside their own resources, a calling to accept God’s mercy for themselves and make it real for others; they have learned that there is some reality to which they can only relate in amazement and silence.
We know that at these resorts, which unfortunately exist in Islamic and other countries in south Asia, and especially at Christmas, fornication and sexual perversion of all kinds are rampant. The fact that it happened at this particular time is a sign from Allah. It happened at Christmas, when fornicators and corrupt people from all over the world come to commit fornication and sexual perversion. That's when this tragedy took place, striking them all and destroyed everything. It turned the land into wasteland, where only the cries of the ravens are heard. I say this is a great sign and punishment on which Muslims should reflect.It would be too easy to take these differing views as representative of Christian versus Muslim viewpoints. I'm certainly aware that there is a broad spectrum of views within Christianity itself. Who can forget the post 9/11 judgments of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, blaming feminists, abortionists, homosexuals, and the ACLU for the destruction of the Twin Towers? The theology of Sheik al-Fawzan seems quite akin to the 700 Club. But I'm admittedly uninformed about Muslim traditions and views, and was curious to learn more about what various Muslims were saying and thinking about this. A Google tour of Muslim websites, forums, and blogs turned up an interesting spectrum of views.
Sheik Abu Yusuf Riyadh ul Haq, who has written a book about understanding disasters as "Signs of Allah", says that our human minds are too feeble to even begin to comprehend the will of Allah. He likens our attempts to understand Allah's will to trying to weigh a boulder with a jeweler's scale. He also says that disasters should serve as a reminder of Allah's plan to destroy the earth in the final judgment.
Muslims participating in online discussions at islam101.com and gawaher.com had a variety of opinions. A few people raised the theory about the tsunami being a punishment for the sexual perversions occurring in beach resorts. (Homosexuality was mentioned, but the focus even from Sheik al-Fawzan was on fornicators in general. Some of the comments were reasonably grounded in an awareness of the sex trade in some of those countries.) But other people dismissed this, noting that there were plenty of more suitable places Allah should have been smoting if that were His object. A number of people saw the tsunami as punishment but of a more general collective sort, in that we all might have deserved this and we should all be praying mightily for forgiveness:
And were Allah to punish men for what they earn, He would not leave on the back of it any creature, but He respites them till an appointed termOther common themes included that it was a "test" of faith, or that it was a reminder of the impending final judgment:
21. And verily, We will make them taste of the near torment (i.e. the torment in the life of this world,i.e. disasters, calamities) prior to the supreme torment (in the Hereafter), in order that they may (repent and) return (i.e. accept Islam).[Surat 32. As-Sajdah, 32:21]One blogger summed up these three common themes, saying "it was a test for the righteous, a punishment for the wicked, and a lesson for the survivors". Another said simply "Allah knows. We cannot know. Pray for forgiveness and pray for our brothers and sisters who were struck." Apparently Muslims (like Jews) are commanded to take especial care for widows and orphans, and this theme was raised as well, since people were very aware that the tsunami created many new widows and orphans.
The other thing that struck me was the general tone of the conversations. Everyone was extremely polite and deferential, generally exceedingly cautious not to say anything offensive. (Definitely quite different from our American blogs!)
I came away knowing a tiny bit more about Islam than I did last week, and with the reassurance that Islam has a spectrum of religious views, and shouldn't be judged only by its most vocal or outrageous proponents. Every one of these Muslim themes -- punishment, test of faith, unknowable God, foreshadow of judgment day, let's take care of the survivors -- has been expressed by Christians and Jews as well. Ultimately, these are something we all share, human attempts for grappling with an age-old theological conundrum.
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
Whenever anyone in Congress starts talking about changing procedural rules, watch out. The motivations are rarely noble. In the Senate, some wise man a long time ago made the rule that you need a 2/3 majority to change the rules. That's because whenever the majority party wants to change the rules, it's a sure sign of partisan shenanigans. But since the Congress seems so intent on rewriting the rules, I'd like to propose an UpWord rule change that would improve the quality of deliberations.
Senate Rule 22.1: A motion of cloture may be passed by either one of the following methods:Federal judicial appointments are for life (and please don't go mucking with that!), so they should be considered very carefully. Extremists of any ideology should be avoided. Prudence dictates only confirming those candidates who can command broad bipartisan acceptance. If any 34 (let alone 40) senators have qualms about a judicial nominee, that should be good enough reason to skip them.
(a) a 2/3 majority vote of the full Senate
(b) a simple majority of the majority party senators PLUS
a simple majority of the minority party senators
The way the senators rant and rave about the "obstructionism" of the minority party filibusters (and keep in mind the exact same rants were coming from the Democrats when the Republicans were "obstructing" some of Clinton's nominees), you'd think it was difficult to find well-qualified judges who can pass the 60% muster. With the headline focus on ten filibustered nominees, it's easy to forget that around two hundred nominees were confirmed. President Bush has an over .900 batting average on judicial nominees! "Going nuclear" over the small percentage of nominees that fail to garner broad acceptance is just plain petulant, not to mention a disservice to the American public. If Senator Frist believed an iota of the bi-partisan rhetoric he put out, he would take the UpWord path of choosing to focus on the 90% success rate, and work with the President to find just a few more judges like the two hundred that got confirmed.
House Ethics Rule: The House Ethics Rules (including the procedural rules of the Ethics Committee) may only be modified when the same proposal is ratified by a 2/3 majority in 3 successive sessions of Congress, and the rule shall only take effect in the 4th session after it is initially proposed.That seems a bit harsh. It would take 8 years for any change to be accomplished. But better to have honest improvements come later than not at all. The benefit is that tampering to suit current self-interests (or avoid imminent scandals) will be prevented. Sometimes it's good not to be able to act quickly. Any true conservative should agree.
I chose the title "UpWord" for a few reasons. The first was in considering how I would characterize my political viewpoint. I have become dissatisfied with the labels of "liberal" and "conservative", "left" and "right". They represent an increasingly thoughtless and artificial dichotomy in which I for one find no home. Thus, "upward" came to mind to express a better direction and one altogether orthogonal to the left-right axis. I also love words, and so the play on words of "UpWord" was appealing. (Besides, the "upward" blogspot was already taken by a disillusioned dying preacher. Go figure.)
I also liked UpWord better than OnWord or OutWord, because I hope that the direction will be generally up. I inherited my mother's spunk, and am an optimistic character. My cup is never half-empty. Neither is it ever half-full: the cup is sometimes oversized. I feel quite grateful that the direction of my life has been generally "up", and I pray that trajectory will continue. I hope that my life, and my words here, in some small measure will lift the world "upword".
Saturday, January 01, 2005
- World Circus. Bush, Ahmadinejad, and Chavez talk past each other at the UN; time for France to step down from the Security Council.
- European Passengers Right to Privacy Stops at Our Borders. Passengers should agree to let airlines send their personal identifying info to their destination government.
- You Have Struck A Rock. Mukhtaran Bibi, a courageous Pakistani villager, stands up to vicious traditions, while Aung San Suk Kyi celebrates her 60th birthday in confinement in Myanmar.
- New World Order? The Prime Minister of Viet Nam visits the US, second stop, the White House, first stop, Redmond.
- Hezbollah Targets Civilians. On Both Sides. Daily news reports have an implicit imbalance that makes it easy to miss Hezbollah's responsibility for civilian casualties on both sides.
- More Cartoon Backlash.
- Profaning the Prophet. Which is more blashpemous, a cartoon or issuing death threats against cartoonists?
- Duly Elected Terrorists. Hamas was elected to eliminate corruption, not to eliminate Israel. Can they fulfill their mandate?
- Peres, Sharon, Schwarzenegger, and Kennedy. Some musings on the formation of a new centrist party in Israel, and whether it could happen here in America.
- Idle Hands: Marriage, France, and Gaza. Why the new Gaza border agreement is so important. It's all about unemployment.
- The True Face of al-Qaeda. Perhaps the 11/9 bombings in Amman will be a tipping point.
- A New Start? The coincidence of the Jewish high holidays with Ramadan offers the right time for both sides to repent and forgive.
- Tisha b'Av. The Jewish holiday of mourning and its symbolism for the Gaza withdrawal.
- Hopeful Headlines. Sharon makes plans to withdraw from Gaza, while Bush plugs the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in Brussels. (Feb 2005)
- Clinging to Fiction Too Long. China needs to just grow up when it comes to its Taiwan policy.
- God Save Nigeria from His Followers. In Nigeria, Muslims and Christians are killing each other, while the Archbishop says bring it on.
- Six Sigma Training for the G-8? Tony Blair, though well-intentioned, is focusing on the wrong goals.
- Do Agricultural Subsidies Hurt Africa? Whether American and European farm supports hurt the African economy.
- The African Money Pit. The futility of sending money into nations with rampant graft and corruption.
- Lessons From Mexico's Election. Mexico's election administration surpasses the US in credibility, but a populist sore loser may ruin the country's fledgling faith in democracy.
- Proposition 83A - For Our Children's Safety. Shouldn't we require Congressmen and priests to register their whereabouts and prohibit them from living near parks or schools?
- Log-Rolling Season. The Senate attempts to buy an estate tax cut with a minimum wage hike, while the LA City Council wants to dupe voters into extending term limits by log-rolling an "ethics package".
- Stem Cells and Animal-Rights Vegetarians. Reflections on the debate over the ethics of embryonic stem cell research, whether the feds should fund it, and how the same logic might apply to the meat industry.
- The Red-White-and-Blue Herring. Whew, the silly flag-burning amendment fails in the Senate.
- Marrying Snakes and other Pink Herrings. The so-called "Marriage Protection Amendment" fails (again).
- A Higher Ethical Standard. Thoughts on the removal of the soon-to-be-indicted Rep. William Jefferson from a House committee, and the White House response to Karl Rove's escape from indictment.
- If This Had Been An Actual Emergency... The WSJ lacks the common sense to distinguish between actual and metaphorical emergencies when deciding when to suspect the Constitution.
- House of Hypocrisy. Bipartisan House leadership can accept warrantless wiretapping, but suddenly the Constitution is being "trampled" when the FBI (with a warrant and probable cause) searches a Congressman's offices.
- May Day. Reflections on the raging immigration debate, inspired by the marches and boycott that occurred today.
- The Hammer Nailed. Good riddance to Tom DeLay, who's done more than anyone to poison American politics with corrosive partisanship.
- The Easy Path: The Gov and Congress But Not the Ayatollah. Thoughts on Gov. Schwarzenegger not granting clemency to Michael Morales, Congress getting on their high horse about a UAE corporation taking over operation of several US ports, and Ayatollah Ali Sistani urging calm in the wake of the bombing of a holy site in Samarra.
- Enough About the Hunting Accident. The press overreacting to Cheney's accidental shooting.
- Excluding One-Time Expenses. President Bush is pulling budget shenanigans that the SEC wouldn't allow corporations to get away with.
- Live Controversy. The irony of the Supreme Court not being allowed to rule on anything but live controversies, while Supreme Court nominees can only comment on dead controversies.
- Concerned Alumni of Princeton. Nominee Samuel Alito has a pretty odious organization on his resume, as I well know.
- 2005 Word of the Year. The most looked-up word on Merriam-Webster's web site in 2005 was "integrity". How telling is that?
- Happy Hanukkah, America. Why non-Jewish Americans might resonate with this holiday more than they might expect.
- Peres, Sharon, Schwarzenegger, and Kennedy. Some musings on the formation of a new centrist party in Israel, and whether it could happen here in America. Schwarzenegger makes a surprising anti-partisan move.
- Bad Day For Good Government. Some wistful post-mortem musings on why it is so hard to get reasonable redistricting measures passed.
- Voting Suspicion Over Reason. What motivates people to vote against an eminently reasonable ballot measure?
- NO on 78 and 79: The Initiative Process is No Place for Drug Plan Policy. More "prima facie" NOs.
- NO on 80: The Initiative Process is No Place for Energy Policy. A "meta-position" on this measure to re-regulate California's energy industry, and a "meta-philosophy" on initiatives.
- NO on 73: A Misguided Setback for Good Health Policy. A look at a proposition to require parental notification for minors seeking abortions.
- Prop 74: Important Problem, Incomplete Solution. A look at reforming the teacher tenure system.
- So What Does She Talk About Anyway? Harriet Miers, an amazing cipher of a person.
- YES on 76: Let's Live Within Our Means. An analysis of a complex proposal to bring fiscal sanity to California.
- End Gerrymandering: YES on 77. An appeal in favor of a California ballot initiative to take the partisanship out of redistricting.
- Bernanke is No Miers. The new (and imminently qualified) nominee for Fed Reserve Chairman makes Harriet Miers look even worse by comparison.
- Alaskan Pork: The Other Red Meat. Senator Coburn attempts to take down a couple of Alaska's obscene bridge appropriations.
- Harriet Miers. The conundrum of the Supreme Court nominee.
- The Hammer Gets Hammered. Tom Delay indicted. It couldn't have happened to a better guy.
- The Disaster Response Disaster. The government's appallingly incompetent response to hurricane Katrina.
- The Spirit and the Letter. Leaders should stick to the high road. Bush should fire Rove if Rove turns out to be the leaker, regardless of legal technicalities. Schwarzenegger belatedly recognizes an egregious conflict of interest.
- My Litmus Test. My qualifications for a Supreme Court nominee.
- Getting Cloture. The compromise to save the filibuster, and the new "inside-out" dynamics of the Senate.
- Reactions to the President's Speech. Quick takes on the energy bill, the balanced budget, CAFTA, social security, and prisoner abuse.
- Senatorial Game of Chicken. The battle of the filibuster is impending. Who will blink first? President Bush is the real obstructionist.
- Are Democrats and Republicans Obsolete? Are Republicans cracking up along conservative-libertarian seams? Are the Democrats in a persistent vegetative state?
- Ghosts of Majorities Past. Some advice from Britain's conservative minority leader, urging the perspective of their history. The British did away with the filibuster over 100 years ago, and when you're in the minority now, it truly bites.
- Principles vs Outcomes, Activist Judges and Terri Schiavo
- Filibuster: Deja Vu All Over Again. A selection of quotes from the 103rd Congress (1993-94) when the Democrats were in charge, and the filibuster was the Republican's best friend.
- No Deficit of Chutzpah on Capitol Hill. Congress urges fiscal responsibility with a new bankruptcy bill will showing no signs of fiscal responsibility in their budget.
- Procedural Activism. More on Republican's threats to dismantle the filibuster.
- Gas is Too Cheap by Half
- Supermajorities Rule. Why "supermajority" mechanisms like the filibuster are not just constitutional, they're a very good idea.
- Hitting the Numbers. Bernard Ebbers gets convicted for fudging the numbers at Worldcom, while President Bush does essentially the same thing with his budget.
- Are Democrats for Anything?
- NIH Cleans Up Its Act. NIH gets clear on conflicts of interest.
- Democrats and Republicans Do-Si-Do. Senator Clinton shifts right on abortion, while Republicans court blacks on Social Security, taking a move from the leftist identity politics playbook.
- Zell Miller and Amos. Senator Miller enlists an old testament prophet who railed against hypocrisy for some rather hypcritical ends.
- Happy New Year, now back to Partisan Shenanigans... on moves afoot to can the filibuster.
- Meanwhile Over in the House... House Republicans find ethics too constricting.
- Beyond Nuclear. Rehnquist on Congressional threats to an independent judiciary.
- Wading into the Wiki World. Trying out a new online tool for collaborative research.
- JewishGen. Profile of an invaluable resource for Jewish genealogy.
- Genealogists Anonymous. The first step: admitting my addiction.
- Curiosity. How curiosity about an unusual birthplace helped lead to a breakthrough.
- 1876 Society Pages Help Solve Genealogical Puzzle. How an old Brooklyn newspaper article lead me link my great-great-grandparents to seven more generations.
- Homestead! The Bureau of Land Management may be able to tell you where your ancestors owned land if they were western or mid-western settlers who got their land from the government.
- Accelerated Serendipity. How the Internet has proved an amazing resource for genealogists.
- Selling Personal Accounts Using Crack-Dealer Tactics. Comments on a proposal to create Social Security personal accounts funded from the trust fund surplus.
- The Math Has Changed. On why Social Security is out of balance and needs to be fixed.
- I-O-Me. More on the matter of the "Trust Fund".
- Half-Full Faith and Credit - or Half Empty?. On the matter of the "Trust Fund".
- Privatizing the Risk. On defined benefit vs. defined contribution plans.
- Fixing What's Broken. Personal accounts do nothing to fix what's broken about Social Security.
- Social Security Transition "Costs". Will financing a transition to personal accounts have a real cost or not?
- Saying "Hasta la Vista Baby" Too Hastily. Should California's state pension privatize?
- Privatizing State Pensions - Good for Whom? While President Bush wants to get Social Security into the stock market, Governor Schwarzenegger wants to get California's state pensions out of the market.
- Another Plessy. Thoughts on the disappointing marriage decision in New York.
- Marrying Snakes and other Pink Herrings. The tired federal marriage amendment fails again; and a WSJ editor's assinine remark about gay marriage leading to people marrying snakes.
- Polygamy Is In The Air. A plethora of good arguments against the unexamined "slippery slope".
- Veto. Schwarzenegger vetoes California same-sex marriage bill.
- An Open Letter to Governor Schwarzenegger. Urging him not to veto California's same-sex marriage legislation.
- A Great Moment, Perhaps Short-lived. California Legislature becomes first in the nation to enact same-sex marriage, though the Governor looks likely to veto.
- California Marriage, Here We Come? California moves closer to becoming the first state to enact same-sex marriage without a court mandate.
- Three Cheers for the Calif Supreme Court. A trifecta of newly settled case law positively reaffirming the rights and responsibilities of same-sex parents.
- Legal Facsimile of Marriage. Jumping through legal hoops to create some facsimile of the legal forms of marriage, and whether it's good enough.
- The "In-Laws" Parsing Us. More musings on how our family refers to us.
- Parsing Marriage, Husband, and In-Laws. Musings on getting comfortable (or not) with using the words "marriage", "husband", and "in-law".
- The Best Interests of the Children. The West Virginia Supreme Court knows family when it sees one, awarding custody to a lesbian co-parent.
- Save Marriage and Textbooks at the Same Time! A parliamentary maneuver may give the California gay marriage bill a second chance. (And just might preempt a misguided measure about textbooks.)
- Close But Not Yet. California Assembly closely fails to pass a gay marriage bill.
- Let Freedom and Wedding Bells Ring. A summary of the findings of the San Francisco Superior Court overwhelmingly in favor of marriage equality.
- Slippery Slope from Traditional Marriage to Polygamy. Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is traditional marriage, with its gender-specific roles, that is just a step away from polygamy.
- His and Hers Spousal Duties? A response to David Frum's assertion that same-sex marriage is making gender-specific marriage roles "unthinkable".
- 50 Ways to Leave your Partner. A look at how various judges in different states are handling the issue of dissolving civil unions, and dealing with child custody.
- For Better or Worse. A useful definition of what marriage is (a response to confused analytic philosophers who think that it is a "union of a man and a woman for bearing children").
- Old Ideology of Evil. A response to the Pope's comments about same-sex marriage in his recent book.
- Similarly Situated, or When Dogs Can Vote. An analysis of legal discrimination and how it can and should apply to same-sex marriage (and a response to the notion that "allowing gays to marry is analogous to letting dogs vote").
- Marriage Builds Character. How marriage contributes to the virtues of altruism and responsibility.
- Marriage, Childbearing and Childrearing. Arguing against the common fallacy that marriage is for childrearing, childbearing is inherently heterosexual, therefore marriage is inherently heterosexual.
- Traditional Values in Canada. Pointer to the United Church of Canada's statement on equal marriage, showing that traditional values can lead some people to welcome equal marriage.
- Can a Conservative Support Gay Marriage? Rebuttal to the assertion that "no conservative could support gay marriage" (and "no liberal could support slavery").
- Maceration and Fig Jam
- Grilled Halloumi
- Gelato Has Arrived! in Silver Lake
- How 'bout Them Apples - musings on the varieties of a common fruit
- Weeknight Cooking: Beets
- Building a Better Strawberry
- More Food For Thought - in search of more ethical meat
- Food For Thought - musings on the ethics of eating meat
- Weekday Homecooked Meals
- Timon of Athens (Shakespeare; CSU Fullerton, April 2006)
- Swan Lake (Tchaikowski / Matthew Bourne, Ahmanson, March 2006)
- Measure For Measure (Shakespeare; Globe Theatre, UCLA Freud, Nov 2005)
- Wicked (Schwarz; Orpheum, SF, Sep 2005)
- The Goat (Albee; Mark Taper, Mar 2005)
- As You Like It (Shakespeare; Sir Peter Hall, Ahmanson, Feb 2005)
- School for Scandal (Sheridan; Mark Taper, Jan 2005)
- Thoroughly Modern Millie (Morris/Scanlan/Tesori; Ahmanson, June 2004)
- The Grand Duchess (Offenbach; LA Opera, Sept 2005)
- Der Rosenkavalier (Strauss; LA Opera, Jun 2005)
- Romeo & Juliette (Gounod; LA Opera, Feb 2005)
- Dido & Aeneas (Purcell; Musica Angelica, Jan 2005)
- Orfeo ed Euridice (Gluck; LA Opera, Dec 2003)
- Don Giovanni (Mozart; LA Opera, Jun 2003)
- LA Philharmonic: Mozart Requiem, Piano Concerto 19
- Poster Boy (2006)
- Quinceañera (2006)
- Le Temps Qui Reste (Time To Leave) (2005)
- Water (2005)
- Mrs. Henderson Presents (2005)
- Cinderella Man (2005)
- Rent (2005)
- Pride and Prejudice (2005)
- Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)
- In Her Shoes (2005)
- Good Night, and Good Luck (2005)
- Dorian Blues (2004)
- Everything Is Illuminated (2005)
- Côte d'Azur (Crustacés et Coquillages) (2005)
- The Notebook (2004)
- March of the Penguins (2005)
- Happy Endings (2005)
- Heights (2005)
- Troy (2004)
- Bewitched (2005)
- Mysterious Skin (2004)
- Sideways (2004)
- Ladies in Lavender (2005)
- Eating Out (2004)
- Bride and Prejudice (2004)
- Walk on Water (2004 Israel / 2005 US)
- The Aviator (2004)
- Finding Neverland (2004)
- La Mala Educacion (2004)
- Longtime Companion (1990)