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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Quick Bits

Laugh or Cry: The day the Mets obtained two starting pitchers, they lost 3-1. Newly obtained Kris Benson started the next day instead of Matt Ginter, pitched five innings of seven run ball, and was relieved by Ginter. Benson gave up seven hits (two to the starting pitcher, an ex-AL arm with an .088 average). The final was 8-0, which Ginter could have managed, and Ty Wigginton would still be here. Sigh. He does have a nice looking piece of eye candy for a wife, who supports a pro-life Republican member of Congress with the same name as the woman who portrayed Sabrina, the Teenage Witch.

Stats: According to my stats, I am getting a lot of hits from a picture of Andrea Parker (Less Than Perfect and previously The Pretender), including some from "Central Europe" (foreign language provided along with broken link information). A couple times, there is even some evidence the visitor staid to check out my site. Also, I noticed a "blocked referrer" coming out of "Central and South America" via "metropolis-inter.com ? (Commercial)." Likewise, I noticed a couple recent visits from "Russian Federation Zone 4," visits that appear to be long enough that the person is actually reading my material. I welcome all foreign visitors to Joe's Eclectic Thoughts, no matter why you came here, and feel free to supply feedback!

Baseball: The Mets picked up a couple young (29) middle of the road starters for some choice prospects and Ty Wiggington, namely Kris Benson and Victor Zambrano. These "picks for the future" reinforces the starting rotation (back-end questionable) and provides arms for years to come. Though Benson is sometimes thought of as an "ace," I think it is useful not to overrate these guys, especially given the Mets track record. Zambrano has some problems, but is a pretty good pitcher, and inning eaters are useful to this team.

I do fear, as I said before, that without better offense and defense (and probably another relief arm), the team really isn't much better with such additions. Starting pitching has not quite been the teams downfall. I wonder if Jae Sao, now an extra, is worth anything on the trade market.

Kerry: A few found fault on his delivery on Thursday. Fair enough criticism, but I don't think crushing. Others on some lack of specifics. Again, I think he needs to leave his options option ala FDR, and the comparison is somewhat apt if we hope for a new beginning for the party. Finally, one speech shouldn't be given too much emphasis. I don't care for it when it is applied to Bush, and I don't care for it overall.

Why Kerry?

My comments below might be compared to Virginia Postrel's rant, one that must be read to believed. Two amusing things to remember: she was an opponent of the Republican Medicare Bill and wrote a beaming account of her lesbian relative coming from out of state to marry in California. On the other hand, the problem with Bush is his inability to speak well. Btw VP, we basically already have the right to health care in any number of ways. So, if that is so horrible, both candidates are damned.

Kevin Drum (Political Animal) was generally underwhelmed with the convention, barely showing much enthusiasm even for Barack Obama. Not being too excited by the convention is reasonable in some ways, though there were some special moments, and an overall hope for change. This hope, which helped to provide a unity that convention management could not create themselves, even if they did a pretty good job whitewashing away any dissent. Such unity and optimism impressed many observers.

I'd like to say a few words about that. I mentioned that I think the "not much of a difference between the parties besides social issues" mantra of some is wrong. But, surely, there are places where one can disagree and hope for more. The time might not be right for it, one step at a time, but the hope is justified. One thing that can be expected is more respect for dissent. A bit more allowance for those "coming together" (convening) to disagree with convention.

I quickly mentioned coverage of this issue last time, which included rushing the platform to vote at an obscure time and with no discussion. It meant some people like Russ Feingold were hard pressed to be heard. It meant Rep. Tammy Baldwin could not mention how she thinks a single payer health plan is the best, even though she thinks Kerry's plan will do a lot of good. Friends can disagree, while agreeing on the important issues. And those on the edges will be keeping a careful eye, and not just on the war in Iraq.

Anyway, Drum called Kerry's speech "workmanlike," which I presume is not meant to be a major compliment. Well, coming from a family with some union folk (not to mention the role of work v. wealth as an Edwards campaign theme!), I don't know if that is such a bad thing. I left others to discuss the speech in detail, but what do we want? Do we want a silver-tongued orator that rouses the troops? Sorry, Kerry is not he. He is someone I'd vote to the presidency. And, Edwards might inspire more sometimes, but he doesn't quite do it for me in that department, second chair or no.

Why Kerry? Some want him to spell out in detail what he will do, you know, so we can know what a Republican Congress will not vote for. Seriously, what he will accomplish (even in the area of health care and taxes, two issues he spells out in some detail) is unclear as a matter of policy. This even includes foreign policy, partly because the future is so unclear in many ways. The basic reason why I am voting for the guy is more basic than that -- he will bring integrity ("trust, credibility") back to the White House, not make us feel a bit ashamed about our leadership, and do so with a progressive face.

There was a bit too much emphasis on biography, especially his military career, in the convention. The introduction by Max Cleland didn't help matters any, nor Kerry starting off with "reporting for duty," though his campaign biography has the theme of "a call to service." Luckily, he did not spend too much time in his speech on that subject, but did have a nice bit about his dad (a civil servant in the foreign service). No, the overall message was that we need change, and that he had what it takes to bring it.

This is where the optimism comes in. Some suggested that Barack Obama could have, with slight adjustments, spoken his speech at the Republican Convention. This probably is true because he spoke about our nation's ideals, ideals that really know no party. The problem is that the leadership we have now did not truly honor those ideals, and did so in an incompetent way. It is this and not specific issues per se that left many key voters uneasy about the guy in the White House. A guy they want to like, and maybe even agrees with on some basic issues.

And, it is what the Kerry/Edwards campaign must address. The speech had specifics, both about what is wrong with the current [approprate descriptive noun here] in power and what Kerry plans to do to improve things. Specifics matter, but only up to a point. The reason why someone votes for a candidate is often a lot more basic, a feeling one person is just better qualified and more worthy of our trust. Workmanlike or not, I think Kerry did a good job helping us decide he is that person.


btw Kirstie Alley gained weight -- it's apparently a big (ahem) story these days. I saw some of the pictures in the People magazine story featured online. She looks pretty good -- good for her for enjoying life. It also was noted she is no longer with her husband (and father of her two kids), whose sexual prowess she praised on an award show a few years back. I guess sex isn't everything, hmm?

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Red Meat -- Al Sharpton

Update: I'd toss out there that Gen. Clark had a powerful speech tonight. Also, Democracy Now! (which I can get on t.v. via Free Speech TV) had some stuff on the lack of dissent during the convention. One noteworthy tidbit was pressure on Kucinich delegates, thirty-seven of whom resisted, to vote for Kerry. DN is one media body that was concerned about delegates. The show also aired some of Kucinich's speech -- some good red meat there too (links to major speeches available at NYT website and other major papers).

I think here, here, and here does a pretty good job discussing Kerry's speech with the final blog putting the convention as a whole in perspective. Time to move on.

Howard Dean got a big round of applause when he came to the mike, partly because people missed his passion, his red meat. Some, even those supporting Kerry in the primary season (perhaps after it seemed he was the candidate, the closer), were a bit depressed at the "safe" convention.

The positive message, the support of broad vague themes, and not enough specifics (both of what is wrong with the current administration and what a Kerry Administration would do differently) didn't quite do it for them. Something Kerry's words (like his comment that the proposal of forty thousand more troops isn't "for Iraq" and the ending of the "back door draft" of the National Guard) tonight might help assuage. He is doing a pretty good job in that regard.

Others have spoken about how the Democrats are not properly addressing their base, including grass roots activism. Farai Chideya (who along with Laura Flanders, co-hosts Your Call) reminds Kerry and the rest of the Democrats that they must "Leave No Flygirl Behind" and address the needs and concerns of the young, the "hip hop" generation. Others noted that the Democrats had no real presence at a recent National Hip-Hop Political Convention. Such things must be kept in mind, as Dean found out when his concern for minorities was called into question.

Dahlia Lithwick over in Slate was curious why the judiciary wasn't more of an issue. Something I agree is very important, along with the administrative departments of the person who wins on November 2. And, in all three of these issues, Al Sharpton impressed. How about this Dahlia: "This court has voted five to four on critical issues of women's rights and civil rights. It is frightening to think that the gains of civil and women rights and those movements in the last century could be reversed if this administration is in the White House in these next four years." Not bad.

I wanted someone with passion, someone who spoke strongly about what is wrong with this administration, and someone strongly against the war in Iraq. This was the value of Dean, Kucinich, and Sharpton. In various ways, they were honestly not serious candidates, even (admit it Deaniacs) Howard Dean. Still, they spoke a lot of truth, and often with passion that enlivened us. Al Sharpton had his moment and he made the most of it. I'm listening to Kerry's speech now, and it has some red meat too. It's a pretty good speech. Still, a nod to those on the front lines, and those who had the ability to truly offer red meat.

We need it sometimes.

Day 3 -- John Edwards

Just to let you know, the delegates officially nominated John Kerry for President, Ohio putting him over the top. I think this was just a coincidence though.

The New Republic Convention Blog suggests a basic problem with Sen. Edwards' primary theme, contrasting him with Barack Obama:
Why is this a problem for Edwards? Because focusing on how we're all alike (i.e., aspirations) is, rhetorically, much more hopeful and uplifting than focusing on how we're all different (i.e., everyday reality).

This is a useful thing to keep in mind, even if we accept that the two speakers are not necessarily contradictory, but provide different parts of the whole -- after all, if all was well now, why would we need new leadership? In other words, we all have similar goals, but aren't all fulfilling them equally. Sen. Edwards is equally upbeat and optimistic, but still his discussion of the here and now is a tad bit grim at times.

As with his "two Americas" approach, this doesn't truly put forth a universal message. We are divided, but I think Obama's approach is better, since it is division often arising from artificial means, or a false consciousness arising from forgetting how we basically agree on so many things. There are problems, not just economic though, that need to be faced. And, Edwards did a pretty good job talking about some of them.

Still, I think the overall theme has too much of a simplistic division of the nation into two parts, which is as crude as red v. blue. What is this "our America" stuff? Are Republicans not true Americans? I do think the message that: "We must build one America. We must be one America, strong and united? is a good one. The problem is, and the speech suggested this, is that we are divided for any number of reasons (race, wealth, party, beliefs, and so forth). I think he has to tinker his message some.

John Edwards' speech overall was mixed bag and appeared not to have as much energy as some of his past efforts (did he have a cold? did he tone it down given who is coming next? is he not quite ready for his new role?). The personal stuff about his family came off well, as always, and he is a good promoter of John Kerry. The anti-negative theme is good too, but rings a bit hollow given some rhetoric on the anti-Bush side. Some of the word pictures of the victims of 9/11 and the war in Iraq also were particularly poignant.

Some of the policy stuff, especially the foreign policy, didn't really do it for me. Didn't quite sell it, but that's not really his job. I think that was left for Kerry. Overall, he did seem a bit green at some points, as a back-up player with an important role to play all the same. I think he will excite some people, while others won't respect him too much. The fact, however, that Cheney is his opposite number helps to balance things considerably!

Sen. Edwards' speech overall suggests a sort of realistic optimism. This is interesting given his sunny deposition and reputation as a font of optimism. Besides the importance of family values (or family and values, not a bad thing, if handled correctly), this shines through:
Like all of us, I've learned a lot of lessons in my life. Two of the most important are that first, there will always be heartache and struggle. We can't make it go away. But the second is that people of good and strong will can make a difference. One's a sad lesson; the other's inspiring. We are Americans and we choose to be inspired.

We choose hope over despair; possibilities over problems, optimism over cynicism. We choose to do what's right even when those around us say, "You can't do that." We choose to be inspired because we know that we can do better because this is America where everything is still possible. ... Let's ensure that once again, in our one America - our one America - tomorrow will always be better than today.

It is in a sense a weird combination, almost like you mixed a conservative with a liberal (the true definition of a populist?), but in many ways it works for me. There is a book out there about how the Democrats eventually lost Kansas, once the home of progressives and populists. They too might appreciate his message.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Volokh Conspiracy Time

Marci Hamilton might very well be a good guest blogger at VC, so let me toss in her column about challenges to polygamy in Utah. I'm no fan of her support of neutral (often in name only) laws that burden religion. She also does a poor job providing reasons to justify laws against polygamy practiced mainly for religious reasons: fear of statutory rape, other harm to underage girls, and incest. The fact many such marriages might have these problems does not mean marriages among adults not related to each other should be affected as well.

What about privacy arguments? "Anti-polygamy statutes draw the line at the number of spouses, not their characteristics or status. There is long-settled precedent that limiting the number of spouses does not violate any constitutional guarantee, nor should it." This is the right focus, though a tad bit conclusionary. Some would also suggest polygamy harms women by furthering patriarchy (one man/many wives, the most popular form of multiple marriage). Also, popular support of the rights of same sex couples trumps polygamy by a large degree, and this too factors into constitutional analysis. Ultimately, she would leave it to the states, including state courts. Not a bad idea.

I think this response sets up a bit of a straw man: the idea that the Patriot Act was designed solely to arrest terrorists, with the apparent implication being that any use of the Patriot Act in criminal cases is somehow illegitimate or abusive. I'm not sure if any supporter of the Patriot Act has ever claimed that the Patriot Act has no application in the field of criminal law. If they have, they were wrong.

-- Orin Kerr

Yes, I have no idea where people got the idea that the "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism" Act was primarily concerned with terrorism. The scorn his opponent offers at the "lawyer" tricks used by Kerr to defend the law might be unfair to lawyers, but the sentiment is justified.

Weasel words like "solely" and "no application” aside, the provision was rushed into law and defended because terrorism supposedly required quick action and some tinkering of the balance toward order. Kerr's use of the ACLU to promote his point of view is also too funny. This is the second time I saw that talking point, suggesting that care should now be used by those on that side of the fence in supplying even guarded support for such laws. Kerr also suggests, hey maybe the law needs to be tinkered a tad, no big deal either way, apparently. Good thing too, since his man Bush doesn't want one iota changed.


Eugene Volokh points us to a case out of Kansas that upheld the "placing restrictions on the display of the large signs displaying photographs of mutilated fetuses" during a protest in a high traffic area. "The officers gave the demonstrators the option of staying by the side of the road if they did not display the large, graphic photographs that had distracted motorists or the option of displaying the photographs at a location further from the road." The justification was traffic safety with captive audience (including minors) concerns raised as well.

I do not quite agree with Volokh that 1970s case involving a statute that specifically targeted drive-ins showing films with nudity that can be viewed by the outside public is clearly directly violated. The opinion specifically is concerned with the content specific nature of the law and suggests a narrow one with a general reach would be acceptable. It might be a matter of him trying to use the case alone too much or not comparing the two in enough details, but I don't quite buy his comparison.

I agree the abortion sign ruling is wrong though, especially since it is perverse to suggest a protest is illegitimate because too many people might see it. The offensive nature of the signs also is in the eye of the beholder. For instance, many are as offended by some gay rights parades. It is useful to remember the point of view being promoted -- if you believe abortion is murder, reminding the public who is being killed is not unreasonable. Free speech, including for controversial topics and modes of communication, must be upheld across the board. Rulings like this one are troubling.

Day 2 - Teresa Heinz Kerry and "We"

I was reading a story yesterday about a tragic dispute that took place in a housing project, which included some photos of some of the participants. I thought to myself -- this is the true face of society, not the public figures we read about all the time, not the fancy names that come out to speak in the Democratic Convention. We need to keep them in mind, which is not too hard after all, because ultimately I am talking about us. This ultimately is whom Teresa Heinz Kerry was speaking to when she said:
Today, the better angels of our nature are just waiting to be summoned. We only require a leader who is willing to call on them, a leader willing to draw again on the mystic chords of our national memory and remind us of all that we, as a people, everyday leaders, can do; of all that we as a nation stand for and of all the immense possibility that still lies ahead.

Note how optimistic the speeches tended to be. It might be deemed surprising given the times we are in, including the low depths the Democratic Party has currently fallen to in this country. Nonetheless, optimism is an essential aspect of a party that has faith that the government can do well, it can protect and secure our interests and provide basic needs when necessary. Also, there is a sense that the leadership of the Republican Party is vulnerable. They are so deficient and rotten at the core that the people are open to an alternative, if a viable one is supplied.

[But, the cries of some are depressingly the same. "Only on social issues does the Democratic program differ from that of the Republicans. Otherwise, the differences are vague, and in the case of the Iraq war, depressingly similar. As for Islam, it doesn't exist."

First, social issues are nothing to sneer at, along with integrity, it is what especially concerns me much of the time. Second, multilateralism (lack of some nuance notwithstanding) v. unilateralism; more intelligent tax policies not focusing so much on benefits to the rich; rejection of the death penalty; "affordable" health care, which DOES NOT mean the same thing in both parties, one of which supporting it since Truman; openmindedness v. assurance of righteousness; a candidate who has spoke the talk, walked the walk on environmental matters; and so on might not be the best we can do. But, please, cut the bullshit. There is a big deal of difference there. The last statement is patently unfair too.]

Teresa Heinz Kerry is an intriguing figure. There is definitely something foreign about her, even before she tells us that she "grew up in East Africa, in Mozambique, in a land that was then under a dictatorship." Her actions against apartheid, support for equality (including of respect) for women, and self-assurance all have a "modern American woman" feel to them. Heinz-Kerry is an outspoken, intelligent woman, but seems to have that touch of nobility or something that separates her from Hillary Clinton. Perhaps, a sense that she staid behind the scenes, while Clinton did not.

Her speech was a bit disjointed, spoken not proclaimed. The words by a twelve-year-old Kerry supporter (one commentator noted that lack of young faces -- under forty, which probably is a legitimate criticism), including her suggestion Cheney have a time out, probably was more successful. So, Terry Heinz Kerry didn't shine as others did, though she often did well on the campaign trail. Still, I think she is an asset, and will make an excellent first lady. And, heck, no need to worry -- she is not a natural born citizen, so cannot become President!

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Day 2 -- Barack Obama

That is the true genius of America, a faith in the simple dreams of its people, the insistence on small miracles. That we can tuck in our children at night and know they are fed and clothed and safe from harm. That we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door. That we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe or hiring somebody's son. That we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution, and that our votes will be counted-or at least, most of the time.

-- Barack Obama, keystone speaker

It was Barack Obama's night. The purpose of the Democratic Convention is not just to promote the candidacy of Kerry and Edwards. It is to promote the party that they hope to lead for the next four years. A party that is hoped will rise again, have a shot at winning one or both houses of Congress sooner than later. This is why it is so organized, on message, and trying to seize themes stereotypically Republican. Obama, the likely winner of the open Illinois Senate seat, provided the way to do it. Too bad the networks decided sitcoms and the like was more worth our time. I myself heard it on the radio, my television spotty because of rain.

An important theme in this election is faith and values. And these need not to be a particularly religious concept per se, in the sense of a belief in a specific god or organized faith. In fact, often "faith" is not deistic at all. For instance, how often do family members say "I have faith in you"? It is belief in principles, ideals, and other things too. A valuable thing to have in this country. Amy Sullivan in that sense was somewhat off base in her comments, as the response suggests. It is faith not only in God, but:
in the simple dreams of its people, the insistence on small miracles. That we can tuck in our children at night and know they are fed and clothed and safe from harm. That we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door. That we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe or hiring somebody's son. That we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution, and that our votes will be counted-or at least, most of the time.

The military is an important theme in this election too, for obvious reasons, including Kerry's history (though the "band of brothers" bit is getting a bit tiring after a while). It is the Democratic Party with the message that: "When we send our young men and women into harm's way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they're going, to care for their families while they're gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world." And, still realize there are enemies that will be pursued and must be defeated.

And, yes there are limits to what government can do:
The people I meet in small towns and big cities, in diners and office parks, they don't expect government to solve all their problems. They know they have to work hard to get ahead and they want to. Go into the collar counties around Chicago, and people will tell you they don't want their tax money wasted by a welfare agency or the Pentagon.

Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can't teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to parent, that children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white. No, people don't expect government to solve all their problems.

Still, there is a lot the government can do to help them, to truly give them a fighting chance. A government not led by those who wish to cynically divide the nation. No, we should have one that offers the "audacity of hope." He might have laid it on a bit thick, but this is a pretty good closing:
I believe we can give our middle class relief and provide working families with a road to opportunity. I believe we can provide jobs to the jobless, homes to the homeless, and reclaim young people in cities across America from violence and despair. I believe that as we stand on the crossroads of history, we can make the right choices, and meet the challenges that face us. ... [T]his country will reclaim its promise, and out of this long political darkness a brighter day will come.

How's that for a good tone?

Democratic Convention: Day 1

Keep your eye out and you're bound to see this argument -- now floated by many conservative columnists -- that Kerry may win because voters need a breather -- a time-out, if you will -- from the turbocharged rush of history we've experienced over the last three years under George W. Bush. The president has simply accomplished so much, bent the world so mightily to his will, that Americans are craving a return to normalcy, as that campaign neologism once had it.

-- Joshua Marshall

Are they preparing for November 3 already? Seriously, that is almost too funny. Marshall and others, including Amy Sullivan, guest blogging for Political Animal, provide good coverage of the convention. For instance, Sullivan discusses some of the religious imagery in Bill Clinton's speech. Legal Fiction also discusses its importance, its rhetorical power to supply a positive counterpoise to the Republicans. Simplistic, but shades of wisdom, spoken wonderfully:
Democrats and Republicans have very different and honestly held ideas on that choices we should make, rooted in fundamentally different views of how we should meet our common challenges at home and how we should play our role in the world. Democrats want to build an America of shared responsibilities and shared opportunities and more global cooperation, acting alone only when we must.

We think the role of government is to give people the tools and conditions to make the most of their lives. Republicans believe in an America run by the right people, their people, in a world in which we act unilaterally when we can, and cooperate when we have to.

They think the role of government is to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who embrace their political, economic, and social views, leaving ordinary citizens to fend for themselves on matters like health care and retirement security.

Surely, the "Republicans" are not all so stereotypical, but sadly enough, the current leaders do lean that way. It leads Andrew Sullivan to speak out in tones that would fit in pretty well at the Convention, one he is loving so far anyway:
The voters who will decide this election have already, I think, made up their minds that they could live without a second Bush term. This is not because they necessarily hate Bush (many don't, including me); nor because they believe that his war and economic policies have been failures (again, I think the record is mixed); but because his conduct of the war in the last year has been wracked with error and hubris, and his economic policy relies upon tax cuts that we simply cannot afford with the kind of spending levels Bush has also enacted. I think it's also clear that, in so far as some swing voters are libertarian in outlook, Bush has shown his authoritarian, anti-federalist colors. This administration is uninterested in restraining government power, in balancing the budget, in winning over opponents (as opposed to sliming them), and in allowing people to live their own lives free from government moralism.

One noteworthy aspect of this year's Democratic Party Platform is the removal of the pro-death penalty plank. Sen. Kerry has been a consistent opponent of the death penalty, bending only in the area of terrorism. His home state is one of twelve that bars executions, many of the others are key "swing states," including Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Maine and West Virginia. Many other states only have it in name only or have been particularly concerned about it of late (Illinois). Compared to the President's record on the subject, who is more "mainstream?"

Bill Clinton again:
Since we're all in the same boat, let us chose as the captain of our ship a brave good man who knows how to steer a vessel though troubled waters to the calm seas and clear skies of our more perfect union. We know our mission. Let us join as one and say in a loud, clear voice: Send John Kerry.

As Josh Marshall notes, for many of us "the rejection of this president is so total, exists on so many different levels" [the speakers might not be dripping with venom, but the anti-Bush stuff is there, sure enough] that the answer is clear. Clinton's words might have a bit of hope in them, a sense of potential, but the basics are clear: we know our mission, our need to join together, and an important moment is at hand. Lest we ever forget, that must always be kept in mind.

Now Pitching, Todd Zeile

A few more words ... The nature of the game (loads of runs, perpetual struggles against the lowly Expos, messy loss) suggests the basic core problems of the NY Mets, a team that I truly think would be in first place now with better managing and coaching. The team has excellent pitching stats, but has a basic lack of discipline. The current manager of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays had a shot to be the manager in 2002, but apparently Lou Pinella got bit by Seattle ownership. The team needs such a guy, someone who wouldn't put up with the defensive miscues, for instance, which has been a problem since the 2000 season.  Also, what is with all these injuries, the latest allegedly during batting practice (of a reliever!)?

It is true the team can use a spare part or three, though honestly, starting pitching isn't quite the first priority. Overreliance on forty three year old John Franco, who just snapped and purposely (?) hit a batter after giving up a home run to the same guy for the second time in a week (Franco was tossed), is an example. All the same, errors in judgment, like setting himself up for the fall (walk the guy!) helps. And, again, no real fifth starter didn't help, but lack of hitting and errors is what truly doomed the team all too often. It put stress on a bullpen that with a break now and again would have been able to do the job.

The team has potential. I just don't think it will shine under Art Howe's watch, who Oakland got rid of after one two many losses in the first round of the playoffs. Put him on a team with a few more problems, and you are just asking for trouble, even if the pitching coach will supply talent good enough to tempt fans to hope.

Ah well, it was nice Zeile got his dream to pitch. Role players like Todd (due to retire) make the game enjoyable, and deserve to try other roles once in a while. He did pitch an inning a few years ago for Colorado (no runs), the same team that got a win from an (injured) catcher vs. the Braves. It was noted in the paper that the Expos manager doesn't like the use position players as pitchers, so that might factor in to the five runs Zeile gave up.  Other outings by position players in similar situations weren't as messy.

It has come to this. At the beginning of a long home stand in which the Mets faced the entire NL East, the Phillies in a four game set and the rest in sets of two, first place was within spitting distance. Again. They lost a couple winnable games. Managed to hang on to beat the lowly Expos. Lost to them. Lost to the Braves, most recently via errors by newbies and their error prone shortstop. The Braves also -- as predictable as the sun rising in the east -- are now in first place by a game and a half, their back end guy beating the other team's ace today. The Phillies? Choke Choke.

And, now the coup de grace (?) -- a 19-10 loss to those same Expos. Scott Erickson's last (very good) start, his first since his first attempt in April was cut short when he got hurt in warm-ups, was wasted by errors and the bullpen. This one, vs those scary 37-61 Expos, lasted two innings (six earned runs). Or, one more than Todd Zeile, who closed things out in the eighth (thankfully the game wasn't at home, saving the team an inning), with a line of IP, 4H 5R 2BB, or akin to the third inning of actual reliever, Dan Wheeler (one less earned run, but two more walks).

When a 38 year old first/third baseman closes things out, you know something is wrong. It is kind of in bad taste, especially since Bobby Valentine is not around any more, to add on runs like that when you are up 14-8, isn't it? To add insult to injury, of course, the Mets still managed ten runs. How about this -- the Expos starting pitcher went 4.2 innings, failing to get a decision because he was unable to get another batter out. The score was 12-5 at the time.

47-51 ... time to climb back once again? Can one truly get much lower than this, after all? Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks ended their fourteen game losing streak. The talk is that Randy Johnson might be traded (seriously, might not happen), since it's not like the team is scoring runs for the guy anyway (eight shutout innings, no decision, last time). Also, they want to protect their "worst team in baseball" bona fides, and you never know when the Kansas City Royals will go into a total tailspin.

Are the Mets playing them soon?

Monday, July 26, 2004

Convention For The People?

If you think John Edwards can't be trusted because he was a glorified ambulance chaser who perverted the rules of the game to make his millions, check out this.

On the other hand, the claim itself might require you forget the rules bending activities of the current President and Vice President in their business lives. Or, the questionable activities of any number of people in the administration and surrounding it. For instance, recall Katherine Harris? She not only was clearly biased toward one side (itself patently corrupt), but the person in charge of keeping elections honest herself had problems when she ran for office. And, now her title is Rep. Harris -- she was later elected to Congress, and made a deputy whip. I know, get over it.

Anyway, this week is the Democratic Convention. I'm not too excited about the whole thing, nor is the media per se -- the major networks have only limited coverage. This is unfortunate, but it is a result of years of the convention not being much more than an extended political advertisement. Also, it bears noting that various resources are available for continual and extended coverage, including blogs, cable news, talk radio, and C-SPAN. I myself get my news from these sources more often than I get them from network news, and the majority of the population also has access to them. Along with print media, which also covers the conventions, it isn't as bad as it might seem at first.

"Conventions" per se tend not to be for outside involvement. For instance, a convention of funeral directors do not care that much if the public or media aren't involved too much, if at all. And, political conventions to some degree follow the same criteria. The Democratic Party itself is in various ways so disorganized as an individual entity that a time for its parts to come together (convene) for a particular purpose, such as starting a presidential campaign, is a good thing.

Still, political parties uniquely have a public dimension. After all, ultimately the public has to vote for these people. And, conventions can serve as a time to specifically involve the public as well. More media coverage, including prime time events to address various issues, and introduce not only the ticket itself but other members of the party (e.g. Barack Obama, the assumed winner of the open Illinois seat in the Senate), would be a good thing. Not everyone constantly concerns themselves about such matters -- the convention serves as a special couple days, days when nothing much is on television anyway, when the public can be informed and take part. I think grass roots is essential for the future of the party.

Anyway, one more time -- why Boston? The party has to prepare for a new generation, and having a convention in prime Democratic territory is rather stupid actually. I do not relish my city (NYC) being invaded by the Republicans in a few weeks, but the choice makes a lot of sense. Why not Ohio or some other key swing state? Oh well.

Sunday, July 25, 2004


It is pretty hard to find a film that got a perfect (rotten) score on the Rotten Tomatoes film site, but Nola did. I think this a bit unfair, though one local reviewer did compare its penchant to combine the serious with fantasy elements (and some over the top moments) as akin to pouring beer over strawberry ice cream.* Perhaps, you need to find this an intriguing mixture, but I basically enjoyed the finished product.

[In fact, some of the reviews suggest a better film than the 0 for 11 rating suggested. One actually gave it a decent rating, **1/2 out of four stars. Another was turned off because the plot became unbelievable, true enough, but even she liked chunks of the finished product. It also got kudos for actually filming in NYC, not Toronto. And, the lead actress also got a lot of raves.]

The movie is better understood when we discover it is the first film of a New York lawyer. This sort has seen the dark side of life, but still has (deep down) an idealized view of the city, and how things should be. They also have a dream of doing something else, including putting their own personal spin on the world on celluloid . It might behoove them not to make a film (especially given the look alike stars, though this actress can really sing) that reminds someone a bit too much of Coyote Ugly, not a critic fave. Still, you got to love the effort.

A Midwestern girl from a broken home escapes to the big city to look for her father. Things go rather well for her, especially after such job seeking moves as walking into fine restaurants and asking for work because "she's two times as smart as anyone who works there." Unfortunately, she gets in trouble while trying to help a worker (so sorry, independent contractor) of the madam who hires her as a personal assistant. Said madam happens to own the coffee shop that she happened to find work in after a vendor points her in the right direction. You get the drift of the script.

So, why did I like it? Well, for one thing, it was often so "laughably preposterous that it's thoroughly entertaining." It was also a good hearted fantasy, which we all need sometimes, though it did have a few dark moments that felt rather off kilter. In fact, they kind of actually supplied a bit of realism, so to speak, which wasn't totally a bad thing. Also, the lead (Emmy Rossum) was charming, and some of the supporting cast was fun as well. Heck, the movie as a whole was pretty fun, which is basically what you want for your ten bucks.

Sometimes, it is worth it to check out low budget trifles like this, especially since it's not like the mainstream sort of film in your local multiplex tends to be gems. In fact, I saw Nola with someone who really liked it. Thus, along with Anchorman, I would say I was 2 for 2 this weekend. Actually, I guess I can toss in Tremors 4: The Legend Begins, the most recent sequel to the series. I recently caught it on t.v., and it was good for it's purpose (something to watch before I went to sleep). Not bad overall, for fans of the movies.


* Said paper might have had a better opinion of the movie, given its extended use of Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle as a film "that persuasively, and intelligently, engage[s] the social realities of contemporary multicultural America." I'm not criticizing the article, by the way; it is an excellent example of how such films deserves more respect because of the lessons they teach us about our culture.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Honest Rhetoric

The NYT has a nice profile of "Stainless Steel Mouse," a Chinese blogger, whose story is put in broader perspective by this Asia Times story. The paper also questions the value of the 9/11 Commission suggestion the U.S. emphasize our "moral leadership." "Such contentious rhetoric would only result in similar claims from the other side, creating a perfect setting for a dialogue of the deaf." Our actions in the international realm seems all too full of hubris these days, so I think the warning a sound one.

That may be one of my biggest gripes about centrist Democrats. They act as if amelioration -- both economic and social -- is embarrassing and has to be handled under cover. Let's not talk about poverty. Let's pretend racism is now confined to the kind of white trash that dragged James Byrd to his death, but that drug wars and disenfranchising African-American voters have nothing to do with it. Let's not talk about gay rights because it makes some voters squirm. (Could all you gay people just try to blend it and shut up, so no one notices you're here?) Just trust us that we'll do whatever is politically feasible to make things better, but let's keep it quiet so we don't offend anyone.

-- Body and Soul

I sometimes think a major problem with politicians is one of tone. We sometimes hear that basically they are mostly alike, especially within a certain party, so what is the big deal? After all, what really was the differences between the major Democratic candidates for President this year? I think the difference was one of tone, which was why so many liked Dean -- his passion, if not his electability, was appealing to many people. Others liked Edwards for the same reason -- rhetoric that was strong enough that it hit home.

The complete discussion is worthy of reading in its entirety (she also has some good things to say about the abortion editorial I wrote about). The basic message is that our leaders have to reach the people themselves. And, people are not really inspired by bland centrist policy talk, even if it does result in some good things being done. Sometimes, just talking about problems, admitting they exist, and stating that they need to be faced is impressive. As is (in the case of a local official she discusses) directly interacting with the public, listening to their concerns, and suggesting you actually care about them. And, I don't mean just by going through the motions; I mean proving it by your actions.

National security is said to be the name of the game now. And, sure enough, it is in many ways. All the same, as important on some level, is having a government we can trust and believe in. This is true for many of us at least -- the level of despair at the way the government is being run is clear, even among those who support the war and other policies of those in power. I'm a sucker for good rhetoric and passionate and intelligent turn of phrase, especially if it is used for things I believe in. I also want the hard stuff to be addressed, understanding the limitations of possible solutions, but demanding a true accounting is made. And, I want basic democracy, including openness, discussion of ideas, and respect of the people themselves.

I fail to see how this is truly now the m.o. of our current leaders.

More Quotes etc.

Various: The author of BTC News has written an excellent piece on the wall in Israel, setting up a thoughtful thread. Caroline Alexander, the author of a interesting book on the Mutiny on the Bounty, uses the President's lost military records as a launching point on the importance of archiving. And, I offer this commentary of the 9/11 Commission Report in lieu of my own comments. I did find the opening remarks and the press conference in general (see CSPAN) both moving and superbly on point.

"To be neutral and to be passive is to collaborate with whatever is going on. ... [Democracy is] "not just a counting-up of votes [but a] counting-up of actions."

-- Howard Zinn

Sen. Kerry said that he believes in actions over words, unlike apparently the current President of the United States. Some would argue that a bit too often Kerry himself falls victim to that problem. For instance, Kerry is proclaiming every vote will be counted this time. Where art thou in Jan, 2001?

My local paper wasn't the only one that said national security is the most important issue in this election. The Commission wants action ... and fast. It is honestly unclear what will and can be done before November. All the same, I think a "100 Days" sort of period in the beginning of 2005 is something to demand. Put up or shut up. Actions over words.
[J]ust because you haven't bothered to learn about something doesn't mean that it isn't true, or that it isn't important.

-- Mark Kleiman

Make Them Go Away: Clint Eastwood, Christopher Reeve & The Case Against Disability Rights by Mary Johnson applies this principle to disability rights. The concept that the disabled are worthy of full citizenship, not only our pity and compassion, is something that is still somewhat weakly held. This includes the idea that sometimes "Denying includes inaction as well as action, and the equal protection of the laws includes the omission to protect, as well as the omission to pass laws for protection."*

This includes supplying help when needed, help that often has broad benefits (Bell invented the telephone as part of experiments to aid his deaf wife), help that furthers things worth more than dollars and cents. Johnson belittles the complexities of the situation a bit, the hard choices along the edges, but her overall message holds true. We have affirmative action, family leave, and financial aid. Is assistance to deal with disabilities, which we all will likely have at some point, less valuable? Deal with the disability, recognize the person.
Protest is what enables this nation, in its angriest moments, to progress, not self-destruct. It converts the despair of minorities into demands, turning the rage against oppression into an impetus for transformation. It makes a nation of individualists come together in struggle against exploitation and injustice. It keeps presidents from becoming monarchs and people from becoming subjects. Protest is the essence of American democracy.

-- Chisun Lee [read the whole thing]

And, sometimes, you need just to laugh. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy will do the trick. LOL.


* U.S. v. Hall (1870), which is discussed by Justice Goldberg here and directly on point here. The nature of the citations suggest the basic principle has not been fully accepted, but its truth still holds steady in my mind.

Thursday, July 22, 2004


Nola, a movie that pits a substantial actor like Mary McDonnell, playing a New York madam, against a bogus story that crossbreeds noirish affectations and romantic comedy into an unpalatable mush that suggests strawberry ice cream slathered with beer.


"Italy Bangs the Door Shut on the Castaways From Africa"

[Even Gilligan?]
Some things are so nasty, so inhuman, as to receive constituional censure. They cannot be left to the states, where local majorities can overwhelm decent people. This is why the 14th amendment was passed (and part of why the civil war was fought). These evils include: Racism. Sexism. Homosexual marriage.

-- BenK, courageously stupid, oh I mean, misguided

The True Complexity Of Choice

I discuss below a right that is so fundamental that it cannot be left to local option. On the hand, federalism is often a positive good. Steve Chapman discusses the matter, which I respond to as well.

Barbara Ehrenreich apparently reads my blog ... after all, her column today begins with a citation of the Degrassi abortion plot line that I wrote about a few days ago. It is true the article I responded to was in the same paper in which she is now a guest columnist, but let's not be too rational now. I, after all mentioned her by name as well, though in a somewhat disparaging way.

Okay, back on the Planet Earth, her concern is related to mine: "The trouble is, not all of the women who are exercising their right to choose in these cases are willing to admit that that's what they are doing." Or, they are wary about firmly supporting the right, wary about something they still on some level feel uneasy about. Barbara Ehrenreich finds this conflicted type of view somewhat troubling.

It is fine, really, that many are somewhat conflicted about abortions. For instance, some almost don't consider it an abortion, if they "really wanted the baby," but felt the time wasn't right. The choice is a deeply complex one, one in which each act is unique in its own way. And, it is one that few would gladly do, if it was not deemed necessary in a particular case. Sometimes we have to do things we don't want to do, which does not mean it should not have been done.

The failure to accept the moral complexity involved in the act is sometimes the core problem. For instance, the choice of whom to marry is generally deemed a fundamental one in which the state should not get involved in, except in limited circumstances. This leads to some bad marriages, but does not imply marriage per se should be considered wrong. And, sometimes marriages are not perfect, but marriage is a rational choice, a good choice, for the situation at hand.

Again, recognizing the problems and looking toward an ideal world in which such a choice may not be necessary is fine. As long as we remember that we do not live in such a world. We ignore the complexities of the situation at our peril, especially as our own experiences about marriage in the real world suggest the ideal version put out by our culture and even by our politicians is often a fake one.

Ehrenreich also puts forth an argument that I also tend to agree with -- the idea that it is okay to abort if the child will have some sort of disability (not just severe ones) is patently obvious, but not if s/he will grow up in a troubled environment per se, is morally dubious. I, shocking as it might be to some, understand why people oppose abortion in cases of rape and incest.

A principled opposition to abortion, the belief that the unborn is a person worthy of protection and respect, doesn't necessarily stop if the pregnancy was the result of a horrible crime. It works both ways in my view -- rape, abortion okay, any number of times when pregnancy is a result of legal, but emotionally stressed situations, surely not. Don't think so. The legitimacy of choosing abortion rarely rises and falls on such often fine lines. The emotional and psychologically harms involved in bringing the pregnancy to term often will be comparable.

The right to choose whether or not to have a child is a complex emotional choice that should be a personal matter for the mother. We diminish the importance of this matter by ignoring that it includes each one of those aspects. We threaten its integrity by not truly defending such a right, a defense that must be done in a forthright and honest way. This is hard because of the very private concerns involved, but unfortunately, that is how it must be.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Various Republican Shenanigans

Item: "We're gonna sing this for George Bush because he's out of here, people!" [Bonnie] Raitt crowed Tuesday night before she launched into the opening licks of "Your Good Thing (Is About to End)," a cover that was featured on her 1979 album, "The Glow." Unlike Linda Ronstadt with her compliment to Fahrenheit 9/11, Raitt wasn't kicked out of the event. It was in Sweden, though. btw The Grid began it's limited run on a pretty good note.

I'm willing to believe that Sandy Berger had no nefarious motives when he walked out of a secure reading room with "highly classified terrorism documents and handwritten notes" on the Clinton administration's handling of al Qaeda threats, as the A.P. is reporting. But could we please hear a little less about how the Bush administration's foreign policy advisers are incompetent? This guy was National Security Adviser. Yikes.

-- Virginia Postrel

Talking Points Memo seems to have the right take, including the resigned expectation of the Republican tactics involved, about the whole Sandy Berger matter. The cynical "concerned comments" by the leadership of the House of Representatives are especially depressing.

I want to compliment Postrel though -- I felt the above quote was a cheap shot (and emailed her to say so) because the two situations aren't really connected. She didn't deny it, just said she thought Berger was a lousy National Security Adviser. Thanks ... and I still think your blog is pretty kewl, even if you go off the deep end sometimes.


False advertising is not the same as bias. The former is subject to testing; the latter can only be judged subjectively. That's why it's crucial to keep the state and the courts out of this area. Not that anyone is likely to sue the libertarian journal Reason for being irrational, but what goes around often comes around where censorship is concerned. Today, "fair and balanced"; tomorrow, "Bush is a liar."

-- warning against an attempt to force Fox to remove their slogan, an effort not quite as stupid as the lawsuit against Al Franken, but not too smart either


Whiskey Bar discusses Ralph Nader's latest "end justifies the means" shenanigans, assisted by Republicans, Reformites, and whomever would get him on the ballot. I know the guy should be ignored, but the principle holds -- if you are going to support Nader or someone else out of principle, such actions really tosses that out as a reason. "But, how else would I get on the ballot?" Oh please. I'm sure for the states you aren't on the ballot, there is some third party candidate (e.g. The Working Family Party, etc.) that fits your basic principles. Just endorse the candidate for that state. Unless it isn't just principle, but egotism.

WB links to a previous explanation concerning why a united front in needed this time around. It has a good comments section, including someone who puts forth a pretty good principled reason to vote "Anybody But Bush" -- a libertarian, preventing harm principle. He would be loathe to believe a candidate would do as much good as s/he promises, but finds it easier to know what not to support. I find merit to this argument, since sometimes (unless the alternative is lousy) it is clear that you have to get rid of someone or make sure one person isn't chosen. And, since we basically have a two party system for President ...

Carlos Delgado Says No

Delgado came public with the fact he won’t stand on the dug out steps for God Bless America. "I never stay outside for `God Bless America,'" Delgado said. "I actually don't think people have noticed it. I don't (stand) because I don't believe it's right, I don't believe in the war."

-- Common Dreams (also NYT)

This reminds me of another story where a woman basketball player also protested the war. One heartening part of this case is that Delgado is getting support even from members of the team that are rather pro-war. It helps that he is after all on the Toronto Blue Jays, is a star player, and has some history as someone who took a stand. He and other Latino players and entertainers protested the bombing in Vieques, Puerto Rico. Delgado also does his part in helping the community back home by serving as a baseball mentor.

It reminds us that there are many baseball players who do their part to do more than play a boy's game. On the NY Mets, for instance, Al Leiter and John Franco both do a lot to help their communities. This supplies something while the team's fans grit their teeth watching their current performance. Seriously, what is particularly noteworthy about Delgado's dissent was the quiet nature of it. Few outside of the team were aware of his actions until he made them public. Delgado did it out of personal conviction. I respect that -- sometimes we have to do things if only for ourselves, our own moral values. We need to be able to look ourselves in the mirror in the morning.

Protesting a lousy war surely is one way to be able to do that.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Reporting America At War: An Oral History

Politics: I wonder just how great Barbara Ehrenreich's columns in the NYT really are here. I add my .02 to a couple excellent discussions of what is at stake in the upcoming election here and here. I drop a plug to a very good pro-Kerry piece by Tom Oliphant in both cases.

Reporting America At War: An Oral History (compiled by Michelle Ferrari with commentary by James Tobin) is the companion book to a PBS series concerning war reporters from the Spanish Civil War to the Gulf War. It provides commentary from the reporters themselves or their colleagues for those deceased (Edward R. Murrow, Martha Gellhorn, and Homer Bigart). An excellent book with loads of insights. The PBS website provides loads of resources for those, like myself, who did not see the series itself.

Perhaps the most ironical statement in the book loses something because it is said by someone mostly edited out. Robert Capa, best known for his D-Day photos, comments (as do others) that the war correspondents have the special dispensation of being able to choose to avoid combat. The good war reporter, however, has a hard time doing this. Capa was killed in 1954 by a landmine in Vietnam, the first American correspondent to die in that conflict. A reminder that war correspondence is not only an essential, but sometimes deadly, profession.

Here are some choice quotes:

"At first the shells went over: you could hear the thud as they left the Fascists' guns, a sort of groaning cough; then you heard them fluttering toward you. As they came closer the sound went faster and straighter and sharper and then, very fast, you heard the great booming noise when they hit."

-- Martha Gellhorn

"In the future, I would hope that democracies will understand that the people have to know what their young people are doing in their name. When we got to Germany after the war, these rosy-cheeked German people came to us with tears in their eyes, pleading that they didn't know what was going on under Hitler. That was their fault. They bore responsibility because they approved the censorship that Hitler put in, and once they approved that censorship and the people were denied the right to know, they became as guilty as the perpetrators."

-- Walter Cronkite

Everyone said, "How the hell did we get in there with half a million men?" [Somebody said] it started when the Vietnamese needed a truck. We sent the truck and then we had to send a driver. But the driver needs two guys to guard them; and you need two guys to fix the truck. Then, when it breaks, they need another truck. That's how you got from nobody to half a million people."

-- Morley Safer

"If you look at Washington reporters, after a while they begin to look like congressmen. They survive by building relationships with people who are lying to them. My job as someone overseas is to write: 'This is a lie.' ...

Nobody sees war. Editors back in London or Paris or New York don't let anyone see war because it's so horrible. How can you run a video clip of a mother dying, watching blood spurt out of her arteries? How can you do it? No one ever sees war except people who are there."

-- Chris Hedges

"[W]e do have an effect, sometimes negative and sometimes positive, but we cannot make policy unless there is a policy vacuum. As long as an administration does not have a coherent policy, then that vacuum will be filled by television pictures or newspapers stories or radio reports. But as long as they have a policy, then I think our influence is the right one. We're able to bring the reality of what's going on -- the humanitarian situation, the political situation, the military situation."

"If you didn't have an independent and free press, you'd have propaganda -- ours, theirs, whoever's. You need a free press to sift through the propaganda and tell the story of what's going on, whether it's going well or badly. We are the brokers of information, and if we don't exist, a nation, a civil society, a democracy is poorer."

-- Christiane Amanpour

"It's all very well to say embedding brings you close to the marrow of combat, brings you close to the soldiers themselves, and gives you the feel of the situation. But I think there's a tremendous price to be paid. Getting too close to your subjects in your reporting can be very undesirable in some respects, and I think there was certainly some of that."

[Ward Just compares it to Vietnam, which was a "serial marriage," of various encounters, not just one]

"But there's always something missing when you concentrate so fully on action -- the exhaustion and the seething hatred that may have taken generations to build up, all sorts of subtleties that are missed in the heat of battle."

-- Malcom Browne

Monday, July 19, 2004

Abortion: The Last Taboo

"I'm just trying to do the right thing here. For me. For everyone, I guess."

-- Cassie Steele as Manny Santos in "Degrassi: The Next Generation"

In the year 2000, over 1.3 million abortions [World Almanac] were performed in the United States. It is questionable if two were mentioned on mainstream television shows or movies. It consistently amazes me how network television is deemed to lean liberal, be stocked with characters who are clearly pro-choice (one, Elaine Bennis wouldn't date any one else), but the "a" word is rarely, if ever used.

I recall during the story line of the controversial decision of Murphy Brown to (don't be shocked now) have her baby that Faith Ford's character made a passing joke about how "back home in Louisiana" pro-choice was basically a dirty word. The joke's follow through was pretty uncomfortable, and it was a throwaway line. Brown's decision to have her child was predictable really, since even those who might not be in a position where having a child would be a great thing were sure to have the child anyway.* A child in fact tends to be seen as a great plot device. This reflects our culture's support of children, though it is a support that is only shown in selective ways.

The few times abortions were done it seems that they were deemed dirty little things. The choice itself was seen as perfectly fine by a pro-choice doctor in Picket Fences, a positive mention that is worth mentioning even though the teen had her child. The women in Sex in The City, freespirited sorts (though interestingly in a way somewhat conservative), spoke of their abortions as sad, troubled choices. The doctor in Everwood went to church after performing an abortion to apologize for his "sin." In fact, teen pregnancy is a major plot point on many WB shows.

So, it is not so remarkable that Noggin Network is wary about showing an episode of a popular Canadian teenage soap opera in which a popular character has an abortion, and is basically not sorry for choosing to do so. Perhaps, Manny should submit a story to this website, joining many others who decided that abortion might be the best of a bad situation.

I don't blame the network too much since it is meant for teenagers, and many younger teens probably watch some of the evening programming. Still, I hope it relents, since it did air episodes about sexuality, self-abuse (cutting), date rape, and many other mature topics. After all, something like one in five abortions are performed on people under eighteen. And, who knows ... U.S. mainstream entertainment in general might actually have the courage to deal with the issue as well.


* I admit that I don't know how the issue is handled on Lifetime these days, though the network does sometimes have a pretty traditional point of view. I was watching one of their sometimes addictive (if often lame and trite) movies, Sex & the Single Mom, though the fact Gail O'Grady played the mom helps to suggest why. The single mom got pregnant and thought nothing of keeping the baby, even though it would interfere with her job and going to law school. Or, perhaps not, through the fantasy of Lifetime utopia.

[Update: link added to opening quote]

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Niger Again -- No, Still Wrong

Note: I added Political Aims (Amy Sullivan) to my blogroll because of posts such as this one, concerning the Muslim vote in 2004. She has some excellent things to say about faith and politics, and politics in general.

One more thing: Why can't interviewers, other than members of the Irish press, master the concept of the follow-up question? I constantly, including when certain liberal leaning interviewers are involved, am not satisfied with an answer. This is far from surprising, even if the person being interviewed is not trying to avoid tough questions. In everyday life, we need to clarify what we are told numerous times. Why not when the person doing the questioning is being paid nicely for doing so? Why not indeed!

There is some dispute now over the truth of the claim that Iraq tried to obtain uranium from Niger. This was the basis of the whole "sixteen words" controversy in which the President, against the advice of the CIA, included British intel as evidence of the fact in his 2003 inaugural. Also, it was the reason Ambassador Wilson went to Niger to investigate, eventually leading to the outing of his wife as a CIA agent. Now, though the ultimate facts are disputed [rather strenuously, see Talking Points Memo, et. al.], some suggest there really was something to it the whole thing. The Brits are sticking to their claims as well. There might even be something to the claim Wilson's wife recommended him for the trip.

Overall, on some level, I really don't care. It is seems rather clear that the matter is open to dispute, the particular British intel cited hazy (leading to the administration itself saying it shouldn't have been included), and the outing of Valerie Plame is still outrageous conduct. My basic reason for opposing the war is that such conflict should not be carried forth on some preponderance of the evidence standard,* and anyway, I don't even know if that was met. I also didn't trust the administrative abilities of this bunch. I don't see how recent events really changed either one of these problems.

So, if one for the sake of argument assumes the other side's main points are true (I don't, so don't be too upset), it really doesn't matter. They still lose. It surely doesn't help that they remove the caveats and sneer at the dissenters, especially when they are the ones that are wrong. I sometimes wonder if I ever will have an easier time to choose a candidate than I will this All Souls Day, when I pull the lever for President. I will be almost as certain as W and company seem to be at times. I just will be more likely to be right.


* It is black letter law that the reason why criminal trials have a "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard is because more is at risk than in civil trials, namely liberty or even life over (generally) mere property concerns. Why going to war, involving much more than the loss of life of even one not guilty individual, should not be done with equal care is unclear.

Apparently, since three thousand or so American lives were lost (a few hundred foreigners mixed in), the lives of many more can and must be lost (counting those injured, more than three thousand of our own citizens) on hazy intel, supposition, and (until long after the fact) underemphasized as well questionably handled human rights concerns.

Maria Full Of Grace

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

For those who have gone to see Shrek 2, why not watch a film about a different sort of mule? Inspired by real life, including a local community leader who has a cameo role in the film, Maria Full of Grace concerns a rebellious seventeen year old in Colombia. We can relate to her desire to escape from lousy economic circumstances, and even worse, being stuck where her spirit is not allowed to soar. An ill timed pregnancy only makes matters that much worse.

So, when without much thought about the consequences she accepts an offer to become a drug mule, we understand. And, a bit of research would determine that drug mules often meet her general description: poor young women without many alternatives, who can desperately use the money. Also, they are not likely to have many moments of self-doubt about the ethics of the whole thing. The potential mule might be a bit uneasy though after viewing the ingestion of around sixty condom wrapped [looking like gigantic white tic tacs in the ads] capsules of heroin. Or, the stressful trip to the drop-off point in New Jersey.

The well rounded nature of the movie is suggested by the power of each component of the film, each with a different focus. The first third takes place in Colombia with enough power and sense of character that a whole film could be based on it alone. The second third involves the preparation and actual drug run with a highpoint in the air, one of the best scenes I have seen on a plane. The final third concerns the aftermath, including her time in a Colombian community in Queens, given an additional sense of authenticity because it was partly based on the director's own experiences. A plot point about the drugs rubbed me the wrong way, but overall, this too was an excellent segment.

An ad for the movie has a tagline "based on 1,000 true stories." I don't know the full truth to that, but the film definitely has a sense of veracity. It humanizes a despised and/or pitied group while not shunning the ugly side involved in the job they do. The ultimate success of the film arises from the excellence of the leading actress (Catalina Sandino Moreno), the writer/director, and the cast as a whole. As to the title, it suggests that grace shows itself in rather surprising ways.

Maria Full of Grace is the first feature for both the director and star, and if they keep this level of quality up, we will hear a lot more about them in the future.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Get Over It!

"I come from Florida, where you and others participated in what I call the United States coup d'etat. We need to make sure it doesn't happen again," Brown said. "Over and over again after the election when you stole the election, you came back here and said, 'Get over it.' No, we're not going to get over it. And we want verification from the world."

- Rep. Corrine Brown, whose remarks were striken from the record for violating House rules concerning accusing other members of lawbreaking

Jack Balkin suggests she should have just left out the word "you," which would have sent the same message without personally disparaging her fellow members. This is would have went a long way in allowing her to submit the facts into the record. Still, it would have deprived her of including the very relevant point that Congress let the practice stand by refusing to investigate. As Michael Moore reminds us in Fahrenheit 9/11, no senator provided the needed vote to force such an investigation in Jan, 2001.

Balkin and the story he cites also lets us know about the f-you passed by the House of Representatives, an amendment to a foreign aids bill that bars any federal official from requesting that the United Nations formally observe the U.S. elections on Nov. 2. This was a good idea -- our election process might send a bad example to the rest of the world.

Judge Roy Moore Writ Small?

Jacob Sullum criticizes Sen. Kerry's "value" talk here, though I'm not quite clear about his argument. For instance, yes, we as well as the president must make value judgments. One happens to have a lot more power than the other. I'm unclear how Kerry's comments are confusing on the point. There are American values, principles that guide us, that politicians can discuss. It's sometimes a tricky business and too often becomes lame holier than thou sounding rhetoric, but appropriate all the same.

Amy Sullivan
talks about "faith in politics," and her comments in an interesting Washington Post article about Kerry's use of faith in his campaign. Quite interesting, including the message that "Kerry has correctly placed the focus on works instead of rhetoric. I will always value the individual who walks the walks over someone who merely talks the talk. If you just listen to rhetoric, I said, you might think that Bush is incredibly religious and Kerry is not. But what's more important is to look at what they do." As they say, read the whole thing.

The motto ["With God All Things Are Possible"] is merely a broadly worded expression of a religious/philosophical sentiment that happens to be widely shared by the citizens of Ohio. As such, we believe, the motto fits comfortably within this country's long and deeply entrenched tradition of civic piety, or "ceremonial deism"

- ACLU of Ohio v. Capitol Square Review & Advisory Board, 243 F.3d 289, 299-300 (6th Cir. 2001).

These comments are not directly about that case, but one that quotes it in prohibiting a state judge from hanging a self-printed copy of the Ten Commandments along with the Bill of Rights in his courtroom. It is amusing though that a much clearer example of illegitimate state establishment is upheld in the process. The subset of Ohioans that share the motto's sentiment that do not share the sentiments of the Ten Commandments is relatively small. The motto is an official state "guiding principle," which is surely more entwined with the state than a judge who posts even a similar statement on his courthouse wall. Finally, various secular contexts can be imagined for the Ten Commandments, but an official acceptance of God is a lot harder to justify.

At any rate, the dissenting opinion is noteworthy in many respects for the lengths it goes to refute the majority. First, it argues that the ACLU lawyer does not having standing because a claim that "the display offended him, diminished his enjoyment of a public facility, and made him feel as though a religious creed was being forced on him" is not enough. "Davis? claim is little more than a statement that he is offended by something a government representative is doing because he disagrees with it." It is unclear how Davis' reasoning is much different than any number of similar successful lawsuits striking down government sanctioned use of religious displays on public property.

The dissent also notes "this nation's history is replete with examples of government actors expressing religious sentiments without offending the Constitution." Yes, generally in public speeches and the like, which are not the same thing as permanent displays (or daily pledges, for that matter). It also uses a ruling upholding congressional use of chaplains "[i]n light of the unambiguous and unbroken history of more than 200 years, there can be no doubt that the practice of opening legislative sessions with prayer has become part of the fabric of our society." Unfortunately, recent lawsuits and not directly germane displays in our court houses do not quite meet this test.

Not that the dissent is that respectful about Supreme Court precedent. It suggests, ignoring various precedents, that a "secular purpose" need not be the "primary" reason for a certain provision. It just must not be a "wholly" religious one. For instance, Wallace v Jeffries (1985, after the case cited) speaks of the "actual purpose." The dissent also notes: "As a historical matter, the Stone Court's oft-repeated truism that the first three or four Commandments are 'exclusively religious' is simply not true." Citations of laws against blasphemy, however, doesn't quite explain why this is true. The "so help me God" oath also doesn't quite explain away "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."*

The dissent's overkill is particularly upsetting because the majority could be refuted on the facts. I think it is reasonable, if somewhat a close question, that in context the display is illegitimate. As a general matter, the two additions could have fit in with the other materials in the court, and be combined into a legitimate secular whole. Nonetheless, as situated, the judge placed a copy of the Bill of Rights and Ten Commandments as freestanding displays that equates one with the other. This favors one particular religious faith over another in a way that reasonably seems to have the endorsement of the state, especially since it is in a court of law [as compared to his personal office]. Dispute this if you desire, but not with all the above much more tenuous argument.

Also, the display was found problematic because of the intent behind it. Intent is often a difficult thing to determine, and should not be a freestanding reason in such cases unless it is a clear-cut case. It was not used alone though, but to reinforce the overall opinion. The judge "chose the Ten Commandments because they were emblematic of moral absolutism and that he chose them to express the belief that law comes either from God or man, and to express his belief that the law of God is the 'ultimate authority.'" The dissent either ignored this, felt it was but the judge's personal belief, or shunted it aside this problematic fact as but one religious purpose that is saved by another secular one. Ultimately, the problem is that even putting a sympathetic light on things, he chose to promote philosophical debate in a clearly sectarian way.

The myriad of lawsuits over religious displays on public property sometimes have an "angels dancing on a head of a pin" quality about them. For instance, should a tiny cross found among other things be removed from a county seal? All the same, in a religious diverse society such as ours, selective government endorsement of particular faiths is troubling. We are not talking about a gigantic stone display here, but a computer printed copy, but the connection will likely be made.

This counsels us not to be as dismissive as the minority of the importance of the matter at hand. I'd also add that as a lower court judge, the dissent should be a bit less dismissive of clear precedent, and not just creatively mould it for her own purposes. I know that this can be said about various opinions across the spectrum, but it is strikingly apparent here. I guess the fact that too many Supreme Court justices use similar specious logic makes the dissent's reasoning a bit less troubling. In a matter of speaking.


* The text of the Ten Commandments hanging in the courtroom begins as follows: "I. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. II. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God. III. Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD they God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. IV. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days thou shalt labor, and do all thy work. But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work."

Laws against blasphemy were in place to honor the first three commandments, but they had a clearly religious character. They might also have been in place to respect believers per se, which might be considered secular, if problematic on free speech grounds. As with using Sunday as a secular day of rest, however, we are stepping aside a ways from what the commandments actually say and mean. The use of "so help me God" also grows out of these commandments, putting aside the "affirm" alternative, but its value is religious -- it would be largely meaningless if someone didn't believe in God.

Overall, each one of the first three or four commandments (Catholics don't include the graven image separately, splitting the covet commandment in two) are direct pronouncements about duties to "the LORD thy God," thus are "exclusively" religious in character. The fact that secular interests might grow from them doesn't really change this fact. If "exclusive" is a tad bit too strong for you, okay, but the basic sentiment holds true. [footnote added]

Friday, July 16, 2004

Slimfast, Sports, and Stewart

Jack Balkin has an excellent discussion on the role of an important Supreme Court precedent in recent debates over executive discretion in war time. Amy Sullivan has some good stuff on various issues. And, this might be true, especially if we let it be.

Slimfast dropped Whoopi Goldberg as a spokeswoman, after receiving many complaints related to a recent off color anti-Bush rant (involving the sexual double meanings of the Bush/Dick Cheney ticket, which I always found perverse myself, and somewhat fitting). Goldberg herself accepted this as reasonable business practice, and I'm not too upset about the whole thing.

I found the whole campaign ridiculous anyway.  The tagline is "I'm a Loser," which seems to fit, if not in the intended way.  It is my belief that the reason why Slimfast had to drop her in the first place was that Goldberg has been doing lame ass crap for years, so her controversial edge is barely even known anyway. This is a woman who I remember years ago being in a teen public service type video doing a bit on self-abortion.  Now, she's in bad sitcoms and Hollywood Squares. Such a shame, really.  Goldberg is the type of sad caricature, even if her heart is basically in the right place, that give liberals a bad name.


Also in celebrity news, Martha Stewart was sentenced today.  She received five months in jail, two years probation (five months as house arrest), and a thirty thousand dollar fine (sure to break her). This was more lenient than some though she'd get, perhaps a result of her plea to the judge to "remember all the good I have done." She walked out (free pending appeal) and spoke about the "small personal matter [aka the fact she is a criminal] that was unfortunately harming her business, which Stewart wanted everyone to know will prevail. Looks like she learnt her lesson!

[Some argue she is a victim of selective prosecution. Maybe. Some suggest there were some irregularities at her trial that should have voided her sentence. Maybe. Some suggest we should feel sorry for her. Don't think so -- celebrities like her cannot blithely break the rules and figure that they can get away with it. A jury and various legal analysts agreed she did this. Thus, I can't feel too much pity for her.]


Well, it had to happen. The Atlanta [expletive deleted] Braves are tied for first place. It took them until after the All Star Break, but you knew that the Phillies couldn't be trusted, and the Marlins without I-Rod have been struggling. There actually is an almost  four way tie (Mets/Marlins are one game back) in the NL East that really should hold for some time, unless one of the teams goes on a (somewhat likely) tailspin at some point.

This NY fan doesn't quite like the situation -- each week or even game feels like a struggle, hanging on by their fingernails [the Mets won 3-2 in the eleventh last night, with two runs coming via a hit by the pitcher and an error by the Phillies' pitcher]. It gets too damn exhausting after awhile. There is something to be said about listening (no YES coverage for me at home) to a Yankee game and knowing that a loss really won't matter too much. Oh well ... should be an interesting few months anyway.

[After I drafted this post, everyone but the Phillies lost, so the Braves shifted to second place. The Mets loss was typical nail-biting stuff, blown chances, and being as close as 2-1 as late as the eighth inning. Jay Seo, repeatedly shunted aside by the media as a forgettable spare part, again did well (especially given his role as a fourth/fifth starter), losing because he made one mistake in seven innings.]