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

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Radio Thoughts

Movies: Clean concerns a Courtney Love sort fighting back from heroin addict, in the words of her father-in-law (Nick Nolte, remarkable in a quiet role), changing because she has to -- especially since she wants to re-build a connection to her son. The lead won an award for the role, well deserved, but the cast as a whole is quite good. The boy playing her son is particularly amazing. And, as suggested by reviews, the character's edge helps supply a well-rounded movie as does no easy answers. Its realism probably supplies a better way to deal with the drug problem than any of those pretty lame anti-drug ads out there.

The ads (PSAs) are also on Air America. Annoying, even if marijuana use among teenagers is not exactly an ideal situation, That '70s Show notwithstanding. I read a bit somewhere that there (again) are rumors that the network is having problems, not only guaranteed their home base in NYC after their contract is up in August. And, seriously, it does have problems. I noted in the past that the recent cuts -- involving day time co-hosts especially -- were bad news imho. The most unfortunate one might have been Liz Winstead because Rachel Maddow [who perhaps set her mark while filling in for Franken during the Katrina disaster] is definitely an asset -- young, smart, and evenheaded while still being firmly progressive. She is also a bit um boring, and Winstead balanced her pretty well.

Likewise, though she never was given enough to do, Katherine Lanpher helped tone down Al Franken's annoying tendencies. Franken has some good guests -- I love Tom Oliphant -- but overall his show is annoyingly "safe" in a certain fashion, kneejerk nice guy anti-Bush with a few simplistic talking points. Popular afternoon drive host Randi Rhodes does her homework, but is also annoying (and simplistic, ramming home a few themes) -- she also has the f-ing gay baiting bit, though does not raise up Jeff Gannon as much as foaming at the mouth (sure he has reason) Mike Malloy (no longer on the radio in NY). And so forth. Laura Flanders (weekend nights) has earned her progressive activist chops, but is also a bit tiresome by now.

This is all unfortunate -- a progressive radio station is clearly useful. As suggested, there are some good aspects to the station, especially some of the guests -- the "Ring of Fire" show on Saturday, for instance, had a couple interesting guests, including a report about measuring temperatures at the North Pole to keep track of global warming. [I have a book reserved on the general topic -- need to learn a bit more about it.] The synergy Majority Report has with liberal blogs is nifty too. And, a few weekend hosts (including a new one on worker rights) seem interesting -- in fact, I think it would make sense if they get more exposure during the week.

But, the whole station seems to be in a tiresome rut, a bit too kneejerk for me as well. Apros to this discussion, NPR reporter Bob Edwards was chosen to write a little book entitled Edward R. Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism, one of those series (there is one out on American Presidents) supplying a good thumbnail sketch of historical events. Having seen the recent movie focusing on his fight against McCarthy, this was a timely book for me to read, especially since I have not really read too much on the man (about a year back I did read a great book on war reporting, focusing on around ten big names).

How about these Murrow productions: "As Others See Us" (review of foreign press coverage of the U.S.), "CBS Views the Press" (examining press journalism -- ala, Editor and Publisher, perhaps), and "You Are There" (historical figures "interviewed" by CBS). The book was under 200 pages, so could not really attack the man in depth, but it suggests why he is the hero of the author. There also are some long excerpts of a few key broadcasts, including his report from Buchenwald.* Amazing reading. Amazing man.

Edwards notes in passing that -- though he later worked for the U.S. Information Agency in his administration -- that Murrow was not a big fan of Kennedy, partly because his brother worked on McCarthy's staff. This struck me, since it was the first time I heard of it, so I checked. Yes, Robert Kennedy did briefly work on the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations, chaired by Senator Joseph McCarthy. But:
Disturbed by McCarthy's controversial tactics, Kennedy resigned from the staff after six months. He later returned to the Senate Subcommittee on Investigations as chief counsel for the Democratic minority, in which capacity he wrote a report condemning McCarthy's investigation of alleged Communists in the Army. His later work as chief counsel for the Senate Rackets Committee investigating corruption in trade unions won him national recognition for his investigations of Teamsters Union leaders Jimmy Hoffa and David Beck.

I think Edwards misstepped by tossing in something like that in passing without adding a bit more context. Still, good little book, adding a bit additional flavor to the movie.


* The book mentions the report from the Hindenburg disaster, the reporter (from WGN Chicago) there to record what would have been the twelfth successful landing. Instead, to his horror, he was there to watch thirty six people die. Edwards notes that some now laugh at his "melodramatic" comments ("Oh, the humanity!").

But, I'm with Edwards ... it was appropriate. As was the cry of a woman radio reporter when she had to inform us that one of the Towers was collapsing. I have not seen tragedy THAT up close -- I am willing to wait for that. Listening to that was more than enough. I'd add that as with baseball, listening to it on the radio had a special flavor all its own. The flash of t.v., especially these days, sometimes (often?) does not add too much to that.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

How About Sane U.S. Drug Policy?

And Also: "A garden" or surrealism in the war on terror.

Mexican lawmakers passed a sweeping new drug law early Friday that would crack down on small-time dealers, legalize the possession of small quantities of drugs and mandate treatment for addicts. ...

Supporters of the bill said it was meant to fix major flaws in Mexico's current drug laws. First, it will allow local judges and the police to decide on a case-by-case basis whether people should be prosecuted when caught with small amounts of drugs. Previously, every drug suspect had to be prosecuted, a system that put many addicts in jail while dealers went free after bribing officials.

Second, the state and local police will be empowered to arrest and prosecute street dealers who are carrying more than the minor amounts allowed under the law. Under existing laws, drug crimes were handled only by federal officials.

-- Mexico Passes Law Making Possession of Some Drugs

So noted an NYT article on the change in the Mexican drugs law. As you can see it is not really "drug legalization," though it is a sane step with some pragmatic results (including reducing graft). Thus, clearly, the U.S. is against it. Sanity and drug policy (see recent fiction on their official line on medicinal marijuana) is not the U.S. way:
A United States Embassy official in Mexico deplored the new measure. "We have not seen the text, so we cannot comment on it in detail," said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly. "But any law that would decriminalize dangerous drugs would not be helpful."

Sanity is possible. In 1968, Justice White -- a pretty conservative sort -- noted: "Punishing an addict for using drugs convicts for addiction under a different name. Distinguishing between the two crimes is like forbidding criminal conviction for being sick with flu or epilepsy, but permitting punishment for running a fever or having a convulsion. Unless Robinson is to be abandoned, the use of narcotics by an addict must be beyond the reach of the criminal law."

The case was about voluntary public drunkenness, so he voted to uphold the conviction, but on this point he had support of five justices. [Recently a lower court used his reasoning to strike down arrest of the homeless for sleeping in public when there are not enough beds ... there are not enough drug treatment slots.] Now, on some level, surely a wide majority of drug users are not "addicts," even when dealing with drugs like heroin.

But, it underlines that a non-criminal model in this field is possible. In fact, on some level, a large segment (maybe not a majority, though certain cities and states might be different) of the population are willing to sign on. The current policy, like the one being replaced in Mexico, is just insane.

As with Rush, it is the "war" on some drugs, with some (you know, "them") victimized, while others get to bloviate on successful talk shows.

[For weekend viewing: the new movie Clean about a recovering addict fighting her addiction and trying to re-connect with her son. Co-starring Nick Nolte as her father-in-law.]

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Price of Liberty

And Also: Caught the last third of The Incredibles on the Dish -- didn't care for it. As to the new 9/11 movie, a local t.v. reporter finally pointed out that A&E already had a (well reviewed) t.v. movie on the same flight. The cinema version sounds like a nice P.C. effort which I have no real desire to see. It filled many with "respect" -- how could it not? Anyway, the t.v. version will be on this weekend, so I can see basically the same thing for free.

[Other Legal Stuff: I address two recent Supreme Court news bits here and here -- one dealing with a rare case of simple oversight, the other orals on lethal injection protocols.]

In 1936, Chief Justice Hughes noted in a ruling that:
The rack and torture chamber may not be substituted for the witness stand. The State may not permit an accused to be hurried to conviction under mob domination -- where the whole proceeding is but a mask -- without supplying corrective process. The State may not deny to the accused the aid of counsel. Nor may a State, through the action of its officers, contrive a conviction through the pretense of a trial which in truth is "but used as a means of depriving a defendant of liberty through a deliberate deception of court and jury by the presentation of testimony known to be perjured." And, the trial equally is a mere pretense where the state authorities have contrived a conviction resting solely upon confessions obtained by violence.

So noted one of eight good essays (the one on unions was a bit hard going and more time bound) in The Price of Liberty: Perspectives Of Civil Liberties by Members of the ACLU, edited by Alan Reitman. The essays were written in the late 1960s, but again, these themes clearly have timely lessons to teach us. This is not just a matter of comments that in effect predicted the Internet (if about a decade too soon), but matters that are always with us, unfortunately threatening liberty in the process -- perhaps in somewhat different ways (the chapter on the Cold War translates in various ways to the War on Terror). But, an overall concern and true desire for freedom remains as well.

The final section of the privacy chapter concerns balancing the rights of free press and individual privacy. This raises interesting themes. In particular, consider Justice Fortas' dissent* in Time v. Hill, involving an article that erroneously stated some pretty private facts of a family victimized by crime. The majority noted that the press was not liable enough to lose, but the dissent gave it less rope to hang themselves in cases like this where private individuals were involved. The majority underlined that life sometimes involves being put into public light, even when we rather it not be so. After all, they were victims of a crime, which is publicly reported, sometimes through very intimate court documents.

Fortas was more protective of their privacy (as compared to public officials), hooking things together with a general right to privacy (including contraceptive use ... he earlier also rejected forced blood tests when drunk driving is alleged, again on privacy grounds). Harriet Pilpel on her chapter on privacy was concerned when freedom of the press was limited for what she suggested was the less important right alleged here. But, she did accept the two rights might conflict, the press not always winning the battle. It also underlines the breadth of the right to privacy -- a right that sometimes might result in less "liberal" results in some sense of the word.

And, again, it points out how advocates of a constitutional right to privacy could and should not just speak of a privacy right as fundamental, but fit it into the enumerated liberties in place. For instance, freedom of speech is generally deemed important because of promotion of the public interest. State police power, best expressed by the Tenth Amendment, involves "health, safety, and public morals." And, so forth. The implication is -- and various cites from way back when can underline it -- was that there was some realm of privacy the state would not enter. The ACLU and even Justice Douglas might not like this idea when the press is involved, but they too must have some limits, even if the line was not crossed in Time v. Hill.

Given the time period, reading the book logically led me to take out my copy of Lucas Powe's enjoyable book on the Warren Court. The chapter on censorship also led to reading about the obscenity cases. A surprising duo in this area was Justices Stewart and Harlan, both deemed somewhat conservative, especially the latter. Justice Harlan wished to give states more discretion, though did so with a careful eye (see his opinion in Poe and Griswold ... and his "Fuck the Draft" opinion), he was more restrictive than some on federal obscenity rules.

But, Justice Stewart -- who knew it when he saw it** -- was more consistently dubious about restrictions than even liberal hero William Brennan, who tied himself into knots trying to protect all the worthwhile stuff while keeping out the bad. Given two justices were absolutists in the matter, three open to more restriction, this generally ultimately meant that it was up to him to decide if something was obscene -- and thus not protected by the First Amendment. Brennan was sort of a one person national standards board, and it did not work that well. [His push to achieve "justice" sometimes played a bit fast and loose with the "law," which was a problem I had with the guy.] Unfortunately, once he finally tossed up his hands, the votes for a libertarian approach were no longer there.

As to Stewart, he only would ban "hard core pornography," while eloquently noting:
Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime. Long ago those who wrote our First Amendment charted a different course. They believed a society can be truly strong only when it is truly free. In the realm of expression they put their faith, for better or for worse, in the enlightened choice of the people, free from the interference of a policeman's intrusive thumb or a judge's heavy hand. So it is that the Constitution protects coarse expression as well as refined, and vulgarity no less than elegance. A book worthless to me may convey something of value to my neighbor. In the free society to which our Constitution has committed us, it is for each to choose for himself.

Privacy rights once again.


* Chief Justice Warren signed on as well -- on certain issues, Warren was a bit more conservative than his reputation might suggest. Thus, he despised obscenity and dissented in a case involving burning the flag (the majority avoided the immediate issue by narrowing it to a free speech matter -- the conviction possibly arising merely from the words spoken at the time). These two joining together here was a bit ironic since they in effect supported Richard Nixon, who represented the family (his only appearance in front of the Court -- I reckon the only time a future President did so ... Robert Kennedy appeared, but that was not to be).

He did not define it when he made this statement, but in the quoted case offered a definition (and only in a footnote) via comments by the federal prosecutor. It left something to be desired though Stewart felt it did not apply to pretty explicit pornographic pulps (books -- so apparently only visuals counted) that touched upon some of the subject matter addressed by the definition. To join things together, Stewart also cited privacy cases to note that unwilling viewers raise different concerns.

I am not aware of any time when he actually voted to uphold a prosecution addressing the content of the materials ... the few times when the Court itself did, he was among the dissenters. His first inclination was right – it is ultimately indefinable except as a “chain of adjectives” based on the “psychological quirks of the individual who makes the judgment.” [The Price of Liberty.]

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Selective Funding/Arguments

Yesterday's House episode ("House v. God") dealt with a teenage faith healer. The episode, which was not that good, ended in a tie (3 all) though Dr. House suggested the tie went to the mortal. [Talking about mortal, Kansas has a death penalty law where the tie apparently goes to the state.] The disease did fit into our recent discussion.* The episode also provides another bridge -- religious freedom is a chapter in the Price of Liberty book that I recently purchased.** And, of course, religious matters has been dealt with a few times already in the last few days.

The chapter gave me another case to look at the Everson case, the landmark in federal establishment law in the recent era ... Justice Black's glorious opportunity to spell the strict contours of the separation of church and state while ending up saying that it was not violated here. Justice Jackson thus compared the opinion to a poem about a woman who protested strongly, but ultimately consented ... a case of the lady doth protesting too much. In fact, the opinion was 5-4, the two dissents only disputing that the Court should have been more separatist. Compare this to current days where a 5-4 ruling is likely to turn on whether Justice Kennedy thinks separation is required at all.

The decision itself turned on bus fares. Forty years later, New York City supplied buses and bus fares to parochial students (the case arose from New Jersey). Along with the released time case a few years later (children released for a period for religious instruction, the remainder staying behind), the opinion held up, even before the recent school voucher case loosened up the rules a bit more. [Justice Alito wrote a student note on the released time cases.] The majority in Everson argued that this was a "child benefit," which is how vouchers (at least those supplied to the parents themselves) are sometimes defended. But, the neutrality of the specific benefit helped -- twenty years later, for instance, Justice Black dissented in a case involving books.

The minority here took a stricter line -- the government was supplying "support" to religious education by supplying funds to deliver students to religious schools. This was not akin to fire protection and the like, which covers all. The funds are targeted to religious institutions in particular with the clear intent to "support" them. Consider: surely, a state cannot fund a church, and bringing up garbage collection from it will not change the principle. On some level, this seems a bit to formalistic, but ultimately -- Justice Jackson underlined this in his separate opinion -- the case turned out to be easier than one might think.

The government favored parochial (or "religious," if "parochial" is deemed too narrow or demeaning in some sense) schools in particular, which also sometimes is clearly seen in voucher programs. The locality here did not just supply all students with free bus fare. A person going to public or even private school might still have to pay for transportation, which was not the policy in New York City in the 1980s. The township here took special concern for the costs to parochial schools, which put Justice Rutledge's dissent on sounder ground. He even noted in a footnote that a truly neutral subsidy to all students ... not a law targeted to religious schools alone ... would raise different questions.

More evidence that sometimes the narrow reason is the way to go. Sometimes, religious jurisprudence is ridiculed for the narrow and confusing line drawing involved though ultimately many areas of law turn on such nice questions for which centrist jurists reject clear lines. Thus, justices like Breyer and Ginsburg turn out to be less liberal and Kennedy less conservative than some might think. But, this is really how normal people decide questions -- lots of shades of gray with an ability to agree upon such matters, if they are not expressed too broadly. Meanwhile, people on both sides -- if given their druthers -- would decide things on a broader basis.

I see this a lot on message boards. I find attacking the middle ground sometimes is more useful, being able to "win" even on the other side's own ground. You know the "accepting for the purpose's of this case" approach. It also is a useful technique in that it sort of follows the "walk a mile in a person's moccasins" theme. View things through their lens, but still manage to get your point across. This might be hard if the other person seems deeply wrong in your judgment, but we do tend to have some common ground. We are all humans after all.

One need not point out that mixture of church and state tends by its very nature favors certain churches. Just point out that in this specific case, this turns out to be true. Do this over and over again ... raising the possibility that maybe there is some neutral area of legitimacy. The opening left will probably lead to some backtracking ... just as leaving the death penalty open even with a lot of barriers will lead to error ... but strict separation simply will not be accepted anyway. So, you attack the core problems the best way you can. And, yeah, now and again, raise the broad concerns.

But, most of the time, you will be attacking the more mundane. Life only tosses the truly profound matters in their purist sense at us a relatively few times. Thank goodness for that.


* Likewise, the NY Daily News recently referenced a television program about a 20 something couple that had an unscheduled addition to the family. The woman, you see, has a policy against using birth control. This "policy" is known as "stupidity." She noted that her policy tends to lead the guy to be more careful ... this would include not going out with such a person in the first place.

** The chapter on privacy is what first attracted me to the book -- it's by Harriet Pipel, who was a major player in the contraceptive and abortion rights movements. It turns out that she only briefly discusses this specific area (admittedly in its infancy at the time), spending about a third of the chapter on limits on press freedoms (in particular, respecting "public figures," a matter just being addressed by the Supremes when she wrote the piece). The ability of individuals to protect their reputations, even if First Amendment freedoms are at stake, underlines that "privacy" overall is deemed an important personal right that the government has clear obligations to secure.

Pipel also notes the reduced privacy rights of those on public assistance and suggests eavesdropping of the home per se might be considered illegitimate. I'm not sure if this can be absolutely true. Likewise, she discusses the obligations of the government to protect us even from private violations of privacy -- consider the recent law restricting direct marketing calls. Interesting chapter, again underlining my earlier comment that the book's lessons hold true over thirty five years later. For instance, without calling it such, data mining is addressed.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Michael Vick

And Also: Someone told me to "have a nice day" today after I told him the time. Now, this is an example of the implications and iceberg nature of many things we say. First, the subject is implied: it is "you" have a nice day. Second, it might better fully be expressed as "I hope you have a nice day," since it is not after all likely to be a command (the phrase as such looks imperative in nature). Likewise, it is an example of simple courtesy that we take as a given. A courtesy (and given his race, things might at some point, especially in the past, complicate things further) deemed especially important in its absence. Life is interesting, even if public affairs is getting so tiresome. I'm ready for change, aren't you? SSDD. The boredom of it all alone merits this.

Update: I basically assumed Mary McCarthy actually was guilty of leaking, which assumes too much. Glen Greenwald has various thoughts on this on his blog. My thought she is a scapegoat, however, seems true either way.


One of the stories on the AOL News menu concerned a quiet settlement between QB Michael Vick and a health care worker who accused him not only of giving her herpes (not only VD, but incurable VD), but doing so knowingly -- Vick apparently underwent treatment under a rather stupid pseudonym (Ron Mexico). Though a quick search suggested the controversy has been in the news before, this is the first time I heard of it. Meanwhile, a big deal (with much press) was made respecting some untoward behavior by Minnesota Vikings' players on a team cruise early last season. Behavior that did not match giving a woman herpes.

The terms of the settlement was not released, but no denial was supplied either. Just that a settlement was reached. So, I think it is pretty reasonable to suggest it is in a basic sense an accurate assumption. One expects that it was some large sum of money, though given the issue, this only takes one so far. You can live with the disease, but obviously it is particularly heinous to live with.*

More so to give it to someone via unprotected sex with someone you did not inform of the risks.* I basically liked Michael Vick -- he recently was overpaid, getting a hefty ten year contract though one doubts that his skills will be spread over that period of time, but is a fun player to watch. So are many who probably are in some fashion jerks (to cite less offensive sort, a former Mets player that added nice color to the team in the late '90s is a hunter), thus it is a good thing that we really do not know much about the off-field lives of such people. For instance, some are known to treat their wives or the mother of their children badly, or abuse drugs.

But, this goes to the next level. I personally cannot separate this from the field. A closer case is Barry Bonds. One local sportscaster who loves the Giants basically said that those who did not want him to do well really were not true fans. A true fan would keep his personality and assumed steroid abuse separate from the well being of the team, and wish him well. I wonder if said sportscaster had some line. What about rape? Or, this? The two are not really comparable, except as part of a pretty broad spectrum of bad activities (I despise thinking Bond will break Ruth's record, but I have perspective here). Still, it suggests how off field activity can taint the team itself.

And, sorry, giving a woman herpes just crosses the line Michael. It is a despicable act that should be a warning to others, especially young black men who unfortunately disproportionately take part in harmful activities, including of not treating women properly. Keith Hernandez chauvinistally criticizing the Padres' for allowing a female trainer (she's cute btw ... and unless her particular position is not allowed there, has every right to be in the dugout) in the dugout since "baseball is a man's game" (to paraphrase) has become a local story of some note.

Vick's actions should be a national story of much more ... like it or not, you are a role model. Or, rather, a man. A true man does not do things like that.

[This is an expression of my "values" and "morality." It is a product of my upbringing and experiences, not particularly my religious upbringing as such ... though I broadly understand "religion" as encompassing such things. Religion is in my view often lost among doctrine ... basic moral concepts is much more important in everyday life. Some understand this as a product of "God" (and furthered by etc.) in some core sense, but the two simply are not mutually exclusive.

I'd add apropos to Julia Sweeney, atheists are impressive in the sense they are assured that God does not exist. As the God is usually understood, this might be pretty straightforward on some level. OTOH, if we take every aspect of the word, it is a bit harder to be assured that there is no God. Thus, somewhat the weenie "who knows" aspect of agnosticism seems so much easier. But again, and I reference Jimmy Carter's book Endangered Values again, the underlining common morality likely to be shared by all three groups is most important.]


* It was not the first thing I thought, though it probably colors things somewhat, but I do know of someone in a related position. A friend of someone I know a long time back had the misfortune of catching herpes off someone who did not warn her of his condition. She later married someone else, but apparently was in some fashion pressured into the marriage given her situation -- the guy accepted her condition, and presumedly, in other situations, she might not have chose marriage.

This underlines a principle of mine -- equal respect, since in some fashion I probably know someone in a comparable situation. Not that I like to personalize things, but just to toss it out there.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Sunday Trip To The City

And Also: Get Fuzzy and Pearls Before Swine had a wicked crossover bit last week. The idea was that PBS strips were accidentally delivered to the GF cartoonist, who was behind schedule playing video games and such. Much to the PBS cartoonist's displeasure, he just used the PBS plots instead. Meanwhile, Boondocks is on an "indefinite leave of absence." Mention was made of his boredom with the strip, and now he has an animated series (not to my liking from what I saw of it) to amuse himself as well.

To continue the theme of the last entry, the suggestion that "values" has a particular political connotation is actually accepted by some on both sides. Various liberal voices will tell you that they do not think the other side promotes any values that are worth respecting. This is pretty understandable given recent events, though on some level it is not only self-defeating (a sort of all or nothing war of all vs. all) but not true. The better argument is that one side on the whole has the better balance ... or, that as current constituted, fundamental values we should be living by are seriously being threatened.

The overall theme was brought up by some of my travels yesterday while going to the city to see an offbeat Australian movie entitled Look Both Ways (interesting use of cartoon images and pictures to show the inner fears of the characters, who are in some fashion united in their fear of death). My first stop was to the Housing Works Book Store, a volunteer led effort near Bleeker which uses its proceeds toward fighting AIDS. I went there to pick up an interesting looking collection of essays that I saw a few months ago, but was somewhat remarkably still there: The Price of Liberty.

From the introduction: "[S]uch recent threatening circumstances as war and the souring of the civil rights dream create a prospect of contraction [of human rights] in the immediate future." Yes, it was written in 1968. How untimely, huh? Besides a nice bookmark and plastic bag (Barnes and Nobles also has nice bags), I picked up a free booklet: "The New Yorker's Guide to Military Recruitment in the 5 boroughs." With support of former military recruits, this is part of the truth in recruiting movement. It underlines the problems with unnecessary wars: the process overall is filled with problems, including misleading recruitment policies. This on some level is probably part of the system -- even if reforms can be put in place without overwhelming it -- but it just goes to show why we should be wary about using it needlessly.

On the way to the movies -- overdressed since the yo yo weather was much warmer than even the wet morning was -- I passed St. Marks Church. This has been known for its social welfare efforts per its social welfare efforts. If the word itself does not imply my meaning, yes, it promotes what is usually known as "liberal" values. Again, this is not a contradiction in terms, or even an oxymoron. The movie theater btw had some of them neat free postcards promoting a certain movie, which I collect and also include as free bookmarks in books I sell on Ebay. Movies are arguably overpriced, but such free stuff helps.

After the movies, I passed the new Trader Joe's, which via a Slate, I was informed was now in the City. Union Square overall has various places for the vegetarian (and/or natural/healthy food lover -- I'm all for that btw, but am in no way as loyal to it ... though again "eating healthy" is a good way to explain why one is a vegetarian and avoid the ethical debates) to pick up stuff. For instance, I went to Foodtown -- nice self-service check out counters (the fruit and other loose stuff is more tricky), and picked up a nice amount of treats. [But, even local somewhat seedy supermarkets around me have decent selections, including store baked garlic bread and packed green salads.] And, the Whole Foods Market (good plastic bags, cheap personal brand) is a great place to shop too.

But, apparently, Trader Joe's is seen as a special mecca, people traveling long distances to shop there. Also, it has reasonable prices, a sort of nice place to get sane prices. Whole Foods again has some of this as well, its personal brand providing various alternative foods at low prices, suggesting alternative does not equal upper middle class. [Hint: I am not of this class.] Thus, it was deemed a godsend for many city folk. I remain clueless -- there was a line outside the door, which did not seem to me promising. Still, I did check out the more sanely populated wine annex, and can see the appeal. It had a good selection of under $10 wines (and some over that price).

I'm not really a wine drinker, though a few (not that I know names) are decent, including the sparkling kinds. But, it's still a neat resource, including when buying it for people. Picked up a fruity wine (peach flavored) for $5 ... even if I don't like it, it is not like it cost me too much. Anyway, to close out this personal blogy [spell check!] entry, the damn subway turnstile cheated me out of $2 (I'll send the metrocard in for a refund!). I also got back a bit too late to catch the start of West Wing (I missed last week's episode, which I hear was pretty busy) ... not really a good one. Yes, I'm ready for the final episode ... and let's see who the Vice President will be.

Also heard that Victor "Kenny Rogers at the Yanks" Zambrano blew another one. The Mets still have a few problems, though Jorge Julio actually had something like five straight good outings, even getting out of a bases loaded nobody out situation (helped by a wild pitch/third strike baserunner and an error).* The guy might actually be ready to come in when the game is still close. And, such problems keeps one from being totally content, though I guess that would not make one a Mets fan any more. Still, Zambrano is really getting on our nerves. This is even without looking over to the Devil Rays and watching the prospect traded for him (Scott Kazmir) doing decent enough on a bad team ... without Rick Peterson to boot.

[Insert snappy final comment connecting this to opening values talk instead of just noting the balance in baseball -- even in places like Detroit and Cincinnati -- thus far.]


* Julio early on seemed (along with one for seventeen Valentin) like one of the few missteps made during the off season. The move appeared to some as much about getting rid of Anna Benson (rather than her husband, journeyman sort of guy, but still pitching pretty well for the Orioles thus far) as obtaining a key bullpen arm. And, with Brian Bannister showing some promise (he is as inconsistent as Zambrano, but manages to pitch five inning games without giving up the game in the process ... and as a rookie, he is given more of a pass), Aaron Heilman can be left in the bullpen.

Fans still rather have Benson than Zambrano [no relation, including as to consistency, to the Cubs pitcher], who probably should have been traded last summer when he actually had one of those good periods that trick people into having too much faith in his stuff. It is true that there apparently was not too many takers for Benson either (unless the general managers were also in fear of Anna), but the Mets probably had to eat a bit of his contract. In the long run, perhaps mid-season, they will have to give up something for another starter anyway. As to Julio, after starting with an ERA near 20, it is down to around 7.

Things are different when the game is on the line, but he looked bad in the past even when it was not. So his recent up swing is promising. Good thing -- these starters, especially the back three, will need a good amount of relief, even without too many 14 inning losses.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Lip Service

And Also: Olga Grushin is the author of The Dream Life of Sukhanov, concerning the sudden and somewhat tragic comedic downfall of a Soviet insider. Good novel, fascinating bio.

I posted a form of the Julia Sweeney entry on the Slate fray leading (not surprisingly) to a couple conservative religious replies while one other said more nicely that she was wrong, but hey, she has the right to be wrong. I'm all for such a response -- as with someone I know who is against abortion but unwilling to force her views on women making the choice, this is all we really can ask for under the laws of this country. [A fourth reply was more sympathetic to her stance.] As to the former response, somewhat tedious.

Yet again, one has to explain how separation of church and state helps both, so thought Baptists when the First Amendment was ratified. Likewise, even if one is an atheist (horrors), this does not mean you are immoral. That is, unless that term only means believing in God and/or following a specific moral path that does not include just being good and so forth. Thus, like Star Parker, White Ghetto: How Middle Class America Reflects Inner City Decay [on Book TV this weekend), such individuals have a shallow view of morality. Parker, for instance, sneered at liberal claiming to have moral values. Jimmy Carter (Our Endangered Values) therefore is an empty headed amoral sort of person.

Well, no. Once the scroll told me that the "Family" Research Council sponsored her event, the usual alarm bells were set off. The scare quotes are by design -- the council is for a certain view of family. Just as "value" voters as so defined tend to be for certain values. It is a blatant lie to suggest that most Kerry votes do not care for values ... unless you so define that term to mean conservative values. The "value" of re-electing Bush, for instance, seems unclear to me. Threatening the well-being of our nation by having illegitimate incompetent (and inane) leaders does not really seem too shall we say moral. But, of course, if you think dividing the country over things like homosexuality is compelled by God, maybe it is.

Values, therefore, are important to me. Carter lists "God's standards" to include "truth, justice, humility, service, compassion, forgiveness, and love." Those are moral values Ms. Parker, and they are quite liberal minded. And, many of them should be reflected in governmental practice. So, if we take values seriously, we would not have the current leadership in power. But, on some level, we do not. For "we" the people elected this people -- sorry, even if you think the 2004 Presidential Election was stolen, it is a bit harder to say the congressional elections giving the Republicans the majority were as well ... plus conservative Democrats that join with them on key matters.

The theme can be carried throughout -- if these people were serious, their cant might not be that bad. Bush v. Gore. Yes, equal protection including equal and nonarbitrary vote counting. Thus, as quoted by a circuit court ruling, election law expert Rick Hasen noted: "if the case were taken seriously, Bush v. Gore should have great precedential value in changing a host of voting procedures and mechanisms, particularly when those procedures and mechanisms are challenged prospectively." And, Stewart v. Blackwell did take it seriously*:
At issue were punch-card or optical scanning systems that do not give voters a chance to find mistakes they made on their ballot, and correct them before casting their vote.) As a result of that technology, perhaps 55,000 presidential votes were lost in 2000, the Circuit Court found, citing what it called a conservative estimate. That, the Circuit Court said in a 2-1 ruling, violated the equal protection rights of voters in the disfavored counties.

Truly being loyal to bad law is a messy business, to be sure, but Bush v. Gore was intended to be quite narrow ... and enough of the ruling itself was as well that to do otherwise is a bit bad pool. So is trying to use Justice Souter's partial dissent to broaden its reach -- the plurality was not as reasonable, and it is stupid to suggest as much. But, precedent other than Bush v. Gore can be used to back this up -- voting includes having your votes counted in some equitable fashion. The sin of B v. G is that this rule was not seriously followed. The rule itself on some level (election procedures are going to be uneven to some degree) is not the problem.

The same applies to some aspects of the neocon foreign policy. Though I do not have the stomach for it myself, there needs to be some sort of "bad cop" aspect to our foreign policy. So, some saber rattling is probably necessary though the extent it is currently being taken is surely dubious. But, as Joe Conason notes: "What good are U.S. threats against Iran when the whole world has lost its trust in our government?" Likewise, treatment of enemy detainees and others in the current times will surely be somewhat messy with some need for flexibility. But, this requires some trust and evidence of good will. Where is it?

And, so it goes. The generals are upset at Rumsfeld. Why? Because his policies threaten the sanctity of the military, including respect and trust in its motives and practices, necessary not only for the success of its missions but future increase of thepersonnell needed, especially given the drain of the current policy. It is a sadly predictable feedback loop of sorts. The generals obviously are not anti-military. A true respect for the military -- allegedly where Republicans more than Democrats in some fashion lean -- would be to take the critics here seriously.

But, I use the word "allegedly" advisedly here, of course. On values, precedent, sound foreign policy, sanctity of the military and so forth the problem is not that the current bunch lean a certain ideological direction. Well, not the immediate problem. Ms. Parker does not trust governmental programs. I can be sympathetic to that. What I cannot be is to the claim "liberals" (often used as an epithet) do not really have moral values. The ultimate problem is that these people are bullshit artists.
The liar still cares about the truth. The bullshitter is unburdened by such concerns. Bullshit-related phrases like bull session or talking shit also suggest a casual, careless attitude toward veracity -- a sense that the truth is totally besides the point. Bullshit distracts with exaggeration, omission, obfuscation, stock phrases, pretentious jargon, faux-folksiness, feigned ignorance, and sloganeering homilies. When Dubya speaks of freedom and liberation, and claims to be praying for peace as the army disgorges load after load of bombs, he is not lying. He is bullshitting. A lie would be easier to disprove. Bullshit is a committee-drafted simpleton's sermon about evildoers and terra and freedom being God's gift to all men.

-- Laura Penny, Your Call Is Important To Us

When simple ideological differences are all we have to worry about, a grand step will have be taken in the right direction.


* "Murky, transparent, illegitimate, right, wrong, big, tall, short or small; regardless of the adjective one might use to describe the decision, the proper noun that precedes it 'Supreme Court' carries more weight with us. Whatever else Bush v. Gore may be, it is first and foremost a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States and we are bound to adhere."

btw the whole matter might be moot, if the state follows the voluntary reform plan in place.

Sheena and Violence in Movies

Tanya Roberts [Bronx gal -- and she has the voice for it] recently was often heard on the radio doing the voiceover for a commercial for some resorts. She is perhaps best known as a latter day Charlie's Angel, and more recently, as Donna's mom on That '70s Show. And, then there is the cult fav -- Sheena (Queen of the Jungle).* It was on late last night: perfect late nite cable fare -- including the USA version (it would, of course, edit the bath scene**). And, on some camp level, not bad as a movie. Of course, we are talking low expectations here. There is even a serious moment -- a reference to the reporters' apartment ... with a view of the Towers.

The actress playing the shaman in the film has a pretty interesting backstory: She is of Ugandan royalty. Her family was banished from the country when Idi Amin took over. Graduated from Cambridge University in England and passed the British bar exam to become Uganda's first female barrister. Served as Uganda's United Nations representative and roving ambassador. A successful Ford Agency model, she was the first black woman to appear on a Harper's Bazaar cover. Measurements: 33-23-33

I live for trivia like that. The movie ultimately has a good amount of violence -- the Queen of the Jungle has to defend her people after all. In a film of this sort, the violence basically fits into the story, especially with its comic book roots. Comic books (other than the Archies sorts) are nothing if not partially about violence. And, if you are going to have violence, the ridiculousness of the movie (though any number of violent movies meet that definition, just without the eye candy) helps. But, sometimes one wonders. Is this the only way out?

In other words, it seems the only way to beat the bad guys ... and this includes fairly tame fair aimed for younger viewers ... is to kill them. Maybe, we should not read too much into this, but this seems notable. After all, one of my points about popular media (including low brow) is that sends certain important messages. Thus, some silly unfunny comedy might have certain themes that point out what is supposed to be "good" or "bad." The lovable loser, for instance, is a constant theme ... in the end, s/he tends to win out.

The use of violence to serve as plot solutions is also telling. Surely, this is so in Westerns and other similar types of films. But, it is true across the board. Except when we are dealing with serials and the like (including television), the audience expects the downfall of the villain. And, this downfall often is not just putting them in prison -- viewers of the original Batman television series will tell you the perils of that. Next you will be talking life without parole!

Real life, of course, is not quite so easy -- some people wanting it to be, notwithstanding. Sure, the movies are not real life, but the messages they send do in some fashion match what real life people believe or are meant to believe. Thus, romantic relationships in cinema are worth noting as is the general absence of serious adult sexual fare. Western Europe does that better ... the violence is left for us -- after all, this translates well.

Still, would not a bit less violence sometimes lead to more interesting and complex movies? Yes, we want brainless fare often enough, but even that need not (in the most ordinary light thriller type deal) so often end with the bad guy shot dead. On some level, this feels unpleasant -- a movie should earn its serious plot developments, including the sometimes truly unpleasant deaths of various characters. And, anyway, the same old same old is a bit tedious after awhile ... perhaps, sometimes something different.

A bit less violence. But, hey, it's okay in Sheena.


* The IMDB plot summary: "Sheena's white parents are killed while on Safari. She is raised by the mystical witch woman of an African tribe. When her foster mother is framed for the murder of a political leader, Sheena and a newsman, Vic Casey are forced to flee while pursued by the mercenaries hired by the real killer, who hopes to assume power. Sheena's ability to talk to the animals and knowledge of jungle lore give them a chance against the high tech weapons of the mercenaries."

See also here. This whines about how bad it is ... hopefully not seriously. "Serious" movies often have unbelievable plot twists; Sheena surely does. But, pointing them out is half the fun.

** Tanya has a nude scene here, but apparently in the 1980s, this was not enough to remove its PG rating. Meanwhile, a few years later, talking about masturbation and such by teenagers led Pump Up The Volume to get an R rating, even though teens were clearly its logical audience. This led to an early example of my muckraking ... a letter to the local paper.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Julia Says Goodbye To God

And Also: A couple pieces on Mary McCarthy, the CIA insider forced to step down for releasing secret information on governmental wrongdoing. It's easier to be upset given how the government does not have clean hands, but yes, she took some risks -- doing the right thing sometimes means that too. [If she did.] Meanwhile, they say it is so, so it must be so: medicinal marijuana edition. Darn free press ... makes Orwellian pronouncements so much harder!

I recently heard Julia Sweeney in a PSA for the Freedom from Religion Foundation. Its purposes:

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc., is an educational group working for the separation of state and church. Its purposes, as stated in its bylaws, are to promote the constitutional principle of separation of state and church, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.

The first should be blessed by many theists throughout the land. The second, well, some comments about typical liberal anti-God talk notwithstanding, nontheism is something of a taboo subject in public these days.

Julia Sweeney btw is best known as the "Pat" character on SNL. She also has a few "God" related one woman shows. For instance, you can rent her one woman show God Said Ha! or catch it on cable. Great show -- about her brother dying, her fight with cervical cancer, and life on her own. She has a great easy going sense of humor and can see humor in herself. And, most importantly, Sweeney has that basic Middle America niceness (that cutesy voice helps) that makes it so hard not to like her anyway.

Her PSA is timely since her latest one woman show is Letting Go Of God ... her road to atheism as well as deciding to adopt a daughter (she had an hysterectomy), who she named Tara. She adopted a Chinese girl ... who made it clear that her real name was "Mulan." Knowing an outspoken young girl named Tara, I can believe it!

The latest show has received good and respecting reviews:

The play recounts Julia's journey as a person who wants to believe--but is too smart and curious to just believe. And in the same way that she didn't shy away from the toughest questions posed by her former religious beliefs, Julia also doesn't shy away from the toughest questions posed by atheism. Such as, if there isn't religion, what is there?

See also here. Her growing love of science and so forth is particularly notable. I can relate: even without believing in some fantasy world, life is so wondrous and yes awe inspiring. Sweeney talks about the subject here. I hope she does come to NYC with the show. Cheers Julia!

Friday, April 21, 2006

Hard Candy

And Also: After basically running out of pitching (righty specialist streched too long), the Mets lost in the 14th last night. Questions might be raised about who was chosen to pitch, but the end was near either way. Advantage Padres. But, the announcers (TV here) didn't seem to care. Gary Cohen talked about how fun extra inning games were as a kid and the "14 inning stretch." Keith Hernadez claimed players in such situation really don't try to press, or perhaps, maybe that was the ideal. He also lazily noted in the 14th how it was advantage Padres. Home game for them, so it was about 2AM EST when the Mets lost 2-1. Is it just me or do other fans want Mets announcers to actually act a bit more like Mets fans would be upset? Also, we did not need three shots of the winning run. One less than a somewhat out at the plate call (long before) that would have made it 2-1, Mets. Get the damn runner home with less that two outs!

My reference to an essay on the subject resulted in an interesting Slate thread on victim impact statements. The suggestion that one particular case led to my stance, however, annoys me -- not for the first time, people accused me of arbitrariness based on particularized concerns. This is understandable, but still pisses me off.

Anyway, in honor of JPS' birthday yesterday, here is a good introduction why I worry about the practice across the board. In fact, though frayster Degme has a point, it sometimes can have problems even in a civil trial. Still, compensatory damages -- unlike criminal liability -- do have some strict liability aspects. And, victim impact -- even with its emotional over reason aspects -- is appropriate in that context.

[Spoilers alert!]

Talking about victim impact, Hard Candy is currently getting a lot of attention. In fact, I noticed that one theater that was playing another movie I wanted to see this weekend (one that just was released to boot) decided to have two showings of Hard Candy instead. Clearly, I should have waited, and watched the other movie first. What is the attraction? Well, the movie concerns a fourteen year old girl (actually played by an actress about that age -- as with Degrassi -- I find this often quite useful; cf. a current television show about a mature teen playing detective that is hurt since the actress is in her mid-20s and it shows) turning the tables on a thirty-two year old man who she met on the Internet.

The reviewer at NYT and a few others made remarks that they were concerned about their privates when watching the film ... well, don't pick up teenagers. In fact, it was noted that Japanese girls have been known to lure such guys into meetings and then beat them up. Notably, porn is an obsession in Japan too, including nudity in their anime and comic books (though pubic hair is a no no -- ironically, giving the porn an additional child porn aura at times). Also, of course, there still is some concern there for women not abandoning their proper roles. This gives the turn about an additional flavor -- though I reckon this also would suggest S&M sort of things (see recent episode of House) would also be prevalent in the country as well. The taboo is often fleshed out in role playing.

Anyway, as to the movie. It starts with the actual online conversation (all text) and the teen suggesting a meeting. The first visual of the characters is the girl -- baby faced/not the stereotype nymphet sort -- enjoying a piece of chocolate cake with clear sexual overtones. We soon find out she was the one doing the luring -- which might cause some predators to nod (you know, they are asking for it ... they tempted me, etc.) -- though only so she can turn the tables. And, the movie ultimately is worth seeing for the young actress' performance (she has other credits, and will be in the next X-Men movie, but this is clearly a star turn). Quite impressive, even as the plot becomes a bit dubious. The guy is good as well ... the movie basically a two person show with three cameos, including Sandra Oh (friend of moviemaker?).

The movie turns out to be a revenge flick. Now, I am not a big fan of this genre in various respects. My annoyance though tends to be when the movie simplistically twists our blood thirst and lead us not to care about the mindlessness of the vengeance. Consider Mystic River, an Oscar winner that I personally thought overrated. But, the movie suggests revenge is a dubious transaction. The actual revenge motif by itself seems to me a legitimate question to examine in cinema. This includes those that have exploitative aspects -- we actually see the victims being harmed in graphic fashion, often women -- perhaps most infamously shown in I Spit On Your Grave.

In this film -- hated by Roger Ebert, who nonetheless praises more "tasteful" revenge flicks -- we see the gang rape in disgusting detail, but the movie has some sense of artistic complexity, the actual victim gets revenge (not her agent, like in Death Wish), and the actual victimizers are targeted (again, Death Wish etc. ultimately attacks an open-ended criminal class). In fact, like Mystic River, the whole matter leaves a bad taste in one's mouth. Unlike there, questions of liability are not at issue -- no, we clearly saw what happened to her -- but the effect on the victim is not too gratifying. Not only does she pray in church before doing her task, the last shot is her catatonically riding the boat down a river.

[Hard Candy references child porn he photographed (and clothed shots of his teen models) and shows a picture of a past victim -- though how much the guy hurt her is unclear for most of the film -- but nothing more. So, the teen here is actually an agent too, though in effect a potential victim too. Charles Bronson similarly set himself as a "victim" to lure criminals, but this is given additional bite when we are talking about a fourteen year old girl.]

Various films however seems to abuse innocents so we can cheer the hero's use of revenge and violence and honor his (as it usually is) sense of justice. Man On Fire - at least from the reviews that were mixed -- was of this sort. A young girl was put in jeopardy, thus Denzel Washington can justly torture various lowlifes along the way. Other films just kill people off, perhaps after we have a nice little view of them. This is also a theme in action movies generally. On some level, this sort of thing is necessary for the plot. Even Slither, surely not intended to be taken seriously, involves a lot of loss of life. Ditto crime procedurals etc.

So, there has to be some sort of middle path taken, though revenge flicks often cross the line in my eyes. At least, to the extent I would like to watch the films. The films do sometimes have enough serious aspects, including dramatic weight that I find them worth seeing. Positive ID, for instance, turns out to be a revenge flick. But, it is a little gem, largely because of the lead character. And, yes, a few sort of are forbidden pleasures sort of things. Overall, Hard Candy is recommended for all these reasons. Now, some might not wish to get as close of a taste of castration ... in the movie's eyes not too difficult of a procedure really ... but the two character dramatics here is overall very good.

Ultimately, one complaint I had was that the movie made it a bit too easy for the viewer.* This was surely unnecessary to some extent given the plot -- an adult predator of this sort is not liable to have too much sympathy, even if the extent of his guilt was a bit more hazy. This is not shown to the very end, which does help explain some of the teen's earlier actions, including her assurance ... but a fourteen year old person in her position would by nature have such assurance, one that might be taken "too far."

[OTOH, again, for other teens, the assurance factor might not have been there without the clarity provided in the movie -- the movie ultimately does leave questions as to exactly why she did it. Something seems left out.]

Also, though there were a few trouble spots, the teen really turned the tables and controlled the situation a bit too assuredly. In other words, it was a bit unbelievable in that respect. But, this would not be the first time, right? Likewise, the movie started off playing with the viewer -- though it turned out the teen was just luring her prey, she did so in a sexual way that must have left many (male) viewers uncomfortable. This was a good touch ... once she became avenger, the complexity (including her youth and immaturity ... though again her appearance alone suggested this throughout, even if her actions did not) was less present. Again, the guy was not just a run of the mill predator. In fact, he photographed teen models for a living. OTOH, early on, he does come off as a decent guy.

Overall, however, I would recommend the movie. In fact, the quality of the lead performance and movie itself probably would have been worth seeing even if the film did not have one particularly painful scene and the child abuse theme.


* I have long thought that Shawshank Redemption did this as well. Andy is clearly innocent of his crime, though he does undergo a psychological change in jail. But, he could have done this even if he was guilty -- the crime, after all, was allegedly shooting his wife and her lover in the act. This would -- surely in the 1940s -- probably not even be a crime in a few states.

Surely, we would not think too much less of him if he actually shot them, plus still think homosexual rape and about twenty years in jail for the crimes would have been excessive punishment. Likewise, it would add complexity to the character. After all, Red was guilty of a heinous crime, but was a sympathetic character that also changed in prison. And, not only because Morgan Freeman played him.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bye Scott

And Also: It felt like July, especially given the holiday break, over in NYC the last few days. Also, looking around while being downtown (even around here), I was struck with the diversity -- so many different sorts of people. As usual, given the weather, the women looked particularly interesting.

Comment was made yesterday that Scott McClellan really had no role in the Bush attempt to subvert the Constitution [hat tip BTC News ... but Bush is not just "incompetent" Carl, so don't suggest that as a possible out] and so forth, so "his" decision to move on (awww) really is of no note:
The resignation of the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, is an event of almost complete insignificance except insofar as the beleaguered White House presents it as an important change. McClellan is a flea on the windshield of history. Inside the Bush White House, he was a nonplayer, a factotum, the instrument of Karl Rove, Bush's chief political strategist and deputy chief of staff. McClellan played no part in the inner councils of state. He was a vessel for his masters, did whatever he was told, put out disinformation without objection and was willing to defend any travesty. He is the ultimate dispensable man.

I'm not quite sure about that Sidney. An almospitiablele lackey does serve certain purposes. Surely, doing things like "put[ting] out disinformation without objection" is a useful tool to have. While the official line was clearly b.s., on some level reporters could not take it seriously, since they figured it was obviously so. But, the b.s. continues to flow. This is why I am somewhat tired of all this talk about how low the poll numbers of the Bush Administration continue to be. The guy continues to be in power, doing more things that keep those numbers low. Tell you what -- increase those numbers by resigning. Then, I'll be happy.

Anyway, yeah, Team Bush is undergoing some changes. Not to worry Bushies -- "Josh Bolten" (not to be confused by John Bolton, though both are conservative) seems to be nice and loyal, not really wanting any true change. Sure, Karl Rove lost his domestic policy portfolio though one doubts that he will lose any real power in the process. His old deputy chief of staff for policy will be taken by another insider, Joel Kapan, who was involved in efforts to stop the recount [or rather, count, since many never were counted to begin with] of ballots in Florida. Apparently, many of those morons obtained positions in the Bush Administration.

Fitting really. Talking about fitting, Democracy Now! had a story today about the troubling issue of basically unregulated civilian contractors in Iraq (not covered by military regulations but local Iraqi law is no true check either). It played a clip of someone asking him a question about the matter, which he responsed with a laugh and a comment that it was an interesting question that he would ask about. The questioner laughed as well -- must not do that. Must not play along with that persona. No enablers to this sort of thing:
The White House, for its part, has turned the issue of accountability of Blackwater and other private security companies into a joke, literally. This April at a forum at Johns Hopkins, Bush was asked by a student about bringing "private military contractors under a system of law," to which Bush replied, laughing, that he was going to ask Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, "I was going to--I pick up the phone and say, Mr. Secretary, I've got an interesting question [laughter]. This is what delegation--I don't mean to be dodging the question, although it's kind of convenient in this case, but never--[laughter] I really will--I'm going to call the Secretary and say you brought up a very valid question, and what are we doing about it? That's how I work."

[Tiresome Mets losing to Braves etc. whining deleted. Happy Birthday Justice John Paul Stevens. And, good health. Remember, Justice Holmes staid past ninety when you were a mere boy.]

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Dr. House Ethics

And Also: Less Than Perfect is back on the air though they put it on the same time as House. I mentioned my enjoyment of this workplace sitcom in the past as various hits attracted to the picture of two of its stars that I posted might have noticed. Don't know why it was taken off to begin with -- even if it received low ratings, it is not like there are so many quality shows available to fill its place. Becker and Wings suggests the low bar half-way decent shows need to reach to stay on the air for pretty long.

House had a subplot yesterday concerned with Cameron (the goody-two shoes) upset that Foreman on House's panel published a paper based on material on which she was working. House signed off on it without reading it while her paper sat on his desk -- relying on him to keep an eye for such things clearly was almost as silly as her trust in human nature. The show started and ended with House sleeping, a sort of metaphor since -- as his colleague and fellow sharp speaking doctor (having the second best lines of the show) noted -- by allowing such conflicts, the team itself is at risk. That is, given the rosy-colored ideals of Dr. Cameron. The other two could live with such "doctor eats doctor" activity.

The main plot deal with a lesbian couple, one with a mysterious sleeping disorder, the other hopelessly in love with her. Hopeless because her partner has grown tired of the relationship -- some viewers of both sorts of sexuality probably nodded in agreement respecting the "well he or she is nice and all, but is just too much." Or something like that. Anyway, it turns out that the sick one needs a piece of her (for now) partner's liver, itself a longshot attempt to find out what is wrong with her (but longshots are de rigueur for these guys). But, ah ethics -- would she be willing to have the dangerous surgery etc. if she knew her partner was about to break up with her?

I would say some would -- love conquers all, even unrequited love, right? Well, yeah, I never had to give a piece of my liver to someone who was going to break up with me, so what do I know? But, others have sacrificed for people who basically did not deserve it. Movies have been made. Anyway, technically, this was not a medical matter ... and anyway, the donor was not their patient. It was a moot point -- which could suggest Cameron should not assume or gave House an easy out -- since the partner actually knew about the upcoming break-up. She too was devious: this was a way to force her girlfriend to stay. This too is believable -- consider the (to my eye horrible) idea of some that having a baby will do this.

This whole matter put things into perspective for our young talented if naive doctor, and she decided to stop sniping at her fellow team member. She went to him and said that though he should not have done it (he himself to the other member of the team was a bit sorry, but it wasn't tearing him up inside or anything), if they both apologized, they could move on. And, thus save their working relationship and friendship. He would not take the bait -- he coldly said that they were not friends, and he had nothing to apologize about. This was comparably stupid actually. She gave him an out. As he said, they are colleagues. For the good of his career, a bit of saving face would be useful.

But, I guess, he got this far in part by being so sure of himself and a bit selfish (use a less judgmental adjective, if you like) about getting ahead. So, admitting error and apologizing would be tough for him as well. Still, it is in a fashion, as much of a character flaw as Cameron's overmoralizing (her version of the paper actually dealt with the moral implications of the case ... as a recent NYT article on her character noted, she is still blaming herself for her husband dying of cancer). To my knowledge, we have not had too much insight into his character to suggest why he would feel compelled to in effect add insult to injury (even if only in her eyes) like this. It seemed actually a bit stupid on his part, especially since he seemed a bit concerned about what he did.

Good plot development though ... it would be good, however, if the upcoming episodes adds a bit more insight on why he acted so coldly. As to the show in general, I continue to enjoy House himself, and the good writing and guest stars (a theme on a few shows these days) impresses. I am a bit tired of some of the standard themes of the show -- Dr. Cuddy being such a doormat, them solving the cases in the end without consequence (especially since he cuts corners ... a couple earlier episodes did have consequences, including House losing his leadership position for a month or so), and so forth. But, shows also are pleasing for their predictability.

btw The other subplot of the show concerned an Asian teenager trying to trick her mother into getting her contraceptives, and House pointed out that in New Jersey (where the hospital resides -- interesting choice), you do not need a parent's permission for that. An earlier episode underlined the point respecting a twelve or thirteen year old not having to tell her parents about her abortion -- sort of where the whole parental notification thing I mentioned in passing yesterday becomes a tad tricky. After all, should not someone in her position be forced to discuss the matter with at least a counselor? At least, if she is let us say under fifteen? Ah line drawing, I know ... [Only a handful of states do not require parental notification.]

I appreciate the show addressing such issues -- as a left leaning news program noted, all too many issues are censored by our media, including television, by not even being brought up.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Hysterical Overreactions

And Also: Not profound thought, but I was thinking that the reason why Democrats might be liable to govern better is that they actually want us to trust the government across the board. Republicans, however, want us to trust it somewhat, even if they are philosophically cynical. Thus, their recent overreaching is counterproductive. But, as the spider told the fly, I can't help it ... my nature.

It cannot be too often stated that the greatest threats to our constitutional freedoms come in times of crisis. But we must also stay mindful that not all government responses to such times are hysterical overreactions; some crises are quite real, and when they are, they serve precisely as the compelling state interest that we have said may justify a measured intrusion on constitutional rights. The only way for judges to mediate these conflicting impulses is to do what they should do anyway: stay close to the record in each case that appears before them, and make their judgments based on that alone. Having reviewed the record here, I cannot avoid the conclusion that the District's suspicionless policy of testing all student athletes sweeps too broadly, and too imprecisely, to be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

-- Justice O'Connor

Good general principle. For instance, take this account by a NY Daily News reporter:
As many as a dozen people who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11 attacks will ask a jury today not to put Zacarias Moussaoui to death, a legal source said yesterday. The defense also will read statements by shoe bomber Richard Reid and Mohammad Al-Qahtani, the real "20th hijacker" supposed to be on United Airlines Flight 93, who may contradict Moussaoui's claim he was part of 9/11, the Daily News has learned. ...

Moussaoui first claimed last month that Reid was the one confirmed member of his crew to hijack a fifth plane on 9/11 and fly it into the White House. All the evidence presented in court suggests Moussaoui was eyed by Al Qaeda only for a post-9/11 attack on buildings in California or Chicago but was scratched because of his incompetence. Still, jurors found him eligible for the death penalty.

The fact that the times are tough does not mean basic rules should not apply. Yet again, we hazily recall that 9/11 really did not change everything.

More on Bettie Page

A few more thoughts on Bettie Page. Well, the movie. The ultimate charm of the character is her down to earth, girl next store, persona. Thus, you have someone doing nudity and bondage (the scenes from the bondage movie was almost cartoonish -- the fetish has a playful nature to it along with its power dynamic aspects) but she seems so innocent. Talk about a twist on the Madonna/whore motif. And, the movie has her nature being the same way: the reason she shined was a child-like simplicity and acceptance that nothing bad was going on.

This is seen by the easy acceptance of doing her first nude. And, Gretchen Mol's performance is great in large part because she is able to play the character is such a way. Such is why her photos on some level are so tame, not just the fact that they make sure to hide the full frontal shots for legal reasons. It underlines how sex and nudity is so twisted in this country -- the fact something is necessarily explicit does not mean something is obscene. This is so even if some people assume as much. Thus, on some core level the more obscene thing was that the workmanlike two schlubs whose career shooting bondage shots etc. was ruined.

Surely much more -- as noted, Tarzan movies were promoted via thinly clothed people in exotic areas, sometimes tied up. At one point, Bettie (while being photographed tied up, including with a ball gag) was considering if she should be ashamed. But, she decided that we all were given certain talents by God, and hers was to be good at being photographed ... in a certain way. And, after all, nice people like watching it -- she met one. Now, her boyfriend thought it twisted. This is how many see this sort of thing; but, it is a pretty twisted way of looking at things, isn't it? Of all the things to think disgusting, playacting being tied up or dressing up in heels and so forth should be really down there.

btw I recently saw The Upside of Anger again on DVD [along with Finding Neverland, picked them up from the library since both had audio commentary -- the first audio was good, the second, the director (quite good) was just too loud], and it is a very good film. An ensemble dramatic comedy about a mother (Joan Allen) of four girls* dealing with a husband leaving her while each of the characters around her (including Kevin Costner and the director) also have some little dramas along the way. Everyone does beautifully and it is both funny and dramatically real.


* Well, young women ... though one is truly a "young adult" as in teenager (13-15). Cf. The use of "young woman" throughout this opinion, clearly attempting to paper over the differences between adult women and twelve to seventeen year olds. Good read though ... as is this one, which actually in various respects speaks for five justices. The discussion of familial privacy, which goes beyond this one area, is especially interesting.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A Couple Interesting Lower Court Opinions

The Notorious Bettie Page: Not really a complete bio (actually a rather incomplete one) of its interesting subject, this film still has a lot to offer from the great lead performance, good use of B&W, sympathetic supporting characters (photographers and ministers both), and so on. Nice on the eyes too and wholesome looking down to the bondage shots.

Planned Parenthood v. Taft:
A preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of an Ohio statute prohibiting the off-label use of an abortion drug is vacated in part insofar as it prohibits constitutional applications of the law where, although the district court erred in holding that every state which regulates abortion must include a health or life exception, there was no abuse of discretion in a finding that plaintiffs established a strong likelihood of succeeding on the merits of their challenge. (Amended opinion)

I referenced this opinion in the past in part because it underlines regulation of medicine it largely a state function. Likewise, it suggests the likelihood that Ayotte (life/health exception necessary for parental notification law) will result in opinions like this -- blanket laws limiting abortion in some fashion will be saved by means of court enforced health/life exceptions.

Finally, it suggests an answer to something I'm curious about: just what is the definition of "health" in this context? After all, even viable fetuses can be aborted to save the health or life of the mother. The best one can tell from Supreme Court rulings is that the term is defined by appropriate medical judgment. This ruling reasons that "significant" medical judgment must be present, dissenting opinions not enough to negate this. In other words, nothing trivial (a head cold) and/or something a doctor only concerned with his/her fee would allow.

This takes a bit of reasoning that might not necessarily follow, but it is a logical reading. In practice, since the usually banned activity is in some fashion dangerous, it probably would be malpractice to perform the abortion etc. for trivial reasons. OTOH, what if the fetus is severely deformed? Would the mental health issues involved be enough?

Jones v. City of Los Angeles:
The Eighth Amendment prohibits defendant, the City of Los Angeles, from punishing involuntary sitting, lying, or sleeping on public sidewalks that is an unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter in the city.

Ninth Circuit, so do not assume it necessarily will hold, but this is another interesting decision largely based on Powell v. Texas. Or, rather, trying to reading between the lines of that decision. Powell turns on the fifth vote of Justice White, who originally was going to vote with the dissent. The plurality held that public drunkenness is not a "condition" or the involuntary consequence of one. OTOH, mere addiction could not be a crime. Also, adding to privacy rights, the public nature of the crime is key. Justice Thurgood Marshall wrote the opinion.

But, White's vote was a bit more complex, turning on the absence of evidence (we are talking about the ruling of a police court here -- not a great means to make major constitutional doctrine) that Powell was compelled to be in public. If he was, White might have decided differently. And, so is the case here: there were not enough resources for the homeless here. They were compelled by the "status" of homelessness to be in public, so could not be convicted of homeless acts like sleeping in public. This would have Eighth Amendment problems.

As it does. Justice White's vote btw is a bit amazing. His decision, and implicitly that of five justices at the time, was that a drug addict could not be criminally convicted of using drugs. This would in effect make addicts, though not social users, constitutionally a treatment issue. Now, ironically, a realistic look at use will suggest a majority of illegal drug users are not addicts, though this might be hard to prove in individual cases.

But, it underlines the state of constitutional law in the late 1960s: Justice White and Stewart (who was in the dissent here), two moderately conservative justices in certain ways, would have held drug use in various cases could not be criminal! A sane policy in various respects and one clearly not as impossible to imagine as some might think.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Context My Dear Editor, Context

Happy chocolate day everyone. One also is reminded that a spring festival which for some has religious overtones also takes place today. Others think it a curious death/rebirth myth that millions find spiritually appealing. God's son (no, not that way) rose from the dead. Sorta like Persephone coming from Hades to go back to her mother Demeter, her time in the netherland corresponding with Winter ... necessary for the annual rebirth that is Spring. That is, necessary for our life. No ... the Christian story is much less mythological.

Providing context is important. Mere facts only take you so far, especially when addressing narrow ones. For instance, saying I killed someone does not really tell you too much. Was it in war? Was it an accident? Am I a police officer? Was it homicide? Perhaps, "someone" in one's opinion includes an embryo, and I am a doctor or even a pharmacist who prescribed a morning after pill that led to rejection of the implantation of a fertilized egg. Or, perhaps I am guilty of criminal homicide.

Many find this a problem in the news these days. Thus, certain facts about let us say the war are reported, but not put in context. Or, words some public official -- let us say the President -- are baldly noted, but not any context that suggest they are misleading, perhaps by design. This should not be the case, if possible, in reporting of any kind. The complete picture should be provided, not a simple snapshot. Not always possible, surely, especially in raw AP type stories. Nonetheless, even there, context is often quite possible and necessary.

I think this theme, therefore, applies across the board. The particular concern deals with the use of the abortion pill, which in a handful of cases [though it is not totally clear if the pill itself was the problem] has shown to be fatal. I personally see the abortion pill as a somewhat dubious method. It does not involve a one shot procedure, but one drawn over time. It involves at the end of the day more than one pill. And, it seems overall unpleasant. It can be supplied in a doctor's office, so avoids clinics -- in some parts of the country, this is fundamental. Finally, the cut-off is around two months.

But, if a woman in various circumstances wants to take the pill, it can provide an important additional choice in family planning. How about safety? The fact that something might have led to the death of apparently six (let us say it did cause the deaths) people really does not tell us much. Viagra causes five times as many deaths. Aspirin ten times. Of course, when dealing with numbers like "6," any number of things would. How about surgerical abortion? It seems a bit less dangerous. The telling alternative though is childbirth -- ten times more.

This is not surprising. A core issue in Roe v. Wade is that early abortion is less dangerous than childbirth. At the time, second trimester abortions were more dangerous -- I don't think this necessarily suggests additional regulations are proper, since the danger often is still not much more, and other concerns make it worthwhile in the minds of many women. All the same, it is a useful thing to keep in mind [second trimesters are now safer, affecting the legitimacy of certain laws]. Of course, the stories do not tend to remind us of such facts.

The father of one of the deceased women is given his time, which is proper, though his desire for a ban should be taken with a healthy grain of salt. He is not an expert or anything. And, the facts simply are not on his side. Chances are that, especially if the woman had some other problem, that a surgical abortion could have led to a tragic result as well. But, actually, there would have been a greater chance that a pregnancy would as well. Ditto a late term miscarriage. The right to abortion prevents many potential cases of the latter as well as the possibility of the former. We should be reminded of this fact when reports are put forth that "another death" via abortion pill occurred.

Where are all the national reports of deaths of pregnant women? Are they just God's plan, so not worthy of note?

Friday, April 14, 2006

It's Not Just Rummy

And Also: Concern for the protocols used in lethal injection procedures is currently the focus of death penalty cases. NYT recently had a few pieces on the topic. Orin Kerr has some perspective thoughts (see also comments). A good piece on victim impact evidence and the ongoing 9/11 scapegoat trial. Sigh. Timothy McVeigh was singularly treated as well, but at least he surely had direct involvement (even his defense was largely to try to spread blame). This whole thing is a farce -- the first time use of cockpit tapes and our former mayor testifying really is too much. VIE might or might not be appropriate in these cases, but the playing to emotions is going to the next level. And, the guy clearly wants to be made a martyr. How perverse.

The outcry also appears based in part on a coalescing of concern about the toll that the war is taking on American armed forces, with little sign, three years after the invasion, that United States troops will be able to withdraw in large numbers anytime soon. ...

Some say privately they disagree with aspects of the Bush administration's handling of the war. But many currently serving officers, regardless of their views, say respect for civilian control of the military requires that they air differences of opinion in private and stay silent in public. ...

Some officers who have worked closely with Mr. Rumsfeld reject the idea that he is primarily to blame for the inability of American forces to defeat the insurgency in Iraq.

-- More Retired Generals Call for Rumsfeld's Resignation

I commented that the serious noises (you know, of major generals) that the Secretary of Defense should resign seemed like a case of non-precision bombing. In other words, the generals -- having to deal with their loathing to attack civilian leadership given our mores anyway (but there is some rumblings even among active ones, who not surprisingly want to keep on the down low) -- are upset at Donald Rumsfeld. As with the rest of the Bush Administration, he favored a heavy-handed approach that wanted to serious change how things are done, to increase the firmness of the power of the (civilian) executive branch.

This led to heavyhandness that did not respect the opinion of military leaders, even though we keep on hearing from the likes of Bush that they really are the ones making policy on the ground (hypocrites -- who knew?). Also, his policies of streamlining of course caused problems -- and even if it might have been a good idea on some level, it was less so in various war situations. Finally, some of his strategy moves are questioned.

So yes, DR himself is a target. But, the buck does not stop with him, even though he is a good target. [And appropriate, since it not only sends a message, but again, he has problems.] Some generals have underlined that they did not like the policy overall, including going to war in Iraq. This is not only DR's fault. The ultimate blame goes to the top, including the Vice President and President himself. Air America just mentioned that some blame him for Gitmo sort abuses. Well, yes, he is responsible ... just not alone. Others, including a sitting and nominated judge, an Attorney General, and so forth. And, even overall military policy, surely it is not just Rumsfeld -- just how much does one man do?

But, I want to admit some ignorance on the nuances here -- partly as a matter of being depressed over the whole thing as well as being opposed to it on a broad basis, I have not paid attention to the nitty-gritty decision-making in military matters. And, there is a reason to target the Secretary of Defense in particular in this context. Still, and not only because he was involved in the appointment and negligently left him to make more of a mess of things, President Bush has a large part in all of this. As does others, especially in particular matters. So, I again find targeting Rummy in particular is a bit too easy.

Atta boy Rummy ... meanwhile, the rest of the assholes are safe. Per Atrios:
But, let's not kid ourselves and imagine replacing Rumsfeld will achieve much. Bush is unlikely to let anyone come aboard who will puncture his little fantasy bubble. The policy will stay the same - we stay in Iraq, because leaving=losing in Bushworld.