Saturday, July 31, 2004

Enjoy the Weekend

It'll be a good one. I think John Kerry is going to win. More thoughts on that next week. Things to do: talk about a Shadow Government and explain why James Lileks is (sometimes) a pompous ass. Later.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Kerry Speech Go Round

Here's a summary of some bloggers' reactions, with links.

Smears Debunked

Since the lib-ruhl media will give currency to absolutely any crackpot rumor about John Kerry, at least for a few minutes, let's take a short time-out and investigate one of them (which, thankfully, the convention will have diffused).

As is widely known, in 1971, after returning from Vietnam, John Kerry testified before the Senate that soldiers were committing atrocities and war crimes in Vietnam and that the nation's civilian and military leadership was aware of this. An incensed Nixon administration found a creature by the name of John O'Neill, another Vietnam veteran, to publicly attack Kerry's credibility (they also put him on the enemies list and had the FBI go after him). Kerry and O'Neill debated one another on the Dick Cavett show, and O'Neill let loose with a crazy, choleric rant, which Kerry smoothly and calmly rebutted like the Ivy League debating champion that he was.

O'Neill had been humiliated, and has spent 30 years nursing something that is more of an infected, fermenting sore than a grudge. With Kerry emerging as the Democratic nominee, O'Neill's life once again had a purpose. He founded a front group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and has set about defaming Kerry's war record at every opportunity. O'Neill's lies are collected in a "book" called Unfit for Command [I'm not going to dignify it with italics--ed.]. Among them are the baseless assertion that Kerry manipulated the system in order to win his medals, that Kerry was an unexemplary soldier, and that Kerry staged and filmed reenactments of his combat experience to be used in future political campaigns. The first two are belied by all the combat records and relevant documents from Kerry's commanding officers, a couple of whom (partisan Republicans, natch) have joined O'Neill's outfit and contradicted their earlier glowing reports. (You can decide for yourself whether they were more likely telling the truth in 1969 or in 2004). As for the last piece of slander, about staged footage, this was effectively debunked two years ago by Bill Keller in the pages of the New York Times:
For the next 40 minutes, Mr. Kerry and I
fast-forwarded through silent, washed-out-color
footage of mangrove-choked rivers, sleepy villages and
sailors skinny-dipping, disturbingly interrupted on
occasion by a Vietcong corpse or one of Mr. Kerry's
crewmen torching a thatched hut during a
search-and-destroy mission.

The first thing to be said is that the senator's
movies are not self-aggrandizing. Mr. Kerry is hardly
in the film, and never strikes so much as a heroic
These are the souvenirs of a 25-year-old guy
sent to an exotic place on an otherworldly mission,
who bought an 8-millimeter camera in the PX and shot a
few hours of travelogue, most of it pretty boring if
you didn't live through it
. [Emphasis mine--ed.]
Case fucking closed.

Never Seen In A Modest Mood

Francis Crick, who discovered the structure of DNA, passed away.

Conspiracy Theories, Anyone?

Last month, The New Republic reported that the Bush administration was putting pressure on Pakistan to capture a major al-Qaeda target towards the end of July, to coincide (ever so coincidentally) with the Democratic National Convention. Yesterday, it happened. Read the full report here. Josh Marshall is on about this, too. Josh, when oh when are we getting that bombshell?

Reality Check

Lawrence F. Kaplan on the illiberalism of the Kerry speech here. I happen to think the whole point was to create a veneer of ambiguity under which Kerry could speak to the diverse constituencies he was appealing to through coded language. Elsewhere, Ryan Lizza lauds the speech.

Shock, Awe

Unbelievable: Mickey Kaus gives a thumb's up to the Kerry, and actually provides some of the most cogent analysis of it that I've seen:
1) Good enough! No JFK2! (Kennedy's name wasn't even mentioned, I think. Update: Mentioned only once.) Substantive, non-cheap Bush-bashing! Populism muted-to-nonexistent! Above all, Kerry seemed less pompous, like a guy you could conceivably live with for four years;
2) Also fits with Eddie Yost strategy--didn't say much, presented a small target. At least three of four Pillars of Victory are intact;
3) Smart move to have a passage spotlighting his possible cabinet--took the focus off his own hard-to-like persona, made him potential benignly dull father figure presiding over an interesting administration;
4) Line most likely to come back and haunt: "I will not cut benefits."
5) Man, stem cell research must test well. .... I predict a measurable bounce, if anybody was watching. ... The most encouraging implications of the speech may be that a) Kerry's aides know their candidate's inherent limitations and are willing to correct for them rather than correct them--by not having him try to actually excite the crowd, for example; and b) Kerry's either aware of his limitations himself--or else he's willing to check his ego and listen to his staff's recommendations. Either way, it's encouraging. Kerry didn't try to make us love him or be inspired by him. He was just "reporting for duty." He unexpectedly jettisoned a lifelong JFK obsession. And he didn't (with a few exceptions*) treat his audience as dumb enough to be satisfied with meaningless bromides. ... This can't last. Time for Faster Elections! Can we hold this one next week? ...

*An exception to the no-meaninglessness norm was Kerry's favorite fudge, "America never goes to war because we want to; we only go to war because we have to." The whole issue, after all, is deciding when we "have" to.

The Buildup

It's a pity the networks didn't broadcast the hour leading up to Kerry's speech. If they had, they would have seen a highly effective presentation from Kerry's daughters, his former crewmates, the green beret whose life Kerry saved, a very slick biopic edited by Steven Spielberg, and finally, a great introductory speech from Max Cleland. Even earlier, Wesley Clark gave a speech so good that it left no doubt that he was campaigning (probably successfully) as shadow Secretary of Defense, and also left quite a few people wondering why Clark was such a dismal presidential candidate.

Re: Kerry's daughters. I now officially have a crush on Alexandra. Vanessa is a slight ditz and, apparently, already involved with Ben Affleck. They compare very favorably to the Bush girls.

America Arithmetic

According to Barack Obama, there is one America which is neither red nor blue. According to John Edwards, there are two Americas which are on the way to becoming one America and might get closer to doing so if John Kerry is elected. According to Kerry there is one America that's red, white, and blue.

Now according to my calculations, which are admittedly rough, that means that there are approximately 1.17 Americas which are a light, dull shade of purple. However, we also have to account for the "let America be America again" factor; so far it's too close to call on what proportion of the 1.17 light-dull-purple Americas is America or will be America or has been America or ought to be America.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

The Speech

B+/A- for Kerry. He accomplished several important things; he outperformed John Edwards, which a lot of people thought was impossible; he outperformed expectations by a wide margin; he converted the Democrats from an anti-Bush (and tacitly Clintonite) party into a pro-Kerry party; he used his military record to set up a comparison between himself and Bush that resembles the comparison between Eisenhower and Stevenson; he adopted Reaganite national security rhetoric ("You will lose and we will win. The future belongs not to fear, but to freedom."); he looked very presidential; and most importantly, perhaps, he gave a speech that will be remembered pneumonically, as the "reporting for duty" speech.

The negatives? It was too long by about a third. Because of that, he had to rush through all his big applause lines. If he had stepped back after saying that he would appoint an attorney general who "upholds the Constitution of the United States," the conventioners might still be cheering. Laundry-list public policy stuff never goes over terribly well, but I guess it's unavoidable if you don't want to be accused of lacking specific proposals. Certainly a big improvement on Al Gore the math lecturer. Promising tax cuts balanced out the populist stuff a bit. I wish Kerry had said something about establishing democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that he had said something about his methodology for tracking down and killing terrorists around the world. Also, perhaps this is nit-picking, but the Democrats should have coordinated Kerry's and Edwards' rhetoric a bit better. Is it "help" that's on the way, or "hope"? I'm not sure.

In addition to exposing John Ashcroft, my favorite lines were the one about defending the country as a young man and being prepared to defend it now, his injunction to Bush not to misuse the Constitution for political purposes (ahem, Hate amendment), the line about how patriotism and the flag don't belong to one party, and finally, Kerry's riff on what pessimism really means (claiming that this is the best we can do).

UPDATE: Full text here.
Thinking about it a bit more, the line not only of the night, but of the convention, was this: "The future doesn't belong to fear; it belongs to freedom." Pure Roosevelt. "Freedom, not fear" sounds like a good campaign slogan to me.

Michael vs. Ron (and Nancy)

Michael Reagan obviously doesn't like Ron too much (scroll down), and doesn't appear to like his stepmom either:
"Appearing on "Hannity & Colmes" on Fox News Tuesday night, he complained that the Democrats were using Ron for his name. Calling Ron Reagan a "typical liberal," he criticized him for not joining the family in a recent ceremony for an aircraft carrier named for their father.

Asked about Nancy Reagan's views on the convention speech, Michael Reagan sounded resigned. "Ron can do no wrong," he said, and added, "He is her favorite, and there's nothing wrong with that. So she's not going to get very vocal about it at all."
I liked Ron's response: "As to the favorite son complaint, he said, 'I don't know what the purpose is of dragging whatever Oedipal stuff he has into this.'"

Did John Kerry Fight In Vietnam?

Just Curious. I'd heard some rumors to this effect, but if they were true, I'd think the candidate would want to make a bigger deal of his military record.

O'Reilly Is An Asshole: O'Reilly Is A Smut Peddler Edition

From Bill's "novel" (I'm doing the quotation marks sign in the air right now):
Stripping off her bathing-suit, she walked into the huge shower. She pulled the lime green curtain across the entrance and then set the water for a tepid 75-degrees. The spray felt great against her skin as she ducked her head underneath the nozzle. Closing her eyes she concentrated on the tingling sensation of water flowing against her body. Suddenly another sensation entered, Ashley felt two large hands wrap themselves around her breasts and hot breathe [sic] on the back of her neck. She opened her eyes wide and giggled, "I thought you drowned out there snorkel man."

Tommy O'Malley was naked and at attention. "Drowning is not an option", he said, "unless of course you beg be [sic] to perform unnatural acts – right here in this shower."
You can follow this link for an audio clip of someone reading this crap and trying to keep a straight face.

But If We Give Up Dildos, Don't The Terrorists Win?

Alabama's anti-dildo legislation was just upheld by a federal court. Read more here.

What Kerry Must Do

The best thing about the Edwards speech is that it set up the platform for Kerry quite nicely. And now it's Kerry's chance to win this thing. I hope his handlers haven't instructed him to try to be folksy; but the Kerry campaign has been diligent so far in avoiding Al Gore's mistakes, so there's no added reason to worry on that count. The real problem is Kerry's tendency to pander and condescend to people ("Who among us doesn't like NASCAR?"). His model for this speech shouldn't be the Kennedys; it should be the Roosevelts. FDR never tried to disguise the fact that he came from New York aristocracy, and instead rested his political success on an ability to raise people to his own level of discourse without seeming overly intellectual. Kerry must do the same. He's alternately been described as looking French and looking like Lincoln. Kerry has the ability to look and sound like a man who should be president. Middle America won't resent him for that; FDR was their paladin once, too.

On substance as well as form, Roosevelt is the paradigm. I hope Kerry's been digging through FDR's wartime speeches, because they are the rhetorical key to stealing the national security issue from the Republicans. The three most successful politicians this century, Roosevelt, Reagan, and Clinton, were able to convince voters not only that they were the men to lead America through difficult times, but that better days lay ahead. Kerry couldn't hope to come off like a Reagan or a Clinton. But FDR is within his patrician reach. And given the Democrats' advantages on domestic issues, if Kerry can sell himself as a champion who will unite the country to defeat al-Qaeda and jihadism, then Bush will be toast.

UPDATE: Go here to read FDR's 1942 State of the Union speech. If Kerry can emulate this, he will be on his way to a deserved victory.

Children Should Not Be Allowed In Gyms

In life, as in politics, there is a place for children and there are places where children should not be. One of those is the gym. Yesterday, I had to wait fifteen minutes while a mother allowed her son to play with a leg press machine. My inconvenience was the smallest problem. The boy could have been badly injured. But of course, I'm worse than Saddam if I say anything about it.

Freudian Slip?

During his prolonged rant last night, Al Sharpton referred to Barack Obama as "Obama Baracka." Now I can't prove this, but I think he had gotten the name confused with that of Amiri Baraka, the consummate bard of ressentiment. It's a further illustration of the difference between Obama and Sharpton, between a black politician who wants to be an American leader and takes politics seriously, and a self-appointed black "activist" who doesn't understand the difference between politics and self-promotion (or truth and falsehood, for that matter).

The Dauphin

Edwards' speech was good if not great; so far the third best convention speech after Obama and Clinton, and certainly the best vice presidential acceptance speech of my lifetime. The content was pure populism, but it was hidden under a veneer of Reagan-style sunny rhetoric and North Carolina twang. I was a bit surprised to see the entire MSNBC panel splooging themselves over Edwards (especially Andrea Mitchell), but astonished to see the Fox panel doing the same thing. Interestingly, Edwards' tough-guy-on-terrorism line ("you cannot run, you cannot hide, we will destroy you"), while impressing Bill Kristol enormously, seemed a bit phony to the MSNBC commentators. (I think one of them said "he's too pretty to say something like that.") The problem with the line, however, had nothing to do with Edwards' appearance---the problem is that it drew only tepid applause (and I might even have heard a couple of boos.) The rhetorical climax of the speech, and the part that I assume will get the most coverage, was the "hope is on the way" refrain, which cunningly targeted pretty much every swing-voter demographic.

Now, the conventional wisdom is that the definitive moment for Edwards is his debate against Dick Cheney. Let's assume that's true. The nice thing about the vice presidential debate is that its dynamics are the reverse of those of the presidential debates four years ago. For Edwards, a draw with Cheney, or even a slight defeat, will be reified (through media echo) as a victory. And I don't think there's any danger that he'll be made to look like Dan Quayle.

Btw, how hot was Cate Edwards last night? [How old is she? Are you allowed to say that?--ed.] Seriously though, if the family-of-the-candidates factor means anything to middle America, Cate beats the Bush girls by a million points, while Mary Cheney is probably ashamed to show her face in public. Those Edwardses are just so button-cute.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan has three separate posts today splooging all over the Edwards speech. I think that's a good sign. Andrew makes a point that I missed; namely that the populism was tempered by a pledge to be fiscally responsible, and he put Bush in the (probably) untenable position of having to defend tax cuts for the rich against both deficit reduction and domestic initiatives on education, prescription drugs, health care, etc.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Al Fucking Sharpton

The Rev just pulled the lid off of heretofore suppressed Democratic ressentiment. He departed from the script that Kerry's people approved, pushed over into prime time, and eventually exploded into an apoplectic fit.

Sharpton might very well have ruined John Edwards' night. Maybe, just maybe, nobody saw this speech, or else we have a Pat Buchanan 1992 moment on our hands. I vote for a total media blackout of Sharpton until he apologizes for the Tawana Brawley fiasco.

Tell Us What You Really Think

"Daniel Wagner's A Movie ... and a Book is the worst book I have ever voluntarily read," writes Aleksander Hemon in Slate. "Wagner is a 29-year-old snowboarder from Switzerland and has never written a book before. It seems that he has never read one either. Beginning with the absurd title, every page reveals such rich ineptitude in thinking and writing that its 100 or so pages feel endless...[much later]...It is no longer necessary to be able to write in order to be a writer. You just have to appear cool, and some publisher, forgetting what brought him to books in the first place, will pick up the meanderings you jotted down stoned out of your head."

Ouch. Read the rest of this masterpiece in literary evisceration here.

Philosopher Moonbeam

Fascinating exchange between Reason's Matt Welch and Jerry Brown:
Brown:Are you a follower of Hayek?
Me: I’m a reader of Hayek, I wouldn’t describe myself as a--
Brown: I’m a reader of Hayek.
Me: (trying to change subject) Is there a—
Brown: Are you a reader of British philosophy, do you find that interesting?
Me: I’m not much like, you know, the whole, uh … I’m not a very learned guy. I’m not like your pal Jacques.
Brown: Yeah?
Me: There’s a lot of libertarians who are really into that political philosophy stuff. I’m kinda practical and dull-witted -- I’m from Long Beach, California.
Brown: Oh, that’s why. Most people from Long Beach derive from Iowa.
Me: Exactly. Exactly.
Brown: The good news about that is, that more people like corn than caviar.
Me: Speaking of libertarians, do you think that there’s more, is there a legitimate free-market kinda reason to go Democrat instead of Republican these days?
Brown: Uh, I think the Bush politicizing of science and distorting it, that’s certainly not reasonable. So that’s important. I think that Kerry’s a pretty reasonable guy. You know they say that “where’s the passion?” Well, there’s a lot reason there, and there’s a lot of thoughtfulness. And yes he’s a political person, and political person is apt to be flexible, that’s also true. But flexibility is a quality in an ever-changing world. Rigidity is definitely a vice.
Who would have thought Brown is even a reader of Hayek?

Moore the McCarthyist

NPR host Scott Simon takes down F9/11 on, of all places, the WSJ's editorial page. And in an aside, he notices the pathology of excuse-making liberal reviewers:
In the New York Times, Paul Krugman wrote that, "Viewers may come away from Moore's movie believing some things that probably aren't true," and that he "uses association and innuendo to create false impressions." Try to imagine those phrases on a marquee. But that is his rave review! He lauds "Fahrenheit 9/11" for its "appeal to working-class Americans." Do we really want to believe that only innuendo, untruths, and conspiracy theories can reach working-class Americans?
Right on. I made the same points here and here.

Teresa Should Have Told Him To Go Dick Cheney Himself

The reporter that THK "shockingly" told to "shove it" works for a Richard Mellon Scaife operation in Western Pennsylvania that has spent years maligning Mr and Mrs. Kerry. Here's Joe Conason's rough sketch. Money quote:
Years before her first husband’s death in 1991, Teresa Heinz came to feel that Mr. Scaife had misused his newspaper to punish her and her husband for dissenting from right-wing Republican orthodoxy. Since her marriage to John Kerry in 1995, the hostility of the Scaife press and the outfits funded by Scaife foundations toward her has been nothing short of vicious.

A few days after the Massachusetts Senator and his wife celebrated their second Christmas together, the Tribune-Review ran a column suggesting that Mr. Kerry had been enjoying a "very private" relationship with another woman. There was no byline on the story and no evidence to support the salacious insinuation. There was nothing to it, in fact, except pure malice.

When fresh accusations about her husband’s fidelity erupted earlier this year in the right-wing press, Ms. Heinz Kerry could scarcely have been surprised that the smear’s most eager purveyors included Internet sites financed by Mr. Scaife and his family foundations. Those "news sources" have also impugned Mr. Kerry’s patriotism, maligned his military service and distorted his voting record. They happen to be operated by the same discredited scribblers who once tried to convince America that Bill and Hillary Clinton were murderers and drug smugglers.

Meanwhile, Ms. Kerry herself is hardly exempt from the angry fantasies emanating from Mr. Scaife’s strange universe. Last spring, a Scaife-funded "research group" sent out a study that accused her of covertly financing violent radicals of various kinds, including Islamists, through the straitlaced Heinz foundations that she controls. There was absolutely no basis for that tale—as the right-wing sleuths could have learned by making a single phone call. The Heinz money they had "traced" through a San Francisco group had actually gone in its entirety to support anti-pollution projects in Pennsylvania.
Somehow I don't expect to see the lib-ruhl media picking up on this.

Esther Should Be Ashamed Of Herself

Faux-Jew Madonna's [who? oh, you mean Esther--ed.] co-optation of a culture she isn't a part of and doesn't understand has reached a new low.

Trust me on this: you can't learn Kabbalah the way that some people get associate degrees in business administration, and Madonna or anyone else who claims differently is a fraud. Furthermore, I don't like the stereotype that's lazily perpetuated by selling a piece of string for $30 under the pretense that it's a Jewish religious artifact.


Barack the blogger here (well, it's run by a supporter, but so what). Yes, I suppose I am getting starry-eyed over this guy, and a lot of other people are as well. Follow this link for a video of his speech, as well as nearly 300 comments, most of which predict that he will one day be president.

Who Killed Jack Ryan?

Josh Marshall posted this just before Obama's speech:
Obama probably would have won the Illinois Senate seat in November by a solid margin regardless. Now it's not clear that it'll even be a contest after his opponent's candidacy collapsed amid his would-be party constituents close-mindedness about his desire to see his movie star wife have sex with other men in Paris sex clubs. So he was sort of a martyr to Babbitry, you might say.
That's pretty lazy reporting, Josh. Republicans didn't destroy Jack Ryan's candidacy, except in the sense that they legitimized prying into candidates' sexual histories back in the 90s. On the contrary, the liberal Chicago Tribune won an injunction to open Ryan's divorce records just in case there might have been something to interest voters [note the distinction between that and something that is in the voters' interest to know--ed.].

And no, Ryan did not want to see other men have sex with his movie star wife. He wanted to have sex with her while other men (and women) watched. Can't say I blame him.

UPDATE: Josh corrects---sort of. He acknowledges that Ryan wanted to be an exhibitionist rather than a voyeur, but fails to mention that Ryan's demise was the result of the Chicago Tribune's investigation/violation of privacy rather than the workings of the Illinois Republican machinery. You tell me which is the bigger error.

Food For Thought

I was with this guy until he started talking about Terence Trent D'Arby. But yeah, smooth jazz is bullshit.


Um, just keep her away from the Kennedys.

Morning After Thoughts

Aside from Obama, the Democrats had a decidely mixed night. I thought Ron Reagan was serious, graceful, and impressive; Andrew Sullivan thought he was "excruciating"; Ramesh Ponnuru thought it "was not nearly as contemptible as [he] had expected it to be," which I guess is a kind of praise.

The Republicans would be really wise to avoid criticizing Ron Reagan. Partly, that's because it would look callous. But mostly, that's because stell cell research is a losing issue for them, and the more attention they give it, and the more vindictive they look while doing so, the bigger of an albatross it becomes.

Ted Kennedy definitely didn't help the cause at all. And I've heard the audio: there's no question that he referred to "the shirt round the world" (instead of "the shot heard round the world"). Howard Dean's speech was an uninspired medley of one-liners he'd used to great effect during the campaign. If saying "you have the power" once doesn't get people cheering, then surely repeating it five times will, right?

Meanwhile, I like Teresa's speech more and more as I look back on it. Candidates for First Lady could do quite a bit worse than have participated in marches against Apartheid in Johannesburg in the late 50s. You do get the impression, nearly every time she speaks, that she's still very much in love with John Heinz. I dig that. Laura Bush certainly isn't capable of expressing that sort of emotional complexity (or has been trained not to), and Hillary, let's face it, is a bloodless apparatchik. Maybe Teresa doesn't "play well in Peoria" [those fucking cliches again!--ed.]; I don't care, and I don't think I'd like the sort of woman who would.

More Barack

The New York Times has the full text of his remarks here. I'm not going to say a star was born, because that's a cliche, and I don't believe in cliches. But you get the idea. Money quote:
Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters, the negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America — there’s the United States of America.

The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that’s what this election is about. Do we participate in a politics of cynicism or do we participate in a politics of hope?

John Kerry calls on us to hope. John Edwards calls on us to hope.

I’m not talking about blind optimism here - the almost willful ignorance that thinks unemployment will go away if we just don’t think about it, or the health care crisis will solve itself if we just ignore it. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about something more substantial. It’s the hope of slaves sitting around a fire singing freedom songs. The hope of immigrants setting out for distant shores. The hope of a young naval lieutenant bravely patrolling the Mekong Delta. The hope of a millworker’s son who dares to defy the odds. The hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too.

Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope! In the end, that is God’s greatest gift to us, the bedrock of this nation. A belief in things not seen. A belief that there are better days ahead.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004


I really like Teresa Heinz Kerry and she seemed impressive to me tonight, but then, I like European women way too much to be an impartial judge of her speech. (Plus, I think accents and fluency in other languages are sexy.) The initial reaction from Joe Scarborough was that it wouldn't play well at all in swing states, while Andrea Mitchell was convinced that it was a marvelous effort at shoring up the female vote. We'll see.

UPDATE: Pat Buchanan and Katrina vanden Heuvel both really like Teresa's performance. I have no idea what that augurs.

Ronald Reagan

Who could have predicted that a Reagan chant would go up at a Democratic convention? Maybe you saw Republican operatives on TV claiming that Ron Reagan's appearance at the DNC was offset by Zell Miller's appearance at the RNC. Tonight proved them wrong. Zell Miller couldn't deliver a speech to equal Reagan's if his life depended on it, let alone outdo Reagan's subtle side-taking with crass partisanship.

Line of the night: "A few of these folks, needless to say, are grinding a political axe, and they should be ashamed of themselves." Reagan's clever injunction to "vote in favor of stem cell research, whatever you do in November" is coded language that's rather easy to decode.

UPDATE: Even better line: "We have a choice between true compassion and mere ideology."


After a sloppy and self-flattering speech from Howard Dean, Barack Obama gave the keynote address.

Toni Morrison once called Bill Clinton, rather inaccurately, the "first black president." Tonight, Obama emerged as a black successor to Clintonism. He might have lacked the southern accent, but the rhetorical style was unmistakable. In an extended riff, he intoned along the lines of Clinton's 1992 campaign (slight paraphrase) "we are not a liberal America and a conservative America...a black or a white America, but the United States of America"; and later, that "we coach little league games in the blue states, and yes, we have gay friends in the red states." This is precisely the sort of centrist populism that propelled Bill Clinton in 1992, and he combined it eloquently with an appeal to national security interests. It would be very unwise to underestimate this guy's potential.

O'Reilly Is An Asshole Watch/So Is Michael Moore

So is Matt Drudge. I hesitated before linking to Drudge's transcript of the O'Reilly/Moore face-off.


First reaction: the speech was scattershot in every sense of the word. In stark contrast to Clinton and Carter, Kennedy didn't even try to tie together his various themes. Some of the attack lines were clever and insightful, and some were silly. Most of the attempts at humor were just lame. Unless my ears failed me, Kennedy seemed to have compared the Bush administration to apartheid South Africa, Hannoverian domination of America, and Stasi control of East Berlin. A Kerry victory, he suggested, would be a modern day Boston tea party. The mollifying element in all this was a really bland and abstract run-through of early American history.

Kennedy spoke in a hoarse, rather shrill tone, and his voice cracked several times. His content and delivery left plenty of material for the Republicans to pick up on. Fortunately for the Democrats, Fox News Channel missed its opportunity to influence the PR spin around Kennedy's performance by opting to air a discussion between Bill O'Reilly and Michael Moore rather than broadcast the speech.

UPDATE: Via Instapundit, the line that Kennedy co-opted from FDR should be red meat for the Republicans:
Suggested TV commercial:

FADE IN: on Ted Kennedy, on the podium, partway through his garbled
convention speech, as he delivers the line, "The only thing we have to
fear is four more years of George W. Bush!"

CUT TO: New York City skyline. The old one. With the World Trade

Sounds like somebody got served.

I Thought Of This First

By now you might have seen or at least heard about John Kerry's asinine photo-op at the Kennedy Space center. As soon as I saw it, I immediately recalled Woody Allen's sperm outfit in Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex. Well, now an enterprising blogger has the comparison shots. No matter what he tells you, this was my idea first.

Malkin Against Cocks, I Mean Cox

Michelle Malkin, who might be one of the Republican hotties Ann Coulter was talking about, really doesn't like Wonkette (real name Ana Marie Cox). Specifically, Malkin disapproves of the media's receptiveness towards "skankettes" like Cox and her protege, Jessica Cutler, a.k.a Washingtonienne, a Congressional staffer who traded sexual favors for money and career perks. At a speech at the Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute, Malkin denounced the libertines:
Jessica, as many of you probably already know, has a three-hundred thousand dollar book deal, an upcoming Playboy photo shoot, and a Washington Post front cover article coming soon I hear. The woman who was her "mentor", Wonkette, Ana Marie Cox nabbed appearances on CNN and Fox and signed on to an MTV reporting gig during which she'll cover the Democratic National Convention this week [smirk].

What kind of lesson does that tell you if you are a young professional woman in Washington [smirk]?
I think the lesson it "tells" [sic] an aspiring Washington yuppette is that there are many avenues to career advancement, including being a professional woman as well as a professional woman, and proceeding to blog about one's trysts without even trying to keep things anonymous. Is that such a bad thing? And was Malkin's smirk a smirk of regret over the road not taken?

Helpful Reminders

This ultra-Blue State-hip quiz goes some distance to shielding us all from the glitzy, fake, apolitical carnivals in Boston and New York. Kerry's line, "Who among us doesn't like NASCAR," is so bad that it's good.

That Liberal Media

Dan Okrent answers the question of whether or not the New York Times is a liberal paper: "Of course it is." Money lines:
Times publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. doesn't think this walk through The Times is a tour of liberalism. He prefers to call the paper's viewpoint "urban." He says that the tumultuous, polyglot metropolitan environment The Times occupies means "We're less easily shocked," and that the paper reflects "a value system that recognizes the power of flexibility."

He's right; living in New York makes a lot of people think that way, and a lot of people who think that way find their way to New York (me, for one). The Times has chosen to be an unashamed product of the city whose name it bears, a condition magnified by the been-there-done-that irony afflicting too many journalists. Articles containing the word "postmodern" have appeared in The Times an average of four times a week this year - true fact! - and if that doesn't reflect a Manhattan sensibility, I'm Noam Chomsky.
Good for Okrent. The Times doesn't have to pretend to be something that it's not. He goes on to argue that Times reporters need to make more of an effort to reach beyond the "urban sensibilities" of their "co-religionists," and he's right about that too.


I'd be remiss if I didn't link to Matt Bai's Sunday Times article on plans for establishing a permanent campaign (or "message machine") for the Democratic party, to be funded by left of center billionaires. The idea is to match the decades old message coordination among conservatives and Republicans (what, you think it's just a coincidence that everything Sean Hannity says is part of the RNC talking points). Definitely worth reading (warning: it's very long).

The Blueprint

Love Bill Clinton or hate him (I'm closer to the latter), he laid out what should be the dominant themes of this year's convention. David Corn has more thoughts along these lines, as well as most of the Clinton speech, here.

Tedium As A Political Virtue

David Brooks has one of the most insightful pieces I've seen on the dynamics behind Kerry's rise and potential victory.

Why Ann Coulter Got Canned

Worldnet Daily reprinted the article that USA Today refused to run. I guess Ann knew she was off to flying start when she cleared her throat by saying "Here at the Spawn of Satan convention in Boston...." and breathlessly proceeded to accuse Democrats of "constantly...slandering police as violent, racist fascists." Funny how I've never heard that epithet.

She also doesn't think much of the ability of liberal men to get chicks, or of liberal chicks to look appealing:
As for the pretty girls, I can only guess that it's because liberal boys never try to make a move on you without the U.N. Security Council's approval. Plus, it's no fun riding around in those dinky little hybrid cars. My pretty-girl allies stick out like a sore thumb amongst the corn-fed, no make-up, natural fiber, no-bra needing, sandal-wearing, hirsute, somewhat fragrant hippie-chick pie wagons they call "women" at the Democratic National Convention.
Coulter is, of course, exactly right. I, for one, have never tried to make a move on a girl without seeking the UN Security Council's approval, and every single liberal man I know has at least once written to Kofi Annan for romantic advice. But if I could offer a word to any liberal men around Boston who might run into the Blond Beastess: don a "cross or American flag" so that Coulter will identify you as one of "[her] allies," and give her the rogering of her life. Then, when she's begging for a second go-round, let her know you're voting for Kerry. Also, consult this on techniques to use.

Now, as for the girls, I have to confess that I was unaware that pretty girls like Natalie Portman were all conservatives. Be reasonable, Ann; not every woman can aspire to look like a barbie doll coming out of an industrial-strength clothes dryer, and the ad hominems are just uncalled for.

Trying Too Hard

The good folks at NRO's The Corner are having a tough time coping with the Dems' success on night one. They promised more reactions after midnight and they delivered...with a consummately unfunny riff on Gigli. None of the Gigli blurbs even make sense in this context; and the point of one of them might be to compare Ben Affleck's politics to Saddam Hussein's and Hitler's, which doesn't mean that Barbara Comstock actually intends such an implication, but rather that she's hopelessly inept at comedy.

Has it really come to this for the NR crowd so soon? Did the actual politicians do so well that the cleverest thing they can come up with is a non-substantive dig at an actor?

Monday, July 26, 2004

Watch Any Good Shows Last Night?

It was probably the most Republican-looking Democratic convention since the formation of the modern Democratic coalition under FDR, and also just about the slickest presentation they've ever had. Al Gore was funny-for-Gore, restrained in his rhetoric, and seemed a lot more comfortable as a speaker than he ever did as Vice President. But the one-two combo came from Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton (more on that below). They managed to deliver stinging criticisms of Bush from both the right and the left, all the while using southern folksiness and the gravitas of being former presidents to shield themselves from charges of cheap partisanship or "negativity." They sounded all the right notes on defense, foreign policy, and domestic concerns, and tied these issues together seamlessly. The initial reactions at CNN and MSNBC were extremely positive (even Joe Scarborough conceded that night one was masterful), and since the media coverage is bound to be a PR-driven echo chamber, the Dems are poised to have a fantastically successful convention.

I was amazed by how brilliantly Carter and Clinton worked in tandem. First Carter introduced himself and John Kerry as navy men, and in a thinly veiled jab at Bush's suspect national guard service, mentioned that Kerry managed to "show up." Carter then claimed that Kerry would restore the "judgement and maturity" that the executive branch has been "sorely lacking" for four years. Clinton picked up on the naval theme, calling Kerry a captain to lead our ship out of troubled waters, a metaphor that Kerry would be wise to adopt. And Clinton also stated explicitly what Carter merely implied about Bush, namely that he was a draft dodger---though he not only avoided off-putting hyperbole about desertion, but placed himself, along with Bush and Cheney, in the draft dodging camp. Similarly, Clinton attacked the Bush tax cuts not by demonizing the rich, but by stating that he was one of the rich, that he and the other rich didn't need tax cuts, and that Bush's spending priorities were sorely misguided. Finally, where Carter spoke of judgement and maturity, Clinton pointed out that "strength and wisdom are not opposing values." Individually, these speeches might have been the best of either man's career. Together, they were devastatingly effective. [There was one downside to the Clinton speech: one of his taglines, "Send John Kerry," is obviously going to get co-opted by the GOP as "Send John Kerry home"--ed.]

Here's what I'd like to know? How did the Democrats coordinate everything so well? The apposition of Kerry's shipmate, Carter, the violin rendition of Amazing Grace, the joint prayers by a Jew and a Muslim for the victims of the 9/11 atrocities, and finally Clinton, looks like the work of a sublimely cunning political operative. Let's hope that whoever put it all together (I'll shave my head if it was Bob Shrum) can sustain this level of performance for the rest of the week, and that Kerry himself will be up to that task.

What about the Fox coverage? In yet another sign that Fox is becoming increasingly unable to sustain the "fair and balanced" facade, and might not even give a shit about looking objective, they decided to broadcast Bill O'Reilly talking about God-knows-what during Gore's speech, and in a stroke of inspiration that will get overshadowed by the night one speeches, had Sean Hannity and Bill Bennett talking over Jimmy Carter while Alan Colmes sat on a broom-handle (as is his wont). How fucking bizarre that Fox would have its employees (I won't call them journalists) at the convention and even out on the floor, while deciding not to broadcast the speeches of a former president and a former vice president! Anyone care to bet on whether or not Fox will broadcast the 8-10pm speeches at the Republican convention?

Sunday Flicks Part II: Not So Vast, But Very Very Right Wing Conspiracy

The other movie I saw was Conspiracy, a 2001 HBO docudrama on the Wannsee conference, starring Kenneth Branagh as Reinhard Heydrich, Stanley Tucci as Adolf Eichmann, and Colin Firth as Wilhelm Stuckart (the principal author of the Nuremberg laws), and a cast of famous-for-Brits character actors. Rather than try to summarize the plot, I'll refer you to a very intelligent review from Money quote:
The well-deserved demonization of Adolf Hitler has the regrettable side effect of obscuring the evil of his cronies and subordinates from anyone but historians, like a baleful sun whose light obscures the stars. Below the level of Hitler, the public's view of the German government dissolves into an amorphous mass called `Nazis,' the interchangeable automatons of the Führer. If the movie achieves nothing else, it will put Reinhard Heydrich and Adolf Eichmann on the map as villains in their own right, not mere extensions of Hitler. Kenneth Branagh's performance as Heydrich, the `Blond Beast,' is unnerving; he is the personification of that ruthless will, impervious to either reason or human feeling, which Hitler admired. This performance would be a star-making turn for a young actor; for Branagh, it is routine, maybe even a bit below average for this amazing performer.
When I travelled through Germany a few years ago, I actually had the chance to sail around the Wannsee. The mansion where Heydrich and Eichmann formally enacted the Final Solution was visible from the boat, and the experience of seeing it, amid the breathtaking beauty of the lake and the surrounding woods, was sort of ineffable. That such horrific, inhuman cruelty have been carried out in a setting of pristine serenity, casts Hannah Arendt's ideas about the banality of evil in a new light. The same haunting combination of beauty and evil is evident in the movie, when Branagh as Heydrich claims that the adagio of a Schubert symphony "will just tear your heart out" and tells Major Lange (Barnaby Kay) that he is a dreamer.

Perhaps it's paltry of me to point this out, but watching Conspiracy again (I saw it when it first came out) made me feel an intense hostility towards ideologues of the left and right who compare their opponents to Nazis. This applies especially to the Bush is Hitler morons in Europe. They lived through the real thing, and they ought to know better.

Sunday Flicks Part I: Outfoxed (a.k.a. O'Reilly Is An Asshole Watch)

I spent a good chunk of yesterday watching two movies. The first was Robert Greenwald's Outfoxed, the documentary of "Rupert Murdoch's war on journalism." Before seeing the film, but excited about the prospect of an anti-FNC movie, I sort of reccomended it here. I have to qualify that recommendation now. Perhaps I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but I found Outfoxed rather underwhelming.

The trouble starts from the outset of the film. It basically declares immediately that the producers couldn't decide if they wanted to do a film about Fox's violations of journalistic ethics or about the problems of corporate consolidation of the media. The result was noticeably schizophrenic, and the film concluded with a yawn-inducing segment about how we all need to "let our voices be heard" and "stand up to power" and "have a voice" and "confront the powerful" and "take a stand" and "we shall overcome" and "arise ye workers of all nations" and "blah blah blah blah blah shut the fuck up I get it already blah blah blah blah blah."

Since I didn't watch Outfoxed to get a lecture on corporate media regulation, I'll just stick to the parts that directly concerned Fox News Channel. And in that area, Greenwald did at least well enough to make the film worth watching. The link at the top of this post provides access to the John Moody memos that document how Fox deliberately propagandizes on behalf of conservative and (more importantly) Republican causes while hiding behind the cover of objective news presentation and "fair and balanced"-ness. The film itself mostly consists of interviews with former Fox employees who basically all tell the same story about being cajoled into slanting their coverage in order to support the Republican party.

One of the more damaging clips featured a former graphics engineer at Fox who said that the job of the Fox graphics team, in part, was to play with images in order to make liberals and Democrats look bad, and---here's a shocker---they never did anything of the kind to conservatives or Republicans. One of the funnier clips, this time including actually Fox News footage (which was unfortunately underplayed in order to give more time to the interviews) featured a former reporter who was sent to Simi Valley California to cover Ronald Reagan's birthday several years ago, and didn't find much of a celebration going on when he got there. He clearly did his best to play up whatever festivities were taking place, and still got in trouble with his bosses for not doing enough.

The Fox formula, which Outfoxed is quite good at delineating, is extreme conservative bias, to the point of distorting news, which is masked by tabloid style presentation, which is in turn glossed over by the pin-striped "how dare you insult my professional integrity" seriousness of Brit "pompous pseudo-intellectual piece of shit douchebag" Hume, who is amazingly talented at looking and sounding like a member of the Tom, Peter, and Dan club of anchormen. Greenwald was able to find a simply outrageous statistic about Hume's nightly news broadcast; in a seven month period in 2003, 83% of the guest for Hume's recurring interview segments with political VIPs were Republicans, compared with 17% Democrats. It gets even worse, though. Many if not most of the Democrats were moderates and centrists who were basically brought on in order to "courageously" side with the Republicans on some issue. In fact, I can remember one such interview several years ago with John Edwards, who as you may recall, used to be considered a rather moderate Democrat until he became a lib-ruhl tri-uhl loy-yer.

Of course, Outfoxed is complete with some obligatory O'Reilly Is An Asshole moments. Early on, we see a clip of him claiming to have only once told someone on his show to "shut up," followed immediately by at least a dozen instances of him telling various people, including live guests, to shut up. He actually seems to love the phrase the way that some people love drugs. Later, we see a summary of the infamous Jeremy Glick encounter (told, of course, from Glick's point of view). Let me just state for the record that the "Not In Our Name" campaign (which Glick was involved in) was moronic, and that the war in Afghanistan, as flawed later governance of the country may have been, was a just war. However, anyone who saw the interview saw O'Reilly behaving reprehensibly, and Glick's very plausible story about the fireworks after the cameras stopped rolling (I'm not sure what sort of corroboration Glick has, although no one at Fox News has ever denied it) suggests that O'Reilly is dangerously mentally imbalanced. In Outfoxed, there are several clips of O'Reilly simply inventing stories about what Glick said on air, making Glick out to be a lunatic and possibly an al-Qaeda sympathizer. Just the other day, when O'Reilly laid out his challenge to the New York Times, he claimed that Glick had to be escorted out of the building by security. That's techincally true; Glick says that security asked him to leave because they were worried that O'Reilly would do something violent if he saw Glick; and indeed, anyone who actually saw Glick on the air would have an awfully hard time believing that he became belligerent after the taping stopped.

After going through the Glick sequence, Al Franken appears on screen, saying that Glick had asked him if he could sue O'Reilly for defamation. Franken put Glick in touch with the attorney who worked on Franken's case against the Fox News Channel. The attorney advised that it would be a difficult case to win, since Glick would have to prove that O'Reilly knowingly lied, and O'Reilly's history of lying crazily and pathologically could therefore shield him from having to pay indemnities. Personally, I really wish Glick had carried on with the suit, so that O'Reilly would have been forced to choose between admitting to be a pathological liar or else paying off Glick for knowingly defaming him.

Nothing in Outfoxed is shocking or surprising. Maybe that statement is a reflection of just how much the news media have deteriorated or just how cynical the public has become. Those, by the way, are mutually reinforcing phenomena. Greenwald's film is worthwhile, but not essential viewing.

Ricky Williams, the Achilles of a Postmodern World

I'm absolutely in awe of a man who could choose travel, serenity, and---let's face it---ganja over a successful (and perhaps Hall of Fame) career in the NFL. The existential polarity in professional sports is represented by Ricky Williams on one side, and Tom Brady, who was present at Mr. Bush's State of the Union in order to confirm the fact that steroids are a national security threat, on the other. Fuck Tom Brady!

In this otherwise insightful article on how Williams' decision affects coaches around the league (and Dave Wannstedt in particular), Adrian Wojnarowski is incredulous about Ricky Williams' values: "He can't be so shallow that he just left to hang out under tropical waterfalls and smoke blunts the lengths of goal posts ... could he?" As if playing a game for obscene amounts of money isn't a shallow pursuit. I realize the timing of this was pretty wretched, and it's going to hurt the Dolphins' season. Sorry if I can't shed tears over that. The Dolphins will recover one day. Meanwhile, Williams just delivered a gut shot to the conventions of our society. Nietzsche would be smiling.

Those Were The Days

TNR republishes a fascinating editorial from 1948 in which the editors argued that the Democrats should not renominate Harry Truman. Worth a read just for its historical significance. And also as a reminder of what a disaster it would have been if that Stalinoid hack Henry Wallace hadn't been dumped from the ticket in 1944 and had become president after FDR's death.

Convention Week

Just a few hours now until the opening act. If you're a bit nostalgic for the days when conventions were unscripted and the outcome was not predetermined (not too long ago, Ted Kennedy nearly ousted a sitting president), tune in to Al Gore's speech. He gets ridiculed for behaving crazily in recent public appearances, but I think he's actually channeling the ghosts of Jonathan Edwards and Cotton Mather. So we may be in for a "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" treat tonight.

On a more serious note, it's possible that the Dem Convention will decide the presidential election. If Kerry and his team can pull off a great performance, I just don't see how any effort by the Bush campaign can make up that ground. Independent and undecided voters don't care much for Bush and are ready to dump him. Now Kerry needs to turn them on.

So About That Report

My thoughts re: the 9/11 Commission report are best expressed by E.J. Dionne in the Washington Post. Money quote:
But a fear of partisanship should not stop President Bush and Democratic candidate John Kerry from debating the commission's recommendations during the campaign. It's essential that they do so. In particular, the president should tell us why, 34 months after Sept. 11, he has not proposed some of these steps himself. One thing this report makes clear is that there is a lot left to do.

And that is why the second stage of the debate is about accountability, which cannot be dismissed as blame-mongering. Simply put, our government has a lot to answer for. Kean and the commission carefully avoided singling out individuals, but Kean's words yesterday were unequivocal: "This was a failure of policy, management, capability and above all a failure of imagination. . . . What we can say with a good deal of confidence is that none of the measures adopted by the United States government before 9/11 disturbed or even delayed the progress of the al Qaeda plot."

My Bitch Calls Me G-Dub

After turning down an invitation to speak at the NAACP conference, Mr. Bush addressed the Urban League last week. Here's Andrew Sullivan's choice quote and reaction:
Bush asked: "Is it a good thing for the African-American community to be represented mainly by one political party? Have the traditional solutions of the Democrat Party truly served the African-American people?" That's the difference between a group of people you respect and want to win over and a group of people you marginalize for political gain.
Whatever uplift Andrew might have found there, I think, gets vaporized by this choice bit, via Wonkette:
Do you remember a guy named Charlie Gaines? Somebody gave me a quote he said, which I think kind of describes the environment we're in today. I think he's a friend of Jesse's. He said, "Blacks are gagging on the donkey but not yet ready to swallow the elephant."
Given Bush's anti-gay positions, I wouldn't have expected him to endorse either gagging on donkeys or swallowing elephants.

Anyway, when Andrew refers to one party that "respects a group of people" and "wants to win [them] over" against a party that wishes to "marginalize [them] for political gain," I have to say I'm not sure which party is which. Does Andrew think that African-Americans register in Karl Rove's political calculations at all? Well they certainly do. In order to convince suburban moderate whites that the Republicans aren't bigots, the Republican Convention will need to appear (with the sound turned off) like a Rainbow-PUSH meeting.

But Bush (or Rove) interested in winning black votes? As Andrew would say, "Puh-lease." Is that what the revival of the Southern strategy was about? Does Bush think that African-Americans are so stupid or historically ignorant that they won't recognize the logic and rhetoric used in efforts to deny them civil equality decades ago being turned on another minority?

And how exactly does Bush expect to win over black votes? Does he buy into the plainly idiotic idea that gets floated around by TV pundits that African Americans are church-going, and therefore just itching to join the religious right? Mr. Bush has made overtures to blacks, but he has also spoken at Bob Jones University and defended the use of the Confederate flag. One of those gestures was sincere, and the other was cynical. Maybe Andrew knows which was which.

In fact, I'd be interested to know the Vegas line on whether Bush will get a smaller percentage of the black vote or the gay vote.

So Fucking Close!

The Springboks nearly beat the All Blacks in Christchurch this past weekend; they lead 21-18 going into the final minute, when NZ strung 15 phases together which ended in a Doug Howlett try a few seconds after full time, for a 23-21 final score. For the record, I predicted a Bok win here, so fuck everybody who picked NZ to win in a blowout. (And if you're a gambler and you bet on the Boks, well done. Sacrifice something to the gods of the point spread.)

Not only was I very nearly the Amazing Creskin of rugby, but the game itself was determined exactly the way I preducted it, namely a game of passion versus execution, and it could have gone either way. The All Blacks enjoyed more than 70% of possession, but they never even really looked like scoring until that final drive. South Africa's defense was absolutely relentless; the two moments of the match for me, in ascending order, were Schalk Burger chasing down Joe Rococoko's first real break past the advantage line, and Os du Randt's 15-meter cross-field chase and try saving tackle on Rococoko.

Oh, did I mention that the Boks had 3 tries to New Zealand's 1? South Africa might not have seen much ball, but virtually every time they were able to string together a back play, they ended up either scoring or coming threateningly close. Breyton Paulse nearly set up two tries off of chip kicks, and Jacques Cronje managed to drop a pass that, if caught, would have set up a three man overlap and undoubtedly a try. On the tactical front, I thought the Springboks kicked away too much possession, given the success they were having with every multi-phase drive, although I understand the argument for reducing the odds of having handling errors, especially on their own side of the pitch. Percy Montgomery made a couple of errant clearance kicks, but was otherwise superb, and contributed 3 very difficult conversion goals. The one major weakness of the Boks' game was in scrummaging---but then, to the surprise of most observers, including me, New Zealand's pack has been thoroughly dominant in scrums this entire season. John Smit, by the way, was an inspired choice as captain. In addition to his leadership skills, he is simply a world-class hooker [nice phrase--ed.], whose loose play and lineout throws are equal to those of any international hooker, if not better.

Like I said, with discipline, the new-look Springboks are world-beaters. Jake White seems to know how to manage winning rugby, which is more than can be said for most recent SA coaches, and given the youth of his side (excluding du Randt), I don't think it's too early to start expecting a major upswing in South African rugby. But who knows; New Zealand managed to win two games at home by small and shrinking margins. I'd say that even this year's Tri-Nations is still wide open, and I'm going to stick with my pick of South Africa.

WMDs And A Side Of Fries

From Da Ali G Show this week (slight paraphrase):
Ali G: Did Saddam have weapons of mass destruction, or BLTs as they's called?

Patrick Buchanan: Not only did he have BLTs, but he used them on the Kurds.

Ali G: But does you fink it's ever right to fight a war over sandwiches?

Patrick Buchanan: Is it ever right?...Yes.

In his Borat persona, Sacha Baron Cohen went out with a Republican congressional candidate as he did door-to-door introductions with voters. Borat told one woman that in Kazakhstan, women are not considered the equals of men, horses, or dogs; he told another that the candidate would be a strong leader like Stalin; and he told a male voter that the candidate had big testicles which he should touch.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Breaking News

One quick post and then I'm going endangered species hunting for the weekend. Here were the headlines when I opened AIM this morning:

-Warning: Qaeda may strike sports event
-Paris Hilton Dumps Nick Carter
-Woman Attacked By Alligator Dies

Now obviously, no one cares about the woman and the alligator, but I think it's shameful that the AOL/Time Warner people would put an al Qaeda warning in bold face and give short shrift to Paris "that whore" Hilton's break-up.

Friday, July 23, 2004

I Expected This From Jenna, But Barbara, You're Breaking My Heart hosted an online chat session with the twins, and Wonkette has a transcript. Read this while I try to figure out something witty to say:
Andrea Toth from Canoga Park CA wrote:
What foreign leaders or diginitaries have you met?
Barbara and Jenna Bush answered:
Yes, Andrea, and that is definitely one of the best things about being the daughters of a President. We have both gotten to meet some extremely intelligent, interesting people. We both met former President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, and felt extremely inspired and moved. He is a man who was imprisoned for fighting communism and was the first President of the Czech Republic. He also is an amazing author and playwright and he loves the Rolling Stones! We have also met Tony Blair of Great Britain and Vladimir Putin of Russia - in addition to being highly intelligent and amazing leaders, they both have a great sense of humor!
Not sure I'm up to the task here. There are just too many possibilities. Do they admire Havel more for his years of struggle against communism and his writing, or his appreciation of the Stones? Was Barbara extremely inspired while Jenna was extremely moved (or vice versa), or were they both somewhat inspired and moved, or was one of them extremely inspired and moved while the other was indifferent, or was one of them super-duper extremely inspired and moved while the other was actively hostile? Too close to call, I'd say. Wonkette might be on to something:
It's not just that 22-year-olds don't talk like that, it's that no one talks like that. Jenna and Barb weren't answering these questions, these questions were being answered by Ken Mehlman and Karl Rove, who may have been dressed like Jenna and Barb.
Yeah, but take a look at the exchange with Andrea again. Why did they answer a question she didn't ask? Are Rove and Mehlman cross-dressing robots who can only give pre-programmed responses? Doesn't that sound more like Dick Cheney? [Being a robot or being a cross-dresser?--ed.] [Both!--F.]

Meanwhile, at Slate, Michael Crowley attempts to write a thoughtful article about the twins. Silly fucker, who does he think he's kidding?

For the record: I've never met Jenna. I did meet their cousin Lauren (the model), who is or was dating an acquaintance of mine. The only time I talked to Barbara during the two years we straddled at Yale was on tap night 2003, when she was getting hazed by a lesser secret society than Skull and Bones. She approached me in a cow costume and asked me to suck on her udder, then started giggling. I also know for a fact that she attended at least one naked party (they're not as cool as you might think; just imagine how hideous most people, let alone most Yalies, look without any clothes on). Eh, you tell me if that's a bad thing. (And yes, if I ever had a chance, I would have gone for it.)

Bush Says Gay

In fact, he used the phrase "gay marriage." Andrew Sullivan gets really excited about it. Umm, Andrew, the context was during his (cynical?) attempt to get the Hate Amendment passed. It's not as if he didn't know the word existed. Karl Rove just wanted to make sure he didn't acknowledge that gay people exist. Is this really an improvement?

Kerry: Making Opposing Pitchers Screw Up

JFK committed what was probably a miniature gaffe recently when, after claiming to be a Red Sox fan, butchered the names of Red Sox players and said that Eddie Yost, who never played for the Sox but did coach them at one time, was his "favorite Red Sox player of all time." Peter Gammons on that here. And here's the Kerry defense page. Notice this comment:
Eddie Yost was a mediocre hitter who became an All-Star by letting the opposing pitcher screw up: he often led the league in walks, was near the top in on-base percentage. Boring, seemingly passive, reliable, effective. Sound like any Presidential candidates we know?
Interesting. Mickey Kaus notices the parallels, too.

Steroids, Sports, and Capitalism/Ben Johnson Is My Hero features an article about Marion Jones' ex-husband C.J. Hunter accusing her of using banned substances including designer steroids, growth hormone, and EPO during her preparations for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Jones' handlers are claiming that Hunter, who has tested positive for steroids many times, is just trying to get revenge on Jones for ending their marriage.

Who knows who's telling the truth? It's not quite believable that anybody got involved with BALCO to get things you can buy at GNC, but it's also eminently believable that Hunter is purely motivated by vindictiveness. There could be truth to what both sides are saying.

This sordid little story summarizes neatly a couple of related narratives in contemporary sports. The first is that the Olympic games are a mockery of their original principles, dependent on shamateurism, steroids, and importing events like soccer and tennis where the Olympic competition functions as a glorified exhibition. Even rugby union, the most Phillippian and blue-blooded sport this side of polo, finally recognized in 1995 that amateurism is bad for the sport that tries (always unsuccessfully) to enforce it. Athletes will always accept whatever compensation they can, and to blame them is to miss the point entirely. If it's wrong for runners, swimmers, wrestlers, and weightlifters to get paid for their athletic talent and achievements, then it's just as wrong for basketball, baseball, or football players to get paid. Which is not to say that it's wrong for the market to determine how much any particular athlete should make; on the contrary, that situation would be ideal. All that a ban on professionalism achieves, like any attempt to throttle an open market into submission, is to drive talent away from amateur sports and thereby diminish their quality of play. [The only really successful example of socialism in sports, the NFL, depends on an enormous revenue base, a pro-football ideology in many areas of the country, and salaries so exorbitant that a few years in the league will allow players to get by financially for life. The NFL might even be a vision of what post-capitalism will look like: such huge surpluses in resources that traditional market forces no longer obtain.--ed.] Another point about the Olympics: they suck. Do you give a shit who wins the gold in synchronized swimming or ice dancing? If you're planning on watching the Olympics at any length, keep repeating this mantra, and you'll be cured: just because the Gumbel brothers say so, doesn't mean it's any good.

If the Olympics are a joke at the expense of the games, then coverage of the steroid scandals has been a joke at the expense of fans and (especially) sportswriters. I happen to have some breaking news: Barry Bonds used steroids. Sammy Sosa used steroids. Mark McGwire used steroids. Jason Giambi used steroids. And so did and so do many other elite professional athletes. It's not terribly difficult to explain wild fluctuations in weight, body composition, strength, and speed. Confronted with these facts, sportswriters have two choices. Either they can remain willfully and painfully credulous---these are the ones who always hide behind weasel phrases and refuse to say anything directly; or they can join the righteous minority that acts as if steroid use is a corruption of the otherwise noble ethos of professional sports (Mike Lupica, hello).

The reason that steroids are so prevalent in sports---this is something you'll never read in SI---is that they are fantastically effective. They deliver exactly what they promise to, enable athletes to achieve feats that were once thought unimaginable, and provide terrific entertainment to fans. It's silly to protest that the athletes who use steroids aren't haven't earned their records. Of course they have. No one else swung the bat or ran the race for them. They did it all by themselves.

"But steroids create an unfair advantage, don't they? What does it mean that Barry Bonds hit 73 homeruns on steroids when Roger Maris hit 61 without them?"

Glad you asked. I'll tell you exactly what it means. Sports training and nutrition are improving constantly. A modern athlete who exercises and eats properly enjoys a massive edge over someone like Babe Ruth who trained on beer and hot dogs. It's simply impossible to compare records amongst generations of athletes, firstly because they competed against different opponents, but more importantly, because the more recent the athlete, the better the knowledge of training available to him. Take two athletes, A and B. A follows the Babe Ruth approach to preparation, while B works out 6 days a week and supplements his diet with extra protein. Assuming A and B are equally well-coached, and have the same amount of talent and composure under pressure, not only will B outperform A, but it won't even be close. Was B cheating? Obviously not. Now let's introduce athlete C. He does everything B does, but also takes something the boys at BALCO cooked up. Keep the other variables constant, as before. Now C wins by wide margins. Tell me why C was cheating when B wasn't.

"Because B worked for his advantage over A, and C didn't work for his advantage over B." Nice try. B's advantage over A was nutritional as well as physical. Something as simple as protein supplementation makes a huge difference in overall muscle anabolism; in fact, without surplus protein, no amount of exercise will make you the slightest bit bigger or stronger. Do protein supplements create an unearned and therefore unacceptable edge? All they are is a mixture of condensed milk proteins and carbohydrates. Shall we next disallow athletes from eating large portions of meat and potatoes? Should we regulate their diets so that no one gains a nutritional advantage over any one else? Or should we instead allow them to improve their physical abilities as much as they possibly can, and reward them for utilizing advancements in biology and nutrition to augment their training?

Now look at these questions from the other direction: if protein supplementation is okay, then why not creatine? It is, after all, a naturally occuring substance that is responsible for the production of ATP, the nucleotide complex that serves as the body's energy currency, a fundamental component of metabolism. And on and on with all the other available supplements. The effects they produce are "natural" in the sense that they are organic, i.e. changes in the size, strength, and endurance of muscles and other tissues. And they are all either naturally occuring body chemicals or else derived from them.

It should be clear that any firm line-drawing on these questions is absurd. Yet the prevailing opinion is not only that a line should be drawn, but that it should be drawn at steroids. What pious, puritan nonsense! How much of the current anti-steroid-ism, I wonder, is the result of decades of miseducation and propaganda about steroids and other illegal drugs? [The war on drugs is a huge, grotesque lie supported by smaller grotesque lies, but that's the subject of another post.--ed.] Whatever the dangers of steroids, and they are real if consistently exaggerated, the emergence of the so-called designer steroids augurs a time in the not-too-distant-future when synthetic drugs can combine the advantages of steroids with none of the side effects. At present, a professional athlete's choice to use steroids over a long period of time is a conscious decision to sacrifice quality of life in the future for achievement in the present. It's an ancient ethical dillemma, but as long as we remain a free society, then the choice belongs to the athlete. The athletes who choose not to use performance enhancing drugs are nicely compensated by the enormous mandatory minimum salaries their players' unions have secured.

John Ashcroft's America

The ACLU has an abso-fucking-lutely awesome web animation here.

And That Should Do It

My final response to Jonathan is now up. You can find it here. I'm not going to post another substantive response to him, both because it's time to diversify the content of the site, and also because I don't want this to turn into a race to see who gets the last word. I'll be sure to read any further responses of his though.

Which Report?

Oh that report. Daniel Drezner provides links to the report, the executive summary, and good early coverage here.

I'm going to give myself a chance to read through the material before I make any pronouncements that are difficult to take back. As far as I can tell, the two most salient facts to emerge from the 9/11 Commission inquiries are 1) that both the Clinton and Bush administrations had the means to prevent the 9/11 attacks and failed to do so, and 2) Iran has some sort of relationship with al-Qaeda, and is on the verge of becoming a nuclear power.

These are not exactly comforting thoughts, so I'm sort of incredulous about the sunny spin the press is giving to the report. Both presidential campaigns are claiming that the report vindicates their candidate's position, which means at least one of them is deliberately obfuscating.

Hanging Chad Savage: Gay Porn Star Services the VRWC

Some things are too awesome to make up, and this might be the greatest Page 6 item ever: "THE power-moguls and political heavyweights now luxuriating at ultra-exclusive retreat Bohemian Grove are unaware that they're being waited on hand-and-foot by a famous gay porn star." What is the Bohemian Grove, you ask? It's an annual retreat for the, um, right-leaning male members of the world's polticial and financial elite. Grove alumni include George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Alexander Haig, Henry Kissinger, William F. Buckley, and John Major, and every Republican president since Calvin Coolidge has attended. It's sort of like Skull and Bones, only simultaneously more powerful and more infantile:
When they're not listening to policy speeches, "Bohos" are known to urinate freely in the redwoods and perform mock-druidic rituals that revolve around a 40-foot-tall stone owl. In one ritual, called "Cremation of Care," members wearing red-hooded robes cremate a coffin effigy of "Dull Care" at the base of the owl altar.

While the club has claimed its share of accomplishments — Grovers privately boast that the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb was conceived on its grounds — its oddball activities aren't for everyone. Richard Nixon once famously described the gathering as "the most faggy goddamned thing you could ever imagine."
Nixon sure knew how to deliver a line, didn't he? Naturally, the good folks over at Wonkette, Gawker, and Fleshbot are all over this.

[Nice work, asshole. Now we're going to pick pick up hits for "bush," "dick," "gay porn," "all-male," and filthiest of all, "kissinger." At least you didn't include a gratuitous joke about how far to the right Chad hangs.--ed.]

Tories For Kerry?

Via Andrew Sullivan, check out this almost unbelievable quote from Michael Portillo, who is one of very few indications that the Conservative Party might have a future:
American policy in Iraq since the fall of Baghdad has been incompetent. Donald Rumsfeld, the US defence secretary, used too few troops to secure the borders or to capture the stockpiles of weaponry. Disbanding Iraq's security forces was a foreseeable error. Backing Ahmed Chalabi for president flew in the face of wise counsel. The blitz on Falluja was a military and diplomatic catastrophe. The rather good interim government of Iraq that took power last week emerged in spite of, not because of, the United States...
I begin to think the West can purge itself of American misdemeanours only by some symbolic sacrifice. Rumsfeld would have done nicely had the president dismissed him over the Abu Ghraib horrors. He signally failed to do it. Now only the defeat of the Republican administration will suffice.
Senator John Kerry does not impress. Whereas the president has difficulty in stringing two words together, the Democratic candidate can say nothing in fewer than four long sentences, which is worse. The main charge against Kerry - a telling one -is that he is inconsistent. But is Bush less so? Was not this president elected on a platform of disengagement and did he not go on to fight two foreign wars? Did he set out for battle despising the UN and America's former allies in "old Europe", and does he not now grub about for their moral and practical support? ... For America to brush away its recent disgraces, the electorate will have to bin this administration. I never expected to say this to my American friends: vote Democrat.

Francoism Watch

Yup, got one already. By a 51-46 margin, the Senate confirmed J. Leon Holmes was confirmed as a judge in a federal distict court in Arkansas. The reason the vote was so close is that Holmes had co-authored [with his wife!!!--ed.] an article claiming that the role of a wife "is to subordinate herself to the husband" and the role of a woman "is to place herself under the authority of the man" [sounds like Ayn Rand--ed.]. Why? Because Holmes and wife interpret the Bible that way, and also believe that civil law should reflect their interpretation of the Bible. Among Holmes's opponents in the Senate were Republicans Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Kay Bailey Hutchison.

But guess who came to Holmes's defense? That's right! Old frothy-mixture-of-lube-and-fecal-
himself (R-PA): "Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania believes, however, that Holmes is being unfairly singled out for possessing conservative religious views shared by millions of Americans."

Well, no one can claim Santorum isn't an expert in unfairly singleing out particular groups.

Thoughts After Midnight

Considering this post from a few days ago, I probably ought to avoid writing anything that could be considered emo. Bear with me, though. I'm not going to recite Marx or confess a sexual inadequacy so that girls will like me (unless that works, in which case I'd do it in a heartbeat). Tonight was the best time I've had all summer, which isn't necessarily saying a lot, given the soul-wrenching monotony and boredom of my job. It started when I went uptown with one of my poker buddies to the Yale Club, where apparently there are Thursday night cocktails all summer. Maybe because it was my first time at one of these gatherings, it felt like a reunion, and I was genuinely surprised at my happiness in seeing old friends---one person in particular. I'm finding out little by little that people I know, and some that I don't know, are reading this website, and I want to thank them all for doing so. Blogging is the most self-indulgent activity possible, a kind of cyber-therapy on the cheap. Not only has this site been the most important thing I've done in a long time, but its effect on me has been truly liberating. Something about the medium has enabled me to express my character more freely than perhaps I ever have before. Of course it isn't going to last long, but everything feels pretty good right now, and I'm going to enjoy the high. Keep reading, and please, go ahead and post comments.

After the Yale Club, my friend and I headed over to the Ace-Point, a semi-underground poker club with no-limit tables. I was pretty happy with my play during the night; I made a healthy profit by the time I headed home, and earned a fair amount of it with well-timed bluffs. I also got to witness the single most absurd hand I have ever seen. About five players saw the flop, including my friend, who was on the button. The flop came 7d9dTd. Before my friend could do anything, there had been a bet, a raise, and a reraise. He was holding the Jd, and figured that at least one of his opponents had to have a better flush draw than him, and folded. On the turn, the 6d fell. Another heavy round of betting, and one more player dropped out. On the river, the 8d fell, making a 10 high straight flush in diamonds on the board. That meant that my friend, with the Jd, would have made the absolute nuts. Instead, he had to watch the players who remained at the end split the pot. It turned out, by the way, that his read was correct. One of them had the Kd. He would have been drawing dead to the straight flush after the turn against that card. The other disconsoling fact for my friend is that we were at a caller's table; with a straight flush on board, he could easily have gotten a fantastic price for his higher straight flush.

Sometime tomorrow, I'll be posting my response to Jonathan. Despite the harsh language I often use, I've thoroughly enjoyed the dialogue, both on a personal level and because it's good for the blog. This latest response will be the last substantive post on gay-marriage issues for a while. I have other things to talk about, I swear. Rather than play the same tune about gay rights, I'm going to institute a new feature, the "Francoism Watch," which will document aggressive efforts to incorporate religious ideology within the civil law, and also particularly boneheaded remarks from various personalities on the far right of the religious right.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

A Phalange of the Left

Leftism gone too far is often the result of secular ideology embracing the inflexibility of religious dogma. Look at this example, via Virgina Postrel. Reading the article, I was reminded of Christopher Hitchens' remark several years ago about "people, who, discovering a snake in their child's bed, would immediately place a call to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals." [He might have meant to say "the NSPCA," but that's a small quibble--ed.]

Not A Pissing Contest

Last week, we linked to an article by TNR's Jonathan Chait, arguing in mostly non-ideological terms that George W. Bush's administration has made this country less democratic. At Opinion Duel, a site co-hosted by TNR and the National Review, NR's Andrew McCarthy responded. The ongoing dialogue is well worth reading, and you can follow it here.

Thursdays With Jonathan

I'm having a fairly brutal day at work...I'm about half-way through Jonathan's rebuttal, and I'll finish as soon as I can.

O'Reilly Is An Asshole Watch II

And so is Victoria Murphy of Forbes Magazine. For those following the story, Jadakiss is this season's Ludacris. O'Reilly, who obviously "gets" hip-hop, and Murphy, who obviously does too, had this enlightening exchange:
MURPHY: This rapper's probably a one-hit wonder anyway, and it turns out it probably wasn't such a smart decision, but Microsoft is a smart company and what they want to do is sell more software, not promote some rapper's political ideas...

O'REILLY: Yeah, I mean we understand what their marketing is, to get kids to play this X-Box with Jadakiss, but you know, July 5th, Jadakiss is arrested in Fayetteville, North Carolina, for, uh...

MURPHY: Right, but that's what rappers do right, they get arrested?

O'REILLY: Yeah, I guess that's what they do...
Yup, that's what they do.

O'Reilly Is An Asshole Watch

This story alone proves that the man is pondscum. After attacking a guest who is running a website that "outs" the gay staffers of anti-gay legislators, Mr. O made reference for the third time since November to "the lesbian judge" who dissented from the MA SJC ruling that legalized gay marriage. On no occasion did O'Reilly name the judge, but of the three dissenters, only one, Martha B. Sosman, is a woman, so it's unlikely that the two male dissenters are lesbians. Judge Sosman has denied through spokesmen that she is a lesbian but O'Reilly will continue to make the charge, since it is verified by "more than one independent source."

So O'Reilly, who is against "this kind of exposition" of "somebody's personal sex life," is happy to continually make reference to a dissenting lesbian judge, whom he will not name, and will support that allegation only with a similarly unnamed source.

Let me offer my own theory about what's going on here. We already know that O'Reilly graduated from the same school of evidence manipulation as Michael Moore. He played a clip for his guests of 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean corroborating a NYT story, only to reshoot the spot in his guests' presence without that clip so that he could assert that Kean had essentially contradicted the Times. On that occasion, O'Reilly demonstrated fewer journalistic scruples, and more disrespect for his audience and guests than he would have if he had simply lied to them from the outset.

So look at this from O'Reilly's point of view: wouldn't it be a great "talking point" if one of the dissenting judges in the Massachusetts case were gay? Indeed it would. Are any of them gay? Who cares, we'll just pick one at random, say she's a lesbian, and squeal like a pig about how the elite media are persecuting us.

No, I can't prove any of this. But it seems to me to be the explanation that Occam's Razor would lead us to. In the best case for O'Reilly, if the judge really is a lesbian, then he is exposed as a contemptible hypocrite.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Response to the Response to the Response to the Response to the....

Maybe in order to streamline the process a bit, Jonathan was kind enough to divide his post into separate points. Let's go over each one:
Point one: Finnegan says that he does not understand this statement of mine:
"You are misguided on the polygamy vs. gay marriage point. It is a bit like saying 'it is okay to fall in love with many different people, but not more than one at a time."'Well, I do not see the problem with the state condoning polygamy when it does condone people cheating on each other. That is, if I go cheat on my girlfriend, what is the state going to do about that? Nothing. Thus, the discrimination against polygamous people is arbitrarily enforced -- not merely against homosexuals."
Firstly, I am merely attacking [Finnegan's] [Sorry Jonathan, but we have to protect our blogging alias--ed.] argument against the state intruding on privacy, which it does in the case of "polyamory." If the key legal reason why homosexual sex, and thus gay marriage, is legal (see Lawrence v. Texas) has to do with non-state intrusion (a bona fide right to privacy), then why must the state pick and choose which sexual relationships to make legal or illegal. That is merely my point here. The fact that the state is in the marriage business altogether is 'arbitrary' in the sense that it arose out of the Christian canon law.

Of course, this raises a different interesting question: why is the state in the business of marriage altogether anymore? Is it legitimacy of monogamous couples? Tradition? Family? Perhaps that the continuation of the human races largely depends on monogamous heterosexual relationships? Even a proponent of same-sex marriage cannot deny this. If every relationship in the world were of the same-sex, how would humanity live on (minus scientific advancements that could fertilize)?
Jonathan is mixing, matching, and conflating legal arguments pretty much ad hoc. (I'll skip the points about polyamory, because they're addressed later.) The legality of homosexual sex and the validity of gay marriage are entirely separate issues. The striking down of sodomy laws in general is based on the principle that the Constitution creates a fundamental right to privacy---an assumption that has governed American Constitutional law for decades. In Lawrence, the Supreme Court not only struck down the Texas anti-sodomy law on right-to-privacy grounds, but also on equal protection grounds, since the Texas statute only applied to homosexuals. The Lawrence decision, however, only relates to the fight for gay marriage rights in that it put to a permanent end the criminalization of homosexuality and legitimized the principle that sexual orientation is a valid consideration in determining equal protection abuses. It would be stupid to argue, and no one has done so, that the fact that homosexual sex is not criminal automatically means that gays have the right to marry. As to Jonathan's contention that the state has arbitrarily involved itself in marriage, I would assume, to echo the post that he originally responded to, that he does not support the Ralph Nader position that the word "marriage" should have no place in civil law, and that the state should merely regulate civil unions between heterosexual and homosexual couples.

For the sake of gratuity, I think I'll respond to the Christian canon law point. In short, I'm becoming convinced that Jonathan doesn't know what the word "arbitrary" means. If his assertion that civil marriage law arose out of Christian canon law were even correct (it's not), then still, neither civil marriage law, nor the process by which it arose, would have been arbitrary. But of course, civil marriage law does not arise out of any religious doctrine---and civil law in the United States, as Jonathan ought to know, is utterly distinct from religion in terms of its execution if not necessarily all its historical antecedents. While the traditions associated with marriage in the United States (at least until recent years) have been patterned on Christian teaching, the laws regarding civil marriage itself are a reflection of secular Enlightenment values. Civil marriage law in its current iteration depends upon a robust interpretation of invididual rights and of women's rights. Moreover, the inalienable (let's face it) freedom to divorce is a combination of secularism, anti-traditionalism, and Protestant values that all contradict the presumably Catholic and traditionalist canons to which Jonathan makes reference.

Jonathan then lays out yet another iteration of the "civil marriage is connected to procreation" meme, as if saying it some more would make it true. How many times do we have to go over this ground? Whatever the historical relationship between marriage and procreation, the desire and ability to procreate have nothing to do with current civil marriage law. Not only is the state "in the business of marriage" despite the fact that marriage has nothing to do with procreation, but the state goes so far as to guarantee marriage rights to non-procreative couples. Also, is it wrong of me to laugh at the point about humanity going extinct if everybody were in a homosexual relationship? Is Jonathan aware of how silly this is? Nobody is advocating that everyone "become" gay, nor, by the way, is it even possible. Some people are born gay, and some people, who make up the vast majority, are born straight. Humanity soldiers on.
Point 2: [Finnegan] dazzles as our resident philogist. Polyamory should be used, not polygamy - since polygamy is ambiguous, he says. Well, I prefer polygyny (but not many people know what that is), so I use polygamy. For argument's sake I think Webster's will vindicate my position that polygamy can refer to a man or woman with multiple wives of the opposite sex: "The having of a plurality of wives or husbands at the same time; usually, the marriage of a man to more than one woman, or the practice of having several wives, at the same time." I do not think it matters whether one has many wives or one has many husbands. Polygamy suffices as a concrete enough term.
The dispute here isn't philological, but pragmatic. What Webster's vindicates is that the term "polygamy" in contemporary discourse always refers to marital arrangements, and it "usually" refers to "the marriage of a man to more than one woman" because using it to refer to one woman with several men is etymologically incorrect (the word for that is polyandry). The reason the distinction between polygamy and polyamory is important is that the latter term can mean any relationship involving sex between multiple partners; polygamy exclusively refers to group-marriages. Polyamorous relationships are perfectly legal, provided no one attempts to enter into a group marriage. Polygamous relationships are not legal. No one's trying to dazzle. Let's just keep our terms straight.
Point 2.5: This point is so 'rife' with hyperbole that it ought to be left for readers to decide its veracity:
Personally, I don't have a huge problem with allowing groups of people to marry each other. The problem is that every historical instantiation of polyamory involving multiple marriage is rife with physical and sexual abuse.
Every instance? Don't set the bar too low for me. But sarcasm aside, even if this is mostly true this does not mean the state should legislate based on what may happen. The possibility for a loving and abuse-free relationship depends largely upon the people involved. Every relationship is a fresh start; each one has the potential to be abusive. Banning a relationship merely because it is likely to be abusive seems a lot like the state banning second marriages to people in which their first marriage was dissolved due to abuse.
Jonathan seems awfully confident of himself, so I'd like to hear him name an historical instance of a culture in which group marriage (i.e. not just polyamorous sex) was prevalent and various forms of abuse were not, including, at the absolute least, women having the status of chattel. Like I said, I have no objection from first principles to group marriages. I just can't envision a set of circumstances in which a group marriage is something other than the sort of thing that goes on under the radar in Utah.
Point 3: I think that using this line of argumentation just helps my case:
What Jonathan is not legally able to do is marry one woman, and then marry another. I'll defend to the death his right to cheat on his girlfriend and take on as many sexual partners, men and women, as he desires...A polyamorous heterosexual person is free to marry any person with whom he falls in love. What he lacks is the freedom to marry multiple people simultaneously.
This helps my case because your restriction of polygamists' liberty depends on current laws, without acknowledging that polygamists want to do is change the positive laws which restrict marriage -- which is the same as same-sex marriage proponents. Homosexuals currently lack the freedom to marry in most states; just as polygamists do. Both want to modify the definition of marriage so as to gain liberty. Thus, the similarity between the cause of polygamists and homosexuals. For a deeper explanation of why this is so, I move on to my next point.
Let's hold off on your next point for a moment. It's nonsense to talk about "changing the definition of marriage." The definition of marriage is constantly in flux, and its current iteration, as enunciated in civil law, looks nothing like the civil marriage of a hundred years ago. If what Jonathan meant, instead, is that both polygamists and homosexuals want to fundamentally change the restrictions on who may enter into a marriage, then he is half-right. Civil marriage in the United States has taken on many forms, but it has always fundamentally been a binary relationship. Polygamists want to change that. From a libertarian standpoint, I don't entirely oppose them. Homosexuals, by contrast, want to remove restrictions on civil marriage that no longer reflect the reality of the institution. Namely, except, as I keep having to say, for the fact that they are not heterosexual, a homosexual couple can fulfill every legal criterion for entering into a civil marriage.

As to Jonathan's claim about the reasons why homosexuals and polygamists want to effect changes in marriage law ("to gain liberty"), let me first correct the record. Gays are excluded from marriage in 49 states, a number that is likely to grow. Polygamists are excluded from marriage in every state, and there is no reason to expect that that will ever change. Next, the "gaining liberty" construction assumes that the liberty of homosexuals and polygamists is infringed upon in parallel ways. This is plainly not the case. A homosexual will only ever love members of the same sex. The prohibition against gay marriage thus means that gay people can never marry any person whom they love. A heterosexual polygamist, however, may marry absolutely anyone at all whom he loves. May I suggest that a polygamist retains a meaningful right to marry, even if it is not a group marriage? While a polygamist might be inclined to say that he loved multiple people at once, or that he prefers to have sex with multiple partners, it's nonsense to say that a man inclined to polygamy is incapable of having a loving relationship with a single woman. Perhaps I might be persuaded to take up the cause of polygamists' rights if there were some evidence that group-relationships were the singular, exclusive, and only mode in which certain people could love. But there is no such evidence and no reason to believe that that is true. Homosexuality, on the other hand, like heterosexuality, is a fundamental component of one's identity. It determines not just the manner in which one falls in love or chooses sexual partners, but the entire subset of the human population with which one is able to fall in love.

The real ground of contention here is the implicit question of just what the status of homosexuality is. Our law and contemporary discourse acknowledge certain groups who are, for lack of a better term, legitimate minorities, and we accept the principle that arbititrary discrimination or forms of legal segregation against these groups constitute violations of their rights. The legitimate minorities that (just about) everyone would agree on are racial and religious minorities. So really, the question is this: is discrimination against homosexuals the same sort of thing as discrimination against blacks or Jews? By contrast, very, very few people would contend that polygamists are a legitimate minority; thus the contrapositive question is: are homosexuals, like polygamists, a group that is clearly distinct from the majority for x, y, and z reasons, but who don't have a legitimate claim to civil rights in these areas? Obviously, my answer to the first question is an emphatic yes, and my answer to the second is an emphatic no. I would guess that Jonathan's answers would be the reverse. I could try to explain why homosexuals are a legitimate minority, but I'd prefer just to stick to the terrain we've already gone over for now.
Point 4: Now my last point that polygamist rights are similar to homosexual rights is anchored in this point: that the traditional definition of marriage ought to be changed. Here is [Finnegan's] position:
Were homosexual marriage to be legalized, homosexuals would have no more freedom to enter into group marriages than anybody else. Nothing about the fundamental structure of marriage as a union between two individuals will have changed. It remains to be shown why homosexuals should be barred from joining such a union.
Now this point appears to be the pivot of his argument. Allow me to outline it as I see it.

The traditional definition of marriage is a contract that requires the consent of the parties involved which requires
a) Two individuals
b) One man and one woman

This definition has been the core civil, common and canon law traditions up until the 21st century. [Finnegan] proposes that marriage is discriminatory since two people who love each other are "barred from joining such a union."

[Finnegan's] argument attempts to modify b) to read "two people." The problem with this is that is messes with Custom. The result of distorting, as opposed to incremental changes to custom and subjecting it to rational review, is that it will eventually disintegrate the whole custom altogether. What [Finnegan] proposes is no different, and here is why.

I can see no reason why if one changes b) they are restricted from changing a). They are both coequal characteristics which are integral in the traditional definition of marriage. You can argue sociologically all you want on why two people are better than three. But legally speaking, if homosexuals argue based on love and discrimination, I see no reason to deny polygamists' claims on the same ground. [The last part of Point 4 really belongs to Point 5, so I've placed them together--ed.]
Jonathan's right that this is one of the crucial areas of the argument. In fact, the whole dispute revolves around this point:
The traditional definition of marriage is a contract that requires the consent of the parties involved which requires
a) Two individuals
b) One man and one woman

This definition has been the core civil, common and canon law traditions up until the 21st century. [Finnegan] proposes that marriage is discriminatory since two people who love each other are "barred from joining such a union."
Where to begin? What does Jonathan mean by "the traditional definition of marriage"? Every culture has its own traditions regarding marriage, and some, including Mormonism, Islam, and perhaps others, explicitly violate provision b) of Jonathan's "traditional definition." He probably means the traditions of mainstream Christianity in the west, but if that's so, then he's already on thin ice because Christian tradition does not view marriage in contractarian terms. Remember Jesus's famous injunction against divorce. Contracts are things that man brings together and puts asunder.

Secondly, for most of the history of Traditional Christian Marriage (let's call it "TCM"), "consent" of the marrying parties had none of the connotations of free choice of one's spouse that modern marriage (MM) guarantees. In some cases, spouses-to-be were able to exercise a certain sort of veto power over the person to whom they were to be married, and in some cases not. Women in particular not only had virtually no power in selecting their mates, but became, in effect, the property of their husbands. But men, too, could be forced to marry women they didn't love or even like. While male adultery under TCM was frowned upon, it was difficult to prove and enjoyed a kind of semi-toleration. Whereas female adultery, especially if it resulted in pregnancy, was subject to capital punishment.

One could go on at length about the vast structural differences between TCM and MM, and to reduce marriage to Jonathan's provisions a) and b) is to simplify marriage beyond comprehensibility. (I'm well aware of the fact that advocates of TCM have a surplus of arguments on its behalf, but they don't figure into this discussion.) The point is that the battle between TCM and MM has already been decided; if the laws governing marriage still honored TCM, then I would agree that homosexual marriage would be ruled out by the conditions of the prevailing culture. But civil marriage is governed by the principles of MM, and as such, has to make room for homosexuals. Number and gender of partners in a marriage are but two of a wide range of variables that have changed precipitously as society itself has evolved.

Thirdly, Jonathan repeats his error in missing the distinctions between various forms of marriage through its historical progression, by making reference to "the core civil, common and canon law traditions up until the 21st century." Not only are secular and religious traditions distinct from one another, but they are wholly incommensurate, the latter excluded by the 1st Amendment to the Constitution from having any legislative authority in the United States.

So the reality is that no one "is messing with Custom" but, in fact, giving deference to the fact that culture is subject to constant flux. The rise of the gay-rights movement is necessarily tied to the rise in gay social visibility and acceptance. Do you think Queer Eye For the Straight Guy could have aired thirty years ago? Just as it took many years for African-Americans to achieve the equality in civil law to which they were always entitled, it has taken many years for gay people to have their existence even acknowledged as something other than mental illness, and it will take more time still for gay people to be fully integrated as citizens. No single step could be more integrative than marriage; civil marriage for homosexuals will allow them to be recognized in law as part of a family, and it is indeed the family, as many of the opponents of gay civil rights argue, that forms the basic unit of society.

Jonathan's point 5, and the paragraph immediately preceding it, concern sham marriages, a term he prefers not to use, but should:
As a Canadian court in Layland vs. Toronto put it:

"The law does not prohibit marriage by homosexuals provided it takes place between persons of the opposite sex. Some homosexuals do marry. The fact that many homosexuals do not choose to marry, because they do not want unions with persons of the opposite sex, is the result of their own preferences, not a requirement of the law."

Thus, the law is not required to cater to all sexual preferences. By the nature of their respective relationships, homosexual and heterosexual relationships are different. With respect to many laws, the law does discriminate between relationships. It discriminates based on personal and business relationships (with respect to things taxable or not); and between father and son (with respect with authority and obedience).

Point 5: [Finnegan] says:
In the United States in 2004, any two heterosexuals of sufficient age and not blood-related within prohibited degrees have the right to marry one another. They need not want to have children, need not have the ability to have children, and need not love or even like each other. Heterosexuals are free to marry for financial reasons, in order to facilitate an immigration, because they're in love, or for any other reason that they could come up with. The only restriction is that no one can be forced to marry. These are criteria that any two homosexuals can easily meet, and to deny them the right to marry is arbitrary discrimination.
Well you are right and wrong. Marriage laws do not distinguish between heterosexuals and homosexuals. Thus, it is wrong to say that homosexuals are denied to marry. You are right in saying that homosexuals easily meet the criteria for marriage based on the above restrictions. A male homosexual may marry a female homosexual: thus homosexuals can marry each other. Homosexuals are not denied the right to marry. They can marry anyone they want, provided it be a member of the opposite sex. Thus, there is no arbitrary discrimination there. Homosexuals and heterosexuals can marry. If there is arbitrary discrimination, it is in the definition of marriage, which was discussed in the point above.
I was unaware that Jonathan was a partisan of the "gays can marry anyone they want of the opposite sex" camp. Let's get real. There was a time when gay people were forced into sham marriages, and the result was broken families and psychological devastation. And it's not just gay people who are hurt by these fraudulent arrangements. Their spouses, their children, and their broader families suffer too. There's a kind of sadism underlying the argument that gay people should enter into heterosexual marriages, and clearly, some religious conservatives would do anything to force gay people back into the shadows they inhabited in earlier decades, no matter what pain such a policy would inflict. Let's at least give up on the myth that this faction is pro-family: its avowed position is that gay people should live a lie, should continually lie to the people close to them, and should be lied to in return.

Also, just imagine a law that says that all citizens are free to marry anyone, provided that they do not love the person they marry. Not only would such a law not grant citizens a right to marry, but it would effectively deny them the right to marry. The suggestion that "[t]he law does not prohibit marriage by homosexuals provided it takes place between persons of the opposite sex" is a cyncical mockery of marriage rights and of civil equality. Heterosexuals are free to marry for reasons that have nothing at all to do with love; and it wouldn't be too hard to argue that their free exercise of that right often damages the institution ("Who Wants to Marry A Millionaire?", etc.). Homosexuals are asking for the right to marry the individual that they really do love, and I'd suggest that that is a true family value.

Jonathan's Point 6, which I'm not going to reprint, essentially makes the same case for incestuous marriage that he earlier made for polygamous marriage. We've already danced in circles with these analogies. I will only point out that a sexual relationship between a parent and child is without exception a horrific form of child abuse, and I would sincerely hope that Jonathan doesn't think such a coupling is morally equivalent to a homosexual relationship.

Next, we return to the argument over constitutional law:
Point 7: [Finnegan] says:
I want to be as objective as possible, but it's difficult when confronting so many horrific misinterpretations of American Constitutional law. In the Brown decision of 1954, the US Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that arbitrary forms of discrimination violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. [Do I overuse the word "horrific"?--ed.]
The issue in Brown was simply unjust and arbitrary. What is forgotten is that racial segregation is not rooted in the common law. That is, segragation is not explicitly protected, whereas marriage is.

In response to [Finnegan's] comparison from Brown to same sex marriage, I point out that Supreme Court jurisprudence holds that the Fourteenth Amendment
denotes not merely freedom from bodily restraint but also the right of the individual to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.
Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U. S. 390, 399 (1923) -- (Look up the case here for more supportive legal cases for the reasoning behind this statement).

Since it is safe to say that the marriage is a privilege "long recognized at common law" I do not see that same-sex proponents have anything to gain under the Fourteenth Amendment.
It looks like Jonathan is moving away from a position of defending arbitrary discrimination as such, to taking shelter in the traditions of something he calls "the common law." I have no idea what he's referring to. Anglo-Saxon common law? American custom? Of course racial segregation was rooted in law; it was the direct creation of Southern legislators. The Constitution adopted in 1789 explicitly authorized the continuance of slavery, a policy that was only amended nearly a century later. The Brown decision overturned a centuries-old racial hierarchy that had been enshrined in Southern law, and overturned centuries of custom as well.

I'm similarly unsure what Jonathan's citation from Meyer is supposed to prove. It certainly doesn't weaken the equal protection argument in the slightest. For one thing, Brown renders any contradictory pre-Brown interpretation of the 14th Amendment void. For another, the citation actually says explicitly that the 14th Amendment guarantees a right to marry. Jonathan, I assume, thinks that the reference to common law somehow means that the 14th Amendment can't be construed to grant rights that haven't already been established by long precedent. But this is preposterous. The purpose of the 14th Amendment was to enforce equality under law, and to abolish the notion that some rights apply to one group but not to others. The history of 14th Amendment jurisprudence is the history of judicial recognition of civil rights that had previously been denied on racial grounds or other arbitrary criteria. The reasoning of the Meyer decision that Jonathan cites actually synthesizes the equal protection argument for gay marriage with the argument that the right to marry is a fundamental civil right.

Alright: one short trip into Robert-George-land and then we're through:
Last point: [Finnegan]:
What unique principle that has not already been removed from civil marriage law can a heterosexual couple achieve that a homosexual couple cannot? Fertility, as I've already discussed at more than sufficient length, is not a legal criterion for the issuance of a valid marriage license.
I say that marriage is based on a biological reality based on the concept of consummation. For any marriage to be valid, it must be consummated. This "coming together" is abiological. What differs this coming together from any homosexual relationship is that there is no biological united involved in their type of sexual relations. In heterosexual relations, real unity is achieved by the sperm and egg uniting to create a unique biological principle. With regards to the question of fertility, Finnis has this response, which I think is apt:
In this reductivist, word-legislating mood, one might declare that sperm and egg unite only physically and only their prouclei are biologically united. But it would be more realistic to acknowledge that the whole process of copulation, involving as it does the brains of the man and woman, their nerves, blood, viginal, and other secretions, and coordinated activity is biological through and through. The organic... unity of the persons is the intentional, consensual act of seminal emission/reception in the woman's reproductive tract.
Further, as Robert George points out,
the plain fact is that the genitals of men and women are reproductive organs all of the time -- even during periods of sterility. And acts that fulfill the behavioral conditions of reproduction are acts of the reproductive type even where the nonbehavioural conditions of the reproduction do not happen to obtain (conception).
Matrimonial law has traditionally understood marriage as consummated only by reproductive acts of spouses. And finally, the sterility of spouses has never been an impediment to consummation.
Not only has Jonathan not answered my question, but he has neatly reduced everything we've said previously to the arithmetic of penis + vagina = marriage. It's not even about men and women any more, but about their genitals. Some of the opponents of gay marriage, like the good Professor George, are so obsessed with sex that they have forgotten entirely about love. Never mind all the claptrap about "The Family" and "The Children"; the sine qua non of marriage, it turns out, is vaginal sex. [Would it be impertinent to ask if non-missionary style sex qualifies as "consummation"?--ed.]

In point of fact, Jonathan's contention, on which his argument ultimately rests, that "[f]or any marriage to be valid, it must be consummated," is simply false. A heterosexual man and woman that get married are under no obligation to have sex. Ever. If, for whatever reason, they don't have sex [maybe the guy's into pegging--ed.], their marriage license is not revoked. I kept harping on fertility because that's the criterion that most opponents of gay marriage argue for. But consummation, which apparently only means heterosexual vaginal sex, does not improve the case against gay marriage rights. No matter how "matrimonial law" has been "traditionally understood," civil marriage law, right now, in this country, has absolutely nothing to say about consummation. A heterosexual man and woman can get married and never have sex. Or they could only have oral sex. Or only anal. It doesn't matter; they're still legally married.

Just consider for a moment, how far this reductionism has gone. For Jonathan's case to hold up, we have to accept that consent, love, family, fertility, and even the most boring and Republican forms of sex are not sufficient conditions for validating a marriage. Instead, there is only one condition, which is both necessary and sufficient, namely, the mere ability of a couple to have heterosexual sex in a way that could lead to procreation if both partners were fertile and not using birth control. If that's what Jonathan thinks marriage can be boiled down to, he's entitled to his opinion, but I will continue to argue that its simplest expression is a legal union between two people in love.

Last word: I want to say something about Herrprofessordoktor George, because, true to form, he provides an illustration of what can go wrong when speculative metaphysics becomes entirely detached from any grounding in either empirical science or even consistent semantics. One might just wind up saying things like "acts that fulfill the behavioral conditions of reproduction are acts of the reproductive type even where the nonbehavioural conditions of the reproduction do not happen to obtain." Excuse me, but what the fuck is an "act of the reproductive type"? It's definitely not what occurs when a man and woman take specific precautions to ensure that they won't conceive a child. Nothing sounds too ridiculous to somebody who thinks that there are teloi floating around in the air, but that's no reason to take such a person seriously.

[Have you noticed how absolutely filthy any conversation about sex with a religious conservative is? It's always so disgustingly clinical that you temporarily forget why people even want to have sex in the first place. Maybe that's the idea.--ed.]

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