Friday, May 21, 2010

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) In the true spirit of this weekly item, for the handful of you who hang on my every word and worried what happened to my post yesterday, work has been an absolute bear this week. Pity because I had the funniest, most incisive and insightful post on the planet written, but of course, that's not going to happen.
2) Cavemen grunted. Cavewomen moaned. As funny as this item is, think about the implication of this: it means that masturbation did not just happen, but was encouraged, as was sex play. It also means that women and men experimented with sex, continuing the behaviors seen in lesser primates. Further, it means that a sense of morality, which likely existed back then, was not universally shared. There's a lot more to human behavior than meets the eye.
3) Germany finally comes to its senses.
4) Think you had a bad day yesterday? Look at Lance Armstrong's day. There's probably some fringe element that thinks he deliberately crashed his bike to get out of the Tour of California, I'd bet, but he risked an awful lot to duck a blood test and reporters' questions.
Lance claims that he has undergone the most stringent testing of any athlete in any sport in the world. Not only does he submit to every random test without hesitation, he claims to volunteer the results of his own testing online. It would be easy to dismiss these as window dressing. On the other hand, as with Gary Hart in 1988, there's always someone laying in wait. By now, I suspect he'd have been tripped up on such a bold claim. On the other other hand, maybe his doping is just that far advanced. But here's the thing: he doesn't have anything really on the line in this incarnation of his comeback. Altho he is clearly in top form to win races, he hasn't. He placed third in the Tour de France, his game lifted by the competition with Alberto Contador. In the Tour of California, he was in or near the top ten until he fell yesterday, but he had an enormous disadvantage to overcome in that he was not the team leader (Levi Leipheimer is) and was working in support of him. His stated goal in this comeback was to raise awareness of cancer, which he clearly has accomplished. It would have been foolish of him to risk it all for the sake of taking chemicals that haven't given him an advantage over everyone else.
But people have done dumber things for less, so...
5) Proof of intelligent design.
6) It's a bill, such as it is.
7) Meat isn't the only thing being smoked in your favorite restaurant. Makes me want to head over to the CIA for lessons.
9) Because Rhode Island also shares a border with Mexico, I presume.
10) Introducing the newest PeTA spokesman for spaying and neutering....Octomom!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I Rand So Far

Well, I think we'd have to call yesterday good news for Democrats, bad news for establishment Republicans, and horrible news for the Teabaggers.

In Pennsylvania, there were two races of note: Congresscritter Joe Sestak defeated Arlen Specter (R...I mean, D-PA) in the Democratic promary for Specter's Senate seat. I won't lament Specter's loss beyond this: he was a decent man stuck in an indecent time. His failing was, when given a choice to grow a spine in the 1990s and stand up for his principles against the party machinery that chose the dark path initiated by Lee Atwater, he put on a dark cloak.

The other race of note was the special election to replace Congressman John Murtha, who died suddenly earlier this year. Democrat Mark Critz defeated a challenge from Republican businessman Tim Burns in a race that directly reflects on the Presidency of Barack Obama and the work that Congress has done to advance his centrist agenda. Apparently, the people of western Pennsylvania, not liberal by any means--they voted for McCain in 2008-- rejected the politics of hate and extremism and found shelter in Critz. The race should have been a lot closer than the 8 point margin Critz won by.

This is a stunning blow to the Teabagger insurgency, altho you won't hear Republicans or Teabaggers talk about it, and adds a new dimension to primaries in Arkansas and Tennessee Kentucky.

In Arkansas, Democrat Blanche Lincoln barely survived a Democratic primary to fight another day against Lt Governor Bill Halter in her attempt to retain her Senate seat. You'd never know it to listen to her afterwards, where she latched onto the Clinton mantle of "comeback kid". Ewww.

And finally, in Tennessee Kentucky, the red flags were up for the GOP establishment after Rand Paul (R-Galt's Gulch) easily defeated his mainstream opponent, Trey Grayson. In an attempt to retain the seat long held by Jim Bunning, Republicans lined up behind Greyson, from fellow Tennesseean Kentuckian Mitch McConnell to, well, the janitor at RNC headquarters.

Paul, endorsed by such notable bastions of sanity as child-abusing James Dobson of Focus on Family, aborted Alaska governor Sarah Palin, and Napoleon Bonaparte the XIV, ran as a Randian (hello! That first name is a dead giveaway!) and garnered 59% of the vote.

That's...a bitchslap.

And it should also be welcome news to Democrats. I have a theory which I've espoused more times than I care to mention, that Republicans run roughly thirty years behind Democrats. Right now, the Republicans are running about the era of Reagan in terms of being the party out of favor with the American people. There's a battle for the soul of the party, and that means the focus will be internal, not external.

Much like the Ted Kennedy faction of the Democratic party battled the Jimmy Carter faction in the late 70s and early 80s, which gave us such memorable Presidential candidates at Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. It also set up the Gingrich insurgency.

So we have a long time to bask in the glory of Democratic victories, but I digress. There's still work to be done. We have to close the deal on a progressive agenda. Getting rid of deadwood like Lincoln and Specter will help us accomplish that, and the more Teabaggers that manage to kick GOP deadwood to the curb, the more energized progressives and Democrats will become.
And the more independents will flock to us. When the alternative is militancy in America, Americans climb into bed with the nearest warm body.

That's nothing to be proud of, however, but it gives us a chance to work with America, and isolate the nutbaggers.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tangled Web

Civil rights are a sticky wicket. On the one hand, no one should ever be denied due process and full rights of citizenship, assuming they've earned them and have not forfeited them.
On the other, well, there have to be some exceptions. I'm just not sure this is wholly appropriate:

A 7-to-2 majority of the Supreme Court ruled today that Congress has the authority to pass a law allowing federal prisoners who have been deemed "sexually dangerous" to be held beyond the date of their original sentence.

The law, a provision of the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, was passed in 2006. A lower court had ruled that Congress overstepped its boundaries in passing the law.

But Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the majority, found that the Constitution grants Congress the authority to enact the law.

"The statute is a necessary and proper means of exercising the federal authority that permits Congress to create federal criminal laws, to punish their violation, to imprison violators, to provide appropriately for those imprisoned, and to maintain the security of those who are not imprisoned but who may be affected by the federal imprisonment of others," he wrote.

Clearly, there are some menaces to society: an uncontrollable serial killer would be one, a legally insane person who is unable to distinguish right from wrong and acts accordingly would be another. As I oppose the death penalty in all cases, these are people for whom a prison cell or hospital room (as the case may be) should be the next and last residence. These are people for whom due process presumably has been carried out and an impartial judge or jury has established the forfeiture of their civil rights.

The issues become muddled beyond that. The issue at bar in yesterday's SCOTUS was whether the Federal government could pass a law that superseded state laws with respect to a class of criminal. The issue that SHOULD have been at bar, in my opinion, was whether a "sexually dangerous person" could be detained indefinitely, even after he or she had served a sentence imposed after a trial.

The wonder of American jurisprudence is, once you've served whatever penalty you've incurred as the result of your criminality, the system deems you a whole citizen again. That may not work in practice as nicely as it sounds, of course. You still have a black mark on your record, and that can work against you in job-seeking, or future criminal investigations, as well as societal stigma. None of that is illegal, and none of that should be prevented at law.

In this case, for sex offenders, it seems we have to truncate that right. 

The question that springs to mind, then, is what is the definition of "sexually dangerous" and moreover, why is that person's sentence raising into question whether he or she can be released back into society? If we presume, as many death penalty advocates do, that a sentence is a deterrent to the commission of a crime, and people are still committing that crime, and afterwards, must continue to pay a systemic price for this crime, then perhaps the sentence itself has failed, and we can avoid trampling a civil right by simply doing the right thing in the first place, and making the sentence harsher?
If you make "sexually dangerous" a state of being as opposed to a behavior that can be rehabilitated, it's not a long stretch to imagine other behaviors that will suddenly morph into criminality: drug use, for example, or listening to dangerous thoughts.
And if behaviors can suddenly become criminal states of being, what about states of being that don't fit easily into the American mainstream, like atheism, or homosexuality?
There's the real danger in this spider web.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Radar Love

It never ceases to amaze me when the mainstream media can't even shoot itself in the foot for want of aim.
To-wit: Howard Kurtz in today's Washington Post fumbles fretfully for explanations of why the flooding in Nashville was such small potatoes, deploying the usual suspects: flyover state, too many bigger stories (the Times Square bomber and Gulf oil leak), the prompt response from the Federal government, even the lack of a right wing/left wing row to be created over a flood in a city in a red state since it affected mostly white, mostly middle class citizens.
And as can be expected, he totally missed a larger issue and an opportunity to discuss it.
Admittedly, the bombing attempt in tourist-rich Times Square and the millions of gallons of oil infiltrating the reef systems and shores of the Gulf coast will have a far greater impact on the rest of us than Keith Urban's flooded basement. Too, the number of dead (30) and the amount of monetary loss (estimates range around $5 billion, maximum) seem small compared to the fresh-in-our-memories Katrina (1,500, and $300 billion), much like the earthquake in Chile seemed small compared to Haiti.
None of this is the point, however. The point is, the news and the media that covers it is now a profit center. And therein lies the tale that Kurtz, in the service of his corporate overlords, refuses to cover. He bemoans the fact that his own paper, the Post, had to rely on Associated Press stringers to provide their news coverage. The New York Times sent a reporter, but never had the floods on the front page of the paper. Indeed, only CNN devoted much attention to the story, and that was when Anderson Cooper showed up 6 days after the flood. Even the obligatory telethon was held on only one network (CMT), where the Haiti telethon was wall-to-wall on cable.
For most outlets, it was a one-day story, with a few human interest follow ups.
Why? It costs money to send a reported down to a city and to dig up stories. And those stories have to sell ads. And let's face facts: pictures of white middle class Americans filing insurance claims and getting assistance from FEMA officials is not a particularly compelling story, even if the Grand Old Opry had ten feet of water in it and was in danger of actually skipping performances.
But there are stories to be told out of Nashville, stories that will take a little time and effort. Stories like, why did Nashville flood so badly? Was it the once-in-a-milennium rainfall into an area prone to some minor flooding or did the Army Corps of Engineers screw it up yet again? What went right in the response to the Nashville floods that we can learn from for future flood disasters that seem likely based on global warming?
Boring. I know. But important stories nonetheless and it would be nice if the media treated these stories like they were important, instead of relying on YouTube videos for a few laughs and a couple of shocking moments of heroism.
Not only won't they tell you these stories, they won't be honest about why they won't tell you these stories.