Friday, October 27, 2006

Even Peggy Noonan

Yes, even Peggy Noonan, Reagan speechwriter and consultant, conservative bulwark, has come to realize Bush is incompetent. Read all about it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

No Dissent in Jersey Decision

Although media outlets have reported that the New Jersey Supreme Court decision was "close," (a 4-3 decision) they have not yet noted that at least one of the dissenting justices did so because he felt the court should have gone FARTHER in providing equality. Chief Justice Portiz agreed that “denying the rights and benefits to committed same-sex couples that are statutorily given to their heterosexual counterparts violates the equal protection guarantee of Article I, Paragraph 1 of the New Jersey Constitution." However, she went on to say: "I can find no principled basis, however, on which to distinguish those rights and benefits from the right to the title of marriage, and therefore dissent from the majority’s opinion insofar as it declines to recognize that right among all of the other rights and benefits that will be available to same-sex couples in the future." In fact, I can find no truly dissenting opinion. I will look harder, but for now, it appears equality won a bigger victory than was even first thought. (UPDATE: Turns out there is no dissent -- four justices voted for full equality, but suggest the Legislature decide what it is to be called, while the "dissenting" three wanted to go straight to allowing same-sex marriage.)

More on the NJ Decision

I just quickly read the complete decision, and I feel a bit better about it. The Court was very clear that equality must be maintained in New Jersey. I was specifically heartened to see that they rejected the specious claim that recognizing same-sex unions would somehow harm traditional unions or have a deleterious effect on the raising of children: "The State does not argue that limiting marriage to the union of a man and a woman is needed to encourage procreation or to create the optimal living environment for children."

The NJ Court goes on to say: "Other than sustaining the traditional definition of marriage, which is not implicated in this discussion, the State has not articulated any legitimate public need for depriving committed same-sex couples of the host of benefits and privileges that are afforded to married heterosexual couples. There is, on the one hand, no rational basis for giving gays and lesbians full civil rights as individuals while, on the other hand, giving them an incomplete set of rights when they enter into committed same-sex relationships. To the extent that families are strengthened by encouraging monogamous relationships, whether heterosexual or homosexual, the Court cannot discern a public need that would justify the legal disabilities that now afflict same-sex domestic partnerships."

The Court has given the legislature 180 days to either amend the state's marriage laws or enact civil unions with full equality of rights.

They Split The Difference

New Jersey's Supreme Court has ruled: civil unions with full legal benefits is approved, but the term "marriage" can still be reserved for man-woman couples. This is basically good news, I think. The problem comes in that only "marriage" is what is needed if a couple joined in New Jersey wants that union to be recognized in another state. And, of course, the Federal government still denies thousands of rights to same-sex couples that are easily available to opposite-sex couples. The fight continues.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Today Could Be Huge

Today, October 25, at about noon Pacific time, the New Jersey Supreme Court is scheduled to announce its decision in the same-sex marriage case before it. This decision could play a key role in voter turnout in the November 7 election. If the New Jersey court affirms full civil rights for same-sex couples, the religious right will likely go batshit and pull out every stop to get their church ladies to the polls two weeks from today. If they strike another blow against equality (as New York and Washington have done in recent months), it could engender some complacency on the part of social conservatives. Hence, I'm torn -- I want New Jersey to do the right thing, but I also want to make sure the Democrats take over control of Congress. Still, I'm rooting for equality and will let the votes fall where they may; voters HAVE to be more concerned about Iraq than they are about same-sex couples. Don't they?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Is "gay" the new "cool"?

Why didn't "cool" go the way of "groovy" and "far out"? What is it about this ubiquitous bit of slang that it remains in the lexicon long after slang usages are left in the dustbins of language? I''m not the first to wonder about this: linguist Geoffrey Nunberg and social historian Peter N. Stearns of George Mason University have also pondered this question. Stearns believes "cool" entered the mainstream in the 50s and 60s through its effectiveness in defusing tension during an era of anger and violence.

The reason is stayed might be due to its plastic nature. It can have so many variations and so many gradations -- but it always has a positive connotation (unless it's used sarcastically). "Cool" is always sent as a compliment or with positive intent. It may not always be received as such, but that is its intent. Always positive.

I bring this up because I'm wondering if "gay" is poised to jump intergenerational divides and join "cool" as another member of the Slang Hall of Fame. (For my older readers, for young people, saying "that's so gay" doesn't really have anything to do with perceived sexuality, it's just an all-purpose epithet for things -- or behaviors -- that are gauche, awkward or out of style. Basically, if it's "gay" it is the antithesis of "cool." Which is exactly why I wonder if "gay" is the new cool. Or rather, the new anti-cool. Here is an piece from Slate from 2004 that will fill you in on some background on "gay" as a cool putdown.)

A quick Google search brought some surprising results. I googled the phrases "that's so gay" and "that's so cool." Not really a statistically valid or exhaustive search, but I think it has some merits. Just googling "gay" and "cool" wouldn't work because references to sexuality and temperature would skew the results. Adding "that's so" should greatly reduce the references to temperature or sexuality and focus on the words' uses as positive or pejorative modifiers.

Results:
"that's so gay" -- 40,400 hits
"that's so cool" -- 326,000 hits

Granted, "cool" leads by an 8-1 margin, but it's had a couple more generations of use to take hold. Perhaps in 20 years the margin could be 3-1 or 4-1. I think the possibility is there. Certainly that are some in the LGBT community who think it's degrading and homophobic, but I don't think that will really make a difference. I doubt left-handed people liked the idea of "gauche" becoming an all-purpose term for something that was out of fashion or tasteless, but it happened anyway. "Gay" might end up the same way, especially since it's as all-purpose on the negative side as "cool" is on the positive.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Spinal Tap Reinvented

If you loved Rob Reiner's classic mockumentary "This is Spinal Tap," it is a must that you immediately rent the DVD version of the film and watch it with the commentary on. Unlike most DVD commentaries which feature bored directors telling you how difficult this shot was or how wonderful all the actors were to work with, the commentary on "This is Spinal Tap" is provided by actors Michael McKean, Christopher Guest and Harry Shearer in character (as David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls), talking about the original film as if it were a real documentary made about them. Hearing the three of them discuss how the filmakers used Hollywood techniques to make them come off looking foolish is priceless. It's a whole new movie.

If you never saw "This is Spinal Tap" in the first place, rent it now and watch it first with commentary off and again with commentary on.

Friday, October 20, 2006

So wrong for so long

From yesterday's edition of Bill Maher's HBO show, "Real Time with Bill Maher":

"You can't call yourself a think tank if all your ideas are stupid." Maher then went on to call to task the two major right wing think tanks, The Heritage Foundation and Project for the New American Century:

"And if you're someone from one of the think tanks who dreamed up the Iraq war and predicted that we'd be greeted as liberators and that we wouldn't need a lot of troops and that Iraqi oil would pay for the war, that the WMDs would be found, that the looting wasn't problematic and that the mission was accomplished, that the insurgency was in its last throes, that things would get better after the people voted, after the government was formed, after we got Saddam, after we got Zarwqawi and that the whole bloody mess wouldn't turn into a civil war...you have to stop making predictions!"

I remember all those predictions. We can't let the people who bought this line of crap stay in power. Until we get a viable third option, we have to vote Democrat this November, It's the only message Bush and his cronies will be able to understand.

Missing in Action

12 days since I last posted. Apologies to those of you who check in regularly, but during that time I've been:

a) away,
b) in a bad mood,
or
c) had nothing interesting to say or report.

I shall endeavor to improve.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Letter from Iraq

A fascinating first-person account of a soldier's life in Iraq. Click here to read it. Brief but compelling.

On Domestication

This article from today's New York Times Magazine is a fascinating look at the tragic nature of human-elephant relationships over the years, and what a handful of naturalists, neurologists and other scientists are doing to mend the damage done. Highly recommended.

Later: Thinking more about this article and the thoughts it raises about animal consciousness and intention.

If you haven’t read the piece, here it is briefly: there seems to be an upsurge in elephant violence in the past few decades, often resulting in death. Given that elephants are intensely familial, with the ability to communicate – even across large distances (via ground vibrations), might the elephants not be trying to tell US something? Perhaps, as their habitats are destroyed and they are murdered for their ivory, those remaining are standing up to say, “No more. We will not be domesticated.”

They could choose to hang with us to share in the goodies we have (e.g, abundant food and water), the same way other domesticated animals have. Animals, after all, are to a certain degree complicit in their taming. Try and domesticate a wild boar or a badger. Or a great white shark. You don’t want to be tamed, nobody can force you. You might have to pay for that independence with your life, but every animal still has some level of choice of whether to be domesticated or not. 15,000 years ago, dogs wanted the leftover bits from whatever we had caught and killed to eat ourselves, and in return they were willing to let us know if something smelly was coming close. You didn’t see the beavers making that offer.

In fact, most animals have resisted establishing cordial relationships with humans, even though the penalty of resisting was death or imprisonment. We can capture and contain many species, but how many will stay of their own accord? My cat is intensely domesticated. She actively wants to be around me – or at least to know I’m around. The only time I ever see her across the street is when I am over there talking to my neighbor. Then she comes for a visit. A few months ago I was playing poker across the street, and she must have heard my voice, for soon she was outside the window. For the familiarity of my voice or smell, I imagine. If one definition of domestication is sticking around even though you don’t have to, Acorn not only fits that description, she exceeds it. Not only is she not running away, she’s FOLLOWING me.

Obviously, there are degrees of domestication. Pigs, I think, will run off and go feral at the first opportunity. Cattle are a bit more dependable Camels. Horses. Certain species of birds. Primates will live with us, but for some reason, the species that are closest to us genetically and are assumed therefore to be the brightest, can’t seem to learn to do their business in a special place. Dogs learn to do it outside. Cats will do it in the same place every time. (That may be cats' only trick, but it’s a good one.) Even pot-belly pigs can be housetrained. But a chimp’s gotta have a diaper. I don’t get it.

But I had a point…oh yes, degrees of domestication. While some animals can share space and enter into a relationship with human beings, most will not, or will do so only under rare circumstances: Siegfried and Roy’s prisoners, for instance. Some animals – even relatively intelligent ones, just can’t be tamed. Or won’t be. Which brings me back to elephants.

Elephants, at least Asian elephants, straddle the line of domestication. They will work for us pulling trees or standing on one leg while calliope music plays.
They were tools of war in ancient times. They still perform a great deal of heavy labor throughout Asia. But they won’t breed in captivity. And most would likely wander off if they weren’t contained or shackled.

Now, as we continue to encroach into their world, continue to separate infants from parents at an early age (females only – males won’t tolerate captivity), tearing apart elephant families, compelling them to work for our own purposes, perhaps they are fighting back, killing their keepers as a way of saying: “We will not be treated like this. You can take our lives with your loud sticks, but we will no longer submit to you.”

Can’t say I blame them.

Morning Cup


Yum.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

George W. Bush is God

An interesting article in today's Washington Post focuses on something Bush said in a CNN interview on September 24, and is repeating while on a West Coast fundraising trip: he believes that when we look back on our current situation, it will be "just a comma" in the history books.

The problem is, he's right. It COULD be that what we are doing now is assuring our future. It's possible Bush's approach to implementing a strategy to maintain access to petroleum resources will turn out to be correct. I don't know how many people -- even in Washington, and even some Republicans -- think that way, but it is possible.

Unfortunately, all evidence seems to be to the contrary. Sure, lots of people voted, but one has to judge an election by its fruits. If you're searching for positive results, Iraq isn't the place to start looking. Sectarian violence is at its highest levels ever, our troops continue to be primary targets for insurgents and the oil isn't flowing. The elected Iraqi offiicials obviously have either no real power or no real motivation to deal with their problems (not least of which is having the world's ├╝berpower hanging out in the backyard), and we seem unable or unwilling to commit the resources required to get things working. It may be that no one, not even the people of Iraq themselves, have what it takes to make the country function as a democracy. Because there are really no plausible justifications for why things are going so poorly in Iraq, Bush is left with two options. He can a)lie (which he has happily done in the past) and say things are getting better, or b)ask us to trust him. Which is pretty much where he's come to with the "comma" argument. "Really," he's saying, "it's all going to be alright. We're going to look back on this and regale our kids with stories about how much gas cost during the war, until they're as bored with us as we were with our parents when they talked about ration coupons in WWII." W, in other words, asks us to take him on faith. To believe what he says and do what he says, even if logic and common sense point to other conclusions.

Fortunately for him, lots of Americans see faith as an important and positive aspect of their lives. They associate having faith with goodness and community and eternal life. The hard core right (especially the religious right, which are on one level one in the same, since no right-wing politician can do anything but profess strong faith and a tie to one church or another as long as it isn't a mosque) have gone so far down the rabbit hole justifying the myriad ways GWB has violated American and conservative values in order to enrich and empower himself and his cronies that they can no longer see the light of day.

Will they continue to blindly follow George and his buddies down the rabbit hole (only to find that it leads to a world of stunning beauty for the elite -- to which they lock the door behind them) simply because he says "trust me, I'm right."? I'm very worried that the answer is "hell, yeah."

Hand-y Advice

The New York Times has an article in today's edition that talks about not only the "return" of hand-holding to vogue, but also interesting comments on both its mental health benefits and how it has become one of the most intimate of loving gestures, yet one which can be displayed in public without offending sensibilities.

Today, hold the hand of someone you love.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Becoming a Golfer, Part 3

I'm only a little closer to my goal of being a golfer (as opposed to someone who simply plays golf), but I wanted to share (with as many people as possible) the fact that yesterday I hit what is probably my best golf shot ever.

Yesterday afternoon I took advantage of a last-minute online tee time offer and played San Geronimo Golf Club. I had heard something Tony Jacklin said on The Golf Channel that resonated with me and wanted to put it into practice. (It had to do with a gentler grip.) I was playing basically bogey golf through the first nine holes, and hitting almost every fairway with my drives. Except the ninth. On the ninth I got a bit quick and faded my drive to the right. When I got to my ball, I was about 155 yards from the pin, which was about 15 feet above me on an elevated green. There were trees to my left and several tall trees protecting the green. The pin was on a narrow finger of the green, perhaps 10 feet wide. But as I looked at the shot, I felt if I hit a clean, crisp six-iron, I could get it over those trees.

And that's just what I did. I struck it absolutely pure and watched it soar up and over the trees, land five feet in front of the pin, bounce once, hit the pin and land at the edge of the green five feet left. Unfortunately, I missed the putt, but made the par to finish the front in 45.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

OK - I'll be the congressman and YOU can be the precocious page."

In "The Producers," down-on-his-luck former Broadway maven Max Bialystock is driven to the seduction of very rich, very old ladies. One of them likes sexual scenario games: for example, she as a duchess, Bialystock as the chauffeur who can't keep his eye on the road. Or, she suggests, "We could play 'The Wicked Rape of Lucretia' -- and I'll be Lucretia." (To which Bialystock replie "And I'll be rape.")

I wonder how many couples playfully took on the roles of a powerful member of Congress and a juvenile sexpot page? It's got all the earmarks of the great sexual role-playing fantasies: dominant and submissive roles, chance public encounters that lead unexpectedly to private contact, forbidden fruit... I'm guessing hundreds of thousands at a minimum.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Foley-er Than Thou

I think the thing I loved most (at least at first) about the Mark Foley scandal was how it knocked another sanctimonious holier-than-thou Republican off his perch. All the work he did against same-sex marriage and for "family values," and now we find yet another big mouth who can't walk the walk. The family values my parents taught me did not include hypocrisy and pedophilia. (Though I think the pedophilia charges are a bit overblown -- these weren't toddlers, they were post-pubescent and certainly capable of feeling sexual attraction. That said, they WERE minors and it's still a crime. It's just I think it's less of a crime than if the pages were eight-year olds.)

Of course, Foley deserves to be gone if for no other reason than his incredible stupidity -- surely everyone knows by now that if you put it in e-mail or an instant message, it can probably be recovered and brought into the light of day.

What's working for me now about the scandal is the chance it represents to get some of the blind fools who follow the greater fool on his silly errands -- just so they can hang onto power and use it to enrich themselves. (Not that I think the Democrats are any less self-serving, but at this point I think we just need a change, and since we're probably not going to get a new party, Nancy Pelosi may be the best we can get for a few more years. And if it turns out the Republican leadership knew about the IMs (the e-mails have been relatively innocent), I think a LOT of Republicans could go down next month.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Monkeyshines

Take a look at this ad and tell me if you don't think the monkeys bear the slightest satirical reference to our current president and his croneys. Primarily it's their way of making bad news look good, even when those more evolved point out just how tragic the situation really is.