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interpretive charity

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.28.04

You know what's funny? Satire. Like here, at Jesus' General, or here, at IU day by day. At least, I think the second one is satire. I hope. Funny in any case.


 

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Ass-aliscious

Posted by Ogged
on 02.28.04

We're all comfortable with our sexuality here, right?


 

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Truth, Justice, and the Soviet Way

Posted by Ogged
on 02.28.04

Wait, maybe the President is in favor of cloning after all.

President Bush dismissed two members of his handpicked Council on Bioethics Friday -- a renowned UCSF scientist and a moral philosopher who had been among the more outspoken advocates for research on human embryo cells.
In their places he appointed three new members: a doctor who has called for more religion in public life; a political scientist who has spoken out precisely against the research that the dismissed members supported; and another who has written about the immorality of abortion and the "threats of biotechnology."

I guess Kissinger was busy.


 

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This deal is getting worse all the time!

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.28.04

In the midst of a grading marathon, for reasons we needn't go into here, I started thinking about Lando Calrissian. It's bad enough to be the only black man in space, but it gets worse when your official Lucas biography more or less labels you a pimp:

While he has rubbed elbows with hunters, mercs, outlaws, and gangsters, Lando's main difference is that his elbows were covered by some of the most expensive and fashionable clothes this side of the Core. Lando has style and class; some would say in excess. He is a man of sophisticated tastes, and settles for nothing short of the best in his surroundings, his belongings, and his female companionship.

Then I wondered, "what's Billy Dee up to these days?" Thanks to google, I know the horrible truth: he's an artist. Click on the link, I beg you.

When you do, click on the "galleries" link, and look at a few of the exhibits. Notice that (a) every different installation appears to feature BDW's giant head in the same place, and (b) each photo of a gallery installation appears to have been created by pasting pictures of BDW's paintings onto another picture of an art gallery.

Please confirm that I am not imagining this.


 

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Feivel Bielawski

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.28.04

A point in favor of David Brooks.


 

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Unemployment

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.28.04

Here's a surprising statistic from the NYT:

It is well known that the unemployment rate in New York City rose sharply during the recent recession. It is also understood that the increase was worse for men than for women, and especially bad for black men. But a new study examining trends in joblessness in the city since 2000 suggests that by 2003, nearly one of every two black men between 16 and 64 was not working.

Golly.


 

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Adam and Keynes

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.28.04

The Economist has a moderately interesting column on gay marriage. Two remarks: first, I noted with some satisfaction that every point in this argument has been made with as much or more care and detail in the blogworld; if you've been reading decent blogs, nothing in this piece will be new to you.

Second, I'm afraid this bit doesn't understand the current administration:

Some have sought to explain this action away simply as cynical politics, an effort to motivate his core conservative supporters to turn out to vote for him in November or to put his likely "Massachusetts liberal" opponent, John Kerry, in an awkward spot. Yet to call for a constitutional amendment is such a difficult, drastic and draconian move that cynicism is too weak an explanation. No, it must be worse than that: Mr Bush must actually believe in what he is doing.

Surely Bush knew that this won't get off the ground; his team can count votes as well as anyone. And he knows that the amendment process is so long and tedious that its success or failure won't matter for election purposes. What matters is that he's thrown raw meat in the right direction, made Kerry et al. look foolish by making them perform the Dance of the Seven Equivocations, and shifted the focus from disaster at home and abroad. Looks shrewd, given the hand he had to play.


 

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full court press

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.27.04

I know, I know, I should stop posting about political stuff, because, Lord knows, I'm no Josh Marshall. But this, from the White House press briefing, is too funny.

QUESTION: I'm sure President Ford was aware of those. In every speech he gives, President Bush invokes the atrocities of 9/11 and he talks about how that event has impressed on him a determination to always honor the victims of those atrocities in his daily conduct of his office. And I wonder if you could explain with some serious Texan straight talk here, Scott, how it is honoring the victims of 9/11 to restrict the questioning of the President on this subject to one hour?
McCLELLAN: I hope you'll talk about the unprecedented cooperation that we're providing to the commission when you report this, James. Because if you look back at what we've done, it is unprecedented. We have provided more than 2 million pages of documents. We provided more than 60 compact discs of radar, flight and other information; more than 800 audio cassette tapes of interviews and other materials; more than 100 briefings, including at the head-of-agency level; more than 560 interviews. So this administration is cooperating closely and in an unprecedented way with the 9/11 Commission, because their work is very important.
QUESTION: That would have been a very pertinent answer had I asked you about the administration. But, in fact, I asked you about the President's cooperation.

Nice.


 

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Close reading is hard to do

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.27.04

Here's a good post by Nick Confessore about some criticisms of Kerry's voting record.

This reminds me of a story in one of Al Franken's books about an anti-Wellstone ad claiming that PW had voted for some weird-sounding ecology project in the Pacific. In fact, that was just one of many, many provisions in a bill that was really about someone else, for which many, many people, including prominent Republicans, had voted. All claims of the form "X voted against Y" should be marked with an asterisk and treated with caution.

Anyway, Confessore rocks, so read the post.


 

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Not clashin', not at all, my Kerry just want to do a little...actin'

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.27.04

Belay that optimism. The pundit class talks good nuance on the FMA, but here's what a lot of people are going to see: a Democratic game of Twister in which Kerry and Edwards try to satisfy everybody. Not impressive. If the (d) said "No amendment; here are some rights gay couples should have...; call that what you will" we might, just might, get to talk about something more important. Trudeau didn't make Clinton a waffle for nothing.

But with the issue now at center stage, Mr. Kerry found himself in the position of defending his vote in 1996 against the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allows each state to ignore such marriages performed in other states. He sought to reconcile his vote then with his statement this week that states should not be forced to recognize gay marriages conducted in other states.
Mr. Kerry said he had considered the Senate debate on the legislation an instance of gay-bashing. But he said he was mistaken in 1996 when he asserted that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. He suggested, vaguely, that he would vote against it were it to appear before Congress again.

Read the rest and get nervous.


 

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More same sex marriage

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.26.04

I'll give it a rest after this, promise.

After the last please stop don't you have carpal tunnel yet post, it occurred to me that maybe we're approaching this issue in the wrong way.

We tend to think of the rights of marriage as one big package (as it were) rather than a set of individual, seperable benefits. The justification for extending these rights to same-sex couples might be easier if we went case by case.

The most obvious is death & inheritance. We don't think that the reason married couples have these sorts of rights has anything to do with children. We think, for example, that a presumption in favor of the spouse is warranted because end-of-life decisions and inheritance decisions are part of the same liberty interest that protects abortion, contraception, and so on--what Scalia mocks as the 'sweet mystery of life' stuff. The spouse has some authority here in virtue of, say, knowing the person's wishes or even-- a non-epistemic point-- having earned some form of authority through intimate association. Now these are strange, and need further scrutiny [see, e.g., Terri Schiavo], but it seems like these considerations apply just the same in gay and straight relationships.

Similarly, Atrios had a post in which Rosie O'Donnell speculated that the lawsuit filed against her would not have been filed had the protection against spousal testimony applied to her partner. The reasons why it's good to have this in place have to do, I would guess, with the intimacy of the marital relationship: we take seriously, in some ways, that man and wife are one flesh. The same-sex equivalent is just the same in the ways that matter, so the distinction doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense.

Immigration might be another one like this, but I don't want to type about it.

Things admittedly get weird with health insurance and employee benefits. I think that this is a sign that our health insurance scheme is problematic (why should this be done through work? Doesn't that sound like a seriously bad idea?). We extend health benefits (e.g.) because it just works better if we do. But this situation is such a mess that I don't know what to say about it, since the real solution involves doing something about health insurance generally.

Anyway, my thought is that we get distracted by MARRIAGE in the abstract-- this debate might be easier if we looked at the trees, not the forest.


 

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Toward an argument against gay marriage?

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.26.04

As an intellectual exercise [snoozefest ahead!--ed.] I thought I'd try to figure out how a non-idiotic interlocutor would argue against SSM. Comments welcome as always.

It would be nice if the anti-SSM argument didn't need to rely on the premise that homosexual conduct is wrong. For one, it isn't, and it'd be nice to avoid false premises; for two, it looks as though serious moral objections to homosexual conduct are essentially theistic, and those premises will be problematic in a political argument in a liberal democracy.

(I know that there could be secular arguments against homosexual conduct, but there don't seem to be many floating around, and all the non-religious arguments that come to mind are not at all plausible. The religious arguments are more appealing given some common variety of theism. If you can think of any purely secular arguments, bring 'em on, as they say.)

So we're looking for reasons to refrain from extending a class of benefits to same-sex couples though we remain committed to extending them to heterosexual couples. (It doesn't count as an anti-SSM argument if you advocate a civic blind eye toward all marriage.)

One broad strategy is to rely on the fairly widespread belief that homosexual conduct is wrong-- that is, we could argue that we should avoid SSM more or less because people want to. That obviously won't be sufficient; it wasn't enough to stop the civil rights movement, and it's not enough to deny SSM. Not by itself, at least.

Why, though, wasn't it sufficient to preserve Jim Crow? (I mean this as a non-historical question.) In retrospect, it seems that the right answer is: because the civil rights movement was obviously just; that is, it asked for no more than had been promised. Consider these over-quoted but still powerful remarks:

So we have come here today to dramatize an appalling condition. In a sense we have come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.
This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked "insufficient funds." But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.
So we have come to cash this check -- a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God's children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

The argument is simple: the differences between races are not of sufficient moral weight to justify the differences in treatment; African-American citizens are thus entitled equal treatment by right of our fundamental commitments.

This provides a wedge for the SSM opponent. There is no segregation in the Kingdom of Ends. But the anti-SSM type could argue that there's an important disanalogy here: marriage is essentially one man/one woman; the extension of rights to same-sex couples does damage to the very concept, in a way that extension of rights to black citizens did no violence to the concept of person or citizen.

It's important to see that this raises two questions. The obvious one is how we might earn the right to say that marriage is essentially, not contingently, heterosexual (and was, prior to Loving, say, only contingently intraracial). I don't know how to land this claim, but, if people regarded the notion this way, that might be some data. The second, less obvious issue is-- supposing the conceptual claim can be made good, a matter about which I'm pessimistic, for reasons having to do with conceptual identity through theory-change, but let's put that aside--is why we should continue with this (necessarily 1m1w) concept, instead of replacing it with one that's very similar (life commitment, romantic attachment, and so on) without the Heterosexual Proviso. That is, why not go over to schmarriage or some such notion?

In order to argue for the old notion, we might try invoking something like 'the value of tradition' and 'the message it would send...' and so on. Now, these are either cashed out in terms of actual harms, or they're left as metaphors. If the former, then this is a pragmatic argument (see below) tarted up in fuck-me pumps. If the latter, we shouldn't have a lot of patience with them. Sez me-- though some theorists disagree, and your mileage may vary.

Ok, on the the pragmatic arguments. There are a variety of sorts of harm that a policy of SSM-recognition might bring about. Note that more gay people can't be one of them, if we're to stick with our ban on the 'gay sex wrong' premise. It might be bad for children to be raised by gay parents, for example (though, as I noted in the other post, it's hard to know what to make of this if the harms are just due to prejudice, etc.). It might lead to 'spillover effects' concerning mores generally, though this seems unlikely. It might lead--causally-- to other things we don't think are a good idea.

These are lame. Better would be to say: it's too expensive, and we don't need to. Marriage gets social benefits partly because of tradition, and hence because people have come to expect these benefits, and partly because there's a lot of valuable child-rearing involved. I know, there are sterile heterosexual couples, but marriage is (or was?) a reliable indicator of future procreation, and so...you get the idea. The tricky part is to earn a benefit for a class by appealing, essentially, to another class: the child-rearing people, given that it would be easy to grant some benefits to domestically stable child-bearing couples.

Bah. I'm getting stuck and it's late. I think the interesting issue here involves cluster concepts (oh, I'm sorry, is it 1955? I mean family resemblance concepts) in cases where features that had been roughly coextensional start to come apart. Is a person without cortical function alive when on a respirator? Is a relationship between two men relevantly like or unlike the one between a man and a woman? The controversy arises when different speakers take different features to be the conceptual core.

More later.


 

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Gay marriage; Bauer; lesbians

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.26.04

A mostly tedious entry extending Josh Marshall's remarks on Gary Bauer's "gay sex is dangerous" argument.

Gary Bauer thinks that gays shouldn't be allowed to marry for these reasons:

(a) the slippery slope problem: allowing SSM will leave us without any principled grounds on which to reject polygamy or "any and every relationship imaginable."

There are a number of ways to respond. (I for one am sick of subsidizing other people's relationships; I'd be willing to contribute to childrearing, for free-rider considerations (I'm counting on the social services, after all) but I want my tax dollars to be blind to most aspects of citizens' private lives. That's not really an option, of course, so let's assume we're stuck with marriage as a civic and political institution.)

First, (a) rests on an implausible empirical claim. I don't think it's all that likely that the polygamy community is going to rise up to demand equal protection, nor will the dog-humping types. Second, it seems to me that there is a fairly convincing argument in favor of recognizing SSM while refusing benefits to other arrangements. Namely, SS couples are relevantly similar to heterosexual married couples (and Liza & David too, while it lasted). That is, we're committed to extending benefits to straight marriage for some reason (we've granted that arguendo), and the most plausible reasons for that also apply to SSM, and not to (many) others. Gay couples' relationships include the same emotional commitments, lifelong attachments, and so on; they can raise children, though like many straight couples they cannot conceive through conventional means. Many of the same social benefits are produced by both sorts of relationships. (Interesting question: I've heard that social pathologies are higher in single men, which will be a problem in China in the next few years; I wonder if the same behaviors are more common in single than in partnered gay men and lesbians.)

More broadly, it seems to me that all the plausible notions of human flourishing, etc., are sufficiently coarse-grained to allow for gay or straight relationships, and those conceptions of the human being's natural function that are fine-grained enough to rule out SS relationships are, in virtue of this, manifestly implausible. See for example John Finnis and David Bradshaw: their arguments seem to rely on the idea that SS relationships provide none of the emotional benefits of straight relationships, which is not something you'd think if you actually know any gay people.

(b) the well-being of the children.

It would be surprising if there's some deep reason why children raised by SS parents would be worse-off than those raised by heterosexual parents. Most of the harm-- he said, from his armchair-- would result from, say, schoolyard taunting, not from the two mommies themselves. And we'd expect this to taper off, since homosexuality has already become the love that won't shut up.

If this is not true, we could, of course, restrict adoption accordingly; this is an issue that's distinct from marriage. I admit I'm being willfully naive here, since it might in fact be hard to resist the pressure to treat all married couples similarly when it comes to adoption, but I'm fairly confident that the empirical claim on which the objection rests is false, so I'm not too worried about this.

(c) gay marriage is unnecessary:

There is no need to wholly redefine marriage in order to accommodate concerns frequently raised by homosexual activists. Hospital visitation rights, end of life decisions, and property transfers can be accomplished through other legal instruments such as wills and power of attorney.

This is just false. First, there are some rights (immigration is my favorite) that are not available to gay couples. This isn't a philosopher's counterexample-- I watched a friend spend a year worrying that he and his partner would have to live on different continents because their relationship could not ensure joint citizenship. People with hearts find this heartbreaking; yet Gary Bauer seems to be unaware of the existence of foreign nationals. Second, I think-- please correct me if I'm wrong on this-- that the 'substitute rights' are not as robust, legally, as those that come with marriage. End-of-life and inheritance directives are often subject to legal challenge, and many of the tools Bauer mentions are more frail than the heterosexual alternative.

(d) gay sex is dangerous:

More importantly, however, the government has an obligation to promote public policy that is best for the general welfare and to discriminate against behaviors that adversely impact society and public health. Tobacco use is heavily regulated by the state and smoking is strongly discouraged. A major study conducted by Oxford University demonstrated that homosexual conduct is three times more deadly than smoking. Homosexual behavior is fraught with adverse health affects. Again, this is not opinion, but documented medical fact. Public policy must not be ignorant of medical facts associated with this lifestyle and from a public policy perspective, the behavior should not be encouraged by affording it the status of marriage.

Study here and further comment by its authors here.

The study attributes the difference in lifespan to HIV/AIDS, which isn't quite the same thing as homosexuality. The point is that it's not homosexuality per se that's dangerous, it's, say, unprotected gay sex in a particular context. (Of course, mortality rates have dropped sharply since 1996-- the drugs are better-- but never mind that.) So we've got a reference class problem, since some gay sex is safer than some straight sex, and we need to identify the relevant evaluative class. Anyway, that's just a quibble.

The real howler here is:

the government has an obligation to promote public policy that is best for the general welfare and to discriminate against behaviors that adversely impact society and public health.

This sounds plausible only if we think that discrimination discourages the dangerous behavior, and acceptance encourages it. But that isn't close to true in this case. I seriously doubt that the government's position will encourage many people to have or avoid SSR; I mean, I'm having a hard time resisting the lure of the local gay bar after hearing about President Buchanan and Aunt Fancy, but I'm probably just an outlier here.

It gets worse for Bauer, because what government discriminaton does is encourages unsafe SS sex, and discourages the sort of gay behavior that isn't at all risky. (Abstinence and Lesbian Bed Death in the marriage case; safe sex in long-term relationships, and so on.) So if it were really the health danger that he's worried about, his conclusion is exactly wrong. That's the point of the reference class problem above, really.

Finally, as Josh Marshall points out, there's always the Argument from Lesbians. I used to teach SSM back in the day-- I mean, whether it's a good or bad idea, not how to do it-- and I used a great little article by William 'put it all on black' Bennett arguing that SSM undermined the institution by allowing those hyper-promiscuous gays to pollute it. Bennett makes the mistake that many commentators do: he thinks about gay men when he's mad, gay women when he's excited. Whether and why gay men are more promiscuous is controversial, but it's enough for our purposes here to note that the same sorts of considerations that suggest they are also suggest that lesbians are less promiscuous. So if we grant that they are, we also get to assume that lesbians are not-- they're less promiscuous even than heterosexuals, on this reasoning.

What did the gay man bring on his second date? A second date.

What did the lesbian bring on her second date? A u-haul.

Anyway, the point is that if this is right, gay marriage is a wash. Its underming effects are offset by its bolstering effects. It seems to me that the very same points apply to the STD argument that Bauer invokes here.


 

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Our Gayest President

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.26.04

Here's an interesting discussion of James Buchanan's level of gayness: not really gay? a little gay? or as gay as the day is long? He's the sort of president no side really wants to claim as one of their own, but it's apropos the current debate.

Read John Holbo's comments on FMA, because they're funny.

I for one think that John & Belle should stick with their own blog, and not get CT'd, but, well, that's just me.


 

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House of horrors II

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.26.04

You learn a lot about a man by looking at the choices he makes. In particular, you learn something from the fact that he spent about half an hour photshopping the heads of Bush, Cheney, Kerry, and Edwards onto the Liza wedding photo.

I'm not sure why this seemed like a good idea, but it did, and even though I did a sloppy job, I know, dear reader, that you want to see it. The only lesson to draw from this: John Kerry's head looks fantastic on Michael Jackson's body.

liza_minelli_wedding_alter3.jpg


 

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Liza!

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.26.04

This from the latest Popbitch email update. I'm not saying it's true, I'm saying you have to think about it just for a second, so I don't suffer alone:

David Gest and new fiancee Diana Ross met at their shared expensive Beverley Hills doctor. And bonded over tales of pain killer and alcohol addiction.
They've been getting to know each other at the Four Seasons hotel in LA, staying in separate rooms, checked in under the name Mr and Mrs D Va. (Diva... geddit?)

Talk about changing the definition of marriage. Honey, you don't convince people you're straight by marrying a series of gay icons. Hard to say who might be next...

This familiar, still-chilling photograph shows that marriage is between one mannequin and one woman.


 

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I killed Jesus in the kitchen with a lead pipe

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.25.04

Tonight's guest post is by Colonel Mustard, and it was inspired by the Apostropher.

Without having seen it-- but hey, it's a blog, I don't have to know what I'm talking about-- I can think of two reasons why Jews might get annoyed by the Mel Gibson thing. It might be just another negative portrayal, and they're pissed because it gets tiresome to see your group depicted as bloodthirsty and wicked one more time. Especially when you control Hollywood! Just kidding.

Or maybe it's the kooky collective responsibility thing.

I mean, I'm willing to countenance collective intentionality, collective propositional attitude ascriptions that are literally true ("IBM believes that ..." or "The republicans hope that..."), and so on. I'm even willing to give the big thumbs-up to collective moral responsibility, maybe. But what kind of crazy-ass view would let you say that today's Jews are somehow responsible for the neo-cons death-on-the-cross? That's not so plausible.

And if it were plausible-- and this is a point I was bitching about in the apostropher comments-- it's a foreordained event, this crucifixion. Now, I've read my Frankfurt (Harry, not the School) so I know that we can be responsible for A-ing even though it's not possible for us to not-A, but still, this case is a bit of a headwrecker. In this case it really worked out well for Christians, because they need the guy to die in order to rise from the dead in order to fulfill the prophecies in order for the believers to be cleansed of their sins in order to earn eternal rewards. Ok. So don't get up in my grill about what you see as my very very distant relatives' role in the divine plan, yo. Or so I imagine Jewish MCs across the nation saying.

The real question is not whether or not Mel is an anti-semite, but why he's so weird. From many accounts (look, I'm not spending a few hours of my life to listen to Aramaic, so if you want critical acumen, go read Crooked Timber) the movie manages to replace all spiritually insightful moments with buckets o' blood. So much for preserving the mysteries.


 

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poll-o-rama

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.25.04

This collection of polls is a fun timewaster.

What do Thomas Jefferson, GW Bush, Jimmy Carter, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry S Truman have in common? They each got 3% in the Bestest President Ever poll. They sort of run the gamut there, don't they?

JFK wins with 17%: Clinton had his moments, but only Kennedy held the chick's head under water while [obscene gerund] her.

There are also some interesting (if old) religious results: 49% of "non-Christians" believe in the resurrection of Christ. Mel (G, not C) will be pleased.


 

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make a difference

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.25.04

If you know of a good article on Differance, email Michael. I am so not the person to ask about this, but I thought I'd pass it along.


 

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Greetings

Posted by Ogged
on 02.25.04

Guffaw, and what would you have said?


 

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Thomas Hobbes: sexy beast

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.25.04

Does anyone know offhand how paragraphs 18 and 27 of ch. 14 of Leviathan are consistent? (Text is here if you don't have it memorized.)

In 18, Hobbes says that covenants made with reasonable suspicion of noncompliance are void, but in 27 we get the famous claim about ransom: if you take me prisoner, and I agree to send you cash just as soon as I get home, I'm bound to keep the agreement once you release me, because I have no worries about you failing your part of the bargain when it comes time for me to do my part. How could you make that covenant if you have reasonable fear-- as you surely would-- of my later noncompliance? That is, how do we get that covenant, given paragraph 18?

Look, I know this is an amateur's question, but I had always thought that the problems started once we get to Ch. 15, and the Foole, and the third law of nature. But this looks like something tricky right here in 14. Huh.

In other 'of interest almost two decades ago' news, I'm really enjoying Jean Hampton's book on this, so maybe I'll get to that part before one of our learned audience helps me out.


 

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let's make an awkward situation worse, shall we?

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.25.04

Here is a web site devoted to exploiting an awkward tension chez Cheney: Dad's plunking for a no-gay-marriage amendment; daughter Mary is a lesbian. Send her a little note asking her not to cop out on this one. You might also ask her to do something about her hair, but that's a back-burner issue right now.


 

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Look closely at the background

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.24.04

Is it just my imagination, or is that guy behind President Bush riding bareback?

UPDATE: I see now that it's T. Roosevelt, the "rough rider." Does this mean that Bush's new running mate is Tom of Finland?


 

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You Choose: Rant or Win

Posted by Ogged
on 02.24.04

Generally, for "what the fuck are they thinking" questions, I turn to the trusty comment threads on Lucianne.com. You'll find a lot of what you expect: hate, ignorance, fundamentalism, etc., but poster #83 puts his finger on what I think is the main reason for opposition to gay marriage among otherwise moderate folks.

actually, the concept of gay "marriage" does affect my marriage and all traditional marriages. Words mean something. By saying I am a married man, I am saying at least two things: that I am heterosexual and that my partner is female and also heterosexual. The sanction of gay "marriage" calls both identities into question for everyone Gay "marriage" blurs identities and distorts society.

That's it: for many men, "I'm married" means "I'm not gay." But now the code might be changing and there needs to be some other way for them to signal "not gay." It can't be as simple as "I'm married...to a woman" (though that will be an oft repeated line, I'm sure), because that makes the question of their sexuality explicit, and even that feels tainting.

(This explains, I think, why the "semantic" issue of the distinction between marriage and civil unions is important: civil unions preserve an exclusively hetero space for marriage. It also helps explain the still substantial--over 50%--opposition to gay marriage in a way that the "threat to the institution" line does not.)

So, if this battle is going to be joined, and it looks like we don't have a choice about that now, we need to take this--the hidden, unarticulated underpinning of emotional support for the intolerant position--and make it explicit and speak to people's true fears.

There seem to me to be two good options. One is the "civil union" approach, which makes a legally equal space for homosexual relationships. I have two reservations about this. First, to make homosexual unions explicitly "civil" is to deprive them of the presumption of sanctity granted traditional marriages. Second, any "separate but equal" arrangement is a temporization, which leaves another battle for later. This may be politically expedient (and that might be the most important consideration now) but we shouldn't pretend that it will settle the issue.

The other option is to furnish a way for heterosexual men to signal, without explicitly raising the issue, their heterosexuality. This fight isn't going to be about the sanctity of marriage or of the constitution: it's going to be about that part of each man that asks "am I a fag?" We're taking away their most powerful answer to that question; if we want to win, we have to give them something in its place.


 

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Big gay roundup

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.24.04

Josh Marshall has a nice point on this Adam and Steve issue. He's right also to link to Andrew Sullivan's post on this. So much for changing the tone, indeed-- we're back to his father's desperate tricks.

This is really complicated, because the right response seems to be:

(a) this amendment is a bad idea, and get your hands off the closest thing this nation has to a sacred document;

(b) whatever you end up calling it, same-sex partnerships need some sort of legal status, since, as Mario Cuomo said in another context, thou shalt not sin against equality;

(c) and this is a distraction anyway, because gay couples won't affect your lives nearly as much as Bush's economic and foreign policies will-- he's just trying to get you riled up so you don't notice the eight thousand things deeply wrong with his administration.

But this doesn't fit into a small soundbite.

I have to say, Marshall has me seeing the bright side, if only for a few minutes. This is a move that smacks of desperation. Granted, seeing all those SSM photos from SF got some core voters fired up, but they also gave us an emotionally powerful snapshot of what this issue is really about: not violating human nature, not cultural relativism, not special rights. It's about the relationships, stupid. And 'seeing what it's like' is often the most powerful moral argument there is.

And in heterosexual news, I'm definitely moving to South Dakota.


 

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Armageddon III

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.24.04

Well, it looks like the gloves are off: Bush is endorsing a marriage amendment. A transcript is here.

After more than two centuries of American jurisprudence and millennia of human experience, a few judges and local authorities are presuming to change the most fundamental institution of civilization.
Their actions have created confusion on an issue that requires clarity. On a matter of such importance, the voice of the people must be heard. Activist courts have left the people with one recourse.
If we're to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever, our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America. Decisive and democratic action is needed because attempts to redefine marriage in a single state or city could have serious consequences throughout the country.

...

The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution, honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith. Ages of experience have taught humanity that the commitment of a husband and wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society.
Marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society.
Government, by recognizing and protecting marriage, serves the interests of all.
The amendment should fully protect marriage, while leaving the state legislatures free to make their own choices in defining legal arrangements other than marriage.

I'm peeved. Thank God he added:

We should also conduct this difficult debate in a matter worthy of our country, without bitterness or anger.

Translation: I'll let Racicot and the rest go hog-wild on the homos--they'll probably photoshop a picture of John Kerry starring in 'Bitanic'-- but I myself will look on with bemusement.

There's a lot to say about this. We should have a long national conversation about essential and contingent features of social institutions, the way conceptual continuity through theory change is possible, the role of religious commitments in public life, and so on. Does gay marriage change the meaning of the institution, the way interracial marriage didn't? What's 'the meaning of the institution,' given that there isn't one? But honestly I'm too annoyed to start this right now. My hope is that this turns into a 'Pat Buchanan Convenion 1992' moment for the Republican party, i.e., creates a big backlash, but that's just my cheery optimistic self shining through.

And what is the difference between marriage and civil unions anyway, given that secular marriages are given full faith and credit? Is this a difference that makes a difference? Sorry to play 2nd rate Atrios and then leave just as the conversation reaches a point where I might have something substantive to add. But it'll have to wait for a calmer moment.


 

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Not Long Now

Posted by Ogged
on 02.23.04

Thought you all might enjoy some pictures of Armageddon.


 

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Ralphie right-on

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.23.04

In the middle of another Naderiffic post, I realized it was kind of like Liz Phair said:

And I've never met a man I was so crazy about

It kinda has become an obsession to me

I hate him all the time

But I still get up

When he knocks me down

And he orders me around

'Cause it loosens me up

And I can't get enough

And I'd pay to spend the night with him some more

Unsafe at any speed, indeed.

So this is totally the last Nader mention here, because really I don't think he's going to change things at all. This is so not 2000. Most of the Nader voters I know were really just hoping for the magic 5%, and many others think that maybe there is a difference between Bush and Gore. This means not so many votes for Nader. In other words, what he said.

But let's go out with at least a wimper, shall we? Quothe Nader:

"The Democrats have never had a string of losses like that that I can remember, and against the extreme wing of the Republican Party," he said. "Their risks of losing to Bush, assuming he doesn't destruct, is no greater because of this candidacy."

"Ten years of losses," Mr. Nader said of the Democratic Party. "They have no modesty about bringing the country 10 years of losses. They have become very good at bringing the country very bad Republicans."

What I like about this is that it seems to commit Nader to the very same conflation of causal responsibility and moral responsibility that's needed in order to blame Nader for Bush. That is, the line of thought that heaps blame on the democrats also points the finger of scorn at Nader's 2000 candidacy. Hoist with his own petard, as it were.

The last unnecessary comment: do we know if the (D) party picks up more votes by drifting left or by drifting right? I've heard progressive types say that their intent is to move the (D) to the left by withholding their votes, but this just creates a dilemma for (D): pick up the progressives, or pick up some centerists (with a rightward skip) to make up for their departure. It is, as we like to say, an empirical question as to which strategy maximizes votes, but I would expect, given a bell-like distribution, that the latter is effective in the short term. It's all well and good to have fringe views, of course, and, given how things are, that's no mark against their truth, but it's important to know that that's what you've got.


 

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What country are you?

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.22.04

From Apostropher: find out what country you are. Apparently, I'm Germany:

You have a really ugly past, one that defies description. This gives you tremendous guilt, but you've coped with it and flourished into an awfully good person, considering. You've finally made peace with yourself, in so many ways, and you've been able to build on that for a bright and capable future. You've become so enlightened that you're probably a member of the Green Party, or at least listen to their demands.

But this is false. Everyone knows I'm The United States of Kiss My Ass.


 

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In the long run, we'll all be dead

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.22.04

Here's a completely horrifying Billmon post on global warming.

No, there's no difference between Bush and Gore. According to Bush's new stump speech the choice is clear:

In a dangerous world, it's a choice between a policy of strength and confidence versus a policy of uncertainty.

Great, that sounds like just the deodorant I need.

My favorite White House resident has passed away: Spot the springer spaniel is no more.


 

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Rittenhouse needs money

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.22.04

A plea for cash.


 

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it gives one pause

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.22.04

Interesting article on defecting republicans from the NYT:

"The combination of lies and boys coming home in body bags is just too awful," Mr. Flanagan said, drinking coffee and reading newspapers at the local mall. "I could vote for Kerry. I could vote for any Democrat unless he's a real dummy."

...

While sharing a sandwich at the stylish Beachwood Mall in this Cleveland suburb, one older couple a judge and a teacher reluctantly divulged their secret: though they are stalwarts in the local Republican Party, they are planning to vote Democratic this year.

"I feel like a complete traitor, and if you'd asked me four months ago, the answer would have been different," said the judge, after assurances of anonymity. "But we are really disgusted. It's the lies, the war, the economy. We have very good friends who are staunch Republicans, who don't even want to hear the name George Bush anymore."

Good news by my lights, but it almost makes me wish that I weren't such a yellow dog...


 

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is your ivory tower breeding conservatives?

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.22.04

Following my usual MO, I was going to post something on the 'conservatives in academe' issue just as everyone's lost interest, then I realized that John and Belle and Tim Burke and Erin O'Connor pretty much said what needs to be said.

I've had the same experience Ted H describes: people assume I share The View, then get suspicious when I say "I'm kind of ambivalent about affirmative action" or "I think deciding what to do about this war is a really hard decision," which, in turn, makes me do my ritualistic appeasement dance. It's pretty annoying. And eerily like high school, instead of writing band names on your jacket you play Gran Fury with your office door.


 

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Nader hata

Posted by Fontana Labs
on 02.22.04

I have returned. Look for inflammatory, ill-conceived commentary-- and tales of the real estate market-- in the near future. For now I want only to note this gem from what purports to be a Ralph Nader web site:

You can agree with all this and still say that this candidacy will take away votes from the Democratic candidate. If so, you also have to assess how many more votes the Democratic nominee will receive by (a) being pressed to appeal more forcefully for the interests of the people and (b) how many effective modes and critiques he can pick up from the independent candidate to improve the prospects of defeating Bush and (c) a more exciting campaign that brings more progressive voters out which, in a rigged, winner-take all system would go to the Democrats in large percentages. By the way, there are astute political observers who believe that the Greens pushing Gore to more populist rhetoric allowed Gore to get many more voters than the net 20% of the Green vote that apparently would have voted for him.

By the way, there are astute observers who believe in the [redacted] tooth fairy. I note this only because I've been carrying around a guilty conscience for voting Nader in New York in 2000, so I have to cleanse my soul somehow.


 

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