Thursday, June 28, 2007

Andrew Sullivan 180 watch....

Here, Sullivan celebrates GOP voters' tolerance for people's private sex lives, and says this is good news for Fred Thompson, who has had a colorful sexual past. Apparently, this "tolerance" is supposed to be a virtue.

In his very next post, Sullivan calls our attention to an interview with one of Mitt Romney's sons, in which he describes how the family would get together and turn the lights off. Title of the piece? "More Romney Weirdness."

So, apparently, ignoring that a candidate slept with many women, risking disease and pregnancy and mocking traditional concepts of marriages is a virtue. But it's OK to talk to another candidate's son about their private familiy customs that involved nobody else for signs of weirdness.

Look, Romney kind of creeps me out, too. I just wish Sullivan had some standards for privacy and tolerance that went beyond whom he personally like and dislikes.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ripe For A Revolution?

Horror stories like this and this seem to be increasingly common. I suspect I myself have never experienced a truly horrific airline incident. My luggage has never been lost. I fly maybe once or twice a year. I remember sitting on the tarmac for a couple hours once during a sandstorm in Phoenix, which was unpleasant given that I am 6'5", but nothing horrific.

But what I think is interesting is that the experience of flying has steadily deteriorated over my lifetime, without a corresponding drop in prices. Services have been taken away. Security intrusions are greater. Restrictions are more onerous. And everyone is more crabby.

By contrast, I just completed a round trip from St. Louis to New Jersey by car with a two year old and a three year old, and I have to say that that experience is much better than it was when I was a child. The roads are better, the car is more comfortable, the services available off the highways are better, there is better entertainment for the children. And in spite of the recent spike in gas prices, the cost has not gone up.

Obviously on a car trip, we are in much greater control of our experience than we are as airline passengers. We pick what food we will eat, not airlines. We decide when we will start for the day and stop for breaks, not the airlines. Nobody tells us not to use our cell phones, or what position our seatback needs to be in. That goes a long way.

Another thing is that when I look at what factors influence the experience, there is:

  • The governmnet (buidling and improving the highways).
  • Car manufacturers
  • Oil companies, private store owners (finding a clean bathroom is no longer an adventure).
  • Restaurant chains
  • Hotel chains
  • Consumer electronics (Keeping kids entertained on 16 hour ride is much easier with a DVD player).

For airline travel, the lsit is:

  • airlines
  • the federal government

Where's my flying car, again?

In any case, the situation seems ripe for a break-up. Obviously, there are neccesarily large barriers to entry for airline travel. But there seems to be a huge market opening for a more pleasant method of long-range travel.

I have no idea what it will look like, but my prediction (hope?) is that things will look much different in 10 years, and we will look back at what we used to have to go through to travel with horror.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


I remember there being a specific name for a minority in the Senate blocking legislation or a nomination by voting against cloture of debate.

But in all the discussion about the cloture vote that is The Most Important Vote Ever in Kausfiles and the Corner, I see not one mention of this term.

Maybe it's because when the shoe was on the other foot, the Corner was busy calling fillibusters undemocratic tools of sore loser obstructionists.

But now, anyone who opposes the immigration bill has a positive duty to vote against cloture, and shouldn't be allowed to fool us by voting for cloture and against the bill.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Making Bill Donohue look reasonable

Bill Donohue can be a blowhard.

He can come off as trying to establish Catholics as an aggrieved party, flopping on the floor at the latest perceived sleight. There are many times that I, as a Catholic, wish he would shut up, such as here.

But I will say this -- at least when Donohue opens his big mouth, the piece in question is what brought Catholocism into the picture. Donohue went after Robin Williams for making fun of Catholics, nto for failing to properly honor it.

Not so for the liberal scolds who criticize Knocked Up, who are aghast that the female protagonist did not seriously consider abortion before having her unplanned baby.

This is the equivalent of Donohue going berserk that a character didn't attend Mass even though the story clearly spans a Sunday. Or that an action hero didn't stop to pray before avenging his wife's murder.

Earth to cultural liberals -- not everyone in America shares your views. Many women's first reaction when becoming pregnant, planned or unplanned, is not to praise thier sisters who came before them so that the decision whether to terminate the pregnancy is hers and hers alone. Some see abortion as killing, and would never consider it. Not all of them are dismissible religious nuts, and might be sympathetic characters. Part of an artist's job is to reflect reality, and so, some of these people might be represented in the popular culture.

I'm sorry your worldview is so fragile that it is threatened by a character in a comedy who doesn't share it. But get the hell over it.

You're making Bill Donohue look like a calm voice of reason.

Kaus's "Special Focus"

Maybe it’s a result of reading a week’s worth of posts in one sitting rather than simply one at a time, but there is something creepy about Mickey Kaus’s ,er, special focus on defeating the immigration bill.

A couple of highlights…

Is the cloture vote the “real” vote?

Part of this focus has included counting votes for and against cloture on debate of the bill, on the assumption that if cloture passes, then the bill will pass. Even if some senators ultimately vote against the bill, it doesn’t matter because their votes for cloture have the effect of moving the bill toward forward. Voting for cloture and against the bill is a form of “kabuki” so that senators can advance the bill, but still be on the record as having opposed it. Thus, Kaus is calling us to consider a vote for cloture a vote for the bill, and hold Senators accountable accordingly.

In another context, Kaus appeals to the wisdom of the Framers in making it difficult to pass legislation.

I’m no Robert Byrd, but I’m not convinced that these high-stakes “call your Senator” procedural votes are what the Framers intended, either. It seems that they intended for there to be some space for the yes/no position – that might oppose a piece of legislation, but that it should got to an up/down vote. If this were not the case, it would have been simpler to just require a 60% majority to pass any legislation (or confirm any judges).

I understand that in this particular context, a vote for cloture does have this effect. It just seems to be that this focus on procedural votes is not what was intended. If the current Senate rules in today’s environment have this effect, then maybe they need some tinkering (preferably with a better name than “the nuclear option”.)

A Press-Proof Rally

Kaus laughably writes…

how about some street demonstrations? It worked in the '60s. The trick would be including Democrats, and keeping the protests so free of fringe elements, violence, and anything that could be characterized as anti-Latino prejudice that they couldn't be tarred by the media (which would be looking to pitch opponents as angry bigots).

Hey, while you’re at it, why don’t you organize a pro-life march that the press won’t spin as a handful of religious zealots with links to terrorists like Eric Rudolph?

Or better yet, put together a pro-immigration rally that those opposed won’t spin a gathering storm of Mexican nationalism?

It’s a little late in the day to be whining about how the press portrays the movement.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

New low?

If you look at Andrew Sullivan's "Christianism Watch" entries, which he wants to portray as signs of the coming theocratic takeover, it's hard to find a place in American history where the events he describes would have been out of place.

Take today's example, which he protrays as a "new low" -- some bloggers questioning Fred Thompson's Church attendance.

Now, poking around a candidate's religious practices might not be a great idea, particularly with the "no religious tests" portion of our Constitution, but it is hardly unprecedented in American history. And is odd coming from someone who just last week was criticizing Mitt Romney, for making statements contrary to Mormon doctrine, and has has had fun wondering if Romney wears Mormon underwear.

And this is one of my major problems with Sullivan's crusade. He claims to be conservatively standing up against a rising tide of a new fusion of faith and politics, but from here, it looks like he is advocating a fairly radical disintegration of the same, one that would have choked off several noble movements, such as the abolitionist movement here and in the UK, and the civil rights movement.

I have not read Sullivan's book, but I have not seen him confront this last point -- was the abolitionist movement "poisoned" by William Wilberforce's linking it with Christian calls to equality? Is the civil rights movement ruined because Martin Luther King was a Reverend?

My Hillaryphobia...

Ross Douthat with a perceptive take on "Hillaryphobia" on the right. This seems to be the club that Giuliani will use to try to win the votes of social conservatives -- I may not be in lock-step with you on abortion, but I can beat Hillary, and you surre don't want her.

Douthat is correct that from a social conservtive perspective, it's unlikely a President Clinton would be much worse than a President Obama or President Edwards.

The thing is, that's exactly why I'm against her. It seems unlikely that Senator Clinton would bring about any truly radical change in any US policy. And if I'm going to support a pro-choice candidate, it better be for a damn good reason.

But then, in a Giuliani-Clinton election, Giuliani would represent a radical departure, in that it would establish the electoral viability of a pro-choice Republican candidate. So for that reason from a social conservative point of view, we might be better off with Senator Clinton. Add in my distaste fro Giuiliani's authoritarian streak and foreign policy instincts, and I could certainly see myself voting for Clinton in a Clinton-Giuliani election, though I wouldn't actively "support" her.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Planned Parenthood is an apolitical organization...


I know this is a tiresome game, but can you imagine the cries of Theocracy! Christianism! if a Catholic bishop "helped" a congressman draft legislation declaring a city "pro-life."

Unbalanced Pursuit of "Balance"

I've been subscribing to the On Balance parenting weblog at WaPo.

It has occasionally interesting thoughts on parenting, but I can't escape the conclusion that the basic premise is flawed -- that the most important thing about family life is achieving "balance" between parenting and other activities. Steiner actually touched on this last week. Parenting isn't just one activity to be "balanced" with other things. It is the most important, and ultimately most rewarding, thing we will ever do.

I'm not saying that people don't need a break, and that everything has to be about the kids, but this notion that happiness comes as a result of achieving the proper "balance" is hogwash. If you're kid's in the hospital, there isn't going to be any balance, and that's the way it has to be.

This cystallized for me with Steiner's pro-abortion (and don't dare tell me it's really just pro-"choice") column from today. Ramesh Ponnuru nicely and pithily summarized it as, "'Juggling Work and Family' is a lot easier if you get rid of inconvenient children."

Like Dana Stevens, Steiner claims to be quite secure in her belief in the necessity of abortion, but gets quite excercised that procuring or at least seriously considering terminating an unwanted pregnancy isn't a regular feature of popular entertainment.

An unwanted pregnancy is perhaps the most powerful factor in unbalancing a woman's work and family life. Most working women (at least the sexually active ones) need birth control, including abortion, to plan their careers -- sometimes, you need to say "no" to motherhood in order to build your reputation, get more training or an advanced degree, accept a promotion, or simply to work very hard for a certain period of time. Childless women often stay happily childless thanks specifically to birth control. Non-working moms also need the choices offered by all forms of birth control to space their children wisely, and sometimes to put off pregnancy in favor of a current family member's special needs (including their own).

"Balance" is the new God. If an unplanned pregnancy goes against "balance," then we "need" every tool possible to confront it, up to and including abortion. Question the morality of some of these tools, and you are opposed to balance.

Seems like we were just down this road with "security." The homeland must be secured, and the government needs access to every tool, including indefinite detention and "enhanced interrogation techniques" and preemptive war to do it. Question the morality of these things, and you hate America.

There's the somwhat tired old saying that nobody wishes on their deathbed that they spent more time at the office. I submit that even fewer people will say they wished their lives were more "balanced," particularly those who chose to welcome an unplanned addition to their family at the expense of balance.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Not a heretic, A+ in 8th grade math...

My resume grows more and more impressive...

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 9/10 correct!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Test Message...

Testing to see how things look with comments turned off.

While I'm here, I do reommend Tom Goodman's review of Big Love.

May lead to a future post about what we find funny, and who we sympathize with.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Pro-choice abortion

In Slate, Dana Stevens concludes her odd piece about abortion politics and Knocked Up with this nugget...

That same Atlantic blog post concludes with the opinion that the movie is "almost naively pro-life"—that Alison decides to keep her baby because "killing it" would be "obviously and terribly wrong," and Alison, bless her heart, is not a "bad person" who would do such a thing. The 77 percent of Americans who support abortion rights—and the 40 percent or more of American women who have exercised that right—can be excused for wondering where that supposedly obvious moral consensus is coming from. Roe v. Wade may be in perpetual danger of erosion, but look on the bright side: We still have more choices than most pregnant women in the movies.

Stevens doesn't source her 77 percent number, but that is the highest number I have ever seen for either side of that issue, and she says it is those who "support abortion rights," so I would tend to believe it was those opposed to an outright ban.

Remember -- the topic here wasn't Roe v. Wade, or any effort by the government to restrict abortion. It was about a movie not presenting abortion as a legitimate option for its female protagonist experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.

Now, as a veteran of abortion debates, I thought the consensus was that conflating support for abortion rights with enthusiasm for the procedure itself was a dirty trick by the pro-life side designed to portray the pro-choice side as amoral monsters. I thought the party line included phrases like, "nobody likes abortion," and "safe, legal, and rare."

Indeed, the entire pro-choice argument rests on the principle that there should be some space between what is considered immoral and what is criminal. Keep you rosaries off my ovaries, etc. People can feel how they want about abortion, so long as they don't try to translate it into criminal santions. This is the argument Catholic pro-choice politicians, including the current Speaker of the House, use to explain how they can reconcile their faith, which unambiguously condemns abortion, with their pro-choice positions.

But I guess that 77 percent number was too big for Stevens to resist.

So, should we take Stevens at her word? Does opposing banning of abortion imply moral approval? Should people's position on Roe v. Wade be based on anything more than moral appoval or disapproval of abortion in general (or things like parial-birth abortion in specific, since each Democratic presidential candidate lamented the Supreme Court not finding it to be protected)?

I don't think affirmative answers to those questions would lead to conclusions Stevens would be very happy with. Which is why NARAL took the word "abortion" out of its name, pro-choice politicians say things like "reproductive self determination" and "a woman's right to choose" rather than mention abortion explicitly, and pro-lifers are condemned for graphic depictions of abortion. From the pro-choice movement, "shmashmortion" would qualify as rare candor.

But if Stevens want to rip the facade off, that's fine with me. You just don't get to eat your cake and have it to. You don't get to claim 77 percent of the public has no moral problem with abortion, and then blanche when we link a permissive abortion legal environment with cultural approval of abortion.

  • Ross Douthat responds, since the article was in large part in response to his comments.
  • Ezra Klein has something closer to what a a pro-choice reaction is, if pro-choice really isn't just a euphemism for "pro-abortion."
  • Monday, June 04, 2007

    Why Giuliani (and Romney) won't do for pro-lifers

    George Will writes about the appeal of Rudy Giuliani to social conservatives, in spite of his positions that go against them. He writes:

    So, last year, perhaps a million women and their doctors committed murder. However much a person deplores abortion and embraces that legal logic, nobody believes that either the legislation or the constitutional amendment that Republican platforms have praised will be passed. Hence the sterility of today's abortion debate. And hence the inclination of some social conservatives to focus on limiting abortion by changing the culture, and their willingness to evaluate candidates by criteria unrelated to abortion.

    This social conservative gets off the bus at the last comma there. I am committed to ending abortion, and that this will include government action, but I am coming to the realization that doing so means more than just electing candidates who check the "pro-life" box on the form. That's where this "changing the culture" stuff comes in.

    Part of "changing the culture" is choosing leaders. And for me, at least, choosing a leader who embraces war, capital punishment, and torture of detainees moves the culture in the wrong direction.

    Which is why it is my opinion, that in spite of being "pro-life," and having a record completely consistent with pro-life values, George W. Bush has done more to hurt the pro-life position than help it. He has given evidence to all those inclined to believe that pro-lifers only care about people until their born. He claims to be pro-life, but has exercised zero leadership on this score, focusing instead on things like the war in Iraq and privatizing social security, which calls our seriousness into question. And his polarizing style, which some conservatives are now getting a taste of in the immigration debate, turns people away who might have grown sympathetic to pro-life arguments.

    Given that, why would we want to elect a president who seems to share all these negative qualities, but doesn't even pretend to be pro-life? If we're now concerned mostly about culture, what would electing such a leader from what used to be the pro-life party do to the culture?

    Some say that as long as Giuliani is functionally pro-life, i.e. appointing "strict constructionist" judges, which we're supposed to trust is secret code word for "inclined to overturn Roe v. Wade, it doesn't matter. The same argument is made for those who are concerned that Mitt Romney's recent change of heart on this issue has more to do with electoral calculation than person conviction.

    But, as this president has shown, the presidency is more than just checking the right box when confronted with a problem. The president sets the agenda, and chooses which battles to fight. I have no reason to believe that either Giuliani or Romney would actively work for the unborn. They may make the right calls when given no choice, but my suspicion is that they would avoid the issue as much as possible.

    The message this sends to those inclined to dislike the pro-choice movement is that we're not that serious about the issue. Yeah, we'd like to elect a president who's pro-life, but that candidate need not make it a priority. The important thing is sticking it to the pro-choicers.

    Looking at the field, the candidate most likely to bring about the cultural transformation needed is Obama. Yes, I know, his position is indistinguishable from the other candidates, including his recent criticism of the Supreme Court for not finding a right to partial birth abortion in the Constitution. But it is my opinion that we've ridden this current political structure as far as it can take us, and it's not far enough. Even if a President Giuliani or President Romney nominates and confirms a Supreme Court justice who becomes part of a majority to overturn Roe v. Wade, it would be a hollow victory indeed, and be greeted with an enormous backlash.

    Ending abortion will require a cultural and political transformation. Such a transformation will require a leader unsatisfied with the current politics, and courageous enough to change it.

    Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney seem to be fine with today's politics (it got them where they are), even if it means that evils like abortion and torture continue. So long as they get to be president.

    That won't do.

    Sunday, June 03, 2007

    It's like defying your bishop's call to charity; it must be right!

    I still don't know what the correct immigration policy should be, but the arguments from those who want to stress enforcement continue to have the opposite of their intended effect, espicially from a Christian perspective.

    I pointed out one such argument last week, now Maximos at What's Wrong With the World compares the immigration debate that had rented its facilities to another congregation, and then was told by its bishop that it could not break from the agreement even when the other congregation became belligerent because it was compelled to welcome the wayward Chirstians in charity. You should probably read the original, as my paraphrase is likely not doing justice to the original.

    When confronted with an argument like this, the first temptation is to challenge how close a parallel the analogy is to the real-world situation, and then the discussion centers on the accuracy of the analogy, with suggestions that might make the analogy more appropriate, and not much gets learned about the original problem.

    But the problem here is more fundamental than that.

    Maximos makes the case that accommodating the other congregation would entail some hardship. He also makes the case that those in charge have acted arrogantly and with a lack of pastoral skill.

    If Maximos were merely attempting to have others gain understanding of how this issue looks in the trenches, then fine. But it won't do as the perspective through which we ought to consider this issue, because that this is our Savior:

    We are called to perhaps great sacrifices for charity and obedience. The woman who becomes pregnant after being raped is called to carry the baby of that rapist to term. The person with same sex attraction is called to live an entirely abstinent life. And so on.

    Whether either the analogy or the immigration crisis is a legitimate case for charity is not in my competence to judge, but was not the point of the analogy anyway.

    The call to obedience to our bishop, however, does apply. The Fourth Commandment calls us to obedience.

    It's probably not a good sign that Maximos believes that his readers would find defiance of a bishop more palatable than defiance of the president and the federal government, but I guess that's where we are.

    I should not that the analogy centers on a "Catholic or Orthodox" parish. I am unsure whether Maximos comes from an orthodox or Catholic background, and if the Orthodox tradition has the same stress on obedience that the Catholic tradition does, as one commenter pointed out.