Saturday, June 30, 2007

Son of separate but equal

An article in today's Washington Post examines New Jersey civil unions and whether they really do offer all the benefits of marriage.
[M]ore than four months after New Jersey's civil union law went into effect, [Craig] Ross, 46 and [Richard] Cash, 54, are among the many same-sex couples severely disillusioned with their prospects for legal equality. Citing federal regulations that allow many employers to effectively ignore state laws regarding corporate benefits, the Fortune 500 company where Ross has worked as a computer specialist for 21 years denied the couple's request for joint coverage.


A recent study by Garden State Equality, New Jersey's leading gay advocacy group, indicated that as many as one in eight of the 1,092 same-sex couples who have registered for civil unions there have been denied all or part of the benefits they hoped to gain from the law. That is particularly significant because New Jersey, as the first state outside New England to approve civil unions, was seen as a bellwether in gauging how they would take root outside the bluest of the blue states.


Most vexing for gay couples in New Jersey is that they have little legal recourse. Smaller companies that buy private health insurance plans for their employees are compelled to offer them to same-sex couples under the state's civil union laws. But most legal experts agree that federal regulations give companies with self-funded insurance plans -- a group covering 55 percent of the country 105 million working-age employees -- the power to ignore state laws regarding corporate benefits.

And when companies choose to follow federal laws, they often cite the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and woman as a reason to deny coverage to same-sex couples. New Jersey officials estimate that almost 90 percent of the reports of noncompliance to date have been linked to companies covered by these federal laws.


After Bruce Moskovitz, 54, and John Fellin, 59 -- who work at the same major pharmaceutical company in New Jersey -- registered their civil union on April 1, they were told by their employer that they could name each other as beneficiaries of their pensions. But while married spouses receive 50 percent of their deceased partner's corporate retirement pensions for life, the two men together for 24 years were informed that the their surviving partner would be granted similar payments for only 60 months.

There seems to be some indication that this may just be a quirk born of a new law, where no-one's sure how everything plays out:
"If a company believes it is covered by federal law, our answer when we are asked whether they have to provide coverage to civil union couples is "we don't know yet,' " said J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, director of the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights. "It's a lawyer's answer that people don't want to hear, but we're talking about uncharted territory because the law is just not clear on this."


The denial rate in New Jersey may turn around. In the only other two states with civil unions -- Connecticut and Vermont (New Hampshire is set to begin offering them in January) -- initial confusion about the bill also resulted in rough starts. But officials and activists in both states are quick to point out that while some couples continue to be denied benefits by companies citing federal laws, most have provided them because of the region's liberal corporate culture.

Which is great for gays living in a region with a liberal corporate culture, but for others, maybe not so much.

Parental notification law repealed

Gov. Lynch of New Hampshire just signed a bill to repeal a parental notification law:
New Hampshire has become the first state to repeal a law requiring parental notification 48 hours before a minor has an abortion.

Gov. John Lynch Friday signed the bill repealing the 2003 law, which he called unenforceable, the Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph reported Saturday.

"I strongly believe parents should be involved in these decisions, providing important support and guidance," Lynch said. "Unfortunately, that is not possible in every case."


Planned Parenthood had won two lower court challenges and in 2006 the U.S. Supreme Court agreed the law failed to address medical emergencies.


Friday, June 29, 2007

Friday Dead Racist Blogging: Been Sitting on This One for a While Edition

In an 1860 speech before the New York Senate trying to defeat a bill that would give black men suffrage, quoted in the New York Times of February 15, one Mr. Callicott tried to prove that blacks were not considered citizens, therefore didn't have the right to vote. In his speech, he quotes William Wirt, Attorney General of the United States, as saying:
The only qualification required by the Constitution to render a person eligible as President, Senator or Representative of the United States is, that he shall be a 'citizen of the United States' of a given age and residence. Free negroes and mulattoes can satisfy the requisitions of age and residence as well as the white man; and if nativity, residence and allegiance combined (without the rights and privileges of a white man) are sufficient to make him a 'citizen of the United States' in the sense of the Constitution, then free negroes and mulattoes are eligible to those high offices, and may command the purse and sword of the nation. For these and other reasons which might easily be multiplied, I am of the opinion that the Constitution, by the description of 'citizens of the States,' intended those only who enjoyed the full and equal privileges of white citizens in the State of their residence.

So you see, black people couldn't be citizens, because then they could be elected to office!

I feel Bill O'Reilly's anti-immigration tirade is of a comparable nature: we can't let brown people into the country because then they'd gain privileges that have previously belonged strictly to white people.

More on the Supreme Court case

I've noticed an unfortunate tendency to treat racial problems as black and white: other races are often ignored.

So it was, it seems, in the Seattle plan that the court ruled unconstitutional--or rather, "white" and "non-white", rather than "white" and "black." And also, unfortunately, in Justice Stevens' dissent.

We must be color-blind, that those who are not can discriminate and we won't notice!

The Supreme Court today handed down a ruling that limited the use of race in school admissions, affecting my hometown of Louisville:
The court split, 5-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts announcing the court's judgment. The court's four liberal justices dissented.

Yet Justice Anthony Kennedy would not go as far as the other four conservative justices, saying in a concurring opinion that race may be a component of school district plans designed to achieve diversity.

To the extent that Roberts' opinion can be interpreted to foreclose the use of race in any circumstance, Kennedy said, "I disagree with that reasoning."

He agreed with Roberts that the plans in Louisville and Seattle violated constitutional guarantees of equal protection.

The two school systems in Thursday's decisions employ slightly different methods of taking students' race into account when determining which school they will attend.

Federal appeals courts had upheld both plans after some parents sued. The Bush administration took the parents' side, arguing that racial diversity is a noble goal but can be sought only through race-neutral means.

Roberts claims that he was following the logic of Brown:
Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia joined the entirety of Roberts's 41-page opinion. Three years ago, without Bush appointees Roberts and Alito, the court ruled that universities could consider race in making admissions decisions.


Roberts invoked the Brown ruling as a basis for today's decision.

"Before Brown, schoolchildren were told where they could and could not go to school based on the color of their skin," he wrote for four justices. "The school districts in these cases have not carried the heavy burden of demonstrating that we should allow this once again -- even for very different reasons."

The dissent claimed that, on the contrary, that this decision was a threat to Brown:
Justice Stephen Breyer, in a dissent joined by the other liberals on the court, said Roberts' opinion undermined the promise of integrated schools that the court laid out 53 years ago in its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

"To invalidate the plans under review is to threaten the promise of Brown," Breyer said.

You can get a PDF of the full ruling from that MSNBC article, or follow this finely-crafted link.

I am kinda bemused by the notion that the justices believe we can achieve racial integration without paying attention to race. And this statement by the attorney for the plaintiffs is just bizarre:
Attorney Teddy Gordon, who argued that the Louisville system's plan was discriminatory, said, "Clearly, we need better race-neutral alternatives. Instead of spending zillions of dollars around the country to place a black child next to a white child, let's reduce class size. All the schools are equal. We will no longer accept that an African-American majority within a school is unacceptable."

Reducing the class size? How the fuck is that supposed to achieve the goal of integrated classrooms?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Racism is alive and well

In fact, as much is admitted:
Both off-the-record and on, Jena residents told me racism is alive and well in Louisiana, and this is a case where it rose above the levee, so to speak.

'This case' is an incident where three black students in Jena, Louisiana, were threatened with lynching:
In September 2006, a group of African American high school students in Jena, Louisiana, asked the school for permission to sit beneath a "whites only" shade tree. There was an unwritten rule that blacks couldn't sit beneath the tree. The school said they didn't care where students sat. The next day, students arrived at school to see three nooses (in school colors) hanging from the tree.

The boys who hung the nooses were suspended from school for a few days. The school administration chalked it up as a harmless prank, but Jena's black population didn't take it so lightly. Fights and unrest started breaking out at school. The District Attorney, Reed Walters, was called in to directly address black students at the school and told them all he could "end their life with a stroke of the pen."

Black students were assaulted at white parties. A white man drew a loaded rifle on three black teens at a local convenience store. (They wrestled it from him and ran away.) Someone tried to burn down the school, and on December 4th, a fight broke out that led to six black students being charged with attempted murder. To his word, the D.A. pushed for maximum charges, which carry sentences of eighty years. Four of the six are being tried as adults (ages 17 & 18) and two are juveniles.

But didn't Brown v. Board solve everything forever?

Paris Hilton is not news!

Not everyone's happy covering Paris Hilton:
An American newsreader has refused to talk about Paris Hilton's release from jail - instead shredding, ripping up and attempting to set on fire copies of the story.

On MSNBC's Morning Joe program, anchor Mika Brzezinski lashed out at producers for continually choosing the Paris Hilton release story as the news bulletin's lead.

"No, I hate this story and I don't think it should be our lead ... My producer Andy Jones is not listening to me. He's put it as the lead," she said as she took a fellow anchor's cigarette lighter and tried to burn the script.

[Edit] The article provides a video of that segment, but here's a YouTube version for those so inclined.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Encouraging poll results

Via ThinkProgress, I find that CNN released a poll about gay issues, showing:
  • For the first time, a majority of people (56%) said they didn't believe gays could change their sexual orientation

  • 79% of people believe gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military

  • 24% of people support gay marriage, 27% civil unions, which combined is more than the 43% who oppose both

  • 57% percent believe that gays should have the ability to adopt children

So regarding those last three issues... I wonder how long it will take the homophobic crowd to change their rhetoric from "Let the people choose!" to "The people have been brainwashed by the insidious neo-Nazi Liberal Gay Agenda, don't let them choose anything!"


Whose Line Is It Anyway? Season 1, Volume 2, to be released October 9!

A kick in the family jewels

The CIA "family jewels" documents are available on-line in full (except the redacted parts, natch). That webpage has its own top-ten list of most interesting plots:
1) Journalist surveillance - operation CELOTEX I-II

2) Covert mail opening, codenamed SRPOINTER / HTLINGUAL at JFK airport

3) Watergate burglar and former CIA operative E. Howard Hunt requests a lock picker

4) CIA Science and Technology Directorate Chief Carl Duckett "thinks the Director would be ill-advised to say he is acquainted with this program" (Sidney Gottlieb's drug experiments)

5) MHCHAOS documents (investigating foreign support for domestic U.S. dissent) reflecting Agency employee resentment against participation

6) Plan to poison Congo leader Patrice Lumumba

7) Report of detention of Soviet defector Yuriy Nosenko

8) Document describing John Lennon funding anti-war activists

9) MHCHAOS documents (investigating foreign support for domestic U.S. dissent)

10) CIA counter-intelligence official James J. Angleton and issue of training foreign police in bomb-making, sabotage, etc.

Though of course, as Meteor Blades and Tom Tomorrow rightly point out, this is partially--hell, maybe even mainly--a ploy to say "That was then; we don't do that now." Heck, in the New York Times article I linked to above, CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden announced the release as "a glimpse of a very different time and a very different agency." But in the same article he discusses our use of extraordinary rendition--supposedly it's supposed to make us feel better that there haven't been 1245 people kidnapped and shipped to foreign countries where they're kept in secret facilities and tortured for information without ever being accused of a crime. There have only been "fewer than 100," he says.

But no, we're way different from 30 years ago.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A dark day for the judiciary

Ed Brayton has posts up about the recent Supreme Court rulings, Hein v. Freedom From Religion Coalition and Morse v. Frederick.

About the ruling decision in Hein, he says:
So in essence they are arguing that a taxpayer has standing to bring an establishment clause suit against any spending mandated by Congressional legislation, but not to challenge any spending that is laundered through the executive branch first. As long as Congress gives that money to the executive branch as part of a general appropriation and the executive branch spends it unconstitutionally, no one has standing to challenge the expenditure. Seem silly? That's because it is.

And about Morse:
This ruling is much broader than I expected. I expected a narrow ruling in the school's favor, one that perhaps said something like this: "This was an official school event where students could reasonably expect to follow the normal school rules. Just as a student could not unfurl such a banner during a school assembly or during class time, such behavior was disruptive of the event taking place and the school reasonably took action to stop that disruptive behavior."

Frankly, i would have been okay with a ruling like that. But this ruling is far broader and is explicitly based on the content of the speech, the fact that it allegedly advocates drug use. That is what disturbs me about the ruling. If the school can censor any speech that it deems to be contrary to an important societal message, as this ruling clearly gives them grounds to do, there is a serious danger of quelling speech that merely advocates a position the school does not like. Indeed, that is precisely what happened here. The Court said, in effect, "we think doing drugs is bad and therefore you don't get to express a contrary message." That is clearly contrary to the first amendment.

Best to read the full posts.

This post brought to you by Sony

A while ago, Terry Pratchett had to switch publishing companies for the people putting out his books in Germany from Heyne to Goldmann. The reason? They were inserting ads into the copy:
"There were a number of reasons for switching to Goldmann, but a deeply personal one for me was the way Heyne (in Sourcery, I think, although it may have been in other books) inserted a soup advert in the text ... a few black lines and then something like 'Around about now our heroes must be pretty hungry and what better than a nourishing bowl'... etc, etc.

My editor was pretty sick about it, but the company wouldn't promise not to do it again, so that made it very easy to leave them. They did it to Iain Banks, too, and apparently at a con he tore out the offending page and ate it. Without croutons."

That website has a scan of the offending book here. And a commenter here says that this also happened to German translations of Star Trek novels.

Why do I bring this up? Because it seems that this power may also now be in the hands of ISPs:
Texas based ISP Redmoon has implemented software that hijacks pages being visited by their customers by placing Redmoon's own ads on these pages.

The technology is provided by NebuAD, which boasts that ISP delivered advertisements are an untapped source of revenue.

Every single web site owner is affected by NebuAD's technology: whether a site is running ads or not makes no difference, Customers of any ISP evil enough to run NebuAD's platform are going to see ads on every page on every site; ads that don’t benefit the content creator. It is important to note that these ads are NOT pop-ups, and this is not a free internet service; the ads are served as if they were part of the page, to paying internet customers who are NOT made aware that these ads have been inserted by their ISP.


Gays are criminals because they hate grandmothers... or something

David Edmunds wrote a letter to the local newspaper about the University of Kentucky offering benefits to partners both gay and straight. Since he's from the "Family Foundation", naturally he's opposed to anything that helps families that aren't his. And as a side note, he predictably brings up the whole "gays are bigoted against people who live with their grandmas" canard. But I'm more interested in his whining about how the university is flouting the intention of the anti-gay marriage laws in Kentucky. He asks: "Since when is it praiseworthy to maneuver around the intent of the law?"

Gee, I dunno. Since Bush's first signing statement? At least 44 years ago?

Clearly I'm trying to tell you that Paul Wolfowitz is Guantanamo Bay

Glenn Greenwald on Guantanamo and David Hicks. He especially highlights a recent New York Times editorial by the chief prosecutor in the Defense Department's Office of Military Commissions, Col. Morris Davis. Davis writes:
Critics liken Guantanamo Bay to Soviet gulags, but reality does not match their hyperbole. The supporters of David Hicks, the detainee popularly known as the "Australian Taliban," asserted that Mr. Hicks was mistreated and wasting away. But at his March trial, where he pleaded guilty to providing material support to a terrorist organization, he and his defense team stipulated he was treated properly. Mr. Hicks even thanked service members, and as one Australian newspaper columnist noted, he appeared in court "looking fat, healthy and tanned, and cracking jokes."

And as Greenwald points out, "his defense team stipulated he was treated properly" because that was the only way the government would let him out of that hellhole:
After more than five years of lawless imprisonment, and only in response to the demands of one of our few remaining allied governments in the world, [the U.S. government agreed] to release him from his black hole, but only on the condition that he (a) remain[ed] silent about his captivity and (b) sign[ed] a document "stipulating" that he was not mistreated during his captivity.


Hicks' release [was] conditioned on his signing the "stipulation" even though it is plainly coerced and insincere ...

I'm not reminded so much of Soviet gulags, Col. Davis, as I am of Paul Wolfowitz. First the World Bank found him guilty of breaking the rules. They tried to get him out, he insisted he's done nothing wrong. Then he negotiated a statement wherein the Bank said that he had only made "mistakes", and those "in good faith." Everyone knows this isn't true, especially the board members who issued the statement, but it was the only way to get him gone. Yet Wolfowitz touts this coercion as vindication of his innocence.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Your racist tidbits of the day lieu of a real post.

Newsweek columnist George Will touts George Wallace as an example of a third-party candidate "giving an aggrieved minority a voice."

And the Giuliani campaign's South Carolina chair, Arthur Ravenel, had some unpleasant things to say about the NAACP.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Some more on Cheney not being in the Executive Branch

Bush's spokesmen have tried to defend Cheney's refusal to comply with the order by stating that Bush never meant for it to apply to him. They've tried claiming that there's some textual basis for this random assertion in the executive order itself, which isn't true. And the administration is having some problems with its arguments, sometimes claiming that it doesn't apply to Bush either, and sometimes saying Bush is in complete compliance.

Anyways, Congressman Rahm Emanuel has some issues with Cheney's assertion.
Washington, D.C. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel issued the following statement regarding his amendment to cut funding for the Office of the Vice President from the bill that funds the executive branch. The legislation -- the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations bill -- will be considered on the floor of the House of Representatives next week.

"The Vice President has a choice to make. If he believes his legal case, his office has no business being funded as part of the executive branch. However, if he demands executive branch funding he cannot ignore executive branch rules. At the very least, the Vice President should be consistent. This amendment will ensure that the Vice President's funding is consistent with his legal arguments. I have worked closely with my colleagues on this amendment and will continue to pursue this measure in the coming days."

Now if only somebody would say "You're not in the executive branch? Which means you're not covered by executive privilege? Then about those subpoenas we issued...." Then we'd be golden.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Friday Dead Racist Blogging: Theist Edition

Since last week was "Atheist Edition", this week will be "Theist Edition". A common trend among white racists was to deny anything that wasn't Christianity (and sometimes, Judaism) was a religion at all. And if they weren't religious, they were inferior.
Commoro was, like all his people, extremely tall. Upon entering my tent he took his seat upon the ground, the Latookas not using stools like the other White Nile tribes. I commenced the conversation by complimenting him on the perfection of his wives and daughters in the dance, and on his own agility in the performance; and inquired for whom the ceremony had been performed.

He replied, that it was for a man who had been recently killed, but no one of great importance, the same ceremony being observed for every person without distinction. I asked him why those slain in battle were allowed to remain unburied. He said, it had always been the custom, but that he could not explain it.

"But," I replied, "why should you disturb the bones of those whom you have already buried, and expose them on the outskirts of the town?"

"It was the custom of our forefathers," he answered, "therefore we continue to observe it."

"Have you no belief in a future existence after death? Is not some idea expressed in the act of exhuming the bones after the flesh is decayed?"

Commoro (loq.).--"Existence after death! How can that be? Can a dead man get out of his grave, unless we dig him out?"

"Do you think man is like a beast, that dies and is ended?"

Commoro.--"Certainly; an ox is stronger than a man; but he dies, and his bones last longer; they are bigger. A man's bones break quickly--he is weak."

"Is not a man superior in sense to an ox? Has he not a mind to direct his actions?"

Commoro.--"Some men are not so clever as an ox. Men must sow corn to obtain food, but the ox and wild animals can procure it without sowing."

"Do you not know that there is a spirit within you more than flesh? Do you not dream and wander in thought to distant places in your sleep? Nevertheless, your body rests in one spot. How do you account for this?"

Commoro (laughing).--"Well, how do you account for it? It is a thing I cannot understand; it occurs to me every night."

"The mind is independent of the body; the actual body can be fettered, but the mind is uncontrollable; the body will die and will become dust, or be eaten by vultures, but the spirit will exist for ever."

Commoro.--"Where will the spirit live?"

"Where does fire live? Cannot you produce a fire (The natives always produce fire by rubbing two sticks together.) by rubbing two sticks together, yet you see not the fire in the wood. Has not that fire, that lies harmless and unseen in the sticks, the power to consume the whole country? Which is the stronger, the small stick that first produces the fire, or the fire itself? So is the spirit the element within the body, as the element of fire exists in the stick; the element being superior to the substance."

Commoro.--"Ha! Can you explain what we frequently see at night when lost in the wilderness? I have myself been lost, and wandering in the dark, I have seen a distant fire; upon approaching, the fire has vanished, and I have been unable to trace the cause--nor could I find the spot."

"Have you no idea of the existence of spirits superior to either man or beast? Have you no fear of evil except from bodily causes?"

Commoro.--"I am afraid of elephants and other animals when in the jungle at night, but of nothing else."

"Then you believe in nothing; neither in a good nor evil spirit! And you believe that when you die it will be the end of body and spirit; that you are like other animals; and that there is no distinction between man and beast; both disappear, and end at death?"

Commoro.--"Of course they do."

"Do you see no difference in good and bad actions?"

Commoro.--"Yes, there are good and bad in men and beasts."

"Do you think that a good man and a bad must share the same fate, and alike die, and end?"

Commoro.--"Yes; what else can they do? How can they help dying? Good and bad all die."

"Their bodies perish, but their spirits remain; the good in happiness, the bad in misery. If you have no belief in a future state, why should a man be good? Why should he not be bad, if he can prosper by wickedness?"

Commoro.--"Most people are bad; if they are strong they take from the weak. The good people are all weak; they are good because they are not strong enough to be bad."

Some corn had been taken out of a sack for the horses, and a few grains lying scattered on the ground, I tried the beautiful metaphor of St. Paul as an example of a future state. Making a small hole with my finger in the ground, I placed a grain within it: "That," I said, "represents you when you die." Covering it with earth, I continued, "That grain will decay, but from it will rise the plant that will produce a reappearance of the original form."

Commoro.--"Exactly so; that I understand. But the original grain does not rise again; it rots like the dead man, and is ended; the fruit produced is not the same grain that we buried, but the production of that grain: so it is with man--I die, and decay, and am ended; but my children grow up like the fruit of the grain. Some men have no children, and some grains perish without fruit; then all are ended."

I was obliged to change the subject of conversation. In this wild naked savage there was not even a superstition upon which to found a religious feeling; there was a belief in matter; and to his understanding everything was material. It was extraordinary to find so much clearness of perception combined with such complete obtuseness to anything ideal.

Giving up the religious argument as a failure, I resolved upon more practical inquiries.

--Samuel White Baker, The Albert N'Yanza, Great Basin of the Nile. Quoted also in Lindley Spring, The Negro at Home.

"Everything was material"--and that's somehow bad.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I called it!

Apparently when I mentioned lesbian biker gangs back in April, I wasn't joking; I was being prescient.

Can anyone say "projection"?

Mitt Romney intimates that reality is a source of fear for liberals.

The same Romney who engages in historical revisionism over how we got into Iraq in the first place. And claims that it's "entirely possible" that Saddam really had WMDs.

Besides, didn't Romney get the memo? The liberals are the "reality-based community"--and that's something to scoff at.

And then what?

The Bush administration seems to be considering closing Guantanamo:
President Bush's national security and legal advisers are expected to discuss the move at the White House on Friday and, for the first time, it appears a consensus is developing, senior administration officials said Thursday.

The advisers will consider a new proposal to shut the center and transfer detainees to one or more Defense Department facilities, including the maximum security military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where they could face trial, said the officials.

"Could face trial"? Not "will face trial"?

Look, Bush, if all you're going to do is repeat all the same shit, just in different places, that's not really going to make anyone less pissed. Although I suppose if you break them up into several different facilities, rather than concentrating them all in one place, that would increase the time and resources necessary to check up on all of them, which might just let you get away with even more.

Assuming, of course, that the consensus you're developing is even for closing Guantanamo at all.

Say what?

Apparently Dick Cheney doesn't think that he's part of the executive branch.

I wonder what the government is like in his mind.

And I hope that the last six years haven't transformed it into reality.

Although really the talking point itself is inane

One talking point that I've seen repeated a couple of times by people trying to deny the obvious parallels between the struggles for civil rights of blacks and gays is "There were never any heterosexual-only bus seats."

Which is true enough. Bus seats, no.

Entire buses, maybe:
A transit agency chief apologized Wednesday to two teenage girls who were kicked off a city bus for kissing each other.

The girls, both 14, said the driver called them "sickos" after a female passenger complained about their kiss. The driver then stopped the bus along the street and forced them off.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

New York takes symbolic stand for gay rights

Though Colombia is being pissy, New York's State Assembly passed a gay marriage law:
The state Assembly approved gay-marriage legislation Tuesday by a vote of 85-61, largely a symbolic action this year to demonstrate increasing support for the measure because it has no chance of passing the Senate.

Assembly members cited personal experiences, religious beliefs, societal norms, polls, constitutional rights, the Bible and other factors to explain their votes on the bill, which would give same-sex couples the same legal status, benefits and protections heterosexual couples have. The legislation would not require members of the clergy to perform same-sex marriages.

The bill's lead sponsor in the Democrat-led Assembly, Daniel O'Donnell, D-Manhattan, said the bill has nothing to do with religion, which a number of lawmakers said was their reason for opposing it. The brother of celebrity Rosie O'Donnell, he is gay and has had a partner for 26 years.

"I do not want a seat in your synagogue, I do not want a pew in your church. I seek a license that many of you have had, some of you have had two or three times," O'Donnell said, prompting laughter at the end of a three-hour debate.

Tuesday was the first time the Assembly had voted on gay marriage. There are dozens of Assembly co-sponsors of the bill, which was proposed by Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

But it will go no further in 2007. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, R-Brunswick, Rensselaer County, said Tuesday that the Senate would not take up the matter by the end of the session Thursday or this year.

And of course, some people insisted that of course religion has something to do with it--their religion, natch, no-one else's:
Assemblyman Dov Hikind, D-Brooklyn, said he is open-minded, but his decision to vote against the bill is based on his Jewish faith.

"There are certain things that do not change for me as an individual, unless God sends me a message," he said.

Lawmakers laughed a few minutes later when they heard thunder from a passing rainstorm.

And someone finally explained how gay marriage does harm to straights! Well, kinda:
Brian Kolb, of upstate Canandaigua, spoke of his traditional German Irish Catholic upbringing and said, "When we talk about harm or threat, I don't feel it in a physical sense, but I feel it in an emotional sense. I do feel threatened. I do feel harm... It is a direct challenge to the way I was brought up and what I believe about God. I cannot fundamentally support a bill that tears at my soul."

Awww, poor widdle baby. He feels threatened knowing that there are people out there that don't live and believe exactly the way some people told him was right when he was a little child. Clearly we have to outlaw all religions that aren't Catholic so that he never feels harmed or threatened again. After all, it's not as if those people have rights, if their rights offend this thin-skinned jackass.


Colombia's gay rights bill got de-railed at the last minute:
Sen. Manuel Virguez Piraquive, from a small party closely linked to an evangelical Colombian church, called for an unusual floor vote on the bill.

Other conservative lawmakers then broke ranks with the pro-Uribe faction backing the bill and it was defeated, 34-29, in the 102-member Senate. Many of the bill's supporters were absent.

The call for an individual votes was unusual, and some said unprecedented. Parties usually vote as blocs on the final, reconciled versions of bills in Colombia's legislature.


Presidential administration shits on rule of law; media yawns

You all are probably aware that Bush issued hundreds of signing statements declaring basically that he reserved the right to violate the laws he had just signed if he felt like it.

So it should come as no surprise that he did just that.
Federal officials have disobeyed at least six new laws that President Bush challenged in his signing statements, a government study disclosed yesterday. The report provides the first evidence that the government may have acted on claims by Bush that he can set aside laws under his executive powers.

In a report to Congress, the non partisan Government Accountability Office studied a small sample of the bill provisions that Bush has signed into law but also challenged with signing statements. The GAO found that agencies disobeyed six such laws, while enforcing 10 others as written even though Bush had challenged them.


The GAO conducted its study by looking at all the provisions in 11 appropriations bills for fiscal year 2006 that Bush challenged in signing statements. It counted 160 such laws that the president had claimed a right to ignore.

Investigators then selected a representative sample of 19 bill provisions Bush had targeted and asked agencies to explain whether and how they had obeyed the provisions. It found that 10 such laws were enforced as written, six were not enforced as written, and three did not have to be enforced because the circumstance envisioned had not materialized.

I really hope that no-one takes the fact that Bush's track record is enforcing 10 out of 16 laws as a reasonable defense of him violating those he feels like. So let's see what the administration's defense actually is:
Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, defended Bush's use of signing statements and his expansive view of the president's constitutional powers.

"We are executing the law as we believe we are empowered to do so," Fratto said. "The signing statements certainly do and should have an impact. They are real."

Translation: "We believe we're above the law, so it should come as no surprise that we break it with impunity." Which is pretty much what Virginia Sloan, president of the Constitution Project, had to say:
"The findings of this report should come as no great surprise: When the president tells federal agencies they don't have to follow the law, they often don't," Sloan said. "This report should put to rest any doubts as to the real impact of signing statements. The Constitution does not bestow upon the president the power to simply ignore portions of laws he doesn't like."


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

You know what they say about separate but equal

A while ago, New Jersey's State Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples must be given all the rights and benefits that married opposite-sex couples enjoy. So New Jersey passed a law allowing civil unions, but said bill also established a commission that every six months would determine whether the law was doing what it was supposed to. It first met recently:
At its first meeting on Monday the Civil Union Review Commission elected as its chair J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, the director of New Jersey's Division on Civil Rights, as as its vice-chair, longtime gay activist Steven Goldstein the head of Garden State Equality.

Vespa-Papaleo told the 12 other commissioners that the Division on Civil Rights has had about 360 inquiries, but only one official complaint - from a medical assistant who said the two firms he works for had both refused to provide health benefits for his civil union partner that are available to married spouses.

In his complaint Robert S. Kleid said he had been turned down by the New York City-based Tri-State Professional Employment Organization and by Minimed Care of Chester, N.J..

Goldstein said that despite only one official complaint to the Division his organization has had nearly 150 complaints of companies not abiding by the law and said the legislation is flawed and not working.

Although the civil unions law gives same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities as marriage it is not recognized by a growing number of companies - all with federally regulated benefit plans.


Nearly one in eight couples who have had civil unions have been turned down for company benefits Goldstein said.

The article ends by saying that "[i]t is generally expected the report will call for the legalization of same-sex marriage in New Jersey," but doesn't say who "generally expect[s]" this, much less whether the legislature would do such a thing.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Christianity--a religion of peace!

Via PZ, I've been alerted to something truly horrific. Remember Paul Hill, the man who murdered an abortion provider and one of his escorts, and wounded another? Well, people are praising him as a hero. Well, that's to be expected. But they're planning "Paul Hill Days", July 26-29, "to honor him as God's man and our hero." And the truly horrible part of it is this:
The highlight of the "Paul Hill Days" stunt is a reenactment of the assassination. It is the exact parallel to sending a noose to a black civil rights leader or a bullet and picture of his child to an Iraqi Sunni living in a Shi'ite town. If this stunt is a success, think of some of the other celebrations we might be subjected to: Southern Nationalists holding John Wilkes Booth Days complete with reenactments of his most famous moment in a theater, Timothy McVeigh Days with a reenactment of the last moments of the Murrah daycare center, and, of course, Mohamed Atta Days with what horrors I'll leave you to imagine.

Emphasis mine.

But remember: only Muslims are terrorists! Christians don't do that kind of thing, and neither do Jews. And of course the real bad people are atheists and anyone else who doesn't accept Jesus.
Most if not all rapes, murders, robberies and thefts are committed by people, like you, who reject Jesus Christ.

Quoth the man sponsoring a celebration of a terrorist and convicted murderer.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Who's more progressive than the U.S. this week?

Colombia is set to become the first Latin American country to give established gay couples full rights to health insurance, inheritance and social security under a bill passed by its Congress.

The plan approved Thursday is expected to take effect soon. It is backed by President Alvaro Uribe.

The measure would allow gay couples in long-term relationships to have the same health insurance and social security benefits as heterosexual couples. It also guarantees that assets accumulated during the relationship will be divided between the two, and in the case of death, inherited by the survivor.


Some states and cities in Latin America have passed similar laws, but no other country in the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic region has done so at a national level, said Marcela Sanchez, director of the gay rights group Colombia Diversa. She said as many as 300,000 gay couples in Colombia stand to benefit.


Congress' lower house passed the bill 62-43 following a heated debate ...

Colombia's Senate passed a similar version in April. The two chambers must now agree on a unified text before sending it for Uribe's signature as early as next week.

"This is a victory that only a few months ago seemed unthinkable in this country," said pro-government Sen. Armando Benedetti, one of the bill's sponsors. "To my surprise, the Congress has shown itself to be a modern, responsible and liberal institution."

Colombia's Constitutional Court recognized similar rights to shared property and inheritance in a February ruling, but that decision did not deal with health insurance or social security.


"Uh, your honor, can I call for one of those bad trial thingies?"

Sidney Blumenthal has a great article up at Salon. A number of eminent people sent letters to Judge Walton trying to convince him to be lenient in sentencing Libby; those letters were released after the sentence was passed down. Blumenthal takes a look at Paul Wolfowitz's (which is available here):
Ironically, the longest, most detailed and among the most personal letters supporting Libby is also the most damaging. In "Re: Character Reference for I. Lewis Libby," Paul Wolfowitz writes, "I am currently serving, until June 30 of this year, as President of the World Bank." Either obtusely or obliquely, Wolfowitz's opening line emphasizes the symbiotic nature of their careers, both men having fallen from grace within weeks of each other after years of collaboration. "It is painful for me to reflect on the fact that his life would have been very different if we had never met. He would almost certainly now be a successful attorney in Philadelphia." Wolfowitz describes their 35-year association, going back to when he was an assistant professor at Yale and Libby was his assistant, and how he recruited Libby to serve as his assistant in the State Department and then in the Defense Department. According to Wolfowitz's account, Libby was an indispensable man in ending the Cold War, winning the Gulf War and waging the "global war on terror." But he was also, Wolfowitz writes, of "service to individuals."

The leading example he offers is a stunning revelation, which does not reflect on Libby's charity, compassion and sympathy as Wolfowitz might imagine. The story about Libby "involves his effort to persuade a newspaper not to publish information that would have endangered the life of a covert CIA agent working overseas. Late into the evening, long after most others had left the matter to be dealt with the next day, Mr. Libby worked to collect the information that was needed to persuade the editor not to run the story."

Unintentionally and foolishly, Wolfowitz has hanged the guilty man again. Wolfowitz's defense of Libby is composed with the same care and skill that Wolfowitz brought to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, creating the opposite effects of what he desired. In this bizarre disclosure, rather than exculpating Libby, Wolfowitz incriminates him; for this story is damning evidence of Libby's state of mind -- that he knew he was engaged in wrongdoing in leaking the identity of a CIA covert operative, Valerie Plame Wilson, to two reporters, Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matt Cooper of Time magazine, and in vouchsafing it to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer for the purpose of his leaking it to the press, which he promptly did.

In their filings and sentence pleading, Libby's lawyers argued repeatedly that he did not know that Plame was covert, that he did not "knowingly disclose classified material," and, as his lead attorney, Ted Wells, told the jury in his closing statement, that Libby acted in "good faith," always believing that he was operating within the law. On Oct. 30, 2006, his lawyers filed a claim denying that "any damage to the national security, the CIA, or Ms. Wilson herself was, or could have been, caused by the disclosure of that status."

Once again, Wolfowitz has blundered. Just as he has undone himself at the World Bank, this time he has inadvertently exposed Libby's "good faith" for bad faith. Indeed, the Wolfowitz letter shows that Libby knew the consequences of revealing the "status" of a CIA operative. As evidence introduced in the CIA leak case proved, Cheney had confided the secret to him and ordered him to spread it. But Libby has never mentioned the previous incident of apparently trying to protect a covert CIA operative. If Wolfowitz remembers the story, and it's credible, so Libby must recall it too. Therefore, he must also have known that his defense was based on false premises contrary to what he understood to be right and how he had acted in the past. He sent his attorneys to court to make a case he consciously knew was wrong from his own prior experience of having protected a national security asset from exposure. One can only wonder if Libby ever told his lawyers the story that Wolfowitz has recounted or whether he misled them, too.

This person says that Wolfowitz "thoroughly Gerberized" Libby.

Friday Dead Racist Blogging: Atheist Edition

When I wrote a few weeks ago about Woolsey Teller and his book, Essays of an Atheist, I linked to this website which has the book on-line.

Or rather, most of the book. Here's a full list of the table of contents:

The Futility of Philosophy
Mysticism in Modern Physics
Muddlers of Science
Christian Cowardice and Atheist Courage
Froth and Fraud in Fundamentalism
Christianity and Insanity
Sea Gulls and Christian Gullibility
Atheism--and Jesuit Duplicity
Christianity and Astrology
Whitewashing the Infamous
Bigotry: Ally of Religion
Grading the Races
Brains and Civilization
There Are Superior Races
Shall We Breed Rationally?
Natural Selection and War
Sociology in Slumberland
Will Mankind Become Extinct?
The Ape Ancestry of Man
Monkeying with Darwin
Hamstringing the Health Seekers
Humanism--a New Religion
Egoism and Altruism Considered
Christianity and Einstein
"Fictional Biography" and Thomas Paine
A Reply to Critics
A Hill-Billy Book
Sociological Pipe-Dreams
Is the Bible Valuable?
That Jonah Stuff Again
Chameleonic Christianity
St. Patrick's "Gift" to Ireland
Dr. Gregory and Religion
No More Failures
Sideline Criticism
Our Gun-Powder Survival
Super-Sensory Superstition
Telepathy: a Vulgar Delusion
Politicians and Prayer
A Non-Kosher Tax-Payer Speaks
Kosher-Killing Cruelty
Flouting the Bill of Rights
Evolution Implies Atheism
Molasses or Vinegar?
A Columnist Barks up the Wrong Tree
The Fallacy of Free Will
The Miracle Joint at Lourdes
Vivisection, Euthanasia, and Cremation
Miscellaneous Notes

One might wonder why Mr. Babinski felt he ought not include such essays as "Shall We Breed Rationally?" But apparently Mr. Teller was able to write a book with chapters titled "Bigotry: The Ally of Religion" and "There Are Superior Races" and yet not notice any disconnect between these two statements.

Fine astronomer though Mr. Teller may have been, he didn't really know much about biology (so I should probably apologize to PZ for writing "Some of what Mr. Teller wrote about could have been a blog post at Pharyngula, almost"). For instance, in "Grading the Races" after citing Nott and Gliddon's Types of Mankind, he wrote:
Biologically considered, all men are not "created" equal. Neither in cranial capacity and brain weight nor in physiological potentialities are individuals alike. The same applies to major races or groups. We distinguish races not merely by the color of the skin and the texture of the hair and physiognomical features but by the differentials of craniological structure. The Negro skull is an earlier and more primitive type in the scale of evolution.

Mr. Teller soon also flirts with the idea of polygenism, stating
[W]e can still distinguish three distinctive races of man, namely the Negroid, the Mongolian, and the Caucasian. Whether these came from a single anthropoid ape stem, or from several, is lost in the obscurity of the past.

Mr. Teller talks a lot about skulls, writing:
The Caucasian skull, anatomically considered, is the highest in the world. It is distinctly higher than the Mongolian or the Negroid. Its brain capacity is larger; and brain weight is an important factor in the potentialities of mental endowment. As the brain of the anthropoid ape is larger than that of the long-tailed monkeys, so is the brain of the white European larger than that of a Bantu tribesman or an Australian savage. The "Caucasian" skull derives its name from the model specimen found in the Caucasus. It is the highest in the scale of evolution.

This reviewer, therefore, is definitely of the opinion that there are superior (and therefore inferior) races--races that are superior in cranial structure, brain weight and capacity, and in the physiological potentialities which make for a higher intelligence.

It seems that Mr. Teller, aside from subscribing to poor caricature of evolutionary theory, was also something of a quote-miner. He writes:
Dr. Franz Boas, professor of anthropology, Columbia University ("The Mind of Primitive Man", p. 25) states:
"There are, however, sufficient data available to establish beyond a doubt the fact that the brain-weight of the whits is larger than that of most races, particularly larger than that of the negroes. . . . The investigation of cranial capacities are quite in accord with these results.

Modern Europeans:about 1560 cc.
Mongoloid race:1510 cc.
African negroes:1405 cc.
Negroes of Pacific Ocean:1460 cc.

"Here we have, therefore, a decided difference in favor of the white race. . . . Does this increase in the size of the brain prove an increase in faculty? This would seem highly probable, and facts may be adduced which speak in favor of this assumption."

If you know anything about Franz Boas, that quote immediately becomes suspect. Thomas Gosset writes in Race: The History of an Idea in America
The racists of the 1920's rightly recognized Boas as their chief antagonist. Although his opinion was then a minority one, he never wavered before the onslaughts of biological interpretations of history and civilization. More importantly, he was able to meet his opponents with arguments which could not be brushed aside as humanitarian twaddle. It is possible that Boas did more to combat race prejudice than any other person in history.

Knowing this, I looked up the book that Teller cites. Sure enough, the quote he has is in there, but here's how the chapter containing it ends:
We may now sum up the results of our preliminary inquiry. We have found that the unproved assumption of identity in cultural achievement and of mental ability is founded on an error of judgment; that the variations in cultural development can as well be explained by a consideration of the general course of historical events without recourse to the theory of material differences of mental faculty in different races. We have found, furthermore, that a similar error underlies the common assumption that the white race represents physically the highest type of man, but that anatomical and physiological considerations do not support these views.

Oh well. Some of Mr. Teller's notions of science simply don't hold up well in the face of history:
"A God who rewards and punishes is ... unthinkable, because man acts in accordance with an inner and outer necessity, and would, in the eyes of God, be as little responsible as an inanimate object is for the movements which it makes." This dispenses with the Christian doctrines of heaven and hell, of future rewards and punishments, and of free will.

There you have Einstein at his best. If, on the other hand, you prefer relativity jargon, try this:--
"If a person were hurled at the velocity of light away from the earth and from a certain point allowed to return at the same speed, he would not become a second older in the interim even though the time of the earth had elapsed a thousand years while he was on his journey."

Now all this, coming from Professor Einstein, may sound very profound, but anyone not bereft of his reason might tell him to tell it to the marines. It is, on the face of it, a silly enough remark, since any lapse of time, no matter how short the interval, leaves a person that much older than he was before. You cannot be of the same age you were the day before yesterday. And going away on a cosmic journey won't prevent you from getting old.


Professor Einstein is primarily a blackboard physicist, who has built up a titanic world out of mathematical symbols. It is, at best, a gossamer world, which sometimes falls apart and has to be assembled again with a new set of symbols. It is, in short, a fanciful and shadowy realm, in which space bends back upon itself, parallel lines meet, and yardsticks shrink to the vanishing point if they travel too point. And it is a world which has no visible counterpart in space.


Massachusetts preserves gay marriage

Yesterday, the Massachusetts legislature had to vote on a referendum whether or not to allow a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to be put on the 2008 ballot. The vote needed one-fourth of the 200 votes to go forward. It only got 45--and with 151 people voting against, there isn't any chance it would pass.
The Legislature, in a vote as swift as it was historic, reaffirmed the state's first-in-the-nation same-sex marriage ruling yesterday, unequivocally protecting the rights of gays and lesbians to wed in Massachusetts until at least 2012.

The vote followed 3 1/2 years of fierce arguments, emotional testimonies, and controversial legal decisions. It came on a day filled with cheering and jeering in the streets of Beacon Hill.


"In Massachusetts today, the freedom to marry is secure," Governor Deval Patrick told a cheering crowd of gay-marriage advocates after the results of the Constitutional Convention were announced. "Today's vote is not just a vote for marriage equality. It was a vote for equality itself."

The initial vote (it apparently needed two votes to go through) had stronger support; apparently a number of legislators changed their minds (plus several lost their jobs).
Less than six months ago, the amendment's chances appeared strong, after it won the support of 62 lawmakers at a Constitutional Convention in January.

Since that initial vote, several opponents of gay marriage have left the Legislature, and there has been a dramatic shift in leadership. Governor Mitt Romney and Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, who both supported the amendment, were replaced by Patrick and Murray, both strong supporters of same-sex marriage, who joined House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi in trying to pry away votes from the ban.

DiMasi, facing a major test of his leadership skills, was given particular credit by gay-rights leaders yesterday for his work in turning around votes in the House.


Patrick Guerriero, a former Republican legislator from Melrose who is now executive director of Gill Action, a national political organization that promotes gay rights, said the Legislature's vote has broad national implications.

"Every single state in America was looking at Massachusetts today for a message, and the message is clear, that this state's experience in marriage equality has endured and thrived," Guerriero said.

Resignations and turnover from last year's elections drained at least five votes from the pro-amendment side, while lobbying by leaders and gay rights activists further eroded support for the gay marriage ban.

In the end, nine lawmakers, seven Democrats and two Republicans, changed their votes yesterday, while at least two legislative newcomers who had been considered supporters of the amendment decided to vote the other way.

Senator Michael Morrissey, a Democrat from Quincy, said he did not respond to any pressure in coming to his decision.

"There isn't one person in the entire room who knew how I was going to vote," he said. "I didn't talk to the governor. I didn't talk to the Senate president. I wasn't succumbing to political pressure.

"In the end it came down to the fact that we have to do what we think is the right thing and what we feel comfortable with. Protecting the rights of the minority is one of the things we have to do."

Another article mentions one person who changed their vote:
The signal fact of the matter is that over the course of this state's long debate about gay marriage, an awful lot of legislators looked inside themselves, examined their consciences, talked with constituents, and changed their minds.

One was Representative Paul Kujawski, Democrat of Webster, who had voted against gay marriage until yesterday.

As he talked to gays and lesbians, Kujawski told me, he heard over and over again that people shouldn't face discrimination because of the way they were born.

"When you hear that, it really has a great impact," he said. "You try as a representative to put your own family into that same situation, saying, what if it was me, what if it was my sons, what if it was my brother or my sister, or somebody very close to me?"

I kinda wonder where the hell Mr. Kujawski has been -- we've been telling you this for years. You only figured it out now?

Well, at least you figured it out.

And this short editorial ends on a promising note:
Time is on the side of equality. The state's first same-sex married couples have already celebrated their third wedding anniversaries. With each year that passes, it becomes ever clearer that the sky will not fall; that the institution of marriage has been strengthened, not weakened; and that giving everyone the right to marriage makes Massachusetts a happier place overall.


Friday Dead Racist Blogging: This isn't my Friday Dead Racist Blogging post Edition

Human sacrifice in prehistoric Europe?
Investigations of prehistoric burial sites in Europe indicate that the region's population may have practiced ritual human sacrifice, according to a new study.

The large number of multiple-burial sites, some containing skeletons of dwarfs and deformed children with ornate burial offerings such as ivory beads, suggests that human sacrifice was a custom in Europe in the period between 28,000 and 10,000 years ago, said biologist Vincenzo Formicola of the University of Pisa.

"These findings point to the possibility that human sacrifices were part of the ritual activity of these populations," Formicola wrote.

Uh-oh. James Denson Sayers won't be pleased:
There is nothing to indicate that human sacrifice had a part in the rituals of the early Mayan civilization, but this horribly degenerate practice came more and more into use as the mongrelization process went on until it was claiming thousands of victims yearly when the Europeans came. Rarely has a White people been guilty of this terrible form of religion. In the most outstanding example where it was in use among a White people, namely, in Carthage, its greatest development came there in the last days of the city when the blood of the people was already heavily loaded with that of the Black, and, as in the later days of ancient Egypt, the priesthood was probably mongrel. The sacrifice of human beings to Moloch never reached such devastating proportions among the ancient Phoenicians as it did in their last mongrelized descendants of North Africa.

But wait! Maybe Mr. Sayers won't have to give up on his racist assumptions after all!
Rupert Housley, a professor of archaeological science at the University of Glasgow, suggested in a telephone interview that there may be other explanations for the unique inhumation, or burial. The beads may have been family heirlooms, prepared years earlier for a person of high status and incorporated into the graves of the children.

Housley, who is conducting a study in southern Russia on the connection between Neanderthals and modern humans, said that evidence of cannibalism has been found at sites 12,000 years ago in the same area, which could suggest a pattern.

But he said multiple burials were common in the period Formicola is investigating, and many children died at a young age.


Richard Klein, an anthropological science professor at Stanford University, called the findings interesting but lacking substance.

"The sample is too small to draw that conclusion," Klein said. "I'm not against the idea, but there is no link between the burials and anything with human behavior. They're far apart and come from different cultures."

Whew. That's a load off the mind -- what? What's that you say, Julius Caesar?
All the people of Gaul are completely devoted to religion, and for this reason those who are greatly affected by diseases and in the dangers of battle either sacrifice human victims or vow to do so using the Druids as administrators to these sacrifices, since it is judged that unless for a man's life a man's life is given back, the will of the immortal gods cannot be placated. In public affairs they have instituted the same kind of sacrifice. Others have effigies of great size interwoven with twigs, the limbs of which are filled up with living people which are set on fire from below, and the people are deprived of life surrounded by flames. It is judged that the punishment of those who participated in theft or brigandage or other crimes are more pleasing to the immortal gods; but when the supplies of this kind fail, they even go so low as to inflict punishment on the innocent.

Stupid reality, getting in the way of Sayers' preconceived notions of the innate morality of different races!

Mildred Loving speaks

Via Ed Brayton, I find out that Mildred Loving, of Loving v. Virginia fame, released a statement on the 40th anniversary of that court case.
Loving for All

By Mildred Loving

Prepared for Delivery on June 12, 2007,
The 40th Anniversary of the Loving vs. Virginia Announcement

When my late husband, Richard, and I got married in Washington, DC in 1958, it wasn't to make a political statement or start a fight. We were in love, and we wanted to be married.

We didn't get married in Washington because we wanted to marry there. We did it there because the government wouldn't allow us to marry back home in Virginia where we grew up, where we met, where we fell in love, and where we wanted to be together and build our family. You see, I am a woman of color and Richard was white, and at that time people believed it was okay to keep us from marrying because of their ideas of who should marry whom.

When Richard and I came back to our home in Virginia, happily married, we had no intention of battling over the law. We made a commitment to each other in our love and lives, and now had the legal commitment, called marriage, to match. Isn't that what marriage is?

Not long after our wedding, we were awakened in the middle of the night in our own bedroom by deputy sheriffs and actually arrested for the "crime" of marrying the wrong kind of person. Our marriage certificate was hanging on the wall above the bed.

The state prosecuted Richard and me, and after we were found guilty, the judge declared: ""Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix." He sentenced us to a year in prison, but offered to suspend the sentence if we left our home in Virginia for 25 years exile.

We left, and got a lawyer. Richard and I had to fight, but still were not fighting for a cause. We were fighting for our love.

Though it turned out we had to fight, happily Richard and I didn't have to fight alone. Thanks to groups like the ACLU and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund, and so many good people around the country willing to speak up, we took our case for the freedom to marry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that, "The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men," a "basic civil right."

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God's plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation's fears and prejudices have given way, and today's young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don't think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the "wrong kind of person" for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about.

I was rather stunned to find out about this. From all that I've read, Mrs. Loving was not one to make a big deal of the court case that allowed her to marry her husband. The two of them didn't even attend the arguments before the Supreme Court. In 1992, the New York Times published an article, "A Mixed Marriage's 25th Anniversary of Legality":
Mildred Jeter Loving ... remains the same intensely private woman she was a quarter-century ago, when her name entered the lawbooks, and she is as reluctant to acknowledge her contribution to the civil rights movement as she once was to participate in it.


[F]or Mrs. Loving, ... blazing legal trails was an experience she would gladly have forgone. The ordeal -- which included five days in jail and banishment to a place where she could no longer walk down a country lane to pick up her mail -- is one she revisits only reluctantly.

"It was thrown in my lap," she said about the case. "What choice did I have?"

And the first page of Phyl Newbeck's Virginia Hasn't Always Been for Lovers says,
Mildred Loving does not see what she did as particularly heroic or even newsworthy. After years of being approached in June of every year ending in a 2 or a 7 by reporters celebrating a five-year anniversary of the case, she feels as though she has spent her life being interviewed. In 1997, the thirty-year anniversary of her case, she turned down a request for an interview by Emerge magazine and has kept her silence ever since. Her children are grown, but they still defer to their mother's request that they not talk to the media about the family and the case. My initial attempts to contact her were rebuffed.

That Mrs. Loving broke her silence to speak out on the case on behalf of those struggling for marriage rights now impresses me all the more. Thank you, Mrs. Loving.

That does sound like something I'd say....

Schlozman insisted at the hearing that he had never -- as former Department aide Monica Goodling had admitted she had -- "crossed the line" and hired attorneys because of their political affiliation.

Political affiliation? No. Race, religion, and gender? Yes, apparently:
"Bradley J. Schlozman is systematically attempting to purge all Civil Rights appellate attorneys hired under Democratic administrations," the [anonmyous former Justice Department] lawyer wrote, saying that he appeared to be "targeting minority women lawyers" in the section and was replacing them with "white, invariably Christian men." The lawyer also alleged that "Schlozman told one recently hired attorney that it was his intention to drive these attorneys out of the Appellate Section so that he could replace them with 'good Americans.'"

The anonymous complaint named three female, minority lawyers whom Schlozman had transferred out of the appellate section (of African-American, Jewish, and Chinese ethnicity, respectively) for no apparent reason. And in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week in response to questions from senators, the Justice Department confirmed that all three had been transferred out by Schlozman -- and then transferred back in after Schlozman had left the Division.



As an addendum to last night's link to Glenn Greenwald's piece, that fight between Alabama senators is taken as "proof" of Republican toughness and virility.
All right, the Democrat didn't hit him back. I mean, they say that Democrats are weak on defense, but that was ridiculous.


[T]he senator who was hit has not ruled out filing charges. And, again, he was the Democrat; I'm just saying what they do -- what they say.

Right. If a 70-year old man shows that he's left grade school behind by not engaging in fisticuffs, that's proof that he's the one not to be taken seriously. The Republican emphasis on cowboy / vigilante-style, tough guy behavior -- not to mention the media's fawning over such adolescent fantasies -- is ludicrous.

"[N]obody's jiggling for Giuliani"

If Thompson is the manly candidate, then how come Obama's the one with girls shaking their booty for him?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The origins of homosexuality revealed

There is a tendency among some people to associate homosexuality with Western liberalism and decadence. Two years ago an Alabama sheriff, Mac Holcomb, attracted a bit of attention for pining for the good old days when gays knew their place. Mike Signorile later interviewed him on the radio, where they had this exchange:
Holcomb: If a dog, a male dog, tried this with another male dog, he would probably lose a vital organ.
Signorile: Don't you believe that-- First of all, there are male dogs who do that with one another. There are gay dogs. There are -- Homosexuality exists throughout the animal kingdom.
Holcomb: You guys never got dogs in New York we got down here, cause our Southern dogs don't -- male dogs don't do that to one another.

"Maybe your liberal New York dogs commit homosexual acts, but our good old Southern dogs don't do that sort of thing."

Similarly, homosexuality is ascribed to capitalism:
[A] senior Maoist leader, Dev Gurung - former commander of the Maoist militia in the western part of Nepal, and now minister of Local Government - was quoted in December in the New Delhi, India-based daily The Asian Age as proclaiming, "Under Soviet rule there were no homosexuals in the Soviet Union. Now that they are moving towards capitalism, homosexuals may have arisen there as well. So homosexuality is a product of capitalism. Under socialism this kind of problem doesn't exist."

There are those who claim that homosexuality is a Western export: "countries such as China often represent homosexuality as a pernicious Western influence", and "President Mugabe's [of Zimbabwe] homophobia ... derives from a related suggestion that homosexuality is a European export to which Zimbabweans occasionally succumb in moments of weakness." It is generally claimed that homosexuality simply doesn't exist in Africa, or Asia. As Helen Zia writes in "Where the Queer Zone Meets the Asian Zone",
Then there are the the Asian politicians who claim that homosexuality doesn't exist in Japan, China or the entire continent of Asia, as Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe continues to say of Africa.

And finally, the truth comes out--the Pentagon has confirmed that they entertained ideas about creating a bomb to turn people gay.
A Berkeley watchdog organization that tracks military spending said it uncovered a strange U.S. military proposal to create a hormone bomb that could purportedly turn enemy soldiers into homosexuals and make them more interested in sex than fighting.

Pentagon officials on Friday confirmed to CBS 5 that military leaders had considered, and then subsquently rejected, building the so-called "Gay Bomb."

Edward Hammond, of Berkeley's Sunshine Project, had used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain a copy of the proposal from the Air Force's Wright Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio.

As part of a military effort to develop non-lethal weapons, the proposal suggested, "One distasteful but completely non-lethal example would be strong aphrodisiacs, especially if the chemical also caused homosexual behavior."

The documents show the Air Force lab asked for $7.5 million to develop such a chemical weapon.

"The Ohio Air Force lab proposed that a bomb be developed that contained a chemical that would cause enemy soldiers to become gay, and to have their units break down because all their soldiers became irresistably attractive to one another," Hammond said after reviewing the documents.

More on that here.

This weapon is terrifying in its implications. The destructive power of homosexuality is well known, and men (and women) have long pondered how to harness homosexuality for their own purposes. If the United States developed a way to spread gayness to other countries, we could sit back and wait for natural disasters to wipe those countries off the map.

In fact, that's what we ought to do: abolish "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", and instead implement special, Negro-only gay-only units of the military, possibly covert-ops units. We stick a couple of those in Iraq and bam, God will smite that nation before you can say "sodomy!"

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

More thoughts on Holsinger

The local paper recently printed an article about James Holsinger, President Bush's nominee for Surgeon General. The article describes the controversy surrounding his nomination, and goes out of its way to present people defending Holsinger's views and his impartiality:
[M]ore than a dozen Kentuckians who have worked with the former secretary of the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services and chancellor of UK's [University of Kentucky, not United Kingdom] Chandler Medical Center say he is not bigoted and is deeply committed to providing health care for all.

"He never expressed anything but acceptance and fairness in the workplace," said Maria Kemplin, a lesbian who worked as a budget and policy analyst for Holsinger when he was chancellor.

As a cabinet secretary, Holsinger championed causes at odds with some conservative religious views, including stem cell research.

And as chancellor, he once faced down two conservative state senators who threatened to withhold funding from a lesbian health-care seminar at UK in 2002.

"He was unflinching in his support," said Phyllis Nash, who organized the conference and was then vice chancellor.

Testifying in 2005, he urged state lawmakers to amend or kill an anti-cloning bill, which he said could restrict future research. Holsinger emotionally recalled the death of his father, a retired Army brigadier general, from Parkinson's disease in 1994. Holsinger, 68, who is a professor of public health at UK, declined a request for an interview.


Holsinger's friends and colleagues said they've never heard him utter a homophobic remark.

Nash said that when a high-ranking UK official who was gay had a terminal disease diagnosed a few years ago, Holsinger was at his home the next day "counseling him and giving him support."

And state lawmakers from both parties and advocates for the disabled, mentally ill and elderly say that as Kentucky's top doctor, Holsinger fought for more accessible and flexible care and took on powerful forces to help raise the tax on cigarettes and to limit junk food in the schools.

"He has always appeared to me to be a very compassionate individual, which is what we want from somebody in charge of the public health," said state Rep. Kathy Stein, a liberal Democrat from Lexington who has championed gay rights.

And they say that his relationship with the ex-gay ministry of his church has been overblown:
Gay activists have questioned Holsinger's role in Hope Springs Community Church, which gay-rights blogs say seeks to "cure" gays of their homosexuality.

But church members and its pastor, the Rev. David Calhoun, said its mission has been misrepresented, as has Holsinger's role.

Calhoun said one of its recovery groups is for men with various sexual problems, including promiscuity. Gays are welcome to attend but not required to, and nobody is asked their sexual orientation, he said.

He also said Holsinger -- erroneously described as a pastor who founded the church -- has nothing to do with the sessions.

If this is all true, I should think it would make a difference. Most of the opposition to Holsinger has been because of things he has done in relation to the church: voting not to allow a lesbian to become a pastor; supporting another pastor who wouldn't let a gay man join the church; even his infamous 1991 paper, "Pathophysiology of Male Homosexuality" was written for the United Methodist Church's Committee to Study Homosexuality. And if the article is true, then he does seem capable of keeping his religious views out of his professional service... or so I think. The article is carefully written to point out that he's "championed causes at odds with some conservative religious views, including stem cell research". But it doesn't tell us whether he is personally opposed to these but supports them anyways, or whether he simply differs from the Bush administration's views on issues like these. In fact most of the article is spent trying to convince us what a nice guy he is--one section has the header "Doesn't curse, smoke or drink"--which is all well and good, but completely beside the point.

On the other hand, he made clear that his 1991 paper was a "medical opinion", not a religious one. The Bush administration is trying to defend Holsinger by claiming that his paper relied on the best information available in 1991:
Holly Babin, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the paper "was a summary of scientific, peer-reviewed studies at the time."

"That was not his belief. It was not his opinion. It was a compilation of studies that were available at that time," she said.

"Over the last 20 years, a clearer understanding of these issues has been achieved," she said.

Unfortunately, that's not true. Jim Burroway, who has done excellent work looking at the "scientific" anti-gay papers released by the likes of Paul Cameron, Focus on the Family, and others, took a look at Holsinger's paper the other day. It's horrible, cherry-picking nonsense, and certainly not evidence of sound, objective scholarship.
[Holsinger's paper] shows a startling eagerness to pull evidence out of context to provide damning evidence against gay men, while willfully ignoring counter evidence in the same literature which essentially destroys the core of his arguments.

A lot of what Holsinger writes deals with anal penetration, citing other works to give the impression that anal sex is dangerous. However, the sources he cites are all dealing not with anal sex, as Holsinger would like us to believe, but with the intrusion of foreign objects. Further, a lot of it didn't even involve same-sex intercourse.

But wait, there's more:
After dealing briefly with sexually transmitted diseases, Holsinger introduced the squeamish subject of anorectal trauma, again implying that it is a common condition among gay men. He opened this line of argument by repeating this statement from Bush (1986):
Consensual penile-anal intercourse can be performed safely. Few anorectal problems and no evidence of anal-sphincter dysfunction are found in heterosexual women who have anal-receptive intercourse. However, forceful anal penetration without lubrication against a resistant sphincter will result in abrasive trauma, causing fissures, contusions, thrombosed hemorrhoids, lacerations with bleeding, pain, and psychic trauma.

Notice what's going on here. If intercourse is consensual, then everything's okay. After all, they see few problems among straight women. But if it's not consensual then damage can occur. This statement seems to preclude the possibility that gay men can have consensual sex, doesn't it?

Holsinger seems to agree. The entire premise of his "scientific" evidence is not based on the ordinary bonds of affection that arise between committed gay and lesbian couples. Nor is it even based on the ordinary physical expressions of that love that occur in a mutually supportive and consensual basis. Instead, all three sources that Holsinger quoted from in this section (Bush, 1986; Geist, 1988; and Agnew, 1986) describe conditions that were found among men and women treated in emergency room settings. And much of the evidence provided in the Bush and Geist papers were the result of sexual assault, not consensual sex. It's no wonder Holsinger is able to find so many alarming medical problems. But what does his evidence have to do with gay and lesbian couples in love? Well, the answer is simple. It's no more relevant than the serial rapist is to the average loving heterosexual couple.

As Burroway concludes,
What he wrote was no error, nor is it a simple misreading of the medical literature. In fact, it is simply impossible to write what he wrote by accident or in error.

From the Surgeon General's website, the first sentence of the Mission of the Surgeon General says "The Surgeon General serves as America's chief health educator by providing Americans the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and reduce the risk of illness and injury." If this sort of education is what we can expect of Holsinger, I don't think he's up to the task.

Today's zombie racist: John Derbyshire

Pam Spaulding highlights a post of Derbyshire's wherein he laments the fact that white people don't hire blacks as servants anymore.
[T]here are probably a lot of black American women who wouldn't mind working as maids in prosperous white households, as used to be commonplace. I'm willing to bet, though, that there are large numbers of white people who would much rather not have a black maid. Not, again, because they fear a black maid would harm them, or be lazy or dishonest, but just because they would not feel comfortable in a master-servant relationship with a black person, after all the guilt-trip propaganda of the past 40 years.

Not the employer, mind you, but the Master -- his words. Guilt trip propaganda. Oh, yes, that's right -- Brown v. Board of Ed., Rosa Parks, Voting Rights Act -- that propaganda. Sorry about that, Derbyshire.

Sh*t -- I'm also saddened that you can't have a guilt-free existence, John, going back to a time when Uncle Ben or a big black Mammy just smiled, shuffled and jived, and sang happy Negro spirituals, happy as clams as servants -- and you could be the Master.

Second Loving Day post

Back in 1967, when Loving v. Virginia was decided, the majority of people in the U.S. disapproved of interracial marriages. The first Gallup poll on the subject wasn't until a year later, but in 1968 72% of Americans disapproved of interracial marriage, where only 20% approved. And only 17% of whites approved.

It wasn't until 1991 that the Gallup poll showed that more Americans approved of interracial marriages than disapproved, and even then it wasn't necessarily a majority of Americans: 48% approved, while 42% disapproved (the others had no opinion). The whites who disapproved edged out the whites who approved, 45% to 44%. Southerners of course still disapproved, 54% to 33%, as did Protestants, 42% to 49%. I could go on, but I'll just post a page of the poll (and say that the discrepancy in the "Education" category is striking):

However, on June 1 the Pew Report came out with a new poll on the subject, showing that in a scant 16 years approval rates for interracial relationships have skyrocketed: now 83% of Americans agree with the statement "I think it's all right for blacks and whites to date each other", and 51% completely agree (see the full report in PDF here). And what's more,
Pew surveys since 1987 have documented two complementary trends: Each new generation is more tolerant than the one that precedes it. At the same time, members of each generation have become increasingly more tolerant as it ages. Together, these trends help explain the increase in expressions of tolerance toward interracial dating in recent decades.

Nearly two-thirds of all Americans born before 1946 (65%) say it is acceptable for whites to date blacks. In contrast, this tolerant view of interracial dating is shared by more than eight-in-ten Baby Boomers (84%) and members of Generation X (87%), who were born between 1965 and 1976. Among younger people there is even broader acceptance of interracial dating: 94% of those born since 1977 say it is all right for blacks and whites to date.

Which isn't terribly surprising. A lot of young people, I'd be willing to bet, don't even know that interracial marriages were once illegal in many states--perhaps more now, given the prominence of the miscegenation analogy in gay rights arguments. I certainly didn't know that until a few years ago, when my mother mentioned anti-miscegenation laws in passing; I didn't even know what the word "miscegenation" meant. Given that anti-miscegenation statutes lasted longer than most--perhaps all--other forms of de jure racism, and that so much opposition to giving blacks rights was passed on opposition to interracial marriages, it is odd that they are never discussed in schools. At least not in any of the classes I took, and I had a history teacher that placed a special emphasis on teaching black and women's histories.