Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bad Cases Make Bad Law

I honestly don't know what to think about this:
If you've ever wondered why conservative evangelical Christians seem so concerned about the dangers of government intervention in our lives, read a recent New Hampshire family court ruling that 10-year-old Amanda -- who has been home-schooled by her religiously conservative mother since first grade -- must now attend public school.

The plaintiff (Amanda's father -- the couple divorced shortly after Amanda was born) "believes that exposure to other points of view will decrease Amanda's rigid adherence to her mother's religious beliefs, and increase her ability to get along with others and to function in a world which requires some element of independent thinking and tolerance for different points of view," family court Justice Lucinda Sadler explained.

The court agreed that Amanda "appeared to reflect her mother's rigidity on questions of faith . . . Amanda's relationship with her father suffers to some degree by her belief that his refusal to adopt her religious beliefs and his choice instead to spend eternity away from her proves that he does not love her as much as he says he does."

Saturday Rock Show

Ten years ago, during a break in Dream Theater's touring and recording schedule, Mike Varney of Magna Carta records contacted drummer Mike Portnoy and asked him if he'd front a project. Gather four musicians he wanted to work with and put out a recording of instrumental pieces. The first pick, the bassist was easy - Tony Levin of Peter Gabriel's band, King Crimson, a side-man with Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe, and many other projects. On keyboards, he got Jordan Rudess (before he joined DT). The guitar role was harder to fill. Portnoy wanted either Dimebag from Pantera or Trvero Rabin from Yes; neither one could or would do it. Running out of time because the studio time had already been reserved, he ended up asking DT guitarist John Petrucci. The results - Liquid Tension Experiment, the biggest selling recording in the history of Magna Carta. Indeed, it was such a hit, they managed to get together and do a second recording, which was made more difficult by Petrucci's absence during primary recording because of the birth of his daughter (he would dub the guitar parts a couple weeks after the basic tracks were laid down).

Last year, the four of them did a tenth anniversary mini-tour (gotta find it!) and here's one sample - "Paradigm Shift".

Friday, September 11, 2009

One Last Bit Of Good News

Via Think Progress, and all I can say is what took 'em so damn long:
Next week, Democratic Reps. Jerrold Nadler (NY), Tammy Baldwin (WI), and Jared Polis (CO) will be introducinglegislation to repeal the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which “defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman for purposes of all federal laws.”

Not Exactly A Surprise, But Still

Remembering the quite public muttering after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the impending reunification of Germany (not to mention the very real potential conflicts in many other collapsed communist states), the fact that Maggie and George actively sought to prevent the end of communism in Central Europe isn't exactly news.
Thatcher met with Gorbachev and personally begged him to do whatever he could to prevent East Germany from merging with West Germany, guaranteed protection for Communist rule in Soviet-bloc nations, and offered a unilateral non-aggression pledge to the Soviet Union itself. George Bush and Francois Mitterand, right-wingers who also presided over noisy anti-communist parties in their countries, backed her assurances to the Communist leader and pledged themselves to prevent German re-unification in any way they could, including with military alliances with the USSR against their official ally West Germany.

What should be a source of disgust, and even outrage, is the very public discovery of what many of us believed all along - that the entire Cold War was bullshit from start to finish. Far too many human beings, whole countries in fact, were decimated by leaders who pledged adherence to a political ideology and practical policies they not only didn't believe in, but sought to undermine just as the goal of those policies was about to bear fruit.

One note: Mitterand was a socialist, not a right-winger.


All I can say about this story is I'm glad it wasn't one of my kids, because I would be after this guy's job.
A high school football coach in Kentucky used a school bus to take 20 of his players on a "voluntary" trip to his church's Wednesday night worship service where eight of his players were baptized.

The mother of one of the players who went on the trip and was baptized said both happened without her consent or knowledge.


Coach Scott Mooney declined to comment about the field trip, but Breckinridge County (Ky.) Supt. Janet Meeks -- who as a member of the same church was at the service -- defended the trip by saying it was voluntary and another coach paid for the gas. "None of the players were rewarded for going and none were punished for not going," Meeks said.

That the Superintendent sees nothing wrong with this is even worse. So, I guess that would be two professional scalps I would be after.

Remembering UPDATED

The one moment at the Dream Theater show a couple weeks back that took me out of celebration and into mourning was when they played this song, with a video similar to this one.

I have written of my experiences of that day before. I am interested, today, in listening. If you would like, in comments, leave your memories of that day, and how you feel now, eight years later.

UPDATE: I would invite you to read this.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Remarkable Insight

One of the reasons I reread Christopher Lasch every few years is I find new insights I hadn't even noticed previously. Precisely because his point of view and critique are so spot on - in the case of The Culture of Narcissism even after 30 years - one sees even more clearly the outline of what ails us in new ways; lights go on in corners far too dark before.

I have reached the end of Narcissism and am about to begin its sequel, The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times, but before I do, I want to quote from the "Afterword", Lasch's reflection on the continued relevance of his work, written in 1990. It concerns the on-going phenomenon of the odd juxtaposition of fundamentalist religion, in a variety of forms, coexisting with an almost religious zeal for technological and scientific rescue from our current social and political troubles. From page 248:
More than anything else, it is this coexistence of hyper-rationality and a widespread revolt against rationality that justifies the characterization of our twentieth-century way of life as a culture of narcissism. These contradictory sensibilities have a common source. Both take root in the feelings of homelessness and displacement that afflict so many men and women today, in their heightened vulnerability to pain and deprivation, and in the contradiction between the promise that they can "have it all" and the reality of their limitations.

One of the more annoying features of right-wing critics of left-wing politics and policy preferences is this idea that by introducing an acceptance and understanding of limits on human action, we are somehow being unpatriotic, as if recognizing that we human beings are not masters of the universe is unAmerican. Whether it's limitations placed on economic growth out of a deference for saving our world environment, or limitations placed on our sovereignty in order to ensure a more stable and just world, it seems to me these are small prices to pay so that my children and grandchildren can live in a world that is at least as good as ours. Recognizing the reality that ours is a world power in decline, and the need to decline with grace rather than dragging the whole thing down around us - like Sampson in the Philistine temple - is a far more socially and politically mature reaction than insisting that, at all costs, our status as a great power must be maintained at all costs.

I do not fear my own death; I do fear the murder, however, not of myself or a family member, but my country and my planet by those who are so frightened and enraged by the thought of their own existential annihilation that they would rather tear it all down (since, of course, the universe will wink out at the moment of their death), of all that centuries and generations have built. We must not succumb to fear and rage. My hope is we will not, but we should all work together to make sure it doesn't happen.

We Are Family

I'm going to break from my usual habit, and write a bit about my recent trip to Dayton to see various and sundry family members. First, it was good to see my parents, my sister and her husband, and many of my cousins, and my Uncle David. I was reminded, again, that coming from a large family has blessings as well as burdens. When the Johnston side of the family gets together there is always - ALWAYS - so much laughter at the end of the day one's stomach hurts.

I had occasion to go visit the gravesites of my grandparents, great-grandparents, uncles, an aunt, and my Uncle Eugene's step-daughter who died from leukemia in 1957. This was important for me, because it established my sense of rootedness. Prior to this, my sense of my Johnston-family relations was a little less grounded. The two Clark County, Ohio cemeteries were a reminder that this was a place that has my roots as much as rural Bradford County, Pennsylvania. For some reason that was and is important for me, especially as I live far from both areas, and am a bit less rooted in my life.

One thing I feel a need to comment upon is the fact that so much of our laughter seems to come at the expense of other relatives, which bothers my mother no end. She managed to say something to me about it, and it's a long-running commentary of hers. Of course, she was indignant over the fact that everyone in my father's family had nicknames, which she considered a form of belittlement. Part of our generation's laughter at the eccentricities of our uncles, aunts, and even one another comes from the reality that they are, indeed, eccentricities. The signs of deeper issues we pass over in silence. Instances of just plain oddity we share out of wonder, exasperation, and as a coping mechanism; at least to my mind, we aren't belittling their lives, their persons, or the fact that they loved us and cared for us. But, to be honest - to give an example - my Uncle David was a very large man in many ways, and I'm not surprised that my cousin Tom was a bit intimidated when he was suddenly grabbed by David, held close on David's lap, and had David bellow in his ear, "Tom, Tom, the piper's son!" Since David - and most of the rest of my mother's siblings - had only two volumes (loud and REALLY loud), I can imagine this as being both a bit frightening and a source of amusement later (especially as Tom tells it . . .).

The best thing of all for me about this trip was realizing that our generation of Johnstons, to whom a torch has been passed for loud, exuberant, and extremely enjoyable family gatherings has been passed, succeeded admirably in a first attempt (albeit truncated, as two of my sisters and my brother weren't present; we did well though, with my mother having replaced Aunt Lydia as the elderly matriarch overseeing it all). I look forward to future visits, so my cousins can get to know my wife and kids, in the near future.

In the meantime, Claudia, I'm going to teach myself Welsh.

Why Should The President Give These People Anything?

I am continually amazed at the President's willingness to believe the Republicans will act in good faith. More from Milbank.
The irony was that Obama had used his speech to offer a significant concession to Republicans and to break with liberals in his own party. There was a cool silence in the chamber as the president told "my progressive friends" that the "public option" they treasure as part of health-care reform could be sacrificed in favor of other ideas.

And, in truth, there were provocations from the Democratic side. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), sitting on the Republican side, insisted on making a victory sign with his hand and waving it at Obama. Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.), also on the GOP side of the aisle, felt the need to pound his fist in the air and make what looked, awkwardly, like a fascist salute.

Scolding Republicans for scoring "short-term political points," Obama wasn't subtle in his effort to make his foes look cruel. The White House stocked the first lady's box at the speech with a virtual medical ward: a woman with sarcoidosis, a colon cancer patient, a recurrent cancer survivor, a double amputee, two women with breast tumors, a woman with eye problems, a man with high cholesterol, two brain tumor survivors, the son of a brain cancer victim and the fathers of children who have seizures and hemophilia.

But while the majority of both parties' lawmakers behaved as adults, the insolence by House Republicans stole the show. There was derisive laughter on that side of the chamber when Obama noted that "there remain some significant details to be ironed out." They applauded as he spoke of "all the misinformation that's been spread over the past few months." They laughed again when he said that "many Americans have grown nervous about reform."

When Obama addressed the charge that he plans "panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens," someone on the GOP side shouted out "shame!" The president went on: "Such a charge would be laughable if it weren't so cynical." "Read the bill!" someone shouted back. Obama mentioned those who accuse him of a government takeover of health care. "It's true," someone shouted back.

As far as screwing progressives go, I'll have to read the speech (I just woke up, sue me). It seems to me, however, that the Republicans, having embraced the insanity of the fringe of their party - really all they have left - have disqualified themselves to a person as equal partners in what is left of this debate. I realize that the speech is over, and I tend to dislike Monday-morning quarterbacking in both sports and politics, but Obama should have given the Republicans, as politely and surreptitiously as possible, the finger and told them he would enjoy watching them throw a tantrum while the Democrats crafted a bill to the public's taste - a bill that would include the public option front and center.

With Sarah Palin spouting off in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about "death panels" (yes, the reference to that bit of crazy is in there), the Republican Party has demonstrated it is quite simply unfit to govern. Let them whine and moan, carry on about death panels and rationing, and let the Democrats actually legislate and run the show.


Having arrived home after five days away last evening, I had better things to do than listen to the President's speech. Perusing initial reactions, it seems the Republicans didn't disappoint on one level, at least.
As President Obama addressed a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night, the nation's rapidly deteriorating discourse hit yet another low.

It happened at 8:40 pm, just after the president vowed to lawmakers that his health-care reform proposals would not provide benefits to illegal immigrants. As millions of Americans watched from home, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) shouted at the president from his fifth-row seat: "You lie!"

Murmurs of "ooh" filled the stunned chamber. Nancy Pelosi's chin dropped. Obama moved on to the next sentence in his speech, about how no federal money would be used to fund abortion. "Not true!" came another shout.

The worst thing my mother could say about anyone is they had no class.

Enough said.

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