Friday, December 09, 2011

The Womb Police's Ladies Auxiliary

There are some topics I try to avoid. Feelings, and therefore temperatures, run high, so it is difficult to be heard, especially when the screeching harpies show up. All the same, there are moments that silence just doesn't cut it.

Isn't it bad enough that the United States Senate refuses to support our troops when something horrible happens to them? A bunch of women who seem to think they should tell other women what to do with their bodies comes out and applauds. From the website RH Reality Check, that covers health care politics and related issues:
Concerned Women for America (CWA) revealed exactly how little concern they have for actual women, much less for America, this week when they sent out a letter attacking women who defend our country for having the nerve to believe they deserve full medical care after being raped. The mind-bogglingly vicious swipe at female soldiers had a couple of doozies, including the claim that allowing raped service members to access abortion “serves as a political distraction” from national security, as if it’s in the interest of national security to subject raped service members to forced childbirth. CWA also pretended to care about female troops with blather describing being raped and forced to bear a rapist’s child as merely “difficult circumstances” requiring “compassion and support,”
Like Rick Santorum obsessing over what people do in bed, the Church Ladies at CWA are so focused on what other people should and shouldn't do they have crossed the line from offensive to annoying. The folks in the Senate deserve all the outrage flung at them.

The CWA, which really should be known as the Overly Concerned With Other People's Lives Association, needs to take a chill pill, chased by a double shot of STFU. My mother, a real concerned woman in America, always taught us to mind our business. something these folks need to remember.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

A Reality Dope-Slap

One of my friends on FB, a gentleman who went to high school with my older brother, is not a fan of Pres. Obama. To say the least. No big deal, because I'm not exactly going out of my way to make sure he spends four more years in Washington. What's frustrating, as with so many denizens of the fever swamp that is the American right-wing, is that he doesn't like him for all the wrong reasons. He carries on about how Obama has raised our taxes. Obama has cut taxes on Americans pretty consistently, with the latest fight being over the expiration of a payroll tax holiday that Obama wanted and the Republicans want to see end. He carries on about Obama's ego, which, while substantial (you don't seek then win the highest office in the land without some sense of oneself, unless you're a paranoid lunatic like Nixon), is dwarfed by, say Newt Gingrich's outsized sense of himself. He repeats the nonsense that Obama is some kind of socialist bent on destroying America.

Like the constant barrage of stupidity that carries on about Obama's socialism which is non-existent, his deep, long-time relationship with former Weather Underground member Bill Ayres, which doesn't exist, his penchant for apologizing to other countries for American conduct, which has never happened, I honestly and sincerely wish folks would dislike Obama for real reasons. Substantive reasons. There are plenty, which is why I am not planning on supporting his re-election campaign or voting for him next year.

In the same vein of wishing people would just, you know, deal with things as they are, rather than as they are told they are or think they are or something, I honestly wish liberals (as opposed to those on the Left, who tend to display a bit more clarity of vision on these matters in my experience) would stop getting huffy over stuff Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich say. The only bottom-tier Republican candidate for President whose recent statements need disparaging are Jon Huntsman's recent remarks that indicate he is flipping on climate change in a last-minute, desperate attempt to drag in some cash. I have to agree with Pierce, by and large, that Huntsman was never "liberal". He was, however, at least sane enough to call out climate deniers for the flat-earthers they are.

Until someone told him the campaign cash cupboard was bare.

The other three, however . . . The reason I would rather poke a bit of fun at Santorum, Perry, and Gingrich is easy: None of them are going to get the nomination from the Republican Party. Certainly not Santorum, who is currently giving Huntsman a run for the bottom of the field. Over, the past few days, Santorum's mind keeps wandering back to what folks do in the privacy of their own homes a little more frequently than is normal; most of us would call his obsession with gay sex more than a little creepy.

It isn't that the things he has said aren't offensive, with a thin coating with ick. They are. It is far better, however, not to allow one's indignation to overcome common sense. Santorum was so loathed by folks in his home state he wasn't re-elected to the US Senate, so I never understood why he thought people in the rest of the country would find him an attractive candidate. When Think Progress or Fire Dog Lake or even Charlie Pierce at Esquire take a moment to highlight yet another instance of Santorum's outrage that people are having sex of which he doesn't approve and about which he, apparently, thinks constantly, take a deep breath, calm down, and have some fun at his expense. Seriously. That's about all he deserves.

Ditto Rick Perry. His new ad, in which he makes the silly, and false, statement that "there's something wrong" in American because gay folks can serve in the military but kids can't pray in school (lie lie lie lie lie lie lie lie), is an obvious attempt to strong-arm the douchebag vote away from Santorum who is on the way out. Seriously. Even if Rick Perry believes his own ad, he is as slick and phony as Mitt Romney, and I just don't have enough benefit of the doubt to grant him. It's pandering, pure and simple.

Yet, the comment threads on these posts are chock-a-block with serious parsing of these statements, tinged with the kind of outrage that one would think should accompany any serious policy proposal from a viable candidate. To which I can only say - calm down. Have some fun, be honest and just say, "Wow, these folks are just nuts." Then, go back to having a cup of coffee and helping Junior or Janie with homework.

As for Newt, I realize he is the latest anti-Romney "front-runner" (no, I neither care what polls say, nor believe them when they are shoved in my face; it's votes that count, not what random people tell a stranger before actually casting a ballot), but his underlying megalomania has been surfacing recently - he's the one responsible for Romney's wealth, apparently; he will be the nominee; he will appoint Dr. Whovee lookalike John Bolton Secretary of State - along with his life-long penchant for making stuff up, then defending the lie with further lies that usually play to his own view of his overwhelming intellect are all combining to remind most of America why he has spent the past 13 years unemployed by any public institution whatsoever. His flaws are florid at the current moment, and it is far better to sit back and watch him destroy his own candidacy than to allow oneself to be outraged that he thinks child-labor laws are stupid, or that poor kids just don't have any role models to follow when it comes to hard work.

Start an office pool on the date when he ends up destroying himself, grandly, in public. That would be a far better use of one's time and energy.

If you're wondering what my point is in all this, it's simple. Calm down. Obama isn't going to destroy America. Considering the job the financial sector did, and continues to do, I think that award should rest firmly on the shelves of those who've earned it. Santorum, Perry, Gingrich may be bigoted idiots, but they aren't going to be their party's nominee for President. I'm not saying politics isn't important. Obviously, I believe it is. It isn't something one should allow to overwhelm both common sense and reality. You don't like Obama? Good for you. All I ask is you dislike him for real reasons. You think Santorum's statements regarding gay marriage are insulting? Why, insult him right back! Shoot, all you have to do is Google "Santorum" and the very first choice is a marvelous example!

Part of our problem is we as politically active citizens just don't keep perspective. It takes just a few moments of time to check out whether or not real Socialists loathe Barack Obama or whether Mitt Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts is pretty much the same one Congress passed in 2009 and that he campaigns against. Just deal with things as they are. That's all I'm asking.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Election, Predestination, Freedom, And Grace

In last night's class, we concentrated a lot of effort on Romans 9. That's odd, because the eschatological promises of Romans 8 are probably the most moving passage in the New Testament. They are certainly the most beautiful thing St. Paul ever wrote.

Lot's of people, it seems, don't like the idea that God might arbitrarily decide who is the beneficent recipient of grace and who, through neither virtue nor fault, will suffer the eternal reprobation reserved for the Devil and his angels. For some reason, all the other stuff the Old Testament and New Testament says about God's desire being for all creation to return to God; that God never ever ever ever ever ever ever stops pursuing us, calling us, whispering in our ears, seducing us, even cheating to get us to follow the Divine Way just disappears when we pout, because we, rightly, understand ourselves undeserving of the grace and love we have in Jesus Christ. We all turn in to Pelagius, it seems, because, dammit, we WANT to be in control.

While I consider myself Wesleyan, I think on this and related matters (as the title suggests) I console myself with St. Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and the Reformed tradition in its affirmation that the judgment of God, revealed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, reveals God's wrathful declaration that sin is contrary to the will of God, that the new life in Jesus Christ is a free gift from the overflowing love of a God who has demonstrated the prodigal nature of the Divine love and life in this act of sacrifice and reclamation.

If we take grace seriously, which is little more than taking God's judgment upon our sin seriously, then the idea that God's graceful decision for humanity, for creation, expressed on the cross and in the empty tomb either mean everything or they mean nothing. The idea that God's choosing of life, of love, of forgiveness as the final judgment upon our willful insistence to turn away from the constant Divine entreaty should fill our hearts with joy, rather than indignation. Rather than sulk because the decision has been taken out of our hands, we should celebrate the only real freedom that matters - the freedom from the fear of separation from God precisely because God doesn't will or want that separation. Either we take the cross and Easter seriously, or we should just write Jesus off as another failed revolutionary, a faux-messiah as deluded as all the rest.

The Christian life lived in the acknowledgement of God's eternal decision for us is an expression of Divine Favor, of Divine wrath given over to joy and dancing. We no longer need to worry about whether or not this or that act, this or that life-choice, this or that thought, is a barrier to God, because God has removed all the barriers between us and communion with God. Not for our sakes, to be sure. God does this, and we acknowledge it as being so, because God desires to be with us, to be in relationship with us. We are free from worrying about how we stand before God, because we cannot stand before God. Yet, God calls to us and offers us the help we need, a proffered hand pierced with nails we hammered.

Christian freedom is the freedom from the fear that we can either earn God's favor, or separate ourselves from God's love. We no longer need to tally up our daily round of rights and wrongs, and living in the fullness of the grace bestowed through the Spirit, in Christ, for the Father, just live. Thankfully. Joyfully. Always with a penitent heart, but a joyous penitent heart.

The teaching that God has chosen us, even before we were born, because God had chosen before the foundations of the world were laid that the Son would come to heal the rift between creation and Creator, is the fullest expression of Divine Love and favor I can imagine. It doesn't bind us, or hinder us. On the contrary, I am grateful beyond measure for God's overflowing love for all creation that is summed up by God's gracious choice to be for us.

Infamous Days

It's been seventy years since the United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the forces of the Empire of Japan. That's a very long time. On that day, my father was an underemployed wannabe actor on the streets of Manhattan. He happened to be near Times Square as a crowd gathered around the ticker that displayed headlines in moving lights. He gathered with hundred of others as the news of the attack flashed to passersby on the streets of New York. He insists he can find himself in photos of the crowds, but to me, he's just another hatted gentleman in the multitude. My mother was in the first semester of her senior year of high school; her two older brothers got up early the next morning and joined the military, her oldest brother, Eugene, joined the Navy, Rowland, the Army.

My parents are old, now, as are the rest of those who still remember that day when Dr. Win-the-War took over from Dr. New Deal.

This week marks another anniversary. It is more recent, happening 31 years ago on December 2nd. On this infamous day, innocent people were attacked and killed by a military power. The difference is that, unlike the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States was not the victim. We were, in fact, the willing conspirators and global apologist for the brutal rape and murder of four nuns by military forces in El Salvador. Charlie Pierce reminded us all yesterday of the gruesome details:
During what we used to call The Prayer of the Faithful, which comes immediately after the Homily, we prayed for the souls of Ita Ford, Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, and Dorothy Kazel, four Catholic missionaries who were beaten, raped, and murdered by a death squad in El Salvador in 1980. The death squad carried out this mission at the direct order of the Salvadoran government, a right-wing horror show of which President Ronald Reagan and his incoming administration were quite proud. When Republicans boast of Reagan's foreign policy triumphs, murder and rape is part of what they're talking about. The four women — American citizens and clergy, mind you — were brutalized on December 2. Last Sunday was the 31st anniversary of their deaths.
The case was a stench in the nostrils of the world. Once in office, the Reagan people lied their asses off — or, worse, blamed the nuns. Jeane Kirkpatrick said that the murdered women were "not just nuns. The nuns were political activists – on behalf of the [leftist opposition] Frente." Alexander Haig, Reagan's lunatic Secretary of State, opined that "the nuns may have run through a roadblock or may have accidentally been perceived to have been doing so, and there may have been an exchange of fire."
The history of America's dealings with Central America is written in blood. Whether we supported or opposed any particular government, it seems the result was death and destruction, a horrible wasting of lives to no good end or real purpose. Even the cries of "communism" rang hollow in the teeth of brutality we supported with an almost gleeful abandon. Our drug-running terrorist freedom-fighters in Nicaragua, getting help from Pineapple Face, also known as our drug-running lackey Manuel Noriega in Panama, were the flip side of the brutal sociopaths we supported in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Largely forgotten now when we recall the decade of Reagan, it is important to remember how much time and energy the American government expended to insure that the horror show in the long isthmus between Mexico and Colombia continued.

Both of these days need to be remembered. Both need to live on in our national consciousness, reminders of our failings as a country. The spirit of the four young nuns, whose bodies were buried in shallow graves by the roadside without the comfort of last rites to console their souls in their final, terrified minutes, should haunt us all, horrific reminders of the price we Americans make others pay for our delusions of Empire.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Newt York Times Style Manual

I really need to write something about Willard Mitt Romney at some point. I hate feeling like I'm beating up on the nerd in the classroom.

The first sentence made me want to take a pickaxe to my eyes.
Ideas erupt from the mind of Newt Gingrich — bold, unconventional and sometimes troubling and distracting.
The person who wrote this sentence is named Trip. Trip Gabriel, in fact. People aren't really named Trip, are they? Is it a nickname for something, perhaps? Or was he born while the family was on vacation?

This isn't a complaint about Gingrich. Really. The complaint here is about the way he and his statements are portrayed. Gingrich does not have ideas. They do not "erupt" from his mind. His "ideas" are neither "bold" nor "unconventional" let alone "troubling" and "distracting". Paul Krugman recently quipped that Newt is a stupid person's idea of what a smart person sounds like, a marvelous bit of snark that also happens to be an apt description of the disgraced former House Speaker. Lacking any discipline over his pants or his mouth, Gingrich simply lets fly whatever comes in to his head. It doesn't have to be related to reality. It doesn't have to be thought through with care. Spouting stuff more quickly than people can take in isn't a sign of intelligence. It's the mark of a bullshitter who understands that by the time something he or she says is taken apart and looked at thoroughly, he or she will be on to five other topics, equally swamped with the distinct odor of the cow pasture.

The same "mind" which insisted that child labor laws are stupid and the people are taking vacations on their Food Stamp allotments also opined that the Columbine High School shootings were a direct result of Democratic domestic policies, and that Susan Smith, the multiple child-murderer from South Carolina, was an example of Democratic policies in action. Forgive me for not thinking too highly of Gingrich's "mind".

Trip is writing from the typical playbook. Gingrich is the smartest guy in the room. He likes to show off how much he knows. He spouts ideas because his mind is fertile and imaginative, thinking outside the boundaries of usual discourse and accepted opinion. The entire piece is rife with these basic elements of Newt-speak.
Mr. Gingrich’s tendency to speak bluntly, provocatively and sometime impulsively may be part of his emerging appeal at a time when conservatives seem intent on sending a no-business-as-usual message to Washington. It helps with his attempts to foster an image as a candidate eager to bring about change.


Longtime aides to Mr. Gingrich said he fosters work environments where people feel free to think out loud. The ideas he offers in public are not ad hominem but grounded in such lengthy brainstorming. But because his ideas are often unconventional, they require detailed explanations; expressed as a sound bite, they backfire.
This entire enterprise is in the same vein as an article in Time magazine, written by "historian" Joe Meacham (he has written a history of the Jacksonian era, which instantly saved me all that money of buying a book by someone who could write what Meacham did). Such public obeisance to a figure as ridiculous as Gingrich makes one wonder about the stability of the entire political class. Considering the German's have a far more sober take on the Republican Presidential candidates than anything in the mainstream American press, it at least suggests that familiarity doesn't so much breed contempt as it does idiocy.

Is The Theory Of Military Keynesianism Wrong?

A long-time argument offered by many on the left for the relatively high employment numbers in the United States during periods when other industrialized countries were suffering economic slumps - the early- to mid-1960's; the late-1980's - was quite often put off on what commentator Noam Chomsky called "Military Keynesianism". Rooted in the macro-economic theories of John Maynard Keynes, the theory was that relatively high spending in defense and related sectors by the federal government created or maintained jobs in related industries while other countries that had relatively smaller military budgets (as well as militaries less beholden to high-tech industry for their existence) couldn't rely on this as an employment stop-gap.

There is a study (.pdf) out of the University of Massachusetts (incorrectly identified as MIT in the Think Progress report where I first read about it) that compares the employment effects of military spending to the employment effects of public spending in other areas. From the abstract:
This study focuses on the employment effects of military spending versus alternative domestic spending priorities, in particular investments in clean energy, health care and education. We first present some simple alternative spending scenarios, namely devoting $1 billion to the military versus the same amount of money spent on clean energy, health care, and
education, as well as for tax cuts which produce increased levels of personal consumption. Our conclusion in assessing such relative employment impacts is straightforward: $1 billion spent on each of the domestic spending priorities will create substantially more jobs within the U.S. economy than would the same $1 billion spent on the military.
This wasn't the only question under scrutiny:
We then examine the pay level of jobs created through these alternative spending priorities and assess the overall welfare impacts of the alternative employment outcomes. We show that investments in clean energy, health care and education create a much larger
number of jobs across all pay ranges, including midrange jobs (paying between $32,000 and $64,000) and high-paying jobs (paying over $64,000). Channeling funds into clean energy, health care and education in an effective way will therefore create significantly greater opportunities for decent employment throughout the U.S. economy than spending the same amount of funds with the military.
Using standard methodology first developed in the 1930's, they conclude that, in large part due to higher non-labor costs military and related industries incur - physical plant and other material capital, land - spending in the other areas under study actually create more, and better-paying, jobs than equivalent spending in the military budget.

A couple things. The military budget is not a jobs budget. While even the most skeptical anti-Keynesian in Congress often pushes strenuously to keep various military projects funded if they are contracted within his or her district out of a concern for jobs, the object of the military budget is to make sure the United States has adequate military defenses to face threats to its interests. Now, the previous sentence is over-loaded with political questions: What is "adequate"? What constitutes a "threat"? What are our "interests"? What is the meaning of "adequate" in the face of these "threats"? While having an analytical component, answering these questions is a matter of politics. Which is as it should be. There is no final arbiter of what is or is not an adequate level of military spending, what our interest are, etc. We have to come to understand these terms together, always with the proviso that they all may change, sometimes in the blink of an eye.

Second, while certainly an important consideration in long-term fiscal planning, especially as we draw down forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and consider various options in future force-structure that are adequate to existing and emerging threats as well as take advantage both of the training and abilities of American military personnel and technology, we should not look for immediate economies by thinking solely of the employment effects of relative federal spending levels. It may well be the case, as the study concludes - and the conclusions of this study are the same as its predecessors over the previous decade - that military spending is not as big a job-creating engine as spending in other areas; in tough economic times, some might see an opportunity here not only for fiscal economies but an opportunity to boost employment by more cost-effective public-sector investment. That, to me, would be a mistake. Only after careful examination of current and recent DoD budgets should anyone suggest ways in which future military spending might include some of the conclusions of these studies. That should always be done as a secondary or even tertiary consideration; the first, over-riding concern of Defense spending has to be insuring a defense of the United States.

As to the question of the Theory of Military Keynesianism, it seems that repeated studies over a decade are dealing a blow to the idea, beloved of Congress members with defense contractors in their districts, that, if all else fails, as long as they have a plant building parts for a tank or a plane of a ship, they're fine might want to consider getting money to build a school or maybe even a plant that produces green technology.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Really Stupid Liberals

One of the very first posts I ever did, way back on the eve of the 2006 mid-term elections, dealt with a liberal blogger who insisted that "Cheney" was going to "pull something" and swing the elections to the Republicans. I called it out for the crap it was.

In the intervening five years, many liberals continue to be truly, horribly stupid. Awful. Dumb. Ridiculous. Breathlessly over the top. Not least because they are almost comically partisan in their views. They are the mirror image of Republicans for whom "The Democrat Party" is the source of all evil in the world. Considering both the Congressional Democratic record as well as Pres. Obama's, one would think them disabused of the idea that either major party has the common good, the Constitution, or simple political common sense as guiding lights. For both parties, it is a cowardly desire to hedge any bets, refuse any risks that might "alienate" the only real constituency that matters - Big Money.

Having said that, I found the comments on this story at Talking Points Memo to be both really funny and really, truly, horribly stupid. Brain-dead stupid. Tragically, ignorantly, pathetically stupid.

For instance, davidasr writes in part:
I'm not sure I'd want to go back to the dark ages, or even 1929 for that matter, as they all seem to advocate.
Did you catch that? "The Dark Ages"! Whatever that might mean . . . "Even 1929"! Hello, um, we have a Democratic President who doesn't seem to grasp that we're reliving that era. We've been stuck in 1932 for the past two and a half years because our President would rather cut a deal with folks who want to see him lose an election rather than work for the betterment of the country. So, he sells his soul for a compromise. Over-the-top, stupid, blind, partisan. All in one sentence.

Ibesteve2u is so awesome, adding a touch of paranoia to the mix, that subtle dollop of political conspiracy that sees four people shooting at JFK in Dallas, and the CIA behind 9/11:
I wouldn't be thrilled with Gingrich winning the nomination - especially since I have no idea what kind of technology the right put in place between the voting machines and the central tabulating computers under the guise of the Patriot Act and with the power of Homeland Security. I don't much like the idea of a man who trumpeted orphanages as a means of reducing welfare rolls being that close to the White House.
Ain't much of a step between slapping the children of the poor into orphanages and work camps for poor adults. That is something every American who is not of the power structure of the right should be concerned about: Inequitable free trade ensures that 99% of the American people are just the desire of a CEO for a new yacht to match the fashions of the season away from becoming eligible for such camps.
Dallas attempts to serve up a reminder to "Us", name-dropping Hitler, Mussolini, Jesus, and His Mother all in the same comment, all the while complaining that it's the Democrats who never catch an even break:
Don't get too cocky. The Republicans have nominated seemingly unelectable candidates before (Reagan, Bush Lite) and gotten away with it. This time, they will use their Citizens United dirty money power to enhance their billion dollar advantage from the free 24/7 advertising on Fox and the places where the elections are either decided by Republican-made electronic vote-counting machines or by corrupt election officials (Wisconsin, Florida, several others).
If the Republicans get REALLY desperate and nominate the ghosts of Hitler and Mussolini as their ticket, they are still guaranteed 40+% of the vote. This is an advantage we do not enjoy. The Democrats could nominate a ticket of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, and we'd still never get 60% of the vote. We would be well-advised to remember that.
Firenze_30fps drags up the ghost of the millenium:
if you'd asked me in 2000 whether GW Bush could be elected president, I would have said 'no f'ing way!'
And... hey, I was right. He wasn't elected in 2000.
The award for "Best" Comment that manages to show the world that conservatives do not have a monopoly of truly awful political commentary goes to debbieqd:
It may be good for politics to have Newt as the candidate, but it is terrible for the country. This is a man who channels Hitler at every turn. Pure evil in my book. And, one can only sit and wonder how so many Americans could be that stupid -- so ignorant of past history -- so enamoured of the devil himself. It is a sad commentary on a once great nation.
There are also some really good, insightful comments on the story, which shouldn't necessarily be forgotten or ignored. All the same, it is nice to be reminded that the Democratic electorate can be as truly dumb as the Republicans.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

One More Thing . . .

I know I probably shouldn't ask this question . . .

In fact, knowing I had to start with the above phrase should be an indication that I should stop typing now, erase any trace that I even sought to write this, and just get on with my morning.

Still, I'm curious. I've read and heard the following "argument" in a variety of places, and, for the life of me, I can make neither heads nor tails of it. It sounds like a group of words in the English language. When used in other combinations, they do make sense. I could blame Ms. Bachmann, but it isn't just her. In what way does this mean something?
JANE SCHMIDT: One of my main concerns is government support for the LGBT community. So my question is what would you do to protect GSAs in high school and support the LGBT community.

BACHMANN: Well, No. 1, all of us as Americans have the same rights. The same civil rights. And so that's really what government's role is, to protect our civil rights. There shouldn't be any special rights or special set of criteria based upon people's preferences. We all have the same civil rights.

JANE SCHMIDT: Then, why can't same-sex couples get married?

BACHMANN: They can get married, but they abide by the same law as everyone else. They can marry a man if they’re a woman. Or they can marry a woman if they're a man.

JANE SCHMIDT: Why can't a man marry a man?

BACHMANN: Because that's not the law of the land.

JANE SCHMIDT: So heterosexual couples have a privilege.

BACHMANN: No, they have the same opportunity under the law. There is no right to same-sex marriage.
Setting aside the slipperiness of introducing "right" in that last line - I fail to read or hear anyone saying anything about "rights" here or anywhere - this basic "argument" makes so sense to me.

The major premise, I believe, is this: Adults can only marry people of a different gender. The minor premise is, I believe, this, maybe?: Sue wishes to marry Karen. Therefore, obviously: Sue cannot marry Karen. The major premise seems to limit the class of persons who would qualify to have their relationships recognized by the state as "people of a different gender". Sue and Karen, being two women (I'm assuming here, based on the names, unless "Sue" was the character in that Carl Perkins/Johnny Cash song) are therefore prohibited from having their relationship recognized by the state.

Which means, to most folks who understand these things, that straight couples enjoy state-sponsored privileges. The final statement by Bachmann, then, is a throw away. When she denies that straight couples enjoy "a privilege", it seems she either doesn't understand that is what she is, in fact, arguing, or simply denies the reality that straight couples enjoy a privilege.*

The whole way the position Ms. Bachmann holds is presented makes no sense. Gay folk are able to marry, just not the people they want to marry. Wanting to marry the person with whom you wish to spend the rest of one's life is "a special right" for straight people, a position Ms. Bachmann categorically denies.

Honest to God, trying to untie this knot hurts my head. Would someone who understands this explain it in such a way that it makes sense?

*As in so many things, we may not have to choose between stupid and bigoted.

Let's Have Stupid People Run The Country

I suppose some folks believe that's the case anyway . . .

There are many serious problems we face. A stagnant economy. A paralyzed political system. The opposition in next year's Presidential election is determined to pick a candidate that is almost laughably unqualified for office. We are waging de facto undeclared war against an alleged ally using robot planes and tired excuses. Our southern neighbors are bleeding to death in a civil war waged by mass murdering drug dealers who exist because we Americans love our cocaine and heroin. The list, I know could fill pages.

Which is why writing about this particular subject should probably seem . . . I don't know . . . a bit of a time waster. All the same, it reveals a basic lack of understanding of some realities that, while certainly inconvenient, are still real. From today's Washington Post:
If you want to understand Americans’ frustration with Washington, you might start with the very words the government uses to communicate with them.


[A] small but growing band of civil servants, lawmakers and consultants is leading the charge against bureaucratic legalese. Their mission isn’t just to cut down on government forms in triplicate. They believe that Washington is dysfunctional on a more basic level and that to fix the government, the public needs to understand what the government is telling them.

It’s a movement that’s deeply populist in spirit, with its aim to bring the government closer to the people. And activists across ideological lines have echoed the same cause: The Occupy Wall Street crowd rails against deliberately impenetrable credit-card billing practices; tea partyers find evils lurking behind every run-on sentence in regulatory reform bills.

Ultimately, proponents believe that they’re protecting the sanctity not only of the English language but also of the republic itself. “How can you trust anyone if you don’t understand what they’re saying?” says Annetta Cheek, a 25-year veteran of the federal government who now runs a nonprofit called the Center for Plain Language. “When you’re supposed to be a democracy, and people don’t even understand what government is doing, that’s a problem.”
First of all, we aren't "supposed to be a democracy". We are, in fact, a republic. A republic that is governed, not by human beings, but by laws. It's an imperfect system; in fact, Churchill, misnaming it "democracy" called the rule of law the worst form of government there is, except all the others*.

When the legislature passes a law, or an administrative agency passes a rule; when courts hand down decisions, or state prosecutors file indictments - they are, all of them, dealing with laws. The laws the regulate our society. The laws that determine who is, and is not, a criminal. The laws the limit or expand our freedom of action, limit or expand our access to income, to goods and services, I could go on, but I do hope the main point is clear. Government action isn't just "stuff" people do. It's all about laws.

It would be wonderful if the convoluted language in legislation, regulations, and judicial opinions could be discarded for clarity and simplicity. It would also be wonderful if I found a bag filled with $100 bills lying in the street. Neither will happen. In the latter case, because even if such a thing did happen, and I were unscrupulous enough to hold on to it, the person who left it behind, more than likely, would be a criminal, and possessing such a thing would place my family, no less than myself, in grave danger. In the former case, it isn't going to happen because the legalese, for all its occasional confusion, and the seeming obfuscatory role it plays in communication, is in search of a different kind of clarity than communicating to the general public.

In other words, laws and regulations are written in a way so that if questions arise in courts of law, there is enough specificity in the language to determine if, in fact, any particular section of a law has been violated.

It's that simple.

Imagine a world where laws were simple, clear, direct, and comprehensible to the average citizen. Not just some of the laws. All of them. Imagine, in such a world, a person arrested for a crime - let's say theft, shall we, so no one gets hurt in our imagination - and, under the simple, direct language of the law, "Do Not Steal Or Go To Jail For A While", that person is indicted, tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison. Simple, right? So much better than our current system, one would suppose.

Except, of course, the real world, the one in which we live rather than the one in our imaginations where such things as the above paragraph are impossible, is so much more complicated. Let us take the same example, someone steals something, gets indicted, and goes to court. In a republic, at least those using Anglo-Saxon jurisprudential traditions, the accused has the right not only to confront the accusers, but, with the burden of proof on the accuser, to present a defense against the charges. A lot of people don't like these other features of our legal system, either, but there it is.

Just as in criminal law, so, too, in administrative law cases. An executive agency promulgates a regulation, or a series of them. For the sake not of clarity in a general sense, but rather clarity in a legal sense, the regulation is written in such a way that seems - seems, mind you - to defy understanding. Except, of course, in the case of administrative law - perhaps especially so in these instances - the matter will usually wind up in a court of law somewhere, in which the messiness of reality collides head on with the details of the rule. Part of a court's job is linguistic, determining the meaning of words, the scope of the application of the particular definitions, whether particular acts fall within the definitions in question, etc. Were a law or a regulation, in some noble but misguided attempt at general clarity, eschew specificity for clarity, it would invite a kind of legal orgy, as various groups would pile on seeking to make sure the definitions of the words involved do not apply to any acts they perform, and even better, apply to those of others.

Why this needs to be explained to a population as well-educated as Americans I do not know. I am not exactly a fan of the pages of legalese, usually printed so small I have to rent a microscope to read, in everything from credit card statements to phone bills to loan applications. All the same, I know why it exists, and it seems to make perfect sense to me that it exists in the way it does.

Maybe I'm just weird.

*Churchill, perhaps, can be forgiven for using the word "democracy" as he was a citizen and leader of a Constitutional monarchy. For all its failings and medieval political institutions, Britain's parliamentary system, combined with its Whiggish Constitutional history and the over-300-year old legacy from the Glorious Revolution, is a marvelous model of the Rule of Law.

Virtual Tin Cup

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