Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye, 2012

I intended to have a long and reflective post about the outgoing calendar year, but I'm out of time. Best wishes for a happy and safe new year, and may its possibilities be realized.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Warning: there be spoilers below...

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an ambitious and inventive interpretation of the story and characters that J. R. R. Tolkien first imagined almost 80 years ago, and one that mines the depths of Tolkien's broader opus about Middle Earth. Fans and critics have given it mixed reviews (and some have absolutely despised it), but for my part, I enjoyed this film quite a lot. There is plenty to criticize, to be sure, but there's also a lot to be excited about.

First, the great experiment: the much-discussed digital filming and projection at 48 fps. Unless you are very curious about this technology, my advice is to skip it. There are segments of the film that are beautiful - absolutely stunning, in fact. But overall, I am forced to agree with those who have said it is distracting. Having heard some criticism of the format, I expected the film's appearance to have a harsh sense of immediacy - similar to watching a live sporting event or catching a daytime soap opera. Even still, I wanted to see the show as its creators intended, and I resolved to try and put aside my expectations. I optimistically speculated that the experience might be like seeing The Wizard of Oz in 1938 (color!), or seeing Planet Earth in 2006 (HD! 1080p!). But for all my hopes, I was still surprised by how unnaturally vivid, video-like, and even cheap-looking the picture appeared, especially during certain moments. It simply did not work. Back to the drawing board, gents!

Finally, a footnote about this technology: I basically ended up seeing The Hobbit for free, as there were problems bringing up the 48 fps projection system, and it had to be rebooted twice. The theater handed out passes for our trouble. So it seems that this technology is not ready for widespread use in more ways than one.

A few other comments about the effects. Gollum of the LotR Trilogy was a singular achievement in visual effects in cinema. To date, no one else had come close to creating a digital character in a live-action film quite like him. The Hobbit's Gollum surpasses that achievement: the character is truly a marriage of an actor's performance and digital artistry. It will be interesting to see how long it will take for another director, actor, and/or effects production company to match this level of work - after all, it's been almost ten years since the last films. Apart from Gollum, however, I was kind of disappointed that PJ and company chose to make Azog and the other orcs and goblins into CG characters, rather than using actors in prosthetics. Azog was a good villain, but making him into a CG character rendered him less menacing than Lurtz, the orc captain of FotR. Even within Jackson's own films, Gollum remains a singular creation.

On to greater matters. The film tells a classic tale of a fish out of water - a quiet, proper, and unlikely person who embarks on a grand adventure. Not content to tell the story as it was originally written, the film adds and expands upon the material that Tolkien wrote later which linked it to the much larger story of Middle Earth, the Dwarves, and the Rings of Power. But it retains the essence of its central figure: Bilbo is a wonderful character, and after a somewhat shaky start, the movie does him great justice. The film takes pains to develop a more believable relationship between him and the dwarves than the original novel. I especially liked the portrayal of Thorin and Bilbo's relationship. Developing their friendship earlier and more deeply will supply a lot more dramatic weight later in the story as the plot unfolds.

I also loved the film's portrayal of Thorin's company - as a reader of the novel, I always wondered why the dwarves seemed so hapless, and why they weren't a stronger, more formidable group of warriors. I thought that treating the company as an exiled, struggling collection of wandering tradesmen trying to survive shored up a part of the story that was a little thin. Thorin's love of and pride in his followers stem not from their prowess in battle, but in their loyalty and perseverance. This makes Thorin's acceptance of Bilbo at the film's conclusion all the more believable: Bilbo is not a great warrior and he admits that he isn't even a burglar, but he demonstrates his commitment to seeing the quest through, and Thorin fully embraces him for it.

One of the best scenes in the film is also the best scene in the book: the game of riddles with Gollum. Here, Jackson stays close to the source material to great effect. Gollum is the menacing, comical, and tragic figure at the center of the story of the Ring of Power's destruction, and Jackson and Andy Serkis have brought that character to life.

The most consistent criticism I have read in other reviews is that the pacing of this film is off. I don't entirely disagree, but I see the problem differently: for all the complaints that the movie is too long and/or that it should not have been expanded into three (or even two) films, I actually felt that An Unexpected Journey seemed a little too rushed at times. The film begins exactly where Fellowship of the Ring began: in anticipation of the long expected birthday party. I understand the desire to link the films together, but this framing story of Bilbo and Frodo was unnecessary, and in any case far too long. It could have been accomplished by voice-over narration in under a minute. We've seen the long-anticipated party - let's get to the unexpected party!

Another issue with the pacing is the length of the elaborate set-pieces. If the extended action sequences in Return of the King were too long for you, unfortunately, you'll get little relief from An Unexpected Journey. Jackson has an overweening love for clever chases on flimsy bridges. All of the action is quite thrilling and spectacularly realized, but it leaves little time for lingering on a landscape or fleshing out the company with quiet character vignettes. The film needed more still shots and less noise. But here I am simply repeating my criticisms of Return of the King. One might say that this new movie showcases all of Jackson's well-known strengths and weaknesses.

All in all, though, this film has a tremendous charm of its own, and I'm pleased to say that it even retains a wonderful sense of whimsy that is so present in the original story. I recommend it heartily, and I am looking forward to the rest of the series.

And by the way, I thought the Arkenstone was glorious.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Don't Wanna Be Like That

Last night while folding laundry, I caught the better part of a new evening game show called Take It All. In the first rounds, contestants compete for unusual and increasingly expensive prizes by guessing their value, and at the end of each round, the contestant in possession of the least valuable prize is eliminated. I have to admit, I was drawn in by the sometimes bizarre prizes and their surprising values.

In the final round, when there are only two contestants left, the game is changed: the last two players must negotiate a deal in order to actually win the prizes. The game is decided by a secret ballot - if both vote to "take mine," they each go home with the prizes they accumulated throughout the game. If one contestant votes "take it all," that person takes both players' prizes, and the loser leaves with nothing. The catch is that if both contestants choose "take it all," then neither of them wins anything.

So basically, the object of the game is to convince, cajole, coerce, trick, and/or manipulate the other person into selecting "take mine." It is deceit and avarice for the purpose of entertainment. I was sick to my stomach after watching it.

Take me away.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Self Governance

I came across a quote a couple months back - I don't even remember exactly where anymore - that, in light of the election results, the hand-wringing afterward, and now the talks over the so-called "fiscal cliff," continues to be relevant:
"...the fact will remain that the GOP is both an asylum run by its inmates and a den of authoritarian and/or totalizing religious figures who reject the central premise of democracy:  that society self governs through iterative decisions, and not from some set of revealed rules or via some charismatic Dear Leader."
Emphasis mine. The idea that there are no set principles in a democracy that can guide every policy decision is tough for a person of any political persuasion to swallow sometimes - I know that, especially in my youth, I reflexively thought that adhering to an ideology was the only way to solve political problems. It seems so naive now - unscientific, unproductive, impractical, undemocratic.

If the idea of democracy is that a group of people is capable of confronting and solving the problems it faces, in order to be successful, the group must be flexible, open to compromise, and most importantly willing to learn and accept new information. And yet the current GOP seems more intractable, more brazen, more backward-looking, and more beholden to Mammon than ever before.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Frustration Sets In

And then there’s the matter of the "fiscal cliff."

Contrary to the way it's often portrayed, the looming prospect of spending cuts and tax increases isn't a fiscal crisis. It is, instead, a political crisis brought on by the G.O.P.'s attempt to take the economy hostage. And just to be clear, the danger for next year is not that the deficit will be too large but that it will be too small, and hence plunge America back into recession.

Deficit scolds are having a hard time with this issue. How can they warn us not to go over the fiscal cliff without seeming to contradict their own rhetoric about the evils of deficits?

- Paul Krugman, who probably has better things to do than repeat himself. But some people just will not listen to reason.

Should be an interesting couple of months. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Technology Managers: You May Want To Jot This Down

Mitt Romney didn't just lose the popular vote and electoral college, he also lost the technology battle. Some unexpected but important lessons from the 2012 election:

(1) in-house development is better than outsourcing to consultants;
(2) free, open-source tools perform just as well, and often outperform expensive proprietary tools;
(3) flexible, user-driven requirements are almost always better than requirements predetermined by management;
(4) using untested software is risky;
(5) you cannot rush software development.

What am I talking about? The Obama campaign's software performed flawlessly throughout the campaign, while the Romney campaign's application was DOA. I've seen this pattern time and again in my fourteen years in technology. At the beginning of a software development project, there is a lot of time and money spent making a decision between developing the software in-house, or purchasing a vendor product and customizing it using professional services. This is a waste! I've never seen the latter approach work effectively. Managers often make a decision between these approaches based upon the cost. Hidden in vendor products, however, is that the total cost of ownership is usually a great deal higher than the initial price tag. Ask the Romney campaign if they think Orca was a great deal.

When development begins, projects often become overheated by unrealistic deadlines. This is unnecessary and almost always due to poor planning. Using this election as an example, Romney had already run for president once, and had been actively campaigning since 2009. He and his advisers should have been ready to build and deploy technology resources to support their campaign. Instead, their project had a seven-month development cycle, while Obama's team had a development cycle almost three times longer. This compressed timeline often cuts crucial quality assurance and load testing from the schedule with disastrous results. 

If you have a complex business problem, don't fall for a sales pitch: you likely need a custom piece of software. Hire the staff with the expertise, give them a stake in the system after it goes into production, and allocate enough time to do the project right.

Perhaps it is also a good reminder that a businessman doesn't always make the right decision. What makes software great is requirements based on close scrutiny of what the users actually need. What makes software great is metrics and thorough testing, not assumptions. Finally, what makes software great is collaboration and transparency, not competition and secrecy. Maybe all of this is a metaphor for good government as well.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Election 2012

Amazing! That's the only way to describe it - I am excited about and thoroughly pleased by the results of the 2012 election. I have never been happier with the outcome of an election day! I stayed up late nervously waiting for the results of the two Minnesota Amendments, and I was so grateful and so happy to see them defeated. These were meaningful and unqualified victories, and everyone who worked to defeat these amendments should pause to savor the outcome. We earned the right to feel great about what we did.

In the spirit of magnanimity, whether you voted yes or no, I hope that people on both sides of these amendments realize that we actually have a lot of common ground. In the case of the Marriage Amendment, the side that voted no is pro-marriage and pro-child and pro-family too. In the case of the Voter ID Amendment, the side that voted no wants fair and clean and transparent elections too. We are not so different as it may seem.

What about the rest of the election results? Many liberals and other progressives have expressed a high degree of dissatisfaction with President Obama, and rightly so. That dissatisfaction translates into some ambivalence about the whole 2012 election, which I think is a shame. Regardless of how one feels about Obama, this election was so much bigger than the presidential contest, and the election results really could not have been better.

Obama's critics from the left are absolutely correct: he is a centrist. Maddeningly so. President Obama has not been a progressive champion one might have hoped for in a black Democrat, and he did not live up to the expectations I had at the beginning of his first term. I think that as far as presidents go, however, Barack Obama has been the best in my lifetime: he has faced huge challenges, had a great deal of legislative and policy success, and fought against a ferocious personal and political backlash, all while retaining his grace, integrity and good humor. So I think they are wrong to be ambivalent about this election.

Why are people on the left so disappointed with Obama? I think it boils down to two words: drone strikes. In our country, there is a War on Terror/War on Drugs/Security State governing consensus eerily similar to the Cold War Consensus that gripped the two major political parties for fifty years following World War II. In this context, Obama is an ugly continuation of George W. Bush, and in many ways, of every president since Harry Truman. This is a completely valid criticism of him, and Obama's abuse of our national security apparatus should be a lasting stain on his legacy. But Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich notwithstanding, it is really hard to imagine a viable presidential candidate standing up to these outrageous "wars" with any success - unfortunately, that simply is not where we are as a country. I think we are finally starting to wake up to the colossal failure of the war on drugs (go Colorado & Washington!), but there is no sugar-coating it: drone strikes are popular, the war on terror is popular; we are willing to sacrifice the right to privacy upon the altar of national security (not to mention social media, but that's another story).

Unfortunately, Obama isn't pushing back against these immoral policies. He's simply floating with the current of public opinion and the governing consensus. But I say this without hesitation, and I think it's true: John "Bomb Iran" McCain and Mitt "Double Guantanamo" Romney would have been substantively worse in these areas: more belligerence, higher military budgets, more war. A presidential candidate will never gain traction on these issues (and thus will be forever on the margins) until there is a public consensus that the current policies are immoral. That will take a major grassroots movement. Which leaves us to evaluate Obama on foreign policy (as distinct from national security policy) and domestic policy. Judged by these standards, Obama has been okay to pretty good on both, and on the strength of his record in those areas, I think he deserves another term.

Back to why I'm excited: overall, if you are a liberal, if you are a progressive, if you think that actual data and science should guide public policy, and/or if you believe that collectively, we can and should use government to work together to solve problems, I think this particular election could not have gone better. Here in Minnesota, not only did we beat back those awful amendments, we threw out the cynical legislators who put them before us. That was unexpected, and it is huge.

Nationally, Karl Rove poured $300 million of one-percenters money down a black hole - he was completely shut out. That should please everyone who wants to put an end to Citizens United. Elizabeth Warren won. As a senator, she's going to be a great national figure. The rape guys lost. And perhaps most significantly, structurally, the right-lurching GOP is broken. The country will never be whiter or more conservative than it is right now, and the GOP made one last gambit for power using an all-white strategy. It failed pretty spectacularly. This is beautiful and it also is cause for celebration.

I feel like we may have turned a corner with this election, that we may start to develop into a *real* modern democracy like our European and Asian counterparts. Who knows - only time will tell. But have a look at this list of Obama's first-term accomplishments and check out Rachel Maddow's excellent summary of November 6th, 2012 and tell me you still feel totally ambivalent about this election.

One last thought - a quote from Charles Pierce, a writer deeply critical of the relentless war on drugs and of Obama's campaign of drone strikes -
"There is a story that they tell in Georgia politics about the first time that Barack Obama was inaugurated as this most improbable president of the United States. Shortly before the ceremony, they say, he met with John Lewis, the congressman and American hero who was nearly beaten to death on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama as he marched to demand the right simply to vote. The two huddled in the corner and the president-elect wrote something on Lewis's inaugural program. He walked away, and Lewis showed the program to the friends who had come with him.
"Because of you," it said. "Barack Obama."
I get goosebumps reading that. Obama is still paving a trail, and he is aware of the pioneers who came before him. Does anyone think that Romney (or McCain or Bush) has a sense of history like that? The American Empire will have its day of reckoning, maybe sooner than we can prepare for it. In the meantime, if Obama is the best we can do right now, and I think he is, I am content.

Of course, I might just be feeling good because I participated in the two vote no campaigns, and they won. But it feels pretty damn good to be a Minnesotan today, and pretty good to be an American too.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Tortured Logic (or Evil Genius) of Voter ID Laws

A dedicated fraudster, malevolently determined to cast as many illegal votes as possible, could cast ten, perhaps fifteen votes by furiously driving around on election day and falsely registering, impersonating, or otherwise bypassing the controls currently in place which prevent in-person voter fraud. He would have a difficult time of it: waiting in line, producing falsified documents verifying his residence, filling out registration forms, and lying to the face of many election judges. His actions would be cause for serious concern, and if caught, he would face fines and penalties.

If that same fraudster used absentee ballots to commit fraud, however, he could cast hundreds, perhaps thousands of votes, while leaving a much smaller trail of evidence. Most ominously, if he had access to electronic voting machines, he could potentially change the outcome of multiple national contests and wreak havoc on the entire election system.

For a lone actor determined to commit fraud, the worst possible way to do it is in-person, election day voting. It is slowest way to manufacture votes and the easiest way to get caught, as each polling place is a potential point of failure. Given the limited number of votes he could successfully cast, the chance of this hypothetical person influencing an election at any level is almost nonexistent. Moreover, there is no evidence that anyone like him actually exists or has ever existed: nationwide, according to the most comprehensive study produced on the subject, in-person, election-day voter fraud happens about once per fifteen million votes cast. And yet, the Voter ID Amendment in Minnesota intends to stop this phenomenon at any cost.

I work on anti-money laundering and fraud prevention software for a bank. Here's an unspoken but obvious little secret: we don't spend a lot of time, money, and energy going after small time scams. It simply is not cost effective to do so. Any good business person will tell you that like any other investment or company resource, it is better to spend fraud investigation dollars where that money will make the most difference. Here's a fact: we know where election fraud happens. Doesn't it make more sense to invest in controls which would combat the fraud that actually influences elections?

Fighting in-person, election day fraud with Voter ID laws costs a lot of money to implement - perhaps millions of dollars. These laws have very limited impact, because they intend to combat the rarest and least effective form of fraud. Finally, these laws have the potential to disenfranchise many more voters than they catch. Judged using a cost-benefit analysis, Voter ID laws do not make any sense whatsoever.


...Voter ID itself is the fraud. Think about it: the law targets certain classes of voters: students, poor people, the elderly. It raises the difficulty level of voting for these groups - for some, high enough that they will not vote. Collectively, these demographics are far more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than Republican candidates. And unlike the rogue actor casting upwards of a dozen illegal votes, using Voter ID to raise the difficulty level of voting affects hundreds of thousands of people, numbers which could change the result of an election. As Pennsylvania House Republican Leader Mike Turzai so clearly says in his ill-advised moment of candor, Voter ID laws are very nakedly a partisan power play.

The vote is a free, anonymous, and Constitutionally granted right. Over the course of history, our country has worked to expand this franchise to everyone.  In Minnesota, we pride ourselves on high voter turnout and a transparent, open election process. Flying in the face of history, the Minnesota Voter ID Amendment seeks to change all of this - it contains few details, leaves many questions unanswered, and if it passes, it has the potential to destroy our widely praised system: there will be countless arguments in the legislature about its implementation as well as legal challenges over the amendment itself. Same-day registration could become a relic of the past. And all of this will be expensive. Is this how Minnesota should spend its limited time and resources - to combat a problem that happens about once in fifteen million votes? We should be very suspicious of this kind of tampering with the election system.

Vote No on Voter ID, Minnesota.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Tough Issue?

If you're one of the half-dozen people who look at this blog regularly, then you know that I've been doing what I can to have conversations with people in order to try and defeat the marriage amendment in Minnesota. Many times now, I've heard the phrase "it's a tough issue" from supporters of the amendment. This puzzles me, because I personally think it's one of the easiest moral questions that I've ever faced. Given the strident rhetoric I have heard from some amendment supporters, it doesn't seem like many of them are actually having much difficulty coming to a decision about how to vote either. Still, I wonder what people who invoke these words mean by them.

Do they mean that it is tough to talk about a cynically-conceived amendment that was meant to divide families, friends, and neighbors? It certainly is challenging to disagree with people and to talk about those disagreements respectfully. Unfortunately, it seems pretty clear that this is what those who drafted the amendment intended.

Are they simply trying to insulate themselves from criticism over the stance they've taken against equality by invoking its complexity? I've felt a few times that I'm being dismissed with these words, as if the speaker was saying, "you just don't understand the intricacies of the issue." It's a bit patronizing, really: I understand what marriage means to me, and what marriage would mean for my family members, friends, and neighbors who are targeted by this amendment.

Is it possible that they mean that it is tough to make a decision that turns real people and real families into collateral damage in a culture war? That makes me sad: there doesn't seem to be any good reason to hurt people, which will ultimately be the result if this amendment passes.

Or do they mean that their conscience is telling them one thing, but their church (or some other authority figure) is telling them another? Now this would be difficult. How does one reconcile one's conscience with one's faith community? I don't have a good answer for that. If you are struggling for this reason, you have my sympathy. Ultimately, only you can decide what is right for you.

Please: Vote No, Minnesota.

Friday, October 19, 2012

At Last - Finished!

Very pleased with the result of my first attempt at an oil painting - I finally finished it after putting it in mothballs for a few years. Now to pick a subject for my next piece...

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Catholics and Gay Marriage: Another Response

(Note: I found many essays while researching what Catholics say about gay marriage. The proprietor of a blog in which one such essay appeared was kind enough to reply to my critique of the arguments against same-sex marriage. She felt, though, that I did not really address the arguments offered on her site. This essay is a more direct response to that particular post.)

What is marriage? That is the most important question in the debate over same-sex marriage, at least according to one Catholic seminarian on the subject. As an advocate of marriage equality, I can agree that this question is at the heart of the debate. The problem, however, is that there is more than one answer to this question, and the essay to which I now respond gives only the Catholic answer. Though it should be obvious to everyone by now, Catholic marriage is not the same thing as civil marriage. This substitution is actually so common that I wrote a plea to Catholics to stop applying their definition of marriage to everyone else.

Almost everything in the argument hinges upon this initial conceit, and thus it has already foundered: the state simply does not define marriage using the definition provided by the Catholic Church. (If you think otherwise, then why is there such a concerted effort to amend constitutions?) Instead, it performs a sleight of hand: define all marriage using Canon Law, and then show how conclusively that definition matches itself. I could stop here, but there is a lot more to discuss, and what follows is a point-by-point critique of the essay.

I.A. Traditional Marriage
This rosy portrait of traditional marriage ignores two essential realities present throughout human pre-history and most of recorded history: 1) infant mortality was extremely high and the likelihood that children would survive into adulthood was very low; and 2) in agricultural societies, children were a primary source of wealth and production. It is impossible to overstate the significance of these two fundamental truths. So, yes, traditional marriage had a lot to do with making babies. But this misses the forest for the trees - it was a practical arrangement, not a spiritual one. The Catholic definition of marriage attempts to elevate the union described into something more than a clan organizing itself to maximize its physical survival and economic potential. But one may describe the same phenomenon without adding religious significance to it, and allow for the idea that in the 21st century, we can imagine building successful marriages and families in other ways.

It is also worth pointing out that this section dances around the point that marriage is a cultural and social construct not determined by nature. I've just explained why "traditional marriage" bears such "striking" similarities among various cultures around the world - as it turns out, it isn't very mysterious. The most basic point that advocates of marriage equality are trying to make is that marriage can and has changed to suit our culture's changing values. Liberty and equality are strong values in the United States in the 21st century. Our (civil) custom of marriage should reflect these values.

I.B. Importance of Family 
No one in favor of marriage equality argues that family is not important. So this entire section is a nonstarter: yes, families are important. Also, kittens are cute and nice days are nice. Platitudes aside, the nuclear family actually seems rather small and insubstantial when set beside the multitudes of familial configurations that have flourished throughout history. There has never been a time in which the care and raising of children did not extend beyond the confines of a nuclear family; this is the true human experience. I might add that the current single-minded focus on the primacy of the so-called nuclear family is the narrowest definition of family ever seen.

II.A. Love and Marriage
This section is merely semantic parsing: it conflates "love" with "romantic love." Ask any opposite-sex couple anywhere, "why do you want to get married?" and you'd likely get "because we love each other" as an answer. It's a pretty intimate (and very important) question, really, but it doesn't necessarily deserve a more nuanced answer unless the interviewer has some special relationship to the couple. Let me be clear: love is defined in many, many ways, but in the end, it is an essential part of modern marriage. Traditional marriage has already been redefined, not by homosexuals, but by heterosexuals: before the last 150 years or so, "love" rarely if ever factored into marriage. Now, however, along with commitment and shared values, love is at its core. Sure, there are some couples who cling to the notion of romantic love as the basis of marriage, but that has nothing to do with same-sex marriage.

In the words of a gay friend of mine, "marriage is and will always be a mutual promise to take and to cherish, to be true in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, a promise to love and to honor all the days of one's life." Florid, but pretty compelling, and at least as valid as the definition offered by the Catholic Canon Law. Or, take it from a Catholic lay minister who counsels men and women about to enter into the Catholic Sacrament of Marriage: "[I've spent] 17 years mentoring engaged couples, and we've been talking about commitment and communication. Don't marginalize the sanctity of my marriage by telling me that it's a marriage only because one of us is male and the other a female. We've worked too hard to define our marriage the way Jesus asked us to: it's about love, not sex."

It is unclear why, but here the essay takes an unfortunate detour to state that "homosexuality is wrong because it perverts sex from something reproductive into something non-reproductive." Non-reproductive sex is not perverted; this is merely the Catholic view of it. This view may be valid for Catholics, but it is not universally shared, and it is not supported by biology or any other natural science. The essay goes on to conflate homosexuality with "the sky-high divorce rate... massive amount[s] of infidelity... and premarital sex." I realize that the essay is trying to draw a connection between libertine sexual morality and the problems facing modern marriages, but frankly, this goes too far. Same-sex couples, by trying to marry, are seeking to create a normative institution which enshrines fidelity and commitment. Precisely how does fighting marriage equality promote these values, which both sides agree are worthy goals?

II.B. Marriage and the State
The first sentence of this section is strange: "because the heart is fickle, don't condition marriage on romance." Is this a statement of fact or a recommendation? Whatever is meant, here is the reality: the state does not condition marriage on anything, and to my knowledge, it never has. A man can go to city hall and get a license to marry a Chinese woman he's never met. Now, I don't think this is a very good idea, and most people take marriage much more seriously than this. But the state doesn't require seriousness, and more to the point, the state has no means to test the intentions or the seriousness of the couple.

The essay wants to argue that the only societal benefit of marriage is children. As I have written before, this simply is not true. Think of the inverse: that couples without children have no societal purpose and offer no benefits to its stability and success. Demonstrably false, and trying to prove otherwise would be a waste of time.

III. Conclusion
Social conservatives spend a lot of time lamenting the state of marriage in the United States. What they overlook is that historians are demonstrating that the successful marriages of today are more intimate, more egalitarian, and more satisfying than at any time in history. Historians also tell us that in the past, people did not work harder at their marriages; they simply had fewer choices. So the question becomes, do we really want to return to a time with fewer choices and its attendant bland, expedient, inequitable, and yes, loveless marriages? I think not. Modern marriage is a fulfilling institution for loving, committed couples, and people with same-sex attraction should be granted the right to enter such an institution.


I was raised Catholic, and I have a strong respect for the intellectual rigor of its scholars, theologians, and apologists. I know most to be gentle, honest in their convictions, and measured and earnest in their reasoning. So it is painful for me to watch the church apply its abundant gifts, talents, and resources toward passing the (anti-same-sex) Marriage Amendment in Minnesota. To focus so relentlessly on passing this hurtful amendment strikes me as petty and mean-spirited.

I've seen it written more than once that "Tolerance Is Not A Christian Virtue." Sure, okay. It's not on the list. But this seems like cynical word-play. What about Charity, Kindness, Justice, Humility? From these virtues, I think it's possible to promote marriage equality without compromising one's own vision of what marriage should be.

Vote No, Minnesota!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The (Losing) Arguments Against Same-Sex Marriage

This November in Minnesota, there will be a constitutional amendment to permanently ban gay marriage on the ballot. I oppose this amendment for countless reasons, and for the past few months, I have been doing my best to engage and persuade family and friends to vote against it.

In my efforts to talk about this issue, I have tried to listen to and genuinely understand the objections that opponents have to extending marital rights to same-sex couples. I have discovered that there are four basic arguments against gay marriage. What follows is a discussion of each, and why in the end, none are adequate to deny martial rights to same-sex couples. 

Religion seems to make the strongest case against marriage equality for gays. Christians who oppose same-sex marriage argue that homosexuality is a sin, and have long pointed to the Bible as the primary source of their objections to same-sex relationships. It is the most difficult argument against same-sex marriage to counter, because religious beliefs can be so genuinely and deeply held.

The most obvious problem with this argument is that ours is a nation in which the separation of church and state is the law of the land. I would like to think that this alone does away with the need to address religious objections: the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment should eliminate religion from consideration in public policy on this issue. I get the sense that Christians feel that this is a cheat, though; a legal technicality that forces them to accept and/or tolerate something that they find morally wrong. And so I will set aside the First Amendment for the moment, and consider the Biblical argument against same-sex marriage more closely.

The Bible contains over thirty-one thousand verses; of those, only six mention same-sex relations. Right away, this is not exactly a clear indication of the significance of homosexuality as a sin: contrast it to lying or murder, for example: each of those sins are denounced as such in scores if not hundreds of passages. Still, these six passages seem to speak rather forcefully on the subject, and so deserve some attention.

It turns out that these verses have been carefully scrutinized, and surprisingly, they lack a straightforward, clear meaning. Current Biblical scholarship, as well as new translations of the earliest versions of these texts, has thrown traditional interpretations into question. This video, for example, is an extended explanation of these new understandings.

Over the course of his lecture, the speaker eloquently discusses the passages in which homosexuality is mentioned in the Bible, and makes a strong case that the Bible does not in fact issue a blanket condemnation of homosexuality. He actually petitions his audience to consider the possibility of Christian same-sex marriage. I challenge everyone, Christian or non-Christian, supporter or opponent of gay marriage, to watch the whole lecture and not be affected by it.

My ultimate point here is not to say that any and all Christian objections to homosexuality are invalid, nor to argue that one must endorse these more recent interpretations of the Bible. My point is to illustrate that Christians themselves do not agree on the question of homosexuality. Since among Christians there is no consensus on the morality of homosexuality, it is unreasonable to try and codify a particular sect's teachings on the subject. In short, this argument does not work because it cannot be applied as a universal, secular law.

Natural Law
The natural law argument against same-sex marriage goes something like this: the procreative efforts of human beings are fulfilled by biologically-ordained heterosexual coupling, and society is built and maintained through reproduction, and so the state must support and favor long-term, opposite-sex relationships. At first glance, it sounds secular, scientific and reasonable. Interestingly, though, the only people who invoke this argument are religious, and very often Catholic; I know of no secularist who has made this argument (in fact, I know of no secularist who opposes same-sex marriage). At any rate, by invoking this argument, church leaders seem to acknowledge that Biblical arguments will not prevail in a society in which not everyone is religious, and in which some religions actually recognize and endorse same-sex marriage.

In order for the "natural law" argument to work, however, one must first ignore the research that demonstrates the presence of same-sex attraction in hundreds of species of animals. There is a growing body of evidence that throughout the animal kingdom, same-sex preference is a naturally-occurring phenomenon that serves useful functions among social creatures. And so it is with human beings: basically, same-sex attraction is natural for a subset of humanity.

Once the naturalness of same-sex attraction is established, it is difficult to maintain a "natural law" argument against same-sex marriage. Even so, it is worth discussing the argument further, because of its central conceit: that the state should favor opposite-sex relationships, because the state in turn reaps benefits from these relationships. This logic puts the cart before the horse: couples do not marry to gain privileges from the state, nor do they marry for the benefit of society. People marry for love, for security, to build a family, to make a life together, and for a host of other reasons. In short, people marry - regardless of the state's interest in marriage.

Does society benefit from stable, lasting relationships? Absolutely. It is true that opposite-sex pair-bonding is a building block of society. But same-sex pair-bonding has the same effect. There are actually many ways in which the community, businesses, and the state could benefit by recognizing same-sex marriage. Essentially, pair-bonding immediately creates a private, familial social safety net, which is inherently stabilizing for society as a whole, regardless of the sex of the partners.

Another canard of this argument posits that marriage is intrinsically heterosexual, and thus same-sex marriage is a contradiction in terms. This is simply a tautology: marriage is a social institution, not a biological function. The fact that historically, gays and lesbians have not had access to marriage does not make marriage any less of a social institution.

The people who use this argument focus on the biology of the married couple, and the couple's ability to bear children. This leads us to the most basic problem with this argument: its premise simply does not reflect marriage as it is legally defined: the state has never had any requirements regarding children. Historically, the state's interest in marriage has been quite limited, and centered on practical matters: marriage defined the property rights between the familial clans involved, and determined the lawful heirs of the couple.

In the end, the "natural law" argument becomes a religious one, because the state has never been concerned with a couple's interest in or ability to reproduce. Religion, on the other hand, has long sought to conflate the two. Ultimately, "natural law" fails because the state does not hold opposite-sex couples to a reproductive standard, and same-sex couples would offer the same benefits to society as opposite-sex couples.

Think of the Children!
Speaking of children, we arrive at the next objection. As we go through the list of arguments against gay marriage, they become less compelling. This argument suggests, without any evidence to support it, that children will be harmed by exposure to gays and lesbians. It simply has no basis in reality. In fact, age-appropriate sex education has been repeatedly shown to be beneficial to children of all ages. My favorite response to this trope is an anecdote: a child once asked his mother, "why are Mike and Steve always together?" The mother answered, "because they are in love, just like me and your dad." To which the child replied, "Oh, okay. Can I have a cookie?"

This argument is really just a form of salacious innuendo, and deserves to be called out as such. Enough said.

Slippery Slope
The most degrading and dehumanizing of the arguments against same-sex marriage is that allowing same-sex marriage will lead the state to recognize forms of marriage that most would find repugnant. It is difficult to overstate how genuinely cruel this argument is. Anti-gay activists attempt to conjure specters of polygamous clans, parent-child and sibling incest, and even pedophilia and bestiality. They openly compare the healthy, monogamous relationships of same-sex couples to these fringe expressions of human sexuality. It takes a special contempt for gays and lesbians in order to make such an argument - one must have no respect for the basic humanity of people with same-sex attraction.

Fortunately, there are real-world examples from states and from countries that have legalized gay marriage. We can see from these examples that there aren't any movements to allow any of the types of extreme relationships described above. It turns out that "gay" marriage coexists just fine alongside "traditional" marriage, and it does not lead to the legalization of fringe or deviant behavior.

Another fundamental problem with this line of reasoning is that so-called "traditional" marriage itself offers no reasons which explain why these extreme relationships are inappropriate, deviant, and harmful. Instead, it places the burden upon same-sex marriage advocates to articulate the reasons for these taboos. This is unnecessary. The same moral standards that forbid these kinds of relations for opposite-sex couples hold true for same-sex couples.

It is also worth noting something not mentioned by gay marriage opponents when they cite polygamy as the bottom of a slippery slope: polygamy is a heterosexual form of mating, and one that can find many cognates in the natural world among higher mammals. This simple fact demonstrates that the arguments against gay marriage do not automatically support a "one man, one woman" conception of marriage.

Essentially, this argument attempts to evoke shock, horror, and revulsion, and to associate those feelings with homosexuality. The idea that gays and lesbians belong in a category with the extreme simply does not have a rational or evidentiary basis, and it unfairly demonizes an otherwise unremarkable minority group.


The most disheartening feature of all of these arguments against same-sex marriage is that they display a callous lack of experience with same-sex couples and with families led by same-sex parents. It is very easy to make abstract paeans to traditional marriage when same-sex couples are made invisible. These arguments represent a nullification: in a real way, they assert that actual gays and lesbians and their families do not exist, and they place a heavy mask over the everyday experience of thousands of same-sex couples.

The first response to this apparent erasure is to cry out: gay couples exist! Gay families exist! We must lay down our defenses and acknowledge the humanity of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. We must listen a while. When we do so, we will find that the wisdom of these couples and the wholesomeness of these families will enrich our own lives.

Vote No.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Neil Armstrong, RIP

Charles Pierce points out that very soon, there will be no one left alive who ever walked on the moon. That makes me more than a little sad. Will the memory of their accomplishments, of our accomplishments as a nation, be honored? Will it spur us to renewed purpose?

I looked at a few different obituaries for Armstrong; together they paint a portrait of a fearless and humble explorer. I am inspired by his life story.

Update: The Guardian has an even more forceful condemnation of our collective lack of vision. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Random Thought of the Day

Sometimes cynicism may be justified - after a thorough examination of a given situation. But more often it seems to be merely a retreat for the intellectually lazy.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Skin in the Game

Others have made this point, but it bears repeating. One of the catchphrases going around in conservative circles these days is that almost 50% of Americans don't pay Federal income taxes, and that therefore they don't have "skin in the game." Laying aside that the working poor are subject to all sorts of other taxes, fees, and financial obstacles, these folks who live on the edge are all in - they have nothing but skin in the game.

For the working poor, the stakes of this "game" could not be higher. One false move, one bad bounce, and for them, the game is over. They have no more chips to take to a hotter table, they have no more time-outs, no more players in the bullpen, no more substitutions to make. Whatever game you care to use as a metaphor, everything is riding on the system running fairly and smoothly. Without a referee to blow the whistle, call the penalty, allow for an injury time out, etc., these people would quite literally become human waste.

No skin in the game? On the contrary: they've got blood, sweat, bone and sinew in the game.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Facts Don't Do What I Want Them To

Good on Soledad O'Brien for following up on this topic after John Sununu dropped a big old turd on her show on the previous day.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Kind of Mind Blowing, Actually

She may not have won the gold, but McKayla Maroney is still pretty amazing. In the same vein, check out these videos from The animated gif above and these videos lead me to ask, is there an upper limit to athletic achievement? Do physics and the human form eventually collide to say, 'this far, this fast, and no further, no faster?'

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Catholics and Gay Marriage

My grandfather - a conservative Catholic - was a wise and funny man. He used to quip that he was against prayer in the public schools because he was convinced that they would teach children the wrong way to pray. This simple and folksy logic actually reveals some profound insights: it is an acknowledgement that ours is a pluralistic nation, and that in such a free and open society, there are many different religious traditions; it is an admission that on some matters of faith, Catholics are not willing to compromise; and it also expresses a measure of acceptance that all of this is just fine. I think it even illustrates his gentle yet piercing sense of humor, the comment coming as it did back at the height of the animus-filled debate over prayer in the public schools. 

Which brings me to the topic of marriage. Right now, gay marriage is a contentious issue for people of faith, much like the issue of school prayer used to be. In Minnesota, led by the bishops, the Catholic Church has come out in support of a constitutional amendment to permanently ban gay marriage. Frankly, I am not sure what is driving the Catholic campaign against gay marriage, nor do I understand why the church has chosen to take such a stand at this time. If I had to guess, I would say that it is a top-down effort by the Church to re-assert its moral authority in the United States at a time when it has been rocked by scandal and its influence is waning. It certainly does not seem like a widespread and spontaneous expression of anti-gay sentiment by its members.

In a way, I can understand why this debate is so important to Catholics. For Catholics, marriage is more than a long-standing and powerful institution; it is a sacrament: a sacred rite that binds its recipients to each other and to the church. Catholic marriage has many tenets: it is a lifelong, indissoluble commitment and the only proper place for sexual expression. Procreation is seen as a primary purpose. Marriage between Catholics and non-Catholics is circumspect and even frowned upon. And so on. In a formal and strict sense, the church does not recognize non-Catholic marriage because its expression outside of the church does not enshrine these tenets as its foundation.

I have seen a fair number of essays and other commentary by Catholics that purport to explain why everyone should oppose gay marriage. Really, though, all of these arguments simply express why people should oppose Catholic marriage for gays. Essentially, they reiterate Catholic beliefs about coupling, reproduction, and sexual morality. Forgotten or abandoned in these essays is that there are other ideas about marriage that simply do not conform to Catholic beliefs.

Religious people of many faiths, as well as non-religious people, define marriage differently, and some religious organizations openly embrace marriage between same-sex couples. I am certain that Catholics do not want to have the marriage standards of another faith imposed upon them. So they should not seek to impose their standard on others. This is the heart of the matter, and everything else simply clouds this essential truth. Whether or not the amendment passes, Catholics will continue to define and to celebrate marriage in their own way. Similarly, passing this amendment will not alter the expression (or lack thereof) of marriage by non-Catholics.

In short, the issue of gay marriage really does not challenge or undermine Catholic marriage as an institution in any way. Instead, this issue offers another, deeper challenge to Catholics: to find the humanity and the good in people with whom they disagree. I do not say this glibly; this is one of the most difficult challenges that we as human beings face. And it is a sacred as well as civic duty to do so.

Catholic Minnesotans should choose to protect the religious and personal liberty of non-Catholics so that those outside of the Church may find fulfillment and practice their beliefs in their own way. Or they should choose to protect the Catholic sacrament of marriage from being misused and diluted by forcing it upon a reluctant public. Either way, let's all take my grandfather's advice: leave Catholic teachings and practices to Catholics. Vote No.

Update: This essay is a plea to Catholics to reject the Church's anti-gay marriage position on the grounds that the State of Minnesota does not administer the Catholic sacrament of marriage, and never will. For those interested, here is the first essay I wrote on the subject of Minnesota's anti-gay marriage amendment, and it includes a more expansive plea for marriage equality.

Update II: I wrote two additional essays that respond to the "natural law" arguments against marriage equality. "Natural Law" is commonly invoked by Catholics to mask the religious nature of their opposition to same-sex marriage. You can find these essays here and here.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

21st Century Know-Nothing Party

Yesterday, I received a tea-party-ish email that I feel compelled to write about. It contained a list of "wants":
Obama: Gone!
Borders: Closed!
Congress: Obey it's own laws
Language: English only
Culture: Constitution, and the Bill of Rights!
Drug Free: Mandatory Drug Screening before Welfare!
NO freebies to: Non-Citizens
This list is both comical and frightening - it reads like the Know-Nothing Party platform updated for the 21st century. Let's go through this list and see if any of it makes sense.

"Obama: Gone!" - this is one of the few things on the list that is legitimate: I can understand not liking a politician and his policies. At this point in the 2012 election, however, the only realistic alternative to Obama is Willard "Mitt" Romney. And this is Romney: a mendacious, entitled, sliver-spooned, job-killing vulture capitalist whose (only) major accomplishment as a politician is a state health care plan which Obama used as a model for the national plan. I note here that these are the criticisms coming from Romney’s own party! So how can Romney be any better than Obama? 

"Borders: Closed!" - how would this be implemented? I'll tell you how: this would be a big government program that would cost an immense amount of money, both in actual dollars and in lost potential revenue. It is an absolutely terrible idea.

"Congress: Obey it's [sic] own laws" and "Language: English only" - these two are funny together because of the grammatical mistake in the first sentence. I'm not really sure what it means to demand that "Congress obey its own laws." In one sense, they follow their own "laws" perfectly - it's just that the rules are different for them than they are for regular people. And making "English only" a rule will cut off many sources of knowledge and income, leaving us poorer and dumber.

"Culture: Constitution, and the Bill of Rights!" - the Constitution is actually a pretty boring and dated read. Who wants a culture that is boring and dated? The Bill of Rights, however, is a fairly radical document, and activists, lawyers, and ordinary people have been fighting to secure the rights it enumerates for the last 200+ years. This, I like. Maybe a culture based on the Bill of Rights would eliminate kill lists and police brutality and the continuous attempts to control women's bodies through legislation.

"Drug Free: Mandatory Drug Screening before Welfare!" - This idea can finally die. The State of Florida actually implemented this plan, and found (to few people's surprise) that the program to administer drug testing cost quite a bit more than the money it set out to save by catching supposed cheaters.

"NO freebies to: Non-Citizens" - I'm not really sure what "freebies" non-citizens are receiving. Immigrants have always been a hardworking class of people, proud of their heritage and yet willing to try something new in order to better themselves and their families. Generally, they are just ordinary folks looking for a fair shake, which is why they came here in the first place (much like our own ancestors). Are those really the kind of people we want to complain about and turn away?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Someone Thought This Was A Good Idea

Today I saw on that Warner Home Video has released a 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray of Masters of the Universe. My question is, is anyone actually celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of this film?

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Participatory Blogocracy

I've been reading online voraciously of late, and even spending time posting comments on various websites. Not sure what it's getting me, but as I've been in an extended drought in this space, I guess it's something that I'm doing a bit of reading and writing, even if it is ephemeral and not all that coherent.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012


The law of the land is that corporations are people and that you can be strip-searched for a traffic stop. So I'm not hopeful that if they decide to hear the case, the Supreme Court will do right by the pregnant woman who was tazed three times for refusing to sign a speeding ticket.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Good Politics or Courageous Moral Stand?

Rachel Maddow laid it out that Obama has been kicking ass on LGBT issues for most of his term, and that his comments about marriage equality yesterday are the "icing on the cake" of his record as the most LGBT-friendly president in history.

Maddow makes some great points, and I highly recommend the video.  Meanwhile, over at The Nation, John Nichols argues that this actually was a brilliant political move. I hadn't considered that. His point is that this move will not hurt Obama, because the anti-gay rights vote is concentrated in states that Obama was not going to win anyway, and that this stance will energize the youth vote, who overwhelmingly support gay rights, and which was one of his key constituencies from the 2008 election.

Not only does Nichols contend that this doesn't hurt Obama and probably helps him, he also argues that it effectively baits his likely opponent into a more staunchly anti-gay position, one that will have an overwhelmingly negative impact on Romney's ability to connect with young voters. I can't really argue with that. So what I thought was a pretty courageous moral stand looks more and more like it might be superb politics as well. Well played, Mr. President.

Shorter Nichols: (Obama made the) bad guy fall in poop (H/T to Zandar at Balloon-Juice):

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Catholic Violence

On Monday nights I take an oil painting class, which is hosted at a local Catholic elementary school. I really like the space: it's an old-fashioned building, but it has character, and its walls are full of the trappings of a vibrant community. This poster hangs in the hallway:

Every time I use the bathroom or stop at the drinking fountain, I see it. It is an expansive definition of violence, but probably more accurate because it is so. It makes me think each time I see it.

The Catholic Church, reeling for years under the weight of scandal, has stormed back into the public sphere to reclaim its moral authority with its stances on public health issues and same-sex marriage. But using this poster as a lens, the Church's strident, unyielding positions on these complicated issues strikes me as a kind of violence: an assault on the dignity and security of a certain class of people. I wonder whether the Church's hierarchy can re-learn this profound message that it is trying to instill into its youth.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Measure of a Man

A common thread in conservative and right-wing thought is how unfair it is that non-productive members of society - the uninsured, the unemployed, the poor, the immigrants, etc - are taking advantage of the rest of us; that these "freeloaders" are bleeding "good" Americans dry. Setting aside the question of whether these groups are truly unproductive, my response to this thread is a simple question:

Are we best judged by how we treat the strong, the beautiful, and the wealthy? Or is our character better measured by how we treat the weak, the infirm, the vulnerable, and the helpless?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Death of Wonder

Quick, what do the Panama Canal, the Space Program, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Human Genome Project, the Internet, and the Hoover Dam all have in common? Marvels of science, engineering, and technology? Yes. Testaments to human ingenuity? Absolutely. But more basically, they were, first and foremost, government projects. Know what else? The American Society of Civil Engineers lists seven wonders of the modern world. Six of them were government-sponsored.

Why point all of this out? Well, it has become fashionable to say that our government is too big, that government is the problem, that taxes are too high, that regulations stifle business and innovation, blah, blah, blah. Nowadays, it is a rite of passage and a requirement of office for our candidates to complain about the scope of government and to run against it. But look at that list of achievements and reflect that government can and has worked well, even on immense and seemingly impossible projects, and it has done so with spectacular results.

No private enterprise can assume the risks that a government can, especially risks that have no immediate and obvious application or reward. We assign a very different role to our government (the well-being of its people, land, and resources) than to private enterprise (profit for its stakeholders). This is a good thing. So we should not expect that our government's returns on investment would compare favorably to a corporation's quarterly balance sheet. And as someone who works in corporate America, I would like to disabuse everyone of the notion that private enterprise is always "better" than a public institution. I can say without reservation or hesitation that every large organization, be it public or private, has waste and inefficiencies.

Perhaps even more important than the litany of our nation's technological wonders are its social achievements. In its 235+ year history, it established itself as one of the first modern democratic republics, becoming a template for the world. It ended the practice of legal slavery, granted universal suffrage, created a system of public education, insured worker safety, promoted public health and food safety, and guaranteed assistance for the poor and elderly. It won the greatest conflict of the last century and rewarded its citizen-soldiers with homes and with higher education, which in turn fueled the economic success of the nation for decades.

More abstractly speaking, the freedoms and liberties that we consider to be guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights were actually long in the making; it took more than two centuries of legal battles and legislative reform for the rights we take for granted to be as fully realized as they are today. One could call that an ongoing achievement of our government - its ability to adapt, reexamine, and learn. Wondrous indeed.

Recently, I've heard a lot of noise about the Constitutional overstep of the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare." Other people have written more informed and eloquent essays as to why this is a spurious legal argument. I'm no great defender of ACA (for the record, I favor a single-payer plan, modeled after Canada, the United Kingdom, and Germany), but I think ACA is better than nothing, and a pretty substantial legislative achievement in our era of partisan gridlock, so I'll simply add this: we are already paying for the uninsured. So how much is my freedom actually curtailed if we collectively provide a more formal mechanism for funding something that is already taking place? On a more personal level, the ACA allows me to insure my adult children, who cannot afford health insurance on their own. So to those who say that the ACA restricts personal liberty, I ask this: how much "freedom" and "liberty" do my kids have without the insurance that I am fortunate enough to be able to provide? And what should be done about the kids who don't have a parent who can provide health insurance?

The mantra of some anti-government ideologues is to "make government small enough to drown." Now, our government isn't perfect. It certainly does a lot of things I'd rather it not do. So shrinking government may eradicate some of the problems that it has created. But the underlying implication of the race to dismantle government is that the sole measure of our worth as citizens and as human beings is merely our naked economic productivity and our ability to compete in the marketplace. I reject that notion utterly. Sacrificing ACA, public education, Medicare, and Social Security upon the altar of "small government" buys us... what? Freedom? Liberty? Economic security? It certainly does not provide any of those things to the impoverished and growing underclass.

Some of our nation's greatest technical and social accomplishments do not look so wonderful from narrowly defined cost/benefit analyses. But they ultimately proved to be invaluable contributions to human knowledge, commerce, security, and collective well-being. From this perspective, shrinking government as an end unto itself is not just problematic. It is antithetical to nurturing wonders of the world.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Get Over Yourself

Hey, Mitt - no one is asking you to "apologize for being successful." What I think people are saying is that a person's worth is not measured by who he knows or what kind of car he drives. Your tin-eared comments and casual name-dropping make it sound as if your riches are what define you and your life. Criticizing you by pointing this out is not a demand for an apology. It's an expression of pity.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Shame of The Truth

The horrific tale of Bradley Manning's incarceration reminds me of this scene from the 2002 film version of The Count of Monte Cristo:

Dantes: Monsieur, I know you must hear this a great deal. But I assure you: I am innocent. Everyone must say that, I know, but I truly am.
Armand: Innocent? 
Dantes: Yes.
Armand: I know. I really do know.
Dantes: You mock me?
Armand: No, my dear Dantes. I know perfectly well that you are innocent. Why else would you be here? If you were truly guilty, there are a hundred prisons in France where they would lock you away. But Chateau d'If is where they put the ones they're ashamed of.

Why are we so ashamed of truth?