June 08, 2006

mishpocheh values

This is important: the leadership of the The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism has issued a statement on the proposed Marriage Amendment. This is the faith in which I was raised. Despite the term "family values" having been a euphemism for "intolerance" for some time now, it so happens that the views of all of my immediate family (parents, brother, uncle, grandparents) with whom I've spoken on politics and religion pretty well correspond to this statement.

In other words, these are my family values:

"The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism views the application of equality as a standard which cannot be eroded by any other determinant, race, religion or history. Our Faith Members are not unfamiliar with discrimination and worse.....we will reject it, however garbed and rationalized, will fight for equality and will be determined in our stance by genuine equality, .neither discrimination per se nor discrimination garbed in the dress of double standards."

I've only copied the first paragraph here; go to the link above to see the rest. I recognize that a good chunk of it translates to "Quit poaching on our turf!" and that saying that the government has no business restricting marriage among consenting adult citizens is not the same as saying that this branch of Judaism supports this particular flavor of marriage. Nonetheless, I'm very pleased that they agree with me that being Jewish requires us to commit to rejecting discrimination and fighting for equality for all people.

Posted by dichroic at 02:50 PM | Comments (0)

June 05, 2006

between one fish and one bicycle

A Constitutional ban on gay marriage, or rather a statement that marriage is between one man and one woman, has been in the news lately; apparently it's likely to come up before the Senate soon. One of my state's senators, John Kyl, is pushing the bill, and there's also likely to be a related initiative in this state next fall. Even John McCain, the one of our Senators whom I can stand, has made it clear that he supports the state initiative; he doesn't like the Federal ban only because he believes it's an issue best left to the states. Between that and all the other issues spurred by those among the conservative Christian movements who haven't found it necessary to pay any attention to Jesus' actual teachings, I particularly enjoyed this quote that I came across over the weekend:

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting "Jesus Christ," so that it would read "A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.

-Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom

Rudder likes to point out that past Constitutional amendments have all been about guarateeing or expanding freedoms, not taking them away. He's quite wrong, of course; previous amendments have severely restricted the rights of the Federal government, of would-be slaveholders, of would-be discriminators and so on. I can only find three cases, however, where an amendment, in minorly restricting one person, did not grant broader and more important freedoms to many others: I. Amendment 14, Section 3: No person may serve in any government office who previously, as a member of Congress or other officer of the US, member of a state legiislature or executive or judicial officer of any state has committed treason or rebellion against the United Sates. Of course, you could argue that this gives US citizens the right not to be led by traitors - and even this ban can be overridden by a 2/3 vote of each House of Congress presumably to cover the case of someone who had served in the Confederate Forces and was later judged to be loyal to the United States. II. Amendment 22: No one can serve as President more than twice. This restricts the freedoms of one person at a time. Big whoop. III. Amendment 18, Prohibition: illegalized alcohol. Repealed by Amendment 22, so you can see how successful that was.

Accordingly all Experience hath shewn, that perhaps using the Constitution to restrict personal freedoms is perhaps not an action likely to be approved by history. Also, I'm one of those people they want to "protect": one heterosexual woman, happily married to one hetero man. I'm still a bit confused:what actually am I supposed to feel threatened by? Supposing we got invited to a friend's commitment ceremony: would Rudder dump me and run off with the groomsman? Would that be more likely if it were a legal marriage rather than a commitment only?

Sorry, I just don't see it.

Posted by dichroic at 12:15 PM | Comments (2)

March 21, 2006

...live and die by shades of gray

People who are trying to make things look black and white need to just stop it now, because most things aren't.

Heck, take life itself - pro-lifers often claim to be just that, and they're just not. If it were what the name says, pro-lifers would not only all be vegetarian, they would take great pains to avoid stepping on an ant. If you say that to one of them, he or she would likely claim to be in favor of preserving cells with human DNA in them - but that's not it either, or cutting toenails would be outlawed. (OK, toenails are already dead - how about, removing an appendix would be illegal.) The next level would be to claim that anything that could become a human person is what's sacred, so perhaps we ought to outlaw male masturbation. So basically, what they are is pro-embryo (which is a perfectly valid viewpoint, though it isn't mine, and many of those people who happen to hold it but who are more prone to thinking than to shrieking will agree with the above) but that's not a catchy enough name for the shrieking types. On the other hand, pro-choice is often just that and not a euphemism for pro-abortion - many pro-choice people believe that the choice ought to be made by the party most concerned but that abortions in general ought to be decreased by non-legislative methods. Or even that they are, in fact bad, but that other things might be worse. But not even all pro-choice types agree that the choice ought to be available on demand at all times. It's a spectrum, and probably not a simple two-dimensional one.

Similarly with almost any touchy issue - I may believe in the right to gay marriage but that doesn't mean every individual gay marriage is a good thing, which is why it doesn't prove anything when one of those pioneer marriages ends in divorce. I can simultaneously believe that polyamory is good, if the term is used to mean a relationship among howevermany consenting adults and that polygamy is bad if it's used to mean a relationship in which underaged girls are forced into concubinage (it's not the numbers that bother me, just the lack of adult consent). I can think it's possible (though increasingly unlikely) that the adminstration actually believed Iraq had WMD, while still abhorring the way they've prosecuted the war since. I can despise Shrub without canonizing Clinton, because less-bad or even much-less-bad or even pretty-good-at-some-aspects still doesn't equal good. And contiguous Presidents may be fodder for odious comparisons, but that doesn't make them linked oppposites - vilifying one implies nothing about the other.

The current administration is particularly prone to reducing complex issues to simple dichotomies. Someone needs to slap some of them upside the head and explain that, for instance, opposing their particular methods of fighting terrorism does not equate to being pro-terrorism. I'm not convinced that anyone incapable of seeing shades of gray ought to be running the country, but it bothers me nearly as much to see people in provate life doing the same.

It's just not that simple. And it's good that it isn't - life's complexity is one of its glories.

Posted by dichroic at 01:55 PM | Comments (3)

March 17, 2006

...so speak out

There's an article I forgot to write last week, and I need to set it down to get this point into a few other people's memories. This is about a story that was all over the news, but there's an important point involved that I never did see widely discussed.

Let me start by rehashing the Dubai / Ports deal. Operations at some of the most important ports in the US were controlled by a British company, Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation. When that company was taken over by DP World, which is owned in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. President Bush was all for it. Congress, both houses, both parties, was against it, so much so that the House passed a bill that would have blocked DP World from running or managing terminals at U.S. ports, with a veto-proof majority of 377-38. As it happened, the bill was largely mooted when DP World announced it would turn over operations at US Ports to an American company. All of that was in the news, over and over for weeks.

But think about this: why was Congress so adamantly against the bill that even members who are normally in lockstep with the President voted against him? Simple: they value their own seats more than they value their connection with the White House. Constituents were outraged at the deal, and for once they were irate enough to speak up in large numbers, and they were heard. That vote in the House wasn't really moot after all, or at least the furor leading up to it wasn't; DP World would not have agreed to hand over the ports if it hadn't been obvious there was very serious opposition to their takeover. (Whether the opposition was justified in thinking the Dubai-controlled ports would have been an opening wedge for terrorism is a different question, and one I'm not qualified to answer, but it's irrelevant to my point anyhow.)

In other words: when enough people cared about an issue and said so, Congress took action, even against the President's strongly-stated position. People spoke up and it made a difference in what happened. Remember that, next time you think your vote or your voice doesn't matter.

Posted by dichroic at 12:32 PM | Comments (2)

January 19, 2006

the latest

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc. has been subpoenaed by the U.S. Justice Department to turn over a database of search terms as part of a government probe of online pornography but Google rejected the demand as overreaching by the government.

Just in case the government wins, I have just Googled the search strings "Bush is an idiot", "Bush is a dick", and "Impeach Bush".

I don't suppose it's much of a blow for freedom, but it surely was satisfying.

Posted by dichroic at 05:44 PM | Comments (4)

grammar rant of the day

I just noticed someone's word-of-the-day calendar. Today's word was "carpe diem" (two words, but even I'm not that picky. What riled me was that it was classed as a noun, defined as "an enjoyment of today without regard for tomorrow, and given in an example sentence beginning, "In the spirit of carpe diem..."


Carpe diem is an exhortation, "Seize the day!" It is a verb phrase, with seize as the verb and day as its object. In an English sentence, it can be used as a gerund, as can most English verbs. "The rising of the moon." "The running of the bulls." "The verbing of the nouns." Since it's still in its original Latin form (after all, we don't say "Carpe the diem") you can't really add an -ing suffix, because "In the spirit of carpe-ing diem" would sound even sillier. So OK, the gerund form, which is a noun, is identical to the original verb form. But it's not exactly a freestanding phrase, just an Example of how flexible English is. A fluent English-speaker, once having heard the phrase "Carpe diem properly defined (which this WASN"T) can work out the implications of its usage for himself for herself. I can't imagine being able to use the phrase properly if this was all you had.

The calendar had Miiriam-Webster's brand prominently displayed on it. Sad.

Posted by dichroic at 11:42 AM | Comments (2)

December 01, 2005

political niblets

Another 'dents in the steering wheel' moment: two days ago in a speech in this state, our hypocrite-in-chief said something to the effect that "we need to support our troops and give them everything they need." Yes, that would be Mr. BYO Body Armor himself. (I can't find the exact transcript online, because he's made a few speeches on the subject since then.)

This afternoon in a rather annoyingly patronizing and somewhat ignorant story on the phenomenon of Sherlockians, an NPR reporter mentioned that Harry Truman was a member of the Baker Street Irregulars and quoted from a letter he'd written to them during his presidency.
Reporter: "And when you can bring some relaxation to a wartime President, that shows you've really done something."
Dichroic, to the radio: "Yeah, it proves you've elected a President who can read."

(OK, elected a VP, to be precise. Still, I couldn't resist sharing.)

Posted by dichroic at 07:39 PM | Comments (1)

September 12, 2005

a thank-you note

EDITED TO ADD: I've postdated this entry so it will stay on top for a few more days, so more people may see it. Scroll below for newer entries.

I want to start something here.

I have a challenge, or maybe that should be a request, for any US bloggers reading this. I'll write about that later in this post, however. First I want to talk to any readers who might be from other countries.

I have been hearing and reading about international offers of aid to the US after Hurricane Katrina - not just the UN and NATO, which make sense since that's part of what they're for, but from individual countries. A Mexican convoy is now moving toward San Antonia - "a headline that hasn't been heard since 1846", according to one news reporter. Canada has offered warships, shuttle flights, personnel and money, and as our biggest international supplier of oil and gas, has turned up the dials to get all refineries producing at top capacity to make up for the loss of those in the Gulf Coast. Australia has pledged money for the Red Cross. Russia has offered three transport planes full of generators, food tents, blankets. Denmark. Israel. Finland. Singapore. South Korea. Portugal is sending oil. Venezuela is sending gasoline, cash, water purification plants, volunteers. Cuba, after 50 years of standoffs, has offered doctors. Even the poorest countries, the ones that have citizens in grinding poverty every day, have pledged to send what they could. Bangladesh. Afghanistan, even. Sri Lanka. The Organization of American States. I haven't even come close to listing every contributor and don't want to exclude anyone: one more complete list is here.

What means even more is their reasons for sending aid. In some cases, they pledge aid because that's what you do when someone is in trouble. In some cases, they send aid because they remember getting help from us in their times of trouble. And in some cases, they send aid because they still consider us part of their family: Canada remembers that the Lousiana Cajuns began as Acadians until they were ejected 200 years ago. Pakistan is focusing their aid on Pakistani Americans. They know the amount they can afford is a drop in the bucket, so it makes sense to focus, though they still say they will help any who need it, not exclusively their own. It all strikes me as a way of saying, "In your time of need, you are a part of us."

The US will accept some of this aid,but not all. In some cases that's a case of stupid pride. In some cases it will be (or has been) delayed by the sort of despicable obstructionism that kept unfed people int he Convention Center for days. And in some cases it may be because the sincere gesture is appreciated to the heart, but we know it's really more than those offering can afford.

What I want you to know, you in other countries, is that I am humbled to the point of grateful tears by your offers. No matter what our government does about your aid, I know I'm speaking for thousands of others in saying that we are amazed and thankful at the world response.

Here's my challenge and request to other Americans reading this who have blogs or websites of your own: write your thanks to those in other countries who have offered help. Use your own words or borrow mine. Whatever the government's response is, they can see it in the newspapers. Let them see the thanks of ordinary Americans across the Internet, and see how their offers are appreciated.

I will cross-post this entry to my LiveJournal, so more people may read it. Use my paragraph above if you want, to pass on the request - some of you have much greater readership than I do, and I'd really like to see thanks given where they are due, across the Internet.

Posted by dichroic at 01:06 PM | Comments (5)

August 26, 2005

a few tips

The political types and the news are annoying me again. Since each election season starts earlier than the last one, I thought it might be helpful to print some useful tips now:

    Note to conservatives:
  1. "Liberal" is a valid political position, even if it's one you don't agree with. It's not a dirty word.

  2. Liberals don't typically act as they do because they're immoral. More commonly, they act as they do because their own morals so dictate. For example, tolerance of other religions may be as cherished a value to one person as a particular religion is to another.

  3. Bullying is not generally a persuasive tactic - at least, not in the long run.

    Note to Liberals:
  1. Few of you believe in classic tax-and-spend liberalism anymore, but to those few who do: give it up. There are damn few Americans who trust their government enough for that to work. And the evidence is clear that that skeptical attitude goes back to the Founders.
  2. Some of those conservatives really believe those values, you know, and are not just using them to try to gain power over others. Thing is, those are the best people, the ones you want to work with. You won't get anywhere with them until you convince them that you are not trying to take away their rights to live as they wish, where those don't impinge on others - "others" in this case don't include their own minor children. (This is of course not counting the nutcases whose so-called values lead them to child abuse. However, you need to assume people are not nutcases until they show you they are.)
  3. "Shrill" is not generally a persuasive tone.
    Note to both sides:
  1. The vast majority of us are not extremists and aren't listening to or believing your party line, on either side. We tend to assume most of you aren't acting in our interests, anyway.
  2. When someone disagrees with you on a specific point, they might be only disagreeing on that one point. It's neither necessary or productive to receive every disagreement as an attack on your core beliefs, or to drag every point of contention into every argument on any subject.
  3. Even people who don't agree with you .... are people. Treat them that way.

That's the short version. Stephen Carter's book Civility pretty much covers the long version.

Posted by dichroic at 12:41 PM | Comments (3)

August 25, 2005

foreign policy

I was listening to the news this morning, to a story about some men who are being held at Guantanamo. They are Uighurs, members of a Muslim group in northwestern China. As I understand it, the US Justice Dept. has determined that they are not a threat to the US, but are holding the men until some other country can be found to take them in as refugees. They don't want to send the men back to china for fear they'll be mistreated or even tortured, but don't want to set them free here even temporaily "because we might be wrong and what if they are a threat to Americans?" (It strikes me that that may be the first time I've heard an official in the Bush administration use the words "We might be wrong." Pity it's in this context.) We don't want them here just in case they turn out to be a threat after all so we're trying to convince some other country to let them in. Apparently the issue of whether they might be a threat to other countries has not been considered, except of course by the other countries consulted, who have all refused so far to take the men.

It all reminds me of Arlo Guthrie's description of Reagan's foreign policy:

We gots to have our missiles over there in Europe. If we had 'em here, we could never use 'em. Because them Russians be knowing where they're comin' from and then they'd be bombin' us and we'd die. So you see we gots to have our missiles over there in Europe.

He didn't understand. But I knew I 'uz makin' sense because it weren't two weeks later I got a note from the President. Said, "Dear Arlo, Saw you on TV the other night. And you explained our foreign policy so wonderful and so clear that even I'm beginning to understand it!"

This isn't making me feel better about our current foreign policy.

Posted by dichroic at 12:34 PM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2005

No, in this case I am NOT interested in expressing my opinion

These stupid phone surveys have gotten to be very nearly as irritating as phone solicitations were before the Do Not Call list went into effect. We've gotten calls nearly every night this week, and I am now Officially Annoyed.

This last one was the worst so far. Transcript, with commentary in square brackets:

Caller: "Hi, I'm calling with a survey about opinions on political issues in your area." [They're getting more brazen - this one didn't even give the standard speech about how she wasn't selling anything.]
Me, being polite: "Sorry, I don't want to do a survey now. Please take us off your calling list."
Caller: "Sorry, I can't do that - I don't even know how to do that. [If that's not illegal, it should be.] All I can do is put down a refusal."
Me: "Please do that."
Caller: "Actually, the survey is for the male head of the household."
Me: "He refuses too."
Caller: "Actually I can't take a refusal from anyone but the person I'm supposed to talk to."
Me, losing patience, "Well, then I'll just have to hang up and I suppose that counts as a refusal." *click*

This is ridiculous. My loyalty is to my husband, not some intrusive surveying, and I have a right to protect my family from petty annoyance. I believe phone surveys ought to also come under the purview of the Do Not Call list. They haven't woken us up yet, as the phone solicitors used to do, but now we're in training for fall and back on rowers' hours (at least Rudder is; I can sleep later while I'm only erging) I'm sure that will happen soon.

Posted by dichroic at 07:06 PM | Comments (7)

July 20, 2005

happy? somewhat

Three things that are making me happy today:

  • My skirt is all rainbowy and fluttery

  • I have a little (a very little) more information about my job and the reorg.

  • I leave for Edmonton tomorrow night (Rudder and She-Hulk leave tonight, so they can get a practice row in tomorrow)

  • I just found out that the scene of The Little Colonel in Arizona is right next to where I row. The lake has only been there for about five years, and the dam that keeps the Salt River mostly dry for a few decades; at the time the Little Colonel visited it would have been a seasonal river.

I'm not quite as happy about the new Supreme Court nominee. So far, what I've heard is that he's young enough to influence the Court for a long time, very brilliant, very nice personally, and very conservative. He apparently has a lot of Democratic friends in D.C., which means either that they are the sort of people to follow power in any guise or that he's got the intergrity to respect people of differing viewpoints. I'm hoping for the latter, obviously.

The news reported that several liberal groups are planning to oppose Roberts for being too cnoservative. That's not right. There's no reason a Supreme Court Justice shouldn't be conservative, not in the law or the Constitution. There are plenty of reasons for preferring that he not be too far to the right, but that's a battle we lost last November. The more important question, I think, is does he have the integrity and the stomach to follow the law as written or judge it against the Constitution either as written or as the Founders intended in his best impartial judgement? Even if it means a particular case goes against his own bias? If so, then given that and the other things that have been said about him, he's a worthy nominee and belongs on the bench, whether or not I agree with his views. If not, then I hope they fight and filibuster if necessary to keep him off the Court.

Posted by dichroic at 02:12 PM | Comments (1)

July 19, 2005

taking offense

I have added a couple more points from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to the post below, right under the cut tage; the current post is tangentially about a discussion of the book, but contains NO spoilers.

I've been participating in a discussion of HBP on one of my online discussion lists. In the course of the discussion, one participant mentioned that she has perceived Lupin as "genderqueer" (her word; I'm still not sure of all of it's implications), and his forced resignation as an analogy for what happens to teachers who are gay. Those weren't all of her words - I'm omitting the mention of something that happens in HBP - but her comments were no more explicit than that. Another took violent and huffy exception to the idea of seeing such things in a children's story, and demanded that any further discussion of such things be so labeled in the subject line. In the initial post she stated that the books couldn't possibly imply "those sorts of things"; I perceived her later posts to be saying that discussion of characters' possible gay identification was filth that she should be alerted of in advance, to avoid soiling her eyes. (In all fairness, I have just looked back over her posts and they are not quite as incendiary as I remember, except for the demand that the subject line warn of any mention of homosexuality, so she could avoid it.)

I am offended. I am very upset at the idea that homosexuality (again, as an identification: there was no mention or implication of actual sex at all) is such a horrible thing that right-minded people must be warned lest they see something against their morals. Incidentally, I'm not sure it's relevant (given that again, no actual sex was mentioned or implied) but this list consists only of adults.

That's not the interesting part, though. Someone said something discriminatory, yeah yeah, I'm offended, yeah, yeah, nothing new there. The thing that interests me is that I actually feel freer to be offended here simply because I'm not in the group that was slurred. I'm not sure why.

I happen to know that there are people on that list there people on the who identify as queer or bi, but I'm not one of them. I've only ever dated men, or wanted to, really; I can imagine being attracted by a woman but it's a bit of a stretch for me. I identify as straight. I would be upset anyhow on my gay friends' behalf but I find in this case I'm offended on my own. She's saying I can't talk about something I don't think is wrong, and telling me I couldn't choose a certain identity if I did want to. She's telling me her view of what if offensive should take priority over my own. I don't want to have to put it in the subject line every time I'm talking about something someone else has decided for me is offensive.

On the other hand, if she had been speaking of something that was part of my identity, say Judaism, I'd be more hesitant. I would certainly speak out loud
and clear and unashamed if I thought someone was calling my religion dirty. On the other hand, if I were writing about Jewish theology to a list involving a lot of conservative Christians (and I have done so, though thankfully no one in that group disparaged my religion, or I wouldn't have stayed in that group) I would put something in the subject or introductory matter to say that this is what I was writing about,
this is what I believe personally (or don't, I'm not that religious) this is what the Rabbis say and others may disagree. A warning, of sorts. If someone talks about the suffering of the Palestinians at the hand of the Israelis, I don't step up and argue every time, unless it seems to be an especially unbalanced argument. The Israelis have suffered too, at the hands of terror attacks, and as long as that is understood, I can agree that some of their retaliatory actions were unjustifiably brutal. I make allowances, and try to understand what the person really means to say.

In contrast, in this case, my own identity is not involved at all, and yet I'm finding I have a much lower tolerance for this offense. Odd, huh?

Posted by dichroic at 02:37 PM | Comments (2)

July 08, 2005

they are us, and where we are

I've been thinking about a couple more things related to yesterday's bombing in London, one interesting and one dsiturbing.

Yesterday I rowed and so I got my news from NPR and then from Yahoo. Today I showered at home and watched the more mainstream morning news on TV. Even there, there seems to be far more coverage of the attacks than I remember there being on the Madrid train bombing last year. Why? More people were killed in Madrid, and there was at least as much organization, since there were 10 explosions. My theory is that many or most Americans feel closer to the English than we do to the Spanish, because of our colonial history, our more-or-less common language, and our close cooperation in the wars of this century. We do tend to be a bit self-centered in our focus on how an event affects us - but it looks to me as if we consider Londoners "us".

I wish I knew how our Spanish-language news services reported the Madrid attacks, in contrast to our English-language news.

Next point: it is proverbial that governments tend to prepare armies to fight the last war. That seems to apply for major terroist attacks, too. After 9/11, we tightened security in airports; after this we are tightening security on public transit. I hope that this is a misperception because what I hear is what makes the news rather than what security organizations really are doing, because it's a stupid thing to do. It's not hard to think of a dozen targets that would be more effective, if you had no qualms about taking innocent lives and wanted only to upset the greatest number of people. Those cretins in Oklahoma City upset public opinion far more (fortunately, only against themselves) because the building they blew up contained a daycare center. Just in the next week there will be large and chaotic gatherings of children in hundreds of unsecured locations. Most people there will not be being "vigilant", because they'll have their noses deep in the book they're waiting to buy. It's not a soft target - it's downright mushy. But it's not unique; there are gatherings of people every day for one reason or another. We can't stop them and we shouldn't - but for those whose business it is to be paranoid and to take precautions, it might be better to think about those situations, than one that's already been done. Last I heard, lack of imagination is not an entrance requirement for terrorists.

Posted by dichroic at 02:52 PM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2005

writing to the Rep

Yesterday I was elated to hear that the House of Representatives has blocked renewal of the part of the soi-disant Patriot Act pertaining to the government's right to seize library and bookstore records. I was disappointed but not surprised to find that my state representative voted against this blockage. I have sent him the following note:

To The Honorable J.D. Hayworth:

We met once, when you were gathering signatures to get on the ballot, in front of the Sunset Library in Chandler. I signed your petition, but told you then that we disagreed on many major issues. I am dismayed to find now that we once more disagree on a most crucial issue, your vote note to block the part of the Patriot Act pertaining to government seizure of library and book records.

The freedom to read without fear of persecution and prosecution is invaluable. A society that scrutinzes the reading habits of its citizens and uses those reading habits against them is not a free, open, or democratic society. It is a society on the slippery slope towards totalitarianism. Moreover, an intelligent and educated populace is the best and most invincible national security this nation can have. It protects us from the threat of tyranny within as well as terrorism without.

Why are you afraid of that, Representative Hayworth?


Thanks to LibraryGrrl for providing the links to how each Representative voted, and to send a message to yours. (Alert readers will notice that I also plagiarized a few powerful sentences from her letter.)

Posted by dichroic at 09:51 AM | Comments (2)

May 12, 2005

Dear Abby: freedom fighter?

Dear Abby: freedom fighter? (Scroll down to the second letter and its response.)

Though as I told Rudder the other day, the latest research showing homosexuality is linked to different response in the brain - supporting the idea that it's genetic - is still politically irrelevant. People who don't want to discriminate against others based on whom they sleep with won't care whether it's a choice or an inborn characteristic. Of the people who do, many simply won't believe the study, because "those damn scientists disagree with the Bible so they're wrong" or because while the urges may be inborn, the actions based on them are choices. (True enough. So is scratching an itch, and eeryone knows how hard it is not to do that. I'd think it would be far worse torture, lasting much longer, to be told the kind of love you can give is unallowable.)

There may be people in the middle whose opinions on gay rights would be swayed by the answer to the genetics vs. choice question. Sometimes it's easy to forget about those people in the middle; they do so much less ranting.

Posted by dichroic at 09:22 AM | Comments (1)

May 05, 2005

memory of heroes

Since 1989, I have lived in places that celebrate Cinco de Mayo (celebrations here generally involve more tequila than history). It's not my holiday, though. For me today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Since 9/11, I've become especially conscious of the overuse of the word "hero", and its confusion with the word "victim". One does not become a hero simply by being victimized, or even by being brutally tortured or killed. One becomes a hero by doing something about it. I recently saw someone referred to as a "heroine of Flight 93", for example. There certainly were heroes on that flight by anyone's definition, the ones who rushed the terrorists and brought the plane down in am empty field instead of a populated high rise. But the rest of the passengers on that flight were victims: tragedies, yes, but not necesarily heroes. A hero is one who fights back, whether the fight be physical, spiritual, moral, or a fight of endurance. A victim can be mourned, but a hero is also celebrated.

Today I will remember the thirteen million tragedies of the Holocaust and the additional millions who have died in genocides since then. It's already too late to promise "Never Again," but I will promise never to forget. And I will especially remember the heroes, hoping simultaneously that I'll never have to follow their examples, and that I could if I had to.

Here are some of them.

Posted by dichroic at 01:29 PM | Comments (0)

April 28, 2005


Sorry So Silent.

I took Tuesday off not so much sick as not-well; I ended up sleeping most of the day,. Napping is something I usually can't do, so something must have been wrong, especially given that I rested most of Sunday as well. It can't just be the strains od Ssaturday, the other two women who worked as dockmasters were tired afterward, but not laid out. Granted they also didn't cook dinner for six, but I don't usually think of entertaining as being quite that strenuous.

Then yesterday my boss assigned one of his patented two-weeks-of-work-in-one-day jobs, and I rowed before work and flew after it, so with all that I didn't have a chance to write here even during my theoretical lunch.

Yesterday was an annoying day, politically. There was, of course, the email that I posted here about Title IX. You know, I can respect people whose views are different than mine. I'm perfectly willing to discuss differences. What I find immoral are these laws made for no moral reason, only financial gain to a few, and the sneaks who go around changing laws out of the public view. There was also an article on the radio about a bill coming up to Congress which would apparently apply the parental notification abortion laws of a minor's home state to her even while she's in another state, even if her parents were with her. The justification was that this "protects minors from the states that don't have those laws. Grrrrrrr.

As usual, of course, the very peope pushing this one are those who are normally yelling loudest about states' rights. Since when do any of us need to be "protected" from the laws of the states we're in? There's also the issue that parents must be notified 24 hours in advance, even if the parents are present and ready, as I can well imagine they might be in cases of rape. How exactly does this protect the right of a parent to make decisions for his or her own child?

(Note: I only heard half of this story so don't know details. Yes, I realize that means I shouldn't be shooting my mouth off. If you want facts, they're probably on the NPR website.)

Again, I don't want or expect everyone to have the same opinions as I do and I don't necessarily think the ones who don't are bad people - but is it too much to expect even politicians to live up to whatever principles they do profess?

Posted by dichroic at 11:37 AM | Comments (2)

April 27, 2005

call to action

I received the following in an email today, from the UCSD women's rowing coach. She's in a position to know the accuracy of this issue, in other words.

This is a battle we fought in the 70's, the 90's, and apparently again, in the '00's'. Please take a moment and click on and send a message to your representatives.  Having been an athlete before and after Title IX, I implore you to think of the women following in your footsteps, and take a moment now to have your voice heard.

Thank you, Pattie

From: Advocacy Coordinator <wosportwsw@app.topica.com>
Subject: Call to Action
Date: Mon, 25 Apr 2005 13:10:15 -0700

Write Now!

Female Athletes need you to act now!

We really need for you to do this! Two years ago, we were able to defeat Department of Education (DOE) efforts to weaken Title IX. Unfortunately, the situation is different this time around. Without public notice or comment, the deed has been done. Because of a March 17 directive from the Department of Education, colleges now have a way to stop adding women's sports teams even though women's participation is significantly lower than men's - just by administering an e-mail survey.

Overturning an existing action is much more difficult than stopping one in the first place. Legislation will be required. In order for our legislative initiative to be successful, your Congressperson must hear that his or her constituents are distressed about the current DOE action. Only then will he or she be likely to sign on as a cosponsor of the legislation or vote for it. So, e-mailing, calling or visiting your Congressperson is a critical first step. (Don't use snail mail because it will never get there due to anthrax screening procedures!)

So, we need you to help in two ways: (1) Please send your e-mail now. The link below will take you to an automated site...plug in your zip code/identity as a constituent, personalize if you want and it's done. (2) Pass this e-mail on to every friend you have who cares about investing in the health and future success of girls through sports. Ask your friends to help.

Donna A. Lopiano, Ph.D.
Chief Executive Officer
Women's Sports Foundation
Write to your Senator
Help us get 1 million girls physically active by joining our GoGirlGo! Campaign! Visit http://www.gogirlgo.com/ to find out how you can help and why it's critical that we get girls moving!

Founded in 1974 by Billie Jean King, the Women's Sports Foundation is a national charitable educational organization seeking to advance the lives of girls and women through sports and physical activity. The Foundation's Participation, Education, Advocacy, Research and Leadership programs are made possible by gifts from individuals, foundations and corporations.
Get to know the Women's Sports Foundation!

Posted by dichroic at 11:24 AM | Comments (2)

April 22, 2005

don't say it can't be done

In the comments of Katallen's powerful post on Ratzinger and why he did have a choice, I've been having a discussion with Trinker on the current status of the US and its comparison to pre- or early-Nazi Germany. My point is that I think that while there is danger and we do have to be wary and to keep speaking out, it would be much more difficult to bring that type of repression to the US than it was to Weimar Germany because of our existing diversity, our Constitutional protections, and all of our avenues to speak out, especially now on the Internet.

I was searching for something else when I came across an interview with Pete Seeger. In it, he said better than I could why speaking out one on one and in web journals and in all of the other small spots where we can be heard is important, and why it does matter, and why there is still hope:

"When the Vietnam War ended and there were no more huge demonstrations in Washington," Seeger said, "a lot of people thought, ‘Well, I guess there are no big things happening now.' I believe the big thing now is many small things. The fact that many small things are going on is the big story. I think that there are probably not hundreds of thousands but maybe millions of people like me who are working for peace and work- ing to get out the vote—but doing it in a lot of small ways, instead of one big way, and I'm convinced that that's the best way to do it.

"This is a very basic philosophical point that I'm trying to make. When you're facing an opponent over a broad front, you don't aim for the opponent's strong points, important though they may be. Pick a little outpost that you can capture and win. And then you find another place that you can capture and win it, and then you move slowly toward the big places. Look at Martin Luther King. People wondered, ‘Why is he worrying about sitting at the back of the bus or having a seat at lunch counters? Why doesn't he go after schools, housing, voting, jobs?' He took on sitting on a bus, but he won it!

Or as Pete says elsewhere:
Don't say it can't be done,
The battle's just begun,
Take it from Dr. King,
You've got to learn to sing
So drop the gun!

Posted by dichroic at 03:52 PM | Comments (3)

April 01, 2005

in pacem

I have an odd fondness for Pope John Paul II. I disagree with him on many if not most controversial issues: contraception, abortion, married priests, women clergy, gay marriage, right-to-death / right-to-life, and so on, but I can't help but honor him for his consistency, his heroism as a young man, his reaching out to other religions, and his integrity. I believe that he competely believes in his own motto ("Totally Yours") and, even more more rare, that he tries always to act on it. I think his positions and those of his Church have caused some real harm and pain (imagine being a gay Catholic), but have also done a lot of good (imagine being a Pole in the 1980s), and that he has only been wrong, not malicious, oblivious, self-righteous, or evil. I don't know whether the good outweighs the bad, but luckily I don't have to judge that.

I can't concur with those who are praying for his miraculous recovery. The man is old and tired, and has been worn out in the performance of his duty. He hasn't spared himself when he thought there were things he needed to do. He's made it clear he wants to die as he has lived, at God's will. If God wills for him to recover, I'm sure he will be happy to live to serve on, but given his age and illnesses, any reprieve can't be for all that many years. What I wish for him is what I think he would want for himself, that in life or death, whether it comes soon or late, he always feels his God near him. That seems like the right thing to hope.

I wish you peace and blessings, Karol Wojtyla. I'd like your successor to be a little less conservative, but I hope he will have your faith and your concern for duty, and that he will continue to extend the Church's hand in friendship to people of other religions, as you did.

Posted by dichroic at 03:27 PM | Comments (1)

March 11, 2005

getting in the book

Slight goof: In item 80 on my "nearly 100 things" list two entries back, I mentioned a note I'd written about the way children read. Since the original list was an email to a discussion list, that reference is to something I posted there, not in this journal. But because Naomi commented on it and because it's something I feel strongly about, I'll repost it here.

Someone on the list had quoted the following from an article she'd read:

. . . "Reading, I have an eerie sensation, a bit like deja vu, or like getting in touch with a former, lost self. At the time (and maybe this has something to do with the way children read) I somehow never fully comprehended the fact that it was fiction--almost as if I imagined these girls were real people."

I responded:
!!! Almost as if she imagined! That's not the child speaking. She's writing that as an adult and I can't tell whether she really doesn't remember how it was or whether she's soft-pedaling her words to suit her readers for fear she'll be laughed at. Either way, she's not capturing the experience of a child reading. There was no "almost as if" about it. Of course I knew Jo March wasn't real in one sense any more than Santa Claus was real (remember, I'm Jewish, so I never did believe in him)or the characters on TV. But in another sense she was more real than most of the people I knew.

After all, when I talk to you, even in person, I have to guess what you're thinking; I have to read your face and listen to your voice and compare them against my experience. You may shield your thoughts from me, not necessarily from an intent to deceive but perhaps from politeness or privacy. In fact, you
certainly will shield some thoughts; none of us ever wants even the most beloved to know all we're thinking, so there is always a barrier.

With Jo March and her literary sisters and brothers, there was no barrier. I was inside their minds and I knew exactly what mattter most to them and how they
felt about it. Moreover, no matter how much the people around me seemed not to understand what mattered to me, I knew that if Jo felt as I did, then the person who created her must have understood as well or she wouldn't have been able to write Jo. That was my first proof that there were Kindred Spirits in the world, and that I wasn't alone in the important things.

I think one writer who did understand was E. Nesbit: she often has her characters scorn anyone who starts by saying, "Let's pretend we're being..." because they know that in real play you have to *be* that thing, not think of yourself as "pretending to be".

Posted by dichroic at 03:31 PM | Comments (1)

March 02, 2005

it's not a crime to be from elsewhere. not yet.

I heard about this storythis morning on NPR, and was reminded of it by Sosotris2012 and educated further by Matociquala and her commenters. As I commented there, I'm not sure whether I'm more appalled by the idea of ankle-braceleting law-abiding immigrants or by the fact that I've only heard it on NPR (and now in blogs). Where are the outrage and the protests?

In fourth grade they brainwashed me. It took, and I've been this way ever since, and glad of it. They made me learn the words on the base of the Statue of Liberty. I'm expecting to hear any day now that they've been chiseled off and replaced with the words, "Keep your own stinkin' masses. We don't want 'em."

Posted by dichroic at 01:59 PM | Comments (0)

remember the ladies

The person who responded to a comment on mine on LJ with " What is "feminist Jewish scholarship"? Or more pointedly, what's the point?" must clearly not hang out at the same (online) places I do. Otherwise, what does he think all those people telling stories of Miriam, or Esther, or Judith, or looking out the Biblical indications that God has traditionally feminine as well as traditionally masculine attributes*, or studying the writings of lesser-known female Talmudic scholars, are doing?

Maybe it was my terminology; "feminist Jewish scholarship" is just what I call it for lack of a better term; it may not be the term all scholars of the female in Judaism use, but it's there and it's burgeoning. I come across examples in fiction, in blogs, and in more serious writing all the time. (It was a quote from the Mary Russell mysteries that let me to write the post the comment quoted above was responding to.)

A few people also objected to the idea that God has feminine or masculine attributes, saying that God transcends all things and has no gender, that we use those words because as puny humans, we have no better ones. I don't see the conflict here. If the Bible can state that humans were created in God's image (from Genesis: God [thus] created man with His image. In the image of God, He created him, male and female He created them / Vayivra Elohim et-ha'adam betsalmo betselem Elohim bara oto zachar unekevah bara otam.) then why would S/He not have the same attributes? It seems more reasonable to think that we are pallid copies of God, Who bears the numinous attributes (including, for example, the ability to give birth, as stated in Deuteronomy 32:18) of which ours are but pale shadows.

I like the idea of a God who combines and perfects male and female in one; much as the idea of a Goddess appeals to my pagan side, she's not enough, especially if Her Consort is somehow lesser. I'm really not sure what I believe about God entirely; I do wish the people who were sure would argue a little more logically and consistently, and would actually pay attention their source materials. (At least Jewish arguers are likely to have some acquaintance with the words of the Torah. Especially when I lived in Texas, I used to encounter believers in the literal word of the Bible who had apparently not read (or not remembered) the thing. Seems to me if I were to let the words of a single book define my life I'd make damn sure I knew those words thoroughly. I was embarassed for them whenever it would turn out that they knew the New Testament less well than I do - and I've never actually read through it, just picked up bits and pieces here and there.)

I am sure I believe that it is wrong to bar women from full participation in religion or anywhere else. If I were more observant I would want to read Torah and learn trupp and wind tefillin. As it is I take delight whenever I learn more of the female sages, heroes and scholars who were too often overlooked and forgotten in the more male-dominated parts of history.

Posted by dichroic at 12:24 PM | Comments (1)

February 09, 2005

not enough, never enough

Yesterday there was a story about cutbacks coming in health services provided to veterans and active duty personnel at the local Air Force Base. Today there was one about the state of Kentucky, which in funding residential drug programs for homeless people is having to cut back on low-income housing for working families, and another on how Medicaid can't pay for the drug benefit voted in two years ago. Meanwhile we've got a budget proposal that will raise the record deficit to a new higher record number. You know, I've been known to binge on spending for my hobby and then cut back elsewhere too, but my hobbies don't involve war and my cutbacks aren't taken out of the hides of people who can't afford them. No, I do not like this budget proposal.

Fortunately, I didn't have a mouthful of water when I heard the President say, "This is the most responsible budget since Reagan was in office." If you're not familiar with what happened to the deficit during the Reagand years, you may want to look here or here to see why it would have been spewed all over my steering wheel. (Note: Since we're currently running a record deficit, you can see that first chart's a few years behind.)

I wasn't going to write about the budget and the deficit, but my original topic is related, I guess, in that I have a deficit of my own, a bad case of the Never Enoughs. Like a lot of women, I have a bad case of Sisyphus Syndrome. I feel like I'm never putting in enough hours at work or getting done enough while I'm there, like I never understand well enough what I should be doing. I was never training hard enough for rowing, and now I'm never doing enough to keep in shape while I'm just exercising for fitness. Too many meals are instant or srounged because I never do enough real cooking. I never do enough studying for the IFR and because of work scheduling, weather or airplane-related cancelations, I'm never flying enough. I read about all the projects other people finish and feel like I'm never getting enough knitting done. With all of this there's never enough time to spend either with Rudder or by myself. When I do have some spare time, Rudder wants help with the website we're creating or I have to go get the taxes done or my hair cut or take the cats in for their shots. And there are things I'm neglecting entirely, like the replanting we need to do in the back yard. It feels like I just don't do well enough at any of the things I do, and though in some cases those impressions come from my boss or Rudder (not sure about the boss, but I know Rudder isn't meaning to give that impression) mostly it's just from me, because I know what I don't do or what I don't understand. I don't think I'd know good enough if I saw it, but I don't think I ever do see it anyhow. I wonder if anyone does?
Posted by dichroic at 12:41 PM | Comments (2)

January 12, 2005

leaving the country

If you're watching next week's inauguration on TV, look for a hole in the crowd. That will be where my uncle isn't. He lives in DC, but leaves for Mexico today. It's undeniable that he's going to Acapulco largely because he wants to go to Acapulco, but a strong reason for going right now is that he wants to miss the inauguration. It's not just a matter of crowds and security; he didn't leave for the Million Man March or the March for Women's Lives or many another event that brought crowds to town. Washington has the capacity to handle crowds fairly well, because they do it a lot. As for the security, he points out that blocking a train station close to the ceremony isn't terribly effective when would-be bad-guys can just get out a station earlier and walk. DC just isn't all that big.

Mostly he's going now because he doesn't want to see a man he despises inaugurated for a second term, and as a quiet protest so that he can't even be assumed to approve. I'm telling his story here to give his protest a (very slightly) wider audience.

If 20 people read this today, that will be 20 more who know about him. If those people mention it to a few others, there's that many more. Possibly more important, if a few of you reading are from other countries you will know that Americans do not have a monolithic opinion and that there are plenty of average people who question our government. It's not only radical leftists who dislike Bush, or even only people who have been hurt by his policies. My uncle is, obviously, well off enough to travel. He has both health insurance and a decent retirement plan. And he's a Vietnam veteran. He just doesn't like the man whom he believes is bad for his country.

I don't want to give the impression that he's bailing out in petulance. When he comes back he'll go back to his job, working on this country's infrastructure. And like a lot of us, he'll talk to his friends and express his ideas and support causes he believes in, and in 4 years, he'll vote his conscience again. I hope he has a good time in Mexico.

Posted by dichroic at 12:06 PM | Comments (0)

January 07, 2005

Alert: abusive bill in VA

This is why you need to keep an eye on women's rights. You. Yes, you. All persons of good will (among which group Virginia delegate John Cosgrove is patently not included). I know some of you who read this are anti-abortion. Some of you have beliefs on many other issues that are very different than mine. However, I can't imagine anyone who is interested in reading this site (more than once, anyway) would disagree with me that women are full human beings, deserving of respect both for the abilities they share with men and for their unique biological capabilities, and this bill flies in the face of both.

I read about this first from Twisted Chick via Bafleyanne but then I went and read the bill for myself rather than relying only on their interpretations. The bill would require all terminations of pregnancies to be reported in the first 12 or 24 hours, depending on whether a doctor is present. You think that's fine? Read the sentence again: ALL termination of pregnancy. That means spontaneous miscarriages, too.

As they say in Texas, that just ain't right.

Warning: the next bit was written with a sledgehammer, deliberately. Please skip a paragraph if you're feeling emotionally fragile.

This has happened to friends of mine recently - too many of them. Picture it. You long to have a baby. You dream about having a baby. You try hard to conceive. And - joy, wonder, delight - you do. And you carry a little clump of rapidly multiplying cells, feeling all the changes in your body, and dreaming dreams of holding a baby, sending a child off to school, sniffling at your grown baby's wedding - all the things that have become cliches because they're so universally felt. And then something goes wrong, either with your body or your baby. You bleed, you cramp, you miscarry, you cry, and you try to deal with having to rebuild your dreams without that baby in them. And then you have to report to your state within 12 hours, while you're still in shock and quite possibly still in pain, or risk being charged with a Class 1 (i.e. serious) misdemeanor.

It's possible Delegate Cosgrove is just an idiot, stupid rather than evil, and that he's only trying to prevent dumpster babies and coat-hanger abortions. The problem is that in his position, idiocy can lead to dire pain and consequences for some of his constituents. There's a quote from Robert Heinlein: "You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity." I submit that at a certain level, including that of elected state or federal representatives, stupidity is villainy, because of its potential to do great harm.

If you live in Virginia call or write your state representatives. If you live elsewhere, keep an eye on yours.

Posted by dichroic at 09:09 AM | Comments (1)

January 06, 2005

late but not unneeded

I was reading somewhere (a few places, actually) the other day about how Americans aren't terribly interested in the tsunami tragedy, how our news is only reporting American casualties or whether a similar tsunami might occur here, and how we don't really care about the rest of the world.

While it's true we do usually look at world events from an America-centered viewpoint (well, where else would we be viewing from?) that's not really what I've been seeing this time. I get most of my news on NPR, which might as well have subtitled itself "All Tsunami, All the Time" this week. It's true the morning network news is reporting less of it, but it is there (and despite being a "news" show; they don't really focus much on US news either, preferring to concentrate on weather, traffic, and great ideas to organize your kitchen or similar hard-edged reporting). I also look at Yahoo news, where it's been in the top three stories consistently.

Americans are responding, too. The American Red Cross alone has had over $100 million pledged -- according to NPR, as much as they got after September 11. I suspect the total of private contributions is much higher: the Red Cross was the primary agency we donated to after 911, while here it's working alongside Oxfam and UNICEF and a host of others. According to NPR, private contributions may rival the amount the US government has pledged. And maybe that's as it should be: unlike many of the other countries deeply involved in the relief effort, we don't have a socialist economy. We pay much lower taxes and leave a lot more up to private initiative. You can argue endlessly about whether our system is better or worse, but that's the system we have right now and within its context, it may be appropriate to have this balance. Amazonand Google have programs to help people donate; United Airlines is helping people donate dollar and miles and announced today that Chase Bank it matching funds donated with United credit cards, and so on.

I'm NOT saying the US has given more than others: for one thing it's not a competition and for another, it's not true. The Australian response, especially, has been mind-blowing, and that goes for both public and private contributions. Médecins Sans Frontières, which has an especially good reputation for its work in the region, has received so much aid worldwide that it's fending off further donations for the tsunami effort.

It's also undeniable that the USa little slow off the mark in responding. I can think of two reasons for that: the week between Christmas and New Year's Day is the closest thing we have to a shutdown week, and many people are also less likely to watch the news then. Also, simply, it's far away from us, both geographically and psychically. Americans don't go to Thailand or Indonesia in the numbers Aussies do. And maybe we are a little calloused to bad news from far away; we get so much of it that sometimes it's hard to feel the enormity of each calamity, and right now we are trying somehow to deal with all the news of carnage in Iraq. So, while this may not be especially justifiable, the truth is that for a lot of us it just took a while to percolate through that this was different and on a far bigger scale than anything we'd seen.

So we were a bit late in responding; thak goodness countries like Canada and Australia were not. However, from what I've been hearing, Indonesia and other countries hit hard will be rebuilding for decades, not months. There's plenty of room to pitch in; immediate aid was crucial but now it's more important to donate than to argue about how soon we should have donated. And it will be most important of all to follow through on donation pledges.

Yes, we do have news stories asking "Could This Happen Here?" I tend to think that's about fear, more than narcissism. If we pitch in now, we Americans don't have anything to be ashamed of in our response. Unless we either don't learn from this or don't fulfill our promises: then we will deserve shame.

Posted by dichroic at 01:57 PM | Comments (1)

December 13, 2004

NASA's future

Maybe in his flurry of new appointments, Shrub will do the right hting and choose Bob Crippen to head NASA. I think there will be changes, if so - Crippen's a practical, get-it-done sort of guy from all the accounts I've heard. (Not only was he the pilot of the first Shuttle Mission, he was responsible for pushing through the development of the trainer for the Space Shuttle's toilet - they still call it "Crippen's Crapper". He saw a need, he got it done.) I think any of the three aastronauts being mentioned for the position would be good, though. Astronauts tend to be scarily competent; NASA picks the best of the best of the best, just because they can. And since they spend a lot more time working on mission planning and preparation than they do actually flying, they can deal with the admin side as well as the science.

What I hope Bush will NOT do is to choose another candidate being mentioned, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, who until September directed the Missile Defense Agency. You will notice that we still don't HAVE a space-based missile defense system. One reason the original Star Wars system never got built, from what I heard in engineering scuttlebutt is that it would have been one of the most complex systems ever built, with each part built by groups who couldn't talk to each other for security systems. Not a recipe for success, and I've heard nothing to indicate later plans for space-based missile defense systems didn't have the same issues. I'm thinking this is not the person we need in charge of NASA ... unless, of course, you figure that if the government agency went down in flames (figuratively!) it would give a big boost to commercial space flight. That might be good too. Still, I think a sensible government research agency (is that an oxymoron?) collaborating with Rutan and the other commercial ventures would be the best of all worlds. Um, or planets.

Posted by dichroic at 04:23 PM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2004

left, right, right, wrong ... not so simple

I have no idea who wrote this, but the anonymous second comment on a recent post of Ebony's is perfect: "Why can't the left understand that just as so many of us in the US both love America and want to change its behaviors, so too do many of us Jews and even many Israelis love Israel and want desperately to change its policies?"

There's a story told about one of the early founders of the modern state of Israel - Ben Gurion, Weitzman, someone like that. He was asked, "Why do the Jews need to settle in Israel, when there are so many other parts of the globe that are less bitterly contested?" He answered, "Why do you drive across town to visit your mother when there are plenty of old ladies right down the street?"

I don't entirely agree with the premise, being enough of a wanderer myself not to be tied to any particular acre and unreligious enough not to worry about whether those few square miles on the edge of Africa are specially destined for my people. But the State of Israel is a reality now, no matter how many Arab countries wish to ignore it, and I do think it may be important for Jews to have a tangible country like other peoples. I just wish the government of said country would realize that they can't claim any special holiness exempting them from the standards of humanitarian conduct by which other nations are judged. In fact, the opposite should apply; a people who collectively remember being alternately welcomed and abused in the strange lands of our Diaspora ought to have a special responsibility to our neighbors.

It does bother me, as the anonymous poster said, that support of Israel tends to reside with right-wing conservatives and that the left often verge on anti-Semitism in defense of Palestinians. It's especially annoying because both sides seem to have all the wrong reasons. The right too often support Israel, it seems, because they like the military stories where a tiny country showed unexpected strength against bigger neighbors, and they don't want to see any of the land gains from those wars abridged. Even weirder is the idea - and I have heard this said almost this baldly - that the Jews are God's chosen people and thus Christians ought to be nice to them or else God's gonna git'em. Or something like that.

On the other hand, the left tend to be against Israel for its abuse of those poor "innocent" Palestinians, forgetting that if you kill someone with a rock or a suicide bomb, it's not unfair for his buddies to hit back, even if their weapons are bigger.

Jews have a right to have a country. It wasn't right to get it by summarily kicking Palestinians off land where they had been for generations. On the other hand the land of Palestine was divided into a Jewish and an Arab state (Jordan) which, as no one ever seems to notice, doesn't exactly welcome Palestinians either. That division by fiat of the occupying British empire may not have been the best way to solve that issue (dividing India from Pakestan along religious lines hasn't been a total success either) but I can't think of a much better solution offhand. Similarly today, Jews expanding into areas formerly agreed to be Palestinian are wrong, raids into refugee camps are wrong, suicide bombers are wrong, groups dedicated to the total destruction of Israel are wrong, there is wrong-doing galore and no shortage of blame to be shared.

None of that invalidates the right of Israel to exist and of Israelis to be safe in their country or the rights of Palestinians to have homes that are safe and to be treated with the same dignity as any other humans.

Also, none of the issues involved are simple or binary enough to be addressed by a simple right/left split in American politics. And none of this is what I meant to write today, but that comment was so perfectly expressed that it set me off.

Posted by dichroic at 09:04 AM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2004

ding, dong....

Not that I think this is a move toward preserving Constitutionally guaranteed liberties or anythiing, but still....

WaHOOOOOOO!!!!! Umbridge (er, yeah, whoever) is gone!!

Posted by dichroic at 04:56 PM | Comments (2)

more serious stuff

Since I've been impersonating Little Missy Sunshine in my writings here since the election, I want to clarify where I am. It's not that I think everything is all right. It's not that I don't believe we elected the wrong guy. (Though I'm not at all sure anyone running was the right person.) It's not that I don't think we have deep divisions in the US and deeper problems. It's not that I don't think hatred has found a festering foothold in our politics. And it's not that I'm not worried and scared.

It is that I don't believe being scared is a reason not to act. I believe that most of those who hate are scared and may turn around in time if we can get past their fear. (Logic is not often a good weapon against fear.) I don't believe the roar of millions with good will can't drown out the yappings of the hate-sowers, even when the latter are in positions of power. I snagged this quote from Caveat Lector:

Y aquí estoy, tratando, creyendo que no es tarde para hablar. Tiempo de encrucijada: lucha o retirada. (And I am here, tyring, believing that it is not too late to speak. It is time to choose: fight or retreat.)

Rubén Blades, “Encrucijada,” from Tiempos

All may yet be well, but only if we work and sweat and speak and fight and bleed, though I still hope the blood will be only metaphorical. Julian of Norwich said:

He did not say 'You will not be troubled, you will not be belaboured, you will not be disquieted;' but he said: 'You will not be overcome.'


Posted by dichroic at 01:05 PM | Comments (1)

November 08, 2004

a modest proposition

Here's a plan that's been fermenting in my head for a while, though I've been thinking about it more since the election. I don't understand why the government should have anything to do with marriage as a sacred rite. If it's "sacred", how can it be relevant to a state proclaiming its separation from any and all churches? Rudder and I had no problems getting married - there's one of us of each sex, both of us are US citizens, neither had been married before, neither had syphilis (we were married in Pennsylvania, where they test for syphilis - but not (at that time) AIDS) and so on. We had to go to the registrar, tell them our parents names and where they were born, go through an odd rigmarole to get our blood tested because we were living in another state, and then a few months later we had to pay an additional $1000 in taxes beyond what we would have aid if we'd just been living together.

I don't understand any of it - no, that's not true. I understand why the government needs to be involved when it's about to hand out a bunch of new rights, like right of survivorship, right to visit in hospitals, rights to make decisions for each other. common proprty in some states, and (putative) tax benefits (that turned out to be penalties in our case). What I don't understand is why any of that would need to be coupled (oops) to what a lot of people currently in government keep describing as the sacred union of a man and a woman.

Clearly we need to legislate civil partnerships - give declared partners tax benefits and rights of survivorship and next-of-kin and so on. But why should that privilege be limited to hitherto-unrelated pairings of one man and one woman? Instead, we could let *any* two people who intend to spend the rest of their lives declare themselves partners, not just straights and not even just romantic couples.

For instance, when their husbands died in the 1918 influenza epidempic and World War I, my great-grandmother and her sister moved into together. They raised their children as one family, and they stayed together a long time, until my grandmother was grown up and my great-grandmother remarried. I cannot see any logical or moral reason why those two sisters should not have had the same benefits a married couple could have had. Under today's laws they'd have gotten some of the tax breaks by filing head-of-household, and might have been able to claim to be each others' next of kin, but what if they had been unrelated friends rather than sisters? Or what if one had died and other siblings had wanted to split proceeds from a house the two had lived in?

This will only work if the partnerships are long-term, Restrict them any way you want - require people to be in only one civil partnership at a time, require cohabitation, make it difficult to get out of to discourage easy "divorce", whatever. That's fine. But don't restrict any unpartnered adult from entering into a partnership with anyone she chooses.

That leaves "marriage", as a religious rite joining two people in romantic love, just where it belongs, in the churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, meeting-houses, and so on. No religion should be forced to marry anyone they don't approve of, but conversely anyone who did want a religious wedding should be able to find someone to perform it.

The beauty of this system is that it ought to be hard for anyone to disapprove of it. (What? You want two little old ladies on Social Security not to have the benefits a million-dollar sports star and his wife can have??) The only flaw I can see is that it wouldn't help people who want to form families with more than one other adult - again, not necessarily polyamorists, but potentially also, say, a daughter living with her elderly parents. It would seem any number of people should be able to form a partnership, but not only would that likely not fly past at least 11 states I can think of offhand, it could also create some nasty situations when more than one person claims the right to make decisions in cases of incapacitation. ("What do you mean, you approved donating her heart after the fatal accident? I planned to have it bronzed and keep it under my pillow forever!") So for practical purposes, it may need to be limited to pairs of people, and larger families would just have to aggregate in even numbers.

Posted by dichroic at 03:27 PM | Comments (5)

November 05, 2004

the real things

I don't see it. I've heard people complaining about all the hate and divisiveness they're seeing on the Internet, but it's not what I've been seeing. Obviously that's largely because I carefully choose the journals I read, but what I'm seeing is there too, and I see reasons to hope. There are the conservatives who understand the pain of their liberal friends, the people who believe in not outlawing love who are vowing not to retreat, the people who are trying to appreciate each other instead of automatically dividing all people into two sides and hating the other side. As for the politicians, sink 'em all. They're not the most important thing here, even when they think they are. I don't even like Frank Sinatra, but it's his voice I'm hearing in my head now, and the Internet looks like America to me.

What is America to me?
A name, a map, or a flag I see
A certain word, democracy
What is America to me?

The house I live in
A plot of earth, a street
The grocer and the butcher
And the people that I meet

The children in the playground
The faces that I see
All races and religions
That's America to me

The place I work in
The worker by my side
The little town, the city
Where my people lived and died

The howdy and the handshake
The air a feeling free
And the right to speak your mind out
That's America to me.

I promise, I may add further links to this one but otherwise I'll write about something other than the election next. I've got a post on book stuff brewing (really, really obscure bookstuff) and one on a political issue but with an actual detailed proposal.

Posted by dichroic at 10:31 AM | Comments (0)

November 03, 2004

neither shutting up nor giving up

I feel a little better this morning, since calling my local chapter of the ACLU and donating about four times my usual annual amount. The woman I spoke to said about five people have called this morning to join up.

What's bothering me now is that, given Mr. Bush's visual issues (that is, the congenital inability to see any shades of gray) I'm afraid he'll see only that he won and will take that as a mandate for four more years of the same. But 51%, or 50.5 % or whatever it is of the popular vote is not a mandate. What it is, is a "Yes, but..." It's some people that just don't like Kerry for whatever reason. It's some people that think changing leaders during a battle is a bad idea, no matter if some things are going badly. It's some people who worry more about terrorists than about losing civil rights, and many people (though a fwe less) who feel the opposite. It's people who didn't want sons and daughters sent to war, but who desperately need them to have been sent for a good reason, and people who hate that a supposed "conservative" President is spending money like water but who fear a Democrat (albeit one who was part of balancing the budget) might be worse.

What it is, is a call to self-examination, to re-examine what you thought was true, to keep on with what still looks right and to admit and change what doesn't. Unfortunately, I'm afraid it's a call our re-elected President won't hear. I hope I'm wrong.

I'm disappointed by the 11 states voting against gay marriage, too, but large-scale change is never easy. Take heart in the famous words of Governor George Wallage, speaking on a similar issue: "Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever." It's not forever - it's only forty years later and segregation policies have fallen in Alabama, and in the US, and in the world. Change in attitudes is a juggernaut that moves slowly - the change to Wallace's ideas isn't finished yet - but it's damned hard to stop.

Four more years isn't forever, and a country in which Mousepoet and Mechaieh can both write about the strength of our freedoms, though writing on opposing sides of the election, is not a country without hope. Meanwhile, I'm still here. I'm still mouthy, still Jewish, still pro-choice, still believing in shades of gray, in innocent until proven guilty, in the Constitution of my country and the freedoms it guarantees, and still convinced that everyone - Arab and Jew, gay and straight, liberal and conservative - deserve the freedoms I have. I plan to spend the next four years not shutting up. Bring it on.

Posted by dichroic at 10:27 AM | Comments (3)

November 02, 2004

preserved to this day

Baruch ata Adonai, elohenu melech ha'olam shehechiyanu vikiyimanu vehigiyanu, lazman ha'zeh.

There were lines at my local polling place this morning despite the ease and large participation of early voting here. It looks like if there is a surprise this election, it will NOT be a dearth of voter turnout. (Of course things could still change - I'm sure it's the most committed voters who tend to be the ones out early. But still, this is unusual; there was no wait at all when I went to vote in the primary.)

And speaking of Shehechiyanu, I loved the prayers before voting over at Velveteen Rabbi:

Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has graced human beings with thought, enabling us to understand and to choose.

I also really liked the translation of "Yisroel" in the longer prayer as "God-wrestlers", both more literal and more inclusive than the usual implication that it applies only to the nation of Israel (in the sense of all Jews, not of literal statehood). What is a vote if not the result of a struggle to determine what you feel is right?

This large turnout really pleases me. I'm been embarassed for my country so many times, seeing the huge participation in the first free elections in places like South Africa and Afghanistan among people who know what it's like not to have a voice. It's reassuring to see that the way to get Americans to vote is so simple: just convince them that it matters.

In an odd way, this election and especially the NPR coverage of it has done a lot to bolster my faith in the people of my country. It has nothing to do with the candidates, neither of whom has fought an entirely clean campaign or of the parties, who have been worse. But NPR spends a lot of airtime talking to regular people at debates and rallies and on the street, and they are good about letting the people speak for themselves, in full explanations rather than short answers. There have been a few gung-ho stand-by-my-party's-man types (most of these were on one side, unsurprisingly) but in general the people supporting both sides had considered issues and made up their own minds in a thoughtful way. It was good to hear. It's not even just NPR. The first substantive political exchange I heard this election was on a local rock station from Alice Cooper of all people. They had Alice hosting a weekend show (he lives out here) and he was talking to a caller. Alice expressed a view, the caller disagreed, they both gave their opinions, and both were both rational and civil. It was wonderful. It was what the candidates should have been doing. It made me sure we'll survive whatever happens this election, somehow, despite the politicians.

Posted by dichroic at 09:05 AM | Comments (0)

November 01, 2004

only one more day

What Scalzi said, but with some caveats. One is that while I don't think Kerry has descended to anywhere near the Shrub level in this campaign, there's still been enough nastiness and fact-twisting on his and Edwards' parts to make me feel unable to vote for them as whole-heartedly as I can vote against Bush. Another is the excellent point M'ris made; I don't want someone who will do whatever it takes, either. I want someone who will fight evil without using evil's tactics wherever possible, someone who will try hard not to kill children, not even foreign children, and who will not restrict civil liberties one iota more than what is absolutely required by the exigencies of war. (I keep thinking of a letter Robert A. Heinlein wrote to John W. Campbell, pointing out that in wartime it was (is?) illegal to speak against the war to a member of the Armed Services, for reasons of morale. I'm still ambivalent on that one.)

I think Kerry's chest-pounding in this instance is from a perceived need to appear as macho as his opponent, but I think it's the wrong tack. It's the same sort of thing Democrats have done since Republicans (was it Bush, Sr.?) began accusing their opponents of being "the L-word", and it's ridiculous. I'd rather see them do as other out-groups have done and take back the labels used against them. I'd like to see Kerry stand up and say, "Yes, I do have a nuanced position, dammit. We need to hunt down those SOBs who have killed innocent people and bring them to justice* - but we can't assume that everyone who doesn't like us or who gets in our way is a terrorist, either. And we can't do it by grinding down our own civil rights, either, or we become the thing we're trying to abolish." He won't say that, I don't suppose. He'll just keep trying to look as tough as Geordie in case a few more undecideds might be making their decision based solely on the aroma of testosterone riding from each man.

*Actually, he keeps saying he wants to "hunt down and kill" terrorists. And every time I hear it I keep thinking "Nuremberg Trials". Some of the worst human-born monsters known to history were given fair trial there, and I stand with those who call it one of the high points of civilization to date.

Putting together all the polls and predictions I've been hearing, the political pundits and prognosticators seem to posit that this election will have a record turnout, that there will be so many close calls and so much confusion that we won't know who will be President for some time afterward, and that Bush will squeak in to office eventually, after which he will once again not apply so much as a bit of spackle to rejoin this house divided. I'm going to go way out on a limb and predict that some part of that is wrong. Unfortunately the usefulness of my prediction is a bit limited in that I have no idea which part. I hope it's not the large turnout; I'm sadly sure is not the divisiveness of a putative Bush presidency. With luck, the wrong part will be the close call and the delay.

I've promised myself that if Bush wins, I'm making (another) donation to the ACLU.

Posted by dichroic at 12:17 PM | Comments (0)

October 14, 2004

Geordie Whelps

You know what's wrong with politics these days? I mean, besides the things you were no doubt about to list? No good protest songs, that's what. And I'm not even thinking Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan so much as the days of broadsides hawked on the streets. There aren't too many good nicknames, either (the exception being Molly Ivins' contribution, "Shrub"), but that can be fixed by borrowing from the past.

As can the protest song issue. Here's my attempt to remedy the situation. As may be obvious if you know the song, it's to the tune of "Cam' Ye O'er Frae France".
Cam ye o'er frae France,
Cam ye o'er by Berlin
Saw ye Geordie Whelps
Buildin' coalitions,

Or were ye at the place
Where they keep Dick Cheney
Saw ye Geordie's grace
Playin' the Lone Ranger?

Him that has shall get
So the rich shall profit,
Him with nane shall wait
Should he need a doctor

We hae full health care,
It's the world's envy
All ye need's the fare
Tae fare as well as Geordie.

Can't afford gas heat
Can't afford the driving
We hae crow to eat
O'er the mess in Iraq

Were there no nukes there?
It's of little matter,
"God is on our side,
It's black and white," says Geordie.
Posted by dichroic at 04:40 PM | Comments (0)

September 09, 2004

turn-out rates

I think I have a new explanation for low US voter turn-out. If the November election had instead happened a month or two ago, I think turn-out would have been high - it's obviously an important election and we have the memory of last time's narrow margins to coax us to the polls. The longer this goes on, though, the lower each campaign stoops. By November, we may just see voters staying home en masse not through apathy but through disgust.

Posted by dichroic at 01:49 PM | Comments (1)

September 07, 2004


Drat. A vote wasted.

For a while there, anyone registered in any party in this state could choose to vote in either major party's primary. That didn't last too long, unfortunately. So for years, though I'd prefer to be registered Independent for accuracy's sake, I've been a registered Democrat purely so I could vote in primaries. Despite our excellent Democratic governor, this state is Republican enough that the Dem. primaries are often unimportant, with one or no candidates for local office. On the other hand, I did get to vote in the Presidential primary in February, which I wouldn't have as a Rep.

A few weeks ago, I was informed by some nice vote-registering volunteers that as it happens, Independents here still can vote in either primary. I happily reregistered and asked for an early ballot for both the primary today and the general election in November.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, these were volunteers with bad timing. It must have been about three weeks ago and apparently it takes four weeks for registration changes to take effect. My first indication was when I got a Democratic early ballot. I was hoping that the news just hadn't quite sifted through, so I went to the polls in person, but no luck. I was only allowed to vote as a Democrat - I think of all the open offices there was only about one where I actually had a choice between two people. I wouldn't mind, but there is a Republican primary that really matters, between an ultraconservative and a moderate for State Representative, that I had wanted to vote in.

The voting volunteer staff helpfully assured me that my reregistration should go through in time for the November general election and so I would then be able to vote for whomever I wanted. It scares me a little that I had to explain that I'd be able to do so anyway, that being sort of the point of a general election.

Still, at least I have once again earned my right to gripe about my government.

Posted by dichroic at 03:20 PM | Comments (0)

September 01, 2004

unexpected flash of intelligence, promptly steamrollered

I don't know who it is I should be more scared of, Bush or his handlers. The other day he answered a question with a level of intelligence and a grasp on reality I don't generally expect from him. He said, "I don't think you can win it [the war on terror]."

That happens to be logically true. "Winning a war" is a phrase that generally means the cessation of hostilities. No matter what we do, we will never get to a point where there are no terrorist actions, not unless the Apocalypse happens and there is no more hatred in the world.

Is that a reason for not fighting? Hell no. What is possible (I believe) is to get to a point where there's much less terrorism, where the vast majority of sane people abhor the idea and refuse to support or knuckle under to any form of terrorism. An analogy is the US Civl Rights movement of the 1960s; there are still racists and we're not done even forty years later, but we don't have anywhere ner the sort of institutionalized hatred we once did. It's a battle worth fighting.

Bush sounded like he realized this, as I'd hope my country's President would ... and then all the spin doctors rushed in with "damage control" and creating more damage to truth than they were controlling, insisting that no, no, no, Bush didn't really mean that, he wasn't going soft, of course he believed we'd win the war. Then Kerry rushed in, seizing the chance to be the tough one and vowing up and down that he believed we could win this war no matter what those sissies on the other side said.

I'll be glad when this election is over and we can go back to seeing things in shades of gray.

On the domestic front, my scarf is done, at least the knitting part, and now I just have to tuck in ends, add fringe, and figure out where I can wear it or who to give it to. With luck I'll have time this weekend to start on the next thing; I'll probably take Nora's suggestion and do my poncho in Turkish stitch. Other plans for this weekend include buying airfare to Boston for October, doing some rowing videotaping for coaching purposes, having people over to watch Masters Nationals and Olympics videos, and maybe some flying with Rudder.

Posted by dichroic at 11:30 AM | Comments (0)

August 31, 2004

confirmed unprejudices

Maybe it's because of their decision to spotlight moderate members of their party, but I'm having an odd reaction to the convention. Or rather, I'm having a completely standard and common reaction, but in an odd way.

I had my pre-existing opinions confirmed.

Yes, that's most people's usual reactions to political speeches. The difference is that this isn't an opinion on who's better. I have a belief that most people are not adherents to one strict line or another; that they have opinins somewhere in the middle on most issues and that they choose their candidate and party affiliation according to how they prioritize those beliefs. So you can have two people with exactly the same views on various issues, but one votes Democrat and one votes Republican according to which of those issues are most important to them. This is complicated further by the fact that most issues in real life aren't binary, even the most divisive ones. For example, I think most people believe in legal abortion in some circumstances, even though not all of those would describe themselves as pro-choice. Those beliefs run from on-demand in any trimester on one extreme to only to save the mother's life on the other, with in-between steps of saving the mother's life or health, legal in cases of rape or incest, legal only in the first trimester, and endless other shadings. Social Security, Medicare, Iraq, war on terrorism, taxes, personal liberties, same thing.

What I kept hearing over and over in speeches and interviews from Bush supporters, from John McCain to alternate convention delegates - and again, maybe this is just because they're highlighting the moderates - was, "I disagree with him on some issues, but we need someone who will be firm and unwavering on the war in Iraq." I have a niggling suspicion that "some issues" here means "most domestic issues", but I may be wrong on that.

Posted by dichroic at 02:44 PM | Comments (0)

August 10, 2004

data-based decisions: A Good Thing

I have no evidence whether this claim that Kerry and Edwards are not among the most liberal Senators is any more accurate than the rival claims that they are. I'm inclined to trust it at least somewhat because it references sources and describes exactly what data is being used. It does bring up some interesting points, though.

Remember, I'm a statistician by profession. I get paid for figuring out how to collect and analyze data. You have been warned.

First and most obvious, statistical claims are only as valid as the data on which they are based. Further, they are only as good as the sampling methods used to select a manageable number of points from that data. For example, say you decided to poll for the current Presidential election and decided that a good place to corner ordinary people would be at gas stations. That could bias the data in several ways: 1. Some men still gas up their wife's car, by virtue of the traditional gender model in which the car is the domain of the male. That could get a higher percentage of male respondants. 2. Possibly poorer people are less likely to drive, either taking the bus or carpooling to save money. Or maybe they buy smaller cars that use less gas. Or maybe they tend to drive older cars that use more gas. Whichever it is, it's a possible source of bias. 3) More people in crowded cities have access to good public transit systems and so drive less. Those city centers tend to skew more liberal, especially the Eastern cities, than rural areas.

The article linked above makes the point that 2003 voting data is not representative and thus not a valid sample.

Next, I'm getting very, very tired of hearing the word "liberal" used as a pejorative. The root is from "liberty" (or its Latin equivalent) and was formerly used to mean free in the sense of generous, as in "a liberal host". These days it's used to describe a certain cluster of political views. The thing is, it's a perfectly valid set of viewpoints. So is the set usually denoted "Conservative". Neither is intrinsically dishonorable.

The even more crucial point is that very few people believe in or even agree on all the viewpoints denoted by either convenient label. So how about we give up on empty convenience and actually argue real issues?

Final point: it's rare for a Senator to be at either extreme except as compared to other Senators. Most of them are more centrist than many of the people who elect them, precisely because they are elected by large numbers of people and because even the most homogeneous areas are not totally unanimous. The exceptions are where the only opposition is clearly unsuitable for one reason or another or where a politician has tried to appear more centrist during the election than he or she turned out to be in actual use. (The Shrub-in-Chief comes to mind here. And there I've displayed my biases, which are another thing an intelligent voter ought to bear in mind when reading anyone's statistical claims.)

Posted by dichroic at 02:23 PM | Comments (0)

August 03, 2004

pity, silence, and shame

I've been reading Misia's post, "No Pity. No Shame. No Silence". The post is interesting, compelling, and a good idea. The comments are downright scarifying, in the sense of flaying a protective skin off your emotions.

Though I am one of the lucky ones, just the cases I know of among my friends support the commonly heard statistic that 1 in 4 women have been sexually assaulted. Given that it's not necessarily something people want to talk about basic statistics tells me the real number must be higher. Even that isn't enough to know, though, because the definition is so vague and because it leaves out the men who have been violated (one male friend I know of, and his brother - others have undergone emotional abuse).

Still, I can't entirely concur in Misia's slogan. No Shame and No Silence, certainly. We need to do whatever it takes to put the blame on assaulters rather than on victims, to help victims feel less isolated and to let them see that healing is possible, and especially to help adused children understand it's not their fault. But No Pity? I have more trouble with that. No escaping the consequences, certainly, whether those include jail time, therapy, having their names shouted out so everyone will know and resulting ostracism, or all of the above. Sane adults bear the responsibility for their actions no matter what led them into those actions, even if they themselves were abused. Juveniles need to bear whatever consequences are appropriate to their age (therapy, juvenile detention, etc) to teach them those actions are not acceptable in this society. But even so, I can't manage no pity. I wouldn't want to be inexorablyand irreprieveably sentenced to living in the head of a person who would do / has done such a thing. I keep thinking of the little boy in Rilla of Ingleside who, during WWI, said the best punishment for the Kaiser would be to turn him into a really good man ... because then he would have to live with what he had done.

Posted by dichroic at 02:45 PM | Comments (2)

July 13, 2004

a letter to my Senator

Below is the text of an email I just sent to my Senator, John McCain. McCain is a conservative, but one who decides for himself on big issues rather than always toeing a party line. I rather like him. I wish I'd gotten a chance to decide between him and Bill Bradley four years ago, instead of the choice we were given. I might have had a hard time deciding which one I liked more - what a pleasant dilemma. I didn't bother writing to my other Senator, John Kyle, because I don't suppose there's much point. Maybe I should have anyway, for the sake of being counted.

Sen. McCain,

I read your book "Why Courage Matters," the other day. (Bought, incidentally, not borrowed. Consider it a campaign contribution.) I am writing to ask you to call on the courage portrayed in that book. As an Arizona resident for nearly a decade, I have admired your courage and integrity in choosing your own positions and sticking to them, rather than performing to someone else's script and conforming to a party line. Though I am not of a conservative viewpoint on most issues, I have voted for you twice because of those characteristics.

I am asking you to exercise fortitude in standing up to your party's right wing on the "protection" of marriage amendment to the Constitution currently propsed. I know it is very difficult for a Senator to break with the views of a President of his own party, but that's what I ask you to do. Please do NOT support passage of this amendment.

Though I am a heterosexual woman married to a man, I happen to believe that legalizing gay marriage is the right and moral thing to do, for many reasons: supporting families, fairness, civil rights, human decency. I can't see that my own marriage is in any way threatened by what other people do in their private lives. You may disagree. But that's not even really the main issue here. The U.S. Constitution is a great and hallowed document and a proud guarantor of individual freedoms. It should *not* be used to restrict individual liberties. We've done that once before in that name of a restrictive and mandated morality, with Prohibition, and that wasn't exactly a great success. We ought to learn from our mistakes.

Please, Senator, vote to stifle this proposed amendment. Marriage may not be in danger, but in this tense time, individual liberties need all the protection they can get.

Thank you,
Paula Berman

Posted by dichroic at 01:24 PM | Comments (4)

July 02, 2004

the fifth freedom: freedom to be female

Since this will probably be my last entry before the Fourth of July, it's appropriate for me to write about one of the single factors that has contributed most to my own personal freedom: feminism. I'm talking about the whole thing here, both the first wave that won me the vote and the right to own my own salary and the second, that gave me a chance to get an education and job to earn that salary.

Don't look at me like that. Don't give me those comments about how you fetched a pillow for your husband because he was tired and you weren't and you're sure "the feminists" would disapprove. Don't tell me, as a coworker once memorably did, that the words makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and it was only your own father's sacrifice in paying for your college tuition that got you your job. (She was working as a software engineer, at the time. And making the same money as the guy at the next desk.) Catch the next time-traveling bus back to 1950 and see what kind of engineering job your fancy anachronistic education gets you, ma'am. For that matter, while you're there, take a survey and see how many fathers in that year sacrificed for their daughters' educations. My own grandfather didn't, and he was as loving a father as anyone would want, willing to take any pains to get his children what he thought they needed. He sold his car to afford a leg brace my mother needed after a bout with spinal meningitis, but he thought a college degree for her would be a waste of time and money.

Now, I do understand there are a lot of people who disagree with the current priorities of some of the feminist organizations - that's a different issue. There are a lot of things you can do in that situation: Don't join those groups. Or join one and get it going in a direction you favor, or start your own group. Contribute to groups whose causes you do support, or at least make sure you vote your issues.

I also know plenty of women who are glad to be able to stay home instead of working outside the house. In some cases those are the most ardent feminists I know; they want to choose to stay home, not be trapped there, and they want their sons and daughters to have choices too.

I don't know anybody, though, that admits to disagreeing with the basic core issues of feminism, and if I did I wouldn't like them. A chance to get any job you have the ability to do well. Equal pay for equal work. Status commensurate with their importance for the jobs traditionally considered "women's work", like teaching and nursing, and appreciation and respect for the hard unpaid work women still do a much greater percentage of, like raising children and making a clean and comfortable home. Most basic and important of all, a universal realization that women are as good and capable and important and human as men. Those are the beliefs that make a feminist. Welcome to your new label.

We can argue the finer points later, and we can argue them forever: What should be legal? What issues best support womens' individual freedoms? And mens', for that matter? What's best for the children in our society? Exactly where do we draw the line between rights of the state and rights of the individual? Are women different than men? In what ways? How do we end rape? How much time should we spend worrying about discrimination in privileged countries versus issues like female infanticide or female circumcision, rape or coerced marriages or better food reserved for males in poorer societies? Does it even make sense to talk about "women's issues" or are these all issues for all of us?

I don't know the one best answer to all of those, and I bet you don't either. If you do, you have better things to be doing than reading this rant. Go out and fix the world. But don't tell me you're not a feminist unless you really truly believe that women are inferior to men, should be paid less and should leave the educational and career opportunities to men, and should spend their lives taking care of men. If you do believe those things, don't tell me that either. Just go away.

Oh, and if you do agree that all humans deserve respect and then someone tells you that you're not a feminist because you don't agree with a particular issue her organization supports, or because you decided it was important to stay home and raise your kids, tell her divisiveness is not an effective tactic, in the long run. And then tell her to go take a flying leap.

Posted by dichroic at 11:20 AM | Comments (4)

June 21, 2004

It launched!

As you may have noticed, I didn't make it to the SpaceShipOne launch today. I couldn't find anyone to drive up with me, and I wasn't sure it would be all that visually exciting, since the actual rocket motor part was planned to happen some 50,000 feet up after the craft had been boosted by a larger airplane. I am very pleased to say that Rutan managed just fine without my presence - there's a Reuters story here and a more detailed one from the Beeb , as well as one at Space.com. I am not so pleased with the news coverage; I didn't hear anything about it while it was happening, though it is now - finally - on Reuters top stories. I imagine it will be up there for about twenty minutes before some further coverage of threats of beheading edges it out. (Later note: I was right, but there are stories up all over Yahoo's Aerospace and Space news sections.) I wish they had covered it in more detail, as far as I'm concerned, Burt Rutan is the kind of hero who improves the future for our whole species.

Speaking of the news, I do not really think (most of the time) that Bush is the sort of heartless ghoul who would be glad of an atrocity if it helped his campaign. I would much prefer to believe that he is anguished at the very idea of a beheading. (Let's just ignore his record on the death penalty as governor of Texas, for the sake of argument.) However, even granting him the most feeling of hearts and the noblest of intentions, there must be some small imp in the back of his mind who notes the recent news and whispers, "There's another score for our side." I can't think of anything more likely to stiffen my country's resolve and make a majority want to keep forces in Iraq than vile and bloody attacks on American and allied civilians. I don't know what these particular terrorists are planning, but they're obviously not basing their thoughts on any knowledge of our history or character. Then again, my pick for most effective act of rebellion by an Arab group comes form a Tom Clancy novel: one of his books had a group of Palestinians sit down in front of the Israeli army and begin singing "We Shall Overcome". In Arabic. In front of TV cameras. I think that might actually work as well as it did in the book. I'd certainly like to see it tested.

I don't know much about the Korean national character but .... I've seen Seoul, and I've seen pictures of Seoul during the Korean war. Anyone who can get from the latter to the former in a few decades isn't lacking in strength of mind.

Oh, and speaking of Presidents, can we please put the flags back up already? This isn't like a standing ovation; no matter how long you leave them lowered, he's not going to come back out.

Posted by dichroic at 01:17 PM | Comments (0)

June 09, 2004

As I said, he could have been worse.

Good heavens.

The following, which I found over at Fresh Bilge: A Salty Journal, is from a speech Ronald Reagan gave in 1964, supporting Barry Goldwater:

Senator [J. William] Fulbright [D., Ark.] has said at Stanford University that the Constitution is outmoded. He referred to the president as our moral teacher and our leader, and he said he is hobbled in his task by the restrictions in power imposed on him by this antiquated document. He must be freed so that he can do for us what he knows is best. And Sen. [Joseph] Clark of Pennsylvania, another articulate spokesman, defines liberalism as "meeting the material needs of the masses through the full power of centralized government."

Well, I for one resent it when a representative of the people refers to you and me--the free man and woman of this country--as "the masses." This is a term we haven't applied to ourselves in America. But beyond that, "the full power of centralized government"--this was the very thing the Founding Fathers sought to minimize. They knew that governments don't control things. A government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they know when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. They also knew, those Founding Fathers, that outside of its legitimate functions, government does nothing as well or as economically as the private sector of the economy.

I can't draw any conclusions about Reagan as President from this; a man who had switched parties a decade before would certainly be able to alter his opinions in the following deacde and a half. But it certainly says a lot about the current news. For one thing, I'm glad Fulbright isn't currently in politics. More important is what it says about corruption by power. As I recall, LBJ was President at the time. And so there they were, wanting to remove the checks and balances restraining their man. Now the Republicans are in power, making similar claims. Once again, I can only thank the Framers of the Constitution for giving us a government not easily alterable by any party in power.

Posted by dichroic at 02:07 PM | Comments (1)

a moral dilemma -- luckily, not mine this time

This is perilously close to schadefreude for my peace of mind, but I've been rather enjoying watching Bush alienating what I think of as his natural constituency. I ran into a firefighter today and asked her if her coworkers were still irritated with GWB over 9/11 (when in the first flush of response to heroism he promised them funding for improvements and never delivered). She told me that she thought that had died down but that firefighters do not support Bush. Why? Because he's since promised them funds for improvements and never delivered. I see a theme here.

Others are annoyed at him for other reasons. There are apparently some hunters annoyed with his environmental policies, because they would like their children to be able to hunt where their parents did. Now there are conservative Constitutional scholars dismayed at this new memo suggesting that the President is above Federal law.

It's a rough situation to be in. I've never been sympathetic to people who don't vote because they don't like either candidate -- it sounds to me like an excuse for laziness -- but I'm beginning to realize that may be a valid position for at least some people. There are people who won't and shouldn't vote for Kerry because they disagree with all of his positions and yet who can't support Bush for the reasons above and others. What should they do? It's a rough spot to be in for someone who really wants to participate in his or her country's future.

One possibility may be to vote Libertarian, for those whose opinions tend that way anyhow. I hear their candidate this year is a Constitutional scholar, which is a good start. He stilll won't win, but it might send a message to Bush and his party that they do need to change their platform a bit to serve their constituency - and what else is a platform for? On the other hand, that might have the same issues that voting for Nader does for liberals - you may like someone better than the candidate of your usual party, but you might still not want to help the opponent win. I don't really know whether Republicans (and those who usually vote that way) have the same opinions about Kerry that Democrats (and those who usually vote that way) do about Bush. Obviously they don't like him, as Dems didn't like Bush Sr. and Reagan, but I don't think it's as personal and pointed as feelings about Shrub are for so many people. Still, it's a difficult dilemma and I don't envy anyone caught on its horns.

Posted by dichroic at 10:41 AM | Comments (1)

June 07, 2004

I do seem to be writing about him, after all

My first reaction to Reagan's death, actually, was , "Oh, I thought he'd died a while back." Oops. My second one was pretty much the same as my reaction to everything else I've read about him in the past twenty years or so: "What's all the fuss about?"

I didn't particularly like him when he was President (I wasn't old enough to vote either time) but I can't say I hated him. He really was a great President .... if you were rich, straight, male, and not all that concerned about people who weren't. He never struck me as being all that bright, but that's not a major flaw in a chief executive if you have advisors who are. Unfortunately Reagan had this tendency to appoint people who either ended up getting indicted or who suborned the purpose of their agencies. Ham Jordan springs to mind, and James Watt.

Trickle-down economics strikes / struck / has stricken me as cruel: how long were poor people supposed to wait for that trickle to drop? And isn't it ironic that they are the ones who can't afford to wait? Still, as with the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, I don't believe Reagan was being malicious so much as oblivious to the pain of people whose problems were unlike his. That can do as much damage and cause as much hurt in the end and neither attribute has any business being part of a United States President, but still it's harder for me to get as upset over obliviousness as I do over malice.

I don't think Reagan should have gotten as much credit as he did for the fall of communism, just because I don't think any President has that much effect on the world. (Er, any President with enough of the rudiments of honor to be bound by our system of checks and balances, anyhow.) Still it seems likely that his influence and resolve at least helped.

I disagreed with a lot of his positions; I'm more concerned to make sure that a rising tide really does lift all the boats, not just the rich people's yachts, and that our freedoms extend to even those of us choose not to live like the Cleaver family. I don't think Reagan would have disagreed with those things so much as just not had them on his radar. I'm frankly baffled by some claims I've seen that he was one of our greatest Presidents. The people who knew Reagan are saying that he was a good man with a strong and unyielding code of morals whose Presidency was an epoch in this century. All in all that's not a bad epitaph.

And though I'm still a little baffled by all the fuss, well.... he could have been a lot worse.

Posted by dichroic at 01:55 PM | Comments (2)

June 03, 2004

Is Too

This is for A. I'm putting it here because I don't want to go raising a ruckus in your blog, and I'm not linking for the same reason; here you can respond or ignore it if you wish.

I am not trying to tell you what to believe in or how to raise your kids. However, when you write that evolution is "not science", I do have to take issue. Biologists studying evolution create hypotheses, examine the evidence to try to disprove them, and tentatively accept them if it doesn't. As we get more and more evidence pointing in the same direction, we get less and less tentative. That is the scientific method and so that is science, by definition. To claim otherwise is to redefine the word, generally in terms vague enough to make it meaningless.

Evolution is as thoroughly proven as any other fact we know about this universe we're in. We still call it a "theory" because that is appropriate terminology with a very specific meaning in context. We also refer to gravitation as a theory, but if I drop a pen, it hits the ground every single time. It's true we can't watch evolution happening. We also can't actually watch trees forming rings but we know a lot about how it works from the evidence we see in the snapshot of the process we can examine. What we don't know is everything about why it all happens, or the ultimate cause, which is why there are scientists of all religions who do not find conflict between their faith and their work.

Some of the minor details are still being argued, but evolution itself is a fact, proven as thoroughly as anything else we know. Thus it is appropriate for teahcing in schools and other publicly funded institutions, at least in the US. A parent's right to determine what her child should be taught is also something society generally agrees on. As you say, that's what the TV's off switch is for, and if you want to homeschool or send your child to a private school you can do that. (School vouchers are currently a hot issue in the US. I don't have a strong opinion because I see arguments for both sides.) I do think your child will be at a disadvantage in the wider world if he or she grows up not knowing scientific basics, including evolution; one option might be to teach it along the lines of, "Many people believe this, but I don't and this is why," when he or she is old enough to understand the concept of differing opinions. (I.e. not at three -- I can see why you'd want to censor TV to put off that discussion a bit later.)

But science it is, by the definition of "science" itself.

Posted by dichroic at 01:03 PM | Comments (2)

May 28, 2004

same postulates, different conclusion

I'm not really quite a liberal. I'm sure as hell not a conservative. On some issues I agree with the Libertarians, who don't want government dictating what they do in their bank account or their bedroom. I rarely vote Libertarian because they rarely give me reason to believe their candidates know what they're doing (coming from outside with a fresh viewpoint is nice, but in that case you should at least have studied the instritution you want to dismantle, so you know which pieces can be removed without making the whole thing crashing down.) In general I vote Democratic more often than not because I typically prioritize social issues above financial ones, but I know people with very similar beliefs who typically prioritize the other way and so vote Republican. (They and I all are very annoyed with those in the current administration who want big government AND legislated morality.) There are no issues on which I walk a party line; there are many on which I espouse positions typically considered liberal, some on which I espouse positions generally considered conservative, and quite a few on which I have no opinion because I don't know enough. (THat may surprise some people -- not that I don't know enough but that there are issues on which I have no opinion.)

Still, in general I tend to disagree with conservative writers and speakers because so many of them are so very very very conservative. One of the exceptions to this is Bill Whittle. Bill is a thoughtful guy and like my own state's senior senator, John McCain, tends to think through each of his position rather than toeing a party line. Maybe it's not that surprising how often Bill and I agree; we're both pilots and something about his phrasing makes it clear to me that our thoughts have been shaped by some of the same authors. In Bill's latest essay, Strength, I agree with most of his points. I agree, for instance, that the US can't just walk out of Iraq now without a victory. I agree that Radical Islamists are frightening. I'm not fond of extremists of any faith and Bill is careful to state that he respects any Muslim who does not wish to put the rest of the world to the sword, and that he defends their right to practice their faith, as with any other religion. I agree with Bill's statements about American pride and the power of free choice.

Where Whittle and I diverge is in his conclusions. Bill is sure we were right to go into Iraq. That's one of those things on which I don't know enough to have an opinion. No, scratch that; the problem is that I have too many conflicting opinions. I will know someday, as will history, but that will be too late and the matter did have to be decided with only the information available at the time. I agree that Saddam Hussein was a great evil, but unrestrained anarchy, if that's what they end up with, can be nearly as bad. I have not entirely lost hope; thigs have seemed to be headed to destruction before, in the middle stages of what turned out to be some of our greatest victories. (Of course, those also tended to be the ones in which the original provocation was most clear-cut.) However, if we were going to take away what the Iraqis had for a government, we cannot be justified unless we leave them with something better. If I'm still ambivalent about the proximate cause of our current situation, I have no doubts at all that the way we did it was deeply wrong. Even in a mere business project, it's always a bad idea to go in without a plan to get out; how much more so when lives and honor are at stake?

Whittle thinks the solution is to make sure Kerry isn't elected in November, because he honors Bush for having the fortitude to go into Iraq in the face of world criticism. I don't quite see the logic of that conclusion, as I look to the future; last I looked the two candidates' plans for the region are not all that dissimilar -- and it's because Bush has moved closer to Kerry rather than vice versa. It could have been moral fiber that got us into this mess, but it's been looking a lot more like dumbass machismo. Bush has a responsibility to the Iraqi people not to tear up their land unless he can put it back together, carefully, monitoring each step of the way, but he's got an even greater one to the American military not to put them at risk until he has both a worthy case and a careful plan, one that can be carefully changed as events warrant. Don't take my word for it that he didn't - go read what Gen. Anthony Zinni had to say about it. As a retired Marine General and former advisor to this administration, he's in a position to know.

Kerry may not be the right answer; that's one of those things I'm not in a position to know. It's becoming more and more clear that Bush is the wrong one. Now that we're in there, we can't leave until we can leave a government that has at least the potential to be stable, but we need to be quick and efficient, not so much because of world opinion but because of the debt of honor we owe to our own people over there. Every time someone enlists in the military, he or she is stating a willingness to sacrifice even life itself for freedom. "The tree of liberty must be watered from time to time with the blood of patriots." I respect their decision and can muster the cold logic to understand that for some causes a precious life must be sacrificed. But I am not willing to waste a one of them.

We really need to get this right from here on out. Bill points out in the Civil War, the North basically got everything wrong over and over and over until the enemy keeled over from exhaustion. Then again, the death tolls on both sides in that war were horrific - I recently saw raw numbers for that war that translate into 1 of every 6 Northern and one of every 3 Southern soldiers dead from wounds or disease. That's killed, not dead or wounded. We need to do better this time. In Lincoln's words, we need to resolve "that these dead shall not have died in vain" and I don't believe Bush can do it.

Posted by dichroic at 03:31 PM | Comments (0)

May 26, 2004

mouthing off again

There is an eerie parallelism in two excellent and heart-rending articles I've read recently. One is by a gay Orthodox rabbi and the other is about a nascent gay movement being born within Islam. (Really, the parallelism isn't all that eerie, on further thought.)

I do, I really, really, do believe that the issues of gay rights including marriage will turn out to be the human rights issue of this decade, as civil rights were a generation ago and as religious discrimination was a generation before that (and a generation before that, and a generation after, and right this minute in some places. Actually, on further thought again (some day I'll try thinking before writing), given that religious issues have been around for a couple of millenia and that race issues were at a rolling boil during both the 1860s and the 1960s, it may be stupid to talk about "the issue of the decade". What I menat earlier by that phrase is that I believe gay rights will be the sort of step-function issue where once we've gotten past this part of it, we will be incredulous to think what an issue it once was.

There are people out there who believe that all homosexuals are sick, twisted, perverse, evil and disgusting, just as there are people who believe that one race or another is animal or that all adherents of other religions are plotting to take over the world. It is possible to convert that sort of person, because it's been done, but I am neither saintly nor persuasive enough to do it so I don't bother to try. (This may be a moral failing on my part. After all, I compete in races I know I'll lose just for the glory of trying.)

With the race issue, in the past, there were also people of good intentions who just happened to be wrong in the judgement of history. There were good Christians who did not believe in hurting anyone, but who honestly belived the Bible forbade miscegenation.

There was Abraham Lincoln, who wanted the slaves freed but who told Frederick Douglass their two races could never meet as intimates. Douglass said, "Abraham Lincoln was not, in the fullest sense of the word, either our man or our model. In his interests, in his associations, in his habits of thought, and in his prejudices, he was a white man. He was preeminently the white man's President, entirely devoted to the welfare of white men. He was ready and willing at any time during the first years of his administration to deny, postpone, and sacrifice the rights of humanity in the colored people to promote the welfare of the white people of this country." Yet this was in a speech praising Lincoln and all he had done to free the slaves, referring to him as "friend and liberator"! Clearly, Douglass knew a man may be wrong in part and still be great.

There was Thomas Jefferson, who tried to outlaw slavery in the Declaration of Independence and who stood with those trying to do so in the Federalist days, who continued to own slaves because he did not believe that people bred as slaves could survive as free men and women. He once wrote to express a qualified opinion, stating that he might at any time be disproven by data, that given equal oppportunities, American Indians could equal whites but that Africans never would.

The vast majority of Americans celebrate Lincoln's and Jefferson's ideals while realizing they were tragically wrong on some points. In more recent examples, some of the most ardent Southern segrationists including Alabama's Governor George Wallace lived to admit they had been wrong. I hope and believe that in time the same will happen with today's issues.

For people of good will struggling with the gay issues now, there are a few things to consider. If it's a religious issue for you, bear in mind that most of you are reading a translation, and there is no such thing as a perfect translation between languages. The original passage in Leviticus usually taken to prohibit homosexuality is nothing if not obscure -- and besides, like Queen Victoria it only mentions men. I understand, too, that for many hetero people there's a squick factor, but the same was true in the segregated South on the subject of interracial dating -- and in most cases we only get past that even for "approved" kinds of couples by not thinking about the issue. If your first grade teacher was much like mine, pointing out that she likely did have sex with her husband will get the point across.

Then again, perhaps your first grade teacher had a partner of her own sex and was afraid to mention it in the community.

Posted by dichroic at 01:29 PM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2004

An unpleasant hypothesis

I am not generally much into conspiracy theories, especially as those who espouse them tend to be on the wild-eyed, spittle-spraying side. That's why it bugs me how plausible the following scenario sounds, if you've been keeping up with the news:

George W. Bush talks his Saudi buddies into reducing their oil exports to drive up US prices, figuring when they lower tham beck right before the election he can be a hero. When Janet Napolitano (AZ Governor) requests the Federal goverment to look into whether price-gouging might be responsible for the rapid rise in prices, the adminstration blows her off with a list of causes everyone knows, but that may not be sufficient for the rapid price increases we've been seeing. Bush and his oil bidness cronies realize this is an even better opportunity to wreck the environment, while everyone is upset over the price at the pump, so they propose lowering prices by drilling in ANWAR, overcoming those pesky liberal environmentalists by the power of the pocketbook.

Frighteningly plausible, isn't it? In the interest of truth, I will note that hard facts are as follows: Bush has close relationships with powerful Saudi families, unremarkable in a man with Texas roots and close ties to oil. His administration did brush off Napolitano, as described. They are proposing drilling in Alaska. The rest is a product of my (hopefully) overactive imagination.

It would make me really, really happy to be told why this scenario can't be right. Someone?

Posted by dichroic at 03:14 PM | Comments (0)

May 11, 2004

the Matalin planet

I've been reading Mary Matalin's Letters to My Daughters, because I was interested to see what she said about marriage. She is, after all, a master of the art of finding conjugal happiness in differing viewpoints. I haven't gotten that far yet, but from what I've been reading, I can only conclude that maybe Republicans really are another species. Maybe I need to read something by her husband, James Carville.

My first hint was when she mentioned being passionate about George Herbert Walker Bush (or rather, his politics). She says later that "Poppy" tended to inspire a deep abiding loyalty in his people. I can actually imagine that (a tihng I can't imagine his son doing) but I have trouble connecting the word "passion" with anything about George Bush pére.

Second, she stresses over and over to her daughters that boys are another species entirely and you will never understand them so don't waste time trying, that you will often have to remind yourself why you love your husband but you will have an instant soul-deep connection to your girlfriends and you will totally understand each other. (She does at least concede that a woman ought to keep a few male friends around "as sounding boards and a male viewpoint".) And, oh yes, that post-puberty boys are interested in nothing but sex. To all of which I can only say, "Huh?"

It's been my experience that, while there usually are differences between men and women or boys and girls (and I won't speculate how much is genetic v.s. societal), the differences are dwarfed both by the similarities between the sexes and by the differences between individuals. I do much better with men when I assume that they think and feel as I do. Maybe sometimes they cover it more or differently as they've been trained to, but as even Matalin admits, the underlying insecurities are usually pretty much the same. It's true sometimes I have to remind myself why I love Rudder, but I think that would be true for anyone I lived with of any gender. Sometimes people are just annoying, whether pointers or setters.

I can't say that I understand my girlfriends (a word I dislike, incidentally, but one Matalin uses frequently) but not my male friends. Take Egret and T2, for example; Rudder and I agree that we both understand him better than her. (It may have something to do with her being the only non-engineer of the four of us.) That doesn't mean I don't like her, sometimes for the very traits I don't understand. I don't understand several of my friends, but if there's any trend it's that mostly I find the male ones a little more comprehensible. I don't particularly find not understanding how someone's mind works to be either an indicator of their sex or a bar to friendship.

Granted that sex is pretty high on the list of preoccupations for teenage boys (and girls) but even at that age it's not the only thing. I'm pretty sure that when I was that age discussing books with my male friends, they weren't really always and only thinking about getting me horizontal, especially as several of them had girlfriends they were perfectly happy with at the time, whom I did not notice them runnning off from our converstions to go and snog. Sometimes they were actually thinking about books.

Another thing I find weird is the implication that menstruation is always accompanied by weird hormone storms and painful cramps. It can be, certainly, but it strikes me as bizarre to assume it always is. Most of us really don't turn useless for a few days every month. We keep going to work, we get work done, female athletes don't skip practices. Granted, sometimes I'll be well into the middle of a tirade before I realize it may have hormonal causes, but even then, I don't get upset by things that wouldn't normally upset me. I just react more, er, vividly. I can count on fingers of one hand the times I've had bad menstrual cramps. (I do get stomach cramps more often.) Matalin's story of incredibly painful cramps that started with her very first period and lasted as long as it did, and that are instantly cured by "two Advil and lots of water", suggest a psychosomatic cause to me. This is bolstered by the idea she absorbed from her mother that mentrual subjects are "incredibly private and never to be discussed with any male", including the man with whom she's had two children. Before anyone jumps all over me, I don't think that psychosomatic pain is any whit less painful or easier to get rid of than physically caused pain. When it's there, it's real. (I've got IBS, which is also exacerbated by stress, so believe me, I know.) Telling young girls that they will lose all sense of proportion as they bleed strikes me as a bad idea, though I would certainly warn them they might. I do like her strategy of telling her daughters to think about things before they do or say them at times when hormones might be raging.

What with the alien boys and the Monthly Visitation, parts of this book sound so much like an adult version of "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret," that I keep cringing. She's dead on, I think, with the parts about lying (summary: Don't.) and loyalty (summary: Do.) and the glimpses of life in a campaign and in the White House are interesting, so I'll keep reading. If I want a guide to friendships between the sexes, though, I'll go back to Little Women for one that rings a lot truer to me. After all, once Laurie got the (tactfully glossed over) sex thing out of his system, he and Jo maintained their friendship. I don't think Matalin's attitudes are really a reflection of her party necessarily. After all, I've got Republican male friends. It makes me sad to hear such stereotypes from such a smart and successful woman, though.

NB: To be fair, I should note she's also got a lot of good things to say, about everything from work to patriotism to travel. Also, since I'm still getting comments, I should also note that she's got (obviously, if you know who she's married to) a laudable capacity to respect people whose political views differ from hers. She's been known to attack the other side during campaigns, but apparently she's learned from her mistakes.

Posted by dichroic at 04:10 PM | Comments (3)

May 10, 2004

once more into the breach

I wasn't going to post again on the Abu Ghraib scandal. I really wasn't. But I was writing an email to Zencelt about her entry today, and when it got past three paragraphs, I figured I might as well post it here. Sorry for the rant, Zen - it's a hard subject not to rant on.

I'll at least put it behind a cut tag so those of you not in the mood for more ranting can ignore it.


I don't particularly believe that the best way to deal with the scum of the earth is to descend to their level, but I won't deal with that point of view right
now. Even if it were true, evidence seems to suggest that the Iraqi prisons are not exclusively reserved for terrorists. Unfortunately, if you look at the military report, it appears that a lot of the people in the jails were pretty much just swept in for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, which is why
they're now finally releasing them.

We didn't bother notifying anyone where they were either, apparently. In the US, even when we take a hardened killer into prison, we tell his family and others. We don't just create desaparecidos like some South American junto. Even the worst terrorist may have family who would at least like to know.

Look, I live in the same town as Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the guy who bills himself as the "toughest sheriff in America". This is the guy who makes prisoners live in tents, eat baloney sandwiches, wear pink uniforms, and work on chain gangs. Having successfully run the first all-female chain gang in the country, he's now just started the first juvenile chain gang. He's got them digging graves, presumably to remind them of where they could end up sooner rather than later if they're not careful. I don't have a major problem with most of it except for the tents. I'm not sure they have AC and without it summer in Arizona is something beyond an inconvenience. More like a major health hazard.

But even Sheriff Joe only takes them after conviction. He doesn't staff his chain gang from random people on the street. I think we owe it to ourselves, more than to anyone else we deal with, to maintain a standard of decency that lets us stand proud in the eyes of the world. And more importantly, in the eyes reflected in our mirror.


Later note: The Red Cross report estimates that 70-90% of prisoners in the Iraqi prisons were there in error.

Posted by dichroic at 05:12 PM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2004

honor and shame

I remember My Lai. I know who Lieutenant Calley was and why he was in the news. I don't remember when they were in the news; I was barely a year old in 1968 during the massacre of over 300 unarmed civilians. I don't remember being told about it; my only memories at all of the war are that my uncle wasn't around much and wrote us long letters.

For me this is history and that's my point: it is history. I'm not using the word just to mean "something that's well into the past", either; this is something that made it into the history books, so that those of us who came later know about it. It's a big deal.

It doesn't sound as if what's happened at Abu Ghraib and possibly other Iraqi prisons is an atrocity on the scale of My Lai, at the individual scale, but that's a lot like saying My Lai wasn't as bad as the Holocaust. [Note: 25 deaths are currently being investigated, but at least half of them appear to be of natural causes. One was ruled a justifiable homicide.] The difference is in degree, but not in kind, and all three events show the same frightening mindset, a view of the enemy as a subhuman. Not even that, really; in this state there is such a thing as felony abuse of animals. Abu Ghraib, like My Lai, like lynchmobs to which some people are comparing it, betrays a level of hate that says that "the other" deserves any treatment, any pain, any abuse just for being who he or she is.

I do not believe that all of our military is full of the same kind of mindset, because I don't want to believe it and I simply refuse to. Our military is a dichotomy. The academies turn out cadets who are indoctrinated in the idea that honor is their most precious possession, our Marines and Rangers are torn down as individuals and rebuilt as a band of brothers, our officers are given responsibilities and accountabilities few would ever get in civilian life. Yet on the ugly side, there have been rapes reported by servicemen serving abroad, there were those who collected ears or fingers in Vietnam, there are those who ten or thirty or fifty years after their war ended are still using pejoratives to talk about anyone of the same ethnicity as their enemy. (I have myself heard "Jap", "gook", and "raghead" used by former servicemen of the last several generations.) It's telling that even an MP who reported the Abu Ghraib abuses consistently referred to prisoners as "it" in his testimony.

The only explanation of the dichotomy is that they're all human, but that's not an excuse. Being a civilized human should mean never giving in to the barbaric impulses, or being faced with severe penalties for those few who do. Being in the military should mean something more: a choice to put honor above easy pleasures and sometimes even above life. It doesn't always. I've worked with, been friends with, and been related to quite a few whose proudest claim is that they "served", and this is what most of them (who weren't drafted) say. They tell stories of the ship captain who, off duty and asleep when his navigator ran the ship aground, was nonetheless immediately relieved of command ... because it was on his watch and under his command and he was responsible. I've seen a few too many military abuses to believe that wholeheartedly, from rapes of Japanese schoolgirls to Tailhook. In some cases, those who perpetrated the offense as well as others who bore responsibility were broken, in others (like My Lai) some were broken while others higher up escaped charges.

On the larger political scale, Abu Ghraib may well cause as much damage or more than My Lai. We're already in a precarious position in our relations to the entire Middle East; our one boast has been that we liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein. If we replaced him with a brigade of sadistic petty dictators, we have lost even that tenuous high ground. It doesn't help that Iraqis have been complaining about endemic abuse without being believed or that Rumsfeld and the military have known about this for a few months now and weren't admitting anything until the press broke the story.

This outrage diminishes our credibility with the whole world, including those who are serving and dying with us. It decreases the chance that we will be able to build peace elsewhere in the Middle East. We're now getting many more claims of abuse and it makes it extremely difficult to determine which are true -- after all, for a long time anyone who complained about abuse at Abu Ghraib was assumed to be just propagandizing. Worst, it may prevent us from being able to build a democratic Iraq, which means all those soldiers who did enlist as a matter of honor and who died in that service, as well as quite a few Iraqis, may have died for nothing. How does it feel to render your brother's death meaningless?

I wonder if those soldiers who abused the prisoners enjoyed it. The price we all have only just started to pay for their fun is way too high. The worst excuse I've heard so far is that the soldiers "weren't sufficiently trained in the Geneva Conventions". First, it's a matter of professionalism. The Geneva Conventions are not hard to find on the Web. If I were responsible for POWs, I might just go read them. Second, the first point is irrelevant, because this is one of those times where all you need to know you learned in kindergarten. The relevant principle is, "Don't be a bully." How does it feel to be flunking kindergarten?

The soldiers shown in the photos are facing prosecution, but this is a case where the military concept of responsibility for what's happened on your watch must be invoked. The original Hersh article quotes one of the defense lawyers, "Do you really think a group of kids from rural Virginia decided to do this on their own? Decided that the best way to embarrass Arabs and make them talk was to have them walk around nude?”. We can't erase a national shame; the best we can do is to go forward in accordance with the dictates of honor. Accountability needs to go all the way up the chain of responsibilty. Lt. Col. Phillabaum, Brig. Gen. G Karpinski, Lt. Gen Sanchez, it's your watch. And who is reponsible for putting civilian contractors in positions where they were inadequately trained and supervised? General Myers, Mr. Rumsfeld, Commander-in-Chief Bush, it's your watch too. How does it feel to be making history?

Posted by dichroic at 12:11 PM | Comments (0)

April 30, 2004

There's a Wall in Washington....

And someday Iris Dement may be singing about still another wall full of names. Go read the list over at Margaret Cho's site. Look at the names. Look at the ages. Look at the little details on each one.

Today I rowed by the ASU campus, where the flags are still at half-mast and the sign by the stadium reads "In loving memory of Patrick Tilman". I don't follow football much, but I'd have to say a student who by all accounts was prouder of his grades than his football stats, who gave up a huge contract to do what he thought was more important, is worth honoring -- and would have been even more worth not wasting in a war that's becoming a planning debacle.

After practice I drove to work on Highway 101, right past the intersection with Highway 51, which was renamed Piestewa Parkway last year, in honor of Lori Pestewa, the first woman and the first Hopi killed in Iraq. I don't know why she joined up, but I suspect it had to do with earning a decent living to support her daughter, as well as supporting her country. The Hopi have strong family webs; someone will love her daughter, but she won't be raised by Lori, just with her memories.

Go read the names.

Posted by dichroic at 12:03 PM | Comments (0)

April 29, 2004

I've been thinking...

I've been thinking about the issues of choice, life and privacy for the past couple of weeks, because of the March last weekend. I believe that there is no provably right answer on this issue, none that can be demonstrated with hard fact and data, so I don't try to change anyone else's mind. There are more profitable ways to spend my energy and everyone else's. I do think that I can explain my position so that those who disagree with it can at least understand intellectually how a rational person can believe as I do, though they will disagree with my basic postulates.

The argument about "killing babies" is pretty potent; there might be people who don't have a problem with that, but I wouldn't want to spend any time with them. On the other hand, literally everyone on both all sides of the issue uses two categories, 'baby' and 'something that has the potential to become a baby', whether or not they admit to it. It's just that for some, that line between categories is crossed at the moment of fertilization, so that only unfertilized gametes (egg and sperm) fall into the second category -- I don't hear too many people regarding menstruation as immoral, though I can think of a few who would if they thought they could get away with it. (You don't hear much preaching against onanism these days, either.) For others, like me, it's difficult to see a twelve-celled blob as anything but a potentiality. (If I believed in the absolute sacredness of life as a whole, I'd spend a lot more time swerving to avoid ants on the sidewalk and I'd be a vegan.) I don't think nature draws hard and fast lines, so for me there's no exact second when you can say "now it isn't - beep - now it is" -- even if you consider fertilization as the line, natural processes are so murky that it's still not as exact as it sounds. I tend to like the old criteria of "quickening", but that's not a firmly held opinion, much less one I'd impose on others. This is not to say I think everyone should have D&Cs willy-nilly; I don't step on ants if I can reasonably avoid it and I wouldn't end even a potentiality without an overriding reason.

The other persuasive side to that argument is that ending a pregnancy means that a certain unique person will never exist. That's a powerful and upsetting thought. I realized, though, on further thought that I can think of two specific extant people (of whom I'm quite fond) who might not exist now if their mom hadn't had the choice. She conceived at eighteen, at a time when she wasn't ready or able to raise a child, and decided to end that pregnancy. Later on when she was ready, she bore two children. If she'd had to face the struggles of early motherhood, I wonder if she might not have had one or both of them. I wouldn't miss them, since I wouldn't have known them, but I do think the world would have been poorer. I don't know what kind of wonderful person might have come from her first pregnancy, but I do know what kind of people came from her last two. To me, this is the sin of playing God: I cannot remove the choice from individuals because I do not have the knowledge to say which baby should get to be born. That needs to be decided by someone with more right to speak in each case.

I also wonder about another friend, who in the same situation made the opposite choice. She thought about an abortion but decided she couldn't go through with it. I haven't met her child since he was a three-year-old with an amazing mind; he'd be a young man now and I'm sure he's fulfilled some of that potential, because I know both of his parents. I wonder whether the difficulties of early marriage and parenting were somehow a little easier for them just because they'd had that choice and had made their decision with eyes open. Maybe. I hope so. I'm sure they and their son have all grown up well, because that's the kind of people they were. The friend I mentioned earlier is one I'm still in touch with, and I know she and her husband (the same man who was her boyfriend when they were eighteen) and their sons are well and happy, good people with responsible lives. How can I look at the two of my friends and say only one of them chose the right path?

Posted by dichroic at 04:24 PM | Comments (1)

April 22, 2004

March for Women's Lives

I will not be going to the March for Women's Lives this weekend, and I'm a little embarassed about that. I could claim it's because I'm 3000 miles away, but there are such things as airplanes so all I can say is that I'm a procrastinating slug.

Those of you who are going, you'll need something to sing. I love the song Battle Hymn of Women, but I do think it's a bit outdated. So here is my gift to you, two new verses:

You pile up your millions but you stand on women's backs,
You send our children off to war and send them back in sacks,
You think you've got it figured but you'd better watch your backs,
For women's time has come.
Move on over or we'll move on over you,
Move on over or we'll move on over you,
Move on over or we'll move on over you,
For women's time has come.
You sneak through legislation meant to whittle at our rights,
You think that we won't notice 'cause you think we're not that bright,
But we're standing up, we're speaking out, and if we must we'll fight,
For women's time has come.
Move on over or we'll move on over you,
Move on over or we'll move on over you,
Move on over or we'll move on over you,
For women's time has come.
Sorry about that lame reuse of "backs" in the first verse, but I really wanted to use both those phrases.

I also want to remind the organizations planning the march not to forget where we've been and what our great-grandmothers knew -- we need to remember the intangibles as well as the things like legal rights and money when fighting to make life what it should be for all.

Peg Kerr has created a gift for a new generation of young women, and young men too -- a virtual Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. I'm embarassed to say that my (generally socially responsible) company is not participating this year, but I have written about my job on Peg's site. You should go do that too!

Posted by dichroic at 12:39 PM | Comments (3)

April 20, 2004

getting out the right way

You know, there is one disadvantage to having moved from Diaryland. When you're bored, looking at your own site to see if anything has changed is even less productive than looking at DLand or LJ to see if anyone has updated.

So now I have journals at both places whose main purpose in life is as a home for my buddy/friend lists. (And, at LJ, so I can write comments without being anonymous, which was actually the main reason I set that one up in the first place. Somehow even if I put my name in the comment, leaving one anonymously always felt as if I were sneaking around stalking someone.)

I'm still not entirely convinced we shouldn't have gone to war in Iraq; like Colin Powell, I do think everyone's better off without Sadam Hussain. (Though if I had been Powell, I would probably be feeling my loyalty ebbing away just now.) I am and have always been convinced we shouldn't go into it the cowboy lone-gun way we did, and if this war has taught me one thing it's that you should never ever ever go in without a plan for getting out.

On the other hand, once you are in, you can't just up and leave or you end up with a country that's basically a giant refugee camp with no help from outside and no central leader. You really do have to do it right: set up a new authority, preferably one that the whole country can respect, help that authority consolidate its power, and help the country rebuild from the ravages of war. You move very quickly from telling people what to do to only doing what you're asked, even if you have to whisper out of the side of your mouth to tell the new President what to ask you to do. You let him (or her) be the force that holds things up while you just help a little with the balance -- like teaching a kid to walk or ride a bike. The more of the work they do, the sooner they can run off on their own.

All of us who have forces changing regimes in other countries need to get out as quickly as is possible consistent without letting the whole new government come crashing now. Just pulling out without doing that is abrogating a responsibility we've voluntarily assumed, and I don't think much of anyone who would do that.

After the 2000 election I was willing to give Bush a chance to see if he could pull this country back together after that balls-up. He didn't and my respect for him has declined ever since, reaching a new low with all the reports from Bob Woodward's new book. (I may have to actually read that, but since I have heard interviews with Woodward himself I'm fairly confident that what they're reporting he said really is what he said.) However, my respect for Spain and Honduras right now is even lower.

They have every right to decide they shouldn't have gone in, but they are in now, and whether the war was right or wrong is was/is still a war, with large-scale death and destruction, and they were part of that. If they feel they cannot honorably fight, then they should turn troops to rebuilding or driving ambulances, or replace them with doctors and teachers.

Posted by dichroic at 01:51 PM | Comments (2)