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[ 0 ] April 16, 2007 |

This is horrible.

…31 so far. How is that even possible?

Cuba!

[ 0 ] April 16, 2007 |

Charlie Rangel and Jeff Flake had a good op-ed in Saturday’s Washington Post about Cuba policy:

We should unite around a principle that Democrats and Republicans have long embraced, a principle that aided the West’s success in the Cold War: American openness is a source of strength, not a concession to dictatorships.

It is time to permit free travel to Cuba, as provided in legislation we have introduced. Open travel would create a “free flow of ideas” that “would promote democratization,” as dissident Oscar Espinosa Chepe wrote shortly after his release from prison in 2004. It would also bring humanitarian benefits to Cubans as family visits increase and travelers boost Cuba’s small but vital entrepreneurial sector.

Electoral politics should not prevent us from reaching out to 11 million neighbors who have lived under communism for 48 long years.

In a word, yes, yes, and yes. Although it’ll have no impact on this administration, anything that puts a dent in the insanity of US Cuba policy is remakably welcome. We’re currently pursuing a policy towards Cuba that a) reduces the chance of regime change, b) hurts both importers and exporters in the American South, which, as detailed in a recent Economist article, would benefit immensely from the opening of trade with Cuba, and c) hurts ordinary Cubans. I know that I’m not telling you anything new here, but that in itself is an astounding phenomenon. How odd is it that a policy that hurts almost everyone involved is barely even controversial on the American political scene?

The answer to the Cuba dilemma always comes down to Florida electoral votes. What’s less often asked, however, is why the Cuban exile community settled around the embargo policy. The Taiwanese-American community, for example, seems happy to invest in China, and while I know less of the Vietnamese exile community in the United States, I haven’t heard the argument that it posed much of an obstacle to the return of American investment to Vietnam. I do wonder whether the preferences of the Cuban exile community have more to do with the form that regime change takes, rather than regime change itself. Many of the exiles seem to continue to harbor fantasies about the return of property lost in the Revolution, and the sort of incremental regime change that economic and political openness towards Cuba would most likely facilitate is conversely least likely to result in compensation for lost property. A sudden counter-revolution, on the other hand, in which the exiles get to return as conquering heroes might produce better prospects for a return to 1959.

It’s an insane fantasy, which would be fine if it weren’t for the grip that the insanity has had on US policy.

Cross posted to TAPPED.

Man Out of Time

[ 0 ] April 16, 2007 |

Why? I don’t bear any animosity towards Kerry, and I don’t think his campaign was quite the disaster it’s sometimes portrayed as, but, really, give it up.

Chisum Is at it Again

[ 0 ] April 16, 2007 |

Texas State Rep. Warren Chisum is at it again. Yes, that Warren Chisum. The one who wanted to pass a law banning the teaching of evolution in Texas schools. The one lambasted by the late great Molly Ivins in her Dildo Diaries video.

This time, the man who wants to fight for a Christian Texas is doing it pretty overtly. The LA Times reported yesterday that he has proposed a bill that would require all public high schools to offer an elective course on the Bible. The course would teach the “history and literature of the Old and New Testaments eras.”

There’s so much wrong with this bill it’s hard to figure out where to start. Here’s the obvious. In many many (many) places in Texas, a class that teaches the Bible will not be teaching it as literature, but rather as a holy document and the word of God. Though Chisum says that won’t be so (he said the course would not treat the Bible as a “worship document” but would promote religious and cultural literacy by “educating our students academically and not devotionally.”), I’m not quite so sure.

Think about it. Especially given the funding structure of the bill. Who would be the teachers?

The bill, which says the class is to be taught in “an objective and nondevotional manner,” does not provide funding or training for school districts and teachers. [...]

“The fear is that teachers with limited training and no guidance will be called upon to teach a course for which their experience draws largely from Sunday school,” Miller said. “It would be difficult for them to keep their own religious perspective out of the classroom. You can almost hear the lawyers lining up.”

That fear is well-founded. There are already studies proving that religion has a tendency to creep in in situations like the one this bill would create:

A study conducted for her group by Mark Chancey, a religious studies professor at Southern Methodist University, found that of Texas’ 25 public school districts with a Bible course, 22 districts’ offerings had a Christian slant.

“When teachers don’t have solid training in biblical studies and 1st Amendment issues, then they fall back on what they know from prior knowledge,” Chancey told state legislators last week. “Courses end up being sectarian, often despite their best intentions.”

He said one teacher showed students a PowerPoint presentation titled “God’s Road Map for Your Life.” Included was a slide called “Jesus Christ Is the One and Only Way.” Another teacher taught students that NASA had found a missing day and time that corresponded to a biblical story of the sun standing still. One school showed “VeggieTales” videos, which feature computer-animated Christian vegetables that talk.

That’s right, folks. Talking Christian vegetables. Of course, the bill also raises serious First Amendment concerns. While Chisum promises that it will not teach religious doctrine (and I am all for teaching the Bible as Literature), it’s hard to see how the bill would not require state funding for religious (as opposed to literary) education. Especially given the empirical studies quoted above.

And it’s not hard to see that that’s exactly the situation Chisum wants:

Chisum’s legislation says the Bible would be the primary textbook for the class. It allows but doesn’t require the classes to include secular books or those from other religions.

Seems to me that teaching the Bible as history and literature, you might want to bring in, oh, i don’t know, a history text. Or perhaps novels or memoirs that illustrate how authors have used or criticized the bible in their writing.

There are other problems with the bill, including the fact that in many Texas schools there isn’t even funding for music education or gym. Is Bible studies the thing that should get the precious few education dollars?

Warren Chisum would say yes. Because to him, religious ideology trumps all. As I said in my post the other day about states turning down abstinence-only funding, to guys like Chisum, school is for preaching, not for teaching.

(also at A Bird and a Bottle)

The Abstinence-only Fraud

[ 0 ] April 16, 2007 |

You may have heard the shocking news that state-funded moralizing adults telling teenagers not to have sex do not, in fact, prevent teenagers from having sex. Interestingly, several states–not all of them liberal and coastal–have started to turn down the abjectly useless federal funding they’re being offered:

In an emerging revolt against abstinence-only sex education, states are turning down millions of dollars in federal grants, unwilling to accept White House dictates that the money be used for classes focused almost exclusively on teaching chastity.

In Ohio, Gov. Ted Strickland said that regardless of the state’s sluggish economic picture, he simply did not see the point in taking part in the controversial State Abstinence Education Grant program anymore.

Five other states — Wisconsin, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Montana and New Jersey — already have dropped the program or plan to do so by year’s end. The program is managed by a unit of the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services.

And, really, what possible reason is there to take the money, when it can’t be used for any useful purpose, and might take up time from students actually learning something of value? I also enjoyed this quote from an administration hack:

“This report confirms that these interventions are not like vaccines,” said Harry Wilson, associate commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the federal Administration for Children and Families. “You can’t expect one dose in middle school, or a small dose, to be protective all throughout the youth’s high school career.”

The fact that all evidence demonstrates that these programs–contrary to the repeated assertions of the administration–are a complete waste of time and money just shows that we need to put more time and resources behind them! Ah, fiscal conservatism.

Worst American Birthdays, vol. XI

[ 0 ] April 15, 2007 |

Many amazing people were born on this date: sociologist Emile Durkheim, journalist and labor leader Asa Philip Randolph, the incomparable blues mistress Bessie Smith, and Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci, interestingly enough, once wrote that “the act of procreation and anything that has any relation to it is so disgusting that human beings would soon die out if there were no pretty faces and sensuous dispositions.” Perhaps if the sensuous Omer Lay and the pretty Ruth Reese Lay had taken heed of da Vinci’s nauseated warning in the late summer of 1941, the world might have been spared the birth of Kenneth Lee “Kenny Boy” Lay — a human monster — nine months later.

Ken Lay’s official website remembers him not as a horrid corporate criminal but as a paternalistic, plantation master:

Ken loved Enron, and saw the company as one of limitless possibilities. He often talked of the incredible talent at Enron and believed that the Enron employees were unsurpassed in any industry. Ken believed the real value of Enron was in its people. From the most junior employee to his top executives, Ken treated all with the same dignity and respect they deserved as children of God. Employees often remarked on how he recalled their names, family, and other personal details they shared with him.

Those employees — 20,000 of whom lost their jobs in the greatest corporate collapse in American history — now remember Ken Lay as the man who urged them to sink their pensions into Enron’s company stock. Their retirement nest eggs liquidated by the staggering venality of Lay and Jeff Skilling, many of these people will now have to work until they quite literally drop dead.

If Lay had not devoted his life to plugging his arteries with rich, fatty spunk, he would have turned 65 years old today. Of course he would quite probably have spent his special day in prison, eating pan brownies instead of defrauding the public; instead, like an unwanted gas station hot dog, Ken Lay now rotates slowly and eternally on a greasy, barbed grate in the nether reaches of Hell. Sadly, Kenny Boy’s passing was not the joyous occasion it should by all rights have been. By virtue of an agonizing quirk of law, Lay’s death — because it happened before his federal convictions could be affirmed — vacated all charges against him.

42

[ 0 ] April 15, 2007 |

We would be remiss in not observing Jackie Robinson Day. Robinson’s contribution as a pioneer has probably obscured his talent as a ballplayer; between age thirty and thirty-three, he posted four consecutive seasons of a 10+ WARP (Wins Above Replacement). This is an outstanding achievement, and one that would have put him in the Hall of Fame even without the malfeasance of Kenesaw Mountain Landis and the rest of his gang.

Great man, great ballplayer.

…it should be noted also that there is no simple North/South story to tell about the color line. Although white major leaguers may have come disproportionately from the South, the only Southern cities in the majors in 1947 were Washington and St. Louis. Kenesaw Mountain Landis himself was the son of a Union officer who had fought at the Battle of Kenesaw Mountain, during Sherman’s March through Georgia.

Critical Ineptitude

[ 0 ] April 15, 2007 |

Among my numerous intellectual deficits, I’m not a very articulate film-and-TV-talking-guy like Scott, Rob, or DJW. I haven’t watched television since August, and I’ve seen exactly two films in the theater since my daughter was born almost a year ago. Both of those latter excursions (Nacho Libre and 300) were wretched, and both were seen with a colleague who will never be able to speak the words, “I was thinking of going to see [X] this weekend — do you have any interest in–” without being swatted atop his balding pate with the nearest blunt object.

Notwithstanding my bad luck and recent distance from most things cultural, I like to think I have a pretty good sense of what sucks and does not suck, even if my ability to explain why more closely resembles the idiom of Beavis and Butthead than that of my co-bloggers.

Having said that, I hope I’ll not find much disagreement that Glenn Reynolds’ favorite new film blogger must be some sort of clown:

Here’s part of his review of Little Miss Sunshine, a review the Ole Perfesser seems to find insightful in some way:

What is billed as a charming and quirky comedy is actually a painful exercise in “let’s make fun of the dysfunctional family.” If you get the impression I didn’t much like the picture, you may be right.

This one hour and 43 minute study in misery and seat squirming is the story of a truly sad family and their odyssey to make it to the youngest daughter’s “Little Miss Sunshine” beauty pageant. “Sunshine” is actually reminiscent of funnier movies, like National Lampoon’s Vacation, even down to certain plot points that I won’t give away here. But while the latter actually amused, Little Miss Sunshine simply made me want to hide my face in my hands and pray for the end credits.

As the cliche has it, reasonable people can disagree over the merits of LMS. I loved it — nine months after everyone else did, apparently — but could imagine that someone else might not. I happen to enjoy films about people coming to grips with their own limitations.

On the other hand, I don’t think any reasonable person could have this to say about West Wing:

Once every so often, you find a TV show that transcends the standard fare, and that achieves the extraordinary. For me and many others the first four seasons of The West Wing did just that. I remember one commentator being astounded that policy wonk issues could form the basis of a successful hour-long drama. But that observation misses the point. It wasn’t so much the stories that grabbed the viewer, it was the incredible pacing and dialogue. Watching a West Wing episode was not only a pleasure for those who thrive on snappy repartee, it was also a challenge. Creator-writer Aaron Sorkin paces his stories along so fast, you better pay close attention, or you’ll miss something good.

Or this:

The Shawshank Redemption would have been the best movie of the year any year. Except 1994, when it was released. That was also the year of Forrest Gump. Talk about an embarassment of riches!

“Embarrassment” strikes me as the appropriate term, but perhaps not in the way it was intended.

Why I Want to Bang My Head Against a Wall, Part 594292

[ 0 ] April 15, 2007 |

From an email from the Correctional Association’s Women in Prison Project to the Coalition for Women Prisoners:

In case you have not yet heard, for the first time in almost 30 years,
the New York City Board of Correction (BOC) has suggested changes to the
Minimum Standards, which are the rules governing conditions of
confinement in City jails. Some of the proposals include: increased
crowding, increased lock-in, use of jail uniforms for pre-trial
detainees, removal of the requirement to provide sufficient Spanish
language interpreters, and greater mail and phone restrictions.

Because that’s exactly what people detained in NYC jails, already pretty dismal places, need. Especially at a time when inmates have less power than ever to challenge the conditions of their confinement. Less help understanding the charges against them, less connection with their families, less space to sleep while they wait for hours and hours to see the judge. Having spent time at the court holding pens that the BOC oversees at the Manhattan and Brooklyn courthouses, it’s hard to imagine that people held there would have fewer rights. Already it’s a fight to get adequate food, access to a telephone, and personalized medical care. These new rules would apply both to Rikers Island, the city’s main jail, and other city jail facilities; sometimes, people who have not yet been convicted are held there. How’s that for innocent until proven guilty?

The proposed new minimum standards would, among other things, allow jail staff to listen in to telephone calls and screen inmate mail without a warrant and increase the number of people confined to their cells 23 hours per day.

In the comments to one of my earlier posts, people talked about the lack of political will to change systemic problems in the criminal justice system, like the use of eyewitness IDs or even the death penalty. This is just one small thing. Is the political will lacking even for this? Some days I think it might be.

That’s where the wall comes in.

But you can help prove me wrong. There’s an online petition. Go sign it.

Also at A Bird and a Bottle.

Times Style Section Discovers Fun New Trend: Serial Rape

[ 0 ] April 15, 2007 |

What on earth is a story about a designer who’s been accused of rape by a number of models, some underage, doing in the Style Section? Because the women were models, it’s a trend piece?

A truly fascinating note is the contrast between the headline on the story: “The Designer Who Liked Models,” and the title appearing at the top of the web page: “models-rape-sexual battery-Anand Jon – New York Times.” The web-monkey who came up with the latter title appears to live on the same planet I do; I can’t say the same for the headline writer. (Also at Unfogged.)

The Juice is Running…

[ 0 ] April 15, 2007 |

Hilzoy explains why deficits matter for progressive politics:

Total Spent On Debt Service: 405.9 billion

Yes, that’s right: had we simply paid our bills on time, more or less, we would not only not be running a deficit, we would have $157.9 billion dollars to either refund to taxpayers or spend on some new program. For instance, we could have universal health care coverage for this amount of money. Think of it: we could all have health insurance, without having to pay one cent above what we’re paying today. No more wondering what will happen to your health coverage if you lose your job. No more wishing you could take a different job, which you can’t because the job you want has no health insurance, or because you have a preexisting condition. No more just not having any health insurance at all. All for free — if only we had not run up deficits in previous years.

About one in every six dollars that we pay in taxes goes to pay not for anything useful, like fixing bridges, but for debt service. Stupid, boring, utterly pointless debt service. I wish those anti-tax organization that talk about “Tax Freedom Day”, or whatever they call that day when you’ve earned enough to pay your taxes and get to keep the rest for yourself, would be honest enough to have two days: “taxes for actual government services freedom day”, which would come when we’d paid the taxes that don’t go to debt service, and “taxes we pay only because we were dumb enough to listen to Grover Norquist and the rest of you idiots freedom day”, which would come when we’d finished paying off the rest.

The Origins of A Great Parody

[ 0 ] April 15, 2007 |

If the hypnotic appeal of Sandy Belle won’t be spoiled by some old-fashioned journalism, Garance gets to the bottom of it.

Meanwhile, moving on to unintentional parody I should note that the Right Brothers have a new album for your online listening pleasure. I suggest skipping “I’m In Love With Ann Coulter” and move on to the one which literally consists of nothing but listing “liberals we can’t stand.” Which includes Lindsey Graham (to Bush dead-enders, apparently even nominal opposition to torture is unacceptable) and John McCain. Have they been offered a Pajamas Media gig yet? Or at least been hired as writers for the 1/2 Hour News Hour?

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