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Saturday, May 21, 2005

Same Shoe, Other Foot

Today's lesson is called "Fun with Scenarios." Assume a Democratic president — perhaps John Kerry. Let's say that, on the strength of his personality and his powerful narrative rendering of what should have happened at Torra Borra but didn't, Kerry got to the White House with a big enough margin to return leadership of the Senate and House to Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. Say Reid controls the Senate by 55 votes. The people of Searchlight, Nevada, are justifiably proud of their native son. (Kerry's victory wasn't enough to save Tom Daischle.) So President Kerry offers this short list of six candidates to fill as many seats on the federal judiciary: Gloria Alred, James Carville, Susan Estrich, Laurance Tribe, Julian Bond, Alan Dershowitz, and Elizabeth Birch (former head of the gay and lesbian advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign). In addition, suppose cries of "Don't be greedy," "Let's compromise," "We'll vote yes on the 3 least liberal nominees" were to go up from: Orrin Hatch, Rick Santorum, Bill Frist, John Kyle, and Kay Bailey Hutchison — all of whom threatened to filibuster the nomination process, in the name of "simple fairness." Given that scenario, do you think we could expect to hear ringing defenses of the filibuster from Ted Kennedy, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Chuck Schumer, Chris Dodd, and Carl Levin? Or do you suppose they would be leading the charge against the filibuster as a "procedural gimmick being used by obstructionists to deny the judicial candidates their right to an up or down vote?" Just asking.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Boxer's Rebellion

The junior senator from California may be small in stature, but her mighty opinions more than make up for her limited verticality. Barbara Boxer, for whom women and African Americans are invisible unless they declare themselves victims, has encountered a black woman she can't quite bring into view. "Out of the mainstream." That's Senator Boxer's mantra against Justice Rogers Brown's nomination for the D.C. Court of Appeals. Well. California voters have had the opportunity to pass electoral judgment on both women. Janice Rogers Brown was re-confirmed to the California Supreme Court by 76 percent of voters, compared with 58 percent for Barbara Boxer. Who's further from the mainsream by this count? In the World According to Barbara Boxer, there aren't supposed to be any Janice Rogers Browns complicating the pristine horizons of identity politics. In order to be successful, Janice Rogers Brown is supposed to need Barbara Boxer to explain why Brown isn't supposed to be able to succeed on her own. There's no evidence that Brown has called Boxer for a leg up. To the contrary: "If my family had a motto, it would be 'Don't snivel,'" Brown says. That viewpoint puts Brown way outside Boxer's worldview. It also helps explain why Boxer's opposition to Brown has become so furious, and so seemingly personal, almost vindictive. The mighty Boxer needs people to see themselves as permanent victims, so Boxer can continuously come to their rescue. Brown errs by not viewing herself as a victim, and not needing to be rescued. Senator Boxer to Justice Brown: "Couldn't you just snivel — a little? Then I'll back off a bit..."

Sharing the Blame for Child Abuse

In the spirit of NBC's West Wing series, I'm taking a break from the blogosphere — but not for long. I'll be back in a day or so with something new musings. (As for West Wing, it's safe to say Martin Sheen and crew will be on hiatus until the Second Coming of Jesus is resolved on the interim series Revelations.) Today I'm posting a link to an op-ed essay I wrote about child abuse in America. The piece was written in response to a Stanford University professor's demand that men must take collective responsibility for child abuse in America. She was referring to the high-profile child abductions perpetrated by males. I agreed with the professor that men who hurt kids deserve severe punishment... Then I proceeded to point out a few facts that the radical wing of feminism ("All men are pigs") doesn't like to deal with. Hint: Hurting kids is not a gender issue — it's a human tragedy. Will someone please tell N.O.W.? The piece is three years old but in the wake of recent assaults on defenseless kids, what I had to say is still relevant, hence timely. I very much look forward to a day in this nation when it's neither.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Virtuous Rev. Sharpton

When the Rev. Al Sharpton steps forward to speak to an issue related to moral righteousness and public decency, people of good faith are obliged to do three things: One: stop laughing — or at least try to bring the laughter under control, or at least stop rolling around on the floor. Two: ponder Rev. Sharpton's extraordinary credentials for public commentary on ethical concerns. Three: seriously, we need you to try to stop laughing. (This applies to snickers, guffaws, and chortles — you, in the back row, please.)

Full Service Education

Administrators at Elsie Allen High School in Santa Rosa, California believe students are going to have sex whether parents like it or not. For that reason, Elsie Allen is the first high school in America to establish conjugal visit rooms on school grounds, thus making it possible for students to have sex on campus. But not just any kind of sex — no, safe sex, with condoms and other birth control services available at a health clinic on school grounds. Full disclosure: the first paragraph is made up. It’s a complete fabrication, but the second is entirely accurate. Elsie Allen is a real public school (the taxpayer-supported kind) whose real students can purchase real condoms, morning-after pills, and Depo-Provera, not far from the vending machines that dispense real Snapple and Doritos. A special interest group is up in arms. The group is comprised of decidedly old-fashioned people called parents. "Putting contraceptives in the middle of a campus seems foolish,'' Lindann McPheeters told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. McPheeters, the parent of a recent graduate of Elsie Allen High School, added: "This is not a social institution, this is an educational institution.” Well. Elsie Allen senior Erica Blengino, a supporter of the plan to make birth control available on campus, begs to differ. She told the Santa Rosa school board about a friend and classmate who last year became pregnant and ultimately chose to have an abortion. "If we'd had birth control at our school, she would not have had to have gone through an abortion," Blengino said. Critics might say the student (and her male partner) had another option, namely not to engage in the kinds of extracurricular activities that give birth control devices their functional reputation. But that response is not inappropriate because (all together now, in unison): “That would be judgmental, and who are we to judge?” So, let’s be sophisticated instead. Since we’re sure our high school aged kids are going to have sex — sure enough to want to provide access to contraceptives within walking distance of home room — shouldn't we extend the “they’re-going-to-do-it” premise to its logical conclusion? Why don’t we set up the previously fictional conjugal meeting rooms on school grounds? Without such facilities, students might be forced to retreat to the back seats of cars in the school parking lot during lunch breaks. Monday back seats, Tuesday back alleys, Wednesday back to the twelfth century. That’s the message we want to send our kids? What good is a condom if you don't have a safe place to use it? Lindann McPheeters thinks these are not the right questions. With due respect, apparently she doesn’t understand that we’re dealing with a four-letter word that we can’t just ignore. That word is need. High school students “need” birth control services on campus, says Delgado. “Those who don't need the help, that's fine ... but don't stop those who do need it from getting it. Let's prevent before we lament." Oh, surely no lamenting. Only positive energy will keep us focused on the larger work. In that regard, I’ve been asked to announce that the Task Force on Cultural Suicide and the Celebrate Diversity Campaign will hold a joint meeting next Thursday at the recreation center. Bring a dish (something vegan-ish) and, as always, let's stay allergy-free. (Bobbi and Suzette: this means no perfumes. Mark and Jenny are both prone to hives, and as any kid will tell you: hives take all the fun out of sex. Compassion!)

Oh, Arianna!

She’s back — just when you thought it might be safe to buy a Hummer now that “our Saudi friends” have made the sticker price a bit friendlier. Arianna Huffington has assumed a new guise: online publisher of a blog called The Huffington Post. I’m breathless with anticipation about the waves this publication may churn in the promising if uncharted waters of group celebrity blogging, myself being a blogger of the solitary (at home, don’t ask what I wear) variety. Say what you will about Arianna — what she does best is reinvent herself as circumstances change. She’s been poor and now she’s rich; the transition was arduous but she seems to be adapting. Arianna did hard labor as a Newt-era Republican, only to parole herself out for rehabilitation with Michael Moore and Sean Penn. Somewhere along the way she got married rich divorced — not only in that order but with a Newtonian cause-effect trajectory that makes commas gratuitous. Her 2003 "campaign" for governor of California proved an exercise in haplessness even by contemporary political standards, beginning with that cheesy attempt to crash a photo-op with Arnold and Maria, who did their best to shrink away discreetly (no easy maneuver given the biceps and cheek bones, respectively). But I digress. Judging from the first few editions of the Post, Arianna may well have found her long elusive niche as facilitator of an online group tête-à-tête featuring the views of people who don't normally hold forth at length on political or social issues. “At length” is here defined as longer than it takes to utter snarky anti-Bush slogans of the Whoopi Goldberg kind or to write checks for causes spanning the left spectrum from the new Hillary middle to the far Chomsky fringe. Mike Nichols, Ellen DeGeneres, John Cusack and David Mamet all appeared in the Post’s roll-out issue. Day two’s inclusion of Gary Hart, Walter Cronkite, and Joe Scarborough suggested a move toward the policy/press mainstream, with “Mash” creator Larry Gelbart aboard to offer side-splitting comedic relief: “Devoutly to be desired: Here DeLay, gone tomorrow.” (Hint: Italian potato chip—not!) Here was Arianna’s keen self-analysis on the cusp of week two: “After our thrilling first week, I’ve decided to get a larger perspective on things by returning to Greece, the birthplace of (in order of importance) democracy, and, as it happens, me. I’ll be blogging from the motherland over the weekend and keeping tabs with my new Siemens SX66 Pocket PC Phone.” The reference to the Siemans phone was hyperlinked to Siemans’ Web site, suggesting that the advent of this magnificent ne device ranks higher even than the birth of democracy on the “order of importance” scale. Oh, by what absence of discernment — or simple lapse of attention — did Michael let this remarkable woman get away? Audience? Arianna’s high-profile media foray is likely to be watched closely, not only by the usual train-wreck-in-slow-motion gawking fans of Nancy Grace but also by decent, unaffiliated types who just think it would be nice if Arianna could find something she could stick with for a while this time — you know, in that “The kids are watching and mom’s really starting to scare ‘em” sense. For their part, seasoned journalists will want to see whether her bold endeavor manages to break any blockbuster stories that haven’t already been corralled by Barbra Streisand, that dauntless political seer who last week blogged this media-bending scoop at her personal Web site: "Despite all of the Administration's mistakes and shortcomings, Bush was re-elected by the American people….” (Hey, Al Franken: How’d you miss that one?) So color me optimistic about Arianna’s new quest! After all, this is a woman who wrote an estimable book, Fourth Instinct: "The Call of the Soul," about how to employ Esalen methods to achieve great things, not excluding useful marriage. But even my optimism has its limits. This is also a woman who not long ago made a simpering spectacle of herself, claiming that the Antichrist is here and driving an SUV. Say what you will (I mean this enough to say it twice), but whatever you do: Don't count Arianna out. Never forget: the Gabor sisters were conspicuous cultural mavens for quite a long stretch, even if their genre wasn’t always obvious. Wifely Eva lived in a TV community called Hooterville. Alpha female Zsa Zsa endeared herself by refusing to be bossed around by a traffic cop waving around one of those insulting breath-o-lyzers. (You go, ZZG!) It shouldn't be necessary to note that Arianna has never been accused of slugging even a Kindergarten Cop, and for that reason the image seems unworthy of mention. I am personally offended by anyone who would grope for such a cheap laugh. Where are the campus speech committees when we need them most? The idea that The Huffington Post will be scaring Matt Drudge sleepless is another joke I won’t stoop to make, chiefly because I find it hard to type when laughing convulsively.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Newsweek Steps Up

At a time when passing the buck has become a national pasttime, Newsweek deserves real credit for taking full and unmitigated responsibility for its failures in accurately reporting the story about the possible flushing of a certain holy book (which shall remain unnamed, to help preserve public order in this somewhat unruly blogspace). At least that's how I read what seems to me Newsweek's powerful statement:
"We regret that we got any part of our story wrong."
Wow. Talk about owning. Talk about moral courage. Not that we got anything in particular wrong, but that we got any part wrong, we do regret. Yes, that's the spirit. "Mistakes were made," as Ron Ziegler famously said, back in the days when the Nixon White House similarly regretted anything that might have gone wrong, if anything did go wrong, which we're not saying anything did. I am hereby adopting this let-it-all-hang-out-somewhat policy regarding any part of something I did or did not get wrong in any of my postings here at Sane Nation. In that spirit, if my son's copy of a certain book that I may or may not be really tired of reading aloud, happened to fall into the paper shredder at some point today, or not, see previous statement. Regret is noted, in either case. Thank you. Please drive safely.

New York Times goes to the market

With readership declining, the New York Times has hit upon a strange marketing approach: Start charging online readers to access previously free articles. Beginning in September, readers will need to pay $50 per year to sign onto "the work of Op-Ed columnists and some of the best known voices from the news side of The Times and The International Herald Tribune (IHT)." Thus a newspaper that once sought maximum coverage for its op-ed columnists chooses a marketing strategy likely to reduce their exposure. The Blogosphere (all talk, all the time, as close as a click and almost always free) just got more influential.

Bush: Going for broke

Andrew Sullivan offers a smart summary of the issues in the Senate filibuster controversy, including an incisive analysis of why Bush seems likely to bet the house on getting his judicial nominees approved. Sullivan argues: "Bush could risk a backlash and face losses in the mid-term elections. But so what? If he gets the judicial nominees he wants he will have shifted America towards the religious right for a generation." Money quote:
We know by now that he’s not a traditional conservative — he’s a revolutionary. And the revolution in the courts is the one his followers care most about. It’s the one obstacle left to hard-right domination of American government. Why would he not want to remove it?
I think Sullivan's analysis is spot on. Bush famously told the nation his reelection had earned him political capital. The president bet a large chunk of that capital on a Social Security package that hasn't captured the hearts and minds of his countrymen, to put it mildly. It's reasonable to speculate that the White House is aware of precisely how little political capital Bush has left to spend — surely not enough for big ticket items like major revisions of the tax code or focusing on the immigration crisis at the U.S. - Mexico border. Both sides are claiming to have the votes in the filibuster battle. That means both sides are probably doing their share of spinning. Look for the White House to pull out all the stops in their quest to transform the federal judiciary in the spirit of the Waren Court four decades ago — only in the opposite direction. Will Bush succeed? Yes, if he manages to cast the Democrats as obstructionists, hence winning the crucial PR war. No, if the Democrats convince America that getting rid of the filibuster is a power grab rather than a principled quest.