Archive for July, 2009

It’s just remarkable. Really incredible. I remember 2002 as the year nearly every politician and pundit in America insisted America could change the world. We could end terrorism and build nations. Anyone with a brain or a moral code knew this sounded good but was utter bullshit, of course. You can’t just decide to end terrorism and create democracies whenever you feel like it. And of course, we didn’t.

But my point is, people thought we could. Our government probably didn’t think we could (though some of them are rather daft), but it sure knew there was money to be made by telling people we could. Our mass media knew it could increase ratings, not by going into the nitty gritty politics of invasion or by criticizing these mad men, but by waving the flag in the background and having breaking news stories every half hour about our glorious F-22s and how our military which would sweep into Iraq and bring down a statue and people would party in the street. Pictures of soldiers coming home in caskets, no. Pictures of eerie night bombs, yes. Throughout 2002 and 2003, we were the Nation Which Could. Mission Accomplished. We set out to do, and we sure did.

I don’t know what upsets me more, the dishonesty of our media and politicians, the greed of the corporations behind them, or the desire on the part of many in our country to believe such faulty immoral and basically stupid narratives.

The Nation That Could Do Things (though it didn’t know much about what exactly it did: glance at flag-waving, watch American Idol (don’t forget to vote!), eat red meat,  take the SUV to the mall and then the fundamentalist church where we can pat ourselves on the back) now is the Nation Which Cannot (what gross stereotypes, I know. I’d feel bad, but what with all the dead people in the Middle East I’m not feeling too guilty over reducing the assholes who were okay with it to ugly caricatures).

Global warming… but it’s so tough, and maybe it’s not even real! We can’t mess with American jobs. Outsource, yes. But accept emissions limitations? No. Could we define this as a classic moment of American ingenuity, one of those times where we meet an obstacle and put all of our energies into finding a way to meet it, to keep and create jobs while dealing with the environmental challenges we face? We could. But we are the Nation Which Cannot. So we won’t.

Goldman Sachs is a pariah. Wall Street is a monstrosity. We have an economic system where people celebrate growth of the GDP, and aren’t interested in growing unemployment. We gave trillions of dollars to the banks which created the crisis, and who prefer to dole out bonuses rather than re-hire employees or help out people who may lose their home. We have people defaulting on their mortgages because the banks allowed people to take loans who probably shouldn’t have received them, but who now are stuck in a tight place with no one interested in helping them. But we’re not going to bail out the victims of the banks. We like to bail out the perpetrators. We can do that!

What state illustrates these problems better than California? So much has been written on the problems of their initiative system and the long-term financial issues caused by millionaires who have nightmares of taxes on the sheets their maids clean. I won’t kid myself and pretend I have much to say on the problems of governing California that other people are far better informed about. What I can say is this. Arnold Schwarzenegger slashed the funding for domestic violence shelters by eighty fucking percent? 80 goddamn percent? What the fuck? Is it wrong to call another a human being a breathing piece of shit? 80 million dollars gone for child welfare services? Let me say that again. HE SLASHED 80 MILLION DOLLARS FOR CHILDREN’S WELFARE. Asshole Arnold also cut all state funding for community health clinic programs. He cut funding to HIV prevention programs. You can read the whole list here.

This is more than just ordinary bad politics. It goes beyond ineptitude and our ho-hum, we-just-can’t-do-health-reform-or-cut-carbon-dioxide-emissions attitude. This is fucking class warfare. Class warfare of the rich on the poor, of the powerful against the weak. Milton Friedman’s belief in free markets and nearly non-existent government was just what the rich of the world needed. Social Darwinism (more often politely and vaguely mentioned as some sort of pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstrap/self-made shit) and materialism were excellent philosophies for the greedy selfish elites. They’ve always wanted unrestrained power without being hindered by social responsibility. They don’t want to help other people up, because they depend on an underclass. They don’t want to feel guilty about the poor, they just want to take what they can while they can get it. They need domestic workers to take care of their children and their houses because they have better things to do. They need people to work at restaurants so they can eat out. They need other people to grow their food, they need other people to make their clothes. They need people to work on their yachts and sit behind the service desk. They need a world of people providing service to them. We could have a less disparate society, but that might mean the people at the very top have a bit less. Less billions in their trust funds, less money in their stock portfolios. Unfortunately, their mindset is that of a self-destructive sociopath. They avoided ever being overthrown (and being a non-violent person, I like to convince people to change their mind rather than point a weapon at them, so I think that’s a good thing), and now they’re slowly destroying the most basic restrictions put on their games. But their lifestyle is straining the planet, and the Earth can’t be ignored.

But their insatiable greed is just shocking, and the hypocritical way they play around with the “can-do” myth of America is disgusting. When it suits the wealthy, for example, by creating small wars which provide the opportunity to dole out government contracts and make billions of dollars, We Can Do It! When it comes to a bail-out for big business, We Can Do It! When it’s time to fund the Pentagon, forget about the budget or health care. We Can Do It! But when it comes to providing shelters for battered women, We Really Can’t. When it’s time to make sure children have enough to eat, We Just Can’t. When millions of people live without health care, We Can’t Do Anything because what about the Insurance Companies? Department of War, yes. Department of Peace, that’s too far-fetched.

We have an intensely hierarchical society. It just doesn’t bear the old names found in the fairy tales of King, Duke, Jester, Baron, or Peasant. But this is very much a country where the rich take from the poor, and the poor are expected to serve at their banquet. Not much has changed. A Hundred Years War over the land rights of kings? Yes, they could. Nation-building in the Middle East? Yes, we can. Protection from brigands? No, they ask too much. Protection from the insurance companies? We ask too much. At least they had Days of Truce in their time. Our laborers work seven days a week and multiple jobs to feed their children, and we want to arrest them and deport them. Folly and greed: What We Can, and Do, Do Best.

*On a personal note, something happened while writing this post which proved me to be a fine example of ineptitude myself. My family and I are staying at a cottage in Cape Cod which could only be called “rustic.” Something has been eating our fruit at night, and while sitting on the couch typing I saw the tail end of what looked like an enormous rat crawl behind the couch where my mother was reading. I slowly put the computer down on the ground and stood up on the couch I’d been sitting on while pointing and gasping “Oh holy shit.” Mom, being quite a can-do sort of person, asked me what it looked like and I babbled something about a long pink tail. She decided it was a possum, put on some oven mitts, and brought over some blueberries to lure it out. Then she started cooing “Here, possy, possy, you poor thing. Don’t worry, we’re Yankees, we won’t put you in a Brunswick stew. I’m just going to scoop you up and put you outside to eat some apples.” She then would smile at me and tell me how cute it’s little face was whenever it peeked out (it wasn’t so cute when it snarled at her as she tried to get it out from the couch). Adorable or not, fast-moving silent rodents two feet from my bed are not my sort of thing. Just as, perhaps, for Max Baucus, health reform is not his kind of thing. Though in my defense, health reform does not have a long hairless pink tail and does not move quite so quickly (as we’ve seen). Plus, I didn’t scream.


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A so-called “family friendly” event in the nutty town of Milbridge, Maine proved to be not so yesterday when drunken spectators (participant involvment as yet unknown, but highly hoped for here) decided it had been too long since they’d participated in an enormous brawl.

Keep the Kids at Home, Next Year, Milbridge.

Keep the Kids at Home, Next Year, Milbridge.

In case you were in the dark about Cod Fish Racing (you poor thing), cod fish races are sporting events in which participants dress up as firefighters and carry a dead 20 lb. cod across a certain distance as fast as they can, while being sprayed with hoses.

Like other sports created in the northern parts of the world, it’s absurd. It seems during the cold months of the year people hide inside and get absolutely wasted and come up with things to do when it’s nice out. Instead of going to the beach or sitting on their porch drinking Mint Juleps like the sensible people of New Orleans, the good folk of places like Maine and Finland have to spend their time getting drunk and carrying their wives or dead fish around. So big surprise when that fucking doesn’t turn out well.

cod: a deceptive animal now known to instigate drunk fights

cod: a deceptive animal now known to instigate drunk fights

I mean, mix up cod, running, and alcohol, and you’re bound sooner or later to decide it’s time to bypass the fish running and go straight to the violent wrestling part. Apparently someone in this crowd of all-stars hadn’t been driving beautifully earlier in the day, and this really pissed someone else off. Big surprise there. People get drunk and go watch people run around with cod. I have a feeling at least some of the attendants got worked up for this big event earlier in the day and were not thinking as clearly as they should have been while cruising around Milbridge hot spots. But why waste time on silly matters like that when there are cod fish to be carried? Can’t the good townfolk of Milbridge simply agree to sit back and relax together? Why do punches have to be thrown? Why did sixty people have to jump in there and start swinging? Why so passionate? What is it about cod that brings out the worst in people? Do they salt these fish before they run with them? Do they eat them afterwards? Do the people carrying said fish throw them down to the ground before jumping into the fray? If so, is the act of tossing the fish down a sort of lead-in to the fight: “Don’t you throw that cod down, Jimmy. God damn you, I mean it. You throw that cod down, and I’ll throw my cod down so fast your mother will be wiping salty blood out of your face for so long.. Dammit, Jimmy, you did it! That’s it! This cod is going down, you asshole!”

Questions for the ages, these.

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Oh man, Harry Potter. Oh man.

I am going to rant about the new Harry Potter film. If I was a blog with a big readership (say, five readers), I would warn about spoilers. Luckily, I do not have said enormous audience, so I am going to talk about this bloody fucking film as much as I want. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was a disaster.

I love the Harry Potter books. I wouldn’t say they’re masterpieces, but they are fun. I was brought up on The Lord of the Rings. Really, raised on it. I could tell you about the enigma of the Entwives and Tom Bombadil when I was a wee lass. I could sing all the songs from the cheesy animated films from the seventies. I love silly wizards and beards. I like Harry, I adore Snape, I love Dumbledore. So when I criticize the new Potter film, I do it as a full-fledged dork who has a blue cape in her closet and is looking for a nice white beard to wear this Halloween.

What a fucking disaster.

Oh, thank you Mr. Yates for showing us that Harry and Friends have grown up and are now snogging one another. Yes, I noticed in the last film that romantic tension was a-brewing. But truly, if I wanted to spend several hours on teenage nonsense, I would go see Twilight. I want to see wizards. I want to see the storyline which began in the first novel continued. Holy fucking shit, you can’t show us a single Defense Against the Dark Arts class? Are you mad?

In this most recent installment, director David Yates and the absolutely mediocre screenwriter Steve Kloves utterly abandoned the plot of Half-Blood Prince. Interesting fact: Steve Kloves has written the script to every Harry Potter film except Order of the Phoenix. Another interesting fact: Order of the Phoenix is probably the best Harry Potter film (its story was not been fucked up by Kloves, while Azkaban at least had Alfonso Cuarón directing). Personally, I think the Harry Potter books, great works of philosophy they are, boil down to choices people make. Magic powers: neat. Human choices: much more interesting. As much as I love Gandalf, and while I find him a better-written character, I appreciate Dumbledore so much more. Dumbledore doesn’t make perfect decisions, and he’s not an arch-angel. He’s a human being, doing his best. He’s up against another human being, one who wants power and to escape death because he’s never known love, and is incapable of it.

The whole Harry Potter story revolves around whether or not you place your trust in a human being who seems wise and good, but who also is frequently silent about his reasons for many actions. Dumbledore trusts Snape, an extraordinary and often repulsive figure whose inner life is never as fully fleshed out as I’d like. Do we, the audience, trust Dumbledore? If we do, we trust Snape, and if we trust Snape then Harry’s mission is rather different then if we do not. The books are about the choices and the misunderstandings between people which arise out of our own prejudices, wants, needs, loves, and losses.

But don’t look for that in the new film.

The Half-Blood Prince is funny. It’s sweet. Radcliffe is much better here. But the story? Oh, forget about it. Where are all the characters you’ve come to adore? Where is Neville trying to sustain Dumbledore’s Army in the school, the near-Chosen One who is lonely, who has also lost family to Voldemort, who also needs a chance to fight against him? Where is Lupin, struggling with the burden of his condition, unwilling to accept love? Where is Snape, trying to prepare his students in his own way for what is to come, and yet still feeling the pain of his love for Lily and bearing the guilt of her death? Why the hell does Hermione chat up Harry about Ginny right after Dumbledore is fucking dead? I mean, come on. Hermione would never be all “Oh, I know Dumbledore is dead and that locket you’re holding is all mysterious, but Ron’s okay with you and Ginny because apparently Ron is a fucking nitwit  with nothing more important to think about than who his sister is making out with and Kloves is a moron who missed all the nuances in the story, a story written by J.K. Rowling who is not exactly subtle.” I mean, come on. What the hell.

Plus, they skipped the battle scene.

i wish i had a powerful beard and wand

i wish i had a powerful beard and wand

I just said a lot of stuff about purpose and meaning, but forget all that for a second. These books have magic in them, man. And the best magic I saw in this film were the little birds Hermione summoned up around her head in a scene, like nearly every other scene, where she is mooning around after Ron. Hermione, sweetheart, you have better things to do. Steve Kloves and David Yates, yes, Emma Watson is beautiful, and yes, we all feel a little bad for Hermione and it will be nice when she’s happily dating Ron, though I’ll never understand it myself. But for real, Hermione is a smart young lady with a huge upcoming battle on her mind. Why do you limit yourselves to fucking birds? Where is Fenrir ravaging through Hogwarts and where is the Order showing up and Neville and Luna taking the Felix potion themselves and charging in there? Ughhhh.

When Harry actually read the note from R.A.B. in the locket, I was shocked. Fucking shocked. At that point in the movie I had decided Kloves and Yates didn’t care about the story at all. Yeah, Dumbledore died for this Horcrux and all, and yeah, it’s a fake, but who cares, because we gotta show some teenagers making out. Don’t put stupid lines in Hermione’s mouth; have Harry say: “I’d like the woman I love to not be killed by Voldemort the way everyone else is, so I better stay away from her for awhile.” Is that so difficult? Four seconds, max. Damn you, Hollywood. Damn you, David Yates. I loved your last Harry film. But now, please go swallow a drought of living death and miss the next one. If you do come back, though, use some color. The moon over the drive-in was more attractive than your film, and Cape Cod is foggy tonight. I thought this was supposed to be just a teensy bit about magic. Instead this film resembles a bleak fluorescent light in a neglected corridor closet of an anonymous high school bathroom where the biggest threat is some birds might attack you because no one has anything better to do than sit around and fucking pine over other teenage geeks. Nice.

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Yesterday I was doing a book crawl through beautiful Cambridge, and I thought of the recent turmoil over the arrest of Professor Henry Gates. I then drove back to the Cape and read this interesting take on the arrest by the quite fascinating Pam Spaulding.

I decided to have an opinion.

What I find really troubling in this situation is the inability of Sgt. Crawley to identify the situation appropriately and respond accordingly. This is part of a much bigger trend of police officers who are having difficulty dealing with their authority being challenged or questioned. Instead of identifying themselves as public servants, they see themselves as authority figures entitled to respect and obedience. This view of their role impedes an ability to respond flexibly and with civility. It has led to an increasing number of taser attacks, and it is responsible for the murder of innocent people.

Now, I would like to talk about high-stress situations. I once had a job where I had occasional interaction with the police. It was a very sad job where I spent a lot of time with a neglected and forgotten group in our society. In a few tough moments I had to call the police (or someone else would call, which was not fun either), or I had to go to a place where the cops had arrived and step in to assume control for a minor.

These were not fun experiences. The people involved were upset. Misunderstandings occurred, and events would escalate out of control. The police were there to do their job. They could be very helpful, and you can’t help but see how frustrating it must be to respond to calls constantly where people with little control over their circumstances are lashing out at everyone around them. It feels impossible to affect things in the long-term, and all the police can do is try to contain the immediate situation.

What I frequently noticed is while the cops were there to do their job, they had a poor ability to cope if the other party became accusatory or disrespectful. Now, obviously that doesn’t give cops a reason to arrest someone, taser them, or shoot them. They’re supposed to be able to deal with stressful situations and angry people. Authority figures should not be automatically entitled to respect. People deserve respect on the basis of being people, but our officials or power figures deserve respect (as authority figures, not as people) only so far as they earn it.  That’s what the bigger issue is here, and it’s the one I’m angry about.

There is a smaller issue here too. Every conflict is worsened when the parties involved fail to show empathy to one another, or at least even try to think about what the other person is thinking. I’m often sympathetic to the school of thought that to understand is to forgive the person (though not the crime). It’s very stressful to have a cop enter your own house, and it must be a whole lot worse to have them accuse you of being a robber, and to fail to accept your proof of who you are. It seems that Professor Gates responded the way many of us would, and certainly the way most of us would feel inside even if we were able to keep our cool. But it probably wasn’t the best reaction. Cops are going to be wrong. Sometimes they are going to do evil, vicious things, and they need to be held responsible. Other times, though, there may just be a misunderstanding which is aggravated by a failure to think about why the other person is reacting a certain way.

It’s tragic when misunderstandings escalate because neither party is capable of reacting calmly, even when they are being wronged. When people are being verbally attacked or feel threatened, what they are thinking about is how the other person is treating them, and less about how their actions are affecting the other. They expect empathy while being unable to give it. That’s the basic groundwork for all real nasty fights. Two (or more) people (or groups) not listening, not understanding. It’s frustrating when you know you’re right, but unfortunately, your opponent almost always thinks they’re right too.

Being right isn’t always enough. I wish it was, but the world isn’t fair. Gandhi knew that, and so did Martin Luther King Jr. They seem, to me, to be two men so full of the desire for justice that rage must have been a component of their lives. Rage, and a desire for justice and righteousness amid so much horror and injustice. Rage can start our need for change, but it doesn’t bring about change. What brings about change is our ability to control our anger and turn it into something productive. Most people think they’re good, most people rationalize the oppressions of their time and think of wrongs as existing in the past or someplace far away. In all my life, yelling and being angry at someone in the wrong has never changed their mind or turned them in to sudden sweethearts. It’s just made them scream and be enraged as well. It sucks, because if screaming and yelling and being angry worked, I would get in my car and drive back to DC right now and march into the congressional offices and start screaming and yelling about health care day and night. That would be easy, and it would feel really fucking good. But that’s not going to get us a single-payer option. Using our rage in a constructive way is our only chance. Pointing out injustice and working to fight it calmly and rationally is our best hope for change.

That said, the inability of Sgt. Crawley to respond to this situation calmly and rationally is really disturbing. Because that is his job. While Professor Gates may have been frustrated and angry, that is his right in his own home when he is falsely accused of being a burglar. But we can’t have policemen being enraged if they feel they’re not being shown due deference.

Police in our society are being seen less and less as public servants, and more and more as representatives of a power structure which highly values authority. I protested both of George W. Bush’s inaugurations as well as the Iraq War multiple times, and it was disconcerting to see the DC police riding motorcycles into crowds of middle-aged peaceful protesters. It was upsetting to see officers pour out of dark vans with guns in Adams-Morgan looking for protesters during the inauguration. That’s really fucking weird and not good.  Their top priority is not about protecting The People, but Some People. In their role of serving power, they demand more respect for their own authority.  The mentality of a public servant is far different from an authority figure. Both people may be called upon to a bad scene, but their reactions will be totally different. One person is going to help, the other person is going to take control, and will balk if that control and their right to determine action is not acknowledged.

I’m concerned the cop couldn’t handle Professor Gates’ annoyance. I’m concerned his conflict training failed. I’m concerned about his feeling of entitlement to respect and obedience. We’re not required to be nice to cops. We’re not required to be polite and deferential. It’s not good to have cops who tie their egos up with their jobs, who try to impose their will on situations and aren’t able to cope with resistance. This results in cops fulfilling their role as public protecters less. Instead, the public is supposed to protect their ego by showing obedience to their will. As long as we have authority figures who many people think are entitled to unquestioned respect and deference solely based upon their possession of power, we will have gross abuses of power.

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Oh, senators. You guys would be so adorable if you weren’t such assholes. I’m talking to you, Jeff Sessions. Most politicians crack me up as self-interested ego-maniacs with no interest in the truth, but GOP Senators take it to outer space. They must not be getting enough oxygen since they lack even the smallest iota of self-reflection, awareness, wisdom, tolerance, intelligence, brains, thoughtfulness, reason, logic, comprehension, coherency… well, I could go on all day, but let’s get to the issues.

Why oh why do Senators keep talking about judicial activism? Let’s get this straight. Judges make decisions, and decisions involve values. They do not just call “balls and strikes,” as Chief Justice John Roberts once said. No, judges make decisions about the morality and justice of laws. About what is unclear, about precedents, about striking down bad laws (sometimes). Roberts himself knows this, because he himself is a flaming judicial activist. He’s just a right-wing one. As Jeffrey Toobin summed up beautifully a few weeks ago:

His jurisprudence as Chief Justice, Roberts said, would be characterized by “modesty and humility.” After four years on the Court, however, Roberts’s record is not that of a humble moderate but, rather, that of a doctrinaire conservative. The kind of humility that Roberts favors reflects a view that the Court should almost always defer to the existing power relationships in society. In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff.”

So what we have here is a Chief Justice who is not at all about balls and strikes, about letting the law decide. But the truth is that being a judicial activist is not in and of itself a bad thing, and it is also hardly avoidable. First off, laws contradict each other. Second, the Constitution is not a perfect document. Third, our amendments can and do come into conflict with one another.

Sacrilege, I know. But the law is not a perfect thing. Laws are made by people, usually men. The Constitution is an imperfect work written by imperfect men. To turn it into an idol is to condemn us to the morality of a very small group of people who weren’t really all that moral. They were self-interested, and willing to allow other people to suffer in order to serve themselves: 3/5 rule, anyone? The Supreme Court itself has made lots of lousy decisions, and with Chief Justice Roberts at the helm, it continues to make rulings I find abhorrent, because Roberts and other right-wingers have different value systems than my own. Men like John Roberts, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia seem to have value systems based on the narrow (and short-sighted) self-interest of wealthy, (usually) white men, and the protection of their biases and powers. So I find their judicial activism awful.

A friend of mine sent me this speech by Thurgood Marshall the other day, though, and I think including an excerpt would make my primary point clearer:

I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever “fixed” at the Philadelphia Convention. Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight, and sense of justice exhibited by the Framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, we hold as fundamental today. When contemporary Americans cite ‘The Constitution,’ they invoke a concept that is vastly different from what the Framers barely began to construct two centuries ago.

For a sense of the evolving nature of the Constitution we need look no further than the first three words of the document’s preamble: ‘We the People.” When the Founding Fathers used this phrase in 1787, they did not have in mind the majority of America’s citizens. ‘We the People’ included, in the words of the Framers, ‘the whole Number of free Persons.’ On a matter so basic as the right to vote, for example, Negro slaves were excluded, although they were counted for representational purposes  at threefifths each. Women did not gain the right to vote for over a hundred and thirty years…

…What is striking is the role legal principles have played throughout America’s history in determining the condition of Negroes. They were enslaved by law, emancipated by law, disenfranchised and segregated by law; and, finally, they have begun to win equality by law. Along the way, new constitutional principles have emerged to meet the challenges of a changing society. The progress has been dramatic, and it will continue…

If we seek, instead, a sensitive understanding of the Constitution’s inherent defects, and its promising evolution through 200 years of history, the celebration of the ‘Miracle at Philadelphia”‘ will, in my view, be a far more meaningful and humbling experience. We will see that the true miracle was not the birth of the Constitution, but its life, a life nurtured through two turbulent centuries of our own making, and a life embodying much good fortune that was not.”

The law is a living thing. There are good laws, and bad laws. I think this means our sense of justice lies outside the law; or at least it should. Upon what that basis for morality should be is a matter of great disagreement. Without involving religion, though, I think the basic premise of human morality should still be some version of  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s actually not the height of morality, because we all do want different things. But our reach so often exceeds our grasp, and I think this is a circumstance where it’s better to accept as a root definition of justice something most people can understand.

Almost no one likes to be made the means to other people’s ends.  Almost no one wants to suffer. These are fairly universal characteristics. They imply a standard for treating people as ends in themselves, as self-conscious beings who wish to avoid pain. We also have a sense of history, of cause and effect. So while we should treat people as equally as possible, we must also seek the cause of why certain inequalities exist, and do what we can to remedy them. Eugene Robinson made this point quite succinctly the other day:

Pretending that the historical context doesn’t exist — pretending that white men haven’t enjoyed a privileged position in this society — doesn’t make that context go away. Yes, justice is supposed to be blind. But for most of our nation’s history, it hasn’t been — and women and minorities are acutely aware of how our view of justice has evolved, or been forced to evolve.”

We must also be willing to protect the innocent from those who would violate their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. There are people who are predators, and institutions who are predators as well. We must keep this in mind when we talk about the law. The law can protect either the people or those who seek to make a profit at the expense of the common good. It cannot do both. One must be more important than the other.

Words are used with less and less concern for their actual meaning. That’s why corporations have ‘personhood’. Sorry, but an institution is not a person. It simply doesn’t have the same rights as a human being. This is an instance where our laws have gone berserk. I don’t think being a judicial activist is a bad thing in and of itself. I like to see people consider whether the law is good or bad, to think about the Constitution, and to think of it as a living and evolving document. I like to see judges make their decisions, though, with the idea of there being something more important than the law: human beings.

Chief Justice John Roberts isn’t as interested in human beings or their rights as much as he is interested in corporations. He’s not just interpreting the Constitution to defend that view, but he’s twisting the Constitution that way. I think breaking with the Constitution to give women and minorities the same rights as everyone else was an excellent break. That’s good judicial activism. But John Roberts is a judicial activist too. He is interested in protecting the rights of corporations to subvert laws and wreak havoc and escape consequences, and he uses the law to justify that. I think this should remind us that the law is neither good nor bad in and of itself, but it is the intent behind the law which matters.

These hearings are a joke. The hypocrisy, the smearing of Sonia Sotomayor as a racist by actual racists, the attacks on empathy as some sort of negative quality: ridiculous. What I wouldn’t give for some honesty. The GOP opposes Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination because they are interested in a certain interpretation of the law which advances their own agenda; or, rather, the agenda of their financial contributors. Be honest about it. If they think corporations have the same rights as people, come out and say it. If they are worried that Sonia Sotomayor will make less conservative decisions than Roberts, say so. Be explicit that you want right-wing judges in order to advance a certain agenda, and stop hiding behind some false image of the law as an unchanging deity, and of our judiciary as its faithful, emotionless worshippers without any sort of moral or personal thoughts of their own. I wish we could get to the real argument and stop using words like ’empathy’ and ‘judicial activist’ as smears to prevent any real dialogue.

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Regina Benjamin

There’s so much to like about Obama’s new nominee for Surgeon General, Regina Benjamin.


I get emotional about do-gooders, so when one of them is nominated to participate in politics at the highest level, I go nuts. To begin with, this woman’s practice is in rural Alabama. Not the place to go if you want to make tons of money. Her clinic has been destroyed not once, but twice, by hurricanes and fires. She rebuilt her clinic… twice. She makes house calls in her pick-up truck. Dr. Benjamin has worked as a doctor on a mission in Honduras. She’s been called “Angel in a White Coat” by the New York Times, and “Woman of the Year” more than once. From her bio at the National Institute of Health:

Dr. Regina Benjamin is making a difference to the underserved poor in a small fishing village on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. It is a town of about 2500 people, about 80 percent of her patients live below the poverty level, and Dr. Benjamin is their only physician.”

She’s been the recipient of the National Caring Award and received the Papal Cross. She’ll be, I believe, only the second female surgeon general in US history (not counting acting-Surgeon Generals). Basically, despite everything I disagree with Obama about (lots!), he has this habit of nominating incredibly talented women. Women who seem like sweethearts, and who are ready to work. The only thing about this which saddens me is a region of our country in desperate need of good, cheap health care is losing what seems to be an excellent provider. But perhaps we are gaining an advocate for health care reform. Which is good.

Also, she is not Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This, too, is reason to celebrate.

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It makes me very happy when I think how the three best albums (in my opinion) of 2009 (so far) are all intensely joyful and dance-y.

Passion Pit; or, Glowing Things!!!

Passion Pit; or, Glowing Things!!!

This is so not always the case. Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago could be the best album of either 2008 or 2007, depending on which year you wanna count it. I prefer 2008, because 2007’s spots are taken for me. No one else has a chance in a year which sees work released from my favorite Broken Social Scene members, the core KC Accidental (Kevin Drew and Charles Spearin). A Tender History in Rust from Do Make Say Think: perfect. Spirit If… could also be called “Kevin Drew Doesn’t Even Need to Try to Woo Me I Love His Music So.”

But none of that was really stuff to put on when you wanted to bounce off the walls. Sure, each album had a few songs like that (excepting for the gorgeously despairing For Emma, which could not make one less likely to imbibe sugar, except in alcohol format), but nothing like this year’s shit. I could bring up the best albums from earlier years as well, but I’m lazy and they might disprove my point, which I’m not into.

My point is that this year’s best albums seem to be, across the board, “Holy shit, we have not been celebrating dance parties nearly enough, quick quick, get something that glows please!!!” I’m talking, of course, about Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, Yeah Yeah Yeah’s It’s Blitz! and Passion Pit’s Manners.

Random Junk in the Air is Always Delightful!!

Random Junk in the Air is Always Delightful!!

The music is much like the pictures. Bright. Swingy. Bouncy. It’s Blitz! has some slower songs without the leaping-around back beat of nearly all Passion Pit’s album. But even when it’s less hyper, it’s still totally fucking gorgeous. “Skeleton” and “Hysteric” have the electric-dance sound, but mellowed out and given these emotional peaks which are extra sweet precisely because of that ecstatic spacey feel. “Heads Will Roll” and “Zero” do the dance part more: super.

I’m pretty fucking nuts about Phoenix’s Wolfgang. I love whatever Phoenix does anyway, though; shan’t ever forget the first time I heard “If I Ever Feel Better.” Alphabetical: swoony. It’s Never Been Like That: that was fun. Wolfgang: Thomas Mars, it is not fair to do that swoony voice all over the place.

C'est trop charmant.

C'est trop charmant.

It’s always weird to use the word sultry, but Phoenix is kinda sultry. Thomas Mars’ voice tears me up: do I want to do a little dance, or am I in love and need to swoon? Case in point: “Fences”. In this song, Thomas Mars is being a real jerk, because he’s with Sofia Coppola, so if he wants to sing like that he’d better be single. I’ll forgive him though, since this entire album is a gem. What I especially like about it is though I like to dance around in my car, sometimes I need to breathe a little bit. I can be popping all over the place with Janet Jackson Passion Pit, and listen to anything off Wolfgang without losing my “I just had 3 cups of tea and 2 spoonfuls of sugar for giggles” feeling.

Then, oh my, then there’s Passion Pit’s Manners.


Passion Pit does not have the back catalogue of Phoenix or Yeah Yeah Yeah’s. Their first EP, Chunk of Change, came out in September 2008. I mean, I can’t even say with 100% certainty Michael Angelakos even graduated from college. I got use to being older than all the tween pop stars ages ago, but to be older than people I really, really adore? Whoa.

But man, let’s listen to me rave about Manners. Manners is simply fucking fantastic. I don’t know what the future holds for these kids (I can say that because I mean, they may not even be able to drink. I jest, I jest) but who cares. This is a great album. Genius? Don’t know, don’t care. It is just absolutely euphoric. “Moth’s Wings” is one of the most thrilling things I’ve heard in years. When Angelakos gets to “You come beating like moth’s wings/spastic and violently” I freak out. Then there’s all sorts of lush spiralling sounds, and lots of just nice old lyrics like “Put down your sword and crown / come lay with me on the ground” which just sound fucking happy.

I’m all for real interesting music. I’m into happy music. When you take a slightly off-beat (well, if at least one-third of all the music you listen to is Broken Social Scene) sound and make it enchantingly joyful, then you get something like Manners. Then you (or, me) end up playing “Seaweed Song”, “Little Secrets”, and “Let Your Love Grow Tall” and watch “The Reeling” repeatedly. I didn’t know quite why, except then I remembered I love shit which makes me wanna clap my hands, and then I get happy and distracted and start waving my head all over the place. I was walking out of the house the other night listening to it and decided I felt too colorful, and grabbed some bright pink earrings. That’s what this music makes you do. All of a sudden you want to resemble Rainbow Brite and run next to a boring brick wall and strip it off to reveal shiny gold things (this really does make sense if you’ve seen “The Reeling” video).

So these are, to me, the best albums so far this year. This could change though, since Broken Social Scene is recording a new album, and Maxwell just released something in the first time in eight years which I haven’t heard yet. God, I love Maxwell.

To be continued.

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