"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." - William Tecumseh Sherman

Name: The General
Location: Sacramento, California, United States


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Friday, November 12, 2004
  Frist Flexes His Muscles
From the AP:
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on Thursday urged Democrats to stop blocking President Bush's federal court nominees and hinted that he may try to change Senate rules to thwart their delaying tactics.

"One way or another, the filibuster of judicial nominees must end," Frist, R-Tenn., said in a speech to the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group.

The Democrats' ability to stall White House picks for the federal bench was one of the most contentious issues of Bush's first term. Despite the GOP majority in the Senate, Democrats used the threat of a filibuster to block 10 of Bush's nominees to federal appeals courts. The Senate did confirm more than 200 of the president's choices.

Republicans hope their gain of four seats on Election Day will discourage Democrats from using filibusters again. But in a Senate next year with 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats and a Democrat-leaning independent, Democrats still will have the 40 votes necessary to uphold a filibuster.

Frist said filibustering judicial nominees is "radical. It is dangerous and it must be overcome. The Senate must be allowed to confirm judges who fairly, justly and independently interpret the law."

"The Senate cannot allow the filibuster of circuit court nominees to continue." Frist said. "Nor can we allow the filibuster to extend to potential Supreme Court nominees."
While it is widely decried, the "filibuster" has a proper role in politics, especially today. That role is as a brake on the political system; it provides a method of stopping a minority from seizing power. Frist sees it differently however; since he and the conservatives are the apostles of liberty (and in the majority to boot), their political goals cannot constitute tyranny. Hence, his conclusion that potential democratic filibustering is "nothing less than a formula for tyranny by the minority."

While Frist's call to increase the number of senators required for a filibuster (currently 40) has failed so far (it would require 2/3 vote to change), it will be interesting to see if the idea catches on, especially if Bush nominates true theocrats to the bench, only to see them filibustered into oblivion. If the Senate chair were to rule filibustering judicial nominees unconstitutional, only 51 senators would have to vote "yea" to uphold the ruling. Another point of interest, will any democrats, mindful of elections, cross party lines to end a filibuster?
Thursday, November 11, 2004
  My Thoughts on Gay Marriage
Many prominent Objectivists have come out against legalizing gay marriage. I've never heard the reasoning behind this opposition, so the best I can do is go on my understanding of the issue, and what I know from having talked with several homosexuals in my lifetime. Most of this post will deal with the moral aspects of homosexuality, not the legal.

I am mostly convinced that homosexuality is a mistaken part of one's personality. It is something that is usually acquired at such a young age that it seems as natural to the individual as walking or breathing. I've heard the arguments as to why masculinity and femininity both imply a certain sexual orientation, and I've found them pretty convincing. However, in my mind, that isn't the end of the story.

I don't think romantic love is the exclusive province of heterosexuals. Romantic love is the integration of one's sexual desire with the highest values one can find in another person. When you love someone, you share a private world, a "miniverse" that you and your lover inhabit. It involves admiration for your lover as a total, taking pleasure in some of the most minute things they do on a daily basis, enjoying stimulating conversations, partaking in sensuous bouts of lovemaking, experiencing pangs of loneliness when separated for long intervals, etc. Being in love inspires you to do better in all things in your life, and it makes all your pleasures that much more fulfilling. Your lover becomes an essential part of your happiness; if they are not happy (or no longer part of your life), to that extent your world is that much more gloomier.

None of those feelings or experiences requires heterosexuality or homosexuality. They are a response by one individual to another (in this case, the greatest other).

I don't think that two gay people, who experience those emotions and live them out day to day, are any different than two heterosexuals who experience them. I certainly wouldn't say, "Well, they'd be equally good, if they weren't gay." Instead, I feel respect and admiration for them (and a good degree of sympathy, for how much more difficult of a struggle they had to go through, to achieve it).

As for the legal aspects of homosexual marriage, I am not 100% certain. I definitely think that they should be able to benefit from the same type of protections that married heterosexuals do (hospital visitation, inheritance, children, etc.). If I had to make the decision today (whether to legalize homosexual marriage), then I would say, in my context, do it.
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
  Cox and Forkum - Peace Initiative
  Fathers Are Latest Victims of Discrimination
I couldn't believe this when I saw it. From the AP:
A TV ad showing a computer-illiterate father getting chided for trying to help his Internet-savvy daughter with her homework has roused the anger of fatherhood activists, who are calling on Verizon to take it off the air.

"Leave her alone," says the wife/mother in the Verizon DSL ad, ordering her befuddled husband to go wash the dog as the daughter, doing research on the computer, conveys a look of exasperation with her father.

"It's really outrageous," said Joe Kelly, executive director of the national advocacy group Dads and Daughters.

"It's reflective of some deeply entrenched cultural attitudes — that fathers are second-class parents, that they're not really necessary," Kelly said. "To operate from the assumption that dad is a dolt is harmful to fathers, harmful to children, and harmful to mothers."
  The Second Coming
It seems that the Moral Majority has been "born-again". From the AP:
Seeking to take advantage of the momentum from an election where moral values proved important to voters, the Rev. Jerry Falwell announced Tuesday he has formed a new coalition to guide an "evangelical revolution."

Falwell, a religious broadcaster based in Lynchburg, Va., said the Faith and Values Coalition will be a "21st century resurrection of the Moral Majority," the organization he founded in 1979.

Falwell said he would serve as the coalition's national chairman for four years.

He added that the new group's mission would be to lobby for anti-abortion conservatives to fill openings on the Supreme Court and lower courts, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, and the election of another "George Bush-type" conservative in 2008.
It will be interesting to see how successful this group is in the next four years or so. If religion truly is on the march again, this group will have more influence culturally and politically than the Moral Majority did in the 80's. It's also interesting to see (in the story) that the board chairman will be theologian Tim LaHaye, known for his popular Left Behind series.
Tuesday, November 09, 2004
  Russert's Interview With Karl Rove
Karl Rove, Bush's senior adviser during both election campaigns, was interviewed by Tim Russert on Meet the Press (MSNBC) last night. Rove is largely credited with the successful strategies that won Bush the primary in 2000 and both elections. I didn't get to see all of the interview, but I did find the transcript. I found it very revealing; Rove is not the bumbler that Bush is, he is calm, confident and well spoken. Here are some interesting tidbits, with my commentary:
Mr.. RUSSERT: But what can a president do about the coarseness of a society?

MR. ROVE: Well...

MR. RUSSERT: There's nothing he can do legislatively.

MR. ROVE: Oh, sure he can. And this president has attempted to do that by putting into place laws that protect the weak and vulnerable, whether it's partial-birth abortion ban or the Laci Peterson law or to pursue a compassionate agenda that allows the great mediating structures of our society, neighborhood and church and community-based organizations to play a fuller role in confronting the despair and poverty that exists in our country. You bet there's a lot. The global AIDS initiative is part of that. There are lots of things that a president can do, and this president is committed to doing so.
I think this will be the strategy employed to slowly slide this country ever more towards theocracy. Banning abortion will be couched in the language of protecting "the weak and vulnerable". Government funding of religion will be put under the header of pursuing "a compassionate agenda" blending church and state.
MR. RUSSERT: Towards the end of the campaign, the president reaffirmed his opposition to gay marriage, but said he was open to civil unions. Would he support federal legislation to honor and respect civil unions with gay couples?

MR. ROVE: Well, my understanding is is that he was referring to civil relationships defined at a state level. He clearly believes that states have the right to define such things as the right to visitation in the hospital or inheritance rights or benefit rights. Those ought to be up to states. But he does believe very fervently that 5,000 years of human history should not be overthrown by the acts of a few liberal judges or by the acts of a few local elected officials. Marriage is and should be defined as being between one man and one woman.

MR. RUSSERT: But no federal law for civil unions?

MR. ROVE: He believes that the definition of relationships ought to be left up to the states and that proper protections can be put in place for the right to visit in the hospital or the right to inherit or other legal contractual questions like that.
The evasiveness of these answers just baffles me. I'd like to see Karl Rove on The O'Reilly Factor - at least Bill would push the issue. Notice how Rove never directly answers the questions here - he doesn't want to alienate the base or provide fuel for the left. As long as he doesn't call it theocracy, he's just protecting the family. And Rove thinks that it's uncontroversial for states to have full discretion in defining relationships for gays, which means that in Jesusland, the policy is "don't ask, don't tell". Until they change it next week, of course.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the issue of abortion. As you know, Arlen Specter, the Republican senator from Pennsylvania, is on line to be the next chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He said some things on Election Night, and this is how they were reported: "`When you talk about judges who would change the right of a woman to choose, overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely,' Arlen Specter said. `The president is well aware of what happened when a bunch of his nominees were sent up, with the filibuster,' referring to Senate Democrats' success over the past four years in blocking the confirmation of many of Bush's conservative judicial picks. `...And I would expect the president to be mindful of the considerations which I am mentioning.'"

What's your reaction to that?

MR. ROVE: Well, I saw his letter statement where he said he was not applying the litmus test and then he upheld his commitment to the president that if he were to become chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, there would be quick hearings, a vote within a reasonable period of time, and that the appellate nominees would be brought to the floor for an up or down vote by the entire Senate. And Senator Specter is a man of his word. We'll take him at his word.

MR. RUSSERT: Is the president comfortable with Arlen Specter being chairman of the Judiciary Committee?

MR. ROVE: That's up to the United States Senate to decide, not the president of the United States. And just as we wouldn't like them to decide who are the staff assistants of the White House, they certainly do not want us determining who's committee chairman on the Hill.

MR. RUSSERT: Is the president obligated to his support from the evangelical Christians to nominate people for the Supreme Court who would overturn Roe v. Wade?

MR. ROVE: The president said during the campaign that in virtually every speech that he gave that he would continue to nominate men and women to the bench who are well-qualified and who would strictly interpret the law, who knew the difference between personal agendas and personal views on the one hand and the strict interpretation of the law. He'll continue to uphold that commitment. He has sent forward some terrific nominees, men and women of tremendous intellectual and legal abilities. And they are people who share his philosophy that judges are to be impartial umpires, not activists, not legislators who just happen to be wearing robes, but to be impartial umpires who strictly interpret the Constitution and apply it.

MR. RUSSERT: Does he think that Roe v. Wade was properly decided?

MR. ROVE: He's going to pick people for the bench and will strictly interpret the law. He's not going to have a litmus test. He's not going to ask judges--potential judges in advance how they would determine cases that might come before them. He thinks that violates the fundamental principle of what judicial nominations ought to be about. He believes that he ought to pick people who will impartially apply--interpret and apply the law, not people who have a political agenda or a personal agenda that they want to pursue on the court.

MR. RUSSERT: Does he think a right of privacy exists under the Constitution?

MR. ROVE: Griswold vs. Connecticut, I'm not sure. I've never discussed Griswold vs. Connecticut with the president.
Again, notice the evasiveness. What are these guys so afraid of. Why won't they be honest and come out and say, "We think Roe v. Wade is an abomination, and all abortions should be illegal." That's their real position. I found it interesting that so many of his answers were negatives. Bush isn't going to do X. He's not going to have a litmus test. The only positive answer he gives is that Bush will nominate judges who will "strictly interpret the constitution." For those not in the know, this means judges who read the constitution and say, "There's nothing in here about abortion, therefore we have the right to make it illegal." These are the type of neanderthals who forgot to read the 9th amendment to the constitution.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
While this isn't the best formulation, the point is clear - just because certain rights are mentioned, doesn't mean that those are all the rights men have. Of course, that's also the American concept of rights, not the European one that the conservatives and liberals have swallowed wholesale.

And for those unfamiliar with it, Griswold v. Connecticut was the case that preceded Roe v. Wade and "created" the right to privacy. At the time, Connecticut outlawed not only the use of contraceptives, but anyone counseling or recommending them. In 1961, when a case was brought against it, the Supreme Court refused to rule on it, but called the case "dead words" and "harmless empty shadows". Planned Parenthood and a physician took this as license to open a birth-control clinic. They were subsequently arrested, and the case went to court. Long story short, the court ruled the law violated married couples privacy, and therefore were unconstitutional. Good results, poor reasoning.
  Principles of Economics
For anyone whose an economics buff (like me), the Ludwig Von Mises Institute has made a deal with Libertarian Press and they are now hosting Carl Menger's Principles of Economics. You can also download a PDF version of the online book here.
  It's the Definition, Stupid!
In thinking and reading about gay marriage (in light of the 11 states banning it) I realized why so many marriages fail today - definition by non-essentials (marriage = one man, one woman)!
  What Will Become of Arlen Specter?
Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo voices some questions that I've been thinking about ever since the whole Arlen Specter debacle started:
James Dobson, one of the most powerful leaders of the religious right, now says he doesn't want Specter as Chairman no matter what. "He is a problem," said Dobson, "and he must be derailed."

I have a hard time believing that Specter will actually be turned aside while he is so loudly protesting his willingness to toe the party line. But it puts even more pressure on Specter to be a down-the-line supporter of every judicial nominee the president sends up to the Hill.

This raises two issues. First, how much room will remain for the moderate GOP senators and how much freedom will they have to deviate from the White House line which, predictably, is now moving even more decisively to the right. Second, how much de facto control will the White House and the president have over the internal governance of the senate under Bill Frist? Who chairs what committees? What rules get or don't get changed, etc.?
I think it will be very telling to see what happens after the dust clears here. Will Specter head the Senate Judiciary Committee? I know that the whole "values" issue has been hashed ad nauseum (and I concede, it wasn't the most influential issue), but I think this whole incident supports my contentions. The Republican party is very close to becoming the conservative party.

Look at what happened with Arlen Specter. He merely suggested that Bush should be careful in his choice of Supreme Court Justices - and look at the mountain of opposition that has sprung up. Can you imagine what would have happened if Specter had declared that he would reject any nominee who favored making first trimester abortions illegal? Specter would have been crucified. Maybe Specter will get the position (especially since he has recanted and given his sanction to the theocrats). But this is a disturbing precedent for the Republican party.

  The Flat Earthers Are At It Again
From the AP:
ATLANTA - A trial opened Monday over whether a warning sticker in suburban Atlanta biology textbooks that says evolution is "a theory, not a fact" violates the separation of church and state by promoting religion.

The case is one of several battles that have been waged in recent years in the Bible Belt over what role evolution should play in science books.

Cobb County schools put the disclaimers in biology texts two years ago after more than 2,000 parents complained the books presented evolution as fact without mentioning rival ideas about the origin of life, namely creationism.

A group of parents and the American Civil Liberties Union (news - web sites) then filed a lawsuit over the stickers. "It's like saying everything that follows this sticker isn't true," said Jeffrey Selman, a parent who filed the lawsuit.

The sticker reads, "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered."
I've got to give the conservatives credit - they are damn creative when it comes to finding ways to undermine science. Incidentally, isn't it interesting that this school district chose evolution as the theory to put a disclaimer on? No disclaimer for Heisenberg's Uncertainty principle or Godel's Incompleteness theorem. If a disclaimer were to be put on a biology textbook, it should read, "Evolution is a theory based on facts; creationism (in all its forms) is a theory based on faith, that is, on no facts". Fortunately, the judge in this case seems marginally rational, at least as evidenced from this exchange:
A lawyer for the school district, Linwood Gunn, said the sticker was meant to "encourage critical thinking" and said it did not imply that evolution was wrong. Gunn said it was silly to consider the stickers a promotion of religion.

"It doesn't say anything about faith. It doesn't say anything about religion," he said.

But U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper asked Gunn why it is necessary to have a sticker clarify evolution as a theory. "Why put a sticker on the book when that's already in the book?"

Gunn replied that school board members were simply trying to accommodate all views.
One of the most horrific parts of the article came from the parent who started it all:
The first witness, parent Marjorie Rogers, started the drive to put the stickers in the books. She said it was only fair to put a small disclaimer in a textbook where religious-based ideas about the origin of life are not mentioned.
What will become of education if all knowledge must first pay deference to arbitrary religious viewpoints?
  The Real Estate Market
As a consumer who hopes to someday purchase his own home (I'm hard pressed here in pricey Sacramento, Ca.), I've watched the housing market with a great deal of trepidation. I see a big collapse of the market in the near future, especially with the increasing popularity of "interest-only" loans and "fixed for 2 years, then variable rate" loans. I know several people who have bought homes recently that they barely can afford with such loans, on the premise that in two years they'll sell the house and purchase a new one with the money they make from the sale.

David Bernstein at the Volokh Conspiracy is seeing similar disasters-in-the-making in North Virginia. I wonder if this is going on (in different degrees) throughout the rest of the country? Is this the next "bubble"?
  Government: It Keeps Growing, and Growing...
Let the dependency bureaucracy advance of science begin!
Will last week's $3-billion California stem cell initiative one day grow new business?

The massive bond measure known as Proposition 71 is designed to allocate nearly $300 million a year to scientific work with stem cells, particularly those derived from human embryos. The money is intended to transform California into an incubator for stem cell research, offering support to academic institutions and companies toiling in an area shunned by private investors.

A few biotech companies already have said they plan to apply for funds.

Sunday, November 07, 2004
  Conservative "Diversity"
I always thought the left were the only ones who supported "diversity". I guess I was wrong:
GRANTSBURG, Wis. - The city's school board has revised its science curriculum to allow the teaching of creationism, prompting an outcry from more than 300 educators who urged that the decision be reversed.

School board members believed that a state law governing the teaching of evolution was too restrictive. The science curriculum "should not be totally inclusive of just one scientific theory," said Joni Burgin, superintendent of the district of 1,000 students in northwest Wisconsin.

Last month, when the board examined its science curriculum, language was added calling for "various models/theories" of origin to be incorporated.
Not everyone is happy with this "ruling". But without a rational philosophy, the best the opposition can do is appeal to common sense:
The decision provoked more than 300 biology and religious studies faculty members to write a letter last week urging the Grantsburg board to reverse the policy. It follows a letter sent previously by 43 deans at Wisconsin public universities.

"Insisting that teachers teach alternative theories of origin in biology classes takes time away from real learning, confuses some students and is a misuse of limited class time and public funds," said Don Waller, a botanist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
While this hasn't become a widespread phenomenon, it is disconcerting. When faith is taught as the equal of reason in a school curriculum, that is the beginning of the end of education.
  Bush's Mandate
One of my biggest fears of Bush in his second term will be his supreme court appointments. I know that several Objectivists have pointed out Bush's recent statements which seemingly show him to be tolerant and sympathetic to the separation of church and state. I'm going to post further on this topic later this week, but for now, I'll believe when I see the appointment.

With all the recent talk of "values" in the media, the conservatives are rallying in force to push Bush as far to the right as possible. This coupled with the Republican majority in both houses of congress and the fatuous reasoning used to justify Roe v. Wade, makes it quite possible that it would be overturned in the next 4-6 years. While this wouldn't make abortion illegal nationwide, there are several states that have laws on the books which prohibit abortion, but aren't valid right now because of Roe v. Wade. Overturning Roe v. Wade would be a huge victory for the conservatives; hopefully we will not see it overturned anytime soon.
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