Friday, February 29, 2008

The Libertarian Mind: A Short Post on a Big Idea

I remember my initial frustration on discovering Libertarianism was in my inability to see a path from here to there.

I could see how a Libertarian society could work; I just couldn't see how to make it happen starting from welfare-state capitalism.

Then I realized, somewhere along the way, that it all has to do with habits of mind. When we habituate people to standing in line to receive government benefits that they haven't worked for, we teach them to be subservient, grasping, and dependent. Every time we inculcate our children with the idea of blind obedience to authority--

Wear your bicycle helmet or the policeman will get you or you'll fall, crack open your head and become a quadriplegic!

Good children color inside the lines!

Everybody deserves a medal because everybody tried real hard!

--we destroy a tiny bit of personal responsibility and independence.

I've come to believe that we only get so many of those independent brain cells to start out with, so every time we kill one it's an irreplaceable loss.

So here's my politically incorrect solution to passive societal dependence: raise your kids to question authority, to think outside the application form, and to be too damn proud of who they are to kowtow to anyone for a hand-out.

Let them learn that there are worse things than starving.

But try not to get yourself reported to the Division of Family Services for child abuse while you're at it.

Revisiting a couple of classics of Libertarian SF

In my spare time (hah!) I've been rereading a couple of classic pieces of Libertarian-oriented SF. The best science fiction not only tells a great story and introduces new concepts, but includes some sort of mediation on society and the human condition (although it has to be carefully hidden as entertainment).

Two of the best short novels that really seriously consider the idea of law and anarcho-capitalist society are both by Barry Longyear. [Longyear's most famous work is Enemy Mine, which was later made into a bad movie starring Louis Gossett Jr., but it has never been my favorite.]

Circus World is the better known, a collection of linked short stories assembled into a quirky novel, that centers on the planet Momus, that was accidentally settled by a spaceship filled with a circus troupe. Now, centuries later, circus tradition has resulted in an anarcho-capitalist society that only has one law: a law about how to make other laws in case they would ever be necessary. But they've never seen the necessity.

Unfortunately, Momus is positioned right between two warring powers, either of which is more than willing to invade and occupy the planet. How do they survive without changing themselves into the authoritarian society that they so despise?

Lesser known, but to my mind probably a tighter novel, is Infinity Hold, wherein the way a future government deals with incorrigible criminals is simply to drop them in the middle of the desert on a hell planet and let them fend for themselves. The novel follows one group that survives by developing not just a sense of community, but a book of laws. It's brutal and moving at the same time.

Both books take an unflinching look at human nature and the origins of civil society.

Recommended reading if you have difficulty imagining how a truly Libertarian society might function.

[The links will take you to Amazon, but a good Libertarian will go out and haunt used bookstores to find a good copy; there are plenty of good battered paperback editions around.]

Now they're coming for fido and kitty ...

... and they're bringing the scissors.

I've always considered Bob Barr something of a loose cannon, but this time he's got me:

Los Angeles, California, the city that has contributed mightily to American culture, including the O.J. Simpson murders and circus trial, Britney Spears’ crazy escapades, the Rodney King riots, and so much more, is now forcing pet owners to have their pets sterilized, whether they want to or not, under threat of criminal sanctions (Click here for the story). Even if a pet owner has paid thousands for a pure bred cat or dog and does not wish to have the animal neutered, the recently enacted law requires them to do so. Only a limited category of pets are excluded from the Draconian ordinance, including law enforcement dogs, pets belonging to professional breeders, those that have competed in sporting shows or competitions, and seeing eye guide dogs. Similar legislation is pending at the state level in California, and undoubtedly if the legislation finds its way to Gov. Schwarzenegger’s desk, the Big Government Governor will sign it.

But wait, it may get even worse. Already some busybodies, concerned over how to enforce the intrusive ordinance, are calling for mandatory implantation of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) Chips in pets in order to facilitate tracking down pet-owner scofflaws who might try to resist or violate the ordinance. (Of course, if such procedure results in harm or death to your pet the city will assume no responsibility.)

When the government comes to check on whether or not I've had my own pets neutered, that's when some official will discover whether or not I own a firearm.

Prison America revisited ...

... because I hate it when Dana posts first on an issue that interests me.

OK, here's the deal: 1 out of 100 Americans incarcerated; 1 out of 15 African American male adults; and so on.

Grand total: 1.6 million in prison and another 723,000 in local jails.

Dana: It's a new record. In fact, it's a singular one that no nation, however despotic and cruel, emulates.... We actually have more adult citizens in jail than tyrannical, anti-democratic, communist China.

With all due respect, I disagree. Here's the international breakdown from The Straight Dope:

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies at King's College London, the U.S. currently has the largest documented prison population in the world, both in absolute and proportional terms. We've got roughly 2.03 million people behind bars, or 701 per 100,000 population. China has the second-largest number of prisoners (1.51 million, for a rate of 117 per 100,000), and Russia has the second-highest rate (606 per 100,000, for a total of 865,000). Russia had the highest rate for years, but has released hundreds of thousands of prisoners since 1998; meanwhile the U.S. prison population has grown by even more. Rounding out the top ten, with rates from 554 to 437, are Belarus, Bermuda (UK), Kazakhstan, the Virgin Islands (U.S.), the Cayman Islands (UK), Turkmenistan, Belize, and Suriname, which you'll have to agree puts America in interesting company. South Africa, a longtime star performer on the list, has dropped to 15th place (402) since the dismantling of apartheid.

Figures like these, especially with respect to China and Russia, should give rise to skepticism.

First, we have to recognize that prison statistics, like sexual histories, are pretty much the result of self-reporting. It is quite likely that the US figures are 99.9% accurate. It is almost a certainty that the figures from China and Russia are not. Are urban Chinese who have been sent to the countryside as agricultural laborers in re-education programs counted? What about the dissidents who merely disappear?

Just last night, with respect to Russia, MSNBC pointed out that under the Putin regime the old Soviet practice of using mental hospitals for incarcerating political dissidents has apparently resumed. Rumors persistently circulate that old internal exile arrangements and even work camps are being restarted.

Moreover, while we have excellent statistics about how many white, black, or latino prisoners there are in America, we have no comparable statistics for Russia or China. Wonder what would happen if we counted Falun Gong prisoners? Or Tibetans?

Moreover, let's note that in America anyone (or at least almost anyone) in prison has been through due process, has been provided with legal advice, and has a right to appeal in an open society (please don't bring up military commissions or Gitmo; that's a side issue); can the same be said of China or Russia? The answer is clearly no.

Yet there is still the political, moral, and economic issue that we have too many people in prison.

At least half of our prison population is composed of non-violent offenders (I'm not interested in hair-splitting over which are and are not violent crimes; for instances, I personally think child sexual abuse is a violent crime, but I'm not sure how it is formally classified).

As a Libertarian I would strongly advocate that society's chief policing interest is in protecting persons and property, as opposed to pursuing victimless crimes.

How many people would be affected by the decriminalization of drug use (NOT the decriminalizing of violent behaviors resulting from drug use)?

I was also listening to Michael Smerconish on WPHT this morning as he discussed this. He pointed out the former Philly City Councilman Rick Mariano is sitting behind Federal bars at Fort Dix because of his corruption conviction. Rick, a man in late middle age with a bad leg who was convicted of taking bribes and influence peddling is hardly a physical threat to society.

Likewise Martha Stewart.

It is a failure of imagination and political will that keeps us from finding alternative punishments that center on restitution rather than warehousing at tens of thousands of dollars per person per year.

There's a lot else that could be done, like correcting the sentence differentials between crack and powdered cocaine, but my point is this:

1) Let's make sure that while we're hanging our heads in international shame that we're actually comparing apples to apples, and not apples to toaster ovens.

2) Let's start a serious national conversation about decriminalizing victimless crimes.

3) Ditto for creative alternatives for non-violent offenders ("Son, you can go to prison, the Marine Corps, or the Peace Corps").

And for the record, Dana, I do believe that

there is no socio-political correlation between the US holding the world record in incarcerating citizens and its leader acting uppity and righteous about the government's "right" to spy on private conversations anytime it wishes

because these trends have long pre-existed the current administration (and statistical treatments admit that we jumped past Russia toward the end of the 1990s not because anything changed here, but because the Russians abruptly discharged tens of thousands of political prisoners).

I'll agree that Dubya hasn't been a positive influence on the problem, but that doesn't let anybody else (including all those Democrats who voted for three-strikes and mandatory sentencing provisions) off the hook.

Becky is cute, but this post will chill you ...

With a more sombre look on her face, the Girl in Short Shorts posts on Planned Parenthood & Black Genocide.

I won't excerpt it because you need to read the entire unbelievable article.

{giving you time to leave and return}

Maybe the problem is that Margaret Sanger is a liberal feminist icon.

Was Matt Drudge justified in breaking the "Prince Hal in Aghanistan" story?

Lots of controversy about that.

Was he justified?


This is the type of irresponsible journalism that endangers lives.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

When all you want is to be left alone ...

... it's hard to find a political party in America to call your own.

That was the message of Shirley's recent post in Delaware Curmudgeon and my response here.

Something about that theme wouldn't let go of me.

Libertarians (and I count Shirley among them on philosophy, not party) often emphasize minimalist constitutional government, for which we get lampooned on a regular basis by the remora feeding off the nanny state's leavings.

But the most politically radical desire we have is to be left alone.

Here's one of the experiences that crystalized for me the incredible mentality of social intrusion we've allowed to grow and fester in the former American republic:

My twins were seven when my grandson was born. Because my daughter's only health insurance was Medicaid, she was informed that she would be receiving a visit by nurse two days after she brought him home. Not that she was eligible for such a service, but that she was required to have this nurse visit to assess the conditions and quality of the care she was providing him.

The nurse arrived about 45 minutes before my twins were due to get off the bus from school. I was trying to stay in the background, not to interfere. It was feeding time, so I went out to the kitchen to get the formula ready, thinking I could stay safely out of the way while they had their little government-mandated chat.

No such luck.

Nurse Ratchett bounded up and pursued me with the intensity of Florence Nightingale looking for wounded in the Crimea.

I was warming the formula. We didn't do that for the twins. They got the stuff straight out of the refrigerator, partly because when you have multiples you'll do anything to save time, and partly because we learned by trial and error that cold formula gave my son less gas, and therefore less colic.

Today, however, I was being the dutiful grand-dad, so I stuck the bottle in the micro-wave and set it for twenty seconds.

"Absolutely not!" intoned Nurse Ratchett. "The microwave heats the liquid unevenly. The baby might get burned on a hot spot."

(I was thinking to myself, that's why you shake it afterward and then test it, you stupid bitch, but I was good grand-dad today.)

I said (calmly, I thought): "So how would you like me to warm it?"

She showed me that the proper, nanny-approved method of bottle warming was to place a cold bottle of formula in tepid water in a small sauce pot on the stove, and then turn up the heat ever so slowly to low, while gently rotating the bottle.

Like a good trustee, I complied.

Nurse Ratchett marched off in triumph with a properly warmed bottle.

The twins bounded into the house just as she was finishing up. She looked at them; she looked at me.

"You're not going to warm the bottles on the stove after I leave, are you?" she asked.

"Not on your damn life," I told her (much to my daughter's horror).

Somewhere in the bowels of the Nosey Visiting Pediatric Nurse Association I am sure there is a very negative report in my daughter's case file.

When I stop and think about it, the sheer audacity of the government's apparently deep-seated psychological need to re-parent me and my family is nothing short of breath-taking.

The government decided that I was incapable of supervising my children watching television, and insisted on placing a V-chip in every TV I can bring into my house, whether I want one or not.

The government has also decided that it needs to control the price of all the milk I buy for those children.

The government has decided that I should be treated like a drug dealer and have to sign a roster to purchase certain forms of over-the-counter cold medications.

The government decided that I could not be trusted with a lawn mower whose engine can keep running if I take my hands of the handlebars.

The government decided that it had the power to make my kids wear bicycle helmets.

If I'm dying of cancer and willing to try strange, probably ineffective medicines to save my own ass, the government gets to tell me "No."

By the same token, if I have intractable, chronic pain and want to smoke a little dope to settle my stomach and enjoy my family in the weeks I have left--guess what, I have to have the government's permission.

If I want to gamble in my own home (and the woman dealing the cards wants to take off her shirt), the government will bust down the doors and haul us all away.

The government asserts its right to track the library books I read and the websites I visit.

The government asserts the right to protect me from myself by forcing me to wear seat belts and motorcycle helmets.

The government tells me where in my car I can transport a firearm.

The government tells me it can use radar and lasers for traffic surveillance, but it also has the power to make it illegal for me to use technology that tells me when I am being watched.

The government tells me what kinds of waste I can put in my trash cans, and what kinds of light bulbs I need to burn.

The government is getting into the business of determining what can be done with my organs when I die.

The problem, you see, is that the government can't leave me alone. It's for my own good, you see. I might not feed that baby correctly, my children might careen off their bikes, I might get a head injury while driving that would cause everyone else's health care costs to go up, or I might--God forbid!--actually shoot some SOB who breaks into my home.

I become a radical whacko Libertarian because I don't accept the premise that laws and regulations should be made with the lowest common denominator in mind. I'm willing to be responsible for my life, my own safety, and that of my children. I'm willing to take the consequences of my actions or inactions, however stupid they may be.

Some days I want to run with the goddamn scissors, and--you know what?--the whole idea of the United States in the first place was that it wasn't the government's place to tell me NO.

(The visiting nurse, by the way, also got upset at me because I wouldn't take the "Free" State coupons for my daughter to get no-cost milk and cheese products for herself and my grandson. Thanks, but no thanks, I told her. We make enough money here to take care of our own. "But it's free!" she insisted. No, I told her as I shut the door in her face, it's not. Somebody is paying for it. And that somebody includes me.) (Later I realized I should have just taken the coupons and torn them up.)

Dr. Phil tells me (well, he was talking to an overweight woman who hated men without hair, but I knew it was aimed at me) that we teach people how to treat us.

That also applies to the government. As long as we have our hand out, the government will understand that we prefer heavy-handed intervention in our lives to going it alone.

Which is why Shirley can't find a political party. Because if there is no potential for patronage (think Hillary's "universal health care" present under the Winter Festival Tree), then there's no reason to vote, is there?

Wes "I promise I won't start WW3, honest" Clark makes a stand ...

... for Hillary in Texas.

As announced on the [four-star] Clark Community Forum:

In these final days before the Texas primary, I'm hitting the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton.

She's in real trouble if he's the cavalry.

Unfortunately, on Gay Rights, Barack Obama does not stand for change ...

At least in terms of rhetoric, thus far in the Presidential election season Senator Barack Obama has been the most open to being the president for all Americans, including those of differing sexual orientations.

The substance, however, is just as lacking in Mr. Hope as it is in the She-Clinton or McCain, reports Outright Libertarians:

Barack Obama has endorsed segregation based on sexual orientation in a recent campaign missive to LGBTQ voters:

I personally believe that civil unions represent the best way to secure that equal treatment.

It's particularly disappointing, though not surprising, that the Democratic front-runner would embrace 'separate and unequal' while providing an Orwellian discourse on 'equality.'

Obama provides a laundry list of other things he promises he'll try, maybe possibly, if he can get around to it, to get done as president:

Unlike Senator Clinton, I support the complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) – a position I have held since before arriving in the U.S. Senate. While some say we should repeal only part of the law, I believe we should get rid of that statute altogether.

So has the Senator introduced legislation to do this in the Senate now? Nope.

I have also called for us to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Has the Senator supported companion legislation in the Senate for the already-House-introduced MREA that would end the anti-gay policy? Nope.

I have worked to improve the Uniting American Families Act so we can afford same-sex couples the same rights and obligations as married couples in our immigration system.

Actually, Obama has done nothing other than declare he opposes UAFA because it will 'facilitate immigration fraud.' That's quite a hilarious contention -- that a few hundred people would slip through the system under UAFA -- when thousands get marriages of convenience under the existing marriage system.

Once again, Barack Obama is demanding a separate, more difficult arrangement for same-gender couples than for heterosexual ones. And he's done nothing legislatively or otherwise related to UAFA other than refuse to cosponsor the bill.

I will never compromise on my commitment to equal rights for all LGBT Americans. But neither will I close my ears to the voices of those who still need to be convinced.

In other words, Obama will send a couple of open letters to gay people when he wants their votes, but will insist that anti-gay discrimination is a legitimate 'alternative choice' that deserves equal consideration.

Imagine if a presidential candidate had made similar commitments to 'not close his ears' to the voices of KKK supporters in the 1960s vis-a-vis equal rights for black Americans.

Is it true? Is Barack Obama an empty suit on gay rights issues?

Or is the grim reality the fact that the electorate as a whole are unwilling to embrace full civil rights for gay American citizens, and that in terms of electoral success queer issues are more of a third rail than Social Security?


But at least on this issue it seems that Barack Obama stands more for rhetoric than reality.

Missing in Action? Not Quite: Moral Courage Still Exists

I've been thinking recently about the absence of moral courage among not just our political leaders, but among our spiritual leaders and just everyday Americans.

We don't seem to value it that much any more, or else it has been cheapened by its commercialization.

So I thought I would pass on just a small incidence of personal moral courage, remarkable by its insertion into everyday life.

Everyone is aware of the Catholic Church's unfortunate reactions to the priestly sexual abuse scandal.

One day, in our Sunday bulletin, I glanced at the message from our priest (now retired for health reasons). He was discussing the fact that it had been a hard year for lots of people, him included, and the need for faith in difficult times.

He talked about his father's death, his mother's illness, and his own health problems.

He also said that he had been struck with depression after "a priest who is my friend has been implicated in a sexual abuse case."

The sentence haunted me for a long time. If I had a friend who had been accused of such, would I have had the guts to mention it, much less to identify this person without equivocation as my friend. Not "someone I thought of as a friend" or "someone I long considered a friend," but just "my friend."

About a month later I asked him about it. First, he made sure that I understand that it was pretty obvious that this priest was guilty, and that he did not condone his actions--in fact that he expected him to be turned over to legal authorities.

But then he said, "He has been my friend for thirty years. I cannot and will not pretend that I don't know him and love him. I'm struggling with how to forgive him without losing sight of his victims and the harm he has done. But if anything about which I have been preaching on infinite love, mercy, and forgiveness is true, then I cannot desert him when he has sinned. Especially then."

Several members of my parish raised a stink about this characterization of a child abuser as our priest's friend, and he gently explained his position again and again to deaf ears. I heard rumors later that even people in the diocese office were upset with his "choice of words."

But I always thought that my priest--whether you're a Christian or not--set a standard for quiet, everyday moral courage that few of us could match.

For the sake of my children, however, I'm going to try to live up to his example.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Country music rules--and Florida droops...

You've got to keep up with Strange Maps.

Here's America with each state weighted according to the number of times its name appears in country music lyrics.

I bet you'd get roughly the same map with NASCAR sponsorships.

More importantly, someone should take this map and then color in all the states Hillary or Barack has won.

It would have as much predictive power as 90% of the crap we read now.

We Only Send One ... So Let's Send Our Weirdest ...

No, this is not a Mike Castle post, but I couldn't resist the tag line in order to discuss [get ready for it]: Cindy Sheehan in Egypt!

Al Jazeera interviewed the now-globe-trotting Sheehan in Cairo, where's she's protesting the trial of members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Amazingly, like a blind squirrel, Cindy occasionally finds a nut (instead of being one):

How can [Democratic Speaker of the House] Nancy Pelosi say unequivocally that water-boarding is torture and that Bush and [Richard] Cheney, the US vice-president, should not only be impeached but they should be charged with war crimes when in 2002 she herself was briefed on water-boarding and shown video of the rendition places where water-boarding happened?

The globally astute Sheehan then explains why she's in Egypt (although she's theoretically running against Nancy Pelosi):

But what does the US have to do with a military trial in Egypt?

Egypt is a major recipient of US foreign aid, and there is no relationship between American aid and human rights.

If we [America] really want to promote democracy in this region then we cannot silence the voices of the Muslim Brotherhood because they're the moderate voice here and they are the ones who are actually working for democracy.

Do you think your presence in Egypt will have an effect on the trial?

Well, we have been doing a lot of media work since we came to Egypt and we hope this will put pressure on the Egyptian government to treat the prisoners better and to also maybe alleviate their punishment.

Hopefully we will draw some international attention to what is happening here, too, and that will help the situation.

Of course, even Al Jazeera couldn't manage to make Cindy appear any less of a twit than she really is:

You also went to the National Council of Women in downtown Cairo to request a meeting with Suzanne Mubarak, Egypt's First Lady. How did that go?

I didn't really understand a lot of what was going on. There was a lot of yelling in Arabic. They weren't the right people to get us a meeting with Suzanne Mubarak ... I left a letter for Madame Mubarak and they promised that she would see it.

Imagine that, Cindy, a bunch of people yelling in Arabic--in Egypt.

And since they weren't the right people to set up a meeting, of course they were the right people to deliver the letter.

If you want to check out the Muslim Brotherhood, the website's here.

Listening to Hillary, you'd wonder if Barack had won anything ...

I did something tonight I've never had the inclination to do before: I visited Hillary Clinton's website.

There I found out that not only isn't she loosing, but that it is only ethical to give her all the Michigan and Florida delegates.

Here's the plan to win the nomination:

FACT: There is a clear path to an overall delegate majority (pledged + automatic) for Hillary Clinton after all states have voted -- with or without Florida and Michigan.

Contrary to the Obama campaign's claims that the race is over, all voters should have their say before a candidate declares victory and tries to circumvent the democratic process. The race is currently a virtual tie, with the campaigns now separated by a small handful of delegates, barely 2% of all the delegates to the Democratic Convention. Hillary Clinton has won states from New York to California and everywhere in between. She has won in states north, south, east and west, red and blue. She has won states she was not expected to win -- such as Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Arizona. She has won in rural, urban and suburban areas. She has won key swing general election states such as Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Arkansas and Tennessee. She is winning virtually all the states a Democrat will need to win the presidency. Hillary Clinton is working for every vote in the many contests to come and she believes every vote should count. By June 7, when Puerto Rico holds its election, Hillary will be in a position to clinch the Democratic nomination.

Damn, and here the mainstream media has deceived me by telling me Obama has kicked her ass in the last eleven primaries.

Silly me.

And as for that lame idea that Michigan and Florida shouldn't count because they broke the rules:

FACT: Florida and Michigan should count, both in the interest of fundamental fairness and honoring the spirit of the Democrats' 50-state strategy.

An important part of the debate over delegates is the role of Florida and Michigan. Hillary Clinton believes that the voices of 600,000 Michigan primary voters and 1.75 million Florida primary voters should be heard at the Democratic convention. In the 2004 presidential race, the turnout in Michigan was only a quarter of what it was this year - and the 2004 turnout in Florida was less than half of what it was this year. With such dramatically increased turnout, Hillary won those two states and she did it with all candidates on an equal footing. In Florida, all presidential candidates were on the primary ballot and all followed the rules (except for Sen. Obama who broke the rules by running television ads in violation of his pledge to the early states and to the other presidential candidates). In Michigan, Sen. Obama voluntarily withdrew his name from the primary ballot to curry favor with Iowa. He was under no obligation to do so. However, his supporters organized a substantial vote for 'uncommitted' on the ballot, thus he is represented in the delegation. Hillary Clinton obeyed all the rules in Florida and Michigan and came out ahead. She had no intrinsic advantage over her opponents other than the will of the voters. The voters of Florida and Michigan should be heard and the delegates from Florida and Michigan should count.

Just a little taste of the kind of logic and rationalization we could expect from the She-Clinton's administration.

What is Shirley? Here's my suggestion ...

At Delaware Curmudgeon, after having changed her voter registration to Republican to cast a ballot for Ron Paul, Shirley wonders where she belongs on the current political party map:

I think I have finally realized that my anathema towards organized parties in general got the better of me. I just cannot fit neatly into one party’s agenda and do not have the patience to argue for or against the particulars of a platform.

I am not gay, but I support gay rights. I do not smoke pot nor am I a prostitute, but I support the decriminalization of both activities. I loathe abortion, but support freedom of choice. I believe strongly in the principles of the Constitution. I watch in horror at the rise of the nanny state. I favor a minimalist government, and probably most forcefully I demand accountability in government both fiscally and ethically. Other than that, I just want to be left alone....

I would lean towards a Republican due to fiscal issues, but that assumption has become blurred in the past, and I no longer trust all so-called Republicans to live up to the traditional ideas of fiscal conservatism, so it will all depend on who is remaining after the primaries. I will make my decision then.

A few years back we would have had a category for people like Shirley: we called them Americans.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Thank you, ABC News for setting up Americans to look like bigots

A woman dressed in traditional Muslim garb comes to the counter of a roadside bakery to pay for her purchase, and the man at the cash register snaps, ""Get back on the camel and go back to wherever you came from. You got that towel on your head. I don't know what's underneath your dress. Just please take your business and go elsewhere with it."

"Sir, I am an American, I was born and raised here," the woman says, and looks around for help from the other customers.

No one meets her eyes. She approaches a customer directly, saying, "Sir, would you mind ordering me an apple strudel? That's why I am here."

The man moves away without answering.

Later, interviewed by ABC News about the incident, the man says, "I really think that a person who owns his own business should be able to say who they sell to," to which the ABC commentator responds in his narration:

In fact, it is illegal for public establishments to deny service based on someone's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, according to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Regardless, this man was not the only customer to defend our sales clerk's "right" to discriminate.

Oh, yeah, right--forgot to tell you. Both the Muslim woman and the prejudiced sales clerk are actors following a script.

It's a script designed to make average Americans look like either heartless bigots or cowards unwilling to take a stand for the rights of unpopular minorities.

The logic here is so flawed, and the premise so Orwellian that I'm at a loss for words.

OK, not really.

This is not Ashton Kutcher punking somebody, this is a major (Disney-owned) TV network filming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not because Americans are insensitive to Muslims, but because the average person standing in line at a bakery is not looking for, is not prepared for, a major social confrontation.

If I took the time to intervene in every incident of rudeness I encounter every day, not only would I never get anything done, I'd finally make it home at night with a black eye and some broken bones....

What ABC News has not done is establish the credibility of its basic script. Instead of asking what you would do if somebody started calling Muslims ragheads in public places, why not address the question of whether or not this behavior actually happens on any regular basis.

Which is a subject, strangely enough, that the mainstream media has been silent on.

Thanks to Atlas Shrugged for that notice.

Wanted: 76,000 idiots in Colorado (plus Mike Huckabee)

What will a longer-and-longer long-shot candidate for his party's presidential nomination do to pander to enough conservative voters to keep himself in the game (at least in his own tiny mind)?

Mike Huckabee is supporting a Colorado constitutional amendment to declare that fertilized eggs are human beings.

“This proposed constitutional amendment will define a person as a human being from the moment life begins at conception,” Huckabee said in a statement backing the Colorado Human Life Amendment.

“With this amendment, Colorado has an opportunity to send a clear message that every human life has value.

“Passing this amendment will mean the people of Colorado will protect the sanctity of life from conception until natural death occurs.”

Among other things, this amendment would effectively make in-vitro fertilization illegal in Colorado. The way that IVF generally works is that a woman undergoes a cycle on fertility drugs and produces between 8-15 eggs. The clinic takes sperm from the potential father, and attempts to fertilize each of them in a petrie dish. Normally, about 5-10 of these eggs will fertilize and get to the four-cell stage, when the physician makes a decision about which ones look healthy and/or hardy enough to survive implantation. Two or three of these fertilized eggs will be implanted in the woman.

The rest of the eggs--what happens to them? Sometimes they are frozen for later potential use, sometimes they are handed over to the physician for experimentation, and sometimes they're simply destroyed.

Likewise, most ethical physicians require patients to agree ahead of time that on the off-chance that too many embryos adhere to the uterine wall that they will accept a selective reduction or abortion of one or more embryos to safeguard the health of the woman and the viability of the remaining embryos.

IF Mike Huckabee has his way, all of these actions would be classed as homicide in Colorado.

Fortunately, he will need 76,000 Coloradans to endorse this amendment, and having lived there I do not think he'll find them.

Of course, the amendment Huckabee supports would also have the effect of outlawing all abortions in the State, setting up a major confrontation with the Supreme Court, but for a man who wants to rewrite the US Constitution to make it more consistent with the New Testament, why think small?

Ron Paul and the Shirtless Mexican

Strangely enough, the three topics upon which I have consistently received the most comment and most views have been circumcision (boy, I'll never do that again), the Tata Nano, and Ron Paul.

I probably shouldn't be surprised on a Libertarian blog that Ron Paul draws a lot of attention.

(Today I got my solicitation from the Libertarian Party to send money to help Ron Paul try for the Libertarian nomination; this both annoys and amuses me. After all, the party is supposedly in the midst of its bizarre Liberty Decides competition that amounts to little more than a popularity auction, and now it starts soliciting money to have Ron Paul intervene. What gives?)

I haven't endorsed Paul, and I've been significantly less positive about his candidacy than others in Delaware, partly because I've known about the newsletter issue, and partly because I don't agree with his views on gay rights. But I think he has been a phenomenal force for bringing out Libertarians and the message of smaller government into the mainstream.

That's why I find it so unnerving that he keeps soliciting me for money, even for his congressional race, and why his newest campaign ad is so disappointing.

As we learn from Where Hip-Hop and Libertarianism Meet:

Ron Paul has recently engaged in race-baiting by sending out a mailer in Texas featuring a tattooed shirtless Hispanic with the line that we need to stop sending Social Security to illegal aliens.

Sorry, guys. This is where I part company with Dr. No.

Real trade-offs are involved in moving toward single-payer health care ...

... and we'd better be sure that we deal with facts and not rhetoric before we make a decision.

Single-payer advocates in Delaware and nationwide are fond of citing Medicare and Medicaid as more efficient that private health insurance in terms of administrative costs.

But the New York Times persists in reporting on the dirty little secret that in some critical categories a single-payer system delivers sub-standard care:

A nationwide study has found that the uninsured and those covered by Medicaid are more likely than those with private insurance to receive a diagnosis of cancer in late stages, often diminishing their chances of survival.

It is critical to remember, as we debate the future of health care, that there are three critical factors to any health care system: access, costs, and quality.

You can't deal with any of these in isolation.

A Post-modern Presidential election? Or what Barack Obama and Ron Paul have in common

The foundational idea behind post-modernism is that there really are no objective facts, but a complex web of competing narratives, each of which has equal intellectual legitimacy. Huh?

Think of it like this. Suppose you are studying the works of William Shakespeare, and you have the following six sources:

A memoir by an actor contemporary to Shakespeare;

A website on Romeo and Juliet put together by a sixth-grade class in central Indiana;

A scholarly linguistic analysis of word-use in Shakespeare's sonnets;

A letter from an evangelical Christian complaining that plays should not be performed in public;

A science fiction story with a character named William Shakespeare Jones'

A You-Tube video recorded in the basement of a thirty-year-old introvert explaining why he is really the subject of Hamlet.

Post-modernism would hold that all six sources are equally important narratives about Shakespeare and deserve equal consideration in any serious analysis, because the study of Shakespeare is NOT about what he actually wrote, but about the meanings everybody imposes on his writings.

Screwy as that sounds (like the denial of the possibility of objective truth) there is some merit in this approach.

Think of it this way: Christianity is essentially a post-modernist exercise, in which the meanings people impose on the Bible are often actually more important to them than what the book actually says.

So what's this got to do with Ron Paul or Barack Obama?

Early in the campaign process a large number of politically disaffected, potentially Libertarian-leaning voters saw in Ron Paul the personalization of their own fears about the government, and created a narrative of principled opposition and statesmanship for their putative candidate that ... ultimately ... proved unequal to them. Notice what happened when people who had invested in the Ron Paul narrative found themselves faced with the actual Ron Paul's checkered past and flirtation with overtly racist thought: they denied it, and immediately attacked anyone who subscribed to what a post-modernist would call a competing narrative.

In other words, the narrative they invested in the candidate became more important to them than any countervailing facts about the candidate. Postmodernism allowed them to discount those pesky facts as a competing narrative that enjoyed no credibility.

Much the same process is happening with Barack Obama. A narrative of consequence has been created for the junior Senator from Illinois, a narrative consciously designed to evoke--all at once--the consequential leaders of our immediate past: JFK, Reagan, MILK. You can find people countering arguments about Obama's lack of experience by invoking JFK's similar lack (ignoring the fact that Kennedy had been a Senator for longer and also enjoyed prestige as a genuine war hero). You find Obama himself invoking Reagan's effectiveness as a change agent.

Now you even find people quietly wondering whether or not Obama will be safe, that someone might try to take him away from us by assassinating him.

This narrative functions to insulate Obama from legitimate criticism of his (nearly non-existent) record or of his (wildly impractical in any measured fiscal sense) plans for expanding Federal benefits for everyone--magically paid for by the rich.

Defenders of the Obama narrative are so heavily invested that they also buy into the old right-wing bitch narrative about Hillary Clinton to discredit her. Yes, there is a lot of true, Lord of the Flies gruesome politics behind the now-floundering Clinton machine, but it is positively Orwellian to watch one wing of the Democratic Party thoroughly demonize one of their own. Moreover, it is being done with absolutely no concern about the manner in which the bitchification of Senator Clinton will cripple the next woman to seek the Presidency.

Obama's supporters would do well to learn a lesson from the much smaller scale Ron Paul implosion: when the wheels start to come off the narrative--as they will sometime late this summer--there will be a strong temptation to engage in denial and to attack the people who will be citing the inconvenient facts about Barack as engaging in right-wing smears.

The reality is that nobody--no real human being, no real politician--could deliver on the messianic narrative being crafted for and by the Obama campaign.

The Obama we are currently watching is more a creation of our own projected imaginations than anything else.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Just when you thought Al Jazeera was a tool of the jihadists...

... you get a story like this: Abbas Government accused of Torture:

More detainees have complained of torture by the Palestinian Authority following the death in custody of a Hamas religious leader in the West Bank.

The family and followers of imam Majd al-Barghouthi say he was tortured to death last Friday, an allegation that the authorities strenuously deny.
Now new allegations have emerged of ill-treatment – even torture – of Hamas supporters held in Palestinian Authority jails.
Four men who were arrested alongside al-Barghouthi told his family that they were all tied up in painful positions during interrogation, and that intelligence officers demanded to know where the detainees had hidden weapons.

Accused of possessing weapons, Azzam Fehil was arrested on February 10 and held for 13 days in the same detention facility as al-Barghouti.

He told Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland that he was handcuffed and suspended by his arms for long periods. He also said he was kicked and beaten.

Fehil said he was released on the same day the imam died.

The Palestinian human rights commission made two requests this month to visit the detention centre, but with no success.

"I've seen lately, since June onwards, the problem of ill-treatment and the usage of torture taking place. And we are talking here of all the areas under the Palestinian Authority," Randa Siniora of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens' Rights said.

"With this polarisation and the split - political split - between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, I think the security agenda has been given priority over many over issues."

It is important to remember that, from the perspective of many Middle Eastern governments, Al Jazeera represents a dangerous, destabilizing influence.

Who else, between North Africa and Afghanistan, would actually accuse the Palestinian Authority of torture?

Here's two paragraphs about Obama, drug use, and Mexico in the Wall Street Journal that I'm still not sure how to take ...

... so if you want to help me, just dive in.

It's actually a great Wall Street Journal story about Eduardo Medina-Moro, Mexico's new attorney general, who is committed to taking on the violent drug lords in his country.

But I almost didn't read it because the first two paragraphs sent me first one way and then the other:

Perhaps it is a sign of a maturing electorate that Barack Obama's past drug use has not become a disqualifying factor in his bid for the presidency. It may signify that Americans are beginning to view the intake of mind-altering substances as a private decision.

For those who embrace the notion of personal responsibility, such a change in public attitudes might be considered progress. But in Mexico, what suggests an increase in tolerance of illegal drug use in the U.S. has a tragic flipside: the gut-wrenching violence that arises when demand meets prohibition. This country is paying dearly for that contradiction.

So is the author, Mary Anastasia O'Grady, actually a Libertarian? Maybe.

On the other hand, I don't think she's right about her observation regarding Obama and drug use. What Barack Obama has said is that he used cocaine as a teenager. Had Barack come out and said, "And occasionally, after a hard week of campaigning, I head back to the crib and do a little blow with the staff to unwind," I don't think the reaction would "signify that Americans are beginning to view the intake of mind-altering substances as a private decision."

I think what Barack Obama proves is that--unlike Bubba, who wouldn't even admit to inhaling--Americans believe that short of rape, murder, or other felonies, being a teenager should not necessarily make you ineligible to be an adult for the rest of your life.

And if you don't think Obama's drug use won't be brought up again as a disqualifying factor for the presidency, then you really don't watch American elections all that closely. The way Barack Obama swipes his deodorant across his armpit (in the direction of Mecca, I'm reliably told) will become every bit as important as the erection John McCain almost got (and almost remembered) when thinking about what he'd like to do with a pretty lobbyist if only he could still remember how.

But I digress. Read the article about Mexico's fight against the drug mobs--it is an important issue, albeit one that won't end up in any presidential debates real soon. Just skip those first two paragraphs.

Thank you, Dana Garrett

Today Dana thanked the teachers at Ann P. Mote Elementary School and publicly came out in support of the upcoming Red Clay Consolidate School District referendum.

One of the things I actually like about school financing is that the districts have to ask the voters for each tax increase.

When a district has had financial problems, like Red Clay, this becomes a dicey proposition.

For personal and professional reasons I cannot write here in detail about the reasons why I support this tax increase.

Fortunately, Dana Garrett has done it for me.

Now, tomorrow (or at least by Friday) he will be back to being a Social Democrat who wants to take all my hard-earned money for crackpot social engineering, and I will be back to being a heartless Libertarian who thinks that his property rights are the excuse to starve poor children while denying them medical treatment.

Today, however, we're on exactly the same sheet of music.

Thanks, Dana.

Instead of worrying about teachers ... let's worry about General Wesley Clark ... and Obama's turban

You want to find some serious, and scary Obama-bashing by a major public figure?

Go try out the web site of one of Hillary Clinton's major supporters, General Wesley Clark.

It's called, innocently enough, the Clark Community Network, and it all seems to be about supporting Hillary strongly enough to rehabilitate Wes Clark (famous in Kossovo as the man who almost started World War 3 before Bubba and the Joint Chiefs had to relieve him for "character issues") sufficiently for him to become--I don't know--Secretary of State or Defense.

Just visit and browse for awhile.

If you're known for the company you keep, this ought to be enough to scare you away from the candidate my friend Waldo loves to call the She-Clinton.

By the way, read Waldo carefully: while the rabid readers of the daily kos and other similarly credible blogs are trashing a single Delaware elementary teacher who might have said negative and erroneous things about Obama and Islam, it's the Clinton campaign in Texas that's passing out photos of Obama wearing a turban on a visit to Africa.

Yeah, we need to keep after those dangerous teachers.

How news (and sausage, apparently) gets made in Delaware and elsewhere ...

... and the story is not pretty.

First, there was this letter to the Cape Gazette, a Sussex County, Delaware, paper:

Cape Gazette February 22

Pray for understanding and an end to hate

Our 10-year-old sister, Amani, is in the fifth grade at Lord Baltimore, a public elementary school in Ocean View. Last Tuesday, her teacher “taught” her class that Barack Obama is a Muslim and that she would not vote for him because he does not swear on the Bible, nor recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Her teacher told the class that she is a Republican and that Barack Obama “believes in different things and is scary.”

We are very disappointed in this teacher and the Indian River School District. This teacher is telling her class something that is dangerous and untrue. Barack Obama’s website (barackobama. com) explains the truth about him. He says, “In the internet age, there are going to be lies that are spread all over the place. I have been victimized by these lies. Fortunately, the American people are, I think, smarter than folks give them credit for.”

Many newspapers have debunked the vicious rumors that are being spread about Sen. Obama. Mr. Obama has said, “My grandfather taught me how to say the Pledge of Allegiance when I was two. During the Pledge of Allegiance you put your hand over your heart. During the national anthem you sing.”

We are American Muslim kids. We love our country. We feel that kids need to be taught the truth in school. We believe that what is going on in our schools is un-American and scary. Kids are being taught hatred and fear of Muslims. Our sister was badly hurt by what was said in her classroom.

Each of us has experienced similar prejudice in our classrooms in three different schools. We would like for people to know that we believe in peace and respect for everyone. We are your neighbors and this is our home, too. We pray for understanding and an end to hate. Please stand with us.

Fatima and Basima Abdelsalam
Bethany Beach

Then Delawareliberal picked it up (as Breaking: Indian River School District Teacher Still Employed) and pushed it out to that paragon of journalistic integrity, the daily kos, which drew (to this point) 385 comments like:

"There was a Muslim child in the class who has been marked for life by being told in front of her peers that her religion is scary and different. I'd fire her. But if they're going to suspend her, at least they could make her pay for some counseling to counteract this nastiness."

"She should be suspended and forced to visit a mosque and actually speak to some real Muslims. The school should also institute a policy where teachers are NOT allowed to discuss their personal opinion of politicians with students."

"There is no circumstance under which what the teacher in the article did is OK. That district should be awash in lawsuits. Wonder what, if anything, Barack will say/do about it?"

"Maybe it's up to us to do something. I wonder if we could get an email address for the school board in Delaware. Perhaps a gentle reminder that the entire country is watching them would be helpful."

"My social studies teacher was fired for having us all read "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee". This was back in the 70's. I can see nothing's really changed. Truth is still a subject not usually taught in American schools."

"If she actually spent a couple of hours with some Muslims I'm sure it would change her attitude. The school needs to fire her or offer her a chance to make amends (and what better way than by visiting a mosque and learning what Islam is really about)? "

Reading through the first 100 comments, I found exactly one that advised caution in assuming the story was true:

Note the letter at the end of the diary. While there's cause for concern, it's possible that the events didn't happen as they were reported, and this will need to be investigated before anybody can be sure there was real wrongdoing here.

On Democratic Underground (Comment #21), one commenter felt empowered to publish the names, email addresses and photos of all the fifth grade teachers in the school (since the teacher is unnamed in the original article) and suggest that people begin emailing them. The comments here run the same gamut:

"Being a teacher does not preclude you from being thick as pig shit."

"For a School District to permit this type of behavior by their teachers is inexcusable. I hope the family takes a big chunk of money from them, for it seems they have a course of allowing prejudice to continue unabated."

My personal favorite was the letter one commenter apparently sent to the Indian River School District that assumes automatically that this second-hand charge (her sisters wrote the letter) by a single 10 year old was (a) true and (b) that the district was not doing anything to investigate it:

Dear Lord Baltimore School,

I just read the disturbing story about one of the 5th grade teachers opting to infuse her personal political views upon her students on one of the big political news sites. [Notice that now, in this letter, it is a straight news story and not an unsubstantiated assertion.]

Besides the very nature of infusing one's personal political views to one's students being wrong, this teacher is obviously SO ill informed that she took text from some spam email that preys upon fear, hate, bigotry, and lies and decided to present this to her students as fact. It is low and disgusting in nature among adults but to infuse this hate and bigotry upon 10 year olds is beyond repulsive.

Instead of personally debunking this gibberish, I will provide a link that debunks these false statements:

There is NO place in our educational system to teach hate, bigotry, and fear. Apparently this teacher stated that Barack "believes in different things and is scary". What is more frightening than believing in "different things" is the fact that this woman is allowed to teach children this drivel.

It is the role of the PARENTS to teach their children politics, and if those parents choose to teach their children hate then as wrong as it is, it remains their prerogative.

I scoured the web site and conveniently the page that gives the administrators and front office information is disabled, I would ask that one of you please send this on to the principals office and if you personally find this offensive please pass this on to the leaders of the school board. Hate has no place in the classroom, neither does this teacher.



Now let's get a couple of things straight: the Indian River School District does not have a squeaky clean record with respect to cultural diversity. And this might have happened exactly as the 10 year old alleged.

Or it might not. It could have been generated whole cloth (if you think that's impossible, you don't know 10 year olds very well); it might have been misheard or misunderstood.

In either case, there is an American concept that I find it difficult to accept that our polarized society has thrown overboard: the presumption of innocence until guilt is proven.

The very few voices raised to say--almost apologetically--that we might want to defer judgment until the facts are in, also essentially couple that message with, "But if we find out it's true, THEN we'll get her fired!"


I love the presumption that this teacher is somehow part of the vast right-wing conspiracy and must be made an example of.

And this is what we want to teach our children? Make an error of judgement or be over credulous about believing something and your entire career--every child you've ever touched and helped, every positive thing you may ever have done--is to be thrown away in a public spectacle of something I cannot even label attack journalism for the simple reason that there has been NO JOURNALISM at all involved in this case.

Nobody among the hundreds and thousands of people did or even really demanded a goddamn fact check.

And from that perspective it doesn't matter whether this teacher actually said these things or not, because everyone was willing to cyber-lynch her, her fellow teachers, and the entire freaking district without any evidence other than a single allegation.

One of the commenters wondered if Barack Obama himself would make a statement about this issue. I really hope not.

The man who wants to change the way we do business in this country, who wants to change the way we treat each other, who wants to set a new and higher standard--that man (if he wants to be MY president)--better avoid sensationalizing this incident, and better show compassion rather than anger.

Now I want everyone else to stop and think: how many times have you been taken in on this little evidence, and suckered into passing judgements on people you've never met, just because the charge fit your particular world-view of what always happens?

And when you were wrong, were you willing (or even capable) giving that person their life back?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Big Brother reading over your shoulder ...

... and this time it's not for national security.

Libertarians and fellow travelers will recall the uproars over the Patriot Act giving law enforcement agencies the right to snoop into your reading habits via your library card or your bookstore purchases.

And, of course, to argue that this constituted the beginning of a slippery slope is to have yourself written off as a Libertarian whacko.

Our law enforcement agencies would never go after our reading habits for anything less that the prevention of another September 11 attack, would they?

So this from libertariansf:

Recently unsealed court records reveal that US Magistrate Stephen Crocker of Wisconsin refused a request from federal prosecutors to issue a subpoena to Prosecutors wanted to compel the online bookselling giant to reveal the identity of thousands of used book buyers as part of their case against Madison WI public official Robert D'Angelo, who was accused of running an online business from his office without reporting the income [Oh my! Trying to hide personal property from government thieves!] . The judge ruled that the First Amendment protects the right to keep reading habits private. Crocker wrote, "Well founded or not, rumors of an Orwellian federal criminal investigation into the reading habits of Amazon's customers could frighten countless potential customers into canceling planned online book purchases, now and perhaps forever... The subpoena is troubling because it permits the government to peek into the reading habits of specific individuals without their knowledge or permission... It is an unsettling and un-American scenario to envision federal agents nosing through the reading lists of law-abiding citizens while hunting for evidence against somebody else." Crocker arranged a compromise whereby Amazon would send a letter to 24,000 customers asking them to voluntarily contact prosecutors if they so desired.

Thankfully, there are still apparently some judges out there who haven't lost their copy of the US Constitution.

A pity that the same cannot be said for many law enforcement agencies.

Sunday Night SF at Delaware Libertarian: War on the Cheap Part Two

Find Part One here.

War on the Cheap

An Original Science Fiction story by

Steven H. Newton

(c)2008; all rights reserved

Part Two of Four

Standing behind her platoon sergeant, a particularly squat Xinq who never seemed to stop moving or hooting, Arras had to admit that whatever the tactical capabilities of the recon NCO might be, Gully Foy ka-damn sure knew how to intimidate the troops when necessary.

An obviously exhausted Terran, last soldier in the platoon, had just reached the final pool of muck in the improvised obstacle course. Staggering under the weight of her pack and weapon, she threw herself down the lane by force of will alone. Instead of keeping almost totally immersed in the foul-smelling brew, she attempted to crawl across on hands and knees, which raised her ass high enough to trip the sensors. When two Xinqs committed the same error, Gully Foy had hauled them out of the pool and beaten them nearly senseless.

Arras waited to see how he (she was reasonably sure that Gully Foy belonged to one of the three pseudo-male sexes) would handle the situation with a Terran.

The Xinq NCO bounded up to the unfortunate woman just as she lurched out of the mud to cross the finish line, grapplers and tinkers shaking with barely controlled rage. The Terran cringed slightly, but stood her ground, chest heaving as she tried to suck oxygen out of the excessively humid air. Gully Foy blew out several nonsense, tea-kettle sounds, then sounded out her name in pidgin, loud enough for the other nine Xinqs and six Terrans in the platoon to hear:

“Private Hooo—ellaa!”

He unfastened the flap of his holster, pulled out his pistol, and extended the weapon toward her, butt first.

Arras felt her left eyebrow rise.

“Private Hooo—ellaa!” the sergeant repeated. “Take my ka-fucking piece, please.”

Private Vanessla Hoella (formerly a recruit, 17th Strikers, with barely two years in and no combat experience) glanced toward Winsen, her eyes entreating her Platoon Commander to intervene. Receiving no response, she slowly extended her hand and accepted the Consortium 11mm. Precis 4 from the Xinq. By the way Hoella’s hand sagged, Arras knew that the pistol was loaded, probably with those super-heavy explosive slugs that so many Xinqs in the XRAF favored.

Gully Foy arched both spines, and his tinkers pulled back his combat harness, exposing the diaphragm in the center of his chest. Sweat from the glands on the undersides of his grapplers ran in small rivulets down the muscular upper arms.

“Shoot me, Private Hooo—ellaa,” he chirped. “Then pick least three other soldiers, shoot them, too.”

The young woman stood frozen, confused.

“Get it over now, Private Hooo-ellaa, rather let Nilly Nilly do it when you fail us real.” Before Hoella could move or reply, Gully Foy pivoted to face the rest of the platoon. “Maybe someone else admit they ka-damn sure mess up today, too, hey? Who Private Hooo—ellaa’s teammates, huh, hey?”

A Xinq with heavily tattooed grapplers and a thin Terran both flinched obviously enough to answer the question. Everyone else executed the timeless military maneuver of pulling away from the pair without actually moving.

“Recon got to be team!” the sergeant whistled, so shrilly that a fine, barely visible spray spewed out of the speech organs on either side of his broad skull. “Your partner not make it, but least she ka-damn trying. Your partner not make it and you did, Gully Foy know exactly who blame when we all die.”

With a lightning move that caused Hoella to jump back in surprise, the Xinq snatched the Precis out of her hand, holstering it in one fluid motion. All four arms waving, he stormed toward the troops.

“Sergeant Gully Foy not get paid if he dead, and you want to meet one pissed-off tubehead, you meet Gully Foy’s ka next life when he don’t get paid! Now, we run course again, nah? Only this time, all make it”—his right tinker pointed back at Hoella, who appeared to be slowly sagging into the ground—“including Private ka-damn Hooo—ella, nah?”

Second Sergeant Askell int Reyd (former Lance with the 3rd Hovercraft) appeared to realize that everyone in the platoon—Xinq and Terran—would be looking toward him to confirm or challenge Gully Foy’s orders. At least that was the conclusion Arras drew when she saw his shoulders tense and his hand unconsciously hitch the sling on his pulse rifle. Almost as if disconnected from conscious control, she felt her own right index finger slide along the edge of her holster.

If she had to intervene, the whole operation was in serious trouble.

But Sergeant Reyd just chuckled—loud enough for the sound to carry—and said, “Since I intend to be the last one through, none of you would want to slow me down, would you?” He smiled, exposing fang-filed incisors that were all the rage with the floaties, then sauntered in the direction of the course starting point, grasping Hoella none too gently by the arm as he passed.

There was a rustle of equipment, accompanies by a chorus of groans and off-key hoots as the platoon started to follow him.

“That’s one old campaigner who knows his business, nah?”

The gravelly voice came from behind her, so close that Arras jumped and half-spun into a defensive stance before her mind connected the accent with the Terran she’d reluctantly accepted as the contract’s operational commander: Colonel Staad nal Elbers.

He stood with his arms crossed, smiling at her discomfiture, but it was somehow a disarming smile that radiated no malice. Elbers towered over Arras by nearly a third of a meter; his blocky form appeared to have been erected by piling slabs of basaltic rock into a rough approximation of human proportions. Yet there was an underlying grace to his movements (he was considered one of the premiere ballroom dancers on Regent). The man was so ugly, Arras thought, that he approached being handsome.

“That’s not necessarily wise,” she said slowly. “Slipping up behind people carrying live ammunition, nah?”

“There’s nothing wise about this whole ka-damn operation, Major, so I seem to be in good company.”

As he spoke, Elbers tapped three studs of the command gauntlet on his left arm in quick succession. The tell-tale on the inside of his wrist changed from green to red, cutting him out of the comm net.

“We need to speak. Now, I think.”

Her platoon had covered half the distance back to the starting point. Gully Foy had already disappeared over the ridge concealing the first obstacle from view. Arras made eye contact with Reyd, who inclined his head slightly in acknowledgement, then turned back to pushing the troops along.

“All right, then. But just so I’m clear, are we talking field boss to platoon commander, or commander to contractor?”

Elbers dropped into a squatting position like an avalanche descending a mountain; it brought him to just below her standing eye level. Like everyone else, he wore the same sanitized, XRAF surplus field utilities, lacking nametag and the interlocked triangles of the Xinquess Reach shoulder patch. Unlike everyone else—including Arras—he had found time to have his uties tailored, and wore above his left breast pocket the single muted-gold sunburst that designated him as colonel.

“First things first, Platoon Commander. Tell me about your unit.”

“Gully Foy’s good. Recon in his veins, I think, but never been a platoon sergeant. Reyd’s a seasoned NCO, but he’s never been Recon—least not on foot. We’ve got three Xinqs and one Terran with actual Recon experience, although everyone but Hoella has fire time.” She paused, added, “I’ve never done Recon, either—not as a specialty.”

Khom had spent a good deal of time fretting about the right place for her in the company’s organization. Arras lacked the technical skills for fire support and the tactical confidence for one of the line platoons. Eventually, he resolved the dilemma by increasing the normal scout complement of a striker company from a squad to an under-sized Recon platoon, cutting two positions out of each line platoon’s support element to make up the difference.

“Your assessment?”

She felt the crossed straps of her field pack cutting into her ribs below her left breast, but resisted the urge to hook a thumb underneath to relieve the pressure.

“We need at least two weeks we haven’t got to shake down for anything long-range, but since we’re only doing an out-and-about sweep from Hill 49. . . .”

Elbers cut her off: “Platoon Commanders shouldn’t make assumptions about what the commander might have to order.”

“I’m not going to pretend, Colonel, that I haven’t been helping draft the operations plan for this contract,” Arras said, hearing exasperation in her own voice. She didn’t add that his contract called for him to execute that plan without major deviations.

“In my mind, Major, the fact that you are the contractor is more than sufficient reason that you shouldn’t be running around playing soldier. I’m not about to have you second-guessing me in the middle of a ka-damn firefight.”

“You don’t seem to have any problems with Khom as your XO.”

Elbers waved a hand dismissively.

“Different entirely. Khomarys is an experienced staff officer. He knows his job, and he knows who makes the command decisions, and I’ve had him working for me before. Your experiences are less relevant to the field. Frankly, I have more confidence in that unjacked tubehead Klatta Lor to call in the right firefall than I have in your competence as a Platoon Commander. People with the Bureau tend to see combat as an individual event, not a team effort. If you were not the contractor here, Major Winsen, I would replace you.”

“You want to speak candidly, Colonel?” Arras replied in a low voice. “If I were the sole proprietor of North Regent Consulting, you would not be the commander. If anyone doesn’t lift when we go, it will ka-damn sure be you and not me.”

Elbers rumbled in laughter as he stood.

Faintly, over the noise of the simulators, they could hear Gully Foy hooting and Reyd shouting at the platoon.

“You know, Major, I thought seriously about bedding you once, back when you were still an honest striker and not a political. You make me sorry that I didn’t follow through. We understand each other, nah?”

Arras smiled back.

“We understand each other. The field boss will have the Platoon Commander shot if she can’t cut it, and the contractor will have the field boss shot if he gets out of hand.”

He tapped his gauntlet, putting himself back on the net.

Arras bent down to tighten a strap on her leg-pack of additional power packs for her pulse rifle (unobtrusively loosening the strap against her ribs as she did so), stopped in mid-motion, and looked Elbers straight in the eye.

“By the bye, Colonel, it was a good decision.”

“What?” he asked, genuinely puzzled.

“Not to follow through. With the bedding, I mean.”

She straightened and began walking away, but said over her shoulder, “The rumors were right: it does have teeth.”

* * *

“What? Sorry, drifting.”

Arras re-focused her attention on the man standing beside her in the lounge of Deng Altairs’ yacht. Major Vercienne ak nal Wizlen (“Verk,” he insisted) balanced his globe of gin and a small plate of something wet and squiggly from the appetizer table with more aplomb than she had been able to muster. But then, his brown, not-quite-a-uniform suit was also much better chosen for a semi-formal occasion than the maroon wrap-blouse Arras had paired with black flare-pants and white, spike-heeled boots.

“I said that it is amazing just how awkward we all seem to be, cruising around in this lap of luxury. Two or three decades of being shot about the Reach in old tubs can ruin one’s taste for the finer things, nah?”

“Lap of luxury” seemed the appropriate term for the vessel in which the five NRC team members had ridden, along with Deng and Semplen, to rendezvous with representatives of the Frec Yinor Gonkaina. Each of them had been assigned private cabins and individual stewards. Meals had been served in a palatial dining compartment, prepared by a chef who appeared to have on-board an endless stock of fresh fruits and vegetables. The yacht sported a full-size gymnasium, several vid-suites, and numerous meeting rooms. A ka-damn sight different, she had thought several times, from the creaking, out-dated little fleet of zPL transports Verk had leased for the operation, which smelled of feces and fertilizer.

Arras looked around the compartment at the six men and one Xinq waiting for the Gonkaina delegation to arrive.

Staad nal Elbers stood posed, statue-silent and jaw out-thrust, behind the chair in which he would sit during the meeting. He wore a retiree’s uniform with full decorations, including several ostentatious Gonkaina Intervention medals. Elbers had been thoroughly briefed on his role at conference: to nod sagaciously at key points and keep out of any substantive discussions. A hefty performance bonus written into his contract was intended to insure that he would keep his well-shined boots out of his mouth.

Khom Khamarys, predictably, owned no suitable clothing for a semi-diplomatic meeting. Thus, sitting at the table and nervously flicking his way through screens of data he had already memorized, he was encased in one of Semplen’s semi-formal jumps that the steward had expertly altered for the occasion. Arras caught her partner glancing irritably toward her several times as she stood talking to Verk.

Assembling a modified striker company at a snap had been a recruit drill beside the problem of equipping, transporting, and inserting the outfit, a quandary made worse by the fact that neither Arras nor Khom had expected to land a substantial contract for at least another six months. So Khom had not grumbled too loudly when Arras suggested calling Verk’s Consultations in Transport and Logistics for assistance. Something she’d sensed in their brief encounter had suggested competence lurking behind that wry, self-amused smile. Once Verk had come through with armaments, a training ground, and even cut-rate transport, however, Khom had taken a fervent dislike to the smooth-talking loggie that rivaled the antipathy Arras had for Elbers.

Verk appeared completely impervious to such feelings, and from the start had conducted himself as NRC’s third founding partner rather than the hired help.

Deng Altairs paced, circling the table about once per minute, so distracted that he walked twice without noticing through the holographic logo of Tegnarian Lattice behind his appointed seat. The name of the ruling Xinq faction—Frec Yinor Gonkaina—literally meant “Terrans Away from Gonkaina” and aptly summarized the party line toward humans. Yet Yuhuzatankor (derisively labeled “Yoo-hoo Tankey” by XRAF propaganda) had come to the reluctant conclusion that the Frec government could not survive without dealing with Terrans, if only to keep buying weapons to fight off Nilly Nilly’s still-rebellious ja Gonk Koloankar (“Free Gonkaina Movement”), which other Terran corporate interests kept underwriting. So the Frecs dealt with Terrans like Deng Altairs, who had the inclination to risk venture capital in the middle of a continuing civil war.

But they didn’t have to like it.

That the Frec government, sitting atop the richest lattice fields in the quadrant, demanded fifty percent of all gross profits was something an entrepreneur like Altairs expected. That the Frecs required all Terran investors dealing with them subscribe an associate membership to the Frec Yinor Gonkaina was distasteful, but what one might expect from a government run by tubeheads. That the Frecs then insisted on all Terrans in direct contact with Frec officials wear Xinq ceremonial dress, including the open harness and body paint was, Arras thought, something that could only be born by a man like Altairs when he stood eventually to make billions rather than millions.

The left half of Altairs’ torso was dyed a pale yellow, the right side a deep purple. From the instinctive flinch that Klatta Lor had attempted to hide when Altairs first appeared, Arras concluded that in Xinq culture there was probably nothing flattering to the wearer in that color combination.

Klatta Lor stood at the buffet table, stuffing food into her abdominal maw at a prodigious pace. Two days of training had passed before any of the Terrans realized that she was a member of the single true-female sex, a bearer, and also pregnant. Fortunately, she was only eleven months gone, and would not deliver her pellets for nearly another year. The only allowance that had to be made occurred with respect to rations: an expectant Xinq’s metabolism accelerated to the point where she had to digest nearly twice the normal 4,500 calories per day.

Including Klatta Lor had been Arras’ idea, primarily to throw the Frecs off-balance by presenting them with a multi-species delegation, and it had not initially been appreciated. Khom had opposed the plan almost as staunchly as he disliked Verk, but in the end—having learned to depend on his partner’s instincts—he capitulated. Elbers had required a pointed reminder of precisely who deposited the Cert into his account.

The chime announcing Semplen’s imminent arrival with the Frecs interrupted her train of thought, and set everyone in motion toward the conference table. Xinq cultural mores insisted that when the superior individual entered the room, everyone else should be seated and ready to work. Deng slid into the float-chair to the immediate left of the Frec spokesman’s quodke cushion, while Arras and Khom seated themselves beside him. Verk and Klatta Lor—leaving an open space for the Frec deputy—took positions directly opposite, with Elbers at the far end of the table, directly facing the head Xinq. Arras noted abstractedly that even though the colonel had been standing behind his own chair, he managed to be the last one to take his seat.

Semplen, again as per Xinq rather than human protocol, entered the room ahead of the guests, proceeding without speaking to a standing position behind Deng Altairs. Arras saw the two men make pointed eye contact, however, and could have sworn Deng nodded his head fractionally at whatever message his aide imparted.

The first Xinq through the door was the thinnest of the species that Arras had ever seen, gaunt to the point that the cartilaginous ridges surrounding its auditory diaphragm stood out in high relief. The Xinq’s harness had been lacquered with Auricum and crusted with shimmering fragments of chrysalis nodes, accentuating rather than covering slanting lines of vermillion and scarlet body paint. This, she knew from Deng’s earlier briefing, was Gorthokojofar, Second Tinkerer of the Lattice Authority of Gonkaina.

Gorthokojofar strode confidently to the table, acknowledging no one, and sat. Several paces behind followed a deputy—probably a Lesser Grappler—a more nondescript Xinq wearing a less decorative harness over purely vermillion paint.

Nonetheless, the subordinate ripped everyone’s attention away from Gorthokojofar. Perched on its upper shoulders, clinging to its harness, even riding along balanced atop a three-toed foot, were five—no, six—immature Xinq pups, two kilos each of inane hooting and wildly gesticulating appendages. At a guess, Arras thought they might be a standard old, which meant that they were a good six years away from developing true sentience. And, she realized with a suddenly dry throat, about a year shy of having the plates in their skulls grow together. . . .

Still soft crabs.

Her eyes flicked involuntarily toward Elbers, whose body had subtly transformed from resting immobility to complete rigidity.

Gorthokojofar abruptly began hooting in Gonk dialect, allowing no time for translation. Arras caught no more than one word in three, but she had expected this. At any rate, both Deng and Semplen understood Gonk (as did Klatta Lor, a fact about which Arras and Khom had somehow neglected to inform their partners). When Gorthokojofar ceased speaking, Deng reached into a pocket and withdrew a small voder. At one touch a holographic keyboard appeared, which was the visible manifestation of a complex series of magnetic fields capable of interacting with the nano-paint on the millionaire’s fingernails. With more diligence than ease, Deng typed a reply, contemplated it for a moment, and keyed the “vocalize” command, causing the voder to produce its own array of Gonk noises.

Thus followed the first twenty-five minutes of the meeting, a series of interactions conducted solely in Gonk, translated by no one, and therefore incomprehensible to Arras, Khom, Verk, and Elbers. Despite Deng’s assurances that the initial exchanges represented nothing more than ritual greetings, she knew she would feel better when Klatta Lor was able to confirm the content.

In the meantime, half a dozen Xinq pups ran free throughout the conference room. Studiously ignored by everyone (Semplen had gone over this aspect of the negotiations in great detail), they proceeded to trash the buffet table, overturn two potted plants, and defecate odorous yellow, stringy lumps near Khom’s boots. At length the most adventurous of the litter scrambled up Elbers’ leg and began licking his medals. Uncertain whether to be horrified or amused, Arras had never before actually seen the vein in a man’s forehead pulse so visibly.

“Major Winsen, Major Khomarys,” Deng said with quiet abruptness, breaking her tangential reverie, “we’ve finally run up to your part of the technicals.” He flicked his fingers, keying a voder translation of Gorthokojofar’s last remarks.

“Requirement immutable that your attack occur within the next four cycles. Requirement contractual that you seize the lattice fields and maintain their possession for two cycles. Requirement compensatory that all participants in the consultation group be enrolled.”

The first two clauses simply recapitulated North Regent’s contract with Deng Altairs; the third represented a particular Frec quirk. The Frec Yinor Gonkaina did not—at least officially—employ mercenaries, especially not Terrans, and more specifically not Terrans with an XRAF pedigree. Thus, to satisfy the legal fictions necessary of interstellar diplomacy, the reinforced striker company became a “consultation group,” all of whose members were formally enrolled into one of the various Frec militias. Thus Yuhuzatankor’s government could maintain with a rising pitch that it had employed only indigenous forces against the Goks.

These were the same militias that had carried out the reprisal executions against Gonkaina’s resident Terran population, something few XRAF veterans were likely to forget or forgive. Nevertheless, she thought bitterly, we considered the ka-damn costs of doing business months ago, and there’s no way around it. Aloud, she said, “North Regent Consulting, Limited, accepts the Frec requirements.”

As the voder chirped the translation of her words, Arras added softly for Deng’s benefit, “But the first Xinq who expects me to tear open my shirt and paint my tits green is in for one rude surprise.”

End of Part Two.

Just South of Queen Street: thoughts on a Gay Agenda ...

I remember, about ten years ago, walking with my wife down the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach, accidentally following two (admittedly hot) 17 year olds in their new string bikinis. We passed Queen Street, which--without any irony I can ever detect--is the unofficial separation between the gay and straight sections of the beach. There was a spirited volleyball game in progress, with about six buff guys on each side, slamming the ball around.

Our two would-be beach-bunny debutantes locked eyes on this assemblage of adorable man-flesh and did everything except take off their tops and flash themselves in order to be noticed.

Not surprisingly, they got no takers, although two women sharing a blanket just below them went into a coughing fit that not so convincingly covered up their laughter.

With a haughty shake of the head that only a bottle blonde teen queen can muster, one of them finally said, "Let's get out of here. These guys must all be gay or something."

Or something.

We like to pretend to ourselves that we live in a civilized nation, wherein even those who disapprove of someone's sexual orientation do so by looking down their noses or denying somebody a promotion or a loan. We like to believe, as one commenter on DelawarePolitics asserted a couple of weeks ago, that

Steve Newton said we must protect all American citizens. Steve we do it is called the 14th Amendment, and any law that gives added protection such as hate crime laws or laws that give more protection in hiring to certain groups are merely for political gain, and un-necessary.

But unfortunately, that's not true.

Here are couple of all-too-typical anecdotes that exemplify what gay, lesbian, transgendered, bisexual, or queer American citizens face on an all-too-regular basis.

The first is from Postmodern Politics and Sexuality:

Last night I took a cool guy out to downtown. It's our favorite place to go. I planned the whole night as a suprise to him. I took him out to Indian food at this upscale resturant. Then we walked to a starbucks and sat in the corner talking about life and faith and the people we saw pass by the window. Then we walked back to our car where he gave me a box of See's candy. For the final activity I took him to the local IMAX theatre to see U23D! It was better than being at a concert. So amazing! Bono was popping out of the screen right infront of us. :)

Afterwards we walked back to our cars and stood there for awhile . We were close. It was late so we were both tired. At one point we were just standing there, facing each other when a big black truck drove by. The driver rolled down his window and yelled "faggots" as loud as he could as he drove by.


I hope he feels more of a man after that.

I went through a range of thoughts/feelings. It made me sad that people hate like that. And that I experienced bigotry. It made me angry that this isn't easy and that probably won't be the last time I experience that. And it made me scared. I'm not a small, wussy guy. But what if he and his friends decided to stop and get out and mess with us? Do you have to life in fear because of peoples bigotry?

Don't these people realize it is them who push people into the activism that they so hate? I've NEVER wanted to be a gay activist. But after last night I want to speak out all the more just so no one else has to experience that. And that was such a small event! Its caused me today to place myself in the shoes of those who have to experience that on a regular basis.

The second is from some guys are normal:

Let me start by saying that I've never been involved in any type of anti-gay confrontation. I've never had anyone call me a fag, like pomo recently did, I've never been threatened, and I most certainly have never been beaten up because I'm gay. That's not to say that these types of things don't happen. I've just been lucky enough to not have them happen to me.

Obviously, not everyone's so lucky. Recently LZ Granderson, a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, wasn't as lucky as me, and now that it's over, I'm sure he's just feeling lucky that he didn't have to go to the hospital. Just last week while in New Orleans for the NBA All Star Game, the sports writer literally thought he might die at the hands of an anti-gay crowd. While walking through the craziness of the French Quarter, LZ was picked out of a crowd and berated for being gay. As he tried to ignore the taunts, they got worse and more people joined in. Soon enough, Granderson was surrounded, and had it not been for some nearby police officers, violence would have been next.

All because he's gay. What an unbelievable phenomenon.

In the article, Granderson calls for the NFL to take a stronger stance against homophobia (a call I've heard gay people make to other organizations recently too), and he unabashedly tells his readers that he does have an agenda. He "want[s] a country where it isn't OK to get the snot kicked out of you because you're different."

I love that he came out and said it, because for all of the rhetoric coming from the far-right and the anti-gay folks, the reality is that gay agenda has nothing to do with trying to turn kids gay or destroying the morality, history, and traditions of western civilization. It's all about wanting to live in a world where getting beaten up just for being gay isn't a concern. It's about not having to worry that walking down the street and just looking "too gay" might turn into a black eye. It's about human decency.

So, let me go on record with LZ and say that I've got an agenda too. Call it the gay agenda--the real gay agenda. I'm here to show people (in this blog and in realy life) how normal gay people really are in hopes that someday I won't have to read these kind of stories anymore. In my little way, I'm going to spread the gay agenda.

I'm not in favor of hate crimes legislation; I happen to believe that assault or attempted murder or terroristic threatening are "hate" crimes by definition. I also believe in free speech, not matter how painful or even hateful the ideas expressed.

But that's not what's at issue here. What's at issue here is that we still live in an America where it remains acceptable to single out groups of citizens for violence, intimidation, and disrespect.

And while I favor adding sexual orientation to the list of human characteristics for which no American citizen should be discriminated against, I'm actually not a real big believer that laws change social perceptions.

Instead, I tend to agree with science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, who gave this piece of dialogue to the nation's first black, female president [hopefully NOT having in mind some bad Hillary-Barack morph]:

"Discrimination? Certainly there is still discrimination--but you can't kill prejudice by passing a law. We'll make it by how we behave and what we produce--not by any trick laws." [Expanded Universe, p. 563]

Laws are easy; personal moral courage isn't.

A black friend once posed to me a pointed riddle:

Question: When does a black man become a nigger?

Answer: When he leaves the room.

The same riddle applies to gay men and faggots, jews and kikes, women and cunts, latinos and wetbacks.

It's a riddle that asks you to ask yourself how often you were complicit by doing nothing, saying nothing.

The explicit promise of America is a society wherein each person can rise based on his or her abilities, set free from the prejudices of the Old World. It's an ideal, of course, but it is an ideal toward which we have made arguable progress in the past two centuries.

Just something to think about.