Thursday, November 30, 2006

Return of the E.R.A.?

Pandagon has become my new favorite moonbat site, not merely because of the nostalgia I feel whenever Amanda uses the word patriarchy like it's 1972 again, but because the commenters are more violent (at least their comments are) than watching Rambo or Texas Chain Saw Massacre.

But then there are the times I actually agree (at least I think I do) with something Amanda says. This time, I actually agree with her about reviving the ol' Equal Rights Amendment. After reading this post (and leaving out all the crap about anti-women women & stuff), I started thinking about the E.R.A. and--what else?--the law.


When you study Constitutional law, you are taught that there are three levels of review under which a law will be examined to determine if it meets the criteria of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. They are:

1. Strict scrutiny: Race, national origin, religion, alienage and "fundamental rights," such as the right to marry, raise and educate one's children, plus issues like the right to vote, interstate migration, and access to the courts. This list isn't exhaustive, just instructive.
2. Intermediate scrutiny: Sex, illegitimacy.
3. Rational basis review: Everything else.

Here may be a better description of these levels of review.

I was surprised to find that sex wasn't reviewed under the same standard that race was, given that there has been historical discrimination based on sex as long as any (at least in this country) based on race.

When I asked the professor why sex wasn't held to the same level of review as race, her answer was, "Surely you aren't trying to argue that women have faced the same type of discrimination as African Americans, are you?"

That answer struck me as odd not just because it didn't bother answering my question, but because this woman had gone through the rigors of law school before me, so she had to know the hurdles one had to jump to succeed as a woman.

Eventually, I came to my own conclusions about why the court had left sex in this wishy-washy, nebulous purgatory of Constitutional review. It was because of the E.R.A. From the time of the Craig v. Boren case in 1976, the court has used the intermediate scrutiny test for sex-based classifications, and the answer to my question--why sex was treated differently from race--could be found in this quote from Chief Justice Warren Burger in his dissent in Craig v. Boren:
Though today's decision does not go so far as to make gender-based classifications "suspect," it makes gender a disfavored classification. Without an independent constitutional basis supporting the right asserted or disfavoring the classification adopted, I can justify no substantive constitutional protection other than the normal McGowan v. Maryland, supra at 425-426, protection afforded by the Equal Protection Clause.

It's clear from Burger's dissent that what he (and perhaps even Justice William Rehnquist, who also dissented in the case) were waiting for was a constitutional amendment banning discrimination on the basis of sex. In short, the "intermediate scrutiny" introduced in Craig v. Boren was only supposed to be a stop-gap measure until the Equal Rights Amendment was passed as its backers assumed it would be.

But the E.R.A. never got passed. So, women have been saddled with a lesser scrutiny level for the past 30 years.

I don't necessarily agree with much of the rhetoric the Pandagonistas use in describing the opponents of a new E.R.A. I think it is simplistic to constantly call one's opponents brain-damaged three-legged dogs instead of just addressing their arguments. But that's just me. What I do agree with is that it is simply disengenuous for sex discrimination to be treated on a different level of scrutiny than race which is also an innate characteristic.

We already have the much-feared unisex bathrooms, although, granted, you can still find restrooms for women and men. So, what objection can there be now? I'd like to hear the arguments.

Those Rightwing Bloggers!

It looks like Power Line can add a scalp to its belt. According to the Associated Press, The Minneapolis Star-Tribune is investigating editorial page writer Steve Berg for plagiarism.

Power Line discussed Berg's latest daliance with the work of others in this post from November 11, 2006. Evidently, some Strib editors must read Power Line, because, according to the A.P., management decided to investigate the similarities after the last Power Line post on the subject.

What is it with journalists these days? When I went to j-school, thou shalt not rip off other people's work was the 11th commandment (the profs didn't really recognize the 10 Commandments, considering them just some silly mythology, but the metaphor works, y'know). Now it seems that every year there are at least two or three of these guys outed. From the frequency, you'd think they were gay Republicans who voted against homosexual marriage in an election year or something.

One can only assume that the difference between, say, a Janet Cooke and a Jayson Blair is that now there are those damn bloggers in pajamas checking up on 'em all the time. Not to mention the ease with which such plagiarism can be spotted. Hey, Berg. Ever hear of Google?

Half in New Health Plans Want to Switch, Poll Shows

According to this Washington Post article, the sky is still blue, the trashman still comes before you set out the trash, and people still would rather someone else pick up the costs for their healthcare.

People in a new kind of health plan that makes consumers pay for a bigger share of their care appear to be more cost-conscious than those in traditional plans, but half say they would switch if they had the chance, according to a survey released yesterday.

The survey of 1,389 people by the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation found that 71 percent of those in the new "consumer-directed health plans" said the policies prompted them to consider cost when seeking health care, compared with 49 percent of those with more traditional employer-sponsored coverage.

How the reporter wrote thise lede with a straight face I'll never know. What, people don't like having to pay more of their own healthcare costs and/or having to think about what healthcare costs? Say it ain't so!

One of the complaints about company-sponsored (or government sponsored, for that matter) healthcare is that people tend to overuse and abuse it. If it only costs $10 to go to the doctor when your throat is sore, what incentive is there to just go buy a bottle of cough syrup at the local CVS?

But when people have to pay for the costs of their care, they tend to be a lot more skeptical of that $10 Tylenol or the $40 baby blanket.

When I had my oldest child, the nurse handed me everything on the counter and said, "Here, you're paying for this anyway." If I had been charged directly, I'm sure I would have said, "No, thanks." But that's part of the problem with modern healthcare. There are so many costs built in without patients ever having to determine if they want to pay for something.

According to the article, participants in the plan are becoming more savvy healthcare consumers.
(P)eople in the new plans were more likely to ask about the cost of a doctor's visit and inquire about the availability of lower-cost alternatives in treatments and tests. More than half, 55 percent, who sought care said the new plans have changed their approach to using health care.

And before anyone starts boo-hooing about the poor people on the health plans described in the original link:
Gail Shearer, director of health policy analysis at Consumers Union, noted that the survey found that people in the new plans tend to be wealthier, healthier and more educated than their counterparts in traditional plans, and were more likely to be white.

There are certainly reasons why these plans might not work for everyone, but there's a much larger part of the population which should start taking a greater interest in the healthcare they are getting versus the healthcare they are paying for.

Is Religion Bad for Kids?

According to Richard Dawkins, teaching your children about religion is a form of child abuse. Deep Thought discusses the data and reasons why Dawkins is flat out wrong.

Overwhelmingly, being religious is good for you. Regular church attendance leads to lower blood pressure, less anxiety and depression, a stronger immune system, and are less likely to commit suicide, all contributing to religious people having a mortality rate about 25% lower than people who do not attend worship regularly with the end result that religious people outlive the non-religious by, on average, seven years. Not only do religious people live longer, they are healthier and happier, leading to a higher quality of life! Indeed, the correlation of church attendance and happiness is pretty strong, and diverse. People who regularly attend church are more likely to have strong, lasting marriages where both members are happy.

These results are for adults, but children benefit from religious belief and attendance of religious services, as well.
Research shows that even low levels of religious life make adolescents less likely to use alcohol, drugs, tobacco, engage in criminal activity, become suspended from school, run away from home, engage in sexual activity, or require emotional counseling. Religious children (again, even at low levels of church attendance) are less likely to drive drunk or engage in casual vandalism. Church attendance improves school attendance, work activity, and homework completion. It even improves their chances of escaping childhood poverty. As religious faith and participation increases, the positive effect on children also increases. At the other end, just having a mother that attends church regularly also improves the odds of adolescents not engaging in self-destructive behavior. Religious children grow up to have more education.

Far from abusive, it seems that religion is a positive influence in children's lives. But then, we knew that already, didn't we?

More Words for the Dictionary: Lie vs. Mistake

It seems our liberal friends are having a hard time distinguishing between the words lie and mistake. This isn't really surprising, considering what they had to defend when Bill "I did not have sex with that woman...Ms. Lewinsky" Clinton was in office.

This was also on display when Bill O'Reilly asked Michael Moore at the Democratic National Convention what the word "lie" means. Moore sat there opening and closing his mouth like a big, fat fish.

But just for grins, let's have a refresher.

A lie is a false statement made with deliberate intent to deceive; an intentional untruth; a falsehood. A mistake, on the other hand, is an error in action, calculation, opinion, or judgment caused by poor reasoning, carelessness, insufficient knowledge, etc. The difference lies (if you will) in the intent of the party.

So, if a doctor tells a woman her baby has Down's Syndrome when he/she does not, we can assume that, barring some particular malice on the doctor's part, that the doctor has made a mistake in his/her diagnosis (subject, of course, to a big, fat malpractice claim).

On the other hand, if the same doctor deliberately told the woman her baby had Down's Syndrome when he knew for certain that the baby did not, that would be a lie. See? It's all about intent.

I hope this clears up any errant usage of the term "lie." I realize it is tempting to mischaracterize one's opponents' arguments this way but that would be, in fact, a lie.

Crappy Happy Feet?

Media Matters has a couple of posts on conservative criticism of the children's movie Happy Feet.

"The idea that anyone would make such comments against a children's movie about a tap-dancing penguin shows just how low the bar has dropped for what the media consider real news," Media Matters spokesman Karl Frisch said. "Conservatives seem to have abandoned their traditional coverage of the supposed 'War on Christmas' for a 'War on Penguins.' "

Maybe Frisch didn't watch the same movie I did. I took my kidlets to see Happy Feet last Wednesday, despite having heard Medved's movie review describing the film as "darkest, most disturbing feature length animated film ever offered by a major studio." And while I'm not sure I would say it was the darkest, it was certainly anti-human with thinly-veiled anti-religion themes.

It's not that there was anything wrong with the story on the surface. Who wouldn't love a cute lil' penguin who just happens to be different figuring out how he fits in the world? Mumble is adorable, sweet, happy, and cheerful despite the shunning he receives throughout his life. He's the picture of optimism and, like second marriages, the triumph of hope over experience.

The problem I had with Happy Feet was the preachiness of it. How many more children's films need to lecture the audience on the virtues of environmentalism and tolerance of differences? I see the books that come home every day. Kids get those messages loud and clear. And the anti-religious theme was both distasteful and unnecessary. As Mark Pfeiffer at Reel Times says:
HAPPY FEET is a didactic movie that takes on religious fundamentalism and addresses environmental concerns. There's nothing saying that entertainment for kids can't be substantive, but the film's hard sell against belief in the supernatural and for ecological care are simple-minded and preachy. Perhaps it's reading too much into HAPPY FEET, but is Mumble's difference from the pack simply a way of encouraging kids to be comfortable with who they are or suggestive of a lesson in accepting those with racial or sexual identities outside the majority? These thematic elements are bold choices for a movie about singing and dancing emperor penguins, but they don't mesh very well.

In essence, I took the kids to a cute penguin movie and sat through an 87-minute anti-civilization, anti-religion rant. Fortunately, two of my kiddoes are too young to notice the heavy-handed eco-religious bent of such films.

Given Media Matters' leftwing bent, it is understandable that they would complain about conservative gripes about a kids' movie that is filled with "messages." While I wouldn't go as far as Medved did in condemning Happy Feet, I wouldn't recommend it, either. It just takes too long deprogramming the kiddoes after the propaganda ends.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Woman's Right to Choose, Part 4

Jesurgislac left a couple of quotes in one of the threads. I thought I'd leave a few for good measure.

Abby: My mom told me that I either had to have an abortion or get out of her house. The amount of guilt I feel is tremendous. Everything reminds me of what I did. I am trying very hard to get through this.

I just can't get over it.

Brenda: There is no statement strong enough to explain what it is like for a mother to kill her baby.

Carol: I am a victim of incest; one of the "hard cases" for abortion. I was raped by my father when I was fifteen years old. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last. However, this time, I became pregnant.

I was told that an abortion would solve my problem, when it was never really the problem in the first place.

I was told, "Your parents know what's best," when they obviously were only concerned about their own reputations.

I was told, "You make the right decision," when I was never given a choice. More importantly, where was my baby's choice?

I grieve every day for my daughter. I have struggled to forget the abuse and the abortion. I can do neither. All I think of is, "I should have done more, fought more, struggled more for the life of my child."

My abortion was over five years ago. God is still healing me, but it has been a difficult fight.

There are many, many more women like these for whom abortion wasn't a 20-minute procedure. And sure, not every woman feels traumatized by abortion, but it wasn't just a choice, either.

I won't be taking any comments on this thread.

When Do We Become Human Beings?

That's the title of this excellent column by Nat Hentoff discussing a South Dakota abortion rights case.

The case has nothing to do with the ban on nearly all abortions that was rejected so soundly by South Dakotans on Election Day.

This case is about a South Dakota law that gets to the very core of the abortion controversy: When do we become human beings?

The law would require that doctors tell women intent on having abortions that the procedure would "terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being."

I thought this column was particularly timely, given some of the arguments over Planned Parenthood's objections to the informed consent portions of the Pennsylvania law upheld in the case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. One commenter argued that PP was already providing abortion information, but that the information required in the law wasn't medical or accurate at all, and was designed to "scare off" women seeking abortions.

I suspect the same commenter would object to doctors being required to state that abortions "terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being" as well. But such objections do beg the question, if the baby isn't a "human being," then what precisely is he/she? And another question I think naturally follows is this: if a baby born at 23 weeks is a person entitled to life, why is an abortion at 23 weeks merely a woman exercising her "right to choose"? In other words, is personhood merely an accident of location?

Hentoff continues:
Arguing against this at the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, a lawyer for Planned Parenthood, Timothy Branson, said the language of this South Dakota law "injects an ideological component into the discussion of the unsettled question of when human life begins. "This is the first case," he emphasized, "that really shows where the line is."

Yes, it is.

As Adam Liptak reported in the Oct. 31 New York Times, a panel of the court of appeals agreed with Planned Parenthood and blocked enforcement of the law. Many states do have "informed consent" laws by which doctors must provide factual information about the procedure to women, and its health risks. These laws have been upheld by other federal appeals courts.

What, then, makes the South Dakota "informed consent" law different? Before this case (Planned Parenthood v. Rounds) — that "really shows where the line is" — reached the Eighth Circuit, Karen E. Scheier, a federal district court judge in South Dakota — had stopped enforcement of the law with a preliminary injunction back in June 2005, in which she ruled:

"Unlike the truthful, non-misleading medical and legal information (tell that to my commenters!--Ed.) doctors were required to disclose" (in the Supreme Court's 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision), "the South Dakota statute requires abortion doctors to enunciate the state's viewpoint on an unsettled medical, philosophical, theological and scientific issue — that is, whether a fetus is a human being."

Agreeing with her, The New York Times noted, Eighth Circuit Judge Diana Murphy, writing for the 2-to-1 majority, declared: "Governmentally compelled expression is particularly problematic when a speaker is required by the state to impart a political or ideological message contrary to the individual's own views."

What strikes me as particularly odd about this argument is that most people who will make it see nothing wrong with compelling pharmacists to distribute contraceptives, even if it is "contrary to the individual's own views." Why is compelling speech verboten in one case, but compelling behavior acceptable in another?

Unreliable Sources

Michelle Malkin, that nemisis of the left, has this column today on the Associate Press's use of unreliable sources in its stories coming from Iraq.

The latest is about a report that six Sunnis were burned alive while leaving a mosque after last Friday's services. The story quoted one "Police Captain Jamil Hussein" who said that nearby Iraqi soldiers did nothing to intervene in the massacre, nor in the torching of four Sunni mosques in the same area of Baghdad. As Malkin explains:

Just a few small problems with the massively publicized story:

1) "Police Capt. Jamil Hussein" is an unreliable, unauthorized spokesperson whom the military has warned the Associated Press about before.

2) The incident cannot be verified.

This is not unlike the story I discussed earlier this week that was published on Patterico's blog, this time about an L.A. Times story which uses an Iraqi stringer known for his ties to the insurgency.

There seems to be a trend in these stories coming out about atrocities in Iraq that either cannot be verified or have been flatly denied by U.S. officials. The trend is that U.S. news sources are refusing to correct these mistakes or, more importantly, not use suspect sources. Is it asking too much for journalists to use their highly-vaunted skepticism and objectivity towards those that benefit from these inflammatory (in every sense of the word) tales? Apparently so, because, according to the stories we get, the only crimes commited are by U.S. soldiers.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Raising the Minimum Wage

Dana Pico has this excellent post on raising the minimum wage over at Common Sense Political Thought.

Raising the minimum wage is high on the list of Democrat objectives once they take over Congress in January. Their proposal, which would raise the minimum wage to $7.25, is relatively modest and, according to Dana, won't even raise those workers above the poverty level.

According to the Census Bureau’s Poverty Threshold calculations for 2005, a family consisting of one adult and two children under 18 is in poverty with an income below $15,735; a family of four, with two adults and two children, is in poverty below $19,806. The most common proposal for the new minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, or $15,080 per year (based on 52 weeks at 40 hours per week, or 2080 hours). The most common proposal still leaves the workers our Democratic friends wish to help below the poverty line.

I've argued before over at Liberal Avenger that very few jobs even pay minimum wage anymore. In fact, in my locale, those burger-flipper jobs are already paying $7 to $8 an hour. Will those employees now get a pay boost to, say $9.50? I doubt it, and that's a problem.

But Dana goes on to explain that if Democrats were really interested in a living wage, they would be proposing a minimum wage of $12 an hour or so.
I think that would be a great thing. If the Democrats are right, and that gives people a real raise (meaning: one not completely consumed by inflation and higher taxes), the American people will be better off. And if people who really understand economics (those would be people who aren’t Democrats) are right, and such a raise simply triggers inflation, to the point that the new minimum wage is right about where the current economic minimum is in real terms, well, I will benefit (because my mortgage payment will decline as a percentage of my income) and the government will benefit (because the national debt, which is held in the form of dollar-denominated treasury bills, will cost less to pay off) and the Chinese and Japanese will suffer (because they are holding all of those dollar denominated treasury bills!) There wil be some American losers, too, of course: people on fixed incomes, people whose retirement savings decrease in real terms, and the people who lose their jobs. But what the heck, the Democrats won’t believe that they’ll exist!

Don't hold your breath waiting for that sort of a wage increase to be put into effect. The Democrats' proposal is a feel-good measure which will (hopefully) have little, if any effect on real wages.

Now About Genetics...

Via Villainous Company, comes this article which says that everything we thought we knew about genetics was wrong.

It was nice while it lasted. But the idea that all the world's people are 99.9 per cent genetically identical -- that a mere sliver of DNA separates a Dolly Parton from a Dalai Lama -- is untrue.

An international research team has overturned the harmonious message that flowed from the Human Genome Project in 2000 and discovered more DNA differences exist among people than the experts expected.

It was bound to happen. All those people delighted that we aren't unique are going to have to find something new to gloat about, I suppose, because we're a lot more complicated than they were giving us credit for.
Using new technology to study the genomes of 270 volunteers from four corners of the world, researchers have found that while people do indeed inherit one chromosome from each parent, they do not necessarily inherit one gene from mom and another from dad.

One parent can pass down to a child three or more copies of a single gene. In some cases, people can inherit as many as eight or 10 copies.

In rare instances a person might be missing a gene.

Yet despite these anomalies, they still appear to be healthy -- countering the notion of what doctors have deemed "normal" in genetics.

The work highlights how DNA helps to make each human unique, hinting that a towering basketball player, for example, might boast extra copies of a growth gene or that a daughter really might be more like her dad.

That's amusing to me, since I've known for years that I'm just like my dad, and I bet a lot of other women have thought the same thing.

Unfortunately, the research has a darker side.
It suggests that some medical tests --such as prenatal scans -- may have incorrectly flagged these kinds of genetic quirks as signs of potential defects).

Remember (how can anyone forget) the abortion discussion that's been going on (and on and on and on) for the last week or so? The one that discussed this study by the Alan Guttmacher Institute which included a table of reasons women get abortions? "Possible problems affecting the fetus" was a reason given by 13 women. What if those women had depended on the type of prenatal exams that "may have incorrectly flagged these kinds of genetic quirks as signs of potential defects"? That seems rather problematic to me.

Now granted, the number of women who cited fetal abnormalities as their reason for having an abortion was quite small by comparison with, say, the women who said they were unmarried (42), the number one reason given. But still, wouldn't even one child have been worth it? Probably not to pro-choicers.

Each time I was pregnant, they asked me if I wanted to do these prenatal scans. Each time, I told them "no," not because the results wouldn't have been informative in some way, but because the information wouldn't have changed my mind. I have to wonder how many women chose abortion on the basis of these tests. Now that's sad.

Hastings Gets the Boot

Grandma Pelosi, after the bruising she took for backing John Murtha for House Majority Leader over Steny Hoyer, has passed over Alcee Hastings to head the House Intelligence Committee. According to this A.P. story, the decision "could roil Democrat unity" in the House.

Critics pointed out that he had been impeached when he was a federal judge and said naming him to such a sensitive post would be a mistake just as the Democrats take over House control pledging reforms.

I think it was a smart move on Pelosi's part. After the Murtha debacle, she really couldn't afford to let "Bribe Me" Hastings chair the intel committee. The choice would have been absolutely rife with possibilities for Republicans.

Pelosi has not announced who the new Intelligence committee head will be. But Hastings had a characteristically classly parting shot in his news conference:
In a sign of the bitterness that has surrounded the debate, Hastings closed his statement by saying: "Sorry, haters, God is not finished with me yet."

Maybe God's not, but it sounds like the House leadership is.

"A public Christmas festival is no place for the Christmas story"

So says the city of Chicago in booting ads for The Nativity Story from the Christkindlmarket, a downtown Christmas festival. The city says the ads might offend non-Christians. What, are they flushing Korans in the ads?

"The last time I checked, the first six letters of Christmas still spell out Christ," said Paul Braoudakis, spokesman for the Barrington, Ill.-based Willow Creek Association, a group of more than 11,000 churches of various denominations. "It's tantamount to celebrating Lincoln's birthday without talking about Abraham Lincoln."

It does seem bizarre that there would be a Christmas festival where a Christmas movie was banned. But, according to city officials, Christmas must offend non-Christians (who would have guessed?).
"Our guidance was that this very prominently placed advertisement would not only be insensitive to the many people of different faiths who come to enjoy the market for its food and unique gifts, but also it would be contrary to acceptable advertising standards suggested to the many festivals holding events on Daley Plaza," Jim Law, executive director of the office, said in a statement.

I think I could understand the sentiment if we were talking about an old movie or a cartoon that portrays semitic people badly (like The Little Drummer Boy). But this is a new movie coming out specifically for the Christmas season. Is this any different from any other movie advertising at a city event?
An executive vice president with New Line Cinema, Christina Kounelias, said the studio's plan to spend $12,000 in Chicago was part of an advertising campaign around the country. Kounelias said that as far as she knew, the Chicago festival was the only instance where the studio was turned down.

Kounelias said she finds it hard to believe that non-Christians who attended something called Christkindlmarket would be surprised or offended by the presence of posters, brochures and other advertisements of the movie.

"One would assume that if (people) were to go to Christkindlmarket, they'd know it is about Christmas," she said.

Not if you're a city official, I guess.


TV Land is running a special starting the week of December 11 on "The 100 Greatest TV Quotes and Catchphrases."

I'm a sucker for stuff like this. I love lists of stuff, although the top 100 rock 'n roll songs in history gets old after about the fourth year.

The TV Land list includes some great ones ("Baby, you're the greatest," "Aaay," "Up your nose with a rubber hose) and some that I'm not sure I would really put in the same category ("No new taxes," "I'm not a crook"). And just to be politically paranoid, why is it all the memorable political phrases are anti-Republican? Why isn't Ronald Reagan's famous zinger, "I will not take advantage of my opponent's youth and inexperience," not on the list?

I think the list would have been more enjoyable without the political stuff mixed in, but I was happy to see Johnny Olson's "Come on down!" listed.

"I Hope She Would Lose by About 100 Percent"

Talking to my dad about politics at lunch at the local Denny's.

My dad doesn't get out much anymore because he can't drive. So, I take him to Denny's, his favorite restaurant, about three or four times a week for lunch or dinner. He likes Denny's because it's one place he always remembers, he knows exactly what he wants off the menu, and he can flirt with the waitresses.

And sometimes we talk about politics.

In the old days, Dad and I clashed whenever anything political came up in conversation. I was a liberal as a teenager and young adult, and some of our arguments became quite heated. Over the years, my politics evolved and I became much more conservative. Now, we can have a political discussion that tends to be quite amiable. It's one of the things that I think my mother would have been happy about, had she lived long enough to see Dad and I at these frequent Denny's lunches.

Even though Dad has Alzheimer's, I still like talking to him about politics and whatnot. He's still a fairly good barometer of political weather. This year, he told me he wasn't going to vote. I asked him why.

"What for?" he responded. "I don't see much difference between Republicans and Democrats. What difference would it make who I voted for?"

It was then that I knew the Republicans were in trouble.

But today, the subject was women in politics.

"They've come a long way, really they have," said Dad. "I guess since the 1970s, they've started making a pretty good climb up the ladder politically."

"Yeah, Pop. We could have a woman president in 2008," I answered.

He laughed a real hearty laugh at that. "Oh, I hope she would lose by about 100%," he said. "If Hillary is the one you're talking about."

Dad doesn't pay too much attention to politics or news anymore, although he does try to keep up with the war in Iraq since one of his granddaughters is married to a soldier stationed there. But I thought it was interesting that, for all that my father isn't easy to excite these days, the topic of Hillary Clinton will still get him going.

"Her and that husband of hers, well, they just about run this country in the ground," he said. "I'd be mighty sad to hear she was in charge."

I smiled and drank my tea, thinking to myself that there will be a lot of people who are mighty sad if she wins.

Who Really Cares?

According to Arthur C. Brooks, conservatives do. Thomas Sowell discusses Brooks's new book in this column and notes some of the findings:

People who identify themselves as conservatives donate money to charity more often than people who identify themselves as liberals. They donate more money and a higher percentage of their incomes.

It is not that conservatives have more money. Liberal families average 6 percent higher incomes than conservative families...
Conservatives not only donate more money to charity than liberals do, conservatives volunteer more time as well. More conservatives than liberals also donate blood.

According to Professor Brooks: "If liberals and moderates gave blood at the same rate as conservatives, the blood supply of the United States would jump about 45 percent."

While this sort of statistical data gives conservatives a chuckle, there are some that disagree with Brooks's conclusion. Jim Lindgren over at The Volokh Conspiracy says that Brooks is placing too much emphasis on the liberal vs. conservative divide.
(T)he contrast in Who Really Cares is frequently made between liberals (about 30% of the population) and conservatives (about 40% of the population), but I find that often the group that contrasts most strongly with conservatives is not liberals (who share with conservatives higher than average educations), but political moderates (about 30% of the population)...

This problem of treating liberals and conservatives (who share similar levels of education) as the outliers — when moderates often are the outliers — is a common one in conservatism research, whether that research is done by liberal or conservative researchers. Here it can make liberals look as if they are at the opposite end of the spectrum in donations from conservatives, but from the data that are presented by Brooks, it’s often hard to tell whether moderates (not liberals) really are the outliers.

I'm not really sure that any of these findings are that surprising. If you believe that it is the government's job and not the responsibility of individuals to take care of the poor and needy, then you probably don't feel as compelled to donate. On the other hand, if you think that individuals are responsible for aiding others, then you are more likely to donate your money, time, goods, even blood. It really is a world-view thing.

Lindgren doesn't dismiss Brooks's book, though. In this post he explains that the real significance to the information isn't between liberals and conservatives but between those who believe in redistribution of income from poor to rich and those that don't.
Compared to those favoring greater income redistribution, anti-redistributionists are more likely to report that they donated money to charities, religious organizations, and political candidates (p<.000000001). This hypothesized effect remains significant (p=.001) after controlling for race, gender, age, income, and education. Anti-redistributionists were also more likely to report having returned money after receiving too much change, and to have looked after plants, pets, or mail while someone was away. The one sort of altruistic behavior the redistributionists were more likely to engage in was giving money to a homeless person on the street. Thus, it appears that those who wanted the government to promote more income leveling were less likely to be generous themselves in their patterns of charitable donations and some other altruistic behaviors.

None of these findings is really surprising to me. As I said, it all depends on whose responsibility it is to take care of people.

Which Book Should a Congressman Take His Oath On?

Dennis Prager says:

Keith Ellison, D-Minn., the first Muslim elected to the United States Congress, has announced that he will not take his oath of office on the Bible, but on the bible of Islam, the Koran.

He should not be allowed to do so -- not because of any American hostility to the Koran, but because the act undermines American civilization.

Given that Americans of Jewish faith take their oath of office on the Bible and atheists take their oath of office on the Bible, why should Ellison be different?

Monday, November 27, 2006

What Are Children For? The Case for Kids

I was looking for something else at the Christianity Today website and came across this excellent article discussing the benefits of having larger families.

Perhaps it was a divine moment, considering I've read a few different pieces over the last week on the Quiverfull movement. First, there was this rather positive critique of a Newsweek article described as "balanced." From there (don't ask me how), I ended up reading this less flattering critique of the Newsweek article on Pandagon, where Amanda accused the Quiverfulls of not only being "obsessed with male virility" (I'm not making this up) but racist and possibly mentally ill as well. From there, I ended up at Deep Thought, whose author had spent quite a bit of time at Amanda's place trying to get her to explain why encouraging people to have children (within marriage, of course) was racist.

The article I linked to from Christianity Today is written by a woman with six children. She's had the rather rude question "Why so many?" asked of her, in addition to hearing, if not being called, a breeder (hasn't virtually everyone with kids?). The author, Leslie Leyland Fields, explains the stigma this way:

The messages are constant and clear. They are posted throughout the internet, and they descend upon me in my small hometown through almost weekly public accostings. In exceeding the national norm, which currently stands at 2.034 children per household, according to the Population Reference Bureau, I've stepped down the ladder of achievement and broken not one, but several social contracts. First and foremost: If you are an educated professional woman, you will not want innumerable children. Women who are ambitious and smart have better plans for their lives than hosting Tupperware parties and singing "I'm a Little Teapot"—with hand motions—at play groups. In the words of Katharine Hepburn, "I was ambitious and knew I would not have children. I wanted total freedom."

I have only slightly more than that 2.034 average, but as I wrote recently, the messages I received in law school were very clear: smart women have practices. Dumb women have children.

The contempt for women with many, several, or even one child are readily apparent in a variety of places.
The internet flickers with similar lively ideas and proclamations. The most reasonable of these sites, with "Happily Childfree" scripted as its background, asks in bold print, "Are all parents breeders?" It lists the identifying marks of a breeder (as opposed to a responsible parent), 43 in all. Top on the list: "You give your child some trendy soap-opera-based name or a traditional name with absurd spelling." Thankfully, I'm still in the running for a parent, until I hit number 25: "You believe that every child is a 'miracle' despite the fact that any cat in heat can also produce numerous 'miracles.' " I give up on any test that does not distinguish between a newborn baby and a litter of kittens.

But unlike the Quiverfulls and their supporters, Fields quotes authors who say we shouldn't become worshippers of children or maternity.
In Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine, authors Brian Volck and Joel Shuman confront the question in a chapter entitled, "What Are Children For?" After tracing the effect of an increasingly intrusive medical technology that reduces conception and the building of a family to a consumer choice, they warn, too, against a nearly opposite trend—the temptation to worship children and life as uniquely sacred. "Only God, who gives each of us life, is sacred. Christians must therefore respect life, but not worship it."

The problem that I see with much of the modern disdain for large families is that those opponents see motivations that typically aren't there, particularly racism (they also sometimes claim a form of evangelism from it, which seems just plain weird to me). In fact,the only place I've seen any discussion of race at all has been by opponents of large families. If family planning is a personal "choice," then why do those determined to have no children feel compelled to negatively label those with large families?

Regardless of their reasoning, there are still a number of people who want and enjoy having large families. Fields discusses the virtues her children have learned through having so many siblings.
The question—What are children for?—may be best answered personally, as it is lived out in my own family, not anyone else's. I must begin with an essential piece of information: Most families are larger than intended. The National Institutes of Health says that 60 percent of pregnancies in the U.S. are "mistimed, unplanned, or unwanted altogether." It was not my plan to have six children—it was God's. Though the last pregnancies were difficult, life was the only possible choice. What else could I say but, like Mary, Yes, I am your servant.

What happens in larger families? Children are more tolerant. They learn that they are one part of a whole much larger than themselves and that the common good usually takes precedence over their particular desires. They also discover the principle of scarcity; they learn to conserve. Their clothes are on loan and passed on to others when they are done. They have to share their toys. They cannot take more food than they can eat, or someone else will not have enough. They can't take long, hot showers, or someone else gets a cold shower. They learn that their singular behavior affects multiple people. They are not the center of the universe.

Children with multiple siblings are also more accepting. They practice living with a variety of temperaments, quirks, and ages. Older children cannot stay safely within their own peer group. They learn to hold babies, sing lullabies, and change diapers. A teenager cannot retreat, morose, into his bedroom every afternoon to listen to his music—his 3-year-old brother will jump on his back and demand a gallop around the room. A 16-year-old girl will trudge through the door from school, worry on her face, to be greeted by a flying 18-month-old jumping into her arms.

Children from larger families have to work together. Every morning, the grump, the overachiever, the early riser, the dreamer, the snuggler, and the toddler must negotiate their separate concerns toward a single goal: to get out the door and to their respective schools on time. In summer, for a family with a commercial fishing operation like ours, the goal is to pick all of the fish from all of the fishing nets before the next meal. The children have to help each other. They have to work together in storms on the ocean.

I like that statistic about the number of unplanned pregnancies. It sort of deals with the idea that everybody who has kids anticipated them. And I also like Fields' description of what children with lots of siblings learn. They learn how to play well with others, including sharing, compromising, being empathetic and sympathetic, and negotiating. And just think, there's no mention of race anywhere.

What Do You Want in a Church?

Mollie at GetReligion has an excellent piece on finding different angles in the megachurch story.

I grew up in what was, for the time, a big church (about 2,000 members). While I liked the variety of activities, I found the spiritual content to be rather shallow, mainly because it was so difficult to really know many people in a congregation that was so large.

As an adult, I switched denominations and now go to a church that is considerably smaller (we have about 70 people on a good Sunday). There are lots of challenges associated with such a small congregation; there is much more demand on one's time and attention since there are so few people to get things done. And since my church has a rather sizable number of elderly and shut-ins, younger people feel even more pressure to dive in and help out than usual. But overall, I enjoy the interaction, the ministry, and the spiritual nourishment I feel I get from a small fellowship.

Contrast this with what happens in megachurches (just look at the picture with Mollie's story). Said Larry Magnuson, chief executive of SonScape Ministries, a retreat for pastors:

"We are not very good as a church with knowing how to do restoration,” Magnuson said. “We either want to sweep it under the rug and say it’s no big deal or we want to make it impossible.

"Evangelicals are great at doing. We are those who are working in the world. As evangelicals, we are not very good wrestling with the inner life, who we are and what’s going on in the inside."

I thought that church was supposed to be all about "what's going on in the inside." There's lots of self-help groups, books, and videos to deal with what's going on outside. I always thought that religion was where one went to make sense of the "inside" stuff. Maybe that's why the rather inpersonal nature of megachurches never appealed to me. I can find a bowling league anywhere, but I can't find people who will pray with you over loved ones in Iraq just anywhere.

What was most interesting about Magnuson's quote (as pointed out by Mollie) is what happens when you compare that with what congregants say:
Some ministers credit part of the success of such churches to sermons that carry a practical message.

Natalie Anderson of Georgetown, Ind., said she attends Northside in part because it provides "a real-life message that you can apply."

Maybe the popularity of these churches lies with the fact that they don't focus on the spiritual life but emphasize a "Helps from Heloise" style of ministry.

I'm not saying that ministering to others isn't an important part of a church. Helping the poor, broken in spirit, and desperate was certainly the most visible part of Jesus's ministry. It just seems a shame to me when churches become more like recreation centers than places for spiritual reflection.

"No young, bright individual wants to fight just because of a bonus and just because of educational benefits."

So says Democrat Charles Rangel about our soldiers in Iraq. I have to say I agree with that statement. They aren't fighting just to get benefits. They are fighting because they believe in the cause they signed up for.

Great stuff over at Villainous Company, where Cassandra explains why you can't take Rangel's words at face value. Just like John Kerry, he obviously doesn't mean to insult our military, just point out how they are all poor, uneducated, and unemployable. He meant to say...well, what did he mean to say?

Please read the rest of Cassandra's post. I'm sure you'll come away feeling as sorry for Rangel as I did.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Media Disconnect

I may have to mark my calendar, but I actually found something I agreed with on the Huffington Post. In this column, David Sirota castigates the inside-the-Beltway mentality of the national punditry which is completely disconnected from how people not living on either coast think.

I've had some time to really ponder the propaganda, and think about an important question: How is it that there is this fake "center" defined by Washington that is totally and completely different from the actual center of American public opinion?

The answer, of course, is that the Washington chattering classes only talk to other Washingtonians or New Yorkers or Californians.
By any honest definition, America's political opinion/propaganda machine is comprised primarily of the Washington Post Writers Group, the New York Times columnists, the LA Times columnists, and Creator's Syndicate. There are certainly others who contribute to opinionmaking. But looking at these institutions is a good way to survey the world that is the Punditocracy, especially because through media consolidation, the Sunday/cable chat shows that nationalize these pundits' message, and the modern wonders of syndication into local papers, these opinionmakers' tentacles now reach into almost every community in America.

These companies, because they claim to represent "national" opinion, could choose to present diverse voices. But when you look at this large group of pundits, what do you know, almost every single one of these columnists lives in Washington, D.C. or New York City.

This is no exaggeration, and unlike most of the commentary in the news, it is not a fact-free opinion: it is cold, hard truth. By my informal count, every single Washington Post Writers Group columnist covering domestic politics lives inside the Beltway or in the Big Apple, except for Ellen Goodman who lives in Boston and Ruben Narvarette who lives in San Diego. Similarly, at least six out of the 8 New York Times columnists live in Washington D.C. or New York. LA Times? Same thing. Every single one of their national political columnists except Meghan Daum and Niall Furgeson live in Washington, D.C. Then take a gander at one of the biggest syndicates - Creators. By my count - which is only an eyeball count - roughly half of their entire stable of columnists lives in Washington or New York. In all, I can find almost none of these people who actually lives somewhere other than one of the coasts of the country - real-life proof that the media Establishment really does see the heartland as "flyover country" to be ignored.

I agree with Sirota, with one rather glaring exception. Virtually every columnist he castigates is a conservative, as though it is only conservative commentators who suffer from the inside-the-Beltway mentality. Why no mention of Maureen Dowd? Or Frank Rich? Or Paul Krugman? Eleanor Clift? Michael Kinsley? David Corn? Or Arianna Huffington?

The unabashed snobbery Sirota is complaining about is as equally evident from reading liberal columnists as conservative ones. It's obvious none of them has ever spent time in a barbeque joint in Amarillo or drunk beer in a dive in Louisville. I agree that these pundits need to get out of Washington a bit more. I just think liberal commentators need the same road trip conservative ones do.

Gay Marriage and Process Liberals

And speaking of Echidne of the Snakes, I found this interesting opinion piece via an "olvlzl" screed.

Boston Globe columnist Sam Allis says he's a "process liberal."

This is the dismissive term used by Arline Isaacson, the fiery co chairwoman of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, to describe those whose support of a lefty cause is tempered by their commitment to play by the rules.

It is, in this case, aimed at people like me who support gay marriage but oppose the legislative dodge, all but killing a constitutional ballot initiative barring gay marriage, exercised earlier this month by the House and Senate, sitting together as a Constitutional Convention.

"It's not a dodge at all," Isaacson maintains about the Nov. 9 vote to recess rather than vote on the amendment. "What we stand to lose is so significant, and it's so unfair for our supporters to expect that we should just lie down and say, 'It's OK, the process is more important than our rights.' "

I can understand the pretzel-twisting logic Isaacson is using. It must be excruciating to think that you have to follow the rules in order to get rights to which you are entitled by judicial fiat. That you might lose those rights through legislative initiative must be painful. And from Isaacson's statement, it is more painful than homosexuals should be expected to bear.
Process liberals get tagged in torrid single-issue causes whose advocates like Isaacson conclude that the end justifies the means. That the goal is so important, they can ignore due process, in this case the state constitution.

"It's not a matter of following the constitution," says John Reinstein, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. "It's following the constitution down the drain."

Great line, but, of course, once you start choosing which parts of the constitution to obey, you're practicing cafeteria constitutionalism, which invites cynicism.

Allis is right, of course, because once we start deciding we will follow the constitution here but not there, we get into the kinds of legal, ethical, moral, and political knots that destroy the institution we ostensibly vow to live in.

For me, that is the point in allowing the anti-gay marriage initiative to be voted on by the people. According to Allis, the Article allowing for initiatives to be placed on the ballot in Massachusetts was added to the state constitution in 1918 "to provide citizens a means to thwart an obstructionist legislature." If the state's judges can find a right to homosexual marriage in the state constitution, why can't the legislature allow citizens to exercise another right found in that document?

The reason, of course, is that same-sex marriage advocates are pretty damn sure that such a measure would pass, and probably pass overwhelmingly. Most other states that have put marriage definition amendments on their ballots have had them pass. Simply put, while most Americans favor some legal recognition of gay relationships (for next-of-kin or inheritance purposes, for example), they don't want to call that marriage.

I've seen arguments made comparing gay marriage to the civil rights movement. But the civil rights of all Americans wasn't guaranteed by a court decision. Equal rights were guaranteed through legislative action including the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (possibly the most important piece of legislation ever passed), and the Voting Rights Act. In other words, in order to gain equality, black people had to convince enough non-black people that it was a good idea. It was only then that such legislation was passed and those legal rights secured.

If homosexual rights advocates want gay marriage to be more like the civil rights movement and less like the abortion wars, they need to spend more time convincing enough Americans that gay marriage is a good idea, rather than blocking legal initiatives they don't like. Because otherwise, they might win in the court but they won't win in the people's hearts and minds.

Moderating Comments

As some of you might have noticed, I've decided to moderate the comments on this site. It's not a decision I came to overnight, but one I've wrestled with for the last several days since all the Pandagonistas showed up.

If any of you went back to my first few posts, you will find that I was kicked off Echidne of the Snake's blog because one of her regular posters went batshit crazy during a comment thread on the Michael J. Fox stem cell research ads. I was completely astonished at the time that someone would go nuts on a blog and instead of castigating the crazy person, the webmaster would boot me instead. All because I brought a different point of view.

But the experience of the last few days has caused me to rethink that opinion. While I certainly meant no harm to either Echidne or her crazy commenter, having lived through a troll invasion has changed my mind, at least somewhat.

I've always loved argument and debate and when I started a blog, I wanted to have the same sorts of conversations. When the Pandagonistas swarmed in, I was thrilled, thinking I would have the sorts of interesting discussions I was hoping for.

For the most part, I would say that has happened. Some of the views expressed have been thought-provoking and made me rethink some of my ideas. For example, the arguments about homosexual parents as married couples has made me think more closely about how that new twist affects the traditional purpose of marriage (I may post on that later).

But unfortunately, I've seen a tendency for posts to become both less substantive and more personal. I understand that if you don't think an unborn child is a baby, then you have no problem with killing it because you're just discarding tissue or whatever. Arguing over and over that the embryo/fetus/whatever isn't a baby isn't going to change anything. I got tired of seeing these arguments in every other post.

But the second thing I noticed (the personal nature of the arguments) is what pushed me to moderate comments. When I am spending my time having to explain why not wanting to expand government programs isn't "actively (not) want(ing) women to have the choice not to have an abortion out of economic necessity," then it means I'm not doing the things on this blog that I created it for: namely, to write about ideas and issues I'm interested in. So, I decided to start moderating the comments

Does this mean I won't add your comments? Absolutely not. But if your comment is longer than the original post, I probably won't add it. Try to be more concise. And if you are saying roughly the same thing you've said in four other posts, I probably won't post that, either. Or if you think name-calling is appropriate.

So feel free to submit comments. I may decide to stop moderating later. But right now, it seems to be the best way of handling things.

Does Money Buy Happiness?

According to this article, yes and no.

Does money buy happiness? It's sometimes said that scientists have found no relationship between money and happiness, but that's a myth, says University of Illinois psychologist Ed Diener.

The connection is complex, he says. But in fact, very rich people rate substantially higher in satisfaction with life than very poor people do, even within wealthy nations, he says.

"There is overwhelming evidence that money buys happiness," said economist Andrew Oswald of the University of Warwick in England. The main debate, he said, is how strong the effect is.

Whenever I see a statement like this, I always want the definitions. What is "overwhelming evidence"? What's "happiness"? And who decides which is which?
Oswald recently reported a study of Britons who won between $2,000 and $250,000 in a lottery. As a group, they showed a boost in happiness averaging a bit more than 1 point on a 36-point scale when surveyed two years after their win, compared to their levels two years before they won.

To me, one point isn't "overwhelming evidence" of greater happiness. Maybe the lottery winners just got to do a few more of the things they had always wanted to do. To me, a lot of things could make a one-point difference on a happiness scale. Like having children. Or getting a job you really like. Or finishing school. Or getting married.

But, of course, there are other scientists saying that money doesn't necessarily buy happiness.
Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel-Prize winner and Princeton economist, and colleagues recently declared that the notion that making a lot of money will produce good overall mood is "mostly illusory."

They noted that in one study, people with household incomes of $90,000 or more were only slightly more likely to call themselves "very happy" overall than were people from households making $50,000 to $89,999. The rates were 43 percent versus 42 percent, respectively. (Members of the high-income group were almost twice as likely to call themselves "very happy" as people from households with incomes below $20,000.)

But other studies, rather than asking for a summary estimate of happiness, follow people through the day and repeatedly record their feelings. These studies show less effect of income on happiness, Kahneman and colleagues said.

There is still another twist to the money-happiness story. Even though people who make $150,000 are considerably happier than those who make $40,000, it's not clear why, says psychologist Richard E. Lucas of Michigan State University.

I can see why a person who was poor might not be as happy as someone who is rich. After all, the rich person can (supposedly) have anything they want. On the other hand, the rich person usually has a lot more stress because of the possibility of losing everything, as well as what that person is doing to get the money (high-powered careers).

On the other hand, I can also see why a person who was poor might be just as happy as someone who is rich, if their happiness is based on factors not related to money. I've had very little money in my life and I've had quite a bit of money in my life and, for me, money was never the factor that made me happy or not. Certainly money can make life easier (like if your car breaks down or you need to see a doctor), but most people I've known who were happy found their happiness in places other than money. They might get it through family, religion, or other things.

This article was interesting as far as it went, but it really didn't tackle any new ground (like a lot of these sorts of stories). I would have been more impressed if it had gone into a lot more depth about how the scientists measured satisfaction and what people in different income groups used to measure their own happiness. That would probably mean a lot more.

Nancy's Education

According to Robert Novak, Grandma Pelosi is getting advised not to pick Alcee "Bribe Me" Hastings to head up the House Intelligence Committee.

Pelosi has made clear that she does not want to pick Rep. Jane Harman, the committee's ranking Democrat but an adversary of Pelosi in California politics. As speaker, Pelosi has complete power to name a chairman. But her advisers tell her that Republicans will have a field day if she selects Hastings, who was impeached by Congress as a federal judge on bribery charges. The committee's third-ranking Democrat, the low-profile Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas, would be a compromise.

I don't know anything about Reyes, but picking a third candidate would be a smarter move for Pelosi. Hastings has far too much (and too good) baggage to head the Intelligence committee. He could be the '08 "Michael Dukakis in a Tank" ad if she were to appoint him.

I'm not one of those arguing that there must be some sort of "catfight" between Pelosi and Harman, but they obviously have had a lot of political differences over the years and Pelosi isn't fond of her. It's understandable that she wouldn't want to promote someone with whom she's had difficulties, and Novak notes:
Senior CIA officials consider Harman a prima donna and say they dread the thought of dealing with her as chairman. They would much prefer Hastings, finding him consistently cooperative.

I'm not sure I want a committee head that might be beloved by the CIA, but I certainly see no reason to antagonize the intelligence community from the get-go.

If Novak is correct, Pelosi could have learned a valuable lesson from the bruising she took in the House Majority Leader election.

Which Truth Do You Want?

Patterico has been discussing an L.A. Times article in which a correspondent claimed that the U.S. military "pulvarized" 15 houses in Ramadi, killing more than 30 people, including women and children. The U.S. military denies that the airstrike happened, and the L.A. Times failed to report that denial.

Other news outlets didn't report the incident the same way.

Indeed, I found only one story (published by Reuters) in which a journalist claims to have been on the scene to report observations of the damage firsthand, and he said: "One small structure was burnt out in that street."

According to a soldier who was involved, the correspondent used by the L.A. Times "has ties to the insurgency, and is knowingly repeating enemy propaganda." According to the soldier at a blog called One Oar in the Water,
The [L.A. Times article] is an example of why you simply cannot believe most media reports coming out of Iraq. The LA Time[s] reporter, Solomon Moore, is not in Ramadi. He relies on an Iraqi stringer here who has ties to insurgents. In this article, Moore repeats almost verbatim, insurgent propaganda we have intercepted. The fighting in question occurred in my battle space within Ramadi and I was personally and intimately involved.

Is it possible that the airstrike did happen the way the L.A. Times reported it and the U.S. military is covering up? I suppose it's possible, but a lot of bloggers are quite skeptical about the claims, especially after the fake photos from Lebanon in early August.

I commented on a few blogs at the time of the Reuters photo kerfluffle that there is always a possibility of propaganda being presented to us as news when foreign correspondents are used. This is because "truth" is quite a flexible concept in many parts of the world, and lying or exaggerating are permissible as long as you get your story out.

Remember the flap about the U.S. government paying Iraqi publications to print stories that burnished the American image in the area? A lot of people were outraged that such propaganda was being promoted by our government. But is promoting positive images worse than lying about airstrikes?

Saturday, November 25, 2006

'Tweens Becoming the New Teens

Saw this article on the marketing of teenage-level music, clothes, movies, and television to children younger than 13.

Kids look and dress older. They struggle to process the images of sex, violence and adult humor, even when their parents try to shield them. And sometimes, says Tom Plante, a psychiatrist, parents end up encouraging the behavior by failing to set limits — in essence, handing over power to their kids.

The article is interesting if you are just now having to deal with this phenomenon, or know people who are. But this story isn't new. Anybody with teenagers has been struggling with the commercialization of childhood for more than a decade.

With our oldest, we were extremely careful about music, television, and movies. Much more careful, in fact, that a lot of the other parents we came in contact with. When people say that it is up to parents to monitor and avoid programs that are inappropriate for their children, it's obvious that they haven't had to do this themselves. In short, you can be very careful in your own home, but you cannot dictate what happens in other places such as daycare, friends' houses, and even school.

Sure, you can change babysitters, forbid your children from going to the houses of friends who watch inappropriate programs, but what do you do when the influence is happening in school?

What I witnessed was the influence of other schoolchildren on what my child wanted to watch, wear, and listen to. I guess what I'm saying is that the sexualization of childhood can be an assault on families even when they are doing what they can to control their children's listening and viewing habits.

It's understandable that 'tweens want to do the things they see teenagers do. Those things look fun and fascinating and free. But 10-year-olds lack the capacity to understand what "hottie" written across their backsides really means when a 30-year-old reads it. This article was interesting as far as it went. It's too bad there wasn't more information in it about what parents can do to help avoid some of the worse aspects of teen culture.

Why Marriage?

There have been a few responses to yesterday's post on marriage in a post-Lawrence world. The point of the post wasn't to debate the virtues and vices of marriage versus homosexual marriage, but to show that there are a variety of issues revolving around changing the definition of marriage that should be discussed and debated in the press. Unfortunately, given the political leanings of the press, we're unlikely to get anything that remotely resembles such a discussion.

Poster Jesurgislac pointed to this discussion at Pandagon, which is more about polygamy than same sex marriage. I actually agree with Amanda about polygamy as an abusive relationship with a lot of inequality of benefits and responsibilities. Those inequalities wouldn't be solved by making polygamy legal, and legalizing multiple-marriage would really twist family law in a knot trying to determine rights and responsibilities for all partners.

Of course, I disagree with her about same sex marriage (that would be a given, right?). I disagree mainly because I'm one of those people who doesn't buy the "marriage is about two people loving each other" argument. In a modern era where most people seem to be maily concerned with their own happiness and instant gratification, I can see why people would think marriage is just another flavor of ice cream.

But personal happiness isn't the reason the state sanctions marriage. Children are the reason we have legal marriage in the first place. After all, anybody can and (according to some) should have sex whenever they want. Marriage is about providing the best environment for having and raising children who will become stable, productive members of society.

Maggie Gallagher had an article in 2003 (before the Massachusetts high court found a gay marriage right in their constitution) discussing what marriage is for and why heterosexual marriage is important. Children, naturally, is the overarching reason.

The scholarly consensus on the importance of marriage has broadened and deepened; it is now the conventional wisdom among child welfare organizations. As a Child Trends research brief summed up: "Research clearly demonstrates that family structure matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage. Children in single-parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in stepfamilies or cohabiting relationships face higher risks of poor outcomes. . . . There is thus value for children in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents."

Gallagher wrote a book with Evan Wolfson called Marriage and the Same-Sex Marriage Debate in which Wolfson argued that family structure doesn't count. What does is the "dedication, commitment, self-sacrifice, and love in the household." But if those are the things that count, why choose marriage at all? Gallagher writes:
In this view, endorsement of gay marriage is a no-brainer, for nothing really important rides on whether anyone gets married or stays married. Marriage is merely individual expressive conduct, and there is no obvious reason why some individuals' expression of gay love should hurt other individuals' expressions of non-gay love.

Can't people have dedication, commitment, self-sacrifice, and love in households with people to whom they aren't married? If my 80-year-old father comes to live with me, will we not have that? I don't buy Wolfson's argument about what marriage is for because all of these qualities can be found in other important relationships which are not marriage.

The key difference with marriage is not the love, self-sacrifice, and commitment two people have for each other. It's the love, self-sacrifice, and commitment they share to raise a family. Gallagher says it better:
Marriage is the fundamental, cross-cultural institution for bridging the male-female divide so that children have loving, committed mothers and fathers. Marriage is inherently normative: It is about holding out a certain kind of relationship as a social ideal, especially when there are children involved.

Marriage is not simply an artifact of law; neither is it a mere delivery mechanism for a set of legal benefits that might as well be shared more broadly. The laws of marriage do not create marriage, but in societies ruled by law they help trace the boundaries and sustain the public meanings of marriage.

In other words, while individuals freely choose to enter marriage, society upholds the marriage option, formalizes its definition, and surrounds it with norms and reinforcements, so we can raise boys and girls who aspire to become the kind of men and women who can make successful marriages. Without this shared, public aspect, perpetuated generation after generation, marriage becomes what its critics say it is: a mere contract, a vessel with no particular content, one of a menu of sexual lifestyles, of no fundamental importance to anyone outside a given relationship.

The marriage idea is that children need mothers and fathers, that societies need babies, and that adults have an obligation to shape their sexual behavior so as to give their children stable families in which to grow up.

I think part of the reason many same-sex marriage supporters discard this aspect of marriage is that there are so many people who don't have children, don't want children, and don't intend (nee, WILL NOT) have children that the idea of marriage being about children seems quaint.

Back in the old days, marriage was as much about children's inheritance rights as it was about commitment and devotion (perhaps more). Societies in which illegitimate children had no inheritance rights created a sort of necessity for marriage for offspring to participate in the community.

But American society has long since dropped all those sorts of ideas and laws. So, why worry about marriage in terms of children anway? Old people can get married and so can people who have been sterilized and will never have children. Why not homosexuals? Gallagher addresses that, too:
It is also true, as gay-marriage advocates note, that we impose no fertility tests for marriage: Infertile and older couples marry, and not every fertile couple chooses procreation. But every marriage between a man and a woman is capable of giving any child they create or adopt a mother and a father. Every marriage between a man and a woman discourages either from creating fatherless children outside the marriage vow. In this sense, neither older married couples nor childless husbands and wives publicly challenge or dilute the core meaning of marriage. Even when a man marries an older woman and they do not adopt, his marriage helps protect children. How? His marriage means, if he keeps his vows, that he will not produce out-of-wedlock children.

Still, same-sex marriage advocates will argue that marriage isn't about children at all but about personal happiness. But again, that's simply not true. One can be personally happy in a variety of ways that aren't sanctioned by the state and in which the state doesn't interfere. But marriage is the best way to create and raise children because it provides a stability and exclusivity model for children to emulate when they grow up. That's what makes it unique.

To be sure, both Vermont and Massachusetts (at least the court, if not the people) have determined that marriage isn't about children, and this reflects the greater "it's about me" mentality prevalent in modern society. More from Gallagher:
The debate over same-sex marriage, then, is not some sideline discussion. It is the marriage debate. Either we win--or we lose the central meaning of marriage. The great threat unisex marriage poses to marriage as a social institution is not some distant or nearby slippery slope, it is an abyss at our feet. If we cannot explain why unisex marriage is, in itself, a disaster, we have already lost the marriage ideal.

Same-sex marriage would enshrine in law a public judgment that the desire of adults for families of choice outweighs the need of children for mothers and fathers. It would give sanction and approval to the creation of a motherless or fatherless family as a deliberately chosen "good." It would mean the law was neutral as to whether children had mothers and fathers. Motherless and fatherless families would be deemed just fine.

Same-sex marriage advocates are startlingly clear on this point. Marriage law, they repeatedly claim, has nothing to do with babies or procreation or getting mothers and fathers for children. In forcing the state legislature to create civil unions for gay couples, the high court of Vermont explicitly ruled that marriage in the state of Vermont has nothing to do with procreation. Evan Wolfson made the same point in "Marriage and Same Sex Unions": "[I]sn't having the law pretend that there is only one family model that works (let alone exists) a lie?" He goes on to say that in law, "marriage is not just about procreation--indeedis not necessarily about procreation at all."

Wolfson is right that in the course of the sexual revolution the Supreme Court struck down many legal features designed to reinforce the connection of marriage to babies. The animus of elites (including legal elites) against the marriage idea is not brand new. It stretches back at least thirty years. That is part of the problem we face, part of the reason 40 percent of our children are growing up without their fathers.

The rise in illegitimacy was an unintended consequence of the sexual revolution, to be sure, but not an unpredictable one (many, in fact, did predict it). Which gets back to my point about abortion and sex from earlier posts. Pregnancy can be an unintended consequence of sex, but not an unpredictable one.

But back to marriage. One of the arguments given for same-sex marriage is that we've already changed the definition of marriage by getting rid of all those bans on interracial marriage. But as Gallagher points out
The Supreme Court overturned anti-miscegenation laws because they frustrated the core purpose of marriage in order to sustain a racist legal order. Marriage laws, by contrast, were not invented to express animus toward homosexuals or anyone else. Their purpose is not negative, but positive: They uphold an institution that developed, over thousands of years, in thousands of cultures, to help direct the erotic desires of men and women into a relatively narrow but indispensably fruitful channel. We need men and women to marry and make babies for our society to survive. We have no similar public stake in any other family form--in the union of same-sex couples or the singleness of single moms.

In a society that seems to be totally focused on individual fulfillment and happiness, the idea that our laws fill any greater good than these things must seem outdated and quaint. But like the unintended consequences of the sexual revolution, we get rid of these laws at our own peril.

Friday, November 24, 2006

More on Polygamy and Lawrence

GetReligion has an interesting article on the same Washington Post article on the legal tactics of polygamists I discussed on Tuesday. It starts by looking back at the Lawrence v. Texas case and what the justices said then.

In 2003, the United States Supreme Court struck down a Texas law against sodomy. “Freedom extends beyond spatial bounds. Liberty presumes an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court.

Justice Atonin Scalia disagreed with the decision — and even more so with the reasoning behind it. The court wrote the ruling so broadly, he argued, that the current social order would be massively disrupted. Since the court didn’t “cabin the scope of its decision,” state laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality, and obscenity would also be attacked, Scalia predicted.

High-profile efforts to introduce same-sex marriage have been covered frequently. Jon Pomfet, writing for the Washington Post, looked at what progress has been made on the first of Scalia’s list: bigamy. He talks to various polygamists, including “Valerie” about their efforts to legalize polygamy.

I like GetReligion because the writers spend time examining the way stories get covered as opposed to just what the stories say. Of course, they also point out what gets left out of stories.
If you’re going to say the Mormon Church was able to get law enforcement officers to stop enforcing the law in order to bolster the church, you need some support. Also, if you have that information, that would make a fantastic story. But no one from the LDS is quoted.

Sometimes, the story isn't just the story; it's about how certain issues should be discussed but aren't.
Whether or not polygamists are successful in using the Lawrence decision to help legalize bigamy, their efforts need to be covered. In general it would be helpful for reporters to look down the road at more marriage stories.

If fundamentalist Mormons succeed in overturning laws against bigamy based on the First Amendment instead of the Fourteenth Amendment as in Lawrence, what would be some of the unintended — or intended — consequences of such a decision?

If gay marriage is legalized, will that help formally sanction families such as the ones profiled in the New York Times last week — with multiple female and male partners? How might that affect family law, the tax code and inheritance laws?

If barriers to marriage are lowered, would there be an incentive for non-intimate couples or groupings to marry for benefits? If so, would that change how companies confer benefits? If companies cease offering benefits for partners, would that affect whether or not — for instance — one spouse is able to stay home and raise offspring?

Writing, as many reporters do, stories about how arcane our marriage laws are fine. But it would be nice to see more in-depth reporting about the consequences of changes to marriage laws.

To me, it is particularly important that the consequences of changing marriage laws get covered, considering the number of "it doesn't affect my marriage, so why should I care?" people out there.

Iran Suspended from World Soccer

Maybe this will cause Iran to halt their nuclear program. You think?

Add Another Word to That List for the Dictionary: Hypocrisy

Jesurgislac has referenced in several comments the idea that pro-life supporters are hypocritical if they do not also support government mandates and programs for pregnant women and mothers.

This is a term I see thrown around a lot on blogs, usually aimed at conservatives (along with bigot, fascist, and racist). It's used as a perjorative and isn't at all useful in discussions, unless, of course, the point is to shut down discussion (like so many Pandagonistas sticking their fingers in their ears). I've seen it used during the Mark Foley scandal, the Michael J. Fox flap and even about reinstating the draft. Unfortunately, almost every instance where liberals use the word "hypocrisy" they are misusing it.

Hypocrisy means "a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess." In everyday speech it would be saying one thing and doing something else.

But that's not really what liberals mean when they use the word. What they mean is "saying and doing things of which we disapprove and not doing the things of which we would approve." For example, if you are pro-life and oppose new government mandates and programs, to a liberal, that is hypocritical. In point of fact, it is not if you believe that private sector help is more effective and better targeted than government programs which can be bureaucratic, time-consuming, ineffective, and wasteful.

"Hypocrisy" was also thrown about during the Mark Foley scandal. Homosexuals and gay rights supporters said Foley was "hypocritical" to vote against various pro-homosexual legislation. But as a representative, Foley was expected to vote for and against legslation as his constituents would want, not necessarily as he would (and I'm not even sure he wanted the various laws passed, either). It is entirely possible to be homosexual without signing on to every legislative initiative, just as it is possible to be a feminist without being pro-abortion.

As for the embryonic stem cell research debate, I've heard people called "hypocritical" for not supporting more government funding for embryonic stem cell research. Why is that hypocritical? Because if you really cared about life, you'd be for finding cures, of course! That anyone would object to any particular form of research must be hypocritical, unless, of course, it's not wanting testing on animals. But it isn't hypocritical to object to using embryos for research if you believe life begins at conception and that experimenting with humans without their consent is unethical, particularly when there are other means and methods for research.

Then there's the draft. Democrat Charles Rangel wants it reinstated and many liberals believe it is hypocritical to support the war in Iraq if one didn't serve in the military. But given that about 90% of Americans have no military service, this would mean that almost no one would be allowed to participate in debate over foreign affairs without being called a hypocrite. Not only would this be foolish, it would be a dereliction of duty. Americans are expected to express themselves on a whole variety of issues about which they don't have expertise: taxes, business regulation, education, environmental issues, and military procurement among them. To say that it is hypocritical to support American foreign policy without military experience is just plain stupid.

There are, of course, real examples of hypocrisy. Ted Kennedy advocates high taxes but hides much of his wealth offshore and away from U.S. tax laws. Noam Chomsky constantly excoriates American foreign policy, yet has made a tidy living off of Defense Department money. Grandma Pelosi claims to support unions yet doesn't use any union workers either in her vineyards or restaurants. Michael Moore says he doesn't own stock, yet records show he's owned thousands of shares, including shares in Halliburton. And Barbra Streisand supports environmental long as she can drive her SUV and use her own land as she sees fit.

Yes, there's some real hypocrisy out there. But don't expect our liberal friends to discuss it.

Finally...a Possible Use for Embryonic Stem Cells?

Scientists studying mice may have found a master cardiac stem cell, which changes into three major cell types in the mammal's heart.

Writing in the journal Cell on Wednesday, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston said they identified these cells in mice, then demonstrated that they can transform into the contracting cardiac muscle cells and the smooth muscle and endothelial cells that make up blood vessels...

These findings, the researchers said, could move scientists nearer to being able to use stem-cell therapies to regenerate tissues to repair congenital heart defects in children and damage caused by heart attacks in adults. They stressed, however, that they were not yet anywhere close to that goal.

More interesting is that the researchers used embryonic stem cells for this research. Apparently, journalists are now gun shy about identifying which stem cells are used in research, since we don't find this out until the eighth paragraph:
Chien noted that both studies involved the use of mouse embryonic stem cells, and said greater emphasis was needed on exploring the potential of human embryonic stem cells for repairing damaged hearts. He said it is probable the qualities seen in the mouse cells would be present in human cells, too.

"These studies together make a compelling case for unlocking the potential of embryonic stem cells," Chien said in an interview.

Compare and contrast that statement to what was said in this story in which we find that non-embryonic stem cells help dogs with dystrophy:
The study was published online Wednesday by the journal Nature. It used stem cells taken from the affected dogs or other dogs, rather than from embryos. For human use, the idea of using such "adult" stem cells from humans would avoid the controversial method of destroying human embryos to obtain stem cells.

What? No quote from a researcher about how we should "unlock the potential" of stem cells which are not embryonic? I wonder why that is?