Friday, August 27, 2010

FOX News is more entertainment than news

Admittedly, this is a pretty uninformed statement because I really never watch FOX news. But on occasion I do watch Jon Stewart who spends a lot of time making fun of FOX news. Consider this clip, where Stewart points out the hypocrisy of FOX news condemning the Kingdom Foundation for funding the Imam of the controversial mosque, the same foundation by the way who is a part owner of FOX news:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Parent Company Trap
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

So, Jon Stewart's humor driven narrative is often to make fun of Fox's "fear driven narrative". And Stewart often doesn't play very fair in order to tell his joke. He'll cut clips out of context and present only his point of view. But his larger agenda is to entertain, to get a laugh. He does it largely within a context of a left-biased political point of view, granted. But if Stewart's not funny, he won't keep his audience.

I feel like FOX is doing something similar. There objective is to not to be objective nor is it really to really inform. Their real agenda is to entertain and to keep their ratings high. They found that if they peddle fear and inspire anger, they keep their audience. It gets ratings and its entertaining for many people. And just like Jon Stewart this kind of entertainment should be more or less harmless if people realize that neither FOX news nor Jon Stewart can be counted on for objective investigative reporting. Use FOX news as a way to entertain, but find other avenues to stay informed. Similarly, Jon Stewart is obviously not a substantive news source.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid there are many people who use Jon Stewart as their sole news source (I've heard that anyway). More sinister, FOX news portrays themselves as a serious journalism when they actually peddle entertainment. Nobody should consider FOX news as serious journalism and definitely be sure to find other ways to keep informed.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Huppenthal wins the nomination - what???

So, you have two candidates running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Here's the first candidate's resume:

- Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering, Masters in Business
- Eight years a city councilman
- Eight years as a State Senator
- Four years as a State Representative
- Six more years as a State Senator

All pretty impressive but none of it all that related to schools.

The second candidate's resume:

- Bachelors in Education
- Taught English at Glendale High School for 12 years
- Received the Achievement Above All Award
- Served as a teacher mentor for Washington High School in Phoenix for three years.
- Assistant principal for student services at the school for three years.
- Served for 10 years as principal of Glendale High School.
- Recognized as one of the nation's top principals.
- For one year, served at the district office level as administrator for curriculum and instruction.
- She was appointed to the position of Advisor to the Arizona Superintendent of Public Education and later to the Associate Superintendent for Academic Achievement at the Arizona Department of Education.
- Later she was appointed Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction.

In summary, one is a career politician with no experience in schools the other is a lifelong educator. They are running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

And the first candidate responds to a high school student this way:

Would you be shocked that the first candidate wins.... by a landslide.

Huppenthal does have better and more signs all over the state. Does Arizona even care about education?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I want to go local

We're living in a globalized world and I'm working for a global company and I follow primarily national news and I shop mostly at stores with global reach and I hardly know my neighbors and most of contact my friends on facebook more than I do in person and my family mostly lives all over the country.

And I can relate to this:

"I love the View From Your Window contest. But not because I have a snowball's chance in Hades of guessing the location. But because I don't. One thing the contest gives me is a complete awareness of A) Just how smart your readers are (myself excluded) and B) They've been places I've never been to, and are in places where I am not. The world comes to the Dish and suddenly I'm painfully aware of how untraveled I am."

But just because you've traveled doesn't mean you're smart and just because you have four kids (soon), one income, and don't leave your city as much as you'd like and when you do its mainly to visit family, doesn't mean you're not smart.

I voted today in the primaries and these local elections mean something. The Corporation Commission has a say in how much your utilities cost, for example. Your state legislature, governor, and school administrators affect the quality of your local schools. The treasurer, legislatures and governor affect how well state funds are managed. All of this matters, tremendously.

I spent a lot of time last night trying to come up with educated decisions because the primaries matter. In at least one key election (county attorney) there is no Democratic challenger, and Rick Romley is by far the superior choice. But the fact is I waited until the night before the election to start paying attention. And each election deserved more time and research than I spent on it.

But hardly anyone voted at all, probably because this information is not in front of them often enough.

I really want to go local. Find ways to leverage global technologies, like google, facebook, paypal, eBay, etc. to build applications that matter locally. I want to frequent more local businesses. I want to get to know my neighbors more profoundly. Ultimately, I would love to work for a local, small company.

And travel is nice. But if you travel too much, perhaps you never notice the gems hidden all around you. I read this novel recently that made the point that even in the most rural city, they still have a library - so rich in information that you could never absorb all of its contents in a lifetime.

How many people living in the Phoenix area have visted The Heard Museum, The Phoenix Art Museum or the other many museums that scatter our valley. Or more poignantly, have you been to the First Friday art walk to see what your local artists are up to?

My only point is that you could never leave the state and see some mind blowingly beautiful things.

I love to travel, don't get me wrong, and I hope to get more opportunities to do so. But I think there are so many problems to be solved, lives to touch, and opportunities to take advantage of in one's own family, neighborhood, and community to fill many lifetimes.

So, I have too much globalism in my life. I want to go local.

Monday, August 23, 2010

My primary ballot picks

Be sure to vote, primary elections are Tuesday, August 24th.

The Arizona Republic Picks

The Arizona Republic Picks

Democratic Senate Candidates Debates

Republican Maricopa County Attorney


PositionMy SelectionBrief Explanation
SenateJohn McCainBig no brainer - JD Hayworth would be awful as an Arizona Senator
US Representative District 5Susan Bitter Smith?Not sure about this one, all of the candidates seem identically bad, but its probably between her and Schweikert.
GovernorJanet BrewerThe only real candidate left, sadly, she owes everything to Russell Pearce and HB1070. I think the office of governor covers a few more issues than one narrowly written bill.
Attorney GeneralTom HorneAnother biiig no brainer. Andrew Thomas is terrible
State TreasurerBarbara LeffShe seems to have pretty intimate knowledge of the position and seems interested in the position as it is, whereas everyone else seems to want to do way more that what a State Treasurer actually does.
Superintendent of Public InstructionMargaret DuganShe has the most credentials for the job and John Hupenthal is just no good.
Corporation CommissionGary Pearce and Brenda BurnsBarry Wong is disqualified with his statement to cut utilities for illegal immigrants which is to quote Robert Robb "is stunningly irresponsible and dumb. Electric utilities don't have access to the federal databases necessary to verify legal status. And each marginal electricity customer reduces the costs to others, not increase them."


Chris Deschene

PositionMy SelectionBrief Explanation
SenateRodney GlassmanI think his the most impressive of the candidates by a pretty big margin.
Secretary of StateExperience?
Attorney GeneralFelecia RotelliniThis is a convincing description: She will bring it on. In this field, she is the ferociously smart prosecutor who has clocked significant time in the courtroom taking down lawbreakers and unwinding the complex strands of financial fraud.
Superintendent of Public InstructionPenny KottermanShe seems more passionate, articulate, and knowledgeable about the educational system right now.
Corporation CommissionerJorge Luis Garcia and Renz JenningsNot a great reason other than AZ Republic endorses them.


Why you should not vote for Huppenthal:

Privately Owned Prisons?

Here's another example of just how bad the Republican ideology has become. There is no way the free market can support our jails. How could they? Can you imagine how private industries would compete in the incarceration business? You put two prisons right next to each other, each saying they can jail hardened prisoners cheaper than the other?

It makes no sense. But yet, conservative ideology these days has taken this anti-government, private industry is always better than public industry to the extreme.

Government is always going to do a better job than private industry in areas where there is no natural competition. Here's why. Private companies have no accountability if you have no competition. There is no incentives to produce high quality at lower costs if you have nothing really to compete with.

The government does have accountability - voters and the press. High crime statistics are powerful incentives for politicians to do something about crime. The media spotlight on incidents of innocent people going to jail or getting punished more severely than their crime deserves is a deterrent against politician overreach.

If you just offload an intrinsic responsibility to the private sector, this accountability is obscured. And the sad results are private prisons that are less secure and more expensive than they otherwise should be.

Let's hope we learn our lesson that we can't free market our way out of all our problems.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Brief Thoughts about the Cordoba House

I've been pretty depressed about this huge furor over building a mosque two blocks north of ground zero. I guess I wouldn't have minded so much if the sum total of the issue was confined to those residents in Manhattan and some minor mention of it in some of our national newspapers. But for it to dominate the national conversation is depressing. It reminds me a bit of what happened with the Terry Schiavo case. Our politics has become a game of simply winning political points and not a serious endeavor to improve our country.

Anyway, with that said, this National Review article makes a case that opposing the mosque construction is simply not conservative.

"Second, the proposed mosque would not be located 'at' Ground Zero, but two blocks north of it. So, any federal overlay that restricts development would have to cover not just Ground Zero but an area around it. Again, it is hard to come up with a policy rationale: this area is part of one of America’s busiest office districts, characterized by over a century of high-rise development and redevelopment, which we hope to see continue.

It’s hard to see a justification for 'preservation' other than as a pretext to interfere with the mosque. But the use of allegedly broad zoning restrictions to prevent a single project is inconsistent with the rule of law. (Besides which, when zoning or similar restrictions are used as a pretext to block a religious institution, that violates the First Amendment.)"

"As an aside, I think that some of the concern over this mosque, especially among people who do not live in New York City, is based on a misunderstanding of the geography of Lower Manhattan. This is an area that had significant high-rise development before New York imposed setback requirements and floor-area ratio maximums (limits on how many square feet of building you can put on a lot). As a result, the area is denser and more canyon-like than Midtown.

This means you can be two blocks away from something without any sense that you’re near it. City Hall is four blocks from Ground Zero, but you’d never stand there and think 'I’m right near Ground Zero.' There is even a strip club three blocks south of Ground Zero, but nobody seems to have noticed that it is sullying the memory of the place."

and finally this:

"Furthermore, since Islam has 1.2 billion adherents and is not going away, it is important to set reasonable guidelines that promote harmony with Western society—such as, it’s okay to build a mosque in the Financial District, and it’s not okay to blow up buildings in the Financial District. A general policy of exclusion is unworkable."

But, unfortunately, our country is anything but reasonable right now... sadly.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

This is what Sarah Palin called "Death Panels"

This is another must read article by Atul Gawande regarding how idiotically and unnecessarily expensive our end of life care can be. In the article Gawande has anecdotes that will literally break your heart - you've been warned.

"The issue has become pressing, in recent years, for reasons of expense. The soaring cost of health care is the greatest threat to the country’s long-term solvency, and the terminally ill account for a lot of it. Twenty-five per cent of all Medicare spending is for the five per cent of patients who are in their final year of life, and most of that money goes for care in their last couple of months which is of little apparent benefit.

Spending on a disease like cancer tends to follow a particular pattern. There are high initial costs as the cancer is treated, and then, if all goes well, these costs taper off. Medical spending for a breast-cancer survivor, for instance, averaged an estimated fifty-four thousand dollars in 2003, the vast majority of it for the initial diagnostic testing, surgery, and, where necessary, radiation and chemotherapy. For a patient with a fatal version of the disease, though, the cost curve is U-shaped, rising again toward the end—to an average of sixty-three thousand dollars during the last six months of life with an incurable breast cancer. Our medical system is excellent at trying to stave off death with eight-thousand-dollar-a-month chemotherapy, three-thousand-dollar-a-day intensive care, five-thousand-dollar-an-hour surgery. But, ultimately, death comes, and no one is good at knowing when to stop."

"In 2008, the national Coping with Cancer project published a study showing that terminally ill cancer patients who were put on a mechanical ventilator, given electrical defibrillation or chest compressions, or admitted, near death, to intensive care had a substantially worse quality of life in their last week than those who received no such interventions. And, six months after their death, their caregivers were three times as likely to suffer major depression. Spending one’s final days in an I.C.U. because of terminal illness is for most people a kind of failure. You lie on a ventilator, your every organ shutting down, your mind teetering on delirium and permanently beyond realizing that you will never leave this borrowed, fluorescent place. The end comes with no chance for you to have said goodbye or “It’s O.K.” or 'I’m sorry' or 'I love you.'"

"These days, swift catastrophic illness is the exception; for most people, death comes only after long medical struggle with an incurable condition—advanced cancer, progressive organ failure (usually the heart, kidney, or liver), or the multiple debilities of very old age. In all such cases, death is certain, but the timing isn’t. So everyone struggles with this uncertainty—with how, and when, to accept that the battle is lost. As for last words, they hardly seem to exist anymore. Technology sustains our organs until we are well past the point of awareness and coherence. Besides, how do you attend to the thoughts and concerns of the dying when medicine has made it almost impossible to be sure who the dying even are? Is someone with terminal cancer, dementia, incurable congestive heart failure dying, exactly?"

"Like many people, I had believed that hospice care hastens death, because patients forgo hospital treatments and are allowed high-dose narcotics to combat pain. But studies suggest otherwise. In one, researchers followed 4,493 Medicare patients with either terminal cancer or congestive heart failure. They found no difference in survival time between hospice and non-hospice patients with breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer. Curiously, hospice care seemed to extend survival for some patients; those with pancreatic cancer gained an average of three weeks, those with lung cancer gained six weeks, and those with congestive heart failure gained three months. The lesson seems almost Zen: you live longer only when you stop trying to live longer. When Cox was transferred to hospice care, her doctors thought that she wouldn’t live much longer than a few weeks. With the supportive hospice therapy she received, she had already lived for a year."

"Two-thirds of the terminal-cancer patients in the Coping with Cancer study reported having had no discussion with their doctors about their goals for end-of-life care, despite being, on average, just four months from death. But the third who did were far less likely to undergo cardiopulmonary resuscitation or be put on a ventilator or end up in an intensive-care unit. Two-thirds enrolled in hospice. These patients suffered less, were physically more capable, and were better able, for a longer period, to interact with others. Moreover, six months after the patients died their family members were much less likely to experience persistent major depression. In other words, people who had substantive discussions with their doctor about their end-of-life preferences were far more likely to die at peace and in control of their situation, and to spare their family anguish."

This is a complicated story and Obama's health care plan initially tried to address this problem to some extent - before it was ripped out because of the "Death Panel" controversy:

"Given how prolonged some of these conversations have to be, many people argue that the key problem has been the financial incentives: we pay doctors to give chemotherapy and to do surgery, but not to take the time required to sort out when doing so is unwise. This certainly is a factor. (The new health-reform act was to have added Medicare coverage for these conversations, until it was deemed funding for 'death panels' and stripped out of the legislation.) But the issue isn’t merely a matter of financing. It arises from a still unresolved argument about what the function of medicine really is—what, in other words, we should and should not be paying for doctors to do.

But even still, the problem is deeper than this. As a society and as a culture, we just aren't comfortable dealing with death. I'm afraid that given our current political climate, I just don't see how we will get any better any time soon.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Was Woodrow Wilson a Good President?

This post makes a pretty convincing claim he wasn't.

I have a really hard time with the idea that the Federal Reserve was and is a bad idea, but when you make this much more nuanced point:

"In the long run the Fed may have been a good thing, but there can be no doubt that 1913 was premature, we didn’t know anywhere near enough about monetary policy to warrant a central bank meddling in the gold standard."

That's a pretty strong argument to make since one of the reasons we had the Great Depression was because the Fed made some really bad decisions, but we do know a lot more now.

"Wilson had arguably the most destructive foreign policy in American history. When there is a delicate balance of power in Europe you don’t want to meddle unless you plan to stay there permanently. Yes, I know Wilson did intend the US to hang around, but he should have known we were an isolationist country before he brought us into WWI. All he did was assure that the strongest country in Europe lost. When we pulled out (as was inevitable), a rematch was almost preordained. WWII was the fruit of Wilson’s foreign policy. (As were more than 116,000 dead American soldiers.)"

This argument falls right in line with my moderate pacifists leanings. There's no question that without WWI WWII would not have happened. And WWI was a senseless war. If we would have stayed out of it, Germany would have won? Then no WWII? Certainly, no Hitler. That's such a radical departure of how history did go, I really have a hard time wrapping my mind around it.

One quick diversion. If you analyze the wars in the last century, how could have America behaved differently to ensure a more peaceful prosperous 100 years:

Key decision 1: we stay out of WWI:
1) Germany wins and becomes the dominant power in Europe., who knows what happens then.
2) WWII - does not happen.
3) Vietnam and Korea are no longer divided, neither is most of Europe - no Korean or Vietnam wars.
4) The US, Soviet Union and Germany become the 3 world powers?

Key Decision 2: (We had to enter WWII to stop Hitler so I'm skipping that war), We turn back North Korea and instead of launching a counter-offensive deep into North Korea (which brings China into the war), we heavily enforce the border until North Korea excepts a truce.

This basically occurs within 3 months of North Korea's original invasion. That war would have literally ended in 3 months and would have saved countless lives.

Key Decision 3: We should have never gotten involved in Vietnam. We completely misunderstood the dynamics there. The South Vietnamese government was weak and did not have the support of its people. Organically, the North Vietnamese were bound to unify the country. The war tore our country apart in the process and launched our politics into a 30 year cultural war.

I'm skipping the Iraq War in 1990 because I think largely that was handled in precisely the right way (you can site specific mistakes).

Key Decision 4: We should have never launched a preemptive invasion into Iraq. The war has cost $3 trillion dolllars and thousands of American lives. We have lost considerable world power (both hard and soft) because of it. And it served as a painful distraction to the larger war on terror.

So, how should we keep from repeating these mistakes in the future? Use the lessons of the Book of Mormon as our guide. War in the book was only justified in times of self defense. If we would have applied that basic principal, we would have avoided a lot of pain and political fallout over the past 100 years and would have a much more prosperous and peaceful world as a result.

That was a massive diversion. But returning to the original point. Maybe Woodrow Wilson was one of the worst presidents in history. What are your thoughts?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Another Douthat

Just so you know, I'll be following Douthat's post one for one until he changes the subject just because he seems to be in some ways vocalizing thoughts I've had inside for a long time. But also pushing those thoughts further putting my feelings into words I myself have had trouble vocalizing. And every time I read Douthat's posts lately, I just want to say, amen.

His latest post is actually a rebuttal to a conservative criticism.

"The main objective of any serious social conservative, in the end, should be to restore a particular sexual ideal among heterosexuals, not just to forestall the redefinition of the institution of marriage to include gays. The goal should be a world where the struggle to defend marriage is understood primarily as a struggle against divorce and out-of-wedlock births and premarital promiscuity, and not just a world where the law offers a particular distinction to Newt Gingrich’s third marriage that it doesn’t afford Ellen DeGeneres and Portia DeRossi. "

"And if all that social conservatives can ever hope to accomplish is to keep homosexual couples from getting marriage licenses, then there’s a case to be made for living with the public redefinition of the institution, taking the older ideal private, and trying to rebuild a thicker culture of marriage from the ground up."

Yes! Amen.

And Sullivan I think would largely agree with this conclusion:

From Sullivan:

"Ross, I think, is particularly worried about monogamy in this context - because it is so unnatural a state for most of us. The threat to monogamy, of course, is not universally - but largely - a function of testosterone and evolutionary biology. And the heterosexual marriage ideal offers social status to males to stick to one woman for the sake of children (and his wife)."

"Of course, actual real life-long monogamy is relatively rare, especially if you take into account pre-marital sex. And therefore, the ideals of monogamy and hypocrisy are deeply entwined. But the social conservative will be fine with some measure of hypocrisy as a concession to human nature as long as the norm is enforced. I know of no more sophisticated treatment of this than Jon Rauch's here and most acutely here."

So, what I don't want to see in America is a continuation of the cultural civil war, where both sides set the parameters of their argument, neither willing to concede one iota on any of it. What I do want to see is ways in which both sides can find common ground and then from that common ground we can define policy and shape our culture to build something that improves society.

I think finding ways to increase monogamy, decrease divorce and sexual promiscuity would be one obvious place to look. Certainly, those ideals should not be controversial.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

More Douthat Follow Up

Ross Douthat is going to continue to post responses to the many bloggers who have rebutted his article on gay marriage and just as I think that he's made all of the points he can possibly make, he posts again and brings up a whole new series of insights that really, truly resonate.

In this post, the most powerful point is made by quoting someone else, Eve Tushnet, who is probably one of only a few who could ever to hope to meet this description: fervently Catholic, proudly gay, happily celibate. She does not see herself as disordered; she does not struggle to be straight, but she insists that her religion forbids her a sex life. I doubt that Eve is someone who realistically could be widely emulated, I just mention her because she makes some really interesting points in the gay marriage debate.

Here's one quoted by Douthat in his blog:
"Americans are both extremely na├»ve about sex and extremely selfish about marriage. But marriage evolved to structure the specific ways in which sex between a man and woman can be really devastating to society, or really fruitful. In order for men and women to have sex with one another, to avoid causing a lot of disruption and wrong action in society, they have to do a lot of difficult things. The fact that a lot of them don’t want to do those things now and don’t even see those things as related to marriage is part of the problem, not an excuse to further move away from the idea of marriage as the structure. For example, one of the things that you find now if you talk to young people about how do sex and marriage connect, is that a lot them are very into fidelity within marriage … but they don’t see marriage as having any effect on their actions before they get married. That was not always true. Marriage exists in large part to structure how you behave before you marry. Not that anyone would expect all or even most people to be completely abstinent before marriage, but if you have that as your goal and ideal, and you have a sense that marriage is at least where it’s proper to be having sex, then you will probably have a little bit less sex outside of marriage. They are making it much less believable that marriage has any other purpose other than putting the good housekeeping seal of approval on your personal relationships.
So if humans were perfectly able to control their reproduction, could pick when they had kids and with whom, and men and women are interchangeable both socially and biologically, then you don’t have marriage. Why would you? It arises to manage not only procreation, but also the social and biological differences between men and women prior to reproduction. So, that said, if you have a unisex model of marriage, which is what gay marriage requires, you are no longer able to talk about marriage as regulating heterosexuality and therefore you’re not able to say: Look, there are things that are different about heterosexual and homosexual relationships. There are different dangers, there are different challenges, and, therefore, there are probably going to be different rules."
Douthat continues this argument in some incredibly important ways:
"The interplay of fertility, reproductive impulses and gender differences in heterosexual relationships is, for want of a better word, 'thick.' All straight relationships are intimately affected by this interplay in ways that gay relationships are not."
He makes incredibly deep points about how even infertile straight couples or straight couples past child-bearing age experience marriage in ways that are not possible by gay couples.

He uses the adjective "thick" to explain why these arguments are so difficult to defend:
"The particularities of heterosexuality are very particular, and only a thick understanding of wedlock, I suspect, can hope to do the kind of important cultural work that Tushnet is describing, and push heterosexuals not only to think about their behavior within marriage, but also how their entire sexual lives fit into the marital ideal. (This thickness issue also helps explain what often sounds like tongue-tiedness and/or desperation from social conservatives when they’re asked to explain what, exactly, it is about marriage that makes it distinctively heterosexual: the whole 'well, it’s about love and monogamy and complementarity and fertility and sex differences and childrearing and …' refrain, which seems unconvincing to many people, should be understood in part as an attempt to grapple with just this complexity.)"
But if you expand marriage to include gay couples the institution loses this thickness and turns an institution for one type of relation into three: "because it’s an ideal that needs to encompass not two but three different kinds of sexual relationships — straight, gay male, and lesbian. So it ends up being about the universals of love and commitment, rather than any of the particular dynamics of heterosexual intimacy."

That thinness makes it easier to understand, describe, and, in the context of a political debate, defend, but it does, in no doubt turn something that began as a very thick idea into something much less so.

Andrew Sullivan, by the way, has an almost equally compelling counter to this post here.

Where Andrew Sullivan (who is a gay conservative by the way and makes arguments that resonate with me from this point of view) agrees with almost all of Douthat's points, but he makes the very powerful point that the world has changed and our laws have to change to accommodate it (my interpretive summary):

Key quote:
"But here's the thing: what, exactly, is the alternative in a world where openly gay people and couples exist?
Ross has never told us. But it seems to me from the logic of social conservatism that those most in danger of the social chaos social conservatives fear are those who would benefit most from being subjected to the cultural power of this institution. We know the consequences of marital breakdown for the black and urban poor: immiseration, poverty and dysfunction. We also know the consequences of a society that allows gay men sexual freedom, while denying them any social institutions to channel their love and desire: 300,000 young corpses. But the social conservative who insists that the family is vital for the black underclass somehow believes it is just as vital to deny it to gay men. In fact, social conservatives are intent on preventing this integrating institution from helping, guiding and ennobling a group most vulnerable to the consequences of emotional and sexual chaos. "
Sex is most obviously much more than procreation. But the fact that sex can and does lead to life is powerful. But the gay community is not going away. They are here and they deserve much more than exclusion. There needs to be a way we can do both and it will be hard politically to do so: to come up with a way to satisfy both the Douthat point of view and the Sullivan point of view.

Douthat has promised to respond to Sullivan directly (again in my mind Sullivan's arguments are the most powerful of any I've read so far) and I'll anxiously await.

But I guess what I hope to see is a world where those on the left can recognize and understand these specific Douthat points and at least try to make these sorts of concessions, concessions that Sullivan seems willing to make himself.

UPDATE: I recognize that this is a losing argument, that Sullivan is probably more correct that Douthat. Our world has changed and holding on to a legal definition of an institution that was designed for a world that no longer exists is probably not realistic. But being one person who is determined to live up to the marriage ideal and who lives within a religious community that also strives to live up to this ideal, it means something to me. Nonetheless, it seems inevitable to me that the laws will change toward Sullivan's vision of it. The goal, then, is that their continues to remain enough cultural space for religious and other institutions to provide a framework for something more traditional for those who choose it.

What To Do About Black America

Having gone on my mission in Alabama, this article resonates.

"Wax identifies the illusion that mars American thinking on this subject as the myth of reverse causation—that if racism was the cause of a problem, then eliminating racism will solve it. If only this were true. But it isn’t true: racism can set in motion cultural patterns that take on a life of their own."

"Wax appeals to a parable in which a pedestrian is run over by a truck and must learn to walk again. The truck driver pays the pedestrian’s medical bills, but the only way the pedestrian will walk again is through his own efforts. The pedestrian may insist that the driver do more, that justice has not occurred until the driver has himself made the pedestrian learn to walk again. But the sad fact is that justice, under this analysis, is impossible. The legal theory about remedies, Wax points out, grapples with this inconvenience—and the history of the descendants of African slaves, no matter how horrific, cannot upend its implacable logic. As she puts it, 'That blacks did not, in an important sense, cause their current predicament does not preclude charging them with alleviating it if nothing else will work.'"

"If you finish high school and keep a job without having children before marriage, you will almost certainly not be poor. Period. I have repeatedly felt the air go out of the room upon putting this to black audiences. No one of any political stripe can deny it. It is human truth on view. In 2004, the poverty rate among blacks who followed that formula was less than 6 percent, as opposed to the overall rate of 24.7 percent. Even after hearing the earnest musings about employers who are less interested in people with names like Tomika, no one can gainsay the simple truth of that advice. Crucially, neither bigotry nor even structural racism can explain why an individual does not live up to it."

I think this goes back a bit to the Ross Douthat's arguments of previous posts. That government has the power, to some extent, to change the culture. In Ross's latest blogpost, he makes all sorts of interesting posts and links to a bunch of interesting articles, but consider this point about abortion:

That a large reason the upper class has been successful in delaying child rearing until later in life is, at least in some cases and in some places, because of higher rates of abortion. But "this dependence on the practice constitutes a deep corruption at the heart of elite life, which undercuts at least some of the happy news about the upper class’s post-sexual revolution stability. And an elite that was more morally serious about sexuality and its consequences would be willing to confront this problem directly, instead of ignoring the issue and/or sneering at the anti-abortion cause."

So, in the wake of the 1960's, "Black out-of-wedlock births started to climb and marriage rates to fall around 1960, long after slavery was abolished and just as the civil rights movement gained momentum. Perhaps a more nuanced explanation for the recent deterioration is that the legacy of slavery made the black family more vulnerable to the cultural subversions of the 1960s. But what does this tell us that is useful today? The answer is: nothing."

I guess you can point a lot of fingers, but the solutions are difficult. In my view, though, perhaps a combination of left/right solutions are in order. Crank up the pressure from above to encourage abstinence before marriage broadly (the only surefire way to guarantee no babies), try to tackle the hard (impossible in our culture) task of constructing laws that encourage this behavior, and spend as much money trying to fund programs that encourage good schools and opportunities in black communities.

The libertarian would probably come to the more obvious conclusion that black communities need to lift themselves out and any attempts from government will largely not work (which is exactly the point of the article). But I'm not a libertarian and doing nothing just doesn't seem appropriate in this regard.

So, America did collectively run over the black community with the truck of slavery, Jim Crow, and discrimination, and the legacy of that persists. We can't fix the problems, but we can help "pays the pedestrian’s medical bills" and provide a framework of social, educational support and encouragement to help them learn to walk (and run) again.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Ross Douthat's Almost Identical Argument on Gay Marriage as Mine

Here is Ross Douthat's article in the NY Times.

Its almost the identical argument I made, but he blows me away in his ability to express it. I guess that's why he's getting the big bucks.


Douthat furthers his point in his blog here.

"This means that if the ideology that justifies defining marriage as lifelong heterosexual monogamy gets swept into history’s dustbin, we won’t suddenly be flung into a landscape where the only real things are people and the people they love. We’ll just get a different ideology of marriage in its place, one that makes a different set of assumptions and generalizations and invests the institution with a different kind of purpose. And we don’t need a judge’s ruling (though Judge Vaughn Walker’s analysis was certainly clarifying!) to know what that ideology will look like: It’s the increasingly commonplace theory that marriage exists to celebrate romantic love and provide public recognition for mutually-supportive couples, with no inherent connection of any kind to gender difference and/or procreation, and with only a rhetorical connection to the ideal of permanence.

Since this is basically the theory that much of our society already holds, redefining marriage to include gay relationships is unlikely to have anything like the kind of impact on American life that, say, the divorce revolution of the 1960s and 1970s did. But again, I think it’s a little naive to assume that it will have no impact at all — that legal changes don’t beget further cultural changes, and that public definitions don’t influence private conduct. Maybe the potential consequences are so vanishingly minimal that they’re easily outweighed by the benefits to gay couples; that’s certainly a reasonable position. But looking out across America’ landscape of heterosexual dysfunction, it’s still a little hard for me to accept that what this moment demands of us is the legal formalization — indeed, the constitutionalization, if Judge Walker has his way — of the ideological conceit that marriage has no necessary connection to gender difference, procreation or childrearing."

By the way Andrew Sullivan has a pretty powerful rebute to Douthat here.

"If you have total gay freedom and no gay institutions that can channel love and desire into commitment and support, you end up in San Francisco in the 1970s. That way of life - however benignly expressed, however defensible as the pent-up unleashed liberation of a finally free people - helped kill 300,000 young human beings in this country in our lifetime. Ross may think that toll is unimportant, or that it was their fault, but I would argue that a Catholic's indifference to this level of death and suffering and utter refusal to do anything constructive to prevent it happening again, indeed a resort to cruel stigmatization of gay people that helps lead to self-destructive tendencies, is morally evil."


Douthat, has another follow up post that's worth recording, right here.

"Culture shapes law, of course: Judge Walker’s decision last week would be unimaginable without the cultural shift that’s made gay marriage seem first plausible and then necessary to many people. But law tends to turn around and shape culture right back. And this is particularly true when the law in question is constitutional law, because constitutional rights carry a distinctive legal weight and an even more distinctive cultural freight. (To take just one example, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the cultural space for making a moral critique of pornography has shrunk apace in the decades since the Supreme Court expanded First Amendment protections for pornographers, and limited the reach of obscenity laws.)"

I mention this because it focuses on something fundamental about what it means to be a cultural conservative that has always been at odds with the libertarianism that is at root of the tea party movement. That government has a role to play in shaping cultural down a direction that is fundamentally better for society. In the blogpost, Douthat cites cigarettes as a positive example of this, pornography as a negative one.

I identify with these lines of reasoning because they defined me as a Republican for so many years and these beliefs are still within me even though I've switched parties.

My Wife's Masters Recital

My wife and I dated for a year before I proposed which aligned pretty cleanly with the second year of her masters degree in music performance and pedagogy. Her recital was in December of that year, needless to say, I didn't see her much then. For those of you who are interested here's her concert. Please ignore the iTunes link, you will not find it there. When I can figure it out, I'll get rid of it.

Sara feels really great about the Ravel piece (she worked the hardest on that). She feels the worst about the Prokofiev (she had a huge memory slip). I loved the Ravel, but I also love the Prokofiev.

What was cool was as we were getting married I would have Sara play these pieces for family members and she could put on a show. But sadly, these songs are gone from her fingers. I'm turning 40 next year, I keep dreaming that she could reproduce something like this maybe for a birthday concert, but it would take a ton of work to get this level of playing back and she's pretty busy right now.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Should We Home Birth?

The cat's out of the bag. If you don't know us well or you don't read my blog or you don't care to read about my opinions on proposition 8, then you probably don't know that my wife is expecting. Yeah, I buried that announcement at the bottom of my last post about gay marriage. We wanted to have four children, but we didn't want to have a baby around Christmas, so yes, this one was a surprise, but a happy surprise, and yes, my wife is due around the middle part of January. This due date is a guess, we won't officially know until we have an ultra-sound scheduled this week.

But a due date in January, for us, could really mean a delivery around the holidays. Our oldest was induced at 37 weeks. Our second was induced at 36. Our third child's birth is described right here in pretty good detail, but she went a few days past her due date, but we don't know for sure, other than my wife is susceptible to obstetric cholestasis which happened in two of our three births and is likely to happen again. And if you have this condition, you induce.

Well, induction should rule out a home birth right? Well, probably. But we won't know for sure until the pregnancy has progressed a lot further, so we're considering it now.

But why home birth? Well, why home schoo? We would like much more control over both our birth and after our birth.

Plus, we have legitimate concerns about hospital births. We would love our children to be able to come in and witness the birth, something we haven't been able to experience at the hospital. In fact they were not even allowed on the floor. My wife had to come down to talk to them. They didn't get to see the baby at all until a few days later. Why? RSV and hospitals are breeding grounds for disease. So we want to have our child delivered there?

Also, our oldest has type 1 diabetes and she's not quite old enough yet to where she's able to manage it herself independently. And its a lot to ask someone else to manage it for us while we're at the hospital. And all it takes is one low going too low and she's hospitalized (or worse). That's a lot to expect or ask of someone else that's not a close family member and we don't have the family support here that could take care of this for us for this kind of length of time.

But really, we want to home birth for all the reasons that became obvious when we interviewed a midwife last week who has done homebirth for many, many years. She talked to us about how you can prepare for and prevent complications in the pregnancy by dealing with and preparing for it in trimester one and two. Typical preparation involves proper diet and exercise and natural supplements. The whole point of bradley is to educate yourself so deeply in birth and prepare yourself far in advance of the event and then ensure the proper support systems are in place that natural births are more likely. More profoundly, it transforms birth from a clinical experience where all of the control is transfered to a doctor and a hospital to a beautiful, natural experience where the control is shared between father and mother and midwife.

I know, I know, I'm not the one having the baby, but the reason I love Bradley is because I'm involved deeply. I support and sustain my wife through the birthing process. My opinions matter and the way I perform in support of her also matters.

But given our history, I'm not sure a home birth is practical. In all three of our births, we've had messy complications. Our first two were induced. In our first, my wife hemorrhaged. In our third, our baby had extremely low platelet counts, required a transfusion and was in the NYICU for ten solid days.

But my wife really wants a home birth. What do you think?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Second Reactions to the Proposition 8 Ruling

Again, I really, sincerely believe that the gay marriage issue is very similar to the abortion issue in some important ways. Most importantly these are issues that force a nation to define its collective faith. I know there's so much talk about a separation between church and state and that we can have no state religion. But how can you have a nation without faith. How we choose to define so many of our laws demand these gigantic leaps into uncertainty. One of the most important questions we had to answer definitively is when exactly does human life begin. And the courts in Roe v. Wade answered it and we have been living with its consequences ever since.

And now what role does a marriage relationship play in our society. In what way does either the federal or state government step in and define a legal marriage union. Why should government even get involved? These are largely questions of faith and its why the gay community has demanded something much more than a legal civil union, where they get many (all?) of the same legal benefits traditional marriage partnerships enjoy. But I think, understandably, they demand more. They want formal recognition of marriage equality, by our government, by society, collectively.

And its getting tougher every single day to make cogent arguments against it. There's an interesting point made in this blogpost.

"I’m still going through the closing arguments from yesterday’s Proposition 8 hearings, but I’m struck by how weak the other side’s case is. It’s truly empty of any reasoned argument or sound evidence. The proponents of the Proposition were relying on conventional wisdom and ‘the way marriages has always been’ arguments without explaining why it should stay that way or what harm would come to society if it changed."

Its hard to really make the case anymore that gay marriage would detrimentally affect society and families because the traditional family unit has already been so thoroughly trashed by our culture. I think addiction, the cavalier attitude toward sex and promiscuity, the lack of commitment all of that is having a much bigger stress on families and marriages. And kids suffer as a result.

In the link, the author quotes the prop 8 proponents:

"The proponents of Prop. 8 dismissed these claims and insisted that marriage is about channeling naturally procreative sexual conduct 'into stable and enduring unions' in order to “minimize what I would call irresponsible procreation.'"

I think this is self evident statement, but there are a slew of statistics to back up the claim that children born into unstable and non-enduring unions suffer. But does gay marriage make this more likely? Maybe, but if so, only at the margins.

In my mind, if there was a way that society and all of its institutions, both public and private, could promote and ensure that straight marriages lasted so that fewer children were aborted or abandoned or raised by someone else.

I have three children and another on the way. When I look into my kids eyes I see, quite literally myself. Granted, they are unique and individual in significant ways, but they also carry a big part of me and of my wife. They have our DNA, pieces of both of our personalities. They look like us, in so many ways they are us. We are bound.

I have a deep embedded connection and responsibility to them. I feel this biologically. Even if all I was was a sperm donor this would be true.

To have a man and a woman come together in love and with commitment and produce life is incredible, its holy, its a miracle. I feel this in a deep, visceral way. If there was a way we could protect and preserve this and hold it sacred, elevating it above almost everything else, I wish we could.

Again, I think its harder and harder to make a strong argument against gay marriage. It's because we collectively have already done a pretty poor job in preserving and protecting and strengthening traditional marriage. And the gay community has nothing at all to do with that.

First Reactions to Proposition 8

My initial reactions on court ruling in California overturning proposition 8 as unconstitutional are feelings of disappointment. Profoundly, this ruling has potentially larger consequences that extend beyond the borders of California affecting every state who has already passed bans on homosexual marriage, bans that the federal courts have now deemed unconstitutional.

I do not want to get into the tricky debate about whether we should equate gay and straight marriage. But let me suggest that this is not and should not be an easy debate. The problem I have with most political discussions (and I'm guilty of this too) is that we never pause to consider the other side. I think the conservative point of view shares some blame in this. If you scream too loud and too long and make thoughtless assumptions about the other side, resorting too quickly to ad hominum attacks, don't be surprised to see these tactics returned.

I guess my biggest worry is that those on the left side of this debate will try to make the case that the case for gay marriage is exactly the same as the case for interracial marriage back in the day. Which follows that churches and other institutions and individuals against gay marriage are making the same bad mistakes as those who made the case against interracial marriages in the past.

I would hope that its obvious or at least that you consider it may be obvious to some that the differences between gender is far more different than the differences of skin color.

And if we start making laws from the bench effectively removing these discussions from the public discourse (no matter how messy or hard the latter course may be) it hurts both sides of this and other issues. You lose trust and you sabotage what a democracy should be all about.

This was the fundamental tragedy of Roe v. Wade, in my opinion. Abortion is a very tough issue, involving tricky, religious arguments about when life begins, when the baby has a claim on civil and constitutional protections. When the courts made this issue all about the woman's rights, it ripped this issue out of the public discourse and actually made it more polarizing not less.

This is different than the civil rights cases, some of which were decided by courts because those were legitimate violations of constitutional rights. Now, how many churches out there ban interracial marriages? Maybe they exist, but they are widely scorned and marginalized.

But many churches do have strong and legitimate religious reasons for being against gay marriage. Does this mean that state and federal law should follow certain church beliefs on this issue? No. But it would be much better if this issue could be decided in a democratic forum and not dictated by judicial fiat.

The judicial ruling needs to be overturned. Lets continue the discussions recognizing that both sides of the issue have legitimate points of view.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Health Care Costs amongst the Chronically Homeless

Loved this article (although somewhat dated now) by Malcom Gladwell about homelessness and the cost of giving them health care, one emergency room visit at a time:

"'O'Bryan and Johns called someone they knew at an ambulance service and then contacted the local hospitals. 'We came up with three names that were some of our chronic inebriates in the downtown area, that got arrested the most often,' O'Bryan said. 'We tracked those three individuals through just one of our two hospitals. One of the guys had been in jail previously, so he'd only been on the streets for six months. In those six months, he had accumulated a bill of a hundred thousand dollars—and that's at the smaller of the two hospitals near downtown Reno. It's pretty reasonable to assume that the other hospital had an even larger bill. Another individual came from Portland and had been in Reno for three months. In those three months, he had accumulated a bill for sixty-five thousand dollars. The third individual actually had some periods of being sober, and had accumulated a bill of fifty thousand.'"

His remedy is really simple but incredible. The fact is the soup kitchens and the homeless shelters are not working because they assume something about homelessness that isn't true. Most homeless are not chronic. The chronic homeless make up a small percentage and they are the toughest cases.

"'If it's a medical admission, it's likely to be the guys with the really complex pneumonia," James Dunford, the city of San Diego's emergency medical director and the author of the observational study, said. "They are drunk and they aspirate and get vomit in their lungs and develop a lung abscess, and they get hypothermia on top of that, because they're out in the rain. They end up in the intensive-care unit with these very complicated medical infections. These are the guys who typically get hit by cars and buses and trucks. They often have a neurosurgical catastrophe as well. So they are very prone to just falling down and cracking their head and getting a subdural hematoma, which, if not drained, could kill them, and it's the guy who falls down and hits his head who ends up costing you at least fifty thousand dollars. Meanwhile, they are going through alcoholic withdrawal and have devastating liver disease that only adds to their inability to fight infections. There is no end to the issues. We do this huge drill. We run up big lab fees, and the nurses want to quit, because they see the same guys come in over and over, and all we're doing is making them capable of walking down the block."

The solution is surprisingly simple. It turns out it would be much cheaper just to put these chronic homeless people up in an apartment and have a nurse check up on them. Provide enough of a support system that they keep their lives stable enough that they don't fall back onto the streets.

But this solution is unsatisfying in our political culture.

"The current philosophy of welfare holds that government assistance should be temporary and conditional, to avoid creating dependency. But someone who blows .49 on a Breathalyzer and has cirrhosis of the liver at the age of twenty-seven doesn't respond to incentives and sanctions in the usual way. "

"That is what is so perplexing about power-law homeless policy. From an economic perspective the approach makes perfect sense. But from a moral perspective it doesn't seem fair. Thousands of people in the Denver area no doubt live day to day, work two or three jobs, and are eminently deserving of a helping hand—and no one offers them the key to a new apartment. Yet that's just what the guy screaming obscenities and swigging Dr. Tich gets. When the welfare mom's time on public assistance runs out, we cut her off. Yet when the homeless man trashes his apartment we give him another. Social benefits are supposed to have some kind of moral justification. We give them to widows and disabled veterans and poor mothers with small children. Giving the homeless guy passed out on the sidewalk an apartment has a different rationale. It's simply about efficiency."

And these are the kind of solutions I love, ones that don't fit easily into political ideology, but political ideologically driven solutions rarely work - they are usually solutions that solved yesterday's poorly understood problems.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


I'm putting this on my blog for no reason other than I can come back to it later, its really incredible.

By the way, the author is Tanya Davis and she has a website here.

There's a bunch of interesting music and other poetry by her. Recommended.