Wednesday, July 27, 2005

'Skins Fans, Take Note

I'm sure all you hard-core Redskins fans out there are wondering whatever happened to former wasted first-round pick Heath Shuler. Well, wonder no more - he's running for Congress in North Carolina. Unfortunately for Heath, he doesn't have anyone to throw to anymore since Steve Largent retired. But at least he'll have Tom Osborne as a coach.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Revisiting the Farley Flap

Pardon the rambling nature of this post. I don't really have a point here - I just wanted to throw out ideas.

49 comments in fifteen days... that's a hell of a rate for this backwater blog. Sadly, the commenting at the "Blast from the Past" post has ceased to yield new insights and has instead turned into an argument reminiscent of five-year-olds arguing at a swingset, except with naughtier language. I wanted to start an intelligent, reasonable conversation on the merits of advocating violent actions, on when and where it would be appropriate to do so, etc. Instead, it devolved into a discussion about race. Fine then, let's talk about race. It's a conversation we obviously need to have.

Accusations of racism flew at me from the second I picked up the phone on July 3rd. In fact, one of Dr. Farley's messages on my machine started off with "Hi, you're a racist." Commentors lobbed the charges as if they were lobbing hand grenades. This, despite the fact that no one commenting here could reasonably be called a racist. Indeed, no one said anything derogatory about white or black people, nor did anyone imply that racial equality was undesirable, nor did anyone speak about the inferiority of one group of people. So no one's a racist here.

Or are we? Does the very fact that we buy into a classification system that groups people into "white" and "black" make us racist? Is the idea of race itself a racist one?

Anthropologists and historians have long known that race was not an absolute concept. Franz Boas found that the concept of race varied between cultures around the turn of the century. And any scientific doubt that still lingered was destroyed in 1981 when Stephen Jay Gould published The Mismeasure of Man, refuting the idea that "black" people are significantly genetically different from "white" people or from any other people.

So if race isn't an absolute, what is it? Michael Omi and Howard Winant posited the idea that races are formed by underlying power structures - a society's hierarchical structure determines what people will be classified into a race. In America, "white" and "black" developed as a way of justifying the slave trade, and has stuck around despite the death of slavery. Indeed, as the power structure changed, so did the meanings of "white" and "black."

This is why we feel threatened by liminal characters like those in Philip Roth's The Human Stain or Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist. When someone challenges the assumptions that go into racial formation, they necessarily challenge our power structure. And that makes us nervous.

So it would seem that race is indeed a racist idea. But it cannot be denied that the idea of race has fostered a certain sense of pride in the "black" community that kept people going in the face of oppression. George Wallace and Orval Faubus were products of the ideology of race, but so were Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. It's more effective to fight oppression as a group rather than as a bunch of individuals, and race, however shameful its history, provided the framework for that. Racial formation taketh away, but it also giveth. (We can see something similar when we look at the Jews in Europe - the sense of otherness that caused the horrors of the Crusades and the Holocaust also kept Judaism alive throughout the Diaspora.)

Is there a way to look at race as a positive ingredient in our social construct? Or do the negatives of the idea of race outweigh the positives? Is it time to move beyond race to a more meaningful social construct? Can we? One thing is for certain - we must avoid lobbing charges of racism when we ourselves subscribe blindly to an arbitrary classification system. If we start seeing "black" and "white" as labels society gives us rather than absolute parts of our identity, then we can have a conversation on race that rises above the invective. But don't hold your breath.

Also, go here. It's hilarious, and has nothing to do with what I was just rambling about.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

And The Winner Is... Some Guy

So President Bush has nominated CBS Evening News correspondent and sometime anchor John Roberts to the Supreme Court. How... odd.

Wait, there's a different John Roberts? And he's actually a judge? Imagine that!

Some people will inevitably complain that Bush didn't nominate a minority or a woman. Democrats should avoid that fallacy. Why? My colleague Alex points this out - reject Roberts because we want a woman, and we get Justice Coulter. Shiver.

Seriously, who is this guy? And why was the John Roberts I've heard of not nominated? I, personally, would have liked all the Court's opinions to end with "For the Supreme Court, I'm John Roberts. Good night."

Monday, July 18, 2005

Post Completely Unrelated To Politics

So when you type "search engine" into Google, Lycos is the first search engine to come up. Google is fifth. I find this amusing.

Now This Is Ridiculous

Reasonable people can disagree over whether or not sex offenders who have served their time should be treated differently from other ex-convicts. But this doesn't just cross the line - it leaves it in the dust.

Tsk Tsk, China

Here's a note to the Chinese leadership: Communism is the most extreme pro-labor philosophy out there. It thrives on labor protesting against capital. So if you're afraid that labor protests threaten your regime, you should probably quit with the charade of calling yourself "Communist."

Friday, July 15, 2005

Another Short Post

There are many factors contributing to juvenile delinquency. Poverty. Lack of education. Uninvolved parents. But someone should tell Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman that a video game played by rich suburban people isn't one of them. Guess it's easier to attack video games than fix a broken education system, eh?

Dispatch From The Other Washington

"Just sex with an animal per se, you'd have to prove some sort of animal cruelty out of that and that's why we've got more investigating to do." - King County (WA) Sheriff's Dept. Sgt. John Urquhart, on a farm that apparently brought people in to have sex with animals. Bestiality is legal in Washington.

I'm picturing some guy in a sheriff's uniform going up to a cow and asking, "Did you enjoy it or do you feel violated?" "Mooooo."

The Plame Game

So then Susie told Marla that Johnny was going to dump Beth, but then Alison got all mad because she had told Susie that she liked Johnny and Beth found out and, like, it was so crazy...

Why is it that Washington seems to function more and more like middle school every time I turn around?

Seriously, with today's developments in the who-blew-the-CIA-agent's-cover sweepstakes, the method by which Valerie Plame's identity became known to the general public is starting to resemble a gossip chain. And then somebody told Robert who told Karl who was like, well, duh, and then Karl told Matthew and then Judith found out, and then Valerie and Joseph were really mad because, like, well, obviously...

This whole flap leaves me with two questions. First, how the hell is the CIA so godawful at keeping secrets? Those "undercover operations" that were supposed to be secret? Chile? Iran? Cuba? Guatemala? Yeah, we knew about them ten seconds after they happened. And if they can't keep their undercover operatives safe from politically motivated sabotage, something is horribly, horribly wrong. Is there an online database of this kind of thing? Can you type "undercover CIA agent list" into Google and get a response? No wonder we thought there were WMDs in Iraq - we can't keep people undercover, so I think the intelligence involved some guy somewhere flipping a coin.

Second, what possessed Novak to print something like the name of an undercover CIA agent? For now, let's ignore the fact that somebody was, to paraphrase Billy Crudup in Almost Famous, telling secrets to the one guy you do not tell secrets to. If you have a secret that you should probably keep for fear of endangering someone's life and the security of your nation but could tell to gain a really trifling political advantage, what would you do? To pose the question is to know the answer. In my opinion, Novak isn't getting anywhere near the amount of heat he deserves for this. It was his decision to make the information public. The least he could do is offer an apology.

We're not leaving middle school anytime soon, sadly. Here's the next Washington gossip chain: Then George told Harry he was thinking about going with Alberto, and Harry said okay, but then, like, Bill got all upset, and all his friends started, like, going nuclear and stuff, and then...

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Not A Good Way To Run A Nomination Campaign

A note to the Conservative Caucus, whoever you are - if you want perennial gadfly Roy Moore to be nominated to the Court, the first person you should probably tell is Roy Moore. Or at the very least, the Washington Post shouldn't know before he does - which, apparently, is the case.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

By Popular Demand

Here's a list of those much-ballyhooed sixteen intelligence agencies everyone talks about. Actually, there are seventeen on the list.

* US Air Force Air Intelligence Agency
* Army Intelligence
* Central Intelligence Agency
* Coast Guard Intelligence
* Defense Intelligence Agency
* Department of Energy: Office of Intelligence (!)
* Department of State: Bureau of Intelligence and Research
* Department of the Treasury: Office of Intelligence Support
* Federal Bureau of Investigation: National Security Division
* Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate
* Marine Corps Intelligence
* National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
* National Reconnaissance Office
* National Security Agency
* National Intelligence Council
* Office of Naval Intelligence
* United States Secret Service

That doesn't mean the government isn't hiding an intel agency here or there. It just means that because we don't know about it doesn't make it secret.

A Campaign I Can Get Behind

So who's going to be nominated to replace O'Connor on the Supreme Court? Personally, I think the President should listen closely to Richard Cohen and Kurt Vonnegut (second item down) and see what judicial luminaries lie unappreciated by the groups concerned with this nomination...

Man, this woulda made a great Slant article.

This Just In: Your Government Lies

In what is possibly the best court opinion ever, Judge Royce Lamberth ordered Interior to let Native Americans know that they're a bunch of lying scumbags who can't be trusted. Seems Interior has been letting fat cat miners and loggers use Indian lands and mismanaging funds generated from it. It's not just the Bush administration - Clinton interior secretary Bruce Babbitt was held in contempt for a while in the case (as well as Bush's Gale Norton). And the trust funds go back to 1879 - I'll bet Interior's delinquency goes back just as far.

My dad had to deal with the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs, the bureau in Interior that deals with this stuff) on a daily basis while he worked for the Navajo, and told me in no uncertain terms that they were slimeballs. Also, I've read a few other Post articles on the mistreatment of Indians and Indian lands by the government. So I can't say I'm surprised. At least now, Native Americans will know exactly what the BIA thinks of them.

Monday, July 11, 2005

"Therapy And Understanding" For This, Bitch

Apparently, Karl Rove has no problems calling liberals traitors while carelessly blowing a CIA agent's cover. So who's weak on national security again?

Blast From The Past

Vanderpeeps, you'll appreciate this. The rest of you, just play along.

A long, long, time ago, at a small private university far, far away (about 500 miles or so), a professor named Jonathan Farley was very angry about a building called "Confederate Memorial Hall." Traitors such as the Confederates, Farley thought, should not be memorialized in stone on such a great campus. He wrote a piece in the city's main newspaper, the Tennesseean, decrying the hall's name (article here from a small SF-based paper). A young commentator read this piece and found it interesting and sensible, except for one little part - sentences that stated that Confederate soldiers should have been summarily executed at the end of the Civil War. In agreement with the thrust of the article but disturbed by such a casual statement of destructive anger, the young commentator included a sentence about Farley's irresponsible comments in an article commemorating Martin Luther King Day.

Farley, unfortunately, became a victim of subtle censorship and was forced to move on (ironically, to a better job at Harvard). The commentator graduated and moved to North Carolina, assuming the whole issue was behind both he and Farley.

So the commentator was surprised when, on July 4th, 2005, he received a phone call from Dr. Farley. The professor, it seems, was irate about my description of his article as being "imbued with a violent rage." (One wonders why he didn't bring it up in the two and a half intervening years.) He was seeking a retraction to that sentence. Apparently, he feels it has been damaging to his reputation.

Dr. Farley, you're not getting your retraction. Even though, in the intervening years, I have come to understand that the neo-Confederate push to honor the Southern rebellion is almost always accompanied by a healthy dose of racism (read anything James Loewen wrote for a good overview of this). Even though I agree that Jefferson Davis, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and most other Confederate leaders were traitors and worthless bigots of the worst sort. Even though I understand that the black person in America is dealing with a system that is stacked against him, and even though I understand the rage that such a situation would engender.

Sure, it feels good to want to go back in time and kill the people who fought to keep you in chains. But what positive purpose does it advance? What point is there beyond simple revenge? And what about the 75% of Confederate soldiers who didn't own slaves? Or the fact that white Northerners were really just as racist as white Southerners? And what about Confederates like James Longstreet, who was involved with the Republican reconstruction of Mississippi after the war and who stuck his neck out for the rights of African-Americans at the expense of his own reputation?

I'm not saying there's no cause to be angry, or even that we shouldn't be angry. But there are two types of anger - constructive and destructive. Farley's anger, and the anger of those like him, is destructive. It serves only to divide further, to alienate those who would otherwise agree with you. But the anger of Dr. King, and of late-in-life Malcolm X, was constructive anger. Both channeled their anger into generating positive change, be it instilling pride within the black community or winning respect in the larger community. Some black militants didn't like King, but it's hard to argue with his results. I doubt segregation would have ended had Elijah Muhammad been in charge.

I understand the urge to seek revenge, to talk and act violently. I feel it whenever I see a neo-Nazi, or whenever I hear someone talk about vast Jewish conspiracies and the like. But if change is our goal, if we want to turn our world into something more just and better for all, then we must push aside those urges. We must realize that you rarely change someone's mind by insulting them, but you can by engaging them. Sadly, Farley failed to understand this. And that is why I cannot retract what I have written about him.

Let us now bury these little hatchets of ours and work on convincing people, not through words of violence and hate but through arguments, through facts, and through helping to uncover the truth.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Another Reason Why Sex Offender Registries Are A Bad Idea

Sure, sex offender registries seem like a good idea. Were I to be a parent, I would certainly like to know when someone who committed a sex offense moved into my neighborhood. But when cases like this get caught up in the dragnet, you have to wonder about how wise it is to brand with a scarlet letter all those charged with a certain crime. Rape, I'll give you. Child porn, yeah. Unlawful restraint of a minor? That could be anything. Why should someone like this be hit with the same stigma as a rapist?

Baby, You Can Drive My Car... Please

So the official safe driver study is in. It should come as no surprise to anyone who grew up driving there that Washington, D.C. is the most dangerous city to drive in.

It makes me feel somewhat better that Phoenix is the safest large city to drive in, though.

And it should also come as no surprise to any Northern Virginia driver that Marylanders are the fourth most clueless drivers (tied with D.C.ers and New Yorkers). Virginians are tied for 15th best.

O'Connor Retires

Sandra Day O'Connor, first woman on the Court and perpetual swing vote, is retiring. Personally, I expected Rehnquist to retire before O'Connor - and I think I would have preferred that. Since Rehnquist's retirement (and Bush's subsequent right-wing nominee) wouldn't have changed the balance of the court at all, the confirmation fight would be a little bit less of a circus. But now, Bush gets the opportunity to replace a "moderate" with a Scalia-Thomas conservative.

A reasonable President would look at the poisonous partisan atmosphere on the Hill and attempt to win a little goodwill by nominating a moderate. Pounding a conservative through the inevitable filibuster threat will only create more bitterness and disaffection from the people. Sadly, we don't have a reasonable President. Bush will probably take the bait, since he has no sense of compromise. (He seems to have forgotten the "advice" part of the "advice and consent" doctrine.)

I'm not sure I like anyone that is poised to be nominated. How could anyone like a short list where Alberto Gonzalez is the moderate choice? My guess: Bush will go with Michael McConnell, a judge who ruled (along with the Court) that city governments should not be liable for failing to enforce their own restraining orders. He may try to nominate a woman to serve on the Court - but I have this dread that he'll pick Janice Rogers Brown, who is quite possibly the most egregious conservative judicial activist since the pre-New Deal courts.

Watch out, folks. This confirmation battle ain't gonna be pretty.

DC Gets The Shaft, Again

So conservatives are all for federalism and local governments and non-interference from above. Except when it serves their own ideological purposes. Then it's time to repeal a popularly supported law without asking anyone.

Pick a side, Republicans. You can't be small-government and micromanagers at the same time.