Sunday, August 29, 2010

In Which I Prove Glenn Beck Is Satan

I have proof, ladies and gentlemen. (Dramatic pause, wiping tear from eye) Proof that head Tea Partier Glenn Beck is, in fact, the Devil Himself!

"What proof could you possibly have," you ask? Well, check THIS out. Here are some important numbers:

912, 828 - numbers pertaining to his most famous events, both rallies in Washington, D.C.
46 - Beck's age
12 - the number of letters in Glenn Lee Beck, his full name
10 - the number of books Wikipedia says he has written, in part or in full
1 - the number of divorces he's been through.

And (912+828)*46/(12*10) - 1 = 666!

Presumably, this means Beck will stop being Satan when he reaches his 47th birthday, since then this will add up to 679.5. But maybe that's what Satan Beck WANTS us to think.

What? I was bored while Selah was napping. Sue me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Feel" This

Everything that can been written about the Park51 community center controversy has already been written, so I'll keep this short. I'm most interested not in the empty shouts of offense by the right - I've dealt with that in this space before and will not do so again. What's interesting to me is how otherwise reasonable people like Howard Dean could oppose the community center, as Greenwald notes. Greenwald received a letter from Dean in which he says the following:
My argument is simple. This Center may be intended as a bridge or a healing gesture but it will not be perceived that way unless a dialogue with a real attempt to understand each other happens. That means the builders have to be willing to go beyond what is their right and be willing to talk about feelings whether the feelings are "justified" or not.
And my response is this - why should we give a damn about someone's feelings if their feelings are wrong? Or as the more eloquent Greenwald puts it:
The central question raised by this controversy is the same one raised by countless similar controversies throughout American history: whether the irrational fears and prejudices of the majority should be honored and validated or emphatically confronted.
I described the bigotry of Park51's opponents as understandable in my previous column on the subject, but understandable bigotry is still bigotry and still wrong.

It's time that we stopped worshipping at the altar of "feelings," as if the fact that someone feels something makes their point of view legitimate. I don't care what people feel - if their feelings are not backed up by rational observations and conclusions, they're meaningless. When the feeling in question is based on a premise that is patently untrue - in this case, the idea that Muslims, as a group, attacked the U.S. on 9/11 - I see no reason why I should respect those feelings. Mosque opponents are wrong, and they should get over it on their own damn time and not make the rest of the sane world bow to their almighty "feelings."

What's truly odd is that conservatives are usually the ones making that argument. They're the ones usually saying, for example, that someone who "feels" racism is wrong because the statements in question are not intended as racist. (It's a misuse of the argument because the feeling in question is based on a real premise - that is, minorities are subjected to some pretty racist shit. And there are frequently some elements of ostensibly "non-racist" statements that have been used as racist statements in the past. So it's usually a lot more reasonable. But this is all beside the point, thus the parentheses.) Since when did conservatives start believing that people's feelings are sacrosanct and that we should all fall over backwards not to hurt anyone else's?

Oh, that's right - when they can tell someone else to inconvenience themselves at the service of their own feelings.

Truth is, feelings don't matter. The facts matter. We've been reversing this for too long.

In other news:

- The last combat troops pulled out of Iraq today. Not sure if that really changes a whole lot, but it's a milestone to be happy about.

- Interesting church-state case out of the 10th Circuit today - memorial crosses along the side of the road are unconstitutional if erected by the government, in this case the Utah State Highway Patrol. I'm usually a die-hard separationist, but I'm not sure I agree with the court here. Seems to me like a memorial cross serves a legitimate secular purpose as required by the Lemon test - that purpose being memorializing a passed trooper. If there was a trooper who wasn't Christian who was memorialized in such a manner, those challenging the crosses might have a point though - at that point, the cross becomes primarily a religious symbol since it'd be a ridiculously inappropriate memorial.

- In case you haven't heard, Pakistan is drowning. Here are some ways to help the victims. Though some Pakistanis aren't donating because the government sucks and is corrupt. Oh, and shame on the URJ for not having any links on its site. They did well for the Haiti disaster - why go silent now?Update: The URJ spokesperson sent me a nice e-mail today - they replied promptly - and noted that they weren't doing direct aid because they didn't have the resources to get directly involved in Pakistan. They are, however, collecting money for distribution to aid orgs that they trust. That's for the best - no sense in wasting money creating infrastructure when you could use someone else's existing infrastructure to spend that money helping people. It's more efficient that way.

- There are so many reasons to love this TMBG appearance on Letterman from 1990. Is it how Letterman refers to their album as "The" Flood? Or how gloriously nerdy Flansburgh looks next to the relatively hip Linnell? Or... well, it's awesome either way.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Constitution's There For A Reason

OK, let me clear something up for y'all in the wake of the smackdown Judge Vaughn Walker dealt to California's Proposition 8 restricting gay marriage. Walker based his ruling on the obvious 14th Amendment grounds - the denial of marriage rights to gay couples was a violation of both equal protection and due process. The equal protection argument seems so blindingly obvious to me that I'm surprised a judge hasn't used that one yet against gay marriage bans (though it was used against the federal DOMA by a MA judge last month, though that ruling also - awesomely - referenced the conservatives' favorite amendment, Number 10). But hold this thought for a second.

Across the country, Virginia AG/demagogue Ken Cuccinelli is clearing hurdles for his lawsuit against the individual mandate to purchase health care that was a centerpiece of the recent health care system reform bill passed back in March. I don't know about whether this case will succeed or not - my gut tells me it won't, mainly because the courts have had an insanely expansive view of the Commerce Clause over the last few decades - but the judge's ruling allowing the suit to proceed is consistent with the unique nature of a federal law requiring individuals to participate in interstate commerce.

The point I'm trying to make is this: critics of both rulings, while hailing from opposite political poles, will make essentially the same argument. You shouldn't overturn legislative acts, they'll say. A majority of citizens or their duly elected representatives voted for it, they'll say. They'll whine about activist judges and say runaway courts are trying to ruin America.

And they'll all be wrong.

See, it doesn't matter if 52% of a state's citizens voted for a law. It doesn't matter if 221 Representatives and 56 Senators approved it. It doesn't matter how well it polls or how much good it does. If it violates the Constitution, it is a judge's solemn duty to invalidate the law. And this applies equally to the gay marriage bans, the federal DOMA, and the individual health care mandate.

Whining about "activist judges" ignores one important principle - we don't live in a pure democracy. We live in a constitutional democracy, and in a constitutional democracy the majority doesn't always get its way. Those words in that constitution have to mean something. It doesn't matter how popular censorship is, say: the Constitution says you can't do it. It doesn't matter how popular gay marriage bans are, and it doesn't matter how much good can be done by an individual health care mandate. If it's unconstitutional, you can't do it.

And guess what? Judges are better positioned to make those calls than we are. That's why we have a system that gives knowledgeable, sharp legal minds the power to compare laws to the Constitution. And if we disagree with the results of a ruling - whether it's the gay marriage ruling, the health care ruling, Citizens United, whatever - we can't be so quick to dismiss it as illegitimate. Judicial review - unfriendly folks call it "activism" - is a well-respected and perfectly legitimate power granted to judges. Rather, let's debate these rulings on the grounds they ought to be debated on - is the judge's interpretation of the Constitution correct?

In the case of gay marriage, I think the judge is correct. You're free to disagree in the comments. But if anyone whines about "activist judges," or thinks that the outcome is less legitimate because it came from a judge instead of a vote, I'm ignoring them and so should you.