Whoo-Boy! It’s penicillin all over again

We all know the story of penicillin’s discovery:  it arose from a lab accident when Alexander Fleming noticed that an accidental mold was killing bacteria.  That coincidental discovery changed the modern world.  It looks as if we can be seeing another pencillin moment, with an accidental fungus leading the way in the fight against cancer (emphasis mine):

A drug developed using nanotechnology and a fungus that contaminated a lab experiment may be broadly effective against a range of cancers, U.S. researchers reported on Sunday.

The drug, called lodamin, was improved in one of the last experiments overseen by Dr. Judah Folkman, a cancer researcher who died in January. Folkman pioneered the idea of angiogenesis therapy — starving tumors by preventing them from growing blood supplies.

Lodamin is an angiogenesis inhibitor that Folkman’s team has been working to perfect for 20 years. Writing in the journal Nature Biotechnology, his colleagues say they developed a formulation that works as a pill, without side-effects.

They have licensed it to SynDevRx, Inc, a privately held Cambridge, Massachusetts biotechnology company that has recruited several prominent cancer experts to its board.

Tests in mice showed it worked against a range of tumors, including breast cancer, neuroblastoma, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, brain tumors known as glioblastomas and uterine tumors.

It helped stop so-called primary tumors and also prevented their spread, Ofra Benny of Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School and colleagues reported.

“Using the oral route of administration, it first reaches the liver, making it especially efficient in preventing the development of liver metastasis in mice,” they wrote in their report. “Liver metastasis is very common in many tumor types and is often associated with a poor prognosis and survival rate,” they added.

Read more here.

The anti-mensch

“Mensch” is a fairly unique Yiddish word, in that, in this single word, Jews have managed to encompass vast discourses on our fundamental humanity — or lack therefore.

For those who know German, “mench” is a prosaic word that simply means person.  For Jews, however, the notion of what it means to be a person soon outstripped the mechanical concept of a two legged mammal with thumbs and the capacity for speech or cognition.  Instead, “mensch” began to take on a moral component.  In the Yiddish world of words, a mensch is a fundamentally decent human being, one who is the antithesis of the human capacity for low, immoral, animal-like behavior.  Think of someone you know who is a genuinely good and kind person, with a strong moral compass, and who lacks the cold self-righteousness that sometimes can characterize people too proud of their morality.  That personal is a mensch.

I’m quite certain that, whichever person you thought of, that person was not Barack Obama.  In a beautifully reasoned article at American Thinker, Peter Kirsanow explains why he does not like Obama (a dislike I translate into the fact that Obama is, at bottom, no mensch).  This dislike does not arise simply because Kirsanow disagrees with Obama’s political beliefs.  We all know people whose political beliefs strike us as wrong, yet we can still recognize them as good (albeit misguided) people.  Kirsanow, however, gives chapter and verse why Obama, with his cold, self-involved, calculating personality, and his barely concealed ambition, is fundamentally unlikeable — he is the anti-mensch.

Incidentally, if you want an antidote, in the form of some menschlichkeit (having the quality of a mensch), read Kyle Anne Shiver about McCain the man (not the politician), and the family that raised him.

WALL*E = eh

We went yesterday to see Pixar’s newest offering — WALL*E.  I can tell you that everything the critics have said about it is true:  It’s amazingly beautiful, with animation of such sophistication that one is continuously impressed; and the story is imaginative and goes far beyond the usual children’s fare of screams and pratfalls.  It is, in other words, a critic’s delight.

However, I’m not a critic.  I’m just an ordinary gal going to the movie.  From that point of view, despite my wonder at the technical achievement behind the movie, the whole thing left me pretty cold.  The movie’s dystopian vision of people — we trash the earth and walk away, and then we become fat, brainless victims of overreaching corporatism — is scarcely an audience-friendly approach.  In addition, having two barely verbal robots as the movie’s romantic leads, while a cute conceit, simply doesn’t hold ones interest for very long.  WALL*E, the protagonist. is cute in an ET kind of way, but he’s a one trick pony — all he wants is the girl, and she’s not that interesting either.  For all that WALL*E is endearing, there’s no there there.

If you want to see a visually beautiful and creative movie, definitely check out WALL*E.  If you want to be entertained, I don’t know if this is the movie for you.

Civil and religious marriage *UPDATED*

This is the second in my series of marriage posts.  My first draft, which was a failure, tried to trace the history of marriage, something that’s much better done by better informed people.  What I realized from that valiant, although pointless and time-wasting effort, is that what I’m really interested in is a religion’s interest in marriage, a state’s interest in marriage, and the intersection between those two in America.  This post may ultimately not end up being any more useful or interesting than my abandoned effort, but it still accurately represents some of the things I believe we need to think about before signing off on gay marriage.

Before I dive into the substance of my post, let me say here what I always say in connection with these gay marriage posts.  I think gay marriage represents a sea change in human relationships.  Since the dawn of time, in all cultures, marriage has involved men and women, and that’s true whether we’re talking polygamy or monogamy.  Even in Greece, a culture people like to point to as one that encouraged homosexual relationships, marriage itself was still strictly a male/female event.  This traditional approach to marriage reflects basic biology, something I explored more here, in my post about the procreative component of marriage.

In other words, what’s being proposed now is something that runs counter to all of human history — and a facet of human history deeply rooted in human biology.  That’s not in and of itself a good reason to issue a categorical “no” to gay marriage.  It is, however, a very good reason not to rush into the subject and definitely not to let judges, who are one of the weakest links analytically, intellectually and emotionally in modern society, to make the decision for us.  This is a topic that requires debate and thoughtful analysis, and I’m doing my bit here, at my blog.  So, back to the post:

Religion and marriage:

As far as I know — and please correct me if I’m wrong — all of the world’s major religions incorporate marriage as a component of faith.  The Catholic Church defines marriage as one of the sacraments.  For the uninitiated (and I count myself among that crowd), Wikipedia has what seems to me to be a nice summary of what the sacraments are:

According to the Catechism, Jesus instituted seven sacraments and entrusted them to the Church.[46] These are Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony. Sacraments are visible rituals which Catholics see as providing God’s grace to all those who receive them with the proper mindset or disposition (ex opere operato).

In other words, marriage, if it is at all possible to achieve that state, is an integral part of the Catholic faith.  Deliberately shunning marriage is, I presume, tantamount, to turning your back on God’s grace. Although I’m shaky on Protestant doctrine when it comes to marriages, I have the sense that, while Protestantism abandoned the terminology of the “sacraments,” it kept the concept, with marriage being an integral expression of religious faith.

Jews too see marriage as an essential act of faith, putting into effect both (1) God’s direct command that his followers are fruitful and multiply, and (2) God’s intention, expressed when he created Eve as Adam’s companion, that men and women form lasting companionable partnerships.

And as we all know Islam also strongly advocates the marital relationship.

A little research reveals that in Hinduism, too, marriage is a sacred religious covenant.  About.com has a brief summary, which I quote from here at length, since it leads to my next point about religion and marriage:

In Hinduism, man and woman represent the two halves of the divine body. There is no question of superiority or inferiority between them. However, it is a scientific fact that the emotional side is more developed in women. This does not mean that intellectually, women are inferior. Hindu history is witness to the super-women, like Gargi, Maitreyi and Sulabha, whose faculty of reasoning was far superior to that of ordinary mortals. But owing to organic differences in their physical and emotional constitutions, women are temperamentally more emotional than men.

[snip]

The idea behind the institution of marriage in Hinduism is to foster, not self-interest, but love for the entire family. Practice of self-restraint is the ideal of marriage in Hinduism. It is the love and duty cultivated for the entire family that prevents the break-ups.

[snip]

The present-day Hindu husbands fail to recognize the sacrifices and lofty ideals of Hindu wives, and thus compel them to follow the worst of the West. During the nuptial ceremony in a Vedic marriage, both the bride and the bridegroom take oath for the practice of self-restraint, to work together for the welfare of the family and to help each other to attain spiritual peace. This lofty ideal of sanctity is a great gift of Hinduism to the world at large.

As you probably noticed, the above description has all sorts of pragmatic reasons for marriage:  self-restraint, companionship, family and the complimentary nature of male and female emotional lives.  Judaism, too, has a focus on marriage that can be seen as very pragmatic, and untied to things spiritual:  children and companionship.  Indeed, I’m willing to bet that, if you go back in time and study the origin of marriage in each of the world’s religion, you’ll see that it’s tied to some practical goal.

At this point, of course, advocates for changing marriage start to argue that since marriage is a pragmatic means to an end even in the context of religion, religions should be changed to accommodate gay marriage, which is also a means to an end of companionship, family and (through adoption or insemination), children.  This argument is plain wrong, though.

Regardless of the reasons the religions advance for marriage, the fact remains that heterosexual marriage is an integral part of each religion, and is seen as a necessary step for any given religion’s practitioners to take to achieve religious fulfillment or commitment.  A civil society cannot change these fundamental doctrinal facts, no matter how much it is able to rationalize the reasons for the nexus between marriage and faith.  Any given religion’s control over the marriage of its practitioners is sacrosanct and untouchable no matter how much you try to rationalize it away.

The state and marriage:

The modern state encourages marriage.  Why?  Originally, states were inextricably intertwined with religion.  Starting with Constantine, where the ruler went, so went the people.  If religion demanded marriage, well then, dammit, so would the religious state.  That’s not the case anymore, especially in America.  Thanks to the First Amendment, the American government cannot mandate that everyone get married because “X” religion says so, nor can it demand that all who want to get married have to do so under the aegis of “X” religion.

Although there can be no religious element to marriage in American, the state is nevertheless heavily vested in the union of men and women.  This involvement is completely separate from religious unions, although, confusingly, they share the same name:  marriage.  The deal in America is that, if you want to have a solely religious marriage, that’s fine — only you won’t get any of the benefits the state extends to people who simultaneously enter in a civil marriage contract.  What are those benefits?  Here’s a partial list proponents of gay marriage assembled (from an alleged total of 1400 benefits), along with some comments from me, in blue:

  • joint parenting; [This is a biological one:  his sperm, her egg.  However, it can be circumvented by having the non-biological parent adopt the child, something that has happened in step-families for centuries]
  • joint adoption; [My understand of adoption is that both parents have to be vetted.  I assume there's an extra procedural hurdle to issue the adoption papers for John Smith and John Doe, as opposed to Mrs. and Mr. John and Jane Doe.  However, it certainly hasn't stopped numerous gay couples I know from adopting.  Adoption is always a procedural pain in the neck from the stories I've heard.]
  • joint foster care, custody, and visitation (including non-biological parents); [See above.]
  • status as next-of-kin for hospital visits and medical decisions where one partner is too ill to be competent;  [This can be arranged contractually.]
  • joint insurance policies for home, auto and health;  [This can be arranged contractually.]
  • dissolution and divorce protections such as community property and child support; [This can be arranged contractually.]
  • immigration and residency for partners from other countries;  [I'll agree that this is definitely a difference between people married, versus people merely committed to each other.  Marriage would seem to add some credibility to the claim that the non-resident is involved in a true relationship with the American citizen, rather than a sham for immigration purposes.  Given that both our immigration policies and are marital policies are increasingly sham-like themselves, it's hard to believe that this is an insurmountable hurdle.]
  • inheritance automatically in the absence of a will; [Write a will.  Most married people I know have written wills anyway, because the "one size fits all" of an intestacy statute is a disaster waiting to happen.]
  • joint leases with automatic renewal rights in the event one partner dies or leaves the house or apartment;  [In San Francisco, landlord tenant laws are such that this is not a valid reason to claim marriage as a benefit over non-marriage.  Once you're in an apartment, you've got squatters rights, which is one of the reasons I refused to yield to my husband's importuning that we buy residential properties in SF to rent.  I don't know the law in places that don't protect tenants as much.  Again, though, change the contract.]
  • inheritance of jointly-owned real and personal property through the right of survivorship (which avoids the time and expense and taxes in probate); [Properties can be held in joint tenancy by non-married people.  This is again a contractual matter.  You can set up trusts, re-title property, etc.]
  • benefits such as annuities, pension plans, Social Security, and Medicare; [I have no idea about this, but suspect that it's true that federal government benefits cannot be amended by contract.]
  • spousal exemptions to property tax increases upon the death of one partner who is a co-owner of the home; [I don't know about this -- taxes are a blank slate for me -- but I assume that there are again contractual or commercial steps one can take to circumvent this problem.  I freely concede I may be wrong here.]
  • veterans’ discounts on medical care, education, and home loans; joint filing of tax returns;  [Joint filing of tax returns is no privilege, it's a penalty.  I don't know about veteran's benefits but, given that the military won't recognize homosexual relationships, I'm sure it's true.]
  • joint filing of customs claims when traveling; [BFD.]
  • wrongful death benefits for a surviving partner and children; [If you've adopted the children, I don't believe that they can be deprived of wrongful death benefits.  I don't know about the surviving partner, although I assume that, again, most business and insurance companies have set this up so that a person can be named contractually.]
  • bereavement or sick leave to care for a partner or child; [Again, adoption solves the child problem; and I don't know about the partner problem.]
  • decision-making power with respect to whether a deceased partner will be cremated or not and where to bury him or her; [This can be resolved contractually, if the deceased is an adult.]
  • crime victims’ recovery benefits;  [Don't know.]
  • loss of consortium tort benefits; [Probably depends on the state in which the consortium tort benefits are claimed.]
  • domestic violence protection orders;  [Depends on the state, I guess.  Also, anyone who is the victim if violence can, in theory, get a protective order.  The problem is that, whether you're partnered or not, they don't do much good.  Also, if you're not married, you theoretically have an easier time getting out of the domestic violence situation than someone who is married and whose life, as a matter of law, is deeply entwined with that of the violent partner.  In other words, this sounds redundant.]
  • judicial protections and evidentiary immunity [Evidentiary immunity -- no doubt about it.  There is no law saying a gay partner cannot be forced to testify.  I don't know about other judicial protections.]

Clearly, a lot of the automatic benefits — and burdens — bestowed on married couples require some extra work for gay people.  And there are definitely some benefits that won’t go to gay people at all.  None of these details, though, change the fundamental question:  Is it in the state’s interest to make all these benefits automatically available to gay people?  States that have legalized civil unions have said yes, taking away the complaint that the local state government is depriving gays of the same ease of access to government benefits that is granted to straight married couples.  Presumably, the federal government could do the same thing without actually calling it marriage.

But I’ve digressed — again.  Let me restate my question:  Why the heck does a civil state care about marriage to the point where it extends all these benefits?  There are lots of answers.  I’ll start with a few, and leave you to fill in the rest.

One of the primary reasons is convenience, both for the married people and for the state.  Since our culture’s default setting is for heterosexuals to pair up, and since our Judeo-Christian heritage has seen to it that this pairing up falls under the rubric of marriage, it’s infinitely easier if the state treats these pairs as a single entity.  Half the tax returns (even if people are penalized for filing them), half the number of adoption forms, half the this and half the that.  This also allows for huge numbers of presumptions about parenting — who has genetic rights in the children, who can be relied upon to care for the children, who would want his or her estate to go to the children, etc.  The efficiency of treating permanently joined couples as one, and of making certain presumptions about them as a matter of law, is overwhelming.  This benefit — to the state and to married people — would not change if marriage were extended to gay couples.

Intangible societal benefits also flow from marriage, and this is one of those things where the state’s benefit is our benefit too.  As I’ve mentioned in my first post about gay marriage, marriage stabilizes men by focusing their testosterone on the protection of their wives and children and, by extension, on the protection of a stable, coherent society that will provide the maximum benefit to those same wives and children.  Marriage is also beneficial to women since, biologically, they spend a lot of down time being pregnant and caring for children.  A stable marriage ensures that they won’t have to be dependent on themselves, strangers or the state for these basic needs.

Stable married couples also tend to demand stable communities.  To begin with, they want safe, attractive communities for their children.  They also tend to be much, much more sociable.  The moment I had children, I realized I’d joined the largest club in the world.  It was no longer a matter of sporting the right clothes, or walking a dog in the right neighborhood, or having the right hobby in order to find people to talk to.  Everyone who has ever had or wanted a child was an instant acquaintance.  This creates intangible community bonds that are invisible to those who don’t have children.  These bonds, again, encourage a thriving society where everyone, for his or her own benefit, works for the common good.

Frankly, gays with children can join this club too, and would have these interests too, so the state should be encouraging gays to have children.  The question, of course, is whether marriage is a necessary prerequisite to encourage gays to have children.  I don’t have the answer to that.

Do the above factors include “encouraging traditional values?”  I don’t know.  If by “traditional values” we mean having children and raising them to be useful members of society, defending our country, keeping our communities safe and thriving, etc., the factors I’ve set out above are definitely policies aimed at preserving and encouraging traditional values, whether or not civil marriage is extended to gays.  If we think “encouraging traditional values” must include as one of those values “heterosexual marriage,” we come to a standstill.  In that case, the state cannot simultaneously preserve heterosexual marriage while opening marriage to gays.

At the civil side, it all seems to boil down to what one believes should be the state’s ultimate goals.  If one believes that heterosexual marriage is an ultimate goal, or if one believes that the nature of the gay lifestyle is such that, even extending marriage to gays would not bring them into the “stable society” fold, the debate is over.  There is no societal virtue in having the state recognize gay marriage.  If one believes, however, that gay marriage would increase the state’s ability to impose on its citizens all of the traditional virtues (but for heterosexual marriage, of course), while simultaneously increasing convenience for both the state and its citizens, gay marriage becomes a viable option.

Religious freedom in America versus gay marriage

Again, though, that’s not the end of the analysis.  We continue to have problems because of America’s unique nature, which has seen the law develop so that the courts and the government have the power to prevent private individuals and organizations from depriving fellow citizens of rights.  Even if we agree that the state will not be compromised by allowing gay marriage, we still run the risk of creating a Constitutional Frankstein’s monster.

As we’ve seen already from legions of newspaper stories, both at home and abroad, gays are routinely, and successfully, suing religious individuals and organizations (or bringing administrative proceedings) in an effort to force them to fall in line with state norms about homosexuality, even if those norms are antithetical to religious norms.  Individuals and organizations that don’t want to extend benefits to same sex partners, or who don’t want to arrange adoptions for gay couples, or who don’t want to use their venues to host same sex marriages, or whatever else is being asked of them, are being challenged through the courts and through government bureaucracies.  Their religious convictions are being attacked through state vehicles.

These bureaucratic and judicial attacks would seem to run directly counter to the First Amendment’s first clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  The government is prohibiting the free exercise of someone’s religion if it forces that person to lose his livelihood or his home or his business if he won’t engage in acts antithetical to what are still fairly mainstream religious beliefs.

In other words, no matter how one tries, as I did, to make a pro and con list of the religious and civil aspects of marriage, one still runs into a single, possibly insurmountable problem:  For the state, in the form of the federal government, to impose gay marriage throughout American means that Congress will, by definition, have enacted a law prohibiting the free exercise of someone’s religion.  That violates the First Amendment.  The only way not to violate it is to enact a Constitutional amendment, something that might state “Congress may pass a law allowing gay marriage and that will be the exception to the prohibition against Congress passing a law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.”  Absent that change, which is an enormous undertaking, I actually don’t see how the feds can allow gay marriage without violating the existing Constitution.

Of course, given the increasing activism of the Courts and government bureaucracies, and their routine willingness to subordinate religious freedom to the intangible goal of equality of outcome, my question, while academically interesting is probably moot.  I can assure you that, in an Obama Supreme Court, the justices will easily find some intangible right to gay marriage that entirely trumps the First Amendment.

I feel I should state some sort of conclusion here, but I don’t rightly now what my conclusion is.  I can summarize my argument, though:  Most religions do not and cannot be forced by the state to recognize gay marriage.  The state’s more pragamatic interests in marriage probably would not be too greatly compromised by gay marriage.  The state’s vision of society might or might not be comprised by gay marriage, depending on what that vision is.  But all of that may be moot because it appears that, if Congress recognizes gay marriage, which is the ultimate gay demand, it will create a fundamental clash with the First Amendment that will be resolved only by the Supreme Court.  And as the tight victory for the Second Amendment reveals, even the currently composed Supreme Court could go either way.  An Obama Supreme Court will toss religious freedom out the window.

As is always the case, the way this should be resolved is through a Constitutional amendment (which is how the abortion matter should also be addressed), but the activists will never go that route when they think they have the Courts in their pockets.

Your thoughts?

UPDATE: Here are to further points. First, this is an example of what happens in a society when men don’t get the calming influence of marriage and the societal-beneficial investment into a family.

Second, I wanted to point out something I hadn’t made clear in my post, namely the fact that, in America, freedom of worship is not limited to doctrinal practices.  That is, it’s not simply that the government can’t make a law prohibiting church services or banning the reading of the Torah.  In case after case (many involving Jehovah’s witnesses in the 30s through 50s), the Court’s have held that people cannot be forced to engage in day-to-day life practices antithetical to their beliefs.  The most obvious example is the fact that the government has routinely issued conscientious objector status to those who can show that they are true adherents of religions that genuinely have pacificism as a core part of the belief system (such as Quakers).

UPDATE II:  It’s people like this gentleman (and I’m being generous saying, not only “gentleman” but also “people”), who are common fixtures at gay pride parades, who may give some Americans the impression that gays are agitating for marriage for reasons other than merging with societal norms.  That is, perhaps they’re just making a political point:  We want it, not because it leads us to our ultimate goals of societal normalcy, but because we currently don’t have it.

UPDATE III: Scott’s comment and an email from DQ both tell me I need to clarify something. Here goes:

The distinction I have in mind when I make my First Amendment argument is predicated on the differences between “mere” cultural practices and core religious doctrine. Both Scott and DQ are correct that there is nothing to stop the state from issuing civil marriage licenses. No one would contend that, if it did so, though, that law would force religious authorities — rabbis, priests, imams, etc. — to perform gay marriages.  I know that the state would not get involved in church affairs in that way.

The people I’m thinking about are the ordinary citizens whose lives or livelihoods intersect with the marriage business. Examples of this would be the Massachusetts Catholic charity that was put out of business because it felt doctrinally barred from giving children to gay couples. Another example, which happened in England (but could happen here under new laws) is the owner of a fancy reception hall being fined and put out of business because he won’t open his home to gay weddings.

Incidentally, the ban against polygamy (which DQ mentioned in his email to me as an example of the US messing with religious marital principles) was grossly unconstitutional if one believes that, as of the 1860s, Mormonism was, in fact, a true religion. The only way the US gov got away with it was (1) because Mormonism was not an established religion and (2) Utah wanted desperately to move from being a territory to becoming a state.  Islamic polygamy, which is banned under anti-polygamy laws, actually has the same problem, although I don’t know Islam enough to know whether one can argue that polygamy is a cultural practice, not a doctrine.  If the former, it can be banned.  If the latter, it’s questionable whether it can be.

With the major faiths – Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, etc. – we take it as given that they’re true religions and not merely convenient fictions for certain behaviors (which is the negative view Americans of the 1860s took of Mormonism). Even when we separate core doctrines, central to the religion itself, from practices rising up around the religion, we see that marriage is a central practice to each religion. Given that marriage is not merely a ritual or habit but is, instead, vital to the religion, the US theoretically should not be able to force religious citizens (as opposed to their priests, rabbis and imams) to participate in gay marriage ceremonies – or, worse, to be punished for refusing to participate.

So, again in theory, not only does not the rabbi not have to perform the ceremony, the Jewish caterer should not be sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars for refusing to provide the food. It’s the latter person who concerns me at a Constitutional level (the caterer), not the former (the rabbi), whom I know the government will leave alone.

I’m still here

Oh, my gosh!  Was it a busy weekend.  I’ve got lots ot tell, including giving my impressions of the self-defense class I took, and a quick review of WALL*E.

There are, however, still a few barriers between me and blogging.  I have to tidy the house for the cleaning ladies (they’re here to clean, and clean hard, not to figure out in which closet a doodad goes), and I probably have to swing by my mother’s to help her with an email crisis (she can’t get to her email).

As to the latter, it’s virtually impossible to help her over the phone.  Her call this morning opened with a panicky “It’s not working at all because it wants my full Yahoo ID.”  It took almost a half hour of probing to figure out that her computer is working perfectly, but that her email access isn’t working, a problem I was able to replicate on my own computer.  And all the while, my house still isn’t ready for the cleaning ladies’ imminent arrival.

I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, I promise — I’m just bursting with things to say.

Confession is good for the soul

Sadly, since my husband is incommunicado, I haven’t yet had the chance to tell him this story, so I’m still sitting under the sword of Damocles.

On the way home from a swim meet, I stopped to get gas.  The entry way into the gas station was very narrow.  I saw that there was a post by the right front bumper and carefully turned to avoid it.  I missed that post.  Unfortunately, I managed to hit another post above the left rear tire.  My lovely new car is still fairly new, but no longer lovely.  I’m hoping that this repair comes in under $1000, but I’m not optimistic.  Body work never comes in under $1000.  And then of course there’s the “how could you do that” price that’s still to be paid.  Sigh….

At least my daughter had a good swim meet.  She’s getting better with every meet seeing her setting new best times.  I really admire the way she’s gone after this swimming.  She practices five days a week and does so with such gusto.

San Francisco sneakily applies slow poison to JROTC

In another of those hastily called School Board meetings — a tactic used to ensure that JROTC supporters will be less likely to attend the meeting — the SF School Board cut the legs off the JROTC program by denying it PE credits:

San Francisco public high schools will no longer award physical education credit to students enrolled in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, the Board of Education voted Thursday in a hastily scheduled meeting.

The 4-1 vote will likely cripple the 90-year-old military education program that serves 1,200 students because most use it to satisfy their PE requirement.

“If students really love the program, they’ll take it anyway,” said board President Mark Sanchez, who has led opposition to JROTC because of its ties to the military.

Gregory Wing, who will be a sophomore at Lowell next semester, said he loves JROTC, but the board’s vote “messes everything up for incoming freshmen and sophomores” who have no room in their schedules for the required PE and for JROTC.

“It’s completely unfair,” he said. “What am I going to do for credit?”

His sentiments echoed those of a dozen school-age cadets and others who argued that the district made its decision too quickly, and that students in the military program are actually more fit than students in regular PE.

Apparently when you embrace pacificism, as these Board members I’m sure do, you’ve given yourself license, not to fight fair and square, but to engage in duplicitous, backstabbing, down and dirty tactics to destroy a much-loved program that is well-supported within the community.

Frankly, there is a reason I know several San Francisco families who pay huge fortunes to educate their children at private schools within the City or even outside of the City, in the more tradition-bound suburbs.  Even if they agree with the Board’s political ideology (and, sadly, so many do), they still have a sense of revulsion at the rotten product a highly politicized school board creates.

Obama’s lies are catching up with him

I don’t need to tell you that Obama’s lies are catching up with him.  What I wanted to point out is that others are catching up to the unique nature of Obama’s lies, something I blogged about here and hereMy example is Ed Morrissey, who says neatly in one paragraph what it took me two wandering posts to say:

John McCain has reversed himself on off-shore drilling and the Bush tax cuts, as his opponents point out.  However, McCain acknowledges those changes and explains them (the oil situation has changed significantly and it has serious national-security implications, and McCain now admits that the Bush tax cuts worked).  Obama changes his position and tries to hoodwink people into believing that he hasn’t.  A gifted politician could get away with that sleight-of-hand once in a campaign, but when it starts becoming a habit, no one buys the act any longer — and Obama has a long string of reversals in just the last few weeks alone.  People get annoyed when a politician repeatedly insults their intelligence.

I want!

If only these products (especially the laundry machine) were real, and not just more items from the prodigious collective imagination of the Pixar crew.  I’m getting the feeling that WALL*E is a movie worth watching, if only for the extraordinary visual beauty about which each critic rhapsodizes.  It’s not often a movie gets a 97% freshness rating at Rotten Tomatoes.  If I see it, I’ll let you know what I think, and if you see it, please let me know what you think (but no spoilers, please).

Some facts about headaches

What with heat waves, smoke filled air (from semi-local fires), and wind storms, I’ve been having fairly constant migraines for the past week, and if that’s not a drag, I don’t know what is.  I have learned something this past week, though.  No matter what it feels like, your eyeballs don’t really explode, nor do your brains leak out of your ears.  Your head is, in fact, able to contain that pressure!

UPDATE: A good dollop of Ibuprofin, Maxalt, chocolate, and some dog cuddling therapy seem to be doing the trick, but I know from experience that this is going to start all over again as soon as I wake up tomorrow morning.  Sigh….

Living in a different time zone

As I’m sure many of you have noticed, summer has me turned around, with my bloggin taking place in the afternoon and evening, rather than the morning.  That’s because the morning tends to be devoted to the kids’ concerns.  I simply can’t get any sustained time at the computer before about 3 in the afternoon.

As it is, I have a research project to do right now, so I’m not blogging at this minute either, but I can tell you about the results from the Watcher’s Council.  When I was reading all the posts and articles yesterday, I was stunned by the high quality of this week’s submissions.  I had a heck of a time narrowing things down in both the Council and non-Council categories — and didn’t end up voting for a single winner.  However, given how good every submission was, I can assure you that, while the winners weren’t the ones I actually voted for, I approve of them wholeheartedly.

Votes Council link
2  2/3 South Africa’s Neville Chamberlain
The Razor
2 The Whole Shebaa-ng
Soccer Dad
1  2/3 More Quincy
Done With Mirrors
1  1/3 Dick Morris Gets One Right
Hillbilly White Trash
1  1/3 Warped
Joshuapundit
2/3 My ANWR Photo Gallery
Cheat Seeking Missiles
1/3 Left Continues Denigration of McCain’s Military Service, POW Heroism
Rhymes With Right
1/3 Gay Pride Week
Bookworm Room
1/3 And on the Seventh Day, He Rested
Wolf Howling
Votes Non-council link
2 Why You Should Apologize — Ineffectively and Dishonestly — For What You Didn’t Do
Classical Values
1  2/3 The Unconscious Roots of Media Bias
ShrinkWrapped
1  1/3 Big Gains in Iraq?
Abu Muqawama
1  1/3 Obama’s Lack of Ordinary Modesty
American Thinker
1 An Almost Unfathomable Ignorance of History
Brits At Their Best
1 The Card
Stop the ACLU
1 Alcoholism Progression
Dean’s World
1 Is There A Pattern Here? If So, Is There A Name For It?
Discriminations
1/3 “Declaring Independence from a ‘Broken System’ By Breaking a Promise…” [UPDATED]
AmbivaBlog
1/3 Building Walls
Shira bat Sarah

Life in the bureaucratic state

People around the world are facing food shortages but, in the magical bureacracy that is the EU, food is being destroyed for being a millimeter off of Brussels regulations:

A market trader has been banned from selling a batch of kiwi fruits because they are 1mm smaller than EU rules allow.

Inspectors told 53-year- old Tim Down he is forbidden even to give away the fruits, which are perfectly healthy.

The father of three will now have to bin the 5,000 kiwis, costing him £1,000 in lost sales.

Speaking yesterday from the stall in Bristol he has owned for 20 years, Mr Down said: ‘It’s total nonsense. I work hard enough to make a living without all these bureaucrats telling us what we can and can’t sell.

‘They’re saying I’m a criminal for selling this fruit, but the real crime is that all this fruit will go to waste  -  all because it’s 1mm too small.

‘It’s a terrible waste, particularly when we’re all feeling the pinch from rising food prices and I’ve got to throw away this perfectly good fruit.’

This is life in a world regulated, not by the marketplace of real sellers and buyers, but by the government.  This, incidentally, is what Barack Obama would like to bring to all of us, since his fellow travelers are all statists — people who want the government to play an overarching role in our lives, including in the marketplace.

More music from the 1980s

It seems I’m not the only one who looks back on the early 1980s as a good era musically.  So, for fun, here are a few other songs.

First, Philip Bailey and Phil Collins with 1985′s Easy Lover:

Second, Stevie Wonder’s I Just Called to Say I Love You from 1984:

Third, and last, in this trip to the past, 1984′s Sea of Love, which was the Honeydrippers’ remix of the original 1959 song:

Not what you expect from NPR

From 1987 through 2003, I listened to NPR with religious fervor.  It was my church.  Everything I knew, I knew from NPR.  In 2003, I discovered the internet and began following up on stories I heard on NPR.  I learned for the first time that NPR had not only an anti-Israel bias — one that usually saw me screaming at my radio before snapping it off — but an anti-anything but lockstep liberalism bias.  I tried to listen to it after 2003, just to remain informed about the “other side” politically, but didn’t have the time or the energy.  It became too irksome to me that my taxpayer dollars were (and are) funding something so relentlessly one-sided politically.

Something strange happened at NPR this weekend, however.  Scott Simon, a regular NPR commentator, broke free of the liberal stranglehold and broadcast a very strong criticism of Obama.  It touches upon his reckless spending, his broken campaign promises, and his attack on Republicans on racist grounds.  Aside from a mean throw-away line about bloggers, it is a model of rational thinking.  Very peculiar — but absolutely worth the three minutes and thirty seconds it takes to listen to the comment.

Hat tip:  Happy Catholic via The Anchoress

AP tries for clever, but comes up with stupid

There has been speculation lately from those with little us to occupy their brains about whether the snazzy red loafers that adorn the Pope’s feet are Prada.  It turns out that they not.  Never say that the modern media isn’t heavy on the investigative reporting, right?

This inordinately silly story would not be noteworthy were nit not for the opening sentence of the AP report, which aims for clever, and lands squarely in stupid:

The devil may wear Prada — but the pope does not.

I know that the above sentence is an attempt to riff off some pop culture phrase, but it sounds remarkably as if the Pope is, somehow, in league with or subordinate to the Devil.

Also, am I missing something or should Pope be capitalized, because it’s a unique title?

A new site for right thinkers

Just wanted to give you a heads up that there is a new site taking on the Digg crowd (which has pretty much become an all Progressive forum).  It’s called R-igg.  Check it out here and feel free to promote my posts there, if you desire.  All you have to do is register, and then it gives you a little bookmark that you can drag into your browser.  If you see a post you like, click your bookmark.

Bang, bang! *UPDATED*

Just in time for July 4th, the Supreme Court confirmed that the Second Amendment says what it means and means what it says.

I personally am not now, nor have I ever been, a gun owner.  I keep meaning to go the local firing range and take lessons (operating on the principle that, since I’m surprisingly good at darts, I might be good at target shooting too), but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.  Nevertheless, my personal laziness and history aside, I know a Constitutional right when I see one, and I’m always delighted to see those vindicated.

The opinion (including the dissent) is 157 pages long (which surprises me, since the Amendment’s language is one sentence long), so I haven’t plowed through the whole thing — and, barring the unlikely event that I find myself actually litigating a gun rights case — I probably never will. Still, I’m starting to read it now, and if I stick with it and anything particularly wonderful (from the opinion) or awful (from the dissent) leaps out at me, I’ll let you know.

The one thing that does immediately leap out is that Kennedy has fully and completely filled O’Connor’s shoes as the swing vote.  The case went the way it did only because he chose to side with the four strict constructionists on the court, rather than the four activists.

The decision is another reminder that an Obama presidency, which will give him the chance to appoint at least one, and possibly more, Supreme Court justices is an extremely dangerous thing.  I know that many people who are lukewarm about or dislike McCain are assuming that, even if Obama gets his hands on the court, he’ll be able to touch only the old liberals, such as Stevens or Ginsberg.  This thinking is a mistake.  Bad things happen and there is always the possibility (God forbid), that one of the strict constructionist seats may suddenly open up.  Do you really want to take the chance that something bad happens and Obama gets to fill the vacancy?

UPDATE: Another thing leaping out:  Scalia is a wonderful writer — lucid and simple.  He complete avoids the turgid, serpentine, incredibly boring prose that routinely characterizes opinions by O’Connor (Ret.), Ginsberg, and Stevens.  This opinion is actually written in English a lay person can understand.

Interestingly, thinking about it, the worst writers are always the activists:  Ginsberg, Stevens, O’Connor, etc.  I suspect that, since their arguments are so often not bounded by actual American law, they have to throw up huge, wordy, impenetrable smoke-screens to hide that fact.  The strict constructionists, who are writing within a sound framework, have no need to hide or dissemble.

UPDATE II:  On the subject of (God forbid), bad things happening to good judges, the moonbats are already talking judicial assassination.

More ways to support the troops

A couple of days ago, I let you know about a way you could support the troops by sending words of thanks.  Today, I want to remind you about the Webathon for the troops.  Michelle Malkin describes it thusly:

I’ll be in beautiful Mountain View, CA all day today for “From the Frontlines,” our ground-breaking web-a-thon for the troops. Move America Forward’s Melanie Morgan and I will go live on Ustream.TV and right here at MichelleMalkin.com (as well as at HotAir.com) at 4pm Eastern/1pm Pacific. (Just hit the play button on the embedded video player above when showtime arrives; if you’d like to join the live chatroom, make sure to register at UStream beforehand!) I’ll be updating this post all day as I liveblog the event from UStream’s studios. Thanks to all our fellow bloggers who’ve helped spread the word!

We’ve got a star-studded line-up of troops, military charities, celebs, and talk radio stars — from Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin to Dr. Laura and Laura Ingraham to musician John Ondrasik and “Lone Survivor” author and Navy SEAL hero Marcus Luttrell — who’ll be joining us in our eight-hour marathon fund-raising drive to help send the largest number of care packages in history to our men and women in uniform serving overseas.

Sounds good.  The link for contributing is here.  I’m scurrying around for my credit card and making my contribution right now, before the day runs away from me.

Goodies from the Watcher’s Council

Here’s what I’ll be reading in the next 24 hours from the Watcher’s Council:

Council links:

  1. More Quincy
    Done With Mirrors
  2. Moonbat Kucinich Wants to Impeach Bush
    The Colossus of Rhodey
  3. Left Continues Denigration of McCain’s Military Service, POW Heroism
    Rhymes With Right
  4. South Africa’s Neville Chamberlain
    The Razor
  5. Dick Morris Gets One Right
    Hillbilly White Trash
  6. The Whole Shebaa-ng
    Soccer Dad
  7. Gay Pride Week
    Bookworm Room
  8. Afghanistan Update
    The Glittering Eye
  9. My ANWR Photo Gallery
    Cheat Seeking Missiles
  10. Warped
    Joshuapundit
  11. And on the Seventh Day, He Rested
    Wolf Howling
  12. Paradise, Favorites, and the Evaluation Headgame
    The Education Wonks

Non-council links:

  1. “Declaring Independence from a ‘Broken System’ By Breaking a Promise…” [UPDATED]
    AmbivaBlog
  2. ‘Not My Fault’
    The New York Times
  3. Is There A Pattern Here? If So, Is There A Name For It?
    Discriminations
  4. Alcoholism Progression
    Dean’s World
  5. The Card
    Stop the ACLU
  6. Building Walls
    Shira bat Sarah
  7. Obama’s Lack of Ordinary Modesty
    American Thinker
  8. Big Gains in Iraq?
    Abu Muqawama
  9. The Zimmerman Telegram and the Captured Saddam Documents
    Flopping Aces
  10. The Unconscious Roots of Media Bias
    ShrinkWrapped
  11. An Almost Unfathomable Ignorance of History
    Brits At Their Best
  12. Why You Should Apologize — Ineffectively and Dishonestly — For What You Didn’t Do
    Classical Values
  13. Money Grubbing Tax Grabbers
    The QandO Blog
  14. Rep. Keith Ellison Brings Obama Back On Track
    Pondering Penguin

Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong

Two anecdotes, and then I’ll get to my point (and the anecdotes do relate to that point):

Anecdote 1:  I get my medical care from Kaiser and feel that I get great care.  Within its four walls, Kaiser is an extremely efficiently run organization that takes surprisingly good care of vast numbers of people.  Kaiser has a weakness, though, and that’s outside contractors.  Here’s a story illustrating that problem:

Years ago, a doctor figured out that one of the contributing factors to my fairly chronic headaches was bruxism.  In plain English, I grind my teeth at night.  The treatment for bruxism is a plastic jaw guard that one wears at night.  Kaiser doesn’t (or didn’t then) make those guards itself.  Instead, I was given a prescription to take to a Kaiser-selected orthodontist, who would cast the mold and arrange for the guard.  Kaiser would pay for the orthodondist; I would pay for the cost of the jaw guard itself (which came from a separate lab).  I dutifully went along to the orthodondist.

My first visit, I said hello to the orthodondist.  Then, a a tech put a mold in my mouth, came back ten minutes later, and removed the mold.  That was it.  My second (and last visit), the tech fitted the jaw guard in my mouth, the orthodondist spent a couple of minutes making some adjustments, and I walked away with my jaw guard, never to see those people again.

I received a $210 bill for the jaw guard, which I promptly paid.  My records showed that Kaiser received a $750 bill for the orthodondic services, which it promptly paid.

While I was outraged that Kaiser would pay $750 for 20 minutes of time, Kaiser apparently didn’t care.  It had no idea, it seemed, what it was actually paying for, and made no effort to control outside costs.  I later learned that outside providers consider Kaiser an unending source of funds, since it will pay any bills, no matter how outrageous, without question — and keep sending Kaiser patients to the same outside provider.

Anecdote 2:  Lawyers are an unending source of mean-spirited jokes for the ordinary American.  Here, I’ve got a few:

Why didn’t the sharks eat the lawyer who fell off a ship?  Professional courtesy.

What’s the difference between a dead lawyer in the middle of the road and a dead armadillo in the middle of the road?  There are skid marks in front of the armadillo’s corpse.

What do you call 25 sky-diving lawyers?  Skeet.

I could go on, but I won’t.  It’s just too painful — and too unfair, because the problem really lies with the judges.

Our legal system (and by this, I’m referring to the adversarial trial system) is meant to be a clashing of two opponents.  It’s the crucible theory:  Each side in a case, armed with his lawyer, goes into court to do battle.  In the heat of the battle, the truth is supposed to emerge.  The lawyers have to follow procedural rules, they have to abide by the law, and they have to be honest with the court.

Even sticking with these rules, though, things can get out of hand.  I’ve seen $10,000 disputes mushroom into cases lasting years, with the attorney’s fees roaring into the high six digits.  In the heat of battle, the lawyers just pound away at each other.  Even though they’re supposed to be their client’s agents (cool professionals, if you will), they often start taking it personally, and use every bit of firepower legally available to them to attack.

Under those circumstances, there is one person uniquely well situated to bring the situation to heel:  The judge.  For those of you who are not lawyers, I cannot tell you how much power a judge has to control a case.  He can slap down ill-taken motions, sanction over-zealous lawyers (who may be technically correct but who have violated the spirit of good faith, reasonable litigation), and even throw lawyers in jail if they get completely out of hand.  Interestingly, few judges exercise these powers in cases run amok.  They just let things roll — because it really doesn’t affect them.

If Lawyer X and Lawyer Y aren’t fighting in the court, Lawyers A and B will be.  The judge sees his job as just ruling on any given motion before him, without bothering to take note of the fact that Lawyer X and Lawyer Y have each filed 15 really expensive motions over the deposition of a file clerk and that the case has become a runaway freight train, sucking up judicial resources and destroying people’s lives.  Judges are like circus ring masters in a cage full of fighting lions who put down their whips and just watch the show.  It is a complete abandonment of judicial responsibility (usually spelled out in statutes) calling for a judge to keep control of cases.

And lastly, before I get to the meat of my post, one old saying:  “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”

What sparked these anecdotes is an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal today entitled “Conservatives and their Carnival of Fraud,” by Thomas Frank.  In it, Frank points rightly to the fact that many private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan have committed fraud and to the fact that there have been vast cost overruns.  I don’t quarrel with those facts.  They are what they are.  However, it’s his conclusion to those facts that strikes me as just wrong:  He wants to have all those jobs handed right back to the government, something he hopes will happen instantly under an Obama presidency.

What Frank doesn’t realize is that the problems in Iraq and Afghanistan are less of a contractor failure and more of a complete government failure.  Handing a task over to someone else doesn’t mean that you lose responsibility for oversight.  Whether you’re Kaiser outsourcing jaw guards, or a judge responsible for lawyers complying with both the letter and the spirit of the law, if something goes wrong with the jawguard process or the case, it’s your fault.  You had the ultimate responsibility. There are always going to be lazy, inefficient or corrupt people taking on tasks.  It’s the overseer’s responsibility to quash those negative behaviors.

Here, I would certainly convene the task force that Frank demands to examine the corruption, but I would make sure government heads roll.  That is, I wouldn’t just look into punishing those contractors who committed out and out fraud, or those who simply took advantage of a lax system.  I would examine the myriad government failures that saw the government pay the piper, but utterly fail to call the tune.

And frankly, if the government isn’t even up to the task of watching someone else do the job, how can we possibly trust the government to do the job itself?  All that Frank has done is to highlight the government’s complete inefficiency, ineffectiveness, and failure to shoulder responsiblity.  I’d feel very uncomfortable giving it the even harder task of actually getting things done.