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Saturday, July 19, 2003

Saturday at Darrell's Barber Shop

Tony Adragna
Well, Colbert didn't need to go to Darrell's for today's column
Welcome to Washington, a city at its worst (or best, depending on your point of view) when in full cry over politics. Today we shall observe the posturing politicians who take to the microphones to feign alarm at issues of perceived political consequence. This annoying behavior is a hoot, especially when it's plain as day the pols are conveniently ignoring the tougher issues they can't or won't address. This craven political behavior is displayed at both the federal and local levels, thus confirming our suspicion that shamelessness is the shared property of Capitol Hill and city hall.

First to the national scene.

Congressional sharks, smelling the blood of a Republican administration snagged by a 16-word sentence in a State of the Union address, are roiling the political waters in search of more flesh to tear, preferably out of George Bush's hide. The predators were so intent on trying to rip the administration's credibility to shreds that the most serious development of the week was nearly drowned out: the rise of the dreaded "G-word."...

But shucks: Who's kidding whom? This is Washington on the eve of America's political high season. Discrediting Bush is much more fun. Plus it's cheap -- and a no-brainer if you're lucky enough to have clever speechwriters.

Locally, and just as unfortunately, a similar play at slippery politics was evident this week in the D.C. city hall.

The Post published a four-part series that laid bare the ugly truth about the city's juvenile residential treatment program. It is dysfunctional, a taxpayer rip-off, a magnet for grant and contract hustlers, and a spawning ground for teenagers who traipse out of group homes to commit murder, rape and other violent crimes.

Mayor Anthony Williams, Ward 8 council member Sandy Allen (who chairs the committee that oversees youth services) and Ward 3 council member Kathy Patterson (overseer of D.C. public safety agencies) -- to hear them tell it -- are simply shocked, shocked, shocked by The Post's series.

That, my precious ones, is 100 percent pure, unadulterated poppycock...
Really, if he had gone to Darrell's for comments on the local story, he wouldn't have got very much printable material. I had a very strong emotional reaction to the series, and what I would've written informed by those feelings is not fit for publication. If my own experience with the juvenile justice system and group homes had been in DC, I don't know that I'd be here today...

Anyway, Colbert once again shows why he, in my opinion, is the best writer on WaPo's op-ed page...

Friday, July 18, 2003

Harry Potter & The War Against Terrorism

Tony Adragna
I finally got my copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — 'tis a tome, but I'm loving it.

Now, I don't wanna be making too much of something that's probably nothing, but am I the only person to see a certain similarity between young Mr. Potter and the current United States president?

Evil thought dead never really was. Harry & his allies — Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, Sirius Black (Harry's godfather), the Weasleys, Mad-Eye Moody, et al — see the danger. The thug Voldemort is back & his henchmen are eboldened by his return. The Wizarding community needs to deal with the threat. But....

Harry & Dumbledore are thought to be nutters — either the Wizarding community are crazy not to believe the warnings, or the warnings are naught but the rantings of crazy folk. Guess which option lots of folk prefer.

Alternatively, Harry & Dumbledore aren't crazy — instead, they're power hungry attention cravers.

Hmmm... I wonder how many readers think Harry et al are looking for an unjustified war...

I know, it's just a book...

Update: OK, so I'm not the only person to make the connection — Glenn responded to a Suellentrop piece by making the same point. And Betsy says, with what seems to me a sarcy reference to my analytical abilities , that she "discussed these same similarities" with her daughter — good on her...[update: Betsy writes to say no sarcasm intended, "Just appreciation for someone saying what I agreed with" — jeesh, now I'm agreeable... gotta work on my pot-stirring...]

Thursday, July 17, 2003

A Question of Intelligence

Tony Adragna
I don't want to rehash what's already been sufficiently proven wrong with reportage & commentary on the "Niger Uranium" story. Looking back over last January's State of the Union address, I found the relevant passage
The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb. The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.
Unless we assume that the only learning our government got from the Brits was just more of that forged document, then there's no basis for arguing that those sixteen words represent a lie.

I've still a problem with the statement, though: The British government doesn't make U.S. foreign policy. It's the advert to what "[t]he British government has learned" that troubles me. To my knowledge, conceding that I don't know everything, no U.S. administration has ever relied solely upon intelligence from another government, even an allied government, when deciding our own policy.

The rule is, if our own intelligence services can't independently confirm the information, then our government doesn't get to rely on it.

Ironically, contra what's being sold as pooch screwage, the rule was followed, and we — the U.S. — independently learned that Saddam Hussein had been attemtpting to acquire uranium from Africa. Amb. Wilson makes the case, and his analysis supports the conclusion, that Saddam's attempts were unsuccessful. But what Wilson's own inquiry found was an admission from his contacts in Africa that, yes, Saddam had made such attempts.

That's what the African officials thought Iraq's contact with Niger was all about, anyway, and that's what they told Wilson. And it's a reasonable assumption for those officials, and our own officials to make — Niger's main export is uranium.

So, why not cite what the U.S. learned via Wilson's report, instead of leaving Tony Blair swinging? Dunno.

What I do know is that the only thing the U.S. government has got to apologize for is not handling the "Niger uranium" imbroglio with a bit more... um... what's the word I'm looking for... intelligence.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Volokh Responds to the NJ Assembly...

Tony Adragna
Well, to an Assemblyman, but headline writers are alloqwed a little license[aren't they?]

The legislator's argument boils down to: Why should society extend the benefits incidental to marriage, including some "substantial financial benefits", to enduring homosexual relationships if those unions neither make any significant contribution to society, nor do the ending of those relationships present any any significant harm that society might want to prevent by incentivizing partners to remain together?

What this legislator is going on about is "kids." OK, fine...

Let me ask a question of my own: Do married people without children get to claim as an exemption, or take a child tax credit, against their "presumptive ability to breed"? Of course not — they've got to have a child. And anybody with a dependent child, whether that parent be married or not, is eligibable for that beneficial tax treatment. This benefit is already extended to homosexuals who become parents by adoption or through procreation.

And nobody says you can't take that tax treatment if you're not married. The only qualification is that you be a parent.

But you don't get the tax treatment of marriage if you're not married. And this treatment is purportedly about providing the optimal environment for children. I'll advert to Eugene's reponse here
If there's going to be homosexual child-rearing -- e.g., consider a mother who had children in a heterosexual marriage, is divorced, has custody of the children, and has a lesbian lover (and note that in many such situations, the father might not even want to claim custody instead) -- it seems to me much better that the couple be married than unmarried, for much the same reasons that it's better for heterosexual child-rearing to be done by a married couple. Even if you think that's the second-best scenario, the first-best being child-rearing by a heterosexual married couple, it may still be better than the likely alternative, which is less stability among the child-rearers.
So, a good argument can be made that society should use the tax code to promote same-sex marriages where children are involved.

Now, let me ask another question, building on the good legislator's falling out with his Aunt scenario. What if the Aunt isn't able to take care of herself, can't afford to pay for help and the Assemblyman is the only family she has? Wouldn't the falling apart of that relationship burden society with what should be a family's responsibility? Isn't the presence of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of Aunts living without the familiy support structure they need harmful to society?

Not only does the falling out with his Aunt present some potential burden to the public fisc and harm to society, but the obverse of that coin is also true: Extended families benefit society. What did we have before daycare, nursing homes, meals on wheels, etc.? We had the extended family! The authentic tradition, if I may borrow that phrase, of "family" extends at least to Aunts, Uncles & Grandparents. Our "nuclear family" has only fairly recently become the predominant structure.

So, if the good Assemblyman would take this benefits of the traditional family argument to it's logical conclusion, then he couldn't so easily dismiss the breakup with his Aunt as "a matter of the utmost irrelevance to society." Instead, he might find himself agreeing with me that the worst thing that happened to families wasn't the sexual revolution, but the deemphasis of extended family.

But, back to my point. Right now, many same-sex couples are in a position of not being able to care for someone who they consider family. The hurdles are sometimes financial, but more often legal, and result in the taking on by society of a burden that it needn't take on. That is harm being done by society not recognizing the relationship. And it's a harm more inane than my scenario involving the Assemblyman's individual failing to take care of his Aunt. There is only good that can come to society by extending marriage benefits here.

As for the tax treatment of marriage itself, I don't get the argument. Absent children, heterosexual couples & homosexual couples are as similarly situated as are parents irrespective of orientation. The only good that childless heterosexuals marriages bring to society is stability — that good is also offered by same-sex couples in enduring relationships, so why can't we treat those relationships as marriages?

What to do 'bout politicians we disagree with...

Tony Adragna
Rand Simberg questions what would be Sen. Santorum's advice to his children re if they were gay. As his commentors have noted, yes, "that['s] really what he's saying."

I think it useless to argue with Santorum over the correctness of the moral tradition that informs his advice. Moreover, I've no interest interfering in the relationship between himself and his children.

But, Andrea Harris's comment gets to where my interest begins
...I think that it's too late to be shocked that there are people in the world who think that there are certain sexual proclivities that should be repressed instead of indulged in. We know that these people exist, they aren't going to change their minds just to please us, some of them -- like Santorum -- are in positions of power; how are we going to deal with them?
I agree, "it's [waaay] too late to be shocked." Nevertheless, if people understood just how far some social conservatives are willing to go, I think they would be shocked. This debate isn't just about homosexuality. The whole "Traditional Values" argument inveighs against lots of things that heterosexuals ought be concerned about.

For instance, there's a movement to make divorce more difficult by doing away with, or at least severely restricting, "no fault" divorce.
In order to make divorce more difficult to obtain, several states have passed laws or considered legislation to restrict no-fault divorce, which require mutual consent, longer waiting periods, or classes for divorcing parents before a divorce can be obtained. For example, a Georgia law allows no-fault divorce only if both parties agree to the divorce (mutual consent) and if no children are involved, while 2002 bills in Kansas and New Hampshire would have prohibited no-fault divorce among couples with minor children. Eight states have laws requiring parents with minor children to attend a pre-divorce course on parenting issues or the effects of divorce on children,[86] while laws in eleven other states allow courts to mandate participation in these classes.[87] Other states, such as Oklahoma and Tennessee, require a longer waiting period before a divorce can be granted for couples with minor children. At least two states, Massachusetts and New Jersey, had 1997 bills prohibiting no fault divorce, but both bills failed. [88]
So, I can rephrase a question Rand asks in another comment: What about the people who [are unhappily married]? Are they to be condemned to unhappily [married] lives, to suit [public policy informed by] your church's notion of morality?

I'm fairly comfortable assuming that Santorum's response would be fully in line with the FRC document quoted above. That same document argues against cohabitation. But guess what — our common law tradition has long recognized enduring cohabitation relationships as a form of marriage. If FRC wants no protections accorded such relationships, and Santorum agrees with them, then it's they who are arguing against tradition.

What's specifically at stake here isn't Big Rick's right to tell Ricky Jr. that he's got to repress his homoerotic desires. Rather, it's about Sen. Santorum's want to use the law to tell me that I've got to repress my homoerotic desires. In general, the debate is about moral majoritarians telling all of us that the only options we ought have are those they find acceptable.

That's not repression — it oppression.

What to do about politicians who push agendas we disagree with? Don't vote for 'em.

p.s. Ray Eckhart's "And folks wonder why the Catholic priesthood has a preponderance of gay men?" comment may be snarky, but it also speaks to something that revisionists want to blame on the last 25 or so years of liberalism. Truth is that seminaries, rectories, and even some episcopal manses had closets long before the sexual revolution...

Monday, July 14, 2003

Sex & Marriage

Tony Adragna
Eugene Volokh has been responding to arguments that marriage is about "channel[ing] adults' erotic desires into the productive pursuit of rearing children, who must be formed into adults capable of sustaining self-government."[see also here, and this post] There is discussion of the "unnaturalness" of gay sex and the impossibility of procreation, etc...

It's as if marriage is but a license to have sex & raise families, for which the government must then grant benefits else folks will stop taking up this license and all hell's gonna break loose...

Enough with the S E X already! Don't heterosexuals think about anything else? Sheesh, you guys aren't content just demeaning homosexual relationships in this fashion, now you're wanting to spit into the wind...

Look, what distinguishes marriage isn't the ability to procreate & raise children — it's the shared life and enduring union. The latter conditions I'll concede as essential to the former, but not the other way around. Though both State and Church will allow dissolution when someone unknowingly enters a relationship where procreation is impossible, that both allow marriages where procreation is known to be impossible disproves the assertion that procreation & child rearing are essential to marriage.

As for the State promoting a condition most beneficial to enduring relationships and families, the best thing legislatures could do would be to stop regulating marriage. The presumption should be on recognition of individuals' committed relationships, rather than requiring individuals to jump over regulatory hurdles leading to the State's sanction of legitimacy.

States may decide, for policy reasons, to issue a "Certificate of Marriage" formally recognizing such relationships, and grant incidental benefits to promote the same. But the licensing — that is, the State's grant of permission — of marriage, even if it be only pro forma, is one excercise of authority too far.

That's not to say that State's have no interest in refusing to recognize some marriages. But the "protecting the traditional institution" & "promoting family stability" arguments for excluding same-sex unions from "marriage" are only reasons to recognize heterosexual marriages, not reasons to refuse recognition of same-sex marriages.

What Is a Ship's "Commissioning"?

Tony Adragna
We watched the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) commissioning ceremony this past Saturday, during which I had several questions directed to me by my housemates. Here's short FAQ that some of you may find interesting.

What is a ship's christening? The tradition of christening a ship at her launching into the sea has ancient roots. Originally, the ritual was about invoking divine protection. In Europe the tradition developed into a close approximation of baptism (christening), with the naming, sponsors (godparents), the use of some ritual fluid, and a blessing. While modern ship christenings are more secular than religious, those elements can still be seen in the ceremony. Sailors are adamant in their deference to naval tradition, which endures not for its own sake, but of respect for those who have gone to the sea before us.

What is a ship's commissioning? Commissioning is acceptance of the ship into active service. The signal event of a ship's commissioning is the hoisting of its commissioning pennant. The pennant flies at all times while a ship is in active servcie, except when the personal flag of a flag officer or civilian official (i.e. the President, Vice President, etc.) flies in its place.

During the commissioning ceremony, an order was given to "break the Vice President's flag". What is "breaking" a flag? Flags are folded, or made into some other type of compact bundle, while not flying. "Breaking" means letting the flag fly free. This is is usually accomplished by simply attaching the flag to the halyard and letting the flag open while it's being hoisted, though there is a way — once explained to me by a signalman, then forgotten — to break signal flags after they've been hoisted.

Interesting tidbit The Reagan only has four arresting cables, instead of the five on earlier carriers. What does that mean for Naval Aviators? Not much, really. The design got rid of the old number one wire, which nobody wanted to trap anyway, and was the least used for that. The target wire is now number two, but that's really near where the old number three wire was.