Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Quote of the day: Deformation nation

When people talk about the contortions that Republican candidates have to go through to please The Base, they're not really talking about, say, South Carolina, which most intelligent observers realize stopped being representative of the United States some time in the 1830's. They're talking about the Iowa caucuses, which serve only to raise money for the state parties, and to deform the process of selecting a president before that process really gets rolling. It's like beginning the process of electing a pope at Chuck E. Cheese.
- Charles Pierce, explaining why the Iowa caucuses are no longer a shining example of retail, grass-roots democracy (which they never were), or even a corn-fed, batter-fried joke (which they've long been), but a dysfunctional, unrepresentative system that relentlessly drives the Republican presidential candidates even further to the radical right than most of them these days already are, taking the center of gravity for the national campaign along with it.

A quantum of umbrage: A synoptic history of the separation of church and state

(This timeline was originally published in shorter form in 2009, driven by the thought, somewhat naive in retrospect, that the process of theocratic overreach in the US was probably already at or near its zenith. Now it appears that p3 must stand ready for further revisions from time to time, as the exigencies of Republican electoral politics require it. We welcome the task.)

James Madison, 1791: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

Thomas Jefferson, 1802: The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment guarantees Americans a wall of separation between church and state.

Dwight Eisenhower, 1954: The separation of church and state surely won't be hurt by adding "under God" to The Pledge of Allegiance in the name of anti-Communism, will it?

John F. Kennedy, 1960: The separation of church and state is absolute. My church will not dictate my policy decisions.

Mitt Romney, 2008: The separation of church and state is relative. My church will dictate my policy decisions, but only to the extent that I will discriminate against the same people Christian conservatives would already be discriminating against anyway.

Bart Stupack, 2009: The separation of church and state is a fairy tale. My church will show up at the Capitol steps in a limo to dictate policy.

Rick Santorum, 2012: The separation of church and state is an abomination. "Earlier in my political career, I had the opportunity to read the speech [by JFK to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in 1960], and I almost threw up."

Sally Quinn, 2012: The separation of church and state is impossible. “This is a religious country. Part of claiming your citizenship is claiming a belief in God, even if you are not Christian.” Agnostics, atheists, and other nonbelievers need not apply.

Rick Santorum (again), 2014: The very notion of the separation of church and state is "a Communist idea that has no place in America."

Fifty-seven percent of surveyed Republicans, 2015: The separation of church and state is sacreligious, since the U.S. Constitution is a document inspired by Our Lord Jesus Christ, so it counts as Holy Scripture.

Rand Paul, libertarian-of-convenience, 2015:  The separation of church and state is a one-way street: "The First Amendment says keep government out of religion. It doesn't say keep religion out of government."

Monday, March 30, 2015

Who's responsible for the Germanwings crash? You'll be surprised.

James Fallows of The Atlantic quotes "Adam Shaw, who has had a varied and interesting career as a writer and flyer and now leads an aerobatics team in Europe," on the causes of the Germanwings suicide/mass murder/crash last week. It includes this line:
And when people start looking for whom to blame, the answer is simple: Joe-six-pack who wanted a $99 flight from New York to L.A, or Pierre Baguette who wanted a 65-euro Paris-Casablanca … and the cynical bean counters who make this possible
"Joe Six-Pack's" fault? It is to laugh. Unless Joe's carrying on a six-pack of medium-priced Burgundy.

What about the expense-account business-class travelers (with six- or seven-figure frequent flyer mile totals) the airlines depend on for their bread and butter?

Or several generations of corporate union-busting directed against the people on the front lines of airline safety?

Or the next-quarter's-profits-obsessed, bonus-driven CEOs (who wouldn't dream of flying  commercial anyway)?

Yes, although the lowest-bidder fixation is a safety (and service) problem in the airline industry (just as it is throughout America's transportation infrastructure, public education, the food industry, etc.; but let's press ahead), to blame the problem on the customers who fly a couple of times a year and understandably don't want to pay a month's rent to do so is silly.

In fairness, Shaw's reply, which apparently came to Fallows as comment on an earlier post by the latter rather than as a publication in its own right, seems primarily focused on the pressures faced by commercial pilots to get flight hours and certification. So perhaps the culprit here is the copy editor for The Atlantic's web page, who skimmed over the bulk of Shaw's message to seize upon the thoughtless and proportionless -- but very click-baity -- "Joe Six-Pack" line, elevating it to the tag line for the entire Fallows post.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday morning toons: The week of the non-story

Ted Cruz is indeed legally qualified to run for president (His mother was an American citizen. End of story.), although a lot of people had fun suggesting this was somehow evidence of hypocrisy or double-dealing on his part.

Ted Cruz gave a speech at Liberty University, where the student body was required (under penalty of a fine, if I have the story right) to attend. This makes it a little like the kid that was so ugly the parents tied a pork chop around his neck so the family dog would play with him, which is a funny image but not much of a story.

And in a Cruz hat-trick, the Senator signed up for health insurance under the PPACA. This was widely seen as an unwilling admission that the PPACA is successful when the far more likely explanation is that Cruz (who certainly has multiple options for coverage, unlike most of the newly-insured on Obamacare's rolls) is simply trolling for first-hand evidence that Obamacare is an unconstitutional failure.

Indiana, the state where I was born but not the state I'm from, recently passed a law that makes it legal (pending the SCOTUS hearing) to discriminate against gays again like the good old days, and people responded reasonably enough with protests, demonstrations, and boycotts. Lost in the shuffle is the fact that several other states have passed similar religious-right-to-discriminate laws, and several more are contemplating it. Although, as Darrin Bell documents, California is currently several lengths ahead in this race.

And Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is not going to run for re-election, but he'll still be in office for almost two years, and now with very little to lose by sticking it to McConnell at every single opportunity.

Today's toons were selected by a somewhat more arbitrary than usual process from among the week's offerings at McClatchy DC, Cartoon Movement, Go Comics, Politico's Cartoon Gallery, Daryl Cagle's Political Cartoons, About.com, and other fine sources of toony goodness.

p3 Best of Show: Joel Pett.

p3 Legion of Merit: Steve Benson.

p3 Croiz de Guerre de Cruz: Tim Eagan.

p3 "Really Futile And Stupid Gesture" Medal (with clusters): Jeff Danziger.

p3 World Toon Review: Ingrid Rice (Canada), Christo Komarnitski (Bulgaria), Enrico Bertuccioli (Italy), and Pavel Constantin (Romania)

Ann Telnaes notes that Utah is running out of bad ideas.

Mark Fiore has mixed feelings about a likely Ted Cruz flame-out.

Tom Tomorrow gives us a peek at the future, through the miracle of Tomorrow Vision. He also comes this close to sharing a p3 Certificate of Harmonic Toon Convergence with Marshall Ramsey.

Tom the Dancing Bug brings the long-awaited (Although, really, why should that be? Shouldn't we have known?) return of Percival Dunwoody, idiot time-traveler from1909, plus other Super-Fun-Pak Comix goodies.

Red Meat's Ted Johnson supposes that Mrs. Johnson is right.

The Comic Strip Curmudgeon, for reasons I can't fathom, gives the punchline to the beetles, not to the paranoid-yet-fraternal beavers.

Comic Strip of the Day brings good news from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, followed by an inspired Clark 'n' Jimmy panel.

I'll deliver the Technicolor hen-fruit for ya! And there, in a nutshell (eggshell?), is the somewhat-garbled summary of the plot to "Easter Yeggs," directed in 1947 by Robert McKimson from a story by Warren Foster. Credited: Portland's own Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny, the Easter Bunny, and the Dead-End Kid), and musical director Carl Stalling. Uncredited, uber-voice Arthur Q. Bryant (Elmer Fudd) and orchestrator Milt Franklyn. Here's the Easter Rabbit, hooray! Watch "Easter Yeggs" at Trilulilu.

The Big, And Getting Bigger Since We Welcomed Back The Departed, Oregon Toon Block:

Ex-Oregonian Jack Ohman spots those two little words.

Could-Be Ex-Oregonian Jen Sorensen has some ideas for a conversation, including a word that, if you're lucky, you didn't even know existed!

Matt Bors reveals Ted Cruz's hope for 2016!

Jesse Springer looks at some likely consequences of Democratic control of both houses of the Oregon legislature and the governor's mansion. All it needs is Dame Maggie.

Test your toon captioning kung fu at The New Yorker's weekly caption-the-cartoon contest. (Rules here.) And you can browse The New Yorker's cartoon gallery here.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday evening tunes: And we keep gettin' richer . . .

On this date in 1973, this gem by Doctor Hook and the Medicine Show hit Number 6 on the US singles chart, and by god they actually did get their picture on the cover.

Band members also insist they did in fact buy five copies for their mothers. No documentary evidence of this claim exists.

In grad school I wrote a parody of this song, about tenured and tenure-track professors struggling to publish in the field's premier national journal, rather than perish. Not sure anyone on the faculty congratulated me for it at the time, but a month or two ago a former member of our grad student cohort mentioned the song in what I like to think was a tone of fond reminiscence.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A quantum of umbrage: When you've crossed the line in Texas, it's time to rethink

(Updated below.)

So a case from the Lone Star State has landed before the nine wise souls on the Supreme Court:
The next great First Amendment battleground is just six inches high. It is a license plate bearing the Confederate flag.

Nine states let drivers choose specialty license plates featuring the flag and honoring the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which says it seeks to celebrate Southern heritage. But Texas refused to allow the group’s plates, saying the flag was offensive.

On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to that decision in Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans, No. 14-144, a case that considers the limits of free expression and the meaning of a charged symbol that many associate with secession and slavery.

Texas has hundreds of specialty plates. Many are for college alumni, sports fans and service organizations, but others send messages like “Choose Life,” “God Bless Texas” and “Fight Terrorism.” [. . . ]

Today, the flag appears on license plates in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

I've been following this story since it floated to the surface last summer. The p3 position remains unchanged: This is as clear an instance as you're likely to find of Nothstine's Law of Free Speech: If defending freedom of expression doesn't hurt at least a little, you're probably not doing it right.

(Plus, confederate memoribilia can serve a second useful purpose: It lets you know who you're dealing with while they're still at a distance.)

Paul Campos summarizes why Texas's case, however admirable on its face, is likely to lose: It's predicated on the flimsy argument that novelty plates represent speech by the state, rather than by the vehicle owner – an argument Campos dispenses with pretty handily.

And he adds:
More seriously, what’s most objectionable about confederate flag specialty plates isn’t that some people might mistakenly think that the Texas state government is endorsing the political views of people who display confederate flags (they will likely not commit this error). Rather, it’s conceivable that people will conclude that the state is willing to do just about anything to make a buck, including turning its license plates into a free-fire advertising zone, where anybody can sell anything as long as they’re willing to give a cut of the proceeds to the Lone Star State.

There’s a perfectly constitutional way for Texas not to allow people to feature confederate flags on the state’s license plates, which is not to sell the right to advertise their political beliefs on those plates to anyone to begin with. But that would require ever-so slightly raising some tax rate or another to make up for the lost revenue, so the state would rather try to violate the First Amendment.

That's just a little extra irony to take along with you: Texas finds itself in the position of having to float a wobbly free-speech argument because it's been caught up in the post-Reagan article of faith that it's better to sell off every square inch of public space (whether it's a few square inches on a license plate in Texas, a whole turnpike in Indiana, or all the federal land in Nevada) than to raise the embarrassing idea of asking people to pay for their share of the commonwealth.

Update: And give Texas credit for at least this: They're not just against free speech in the small things. They're against it in the big ones, too

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The p3 awkward questions: Redux

This item is just a tiny bit overdue. My bad. Although, in its own way, it's an evergreen.

As this blog's tens of thousands of loyal readers already know, the p3 Awkward Questions have to do with the mortal certainty in the hearts of Christian fundamentalist homophobes that allowing gay marriage will lead – directly, inevitably, and almost universally – to man-on-dog sex, or its cross-species equivalent.

The p3 Awkward Questions are as follows:

Why is it that this is the first place their minds go?

Can you really be this worried about stopping something that you haven't already been thinking about – a lot?

This concern is generally cited by homophobes as proof that gay marriage will undermine traditional, straight marriage. Not because it involves humans having sex with animals, per se – although, again, this is where their minds go almost immediately – but because it would be a strike against traditional man-on-woman marriage.

So riddle me this: Via Roy Edroso has come word  – very creepy and unsettling word  – of a New York magazine interview with a fellow who loves his horse. A lot. And not in a chaste, Roy-and-Trigger kind of way. And to hear him tell it, it's mutual. And his (human) wife approves, even encourages, their relationship.

Now I get it that not all Christian conservative homophobes are tapped into the same underground networks that this fellow is. They don't, to my knowledge, share the same lingo, and so forth. (Wow, did I innocently learn my lesson the hard way about that one. Go here and see if you can figure out why it was inadvertently one of my highest traffic posts in ten years.) But the thing about this interview is that the fellow and his wife have been married 19 years. She knows about and is okay with his polyspecies polyamory.

So I've been waiting on upstanding folks like this to weigh in on this story. So far, it's only (unmolested) crickets; the comment section seems to be split between the disgusted and the sympathetic. No one really making a plea for the sacred institution (although some have doubts about the situation – and judgment – of the wife.)

Monday, March 23, 2015

A quantum of umbrage: When the boundaries of "decency" are spread this far

Defending speech that celebrates unicorns and kittens is easy. You don't need a First Amendment for that.

Where the rubber meets the road is when you're defending speech that makes you throw up into the back of your mouth a little.

Nothstine's Law: If defending free speech doesn't hurt at least a little, you're probably not doing it right.

Case in point, from Oregon's neighbor to the south:
An attorney from Huntington Beach, McLaughlin in late February spent $200 to propose a ballot measure that authorizes the killing of gays and lesbians by “bullets to the head,” or “any other convenient method.”

McLaughlin’s “Sodomite Suppression Act” now is testing the limits of free speech and raising the question: Why can’t the state’s initiative process screen out blatantly illegal ideas?

The Legislature’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus wrote a letter to the State Bar, asking for an investigation into McLaughlin’s fitness to practice law. More than 3,800 people signed a petition to State Bar President Craig Holden asking that McLaughlin lose his law license for advocating to “legalize the murder” of gays and lesbians. [. . . ]

“It’s incredibly vile, and it’s offensive and disgusting,” [former California State Bar member David Cameron] Carr said. “That said, we have the First Amendment that protects speech, and the scope is pretty broad.”

I have no idea -- and, frankly, little interest in finding out -- whether McLaughlin is doing this because he's a professional gamer of the system, or a sociopath with a checking account.

There is apparently no ground for an ethics charge against McLaughlin for this. And the possibility that the $200 filing fee for ballot measures, no matter how serious and thoughtful or hateful and stupid, might get bumped to $500 or $1000 as a way of filtering out those proposals that aren't "sincere" doesn't really cut it either (even former California governor Schwarzenneger vetoed the last attempt to raise filing fees), for what appears to be the right reason:

When your First Amendment rights depend on how much money you can pony up to buy into the conversation, you're already screwed. (Hello, Chief Justice John Roberts!)

The problem is that, by opening access to the state initiative process, you also clear the way for professional gamers of the system, something that Oregonians have some familiarity with.

Good luck to California's state Attorney General:
Yet the measure is likely to proceed to the signature-gathering stage. At the moment, its fate rests with state Attorney General Kamala Harris, who is charged with writing a title and summary for the proposal. Legal experts say she has little choice but to let the process continue and that McLaughlin is unlikely to face professional repercussions.
So the forces of decency -- and at the moment, that is dialed so far open that it includes anyone who doesn't specifically want to kill all the gays in California! -- are probably going to have to spend resources fighting this vile and unlikely
thing once it gets on the California ballot.