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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Wednesday, 17 March 2004

Topic: The Law

The law is what you say the law is...

In a companion piece to the item below regarding Dayton "Scopes Trial" Tennessee, one might note this.

LGBT Federal Workers Lose Job Protections
Paul Johnson, Newscenter Washington Bureau Chief - Posted: March 17, 2004 2:01 p.m. ET

Here's the scoop:

(Washington, D.C.) Gay and lesbians in the entire federal workforce have had their job protections officially removed by the office of Special Counsel. The new Special Counsel, Scott Bloch, says his interpretation of a 1978 law intended to protect employees and job applicants from adverse personnel actions is that gay and lesbian workers are not covered.

Bloch said that the while a gay employee would have no recourse for being fired or demoted for being gay, that same worker could not be fired for attending a gay Pride event.

In his interpretation, Bloch is making a distinction between one's conduct as a gay or lesbian and one's status as a gay or lesbian.

"People confuse conduct and sexual orientation as the same thing, and I don't think they are," Bloch said in an interview with Federal Times, a publication for government employees.

Bloch said gays, lesbians and bisexuals cannot be covered as a protected class because they are not protected under the nation's civil rights laws.

"When you're interpreting a statute, you have to be very careful to interpret strictly according to how it's written and not get into loose interpretations," Bloch said.

"Someone may have jumped to the conclusion that conduct equals sexual orientation, but they are essentially very different. One is a class . . . and one is behavior."

It is the first time that Bloch has explained his position on the issue of gay workers despite pressure from unions and Federal Globe an organization that represents LGBT government workers after the OSC began removing references to sexual orientation-based discrimination from its complaint form, the OSC basic brochure, training slides and a two-page flier entitled "Your Rights as a Federal Employee."

Bloch's position is a marked departure from how the previous special counsel, Elaine Kaplan, enforced the law. "The legal position that he is taking, that there is some distinction between discrimination based on sexual orientation and discrimination based on conduct, is absurd," Kaplan told Federal Times.

Bloch indicated that he may amend his position. He said he is initiating a review of the issue and plans to meet with the Office of Personnel Management and congressional staff to hear their opinions before making a final decision on how his office will handle complaints alleging sexual orientation discrimination. The review will not get completely under way until next month, when Bloch's senior legal adviser begins work, he said.

Bloch was appointed by President Bush to a five year term beginning in January.
Clear enough?

Because I am not gay - by nature I am actually rather morose and gloomy - I suppose this should not bother me. But it does.

The special counsel here is reversing the position of the federal government. You can be fired for being a homosexual - it's quit legal. The previous special counsel had it wrong? Guess so.

For the sake of argument, let's assume homosexuality is a condition one finds one simply has, like left-handedness or having red hair. That is to assume homosexuality is not something one chooses as a "lifestyle" - it is simply what is. Should "having that condition" be necessary and sufficient cause for dismissal from your job - even if having "that condition" alone is the one, and only, determining cause? It would seem so.

Well, it doesn't seem fair. But then again, homosexual folks seem to make the majority of mainstream, born-again Christian Americans very uncomfortable. Something must be done, they believe.

It seems to me we live in a dangerous world. There are the terrorists out to get us. Forty-four million folks are without health insurance. Thirty-five million folks live below the poverty line. Jobs are hard to get - the percentage of adults working is the lowest it has been in forty or fifty years. And there's global warming and AIDS (SIDA) and lot of things to worry about.

Worrying about gay marriages and spending time making sure we can fire folks for being born a bit different than John Ashcroft - or so I'm assuming about him - just seems pointlessly mean.

Or maybe I just miss the point.

Posted by Alan at 20:47 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: The Culture

Tennessee is such a nice place, really. Green mountains, deep valleys, lots of wide open space...

In the news?

Tenn. County Wants to Charge Homosexuals
Associated Press - Wed Mar 17, 1:37 PM ET

What this about?

DAYTON, Tenn. - The county that was the site of the Scopes "Monkey Trial" over the teaching of evolution is asking lawmakers to amend state law so the county can charge homosexuals with crimes against nature.

The Rhea County commissioners approved the request 8-0 Tuesday.

Commissioner J.C. Fugate, who introduced the measure, also asked the county attorney to find a way to enact an ordinance banning homosexuals from living in the county.

"We need to keep them out of here," Fugate said.

The vote was denounced by Matt Nevels, president of the Chattanooga chapter of Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.

"That is the most farfetched idea put forth by any kind of public official," Nevels said. "I'm outraged."

... Rhea County is one of the most conservative counties in Tennessee. It holds an annual festival commemorating the 1925 trial at which John T. Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution. The verdict was thrown out on a technicality. The trial became the subject of the play and movie "Inherit the Wind." ...
Oh well.

Over at Pandagon Jesse Taylor comments:

Is there some law that says every reactionary moron in America has to do a tour of duty in Dayton, Tennessee?

"Yeah, I was there in '78 when we tried to bar restaurants from serving Jews, man...those were the days."

"That's nothin'! I was there in '65 when we tried to get black people banned from public schools on account of their not being God's people!"


"Yeah, that's where I got this dent in my head from."
Tennessee is Bush country.

Posted by Alan at 16:57 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 17 March 2004 16:58 PST home

Topic: The Culture

Mel Gibson is NOT anti-Semitic after all.

And to prove Mel Gibson is not anti-Semitic - really?

Check out this Reuters item:

Mel Gibson: Hanukkah tale next?
Director of 'The Passion of Christ' admits fascination with heroism of the Maccabees.
March 17, 2004: 5:12 PM EST

Reuters reports Gibson says he is now "intrigued" by the revolt of the Maccabees. You know that one - the story behind Hanukkah.

Well, strange things happen when you appear on Fox News and chat with Sean Hannity. Gibson is quoted as saying to the pious and noble Sean, "The story that's always fired my imagination ... is the Book of Maccabees. The Maccabees family stood up, and they made war. They stuck by their guns and they came out winning. It's like a Western."

Huh? Well, maybe so. The background given is that the Maccabees led a three-year war, some two hundred years before the birth of Jesus, against Antiochus, a king who forced the Jews to worship what the Jews considered false gods. And this war led to the liberation of Jerusalem and rededication of the Temple that is celebrated in the Hanukkah holiday.

I'm not sure I remember a western much like that. But you have to give Mel the benefit of the doubt. He's a film guy. He makes lots of money. So if he thinks this is like a western, well, it must be like a western.

And the film he might make here could be epic, and bloody and gruesome. We're talking BIG box office, baby!

Reuters reports also that the Anti-Defamation League national director Abe Foxman is not impressed with Gibson's interest in Jewish history. His view? "My answer would be 'thanks but no thanks.' The last thing we need in Jewish history is to convert our history into a Western. In his hands we may wind up losing."

Jewish comedians.... Abe is channeling Woody Allen. But it is a good line.

So Abe doesn't like Mel, I guess. Or at least he doesn't trust him.

But Mel's film is doing great business. Mel gets the last laugh.


Oh yes, do check out the two best selling books from Sean Hannity.

Deliver Us from Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism

Let Freedom Ring: Winning the War of Liberty over Liberalism

A little light reading like this will make you love Mel.

Posted by Alan at 14:57 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 17 March 2004 15:02 PST home

Tuesday, 16 March 2004

Topic: Bush

Do you want to be outraged? Try this little investigation of how the need of those in power to maintain their power trumps this empiricism business.

Timothy Noah is always a fun read.

And today he gives us this. He's getting on George Bush's case, in a magazine that has pretty much become the Anyone-But-Kerry voice on the left. Led by their staff writer Mickey Kaus they may eventually come out for Ralph Nader or Lyndon Larouche or whoever isn't John Kerry, but they can still publish a cool critique of the president.

See Information Is Treason: Why Bush is worse than Reagan
Timothy Noah. SLATE.COM, Posted Tuesday, March 16, 2004, at 4:51 PM PT

Basically, Noah here wants to illustrate Bush's "unique contribution to the war against empiricism, which continues to escalate."

Well, silly me, I've always been kind of fond of empiricism. That only means I'm living in the wrong century.

Here's the opening:
"Facts are stupid things," President Ronald Reagan said in a famous self-parodying moment. (He'd meant to say "facts are stubborn things.") At the time, a common criticism of the Reagan presidency was that the Gipper tended to ignore facts and act instead according to the dictates of ideology. Since then, sentimental revisionists have come to praise Reagan for paying facts little heed.

Although it flatters President George W. Bush to suggest he possesses anything so grand as an ideology, Dubya emulates the Reagan technique. But he's advanced it one bold step further.

Rather than simply ignore information, Bush and his minions have resolved to suppress it or, better yet, to prevent it from being created in the first place.
Well, that's not nice at all.

But Noah gives three examples.

Noah notes that in the January/February issue of the Atlantic, James Fallows reported that in May 2002 the Central Intelligence Agency began a series of war games aimed at predicting conditions in Iraq after the ousting of Saddam Hussein. This was, in light of the chaos that later descended on Iraq after the United States victory, a very wise thing to do.

Noah quotes Fallows -
[O]ne recurring theme in the exercises was the risk of civil disorder after the fall of Baghdad....The CIA...considered whether a new Iraqi government could be put together through a process like the Bonn conference, which was then being used to devise a post-Taliban regime for Afghanistan. At the Bonn conference representatives of rival political and ethic groups agreed on the terms that established Hamid Karzai as the new Afghan President. The CIA believed that rivalries in Iraq were so deep, and the political culture so shallow, that a similarly quick transfer of sovereignty would only invite chaos.
Yeah, well that was on the money.

But Noah points out the Pentagon thought this anaysis was all wet, and quotes Fallows:

Representatives from the Defense Department were among those who participated in the first of these CIA war-game sessions. When their Pentagon superiors at the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) found out about this, in early summer, the representatives were reprimanded and told not to participate further. "OSD" is Washington shorthand, used frequently in discussions about the origins of Iraq war plans, and it usually refers to strong guidance from [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld, [Deputy Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz, [Defense Undersecretary for Policy Douglas] Feith, and one of Feith's deputies, William Luti. Their displeasure over the CIA exercise was an early illustration of a view that became stronger throughout 2002: that postwar planning was an impediment to war.

Because detailed thought about the postwar situation meant facing costs and potential problems, and thus weakened the case for launching a "war of choice" (the Washington term for a war not waged in immediate self-defense), it could be seen as an "antiwar" undertaking.
Yep, these guys with their study didn't have the right attitude.

Noah asserts that in the Reagan era, Defense Department employees would likely have been permitted to participate in such an exercise; if what they learned from it displeased Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, he would have simply ignored it. But Noah asserts that in the Bush administration Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon "boldly declared it unpatriotic merely to know how the war games turned out."

As a few readers know, my former father-in-law was one of the assistant secretaries of defense in the Reagan administration. I visited with him at the Pentagon. I didn't sense then such an ideological fervor to always be wary of folks with odd views - folks who might be right in some way that made everyone uncomfortable. Heck, they let even me in the door. And they chatted with me. It was a looser time. This current crew would have me still standing in the parking lot.

Okay fine. Another example?

Noah goes over the story that Knight-Ridder broke a few days ago - the Medicare business. As you recall, Knight-Ridder (Tony Pugh) reported that Medicare's chief actuary, Richard Foster, was ordered last June by Medicare administrator Tom Scully not to share with members of Congress his estimate that the then-pending Medicare drug bill would cost $156 billion more than they'd been led to believe. (After Congress passed the bill, the White House budget office revised its formal estimate by $139 billion.) According to Foster, Scully threatened to fire him if he showed his cost estimate to anyone in Congress. Foster considered resigning in protest.

In short, this bill was not going to pass if some traditionally small-government Republicans found out the real cost. They'd be pissed. So? Don't tell them. If you try to tell them? You'd lose your job. The Noah article has much more detail, but that's the basic idea.

And of the whole lie-to-your-own-party business Noah has this to say:
1.) The political hack in question blocked information output, not input. Prohibiting output is worse than prohibiting input because when you prohibit input there's at least the hope that a third party (say, the CIA) will make use of the shunned information. When you prohibit output, nobody gets the information. According to White House spokesman Scott McClellan, not even President Bush had a clue that his Medicare bill cost in excess of $100 billion more than he'd thought until long after he signed it into law.

2.) The penalty for disobedience was not reprimand, but firing, which is self-evidently worse.
Well, these guy play hardball. And they were backing the president. And they did, after all, get the bill passed.

Ha, ha.

Noah's last example is the something that was covered in the Los Angeles Times today. Heck, I was just sipping coffee and scratching Harriet-the-Cat behind her ears when it caught my eye. Tom Hamburger and Alan C. Miller explained that Environmental Protection Agency staffers were told not to perform routine scientific and economic analysis for a proposed regulation governing mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants. According to "EPA veterans" consulted by Hamburger and Miller, this is "unprecedented for a major rulemaking." And they ran down Russell Train, a Republican who headed the EPA during the Nixon and Ford presidencies, who called it "outrageous."

Yeah, yeah. And it seems that because this was so blatantly pro-industry there was a big noise about it all. The EPA administrator, Michael Leavitt, is now calling for additional study - well, he's calling for the analysis that should have been done before the rule was proposed. Oops.

Curiously this executive order that called for bypassing the basic science stuff came down when Christine Todd Whitman was running the EPA - and she says she didn't know about it, and that had she known, she'd have stopped such nonsense. Yeah, right. Well, she's gone.

Who is responsible? The Times guys say the instruction not to perform scientific and economic analysis came from William Wehrum, a high-ranking aide to Jeffrey R. Holmstead, the EPA's Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation. And Noah adds this:
Holmstead was present when Wehrum rendered his pronouncement, and remained silent while EPA staffers objected. This resolute stance may owe something to the fact that Holmstead and Wehrum, before coming to the EPA, were attorneys at the law firm Latham & Watkins, where Holmstead represented a utility group called the Alliance for Constructive Air Policy. As it happens, several paragraphs in the proposed rule were lifted word-for-word from a memo prepared by Latham & Watkins.
Ah yes, Latham & Watkins. I've dealt with them too. But that's another story, involving data my systems guys provided them when I worked at Hughes Electronics so they could defend that aerospace firm against lawsuits from angry former employees. None of this is surprising.

Anyway, Noah says this "EPA End Run carries the logic of the Medicare Lockdown one exquisite step further." The idea is that rather than prevent the dissemination of information, Holmstead and Wehrum took care that no such information be generated in the first place.

You see that pattern here?

Someone studies something and the conclusion suggests your war may be whole lot more expensive and messy than you'd like? You don't want to know. It would be unpatriotic to know such things, or at least it would be so negative to think that way. A positive attitude works wonders? Maybe.

Someone has financial facts that would mean you'd lose the vote because the damned Medicare bill is too expensive? Let that someone know if any member of congress asks him for the numbers, and he tells them the truth, he'll get fired.

The proposed regulation of something toxic might cost your political contributors a bundle? Make sure the science isn't done - forbid any studies on the matter.

Facts? Who needs them? Ignore them as "defeatist." Or make sure they never get out. Or make sure they're never developed at all.

As I said, I've always been kind of fond of empiricism. I am living in the wrong century.

But Noah may be wrong regarding Bush and his crew.

Any organization with any power does such things. Vote Bush and this crew out? Kerry might do the same, or Ralph Nader, or Lyndon Larouche. To think otherwise is to be na?ve. The need of those in power to maintain their power trumps this empiricism business.

Posted by Alan at 21:15 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 16 March 2004 21:26 PST home

Topic: The Economy

Economic Theory - Our Leader Explains What Is Happening

Note that George Bush said this in Washington, on February 19, 2004 - and Jacob Weisberg is forever finding more.

"Recession means that people's incomes, at the employer level, are going down, basically, relative to costs, people are getting laid off."

A textual analysis? Employers (people at the employer level) are seeing their incomes decline. They're making less money. Or their money doesn't go as far as it used to go - their income is declining relative to the costs of what they want. Employers have a diminished ability to buy the things they like to buy. Big cars? Jeweled watches? Whatever.

That is to say, basically, all sorts of stuff just costs relatively more for these people who employ others. Bummer. It's a real shame. Thus employers lay off workers. Who knows why? Apparently they think that laying of a few more people might help.

And this then is how you define a recession.

Implied here is the idea that if employers just made more money, and the cost of goodies remained constant, then these employers might not lay off so many people.

Thus it would seem the way to end a recession is to make sure employers make more money. Those at the top need to have more money. For some reason not given here it seems that might make them stop laying off people.

Of course Bush here could mean something else entirely. It's hard to tell.

Posted by Alan at 19:57 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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