IT'S OUR FIFTH ANNIVERSARY! CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION. Thursday, March 31, 2005 YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: "The zealots will always remember. And if Schiavo dies, they will have a martyr as well. And they will figuratively prop her up as a symbol in the campaigns to come." - yours truly, last Sunday.
"'It is entirely possible that in her death Terri Schiavo will become a symbol for many people about a disturbing trend in American culture,' said Gary Bauer, a prominent conservative activist." - Washington Post today. Let the direct mailing continue! - 6:10:00 PM FOR THE RECORD: Here also is the full statement of the current Pope on feeding tubes as "ordinary" treatment, mandated for all patients. It's a statement in stark contrast to the Church's previous, more nuanced teachings. But with this Pope, that's hardly unusual. Still even this Pope concedes that "[t]he person in a vegetative state, in fact, shows no evident sign of self-awareness or of awareness of the environment, and seems unable to interact with others or to react to specific stimuli." He also concedes that "the recovery of [vegetative] patients, statistically speaking, is ever more difficult as the condition of vegetative state is prolonged in time." The money quote, however, is the following:
I should like particularly to underline how the administration of water and food, even when provided by artificial means, always represents a natural means of preserving life, not a medical act. Its use, furthermore, should be considered, in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such morally obligatory, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering.
Could we have a vegetative Pope suspended indefinitely in this state? Yes, we could. Maybe we will. - 3:51:00 PM THE CATHOLIC POSITION: She's now in the hands of her creator. It seems to me any more political talk should cease for a while. The moral questions linger, however. And it has been argued that there is only one authentic Catholic position on the Schiavo case, and that it is that the feeding tube should have been kept in indefinitely, regardless of the wishes of the legal husband. Anything else is murder. But that is far too crude an assessment of the Catholic position. This pope recently declared that feeding tubes are not "extraordinary" or disproportionate methods of prolonging the life of the terminally ill. But this is not official Church doctrine - yet. The long tradition has been a balancing of various goods and evils. Here's the money quote from the 1980 document that is most relevant here:
However, is it necessary in all circumstances to have recourse to all possible remedies?
In the past, moralists replied that one is never obliged to use "extraordinary" means. This reply, which as a principle still holds good, is perhaps less clear today, by reason of the imprecision of the term and the rapid progress made in the treatment of sickness. Thus some people prefer to speak of "proportionate" and "disproportionate" means. In any case, it will be possible to make a correct judgment as to the means by studying the type of treatment to be used, its degree of complexity or risk, its cost and the possibilities of using it, and comparing these elements with the result that can be expected, taking into account the state of the sick person and his or her physical and moral resources.
In order to facilitate the application of these general principles, the following clarifications can be added:
If there are no other sufficient remedies, it is permitted, with the patient's consent, to have recourse to the means provided by the most advanced medical techniques, even if these means are still at the experimental stage and are not without a certain risk. By accepting them, the patient can even show generosity in the service of humanity.
It is also permitted, with the patient's consent, to interrupt these means, where the results fall short of expectations. But for such a decision to be made, account will have to be taken of the reasonable wishes of the patient and the patient's family, as also of the advice of the doctors who are specially competent in the matter. The latter may in particular judge that the investment in instruments and personnel is disproportionate to the results foreseen; they may also judge that the techniques applied impose on the patient strain or suffering out of proportion with the benefits which he or she may gain from such techniques.
It is also permissible to make do with the normal means that medicine can offer. Therefore one cannot impose on anyone the obligation to have recourse to a technique which is already in use but which carries a risk or is burdensome. Such a refusal is not the equivalent of suicide; on the contrary, it should be considered as an acceptance of the human condition, or a wish to avoid the application of a medical procedure disproportionate to the results that can be expected, or a desire not to impose excessive expense on the family or the community.
When inevitable death is imminent in spite of the means used, it is permitted in conscience to take the decision to refuse forms of treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted. In such circumstances the doctor has no reason to reproach himself with failing to help the person in danger.
You can argue both sides of this in the Schiavo case. A constantly infected feeding tube that has resulted in no tangible progress of any kind for over a decade? Is that "burdensome"? But what can "burdensome" mean for someone unable to feel or think? Notice that the church even allows for discontinuing "disproportionate" means of life-preservation on the grounds of expense alone. And you can see why: if the rule is that all persistently vegetative patients must be attached to feeding tubes indefinitely, then the costs to society would be stratospheric. At some point we could have as many not-dead-yet human beings suspended unconsciously in semi-life as we have in embryo factories at the other end of the human spectrum. My point is not that this case has been easy in Catholic moral terms. My point is precisely that it is not easy. Fifteen years with no brain waves at all? Keeping her in that state would have been just ordinary care? And at what point do we "accept the human condition" in the Church's words? That's the question. We can say, however, that Michael Schiavo's record is certainly within the scope of the Church's historical understanding of what the moral obligations toward his wife are. What we are seeing is how far this Pope has shifted the debate toward an absolutist position on life and death. He is the innovator. But he does not have a monopoly on what the Church as a whole believes. It's a church; not a personal cult. Not yet, anyway. - 2:35:00 PM
Wednesday, March 30, 2005 POSEUR ALERT I: "I am the only woman in Mommy and Me who seems to be, well, getting any. This could fill me with smug well-being. I could sit in the room and gloat over my wonderful marriage. I could think about how our sex life - always vital, even torrid - is more exciting and imaginative now than it was when we first met. I could check my watch to see if I have time to stop at Good Vibrations to see if they have any exciting new toys. I could even gaze pityingly at the other mothers in the group, wishing that they too could experience a love as deep as my own. But I don't. I am far too busy worrying about what's wrong with me. Why, of all the women in the room, am I the only one who has not made the erotic transition a good mother is supposed to make? Why am I the only one incapable of placing her children at the center of her passionate universe?" - Ayelet Waldman, New York Times. (Hat tip: Bidisha Banerjee.
POSEUR ALERT II: For every American feeling compassion for Schiavo, there are at least several more who feel a consolation and satisfaction, maybe even a sense of triumph. Events have complicated, peculiar resonances in the mind. As the instincts seem to be set loose to an unimaginable degree in American society and overseas, Schiavo's unfathomably suffering face, with its strange beatific-seeming smile, is like a justification for all the carnage. This vale of woe is what life is, it seems to say--at least to those who want to keep her face just as it is, forever. It's a chilling complement to "The Contender," whose fixation on pummeling seems to say that this is what society is ... So for the Christian right, Schiavo has become something like a human antidepressant... [B]y arguing, no, insisting that her story have a happy ending, they can cheer themselves up about the society they are helping to create every day, a society in which being able to celebrate the spectacle of the weak getting pummeled, and the weak wasting away from within in a vegetative state, is the measure of one's strength. Nietzsche and Christ, together at last." - Lee Siegel, The New Republic.
"SUPER-HIV": The New York Times' story today about the alleged new strain of HIV tells us a few things. No other person has been found with an identical strain; the patient is responding to anti-retroviral treatment; the bulk of his sexual contacts were already HIV-positive. So we had five days of hysterical coverage from the NYT for ... this? The new story - tellingly - does not include the context that was provided in previous stories, i.e. that this new strain comes "as a growing number of gay men become infected despite warnings about unsafe sex." Maybe that's because the New York City Health Department has no statistics to support that claim. Is New York City alone in marking a decline in HIV infection rates? Nope. We were told a couple of years ago that Seattle was having a huge new increase. The Seattle Weekly recalls that "[King County's] top AIDS official, Dr. Bob Wood, called the situation 'frightening,' 'astounding,' and 'the most dramatic increase since the beginning of the epidemic.'" Hard data two years later show a stable rate of infections, despite a growing number of people living with HIV. Or a state like Virginia? A state-wide drop of 20 percent between 2003 and 2004. In Charlottesville, they saw a 67 percent drop. San Francisco? The same hype only a few years ago - "sub-Saharan levels" of infection, according to the head of the city's public health department. The latest data show infection rates completely stable, along with a dramatic rise in the number of people getting tested. I'm waiting for evidence that will show that this new strain is new, that there is a resurgence of HIV infection among gay men in America, and that the New York Times is not a megaphone for whichever AIDS hysteric comes along next. As I said, I'm waiting. - 11:00:00 AM "SUPER-HIV": The New York Times' story today about the alleged new strain of HIV tells us a few things. No other person has been found with an identical strain; the patient is responding to anti-retroviral treatment; the bulk of his sexual contacts were already HIV-positive. So we had five days of hysterical coverage from the NYT for ... this? The new story - tellingly - does not include the context that was provided in previous stories, i.e. that this new strain comes "as a growing number of gay men become infected despite warnings about unsafe sex." Maybe that's because the New York City Health Department has no statistics to support that claim; and, in fact, has data that refute it (data unknown to the reporters at the NYT). Is New York City alone in marking a decline in HIV infection rates? Nope. We were told a couple of years ago that Seattle was having a huge new increase. The Seattle Weekly recalls that "[King County's] top AIDS official, Dr. Bob Wood, called the situation 'frightening,' 'astounding,' and 'the most dramatic increase since the beginning of the epidemic.'" Hard data two years later show a stable rate of infections, despite a growing number of people living with HIV. Or a state like Virginia? A state-wide drop of 20 percent between 2003 and 2004. In Charlottesville, they saw a 67 percent drop. San Francisco? The same hype only a few years ago - "sub-Saharan levels" of infection, according to the head of the city's public health department. The latest data show infection rates completely stable, along with a dramatic rise in the number of people getting tested. I'm waiting for evidence that will show that this "new" strain is new, that there is a resurgence of HIV infection among gay men in America, and that the New York Times is not a megaphone for whichever AIDS hysteric comes along next. As I said, I'm waiting. - 10:45:00 AM
Tuesday, March 29, 2005 ALL YOU NEED IS ROVE: Adam Moss's revamped New York magazine continues to impress. The latest smart piece is by John Heilemann on Karl Rove. John (an old friend) is smart enough to criticize Rove while not under-estimating him. I almost look forward to Rove running Bill Frist for president next time around. But this paragraph is the most interesting:
Not long ago, I had a chance to see Rove speak to an audience of conservative activists down in Washington. The speech was as revealing for what it left out as for what it included. Not once did Rove proclaim the importance of reducing the size and sphere of Washington's purview. Not once did he echo Ronald Reagan's famous line — which codified a fundamental verity of modern Republicanism — that "government isn't the solution to our problems; government is our problem." Instead, Rove rejected the party's "reactionary" and "pessimistic" past, in which it stood idly by while "liberals were setting the pace of change and had the visionary goals." Now, he went on, the GOP has seized the "mantle of idealism," dedicating itself to "putting government on the side of progress and reform, modernization and greater freedom."
Greater freedom? Abroad, sure. At home, we have seen a clear decrease in tangible freedoms, some reasonable, others far less so. The only time this president speaks warmly of freedom is when he's referring to foreigners. Heilemann correctly diagnoses the Bismarckian first term agenda of Rove: "tax cuts for the rich; subsidies for farmers, tariffs for the steel, shrimp, and lumber industries; the gargantuan Medicare prescription-drug entitlement for the drug companies and the elderly." Big government goodies for everyone. Larded over with a Kulturkampf. Just like Bismarck.
TORY SUICIDE - AGAIN: Just when they looked as if they were gaining traction for the coming election, Britain's Tories return to their favorite activity: attacking each other. Depressing.
EMAIL OF THE DAY: "This May 8th will be the first year of my mother's death. The publicity surrounding Terry Schiavo has brought up a whole lot of feeling for me, possibly even producing shades of PTSD. My Mom had pancreatic cancer and was hospitalized for about 2 weeks when my father, sister and I took her off IV fluids. The physician said there is nothing more we can do except to prolong her suffering and we all felt strongly my mother had suffered enough. My mother had been hospitalized about 2 years prior, 9 month in Intensive Care because a surgeon punctured her bowel while removing a benign tumor. During that time and for several months later at home, my mother was in a highly agitated state of consciousness, in and out of delirium. Afterward she expressed gratitude for not remembering.
I remember about 2AM, the night we took her off fluids waking up in anguish and horror, thinking that I was killing my mother. Hysterical, I attempted to speak with someone at the hospital about our decision. I think they thought I was crazy. Early that morning, my Dad and I went to the hospital and I was able to talk to a physician who said we made the right decision. If there had been any chance at all that my mother could have lived, we would have taken it, no matter the odds. The decision was agonizing and to this day I am haunted by it.
My sister-in-law is a devout Catholic, a Republican, and she watches Pat Robertson's 700 Club almost religiously. She phoned the hospital that moring and spoke with me, disagreeing with the decision we made. When I asked why, she said, 'You never know.' 'You never know what?' I pleaded. 'You never know, miracles can happen.' I restated to her the physician's words to us. 'I still don't believe you are making the right decision,' and went on to describe several miracles she said she knew of. I asked her if her words were supposed to be comforting to us. She didn't understand my question.
Andrew, I do not understand. My mother was a good Catholic and as far as I know, Christians believe that good Christians go to heaven. I just don't understand the need of so many devout Christians in prolonging the suffering of another human being who is in the end stage of disease and with no hope for remission. And they do it with a conviction that is rude, intrusive and without compassion or regard for those of us who have to make an anguishing decision." - 10:56:00 AM
Monday, March 28, 2005 GAY PATRIOT SILENCED: I don't buy everything that GayPatriot writes; and his rhetoric can be a little much at times. But it's a shame he has been intimidated by the gay far-left into ending his blogging. A shame but unsurprising. If the gay "outers" spent a fraction of the time they spend attacking other gay people actually making the case for equality to straight people, the world would be a better place.
Inexplicably, the U.S. court system is determined to take Schiavo’s life. I say inexplicably because the courts have chosen to disregard the morality of life, the religious belief in life, the culture of life. Inexplicable because all Americans of faith believe that in situations like this we should, as President Bush has said, err on the side of life.
In fact, of course, majorities of "people of faith" disagree with Kudlow and with the notion that removing life-support (and a sophisticated feeding tube is life support) after fifteen years of being completely incapacitated is certainly not an easy call. Even people inclined to be "pro-life" see that this case may be one in which allowing a human being to die is the morally preferable thing to do. But Kudlow doesn't see this diversity of religious view - even now. That's how hermetically sealed the far right is. Until now, most people haven't seen the theocratic tendencies in today's GOP. The religious right has focused on abortion (which affects a small minority) and gays (ditto). But the right to die affects everyone. Suddenly the willingness of the far right to use the full weight of government to impose their views comes to light. Now many people get a taste of how gays feel. And a chill up their spine. - 12:34:00 PM QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The Republicans are no longer the party of small, limited government, fiscal sanity, states and individual rights, and the Constitution. In their own way, they have become as bloated, hypocritical, invasive, and spendthrift as much of the worst the Democrats have to offer." - Bill Quick, DailyPundit. I'm basically with Bill, although we disagree about a few particulars.
SCHIAVO AND CONSERVATISM: My thoughts on this trial in the life of a vegetative woman and her family. It's been striking lately how the rhetoric of some conservatives has morphed into revolutionary tones. Bill Kristol, at heart an ally of religious radicalism, calls for a revolution against the independent judiciary we now have. Fox News' John Gibson has argued that "the temple of the law is not so sacrosanct that an occasional chief executive cannot flaunt it once in a while." Bill Bennett has said that the courts are not the ultimate means to interpret law and the constitution, that the people, with rights vested in the Declaration of Independence, have a right to over-turn the courts if judges violate natural law precepts such as the right to life. Beneath all this is a struggle between conservatives who place their faith in the formalities of constitutionalism and those who place their literal faith in the God-revealed truths they believe are enshrined in the Declaration, truths that alone give meaning, in their eyes, to America as a political project. Here's an interesting essay on the divide among Straussians on this point, particularly between Harry Jaffa and Harvey Mansfield Jr. - 11:23:00 AM
Saturday, March 26, 2005 AMAZING GRACE: Ashley Smith, Brian Nichols and the miracle before Holy Week. My latest Time essay.
EMAIL OF THE DAY: "As I read through yesterday's emails, I am struck by the possible fruitfulness of moderate Republican conservatives joining forces with similar folks in the Democratic Party. Perhaps if we leave the extremists of both parties out on their respective limbs and offer a strong ideology of fiscal responsibility, "gentle" hawks only responding in war when clear need is identified, protecting our own public financially from being sold out abroad, protecting our borders (even at the expense of some very wealthy businesspeople) -- promising personal rights of privacy in the pew and the bedroom and on the deathbed -- I think a strong, pragmatic, sensible, workable "party" could emerge. We MUST ditch religious zealotry ASAP -- it is killing real moral values!!"
CASTLE ON SONTAG: A brutal and often funny memoir of the favorite intellectual of the American left. - 12:43:00 PM
Friday, March 25, 2005 QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I'm quite astonished to hear people who call themselves conservatives arguing, in effect, that Congress and the federal courts have a free-ranging charter to correct any injustice, anywhere, regardless of the Constitution. And yet my email runneth over with just those kinds of comments. And arguing that "it's okay because liberals do it too" doesn't undercut my point that conservatives are acting like liberals here. It makes it." - Glenn Reynolds, coming to terms with what the religious right is doing to conservative principles. The important point is that religious zealotry cannot be incorporated into conservatism. It is the nemesis of conservatism. And it has to be purged in order for conservatism to be revived. - 12:45:00 PM YES, WE HAVE RSS: With less regular postings, many of you have asked me to add an RSS feature to let you know of new posts when they occur. Your wish is, er, Robert's command. You can click on the RSS link at the bottom of the page. The feed URL is http://feeds.feedburner.com/andrewsullivan/rApM. You just put this into your RSS reader application. - 12:38:00 PM AN "APPARENT UPSURGE": You will recall how Richard Cohen of the Washington Post wrote recently of an "apparent upsurge" of HIV infections among gay men. He was seconded in this by one Charles Kaiser who cited his own anecdotal evidence of rising numbers of gay men contracting HIV in New York City. As it happens, we do have some hard data on this now because since 2002, New York City has required all new HIV diagnoses to be reported. Michael Petrelis lays out the latest data on his blog today. It's quite striking. New diagnoses of HIV have declined each year. The most comprehensive data is for first quarters of each year (they haven't gotten past reporting the first quarter of 2004 yet). So look at this: in the first quarter of 2002, we have 1403 new diagnoses; in Q1 2003, we have 1288; in Q1 2004, we have 908. So we have a 35 percent decrease in HIV diagnoses in New York City in three years. That's not AIDS diagnoses (although they're down too). This is HIV infection data. When the infections are broken down into subcategories, the numbers in the first quarters of 2002, 2003 and 2004 of HIV infections among men who have sex with men declines from 327 in 2002 to 344 in 2003 to 277 in 2004: an annual decline from 2003 to 2004 of almost 20 percent. Maybe the "apparent upsurge" has taken place since the beginning of 2004. But I see no reason why this big decline would suddenly reverse itself. More importantly, Cohen has no and had no evidence to write what he did, and using it to, in his words, "condemn" gay men in New York City whom he holds responsible for a new epidemic. Cohen needs to write a correction and an apology for non-existent reporting. Petrelis also sends an email to the NYT suggesting they run a story on this great news - especially since their science writer, Lawrence Altman has been writing scare stories for five years. If the NYT can run five consecutive scare stories on a not-new strain of HIV, they can surely run some actual facts about the subject.
SCHIAVO EMAILS: Here are three diverse ones making different points:
Why not consider the current debate within conservatism on the Shavio case as an indication of vitality rather than imminent demise? Conservatism has been "cracking up" for years now, along the libertarian/conservative divide, along the paleo/neo divide, along the religious/secular divide. Look at The Corner: reasoned arguments on either side of a topic that I think we can all admit is at least morally difficult. Do you see the same thing going on at DU? Or at The Nation?
I consider this a strength of American conservatism: we tend to be much more accommodating of ideological differences than the left. I know that statement will draw scoffs from many of your readers, and possibly from you. But consider: abortion. Who has a more diverse spectrum of opinions? Similarly Affirmative Action. Immigration? As counter-intuitive as it seems, I think conservatives in America can claim to be more accepting of diversity of opinions on each of these topics. Hell, even gay marriage. Some are for, some are against. It's all a glorious mess, and hopefully we'll muddle through and do some good along the way.
I take the point, and I do think the right is far more intellectually alive than what's left of the left. But the strains are getting intense. As this reader indicates:
For over 30 years I have been a conservative on fiscal issues and a bit of a moderate on social ones. So Republicans were my party of choice. This episode with the Schiavo case has left me in despair for the party. If this continues, it may have the same effect that Radical Republicans had on the South after the Civil War, only this time it will be the urban areas that will resent this attack. For the past few years I thought that I could live with the religious right. No more. Who ever is closest to the center will get my vote.
That's what happened to me at the last election. Take national security away, and I'm much closer to moderate Democrats than 90 percent of the big spending, moralizing Republicans. One more:
"We are looking directly at the real face of contemporary Republicanism. Sane, moderate, thoughtful people are watching this circus and will not soon forget it." I couldn't agree with you more. I'm what one might call a moderate "swing voter." I came of age politically as a Democrat in the 90's, very supportive of Clinton's centrist policies and somewhat hardened as a partisan by what I regarded as the outrageous excesses of Republicans during the impeachment and preceding investigations. Having said that, I've always been a hawk on defense and have some fundamentally libertarian sensibilities that guide my views on domestic policy. I regard the traditional "liberal" worldview as one that can manifest itself in malignantly foolish ways at home and dangerously naive ways abroad.
After 9-11 I came to vigorously support the administration in the war against Islamist terrorism and supported the Iraq war as well. These two issues led me to seriously consider voting for President Bush. Particularly in the run-up to the Iraq war, my hostility to the far left element of the Democratic party and its apparently increasing prominence (see Michael Moore and his ilk) led me to really wonder whether someone like myself would be a better fit in the Republican party. As Howard Dean's campaign took off I came to view myself as a likely Bush voter. Ultimately, two things happened to change that vote. First, as evidence of the administration's inexcusable incompetence in carrying out regime change in Iraq mounted, I came to the conclusion that President Bush didn't deserve reelection as a matter of fundamental accountability. Second, the Democrats (for the 4th cycle in a row) wound up nominating an essentially moderate candidate. After concluding that Kerry was an acceptable alternative to Bush--specifically that a Kerry administration could be trusted with national security--I voted for him.
While I didn't regret my vote, in the months after the election my continuing aversion to some tenets of contemporary liberal thought (see the Larry Summers "controversy") led me to occasionally flirt with the idea of switching my allegiance, such as it is, to the Republican party. The Terri Schiavo fiasco has put an end to all that. This disgraceful episode has crystallized for me why I am much more a Democrat then a Republican. The reality simply is that moderates like me have much more influence in and, accordingly, are more at home in, the Democratic party. The Leftists couldn't even muster a majority of congressional Democrats to oppose the Iraq war--all but one Representative voted for the Afghan war. Yet the Theocons of the Republican right are able to call the Congress into a special session, pass an emergency bill and wake the President up in the middle of the night to sign it--all in the name of exalting an extremist religious belief over traditionally Republican principles of federalism, governmental restraint and family rights. All of this with only five, count them, five Republicans voting "No."
As a centrist Democrat friend of mine once said, "the extremists in my party make me laugh, the extremists in the Republican party make me cry."
Thursday, March 24, 2005 THE ARCHBISHOP APOLOGIZES: The bigoted decision to deny a gay bar owner Catholic funeral rites has been revoked. Sanity prevails. Good for the Archbishop. - 7:31:00 PM A MUST-READ: From one of my favorite conservative-libertarians, Neal Boortz. His is the Christian position I hold. There are worse things for a Christian than death. Let Terri go. She has suffered and been used enough. - 4:31:00 PM THE HYSTERIA MOUNTS: I'm beginning to wonder if the Republican party will soon oppose the whole concept of an independent judiciary. Just read William Bennett's screed in National Review. It contains the sentence: "It is a mistake to believe that the courts have the ultimate say as to what a constitution means." Bennett and his co-author argue that Jeb Bush should send in state troops to reinsert the feeding tube and break the law if necessary. Screw the science. Screw the court system. Screw the law. I disagree with Jonah that this is a minor spat with no long-term consequences. We are looking directly at the real face of contemporary Republicanism. Sane, moderate, thoughtful people are watching this circus and will not soon forget it.
THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT VERSUS MARRIAGE: Dahlia Lithwick highlights yet another conservative inconsistency in the Schiavo case. What this case comes down to is the right of a spouse to determine his or her incapacitated spouse's fate in the absence of a living will. Civil marriage is indeed a unique and special legal bond. The social right believes this. But they only believe it when it suits them. If it can be used to marginalize and stigmatize gay couples, they are insistent. If it is an obstacle to their absolutist views on feeding tubes for human beings who have ceased to be able to feel, think or emote, then they discard it. Here's a Tom DeLay quote that says it all:
"I don't know what transpired between Terri and her husband. All I know is Terri is alive. ... Unless she has specifically written instructions in her hand, with her signature, I don't care what her husband says."
So much for the "sanctity of marriage." With each passing month, the cynicism and power-lust of these people become clearer and clearer. Here's a principle: the government should stay out of living rooms, bedrooms and marital bonds. That used to be called conservatism. - 2:46:00 PM THE BROOKINGS GABFEST: Wonkette, moi, Shafer, Jodi Allen, E.J. Dionne and Ellen Ratner talk about blogdom. Transcript available here.
THE THEOCON OVER-REACH: Glenn Reynolds seconds my worries about the conservative crack-up. But the point about the religious zealots who run the GOP is that they are immune to calls to restraint or moderation or limits on power. God is on their side. - 10:45:00 AM QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Here's the question I ask of these right-to-lifers, including Vatican bishops: as we enter into Holy Week and we proclaim that death is not triumphant and that with the power of resurrection and the glory of Easter we have the triumph of Christ over death, what are they talking about by presenting death as an unmitigated evil? It doesn’t fit Christian context. Richard McCormick, who was the great Catholic moral theologian of the last 25 years, wrote a brilliant article in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1974 called "To Save or Let Die." He said there are two great heresies in our age (and heresy is a strong word in theology — these are false doctrines). One is that life is an absolute good and the other is that death is an absolute evil. We believe that life was created and is a good, but a limited good. Therefore the obligation to sustain it is a limited one. The parameters that mark off those limits are your capacities to function as a human." - Jesuit theologian Rev John J. Paris, on how the religious right is deploying heresy in its absolutism in the Terri Schiavo case. I couldn't agree more. What some of these people are about is not respect for life, but its fetishization. - 10:15:00 AM
Wednesday, March 23, 2005 SANITY FROM BUCKLEY: Another calm and decent column from William F. Buckley Jr. When you read him - an unimpeachable source for what was once the conservative movement - you begin to realize what a crew of zealots and charlatans now occupy the conservative pedestal. But they will fall soon enough. And the hysteria they are now creating will only accelerate their collapse. - 2:52:00 PM SCHIAVO UPDATE: I just heard Terri Schiavo's brother say on CNN that his sister is speaking to him. What did she say? Or is he lying? - 2:38:00 PM LETTERS TO LE MONDE: The anti-American bigotry still manages to shock. - 11:46:00 AM THE CONSERVATIVE CRACK-UP I: My take on all the emerging contradictions in the Sunday Times.
THE CONSERVATIVE CRACK-UP II: It's been a fascinating few days, watching today's Republicans grapple with their own internal contradictions. It's been clear now for a while that the religious right controls the base of the Republican party, and that fiscal left-liberals control its spending policy. That's how you develop a platform that supports massive increases in debt and amending the Constitution for religious right social policy objectives. But the Schiavo case is breaking new ground. For the religious right, states' rights are only valid if they do not contradict religious teaching. So a state court's ruling on, say, marriage rights or the right to die, or medical marijuana, must be over-ruled - either by the intervention of the federal Congress or by removing the authority of judges to rule in such cases, or by a Constitutional amendment. Fred Barnes, a born-again Christian conservative makes the point succinctly here:
True, there is an arguable federalism issue: whether taking the issue out of a state's jurisdiction is constitutional. But it pales in comparison with the moral issue.
You can't have a clearer statement of the fact that religious right morality trumps constitutional due process. Of course it does. The religious right recognizes one ultimate authority: their view of God. The constitution is only valid in so far as it reflects His holy law. Robert George, the recent recipient of $250,000 from the Bradley Foundation, makes the point more subtly here:
I am not impressed by appeals to "federalism" to protect the decisions of state court judges who usurp the authority of democratically constituted state legislative bodies by interpreting statutes beyond recognition or by invalidating state laws or the actions of state officials in the absence of any remotely plausible argument rooted in the text, logic, structure, or historical understanding of the state or federal constitution. The fact is that, under color of law, Michael Schiavo is seeking to deprive Terri of sustenance because of her disability. Under federal civil-rights statutes, this raises a substantial issue. It cannot be waved away by invoking states' rights.
The first point seems to me to be blather. The Florida courts have clearly wrestled with this issue many, many times. I haven't seen an argument that they are behaving outrageously beyond the bounds of their legitimate authority in a very complex case. And George's appeal to "civil rights" depends, of course, on what you mean by "civil rights." Where gays are concerned, George's belief is that gays have no fundamental civil rights with respect to marriage or even private consensual sex. George even believes that the government has a legitimate interest in passing laws that affect masturbation. But when he can purloin the rhetoric of "civil rights" to advance his own big government moralism, he will. The case also highlights - in another wonderful irony - how religious right morality even trumps civil marriage. It is simply amazing to hear the advocates of the inviolability of the heterosexual civil marital bond deny Terri Schiavo's legal husband the right to decide his wife's fate, when she cannot decide it for herself. Again, the demands of the religious right pre-empt constitutionalism, federalism, and even the integrity of the family. When conservatism means breaking up the civil bond between a man and his wife, you know it has ceased to be conservative. But we have known that for a long time now. Conservatism is a philosophy without a party in America any more. It has been hijacked by zealots and statists.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "We like to think faith is the Viagra of the people," - British Baptist minister, Steve Chalk. - 10:52:00 AM
Friday, March 18, 2005 NO FUNERALS FOR BAR OWNERS: Just after St Patrick's Day, we find that the Catholic diocese of San Diego has refused to bury a bar-owner for fear of public scandal. Back in the land of my grandmother, Ireland, bar-owners would be given more lavish funerals than others. What's going on? The guy was gay. I know of no conceivable theological reason to deny someone a funeral on those grounds. Just bigotry. In a Church that knows better. - 12:18:00 PM CONSERVATISM COME UNDONE: So it is now the federal government's role to micro-manage baseball and to prevent a single Florida woman who is trapped in a living hell from dying with dignity. We're getting to the point when conservatism has become a political philosophy that believes that government - at the most distant level - has the right to intervene in almost anything to achieve the right solution. Today's conservatism is becoming yesterday's liberalism.
[W]hat's wrong with a little narrowcasting, anyway? Social life is a difficult thing -- fraught with awkwardness, quirky taboos, the fear of rejection, and the discomfort of confrontation. The unfamiliar and the unexpected can stimulate but they can also exasperate -- and exacerbate ill will. We surround ourselves with the familiar and unthreatening precisely because ordinary life is threatening enough, even within the confines of the familiar. To be sure, a select few will always strive to broaden their cultural horizons -- but then, a belief in the value of broadened cultural horizons is itself a cultural position, and a surprisingly comfortable one at that. The question is not whether we will narrowcast our lives. The question is how to create a broadcast society out of narrowcast people.
I don't disagree with that. In my piece, I readily confessed to loving my iPod and to the pleasures of choosing rather than serendipity. My point is that we are gaining but also losing. I'm no Luddite. Far from it. But I think you can enjoy technology's advances, which are often also advances of individual freedom, while having ambivalent feelings about what we also leave behind.
THE CONSCIENCE CAUCUS: I'm going to take a page from Josh Marshall and start citing prominent or even not prominent conservatives who are actually addressing the scandal of torture as government policy rather than acquiesce in or actively support it. Jeff Jacoby has another column worth reading. I see now that Porter Goss will not deny that the CIA has deployed illegal methods of torture in the last three years. I am relieved - but not reassured - that he says it's no longer going on.
REPEAL THE MEDICARE ENTITLEMENT: It's the only course for fiscal sanity, if we want to avoid tax hikes (and I do).
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It takes one's breath away to watch feminist women at work. At the same time that they denounce traditional stereotypes they conform to them. If at the back of your sexist mind you think that women are emotional, you listen agape as professor Nancy Hopkins of MIT comes out with the threat that she will be sick if she has to hear too much of what she doesn't agree with. If you think women are suggestible, you hear it said that the mere suggestion of an innate inequality in women will keep them from stirring themselves to excel. While denouncing the feminine mystique, feminists behave as if they were devoted to it. They are women who assert their independence but still depend on men to keep women secure and comfortable while admiring their independence. Even in the gender-neutral society, men are expected by feminists to open doors for women. If men do not, they are intimidating women." - the inimitable Harvey Mansfield, in the Weekly Standard. - 11:43:00 AM
Thursday, March 17, 2005 MY BUDDY, BRETT: Here's a moving video of Brett Parson, a great D.C. cop who acts as a liaison to the gay and lesbian community, talking about the awful murder last night of one of his colleagues. Brett's a good friend (we had lunch Monday). My heart goes out to him. When I think of the future of gay America, I think of people like Brett, working their hearts out, serving their community, standing up for their dignity and the rights of others like him. And may his colleague, Wanda Alston, who also represented that future, rest in peace. - 3:51:00 PM QUOTE FOR THE DAY: "If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals -- if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is." - Ronald Reagan. Ah, those were the days. (Hat tip: Pejman).
QUOTE OF THE DAY II: "Too many Democrats portray the rest of the world as just a bunch of misunderstood bunny rabbits who misunderstand us." - Les Gelb, Wall Street Journal, yesterday.
NRO'S ARGUMENT: Here's an argument made against the logic of Judge Richard Kramer's decision in California:
Under any set of marriage laws, the fit between the laws' purpose and the eligibility criteria they establish will be somewhat loose. Are the laws there to promote loving relationships? Well, the law doesn't require that the partners in a marriage love each other. Do they promote the formation of stable households where the partners look out for each other? Well, not every married couple lives together, and it is an "obvious social reality" that not every cohabiting couple is married. This kind of pseudo-rationalism would undermine any marriage law at all.
The reason this doesn't persuade me is that no one is using any of these actual, not-always-present aspects of civil marriage to deny anyone's right to marry. No one, so far as I know, is saying that we should bar couples from civil marriages because they are not in love or not cohabiting or any other criterion. But they are saying that couples who do not or cannot procreate should be barred from marriage - on those grounds alone. All Kramer is saying is that current marriage laws have no such exception, and that using that exception to exclude one group of non-procreative couples (the gay ones) rather than another non-procreative group (the straight ones) makes no logical sense. Especially when many lesbian (and some gay ones) marriages have biological children, and some strraight ones have adopted kids. How does NRO defend that distinction? - 9:57:00 AM
Wednesday, March 16, 2005 GORING ESTRICH: Anne Applebaum leaves the posturing pseudo-feminist in the dust. - 12:02:00 PM 26 HOMICIDES: The last time I checked, the official number of murders by torture in U.S. custody was five, with 23 other deaths under investigation. Now we have 26 criminal homicides of detainees. There will be more to come. The standard conservative defense is that this was restricted to one night in Abu Ghraib and that even that wasn't torture. Anyone who has read even the white-wash reports, like the Church report, knows that what happened at AG was torture under any definition. Anyone who reads the NYT this morning will note that only one of the murders took place at Abu Ghraib. This was systemic mistreatment of detainees. It still is. And this doesn't even deal with the CIA, which has been given carte blanche to torture or kidnap anyone it suspects of terrorism, even if innocent, or to send them to Syria, Egypt or Saudi Arabia to get hung from hooks in the ceiling. The second conservative response is that this has nothing to do with official policy and that therefore no one in the administration should be held accountable. First, Donald Rumsfeld didn't think so. He offered to resign twice because of his responsibility (he had signed two torture warrants by then and known of Abu Ghraib for months). Second, the administration's reversal of its own 2002 memo sanctioning torture implicitly acknowledges that it had responsibility for this astonishingly widespread phenomenon of torturing prisoners to death or treating them so badly they died. The numbers of detainees tortured or mistreated who didn't die is, of course exponentially larger. The administration included as part of its war-plan legal memos arguing that the usual ban on mistreatment of prisoners was no longer operable and that any "military necessity" could justify torture or abuse of detainees. How much more evidence do we need? Now we have the latest ACLU document dump in which one soldier reports that General Ricardo Sanchez said, ""Why are we detaining these people, we should be killing them." Well, why should anyone be surprised when these prisoners were indeed killed? The reports so far have been very helpful. But they have been all subject to Pentagon influence. It seems to me we have to have an independent inquiry into all this. Even some conservatives have begun to question what has gone on. (No, not Glenn Reynolds. He has said he won't link to reports of torture, since the mainstream press is doing a decent enough job. Or National Review, one of whose contributors actually wanted to join in the torture at Abu Ghraib.) On the other hand, here's Mark Shea, a Ratzingerian Catholic who actually believes that torture is morally inexcusable. Imagine that. A member of the Catholic right openly confronting the moral horror of what this administration has permitted and will not stop. All is not lost. - 11:28:00 AM
Tuesday, March 15, 2005 THE WAR, AGAIN: Hitch has what I think is an important piece in Slate. The news that several weapons sites in Iraq were plundered immediately before and after the allied invasion is deeply worrying. There is a real possibility that serious weaponry was purloined by other Arab dictators or by very organized terrorist entities or some combination of the two. What this says about the competence of the invasion is once again unnerving. It means that the war may actually have ensured the occurrence of the one thing it was designed to prevent. Hitch counters that if Saddam could bring this off in wartime, he could have done it in peacetime, which makes the invasion just as necessary. Agreed. But it seems to me more confirmation of my essential position: that the war was right, but that the execution came close to undermining it. But it's also true that you cannot both lament the plundering of al Qaqaa and other sites and insist that there were no WMDs in Iraq before the war. Both sides have some reckoning to do.
THE BIG GOVERNMENT BINGE: Yes, it's continuing. The three lasting Bush domestic legacies will, I think, be the Medicare drug entitlement, the huge tax increases that will be enacted as soon as he leaves office (if not before), and the huge new bureaucracy called the Department of Homeland Security. The invaluable Veronique de Rugy has just completed a study of how the DHS is spending its vast sums of your and my money. To say the least, it's not encouraging. What is encouraging is that AEI is supporting this work. Fiscal conservatism is not quite dead, however hard Bush and Rove are trying to kill it off. Hey, there are even some sane conservatives still in the Senate.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "In this context, the existence of marriage-like rights without marriage actually cuts against the existence of a rational government interest for denying marriage to same-sex couples. California's enactment of rights for same-sex couples belies any argument that the State would have a legitimate interest in denying marriage in order to preclude same-sex couples from acquiring some marital right that might somehow be inappropriate for them to have. No party has argued the existence of such an inappropriate right, and the court cannot think of one. Thus, the state's position that California has granted marriage-like rights to same-sex couples points to the conclusion that there is no rational state interest in denying them the rites of marriage as well." - San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Richard Kramer, in a ruling yesterday. I should reiterate that in principle, I'd like the courts to be more restrained. But in practice, the logic of equality is so over-powering, and the arguments against it so fragile, that judges have little choice but to state the obvious. Like many other judges in these cases, Kramer is not a radical. He's a Catholic Republican appointed by a former Republican governor. But his intellectual honesty simply compels him to state that equality means equality. And when state constitutions insist upon it, you have to have a much stronger argument to keep a minority disenfranchised than the current anti-marriage forces have been able to marshall. Tradition? So was the ban on inter-racial marriage. Procreation? Non-procreative straight couples can get civil licenses. The potential collapse of civilization? Impossible to prove or even argue convincingly. Once you have accepted that there is no moral difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality, the arguments against same-sex marriage collapse. And since the only coherent moral difference is the likelihood of non-procreative sex, and that is now the norm in traditional heterosexual civil marriage, there is no moral case against allowing gay couples to have civil marriage. The rest is fear and prejudice and religious conviction. None should have a place as a legal argument in the courts. - 11:45:00 AM
POT, KETTLE WATCH: "Republicans who throw up should grow up... Democrats have no reform ideas, but they have a slogan -- 'Fix it, don't nix it.' The spectacle of adults chanting such childishness is embarrassing ..." - George Will, Washington Post. - 12:57:00 PM WOW: That's the word that came into my head reading this story. The Kifaya movement is no chimera. It's real. And it's close to miraculous.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Happily, most of the Andamans' Negritos seem to have survived December's tsunami. The fate of one tribe, the Sentinelese, remains uncertain, but an Indian coast guard helicopter sent to check up on them came under bow and arrow attack, which is heartening." - Armand Marie Leroi, New York Times. Well, it made me smile. And this is as good a time as any to say how much much better the NYT's op-ed page has become under David Shipley. Yes, I'm biased. David is an old friend and worked with me at The New Republic. But he has always had a commitment to genuine intellectual diversity, and the way in which the NYT has refused to kowtow to p.c. pressure to curtail open and free debate on such touchy matters as race and gender is clearly his achievement. This matters. Race and gender are real. How real they are is an open question. But we cannot find the answer if we will not allow the question. - 12:01:00 PM
Friday, March 11, 2005 DATA, DATA, DATA: Some interesting findings from Gallup, which their snarky writer spins. MysteryPollster provides must-read analysis. And the Blogads reader survey is also up. Two points from me: I'm struck by the youth of blog readers, their relative influence and wealth, and, again, the overwhelmingly male cast of the readership. Susan Estrich can't ascribe that to Mike Kinsley's bias. All in all: skewing young, educated, wealthy, politically balanced (39 percent Dems, 35 percent Republicans or Libertarians, 19 percent Independents), and influential. An advertizer's dream. - 7:35:00 PM A WEST POINT LT COL: He makes the case for equal citizenship for gays and lesbians as well as anyone. And in the Army Times. Money quote:
We can easily see why some people are physically disqualified for military service, but it is much harder to see why the fact of private consensual sex between adult citizens disqualifies them from military service. What democratic principle justifies this discrimination? The law barring gay military service imposes private religious and moral commitment through the instrument of public law. Gays and lesbians are American citizens, and many are silently serving in our military now as they have in all of our wars. The war in Iraq highlights the shortsightedness of discharging Arabic linguists who happen to be gay. But far worse than this failure in reasoning is the more general democratic failure of refusing full citizenship to able and willing citizens making personal choices the majority does not like.
I think the substantive debate on gays in the military is largely over. Significant majorities among the public support lifting the ban. Britain, the U.S.' closest ally, has done so - with no problems. My simple view is that anyone able and willing to serve his or her country should be able to do so, and be governed by the same rules as anyone else. We should be grateful to these people, not dismissive. - 11:49:00 AM 3/11: A year ago, the Islamo-fascists struck in Madrid. Worth taking a second today to remember the people murdered in the heart of a free society. And the pusillanimous response from some European leaders.
EMAIL OF THE DAY: "After months of never-ending posts regarding the war, gay marriage and the evil that is iPod, it was refreshing to finally read something near and dear to my heart: obscure songs and bands from the '80s. Not really a big fan of "The Office" (it's my wife who likes Britcoms; she's a big fan of "Cold Feet") but I, and a whole generation of Filipinos, do remember Seona Dancing and "More to Lose." Believe me, these guys were on every DJs' playlist back then. Of course, we couldn't really make out what the lyrics were (something about moving to new beginnings looking back to see what we might find). We just thought they sounded angst-y and cool, but we thought that about most U.K. bands during the '80s. (Echo and the Bunnymen, anyone?) And when Ricky Gervais won the Golden Globe my first reaction was "Hey! The guy from Seona Dancing won!" And, yes, "More to Lose" is on my iPod. Now, The Lotus Eaters, they were a good band ..."
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Hygiene is the corruption of medicine by morality. It is impossible to find a hygienist who does not debase his theory of the healthful with a theory of the virtuous. The true aim of medicine is not to make men virtuous; it is to safeguard and rescue them from the consequences of their vices." - H. L. Mencken. - 11:28:00 AM
Thursday, March 10, 2005 ALONE ON A STAGE: Technology has enabled us to seal ourselves off from general social interaction - via iPods, cell-phones, and the like. But it has also made those new little homes completely transparent. No email is private; no website can be kept from dissemination; no secrets are allowed; no space for private communication really allowed any more. We have managed to combine social atomization while also destroying privacy. Way to go! My thoughts on this new world are now posted opposite.
DERBYSHIRE AWARD NOMINEE: "DEALING WITH COMMIE JOURNALISTS: Jonah - Seems to me the best advice one can offer our troops manning checkpoints in Iraq is the same as that given informally by friends & neighbors to me when I became an armed homeowner: If you have to shoot, shoot to kill. You'll face much less trouble afterwards." - John Derbyshire, arguing for an Eason Jordan approach to Iraqi checkpoints. He never disappoints, does he?
Wednesday, March 09, 2005 PHOTO OF THE DAY: No comment necessary. - 4:11:00 PM DAVID BROOKS RESPONDS: To yesterday's email of the day, that is:
Two great things have happened in Beirut recently. First the opposition came out on the streets for a series of peaceful rallies. Then on Tuesday Hizbollah came out with peaceful rallies. Many people are treating the latter as setbacks for democracy. But in reality, they are democracy. It's not only the people who we agree with who get to vote and mobilize. It's everybody. In the Arab world there are going to be plenty of anti-American parties. If these parties' first instinct is to try to rally public opinion and not unleash armies, that's great. This is in a country where people used to kill each other, over such things, remember. Now they are rallying. This is part of what Wolfowitz was working for.
I tend to agree. But I also believe that any kind of triumphalism now is extremely foolish. This is just the beginning of the beginning. All sorts of obstacles lie ahead. But the course is, to my mind, right - even if the execution is sometimes inadequate. - 11:31:00 AM BUSH AND THE DEMOCRATS: Is Bush making America safe for liberalism? You betcha. Bush has legitimized a huge expansion of the welfare state, liberalizing immigration, and using force for democratization abroad. All the next Democratic president has to do to finish Bush's hard work is to raise taxes to pay for it all. And by the time Bush is done, the deficits will be so enormous, tax hikes will seem defensible. Advantage: the left.
MICROBICIDES: I've long wondered why we have done so little research on how women can use microbicides in their vaginas to lessen the risk of HIV infection. The main reason for resisting this obviously promising line of research, as Amanda Schaffer points out in Slate, is puritanical. The social right is leery of anything that might actually allow people to have sex while preventing HIV infection. In some of their eyes, it's far better to use HIV and AIDS as a means to terrify people out of sex rather than make sex safer. Even worse: the microbicides empower women sexually, another social right bugaboo. Still, there are signs that a real product may be on its way to the market. Even if it ratchets infection rates down a notch, it could have a huge epidemiological impact. And with African-American women as the new vulnerable population, and with African-American men so hostile to condoms, a microbicide seems to me a vital line of defense. And why not for gay men as well? Ah, yes. That would mean endorsing gay sex, wouldn't it?
STANLEY KURTZ PROVEN CORRECT: Yes, after marriage for gays, Dutch society is falling apart. Now even the ducks are gay necrophiliacs.
ENGLISH SELF-PARODY ALERT: Yes, I can't resist linking to this article on the scientific standards for making the perfect cup of tea. Remember Orwell's essay? Hat tip: Norm. - 11:21:00 AM
Tuesday, March 08, 2005 EMAIL OF THE DAY: "Setting aside Paul Wolfowitz's complex, controversial career and what it all means for a moment, the problem with David Brooks' piece in today's New York Times is his concluding sentence: "But with change burbling in Beirut, with many young people proudly hoisting the Lebanese flag (in a country that was once a symbol of tribal factionalism), it's time to take a look at this guy [Wolfowitz] again." That was so twenty-four hours ago. What would David make of today's Hizbollah-sponsored counter-protest in Beirut? Half a million Lebanese citizens marched in support of Syria and against Western meddling in their country -- far more than we've seen in the anti-Syrian protests to date.
Like a majority of Americans, David Brooks tends to think monolithically about our Middle East policies: we are "on" the side of the people and "against" their despotic leaders; if the Arab masses would only emulate our democratic traditions then a new wave of security and economic prosperity would wash over their lands; we Americans will be "safer" if the Arab world is more "free." Only time will tell. Today's huge demonstration in Beirut only shows how difficult -- silly, really -- it is to apply a single, unifying theme -- in this case, American-style freedom -- to millions of people who may ultimately reject it. Or, more saliently, the power of the ballot box in the Middle East may usher in more Iranian-style, theocratic, anti-American governments, such as the one that may well emerge in Iraq.
As someone who watched the events of September 11th unfold from my Brooklyn roof deck, I don't think we're any safer for the neo-con theories at work in the Middle East now. Do you? Free elections in Iraq may have beneficial long-terms effects for American security but we won't know that for years, if not decades. Meanwhile, as Porter Goss and Robert Mueller have recently testified and terrorism experts like Clarke and Bergen stress, al-Qaida is still capable of causing unspeakable harm to us in our homeland. Osama bin Laden is still at large and able to shape events from some relatively secure place, probably in Pakistan; over 90% of our shipping containers slip in without inspection; our borders, particularly our southern one, remain alarmingly porous; our first responders are still shockingly underfunded; another piece in today's Times reports that al-Qaida operatives may be penetrating the C.I.A.(!)
In other words, you and David Brooks may be sitting pretty on the Wolfowitz bandwagon, proclaiming a new and better world, but I'm hanging back, largely because the images of September 11th haunt me. I'm afraid that it may take another large-scale attack on U.S. soil to refute the idea that our Iraqi adventure has somehow made us safer here. And after all, Andrew, isn't that the sole stated reason George W. Bush took us to war?" - 7:07:00 PM SECONDING BROOKS: I'm with David on the assessment of Paul Wolfowitz. I've never understood the demonization of this man, whose integrity has always struck me as unimpeachable. He truly is a sincere backer of freedom around the world, has taken many lumps defending that increasingly vindicated principle, and been subjected to the usual obloquy from the reactionary parts of the left. The only moral question that hangs over him is the deployment of torture. I have no idea what his involvement in that shameful chapter of the war has been. But it would go against everything I know about the man to think he would approve. Or am I being naive? Speaking of which ... - 10:41:00 AM TORTURE ROUND-UP: If you want to understand how torture is regarded by this administration in our current war, you need to read this story. A detainee was abused and murdered by CIA operatives in Afghanistan. No one outside knew for two years. The officer who presided over the murder was subsequently promoted. (Only now will there be an investigation - by the CIA. Reassured?) Tragically, this president has signed off on the capture of "ghost detainees" with no accounting, outside of any scrutiny, held in prisons that are nameless, to be tortured or killed by U.S. soldiers or CIA agents, who are in turn protected from prosecution by Bush administration legal memos and the support of their superiors. We simply have no idea how many people have beensubjected to this (although we have around 30 corpses that have been accounted for). The White House recently confirmed that well over a hundred detainees have been sent to Arab autocracies where torture is practised. Even as this president publicly calls on these regimes to democratize, he privately asks them to "take care of" prisoners of war. We also know that attorney-general Alberto Gonzales skirted the truth, to put it mildly, in his Senate confirmation hearing. Here's what he said:
"[T]he policy of the United States is not to transfer individuals to countries where we believe they likely will be tortured, whether those individuals are being transferred from inside or outside the United States."
So why send detainees to Pakistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Jordan? Yes: Syria! The State Department has officially designated all those regimes as those that routinely practise torture. Even when cases emerge from the otherwise impenetrable darkness, 70 percent of the investigations of abuse, mistreatment or torture have been dropped on the grounds of insufficient evidence. And if you are a decent soldier and object to such tactics? They strap you to a stretcher in restraints and order you into psychiatric treatment. Then they remove you from the arena in order to protect your physical "safety." Yes, this country treats military dissidents as psychiatric patients. Can we go any lower? Wait! We can. Alberto Gonzales, the attorney-general who helped craft the legal memos making torture permissible, said of such incidents: "I'm not sure that they should be viewed as surprising." Let me put it this way: I'm quite sure that Alberto Gonzales is not surprised.
A GREAT PICK: Sending John Bolton to the U.N. strikes me as an inspired choice. The best diplomats in that position - Jeane Kirkpatrick and Daniel Patrick Moynihan come to mind - have always been strong U.N. critics and have used their position to challenge the U.N. rather than flatter it. I'm also bemused by the critics. They don't want Bolton in a powerful position in Washington, but equally they don't want him in New York. Well, sorry, guys. It seems to me that this pick sends an intelligently mixed signal. Bolton will no longer be a central player in foreign policy in the White House and State Department. That signals more diplomacy, less confrontation. At the same time, the principles Bolton has stood for - democratization as a response to terror, the use of military force when necessary, and a refusal to coddle dictators - will be expressed where they are most needed. What's not to like?
OH, RICKY: The funniest recent television series I've seen is "The Office," the inspired Brit-com starring Ricky Gervais as a hapless, excruciating car-wreck of an office manager. But Ricky has a past. Here he is at the height of 1980s Brit synth-pop, eye-liner and hair and all of that. More here. Of course this means nothing to people not famliar with the show. But I assume that many as.com readers are. If you aren't, do yourself a favor and get the DVD. - 10:37:00 AM
Friday, March 04, 2005 CASEY'S IN: The pro-life son of former governor Bob Casey will be challenging the extreme right-winger Rick Santorum for a Senate seat in 2006. The first poll shows Casey ahead by five points.
HEADS UP: I'm on Chris Matthews' Sunday network show this weekend. - 2:45:00 PM RICHARD COHEN'S CLAIMS: Here's a little tale that should help correct some people's impressions that the blogosphere is somehow less reliable than the "mainstream media." On February 17, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote a very tough column on the notion of an allegedly new, virulent strain of HIV in New York City. He made several factual claims that I know no solid evidence for. So I emailed him asking him for supporting data. The specific claims he made and I questioned were as follows:
1. "Tragically, this juvenile reasoning partially accounts for the apparent upsurge in HIV infections among gay males -- and the emergence of a virulent new strain that has health officials plenty worried." 2. "Unprotected sex is reckless, and unprotected sex between gays who are already HIV-positive will sooner or later produce a super strain of the disease." 3. "The fact remains that a portion of the gay population -- maybe 20 percent, Kaiser estimates -- conducts itself in ways that are not only reckless but just plain disgusting."
On February 17, I asked him where he got the data for all these assertions. He was in Saudi Arabia when I emailed him and promised to get back to me. Two weeks later, I got the following email:
"I think it's obvious that I based much of what I wrote on the findings of the New York City medical authorities. As for the rest, it comes from Kaiser, as I made clear. The sentiments about bath house sex and such are strictly my own."
Let's review. 1. The New York health department did not say and has not said that there is an "apparent upsurge" in HIV infections among gay men. (By the way, what, exactly, is an apparent upsurge? Either it exists or it doesn't, no? If it exists, why no supporting data?) So where does this data come from? I have no idea. After two weeks, Cohen can provide no supporting data.
COHEN'S NON-EVIDENCE: In the same sentence, Cohen cites as fact "the emergence of a virulent new strain." But the strain is not new. It has been seen before in Canada. Those Canadian patients with a very similar strain now have zero viral loads under treatment. A small percentage of new infections in New York and elsewhere are resistant to three of the four classes of drugs now available, as was this one. So the word "new" is factually wrong. What about "virulent"? We do not know - and the NYC authorities did not claim to know - if this single patient's immune system crash was a function of the viral strain, his repeated use of crystal meth, his own genetics, or simply an example of a common feature of recently infected men, whose immune systems regularly plummet before rebounding. So, again, Cohen has provided no solid evidence for his assertion. The same goes for 2. The bald statement "unprotected sex is reckless" is erroneous. If two men are HIV-negative and in a monogamous relationship, unprotected sex, i.e. what human beings have always called "sex", is not reckless. It's responsible and way more intimate and pleasurable than the alternative. Same for a couple who are both HIV-positive. There is no solid evidence that "super-infection" takes place at all. Viral mutation occurs because the virus mutates in the presence of drugs. People already infected with HIV and with antibodies to HIV have not been defintively shown to get reinfected, except if they have not yet developed antibodies. And most viral strains that have become drug-resistant are actually less virulent than regular HIV. Now this issue may be debated (and has been debated) - but this was not addressed by the NYC authorities Cohen cites as his sole source. Then there is his claim that "the fact remains" that twenty percent of gay men "conducts itself in ways that are not only reckless but just plain disgusting." By that, he means: "Unprotected, promiscuous sex in bathhouses and at parties and using drugs such as crystal meth to prolong both desire and performance." Notice he doesn't say: maybe. Or possibly. Or potentially. He says: "The fact is..." Huh? Let's say gay men make up 2 percent of the population. Cohen is saying that 1.2 million gay men are behaving this way. Again: where's the evidence for this vast generalization? Cohen's sole source is one Charles Kaiser. Kaiser is a gay writer and friend of Cohen's. He has no studies backing this data up, so far as I know, and Cohen provides none, when given two weeks to come up with support. Did Cohen ask for the source for corrobration? Can he provide any data backing this up? Nope. Look, I have no beef with Cohen. In my first email, I began by saying
"First off, I'm a huge admirer of your writing on gay issues. You're the very rare heterosexual man who actually gives a damn and writes as if we are equal human beings and citizens. Second, you are absolutely right that gay men have a responsibility to protect themselves and others from HIV."
But this column is built on factual sand. In the blogosphere, it would have been buried by now. In the MSM, it lives on, uncorrected and untrue. - 11:48:00 AM
Thursday, March 03, 2005 TAKE THE SURVEY: Blogads, the savior of blogdom, is running a survey on blog readers. Please take it. It will help all of us. For question 16, which asks which blog you read, write "andrew" or "sullivan" if you want to represent this site. Cheers.
EMAIL OF THE DAY: "I've been a devoted reader of your blog since its inception five or six years ago. I'm a stalwart Democrat, and I disagreed with you for quite a bit of time - particularly the years immediately after 9/11 - yet I continued reading. I was studying in Cairo for 9/11, and the sentiments you called upon seemed completely alien to me, as your assessment of Bush seemed ridiculous; when you declared that you couldn't have imagined a competent Gore response to 9/11, I couldn't have disagreed more.
However, I suddenly feel a similar sentiment. I'm currently in Damascus, and I've been following the events in neighboring Lebanon quite closely. And all I see are Bush administration successes, from Ukraine to Iraq to Lebanon to Egypt. The transitions to democracy in all of these countries is hardly a fait accompli - both Iraq and Lebanon could still descend into sectarian civil war, and Egypt has hardly begun - but they are immensely heartening. And it's hard not to credit Bush. More worryingly (for me at least), it's hard to imagine a Kerry responding to Hariri's assassination as perfectly. This may be unfair - I'm a big fan of Joe Biden - but I have to confess that Bush's radical liberalism feels quite justified by current events. I'm waiting for a Democratic foreign policy that's not only competent - and I'm still convinced that the Democratic foreign policy establishment has many more competent than, say, Rumsfeld - but also idealistic. Idealism is powerful, and this is something Bush realized and I didn't. But the people of the Middle East certainly do understand this, and hopefully the Democratic foreign policy establishment will follow suit." - 11:33:00 AM I FORGOT: The joys of spending the afternoons immersed back in political theory (yes, I'm a nerd at heart) somehow diverted me from linking to two recent pieces. Here's my Sunday Times column on Hillary - she's the one to beat in 2008. Here's my tangentially-related Time essay on the Democrats and abortion. - 11:29:00 AM
Wednesday, March 02, 2005 THE BEEB RENEWED: Yes, the Blair government will keep the mandatory television tax to fund Britain's institutionally leftist and compulsory state broadcasting system. For another decade. This is a huge victory for Britain's left. - 12:27:00 PM QUOTE OF THE DAY: "One of the things that none of us have fully appreciated is that below the surface in Lebanon, there was always frustration. But obviously, something has been percolating from below. And the most profound things that we're seeing is a loss of fear. In Syria, everything is governed by fear. And the Syrians use coercion and intimidation to get their way within Lebanon. And what we've seen in Lebanon looks an awful lot like what we saw in Kiev. In the end, people were not prepared to accept this kind of a process any longer. And they saw it in their numbers in a kind of collective approach. They saw strength. And the more they saw strength, the more they gained confidence. They've gotten confidence from others as well." - Dennis Ross, on Brit Hume last night.
GETTING AWAY WITH IT: The Senate Republicans cover for the administration on torture.
THE OPPORTUNITY MISSED: I'm one of those people less enthusiastic about social security reform now than I was a month ago. The main reason for me is that I don't trust this administration to achieve something fiscally neutral or even beneficial. I'm terrified of the massive borrowing private accounts will require. But this returns me to a theme I wrote about a couple of months ago. The president could have punted on social security reform and focused on a flat tax as his major second term agenda. If the result were simply flatter taxes, it would be better than no social security reform. Bruce Bartlett has a useful piece on this. My own view is that progressive taxation is immoral. The government should treat all its citizens as equally as it can. Punishing people for being successful is morally wrong and counter-productive. We should at least treat hard work neutrally, rather than punitively. (Inherited wealth is another matter, which is why I favor keeping the estate tax.) It's really the same principle behind ending affirmative action and allowing gay marriage: government neutrality in a diverse society, where our differences cannot and should not be micro-managed, and where people can enJoy the benefits of their own responsibliity. I have a feeling that Bush's decision to back social security reform over a flat tax will go down as a miscalculation on the scale of Clinton's decision to do universal healthcare before welfare reform.
DERBYSHIRE AWARD NOMINEE: "He is not Peter Pan. He is a full-grown freak. And he must pay." - Andrea Peyser, New York Post. Let's wait for the verdict, shall we? Being a freak is not a crime.
EMAIL OF THE DAY: "Respectfully, Andrew, I beg to differ on the alleged churlishness of Democrats on progress in the Middle East. Let me explain what's maddening to Democrats: no matter what happens that is progressive in the Middle East, Republicans and the Bush regime not only claims credit for it, but also claim that the war in Iraq is the reason for the progress. Libya doing a deal on weapons and Lockerbie so it can back into the international oil market? Must be because Bush invaded Iraq! Lebanese reacting with revulsion to Hariri's assassination, probably by Syrian agents, and demanding Syria's exit from their country? Must be because Bush invaded Iraq! Progress in the Palestinian-Israeli peace effort as a result of Arafat's death? Must be because Bush invaded Iraq! Who’s really peddling nonsequitors here? In short, what drives Democrats batty the tendency to take partisan political credit for anything progressive, and to blame anything retrograde on political enemies (both foreign and domestic) who "just don't get it." Never is there any recognition that Bush's international strategy even MIGHT be responsible for the negative radicalization we're seeing in places like Iran, North Korea, and maybe even Venezuela -- not to mention alienating essential partners in nation-building. And what really kills Democrats is the way that Bush not only takes credit for everything that is going well, and denies any responsibility for things that are going badly (and, when we're honest, how many people really feel that the world is, on balance, headed in the right direction?) -- it's that he then claims these false credit as the basis for "political capital" to spend on what Democrats feel are retrograde domestic policies. The result is that the first reaction any Democrat has to good news in the Middle East (or anywhere else) is to think, "How can Bush be denied political credit for this, since you know he's going to claim it." And the important thing to emphasize is that it is Bush's own political habits that have created this dynamic, and it started right after 9-11." - 11:39:00 AM
Tuesday, March 01, 2005 A REVOLUTIONARY MOMENT:Michael Ledeen's right. Hitch gleefully inters the "Arab street" here.
EMAIL OF THE DAY: "You wrote today that:
I think even the fiercest critics of president Bush's handling of the post-liberation phase in Iraq will still be thrilled at what appears to me to be glacial but important shifts in the right direction in the region."
I so wish you were right, but I'm afraid you probably aren't. I had lunch today with a friend - a really smart, knowledgeable, accomplished guy, who also happens to be very liberal and is active in state Democratic politics. I mentioned to him that Lebanon's government had just fallen. You would have thought I told him his dog had died. He chewed his sandwich slowly, thought for a while, and finally said,"You know, Assad's a bastard, but he was right when he said the problems in Iraq are the fault of America, not Syria." There wasn't any happiness that Lebanon is marching toward freedom. This kind of sulky non-sequitur, to me, exemplifies well why the Democratic Party cannot be trusted right now with our national security. Though some in the party, like Biden and Lieberman, are serious about protecting us, there are just way too many others so filled with hatred for Bush that they are incapable of understanding what is happening in the Middle East, and what the stakes are for all of us. And that's why I stand by my intense disagreement with your decision last fall to endorse John Kerry - even if the man could have been trusted, his party, as a whole, could not have been." How depressing.
GENDER DIFFERENCE: As many of you know, I don't think there's any real doubt that gender difference - including subtle differences in the wiring of male and female brains - is a fact. I've also long wondered why more study hasn't been done on gay men and lesbians to see how their experiences and behaviors reflect that. Here's an article that raises some interesting questions:
Gay men employ the same strategies for navigating as women - using landmarks to find their way around - a new study suggests. But they also use the strategies typically used by straight men, such as using compass directions and distances. In contrast, gay women read maps just like straight women, reveals the study of 80 heterosexual and homosexual men and women. "Gay men adopt male and female strategies. Therefore their brains are a sexual mosaic," explains Qazi Rahman, a psychobiologist who led the study at the University of East London, UK. "It's not simply that lesbians have men's brains and gay men have women's brains."
Notice the assumption about innate difference in the first place. No serious scientist disputes this. Only Harvard humanities professors. - 10:20:00 AM