February 28, 2005
A good debate
Should Deval Patrick run for Governor? Is Tom Reilly the best candidate for the job? These are excellent questions, and it looks as though a real debate is starting to shape up around them.
Good. It's exactly the conversation we need to be having. Keep it up, everyone.
People who are much, much smarter than you or me
This interesting article in the New Yorker about ultra-geniuses Albert Einstein and Kurt Gödel is well worth reading (it's in part a review of Rebecca Goldstein's new book called "Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel," also discussed here in the NYT). Einstein, as everyone knows, revolutionized physics by, among other things, showing that space and time do not actually behave in the way that ordinary experience suggests that they do. And although Gödel is a much less well-known figure, what Gödel did for mathematics is possibly even more profound than what Einstein did for physics. (According to the article, Einstein often went to his office at Princeton "just to have the privilege of walking home with Kurt Gödel.") In grotesquely oversimplified terms which I hope are roughly accurate, Gödel showed that no mathematical system can be both consistent and complete - that is, all mathematical systems contain propositions which, while true, can be proven true only from outside the system itself. Talk about thinking outside the box. The article notes that, in the view of some, "Gödel's incompleteness theorems have profound implications for the nature of the human mind. Our mental powers, it is argued, must outstrip those of any computer, since a computer is just a logical system running on hardware, and our minds can arrive at truths that are beyond the reach of a logical system."
I studied Gödel's incompleteness theorems many years ago, and while the details have long since slipped out of my consciousness, I clearly recall being struck by their beauty. It was a revelation to discover that beauty exists not only in art, or music, or literature, or nature, but also in the highly abstract realm of pure mathematics. Great mathematics, like great art, tells us something profound about ourselves, and about the universe. And that's beautiful.
February 25, 2005
Thinking strategically on gay marriage
Lots of interesting news on the gay marriage front this week. Item the first: the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has agreed to hear a constitutional challenge to the infamous 1913 law that is being used to bar out-of-state gay couples from marrying here. (The law's original purpose was almost certainly to erect similar barriers to out-of-state interracial couples.) Item the second: the Connecticut legislature appears to be on the fast track to adopting a civil unions law that will give gay couples all the rights and privileges of marriage under Connecticut law, except that it won't be called "marriage."
The important thing about the Connecticut story is that, if the proposed law passes, Connecticut will be the first state to adopt a gay marriage or marriage-equivalent law without having had a court tell it do so. In other words, it will be the first time that the people's elected representatives have decided that granting full marriage (or marriage-like) rights to gay people is what they should do, rather than what they must do. That's a really, really big deal.
The news from Connecticut also, I think, carries a lesson for those pushing the 1913 lawsuit here in MA. While securing victory on an issue like gay marriage through the courts is probably faster than doing so through the legislative process, it is also much more dangerous. One need only recall what happened in the 2004 elections to realize that backlash remains a serious problem in this area, and that criticizing "activist" and "unelected" judges who "legislate from the bench" is a great way to mobilize voters to undo whatever those judges have recently done.
I'm certainly not saying people shouldn't go court to protect their constitutional rights - that is a big part of what courts are there for. But I am saying that when there is reason to think that a legislative solution might be available, that should always be the preferred option. Here in Massachusetts, the legislature is overwhelmingly Democratic, the leaders of the two chambers (Robert Travaglini and Sal DiMasi) are sympathetic, and it seems to me quite possible that, if pushed, the legislature would tackle the 1913 law on its own. And if the legislature repealed the law, no one could dispute the legitimacy of its action - in contrast, if it's the courts that throw out the law, you can easily imagine the howling that will ensue about unelected, activist judges in Massachusetts redefining marriage, blah blah blah. Worse, you can easily imagine that the decision would give a big boost to the numerous anti-marriage state constitutional amendments that are pending around the country.
Bottom line: I think it's great that gay couples are getting married in Massachusetts, even though that came about through judicial action. And a big part of why I think it's great is that marriage advocates can now point to Massachusetts and say "look, we have thousands of gay people getting married, and nothing bad has happened - society is still functioning, heterosexual marriage hasn't crumbled, and children still play." So the Goodridge decision has created a powerful and real counterexample to the imaginary parades of horribles being tossed around by the anti-marriage crowd. But rather than try to achieve more through the courts, why not use what the courts have already done as a way of shifting the focus to the state legislatures, both here and elsewhere? (I haven't been following the debates in Connecticut, but I would bet that the legislators considering the civil unions bill have looked northward to see that legal recognition of gay relationships does not harm society, and that that is part of why the bill's progress has been so surprisingly swift.) Any victories achieved in the state legislatures will carry more legitimacy than victories achieved in the courts, and are therefore less likely to lead to backlash. Let's not win a few battles but lose the war on this one.
The WSJ and PlameGate
The notorious editorial page of the Wall Street Journal has weighed in on Novak-Plame-gate. And it's a pretty funny piece - a tour de force, really, although they'd probably hate the use of a French phrase to describe their work. In the span of a single editorial, they manage to (1) trash the NY Times; (2) trash every other "liberal newspaper" in the country; (3) claim that President Bush's "16 words" in the 2003 State of the Union speech were accurate; (4) trash Joseph Wilson, who claimed that they weren't; (5) claim that the outing of Valerie Plame's identity as a CIA operative was legal; (6) claim that once Joseph Wilson got involved in the debate over the "16 words," his wife's identity as a CIA operative was going to come out one way or another, so what's the big deal; (7) trash John Ashcroft for buckling under the "relentless lobbying by the Times and other media" and recusing himself from the investigation into the leak; (8) trash Patrick Fitzgerald, the Plamegate special prosecutor; (9) trash James Comey, the second-in-command at the Justice Department, for not reining in Fitzgerald enough; (10) trash the D.C. Circuit opinion finding no First Amendment privilege for reporters to shield their sources; (11) trash Judge David Tatel's concurring opinion that would allow reporters to claim a qualified common law privilege; and (12) trash any version of a federal shield law that would extend beyond "established news organizations" (i.e., bloggers).
On top of all of that, of course, they dutifully parrot the mainstream media refrain that the Plamegate investigation "threatens the entire press corps." But they seem more interested in trashing people they don't like than worrying too much about supposed threats to press freedom.
I've already discussed Plamegate at length here, here, here, here, and here, and I have better things to do with my time (believe it or not) than rehash my views to rebut each of the WSJ's points, which IMHO are either silly, petulant, outrageous, highly dubious, or wrong. The main point of this post, really, is to express admiration for the WSJ's ability to spew so much bile in a single editorial. Pass the Pepto....
UPDATE: I just happened across this op-ed by Steve Chapman, a Chicago Tribune columnist, who bucks the MSM trend by opining that the reporters in this case should be required to testify. His concluding paragraph:
The press is right in saying an important principle is at stake: its ability to get information that the public needs to know. But in this case, that principle should yield to the need to protect agents who are serving their country. Journalists might remember that sometimes, a vice is merely a virtue that is taken too far.
Amen, brother. Kudos to Mr. Chapman - it's good to know that there are at least a few MSM voices that aren't mindlessly parroting the received wisdom on this issue. (For a depressing contrast, read this silly piece by CBS's Bob Schieffer, the logical fallacies of which are too obvious and too numerous to bother cataloguing here.)
Phoenix on 18th Suffolk race
Must-read about the Allston-Brighton-Brookline State Rep race in this week's Phoenix. Lots of helpful information about the candidates, including a bit of personal texture, e.g.:
"With his unsettlingly intense demeanor — he looks like someone who’s taken way too much ephedrine — Glennon won’t be charming his way into the hearts of undecided voters."
Hrm... Well, that's "Fair and Balanced" for you ... but at least it's vivid.
And this sounds kind of like our endorsement:
Of all the Democrats in the race, Schofield seems most capable of presenting an articulate explanation of why, exactly, he is a liberal. (In the Brookline debate, he invoked the example of FDR and cited government’s obligation to check mounting corporate power.)
Cool. I'll take that seven days a week and twice on Sundays, please.
February 24, 2005
Pretty much sums it up, II: Electric Boogaloo
... the local version. Hoo Lordy, this is good.
Pretty much sums it up
Our unprincipled Governor
I've been trying to write a post on Romney's pandering to the right for days now, and I keep getting so angry that the post becomes incoherent. So I'm trying a new approach, just letting his own words do the work.
Read this, from 2002, in which Romney played the "moderate" card about as strongly as you can imagine. In particular, he called himself "a social moderate," he pledged to protect people's "freedom to make their own life choices, even if their choice is different from yours," and he said that decisions on the "life" issue were "deeply personal" and should be made "based on [women's] beliefs, not mine and not the government's."
Now, of course, Romney has described himself publicly as a "conservative Republican," he has proclaimed his opposition to gay people making a "life choice" that includes either marriage or civil union, and he has declared that his own beliefs on the "life" issue should determine the future of medical research in this Commonwealth.
Government study: homophobia is making America less safe
The facts (from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office) are in, and they're unambiguous (update: you can read the full report here). The military's policy of discharging gay service members is harming America's national security by depriving us of the services of highly qualified personnel in critical areas. In particular, the GAO's report found that of 322 language specialists forced out under the absurdly-named "don't ask don't tell" policy, 54 spoke Arabic (more than twice the number previously estimated), and others spoke Farsi, Korean, and Chinese, all considered critical in the war on terror and national security. The report also found that over 400 service members in "critical occupations" such as code-breakers, interrogators, air traffic controllers, and counterintelligence specialists had been discharged. The report estimated that replacing the discharged personnel had cost at least $200 million, and probably much more.
The report cites the Defense Department as trying to downplay the significance of the discharges by noting that more people were discharged for drug abuse, pregnancy, and weight problems than for being gay. Let's think about that for a sec. If you have a drug problem, you can't do your job because you're on drugs. If you're pregnant, you will not be able to do your job after you have your baby, at least for a while. And a weight problem would interfere with at least some military occupations. But if you're gay, well ... you're gay. Why you couldn't continue to do your job as a language specialist, code-breaker, or frankly any other military occupation is utterly beyond me.
And don't start with me about how having gay soldiers disrupts good order and discipline. Just read this: for years, the British military discharged anyone found to be gay. Then, five years ago, a court decision forced it to abandon that policy. And now, the British Royal Navy has started encouraging gay people to enlist. Why? Because they have found that having gay people in the military didn't change anything. Indeed, "gay men and women in the British services have lived and fought in Iraq alongside heterosexuals - and Americans - without problem, according to military officials."
"Don't ask don't tell" is crap. The justifications for it are crap. And it is hurting America by depriving us of desperately-needed personnel in critical areas, and by forcing us to waste time and money (a lot of money) training their replacements. It's time to junk this disastrous policy.
February 23, 2005
Mitt's gay-baiting goes on the road
This is really revealing, about all involved:
Gov. Mitt Romney said Wednesday that he's "made it very, very clear from the very beginning that I do not support gay marriage or civil unions," and that remarks he made earlier this week in South Carolina were consistent with that position.
The Republican governor's critics assailed him for failing to mention during a speech to Republican party activists in Spartanburg, S.C., on Monday that he supports a proposed amendment to the state constitution that, while banning gay marriage, would allow for civil unions.
From this, a few things are clear:
- Mitt doesn't like gay folks.
- The rest of the Republican governors don't like gay folks, either.
- MA folks, on the balance, don't mind gay folks so much.
- Therefore, the governor panders and slobbers for the folks who don't actually live in his state, and don't vote for him.
It's kind of amazing to see a governor who is rallying contempt for his own state to further his own personal objectives. And now it's quite brazen.