Friday, February 25, 2005

Roadkill Overkill?
Apparently, Road kill candy angers animal rights activists: "The fruity-flavored Trolli Road Kill Gummi Candy -- in shapes of partly flattened snakes, chickens and squirrels -- fosters cruelty toward animals, according to the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
'It sends the wrong message to children, that it's OK to harm animals. And that's the wrong message, especially from a so-called wholesome corporation like Kraft,' said society spokesman Matthew Stanton."

No, Matt, it sends the message that it's funny when animals have already been harmed—preferably if they are in a tasty gummi form.

Furthermore, that this objection is getting national press coverage saddens me.

The road to peace runs through where?
I'm thinking that more and more, Baghdad lies somewhere along the way.
The Washington times (via InstaPundit) reports on activity in Lebanon, as it regards Syria: "Presidents and diplomats piled on the pressure for Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon yesterday, but for the hard-line Ba'athist leaders in Damascus, the most worrisome pressure may be coming from a scruffy tent camp near the Beirut waterfront.
In a land where civil war is endemic but political protest is almost unknown, long-feuding Muslims, Christians and Druze are camping out just blocks from the parliament saying they will not leave until either Syrian troops leave their country or the government falls."

Remember, folks, one of the leaders of this Lebanese uprisings was quoted just the other day in the Washington Post, saying: "'It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq,' explains Jumblatt. 'I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world.' Jumblatt says this spark of democratic revolt is spreading. 'The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.'"

It's important to realize that Iraqi expats living in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, and through the rest of the Middle East were all able to vote in those countries. That can't have gone unnoticed by their citizens. While this whole thing has echoes of the Ukrainian Orange Revolution, it also seemst to be a reverberation of Iraqi freedom.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

An Interesting Analogy
Read and judge for yourself.

No Kidding
Mark Mellman, writing in The Hill, addresses The Dems' Hispanic problem: "Latinos who voted for Kerry in very large numbers tended to be poorer, Spanish-speaking and living in Latino neighborhoods. Those less likely to have voted for Kerry include better-off, English-dominant and bilingual folks who live mainly in more diverse neighborhoods."

Is this really a surprise? Democratic strategy regarding minorities has long been about isolating them from the larger, more diverse American community. Affirmative action is about separating minorities, and marking them as in need of help in order to reach parity. Once these minorities get a true look at the American dream, however, they see that it's not their race that keeps them from success, but defining themselves explicitly by their race.

The same is true of gay rights advocacy. Rather than becoming one-issue voters, and defining every policy issue by a single characteristic, assimilation and change from within the larger community is what leads to true progress.

I guess what I'd say is that, while Democrats are so opposed to special interests, they stigmatize each group into a special interest—and thereby limit their overall potential to transform their communities through success.

Get your house in order first
The YDN offers an article today with the headline "Recruiter visit raises concern." Now, the debate over ROTC has been big at Yale recently, as has the debate over JAG recruiters at the Law School. This is a new arena, however, with students objecting to military recruiters showing up on campus because of "don't ask, don't tell." I won't bore you with m views on the subject, but I wanted to point to a most absurd segment of the article:

But in response to a complaint from a student who told the recruiter he was gay and was turned away from enlisting, Yale College Dean Peter Salovey said the University is reevaluating its current recruitment policies.

The student, an activist who asked to remain anonymous because he has not revealed his sexual orientation to friends and family, said he complained to University officials, who told him that because of the University's anti-discrimination policy, action would be taken to prevent further potentially discriminatory encounters. [emphasis added]
There is something wrong when you are so proud of your sexual orientation that you feel a need to exclaim it to a military recruiter that you know will reject you immediately from consideration, but you can't admit it to your own family, who is supposed to love you unconditionally. And how can you call yourself an activist when the people closest to you don't even know that you have something to be active about?

I'm not going to hazard guesses about why this kid is behaving the way he (or she) is, but I have to suggest that he takes a deep look at himself and figures out why this is so ultimately important to him. I think the ideal is that society would ignore sexuality entirely, whatever it may be, but when a gay person puts so much emphasis on that side of his or her life, all it does is elevate the matter to the foreground of everyone's thinking. It would be no different than my walking around, angry that the people who know I'm a Republican don't like me, and reacting by walking into a Democratic party office, asking to sign up to work on their campaigns, and then proclaiming "I'm a Republican, and I condemn you for not hiring me even though I knew that's how you'd react anyway."

I know I'm not making sense here, but my point is: this was an immature thing for a student who is clearly not comfortable with his (or her) own sexuality to do—once you're ok with who you are, and you've admitted that fact to the people that are important to you, then you worry about rectifying it with the government and society as a whole. In the meantime, worry about yourself.

UPDATE [2/23/2005 - 12:37]: It has come to my attention that nothing I said above applies to this case. Why? It turns out this "student activist," who was personally offended by the fact that he could not be recruited because he is gay, but also hasn't told his family or friends that he is gay is a fictional character.

No, I am not accusing the YDN of making up stories, I am accusing them of having been misled. It turns out [ed. note—this has not been confirmed, it is merely the word on the street] that this student is in fact heterosexual, and merely wanted to make a point to the recruiter. When word got out that a gay student had directly challenged the recruiter, this student decided to run with it. He has to remain anonymous, however, because he is not gay and people know that.

This is simply despicable behavior, not merely immature as I claimed earlier. And it is offensive to people of every sexual inclination. I won't repeat the student's name, as I don't think it's my place to do so, but I hope he comes clean.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A question without an answer?
Tom Maguire points to a piece that asks a question I've thought about before: what does "middle class" (atlernatively "middle-income") actually mean? His focus is on the Alternative Minimums Tax as discussed by the New York Times, but it is still helpful in considering the larger question—that is, when a politician refers to the "middle class," is he doing so legitimately, or to play on common fears he sees in the public?

Take a look.

Monday, February 21, 2005

The definition of a slow news day gives it, by listing among their top headlines a story about a British wax museum that chose to separate their models of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston.

The best I've seen
William Saletan breaks down the transcript of Harvard president Larry Summers's remarks about women and gender, concluding that Summers have been mistreated and that he got some things wrong as well.

It's a very balanced analysis, that I recommend everyone read in order to better understand the issues involved.

UPDATE [2/22/2005 - 5:14]: Another great analysis, leaning a bit more to the side that Summers have been maligned unfairly and that he wasn't very far off the mark, comes from Arnold Kling

At the same time, a YDN editorial in today's issue completely misses the mark, but I offer it up to present the dissenting view as well. I think this is an issue that makes clear logical sense, and if you read everything written on both sides, you'll come down to realize that what Summers said probably had some truth to it. For that reason, I won't try to persuade you, as I think the Saletan and Kling do a better job of it than I could hope to.

Smart guy, good analysis
Michael Barone on the Washington gubernatorial election, the Florida 2000 presidential vote, and the result of selective recounts. Take a look, it's short.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The iPeople
Today's Sunday Times features a commentary by Andrew Sullivan (yes, the semi-retired blogger), recounting a recent trip to NYC:

Manhattan's downtown is now a Disney-like string of malls, riverside parks and pretty upper-middle-class villages. But there was something else. And as I looked across the throngs on the pavements, I began to see why.

There were little white wires hanging down from their ears, or tucked into pockets, purses or jackets. The eyes were a little vacant. Each was in his or her own musical world, walking to their soundtrack, stars in their own music video, almost oblivious to the world around them. These are the iPod people.
He's right, of course. Every since I got my own iPod at Christmas, I've noticed the same thing on the Yale campus—the number of people walking around with white wires sticking out of their ears is staggering. In addition, what he extrapolates from this is, I think, also pretty accurate, if not quite in line with my own conclusions:
It wouldn't be so worrying if it weren't part of something even bigger. Americans are beginning to narrow their lives.

You get your news from your favourite blogs, the ones that won't challenge your view of the world. You tune into a satellite radio service that also aims directly at a small market — for new age fanatics, liberal talk or Christian rock. Television is all cable. Culture is all subculture. Your cell phones can receive e-mail feeds of your favourite blogger's latest thoughts — seconds after he has posted them — get sports scores for your team or stock quotes of your portfolio.

Technology has given us a universe entirely for ourselves — where the serendipity of meeting a new stranger, hearing a piece of music we would never choose for ourselves or an opinion that might force us to change our mind about something are all effectively banished.
Sullivan laments this technological division, pointing out:
That bloke next to you on the bus could be listening to heavy metal or a Gregorian chant. You'll never know. And so, bit by bit, you'll never really know him. And by his white wires, he is indicating he doesn't really want to know you.
And he winds up with a concluding anecdote, entreating his readers to unplug and return to the interpersonal real world:
Not so long ago I was on a trip and realised I had left my iPod behind. Panic. But then something else. I noticed the rhythms of others again, the sound of the airplane, the opinions of the taxi driver, the small social cues that had been obscured before. I noticed how others related to each other. And I felt just a little bit connected again and a little more aware.

Try it. There's a world out there. And it has a soundtrack all its own.
So, I said that I like what he has to say even though I don't quite agree with it, and you're probably wondering why.

I've never been a very public person. I don't party with anywhere near the regularity of my peers. I prefer IMing to phone chatting, with few exceptions. If I'm walking to class, I'd rather walk alone than bump into someone heading in the same direction, again with few exceptions. And of course, this exchange from the TV show Scrubs (DVD here), between doctor and patient, resonates quite strongly with me:
Patient: If it'll make you feel better, I hate this whole touchy feely culture anyway.
Doctor: Thank you!
Patient: And that whole kiss hello thing.
Doctor: Ugh.
Patient: Ew.
Doctor: Yeah I don't want anyone touching me unless we're gonna have sex and even then I don't want them to overdo it.
Patient: So where in Connecticut are you from?
Doctor: Greenwich, you?
Patient: Darien.
Yeah, I'm from Fairfield County too.

Anyway, I'd been using an mp3/CD player for about two years on and off until it got stolen in the fall. I then went several months before receiving my iPod, followed by a few weeks of using that every time I left my room. Then my harddrive crashed, and, like Sullivan, I was plunged back into the real world, without my personal soundtrack.

Now, maybe the Yale campus is different, because we're in the northeast, and the students are generally driven, moving quickly to their destinations. But what I've discovered is that the people without white wires dangling from their ears are icy and cold, while those listening to music have a bounce in their step—they'll stop to chat with people they know, smiling and pulling out one ear bud.

There's a distinct difference here, of course: Sullivan is encouraging us to meet new people, I'm talking about interactions with people we already know. The thing is, I'm not sure we stand to gain anything from meeting complete strangers. That heavily tattooed man on the train is happier because he has his Gregorian chants, and the business man likes escaping to his punk-rock. And they go home at night, and sign online to IM or blog in their little circles of people they like, too. If they should bump into a member of their group on the street, they'll gladly stop, smile, and strike up a conversation. What benefit would either of these men experience from my butting in during our commute?

The hustle and bustle that is disappearing in New York was well known for its profanity—why should we miss that? Sure, the global interaction is smaller, but if we have to give that up to differentiate into select populations that make us happier as individuals, is that such a bad thing?

While technology is separating us, it also gives us the ability to make our cliques bigger, and to avoid the things that irritate us. It's not a wall, as Sullivan seems to suggest, but a filter—let in the music, the people, the blogs, the sports, the stocks, the everything else that you enjoy, and keep out the noise.

UPDATE [2/20/2005 - 17:10]: I've been accused of hypocrisy, by my girlfriend, of all people: "[Brian is] always talking about dialogue even when your views differ. He'll often push his opposing viewpoint into a conversation just to get that dialogue. With a filter, that wouldn't happen. Seems to me [Brian]'s a little hypocritical about the whole issue."

Fair enough, but I think a clarification might help. I'm not saying it's a good thing for interpersonal communication to cease. I'm not saying you shouldn't be open to the possibility of getting to know people.

My point is, that the venues where iPods limit interaction are not ones where meaningful opportunities are regularly being missed. The conversation Lexi had with her interviewer is not an occasion that would have been prevented by headphones. The political discussions I spark with my views do not occur on the train or on the street, and I think would be quite inappropriate if they did. And, if you're the type of person who gets something out of random conversations on airplanes, as Lexi definitely is, then you aren't the type of person who is going to plug in and tune out in the first place—else you would have already done so when they put radios into the armrests.

Here's the message I'm trying to communicate: nothing is being lost by the people who choose to walk to their own soundtrack, or by the people who wish to communicate; there are plenty of both species to satisfy themselves. Lexi will have conversations with people like herself, and people like me who find such forced small talk annoying at times can tune out when we do.

There are absolutely benefits to dialogue by people of opposing opinions—but we don't need to be open to it when we're walking down the street, and there may in fact be a greater gain if we only communicate when we're ready to in the first place. If you're not in the mood, and you have no way to tune out, what will you really get out of forced conversation? And in the meantime, the people who do want such interactions will find it that much easier to locate one another.

Reassuring, to say the least
I've been saying for a while that my gut tells me Bush isn't intolerant of homosexuals/homosexuality, just that he thinks the union of a gay couple should not be referred to as marriage. Unfortunately, until now, I've had no evidence.

The New York Times announced in an article yesterday that pre-presidential confident of W's had released portions of secretly taped conversations. There are many interesting points in the article, but the most intriguing to me comes on page three:

Early on, though, Mr. Bush appeared most worried that Christian conservatives would object to his determination not to criticize gay people. "I think he wants me to attack homosexuals," Mr. Bush said after meeting James Robison, a prominent evangelical minister in Texas.

But Mr. Bush said he did not intend to change his position. He said he told Mr. Robison: "Look, James, I got to tell you two things right off the bat. One, I'm not going to kick gays, because I'm a sinner. How can I differentiate sin?"

Later, he read aloud an aide's report from a convention of the Christian Coalition, a conservative political group: "This crowd uses gays as the enemy. It's hard to distinguish between fear of the homosexual political agenda and fear of homosexuality, however."

"This is an issue I have been trying to downplay," Mr. Bush said. "I think it is bad for Republicans to be kicking gays."

Told that one conservative supporter was saying Mr. Bush had pledged not to hire gay people, Mr. Bush said sharply: "o, what I said was, I wouldn't fire gays."

As early as 1998, however, Mr. Bush had already identified one gay-rights issue where he found common ground with conservative Christians: same-sex marriage. "ay marriage, I am against that. Special rights, I am against that,"Mr. Bush told Mr. Wead, five years before a Massachusetts court brought the issue to national attention.
Whatever you think of his ultimate stance on gay marriage, this makes it clear to me that he had no intention of creating a crusade around the issue, and that his claim that he only proposed a constitutional amendment as a response to activist judges has some validity. Obviously, not everyone can agree with that action, but at least he wants to distinguish between "homosexual political agenda and... homosexuality."

He's not quite where I wish he was on the issue, but he's also not as far off-base as many on the left would like to claim.