The Answer Guy Online

Providing information to unwitting victims on a "don't-need-to-know" basis since 1974.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Love In Action?

I'm a little late to the party on this story, in which a Tennessee camp facility designed to "convert" gays away from homosexuality using what it refers to as "reparative therapy." The State of Tennessee investigated the facility for alleged abuse, but concluded it found "no evidence" to support those allegations. Given what I've read, I remain suspicious.

One teenager, known only as "Zach," who, thanks in large part to the blog phenomenon, Zach can speak for himself, published the list of "rules" enforced by the facility, which goes by the name of "Love In Action." (And I think to myself "Great; now a perfectly good Todd Rundgren song has been ruined.")

Though I grew up as a straight guy, I consider myself lucky that I had parents who would never have dreamed of putting me somewhere like this place even if I didn't.

Published descriptions of what happens at this camp would be hilarious if they were hypothetical, which they apparently are not:

No hugging or physical touch between clients. Brief handshakes or a brief affirmative hand on a shoulder is allowed...

The clients may not wear Abercrombie and Fitch or Calvin Klein brand clothing, undergarments, or accessories.

LIA wants to encourage each client, male and female, by affirming his/her gender identity. LIA also wants each client to pursue integrity in all of his/her actions and appearances. Therefore, any belongings, appearances, clothing, actions, or humor that might connect a client to an inappropriate past are excluded from the program. These hindrances are called False Images (FI¹s). FI behavior may include hyper-masculinity, seductive clothing, mannish/boyish attire (on women), excessive jewelry (on men), mascoting, and "campy" or gay/lesbian behavior and talk...

Refuge clients will arrive daily at the Love in Action campus no later than 8:50 a.m., waiting in a designated area until a staff member meets them to perform the F.I. search and check them in. Refuge clients may not enter any of the client spaces on campus before submitting to an F.I. search. All belongings brought to campus will be searched, including book bags, notebooks, wallets, handbags, purses, etc.

All new Refuge clients will be placed into Safekeeping for the initial two to three days of their program. A client on safekeeping may not communicate verbally, or by using hand gestures or eye contact, with any other clients, staff members, or his/her parents or guardians...Any client may be placed into Safekeeping at any time, at a staffworker¹s discretion

Refuge clients must be accompanied by a parent during any trip to a public restroom.

Sounds like a mix of prison and boot camp. Plus I didn't find anything in here that seemed like it'd be a remotely plausible way to convert someone to heterosexuality.

The difference between now and then is that now it's harder to keep secrets like this from the general public, as well as the fundamental circularity of arguments made by religious conservatives about how miserable the lives of gays and lesbians are. A big part of why they're miserable is the people making those kinds of arguments doing their best to make it as miserable as possible, in part by websites full of bogus crap, including the following:

78% of homosexuals are affected by STD's, mainly AIDS, Gonorrhea, Herpes Simples Virus, and Chlamydia.
Of homosexuals questioned in one study reports that 43% admit to 500 or more partners in a lifetime, 28% admit to 1000 or more in a lifetime.

If I didn't know better, I'd think that the International Organization of Heterosexual Rights webpage was a parody, complete with HTML ripped off from 1997.

By now Zach must know that he is by no means alone out there. There are a lot of us out there watching.

Read more about Love In Action and other outfits practicing similar quackery here.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Two Tickets On That Grove City Bus

Talking about politics is something of a bore in 2005; it'd be the same refrain over and over again. I've taken it as a given that the next three years are going to be much more about combatting bad ideas and keeping the gains of the last century rather than proposing anything new, so discussions of substantive policy seems pointless.

Which is why, back earlier in the month during one of my periodic fits of inability to blog I've had lately, I was following this interesting discussion at the brand new TPM cafe about "politics in the information age." I find the line of discussion appealing because it's one of the few places where the topics cross-pollinate these days.

The semantic arguments about what exactly the "information age" is, whether it is a mere metaphor or something closer to tangible are tedious, but the way that people make their living is definitely changing before our eyes. The age where people worked the same job from early adulthood through retirement is but a distant memory.

Some of these changes are liberating, and may leave America as a whole more prosperous than before. People feel less stuck in bad jobs or work environments. It's easier to be upwardly mobile as the world grows smaller and more opportunities become available to more individuals.

But like just about any change, there are some fairly significant drawbacks. There are fewer and fewer jobs where you know you're going to be able to make a decent living. At first it was only unskilled and semi-skilled labor that could be done much cheaper overseas, and now it could be just about anything. Whatever your skills in the workplace are now, they stand a good chance of becoming obsolete in fairly short order. The degree you spent years and thousands of dollars attaining stands a greater chance of being worthless than ever before. In a sense, the freedom to make your own bargain with the marketplace this new age holds may be illusory.

Displacements will be more common than ever. More people than ever could find themselves unemployed or underemployed, and possibly even without any means of support, for extended lengths of time while they retrained, retooled, or relocated. Planning one's life path towards retirement, particularly for families, could become essentially impossible for all but the most fortunate and best-positioned among us.

My point is not so much to decry these changes as it is to point out that the risk that anyone regardless of social strata could find themselves in the same position as the protagonist in Bruce Springsteen's "Atlantic City," saddled with "debts that no honest man can pay." It won't be just the proletariat that populates the Springsteen back catalog anymore.

I am profoundly upset with the present U.S. government not so much because they caused this shift to happen; many of the factors behind these trends started under earlier administrations, and some of them are either partially or entirely beyond the control of whoever holds the keys to any branch of government.

I am profoundly upset because their solutions to these challenges are either to do nothing, or to amplify the potentially destructive effects of these sea changes. The answer to private-sector pensions and health benefits being more uncertain than ever before should not to make Social Security dependent on the vissicitudes of the marketplace. The answer to ever weaker bargaining positions for labor, whether organized or not, should not be policies designed to weaken them further. The answer to more and more families a paycheck or two from disaster should not be one attempt after another to make the already comfortable even more so. The answer to more families being driven to bankruptcy by skyrocketing health costs should not be a finance industry-driven bankruptcy bill that sticks people with health care costs they can't pay and can't discharge.

My point is not to try to bring back some idyllic time, like the 1950s except perhaps without McCarthyism or Jim Crow. That's not really possible now, though it might sell well electorally with some people. But a society that is forcing everyone into incurring more risk probably should not be simultaneously locking in a set of ground rules that punish those who happen to stumble ever more harshly. The future ought not so closely resemble Atlantic City or "Atlantic City."

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Give It Away Now

It feels very strange to see a 5-4 Supreme Court system where I find myself agreeing more with the view of Justices O'Connor, Scalia, Rehnquist, and Thomas than with the other five justices.

The United States Supreme Court has ruled in favor of New London in the Kelo v. New London case.

I discussed this case at length in Febuary, at which time I concluded that the lower court had reached the incorrect decision.

While it's certainly accurate to suggest that I wouldn't trust a lot of courts with the ammunition that a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would have provided them (note Justice Thomas' strong hits that he would like to see Midkiff and Berman overturned for instance), I still think this decision was wrong. (Come to think of it, you could say the same exact thing about Raich v. Ashcroft, the California medical marijuana case.) I would never have tagged Sandra Day O'Connor to have written the dissenting opinion in this case, but she more or less nails it in this sentence:

Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party, but the fallout from this decision will not be random...[the] beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms.

The majority opinion speaks of deference to local government decisions regarding land usage:

Just as we decline to second-guess the City's considered judgments about the efficacy of its development plan, we also decline to second-guess the City's determinations as to what lands it needs to acquire in order to effectuate the project.

And while it's a fair point to suggest that local governments might be better arbiters of public benefits than federal judges, the political process at the local level has shown itself to be an inadequate protector of rights time and time again.

That said, I'm not wailing and gnashing my teeth over this, and not just because there will be no precedent here that the "Constitution-in-Exile" movement will be able to use. This isn't the seismic shift in legal doctrine some people think it is; eminent domain law had long been assumed to be by and large outside the purview of the federal government and federal judiciary. Real property is a more or less a creature of state law and nothing about this decision changes that.

I would not expect a new rash of eminent domain condemnations; indeed, with the sort of publicity this case is already receiving, I would actually expect a new backlash against local government excercising eminent domain on behalf of private parties. But time will tell.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

I Had No Reason To Be Over-Optimistic
This post is the second part of a two-part series.

In my previous post, I had discussed how the baseball season was going and how good and how bad my skills as a prognosticator have looked. I went through five teams that failed to live up to my expectations then, and now I'll go through five teams that have in very degrees substantially outperformed my expectations.

Of the six teams atop the divisional standards, there are three I predicted would be exactly where they are: the Cardinals, the Padres (I'm proudest of that one), and the Angels. And then there are the Orioles, White Sox, and Nationals, none of whom I had thought of as serious playoff contenders going in. I did not expect the Arizona Diamondbacks to be within a country mile of a pennant race, and yet they are very much in the thick of things. And while the Pittsburgh Pirates aren't really playoff contenders, they are far from the disaster I had prognosticated for them.

I'll start with the team that has by far left the most egg on the Answer Guy's face and work down from there.

Chicago White Sox (+12)
Where They Are: 42-20
Where I Thought They'd Be: 30-32
Going into the season, I thought to myself that [Manager] Ozzie Guillen and [GM] Kenny Williams are both dolts, they've traded away power for speed (which is almost never a good idea), and they built their rotation around two aging Cuban Yankees castoffs. Aaron Rowand was arguably their weakest hitting outfielder going into 2004, and entered 2005 as their strongest. That, and an injured Frank Thomas seemed to add up to a weak offense and a sub-.500 record. The White Sox have been sort of the anti-Yankees; they have been underperforming predictions for a few years now, even by the low standards of the AL Central. Many observers such as myself lost our patience and picked this year to throw our hands up and say "Well, maybe they just weren't that good."
Fast forward to this year, and they're 42-20. Their pitching has been nothing short of incredible, more than enough to overcome an offense that doesn't quite measure up to the great offenses of the AL. The bullpen, a festering sore for much of last season, has performed well despite Shingo Takatsu's implosion. They've gotten on base just enough to make their speed work for them. They've even done all of this while playing 8 more games away from the South Side than at home.
However, there are some signs that they have been as least as lucky as they have been good; the White Sox are 19-8 in games decided by one run, meaning that nearly half their wins have been by a single run. Truly great teams will blow their opponents out of the game more often than that. Their runs scored to runs allowed (291 vs. 231) suggest a winning percentage much closer to .600 than to the .677 they now own - not that a .600 winning percentage is chopped liver.
I expect them to fall off a bit not least because several players are well above their career norms. However, you'd have to acknowledge that they'd have to really screw things up to miss the post-season now. The Twins are good enough to make a run at them, but the rest of the AL Central is not a threat, and the various wild card contenders face a tall order catching up to them. Between the White Sox and Twins, the much-maligned AL Central may produce its first-ever Wild Card team in 2005. In case you're wondering, no, I still don't think Williams or Guillen are unrecognized geniuses.

Washington Nationals (+9)
Where They Are: 37-26
Where I Thought They'd Be: 28-35
I predicted a 4-way tussle for the NL East, and atop the standings in mid-June is... the team I was pretty confident were going be in last place.
But...These are the Expos, right? The terminally bad, supremely dysfunctional Expos? Wasn't this franchise systematically purged of most of their better players by trades or free agency? Sure, they weren't as poor anymore, but they spent that money on Cristian Guzman and an aging, non-Colorado version of Vinny Castilla. No one in this offense except for Nick Johnson and Brad Wilkerson gets on base much. Not much power in this lineup either. Guzman has hit at a level that was weak for an replacement-level NL shortstop even 20 years ago. They've had multiple injuries on both sides of the ball, with Termel Sledge and Jose Vidro logging significant DL time. But thanks to phenomenal pitching performances from both starters and relievers - they just keep winning and threaten to cut into the Redskins' stranglehold on the Post sports pages. John Patterson, Livan Hernandez, and Esteban Loaiza have been outstanding.
However, there are warning signs. As with the ChiSox above, the owe a lot of their success to close wins - they have a 16-7 record in 1-run games (compared with 21-19 in other games.) Another sign that they been luckier than they've been good; they have allowed nearly as many runs (255) as they have scored (260.) I picked them to finish last and I continue to stand by that prediction, even if I expect them to win substantially more than 71 games now, if for no other reason then they'd need to collapse quickly to fail to exceed 71 wins.
After all, these are still the Expos.

Arizona Diamondbacks (+8)
Where They Are: 33-31
Where I Thought They'd Be: 25-39
The D'Backs, three years removed from their World Series title, lost 108 games last season. They then traded their most famous and best player in franchise history, Randy Johnson. Most of their players were either old and declining, marginal, or both. Their most notable signing was the injury-prone Troy Glaus. This should not - even in the NL West - add up to a contender...but thusfar it has. Brandon Webb has led the way and Javier Vazquez, yet another refugee from the Bronx, is putting things together nicely. One massive sign of danger ahead is they are being outscored by a substantial margin (343 to 291) despite the winning record, a sign that they are very lucky indeed. Their recent slump has dropped them to third and suggest that the other shoe is starting to drop.

Pittsburgh Pirates (+5)
Where They Are: 30-31
Where I Thought They'd Be: 25-36
This one isn't as obvious as the others, mostly because while they are doing better than I thought, it's not well enough to put them in the ranks of serious playoff contenders. They've gotten much better pitching than I had expected. With a little luck, they just might break a string of 12 consecutive losing seasons, tied for the longest in the majors. (And they are in need of some luck; only Kansas City has a significantly worse record in 1-run games than the Bucs' 6-13, and the Pirates have outscored their opponents by a 266-256 margin.) Darryle Ward has revived his career, Rob Mackowiak has been outstanding, and Jason Bay has been even better than he was in last year's Rookie of the Year camapign. But the pitching has been even better, with a 3.88 staff ERA - good for 3rd in the NL. Oliver Perez is down, but Mark Redman and Kip Wells have made up for that. They look much better than I had predicted, and while they're not going to give the Cardinals or Cubs many sleepless nights when the days start to grow shorter this year, they have something to build on for the future.

Baltimore Orioles (+4)
Where They Are: 36-26
Where I Thought They'd Be: 32-30
Both teams at opposite ends of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway have franchises in first place. A difference of four games is not a huge deal, but it does stick out given what else is happening in the AL East. I did think things were looking up for them, picking them to end a streak of 7 losing seasons, but that may not have been enough. Instead of struggling to keep pace with the Red Sox and Yankees, thanks in part, to the struggles of both teams, the O's find themselves atop the AL East in June for the first time since before many people had heard of Monica Lewinsky.
They've got some bonafide performers; Miguel Tejada is having another MVP-caliber season, Melvin Mora has more or less proven he's no fluke, Brian Roberts prior to getting injured looked the second coming of Joe Morgan - and they're not even overly dependent on some of their older, declining hitters.
Unlike the Nationals, the Orioles look like solid contenders; they've been great on the road, aren't benefitting from the luck of 1-run wins (despite a good bullpen) and have a ratio of runs scored to runs allowed (325 vs. 285) that would suggest a record similar to the one they have. They have some good hitters and a fine bullpen (though they had both last year and it still added up to a losing record.) Some of their players are playing over their heads a bit, and between that and the numerous injuries, I'd expect the Red Sox at least to overtake them sometime during the next two months. But this pleasant surprise of a season should keep attendance at Camden Yards brisk and may be part of what keeps the Yankees out of the playoffs. The Red Sox have a smaller margin for error as well.

Elsewhere around the league: The Twins have actually outperformed my projections, which is small comfort to them since they are 5.5 games out of first place since they've under-overachieved compared to the White Sox. Texas has thusfar resisted the pull of the Plexiglas Principle (teams that show a big improvement from one year to the next tend to regress the following year.) The Phillies have been hot lately and are beating my projections for them, though that hasn't put them in first place yet, but it has them in the thick of a 5-way NL East fray.

(Overly) Optimistic
This post is the first of a two-part series.

Well, I figured it was time to take stock about how things have shaken out this baseball season. Some of my prognostications have turned out pretty well but others have blown up in my face. I've gotten some things right; a tight multi-team race in the NL East, the Cardinals in command of the NL Central, the Padres and Dodgers fighting for the NL West, the Angels the class of the AL West.

A majority of the teams are more or less where I predicted they would be through Sunday night's games; but there are ten teams that are busy making Answer Guy look bad - five in one direction, five in the other.

I'll get to the teams I didn't expect to see as high in the standings as they now sit in my next post - for now I'll deal with the train wrecks.

Four teams that had grown accustomed to life as a playoff contender - the Yankees, Athletics, Giants, and Astros - looked like they might be in a little bit of trouble going into the 2005 season. In one case, I wasn't buying it at all and figured that their collapse was a season or two away. I was more willing to consider a collapse by the other three but it appears I underestimated considerably how far each would fall.
But all four of them are looking way off their game this season and may have dug a hole too deep to get out of.

The Top Five Flops Thusfar:

Oakland Athletics (-8)
Where They Are: 25-37
Where I Thought They'd Be: 33-29
The traditional pundit class have been betting against the A's continuing their small-market success for a few years now. Early returns suggest that they are finally right. But their pitching staff, at least the starters, has generally survived the departure of two of the Big Three starters; it's the hitting (and the relief corps) that has fallen off a cliff. Their one remaining offensive star, Eric Chavez, has been dragging down many a fantasy team this season. Jason Kendall has been a disappointment. This might be a good time to point out that for whatever reason, this team has often underperformed in the first half of the season only surge their way into playoff contention late in the season. It's hard to see how the rabbit is going to come out of the hat this time. In the "silver lining" department, they've played a disproportionate number of games away from Oakland (where they have the worst record in the AL apart from Tampa Bay) thusfar.

New York Yankees (-7)
Where They Are: 30-32
Where I Thought They'd Be: 37-25
Don't get me wrong, I'm happy about this. But I'm still a bit perplexed by the suddenness of it all. I figured Jaret Wright was going to be bad but not this bad. I expected Mussina to be having a better season than he did in 2004, but, well, he hasn't. Randy Johnson is showing the signs of age we hadn't seen in him before. The offense is below - but not too far below - where I expected them to be. The Yankees have been outperforming (in terms of wins) their Pythagorean runs projections for years and I figured that there was something about the team those numbers didn't tell us and that they could continue that. Well, not this year, at least not thusfar.
I remember the rush of columns to proclaim the Yankees dead in late April, and then they ran off 10 straight wins. It could happen again, but they're going to need to right the ship soon; their run of 10 straight postseasons is in serious jeopardy.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays (-7)
Where They Are: 21-42
Where I Thought They'd Be: 28-35
Ah, the poor Devil Rays. After their first ever non-last-place AL East finish, I figured that things were looking up somewhat for them, even as I picked Toronto to pass them and relegate them to the cellar again. They had some young pitchers and hitters worth having. While they have been scoring runs (5th in the AL) like never before, their pitchers have been getting pounded to the tune of over 6 runs per game. Some of this backsliding stems from the simple fact that as Baltimore and Toronto improved (even more than I thought) from last year, there's less wiggle room for the Devil Rays to continue what looked like an uphill climb.

San Francisco Giants (-6)
Where They Are: 25-36
Where I Thought They'd Be: 31-30
I thought I had already adjusted for Barry Bonds' absence. The two guys they brought on to help the offense - Alou and Vizquel - have actually been pretty good. The pitching staff, however, has imploded, especially Jason Schmidt, another guy bringing down a lot of fantasy teams this season. From here it appears that the Giants are probably finished as contenders for a while, since it looks like Barry Bonds may never play again. The rest of their team just isn't good enough even in what figures to be a weak NL West. It may get worse; 35 of their 61 games have been at home.

Houston Astros (-5)
Where They Are: 26-35
Where I Thought They'd Be: 31-30
I did pick them to be down this year, with no more Carlos Beltran or Jeff Kent, with Lance Berkman sidelined, and Biggio and Bagwell a year older, did not pick them to contend. It looks like I wasn't down enough on them as their offense has landed at the bottom of the league. The pitching has been quite good but not enough to make up for the anemic hitting. (Remember, though, that they were hanging around .500 even a few days after the All-Star break before taking the league by storm in the season's third act.) A 6-10 mark in 1-run games suggests that they're a bit unlucky, but they've been especially bad on the road and they have as many there left as they do in Houston.

Most of my other overly optimistic projections involved teams - like the Devil Rays - I projected to be weak but not as weak as they are turning out to be; the Rockies, Reds, Mariners, and Royals. The Red Sox are underachieving slightly but are still very much in the hunt, due in part to the Yankees' failings. The Indians aren't far off my predictions but the White Sox and Twins (more on them later) have left them in the dust.

In Part 2 of this blog, Answer Guy attempts to explain just what on earth some of these teams are doing high in the standings.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Smooth Criminal??

This just in: Michael Jackson acquitted on all counts. The King of Unnecessary Plastic Surgery King of Pop is now a free man.

I didn't follow this spectacle of a trial, but what little I did observe suggests that much of the acquittal - just like in the O.J. Simpson trial - turned on the fact that the accusers weren't especially credible or sympathetic in the eyes of the jury.
Jackson's lawyers were successfully able to paint the parents of the alleged molestation victims as grifters out to make a buck. Not to mention that the historical record makes clear that it's very difficult to convict someone who's rich or famous for much of anything.

I had a feeling that Jackson most likely did at least some of the things of which he was accused, but that's rightfully not the standard we use when the question is whether to deprive someone of their liberty. I do feel bad for him in the sense that he seems to be a few bricks short of a load but doesn't have anyone around him that seems to be willing to tell him so.

Hopefully Jackson will not celebrate by having children sleep in his bed with him.

UPDATE: According to MSNBC, the Jackson Web site featured graphics declaring “Innocent” and showing a hand giving a victory sign as a fanfare plays. A scrolling calendar highlights historic events such as “Martin Luther King is born,” “The Berlin Wall falls,” “Nelson Mandela is freed,” and finally, “June 13, 2005, Remember this date for it is a part of HIStory.” The reference was to Jackson’s 1995 album “HIStory: Past, Present, and Future Book I.”Read all about it here. Glad to know that some people haven't totally lost perspective.

Shine On

Pink Floyd is reuniting for Live 8, the upcoming charity concert in London - a sequel of sorts to Live Aid, planned by Live Aid planner Bob Geldof. (Ironically, Geldof played the lead role in the film adaptation of Pink Floyd's "The Wall.")

Old bands reuniting is scarcely news anymore, as one cash-infusion reunion tour after another hits the road every summer, many for bands it's hard to care about now. But this reuniting of Roger Waters with his former bandmates is still huge news, even if the band is past the age of cultural relevance. It's rare to hear a rock star like David Gilmour actually admit in public that his petty squabbles with former bandmates don't amount to much in light of the big picture.

Of course, some of Roger Waters' more anti-war and anti-corporatist lyrics still have a certain resonance to them in these times. I was beaten to the punch on this observation, but if you didn't know that the lyrics to "Pigs (Three Different Ones)" were written nearly 30 years ago, you'd think that they were written specifically about current occupant of the White House.

Glad to know I'm not the only fan of the often-reviled album Animals out there in the blogosphere.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

People Are Still Having Sex

There's a virus out there (the HPV virus, the same one linked to genital warts) that has been linked to cancer, and a vaccine is being developed that may by a big help in containing it. Who could be against this? The Family Research Council, that's who.

They hate sex. They think of it as nasty, dirty business. They wish people, other than themselves of course, would stop having it. Never mind that being an anti-sex activist makes about as much sense as being an anti-tornado activist. There is a deep urge in many people, especially religious people, to punish other people for having sex.

"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," [Family Research Council's Bridgette] Maher claims. Yes, folks, the only thing that's stopping your teen daughter from rampant sex is the idea that she'll get cancer 40 years later from a virus she has most likely never heard of.

Outfits like this spend the bulk of their time talking about abortion. However, most of them don't care all that much about babies, because if they did, they'd be doing what they could to make terminating a pregnancy a less attractive option to women who found themselves pregnant. They certainly wouldn't be putting their support behind things like a thankfully scrapped adoption law in Florida that required women to publish the names of all their sexual partners in the newspaper before giving up a child for adoption. When it comes down to it, most of them aren't really about preserving lives. Most of them are enthusiastic death penalty supporters, loud cheerleaders for wars both actual and theoretical, and not terribly fond of human rights advocates or other do-gooders who advocate for better treatment of the poor and disadvantaged.

They don't tend to like gays because they are generally incapable of thinking about same-sex relationships in anything but the most crude sexual terms, defining them exclusively in terms of who they choose (or do not choose) to have sex with. A lot of their tracts spend a lot of time talking about deviant gay sex; many of them probably spend more time thinking and talking about abhorrent sodomy than actual gay people do. I know "homophobes must secretly be gay" thing is a bit overused, but someone who describes gay sex as "pure heroin" makes me wonder if the guy is not only gay, but a junkie.

Many of them - whether secretly or not-so-secretly - would like to see birth control disappear. You can see some of them making fatuous claims about birth control methods, describing them as "abortifacients," in defenses of pharmacists who try to deny women access to contraception or even in arguments to outlaw birth control, period.

They are even uncomfortable with educating children honestly about sex and sexuality because they think that trying to keep them in the dark will somehow suppress human sexual urges, which suggests not only a profound ignornace of biology and human nature but a stupefying amnesia regarding their own adolescence as well. Better informed teenagers have fewer pregnancies, and consequently, are less likely to feel the need to have an abortion. Would we rather see them get all their information about sex from the schoolyard, or from television?

Are all these things true of every individual supporter of recriminalizing abortion? No. Some of them have genuine concern for humans or potential humans. Some are more reasonable about sex education, some less fixated on persecuting gays. But these different facets of anti-sex ideology are true at some level of essentially every person who serves as a prominent public face of the pro-life movment in America.

It's common for pro-choice types to claim that the movement is just a bunch of men who want absolute control over women. I'd concede that there is an element of that, but the gender gap on the issue is not as large as many commonly think. Moreover, that "control" factor wouldn't explain why there are so many women involved in the movement or why these same men and women spend so much energy demonizing gay men in particular.

These people think sex is evil. A necessary evil for continuation of the species, but an evil nonetheless.

The physical and mental travails of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood are a consequence of sex, as is the financial burden of child-rearing, as well as the potential ravages and social stigma of sexually transmitted diseases; they are all appropriate punishments for women who do not remain sexually pure. The biological double standard thwarts their ability to punish men in quite the same way, though at least the threat of sexually transmitted diseases ports across the genders. Birth control to them is cheating, and condom use is cheating. So is any homosexual activity, any act of oral sex or anal sex, or any variety of masturbation.

It is only in this profoundly twisted context that opposing vaccines for sexually transmitted diseases makes any sense; some of them value anything they think might lead to preserving some theoretical sexual purity that death, even on a potentially grand scale, is a small price to pay.

It must drive these folks nuts to know that wherever they are, there are lots of people having sex around them.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Shelter From The Storm

Once again House Republicans have PBS in their sights.
Some of them relish the idea of political payback against one of the few media outlets that doesn't regularly rebroadcast unfiltered Republican talking points; others are simply riding the "privatize everything" hobbyhorse. Most people in their political base don't watch PBS for one reason or another, though there isn't necessarily anything liberal about, say, "Antiques Roadshow" or "NOVA" (unless, I suppose, they're talking about dinosaurs and you believed that their fossils were planted there by Satan to confuse us.)

But here's what I find ironic about all this. Republicans get a lot of praise and a lot of votes from parents and other people who decry the "coarsening of the culture," as a recent George Will column put it. Without getting into who or what is causing such a phenomenon or what overall are appropriate methods for dealing with it, I know of one place where such a coarsening is by and large not happening.

How odd is it that they're going after the one channel on your television you know you're never going to see anything that's going to make you want to put your hands over your childrens' eyes? You will not find gun-toting gangsters, stand-up comics cursing up a blue streak, booty-shaking music videos, or commercials drenched with unsubtle sexual innuendo. "Desparate Housewives" and "Deadwood" aren't there, and you're not likely to see much of Howard Stern or Dave Chapelle. When PBS shows news oriented programming, it doesn't come in form the of the shout fests you find on cable news channels. Nor do they spend any airtime discussing Paris Hilton or her sex tapes, Lindsay Lohan or her breasts, Jennifer Lopez or her backside, or the feud between 50 Cent and Fat Joe.

Of course, given who the Bush administration has put in charge of acting as stewards over public policy, we shouldn't be too surprised about these developments.

Quoth Ken Feree, in the context of admitted he doesn't watch much PBS:
I don't always want to sit down and read Shakespeare, and [The News Hour With Jim Lehrer] is akin to Shakespeare. Sometimes I really just want a People magazine, and often that is in the evening, after a hard day.

Because Lord knows that commercial television doesn't give near us enough vapid saturation coverage of vapid celebrities and their vapid lives.

If you leave this up to the marketplace, parents, you'll get more Britney and Kevin, more Jessica and Nick, more F-bombs, more blow jobs, and more mob hits on television. Television was described as a "vast wasteland" years ago and the more things change, the more they stay the same. Decades ago our society decided to see to it that no matter where in America you live, that there would be one channel on your dial that was different, one that wasn't going to need to chase advertising dollars by grabbing demographics beloved of marketing agencies. If we let go of it, we are making a mistake.

Back in the USSR?

Been riding MARC lately? (For those non-locals, MARC, is a commuter rail run by the State of Maryland and Amtrak and is the usual way to commute from Baltimore to Washington and back.)

Check out this sign seen on MARC trains. The red banners (and indeed the red motif overall), the block test, and everything else about it seems to invoke similar posters seen in the Soviet Union. They're not pure Socialist Realism - they mix in some Art Deco, with the softer shade of red often associated with propaganda from early Chinese Communism.

While it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing for people to be more vigilant on mass transit, did they need to present it in such a paranoid style while appropriating so many of the trappings of unsavory totalitarian regimes?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Circle of Protection: Corporate
Tap (1) to prevent target government from furnishing its citizenry with useful services with taxpayer funds.

Republican Congressmen Pete Sessions (R-TX) has recently proposed legislation designed to pre-empt localities and states from establishing municipal mobile networks. It has the Orwellian name Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005.

This legislation comes at a time when it has become apparent that more and more employment opportunities at all levels will depend on access to high-speed internet facilities. The "digitial divide" problem is of great concern to municipalities and their future; it's unquestionably not about whether the inner-city or rural poor can join in on insular discussions of the relative merits of Captain Kirk and Captain Picard on the taxpayers' dime. It's serious business now.

The telecom firms have been cherrypicking yuppie enclaves and upscale suburban areas and redlining large parts of many of the cities that either have set up or are considering setting up municipal wi-fi for years. And now they have the chutzpah to have one of their biggest lackies in Congress try to stop the cities from taking their own initiative to do anything about it.

Conservatives like Sessions were all about local control - until they got control of the entire federal government apparatus.

This little bit of rent-seeking behavior has a parallel in Sen. Rick Santorum's attempt to stop the National Weather Service from distributing its reports, provided with taxpayer money, to the public. Why? Because AccuWeather, a benefactor of Santorum, would like to have an easier time selling the same information it obtains from the National Weather Service at a profit.

My favorite sentence from the linked article has to be this one:
"It is not an easy prospect for a business to attract advertisers, subscribers or investors when the government is providing similar products and services for free," Santorum said.

Of course it is, Rick; if I've already paid for something with my tax dollars, I can't say I'd be too interested in paying someone for the same product again - or in a Senator who thinks I should be forced to pay twice, just so some theoretical investor or advertiser can then grab a few extra bucks in the deal.

Their next step might well be trying to ban municipal water supplies - after all, aren't they interfering with the ability of the bottled water industry to make a profit?

Do people still play Magic: The Gathering?

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Don't Wanna Be A Candidate For Vietnam Or Watergate...

I wish I had written this:

So now we, as a nation and a culture, have seen G. Gordon Liddy accuse Deep Throat of having acted unethically. A lot of people, in the past few years, have been talking about the death of irony. I think now it's officially time to get the paddles and charge to 60.

Lots of people had their pet theories about who Deep Throat was - most of them more interesting/intriguing/famous than Mark Felt. Pat Buchanan, except that he's not capable of shutting up about anything. Alexander "I'm in charge here" Haig, ditto. Pseudo-celebrities Ben Stein and Henry Kissinger also made some people's lists. Reportedly, Nixon always suspected Felt as the source.

I regard Watergate as a watershed moment in the American body politic perhaps even more than most people.

My own pet theory is that Watergate, while bad for the Republican Party in the short run, was very good for them in the long run since it combined with the Vietnam debacle to essentially destroy any faith America might have had in government in general and the federal government in particular. Such a mood left people primed for "government is the enemy" rhetoric coming from the likes of Reagan and Gingrich.

Deep cynicism has been very fashionable, and pervaded every aspect of American culture ever since. In a very real sense, it's given us a world people laughed with the cast of characters on Seinfeld rather than merely laughing at them and a world where playing "Grand Theft Auto" or watching Jerry Springer and his parade of sad freaks doesn't fill one with guilt.

Politicians in both parties have been "running against Washington" with redoubled fervor ever since. (It wasn't exactly a new phenomenon but was significantly ramped up in the 1970s.) It's worked better for the GOP, being the putatively "anti-government" party, though the reality is, to put it mildly, much more complicated than that. Although at some point, from a rational point of view, that should stop working sometime after this party gains control of the entire apparatus of the federal government, and it hasn't yet stopped working. Conservatives have essentially run Washington ever since, liberal is an insult (long after they could reasonably be blamed for much of anything that's happened in American politics lately) and both parties have moved to the right.

Of course, this is more about style than substance in many ways. It makes no rational sense to continue to credibly "run against Washington" when your party actually runs Washington. And the "small government" bit shouldn't work either. Neither party has much interest in that, and not without reason; dramatically shrinking the size of government is electoral gold in the abstract but electoral poison in practice.

So something will have to give at some point. I can't say I'm optimistic about what will give and when anymore.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005


The Answer Guy Online is back, with a new look.

I've been away for nearly two months, and the causes are various and sundry. I've had to deal with an increased workload, a more active social life, and, well, an X-Box addiction.

It got so bad that a new Pope, that whole "nuclear option" business, two months worth of baseball, and some hotly anticipated Supreme Court rulings haven't awakened this blog from its slumber.

Next will be a list of blog entries from other people that I would have been writing had I not been on hiatus.

But I'm back now.

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