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Showing posts from June, 2011

Is gay marriage the end of religious freedom?

Ben and I talk about the post-New York future of gay marriage in our Scripps Howard column this week. This is normally where I print my half of the column and send you to the link to read Ben's half. This week, though, I'll claim the privilege of printing Ben's half—then responding:

Ben responds to the question: Is legalized gay marriage inevitable?
New York's legislature took a vote, but the question of gay marriage is far from settled. Unfortunately, reasonable debate on the subject now appears to be impossible.

Millions of Americans believe gays and lesbians should be free to live as they please -- a huge generational shift -- but that marriage should remain a union between a man and a woman. Marriage serves a vital social purpose of creating stable families. Raising children is perhaps the most important function of marriage (but not the only one). Not just any two parents will do.

A state law -- or a court decision -- won't change those people's minds. But …

Arlene Ackerman's paranoid delusions

When rumors surfaced Monday that Philly schools Superintendent Arlene Ackerman might be leaving town, I was hopeful. Not just because her administration continues to block me from following its Twitter feed—but for less selfish, substantive reasons. Like her questionable budgeting acumen. Her slowness in responding to violence at South Philadelphia High School. Her decision to be defensive instead of proactive when it comes to the broader problem of school violence. The list could go on. I wasn't hopeful that she was leaving because she's awesome.

Ackerman's staying, though. What's interesting is how she's responding to those rumors of her departure:
Schools chief Arlene C. Ackerman on Monday shot down rumors she is in talks to leave the Philadelphia School District, and suggested that those who want her gone are uncomfortable with the thought of all public-school children succeeding.

Many initiatives in Ackerman's three-year superintendency have been focused o…

Back in his natural habitat.

Taken at Cafe Lutecia

Why we can't afford the death penalty in Pennsylvania, ctd

A lawyer weighs in on that flat $2,000 preparation fee the state pays defense lawyers in capital murder cases:
Think of it this way. As a lawyer I charge a little under $200 for the paper-pushing work I tend to do: contract negotiating, real estate transactions, and so on. Two grand is ten hours of my work, which doesn't involve attempting to preserve someone's basic liberties -- mostly it involves bringing a deal to a close, or winning someone's money back, or securing some intellectual property rights.

Criminal defense involves securing someone's fundamental liberty not to be kept in a prison by the government. A capital case involves securing someone's fundamental liberty not to be killed by the government. Even if I were to do that work for you for $200 per hour, wouldn't you hope I work more than 10 hours on your case?A cynic might suggest that Pennsylvania politicians are happy to see capital murder defendants walk into court with one hand tied behind thei…

Conservative intelligentsia largely silent on gay marriage

We've had an entire weekend to react to news of New York's gay marriage law, and the silence of so much of the right on the topic is pretty notable. I've periodically checked in at a number of leading conservative blogs over the last 48 hours—Hot Air, Power Line, Red State, No Left Turns, Commentary, Weekly Standard—and the reaction has been almost total silence. There has been more hubub in the Catholic precincts of National Review, but it's not one-sided: there's genuine debate going on there.

Obviously there are plenty of self-described conservatives out there—particularly religious conservatives—who are incensed. And they always will be. But a good chunk of the conservative intelligentsia just can't rouse itself to battle on the topic—probably, I'm guessing, because so many folks in that group have gay friends. It takes two sides to have a culture war; on this issue, at least, one side appears to be leaving the battlefield.

The Weekly Standard thinks the generals command the president

Interesting wording from Daniel Halper:
The Los Angeles Times reports that President Obama defied his generals' advice on Afghanistan.At the risk of being pedantic, here's the first dictionary definition of "defy": "to challenge the power of; resist boldly or openly: to defy parental authority." Halper's phrasing certainly suggests that the generals are supposed to command the president, instead of the other way around. A minor detail, perhaps, but telling nonetheless.

Stu Bykofsky wishes for the devastation of Philadelphia

Weird little column from Stu Bykofsky this morning, wishing that Philadelphia would be a little more like...Detroit:
Unlike Philadelphia, Detroit's business community is as galvanized and aggressively optimistic as a Disney theme park.

Over the weekend, members of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists were bombarded by some biggies from the past, the Big Three automakers, and the future, Quicken Loans, which just brought 1,600 high-tech jobs to downtown - and will add an equal number in the months ahead, jobs dragged from the suburbs because its young staff wanted to be where the action is.

The action is still modest, but the downtown bowl has new buildings, refurbished hotels, casinos and a Hard Rock Cafe. But drive just one mile east and there are block-long gaps where buildings once stood, where neighborhoods died. The city is toying with the idea of growing farms within the city limits.

Ideas like that are far more revolutionary, made necessary by necessity, than Philad…

My Top 10 most influential movies

I'm not saying these are the 10 most influential movies, or the most important or even best movies ever made. I'm saying that these 10 movies, in particular, had a strong hand in shaping how, why, and what movies I watch. In no particular order...

• Star Wars:

Why? Because I was 4, 7, and 10 when these movies came out. They dominated my childhood, and the childhood of every young boy—and many young girls—around me. Just about everybody had action figures, so everybody could play. But only a few kids were rich enough to own a Millennium Falcon. This was one of my first lessons in class distinctions. As entertainment, though, the series primed my generation to seek out sci fi/fantasy tales well into adulthood—what were previously “kids” films now belonged to all of us. That’s part of why the failure of the prequels was so badly received: George Lucas didn’t just make bad movies; he retroactively altered our collective sense of childhood.

Movies I watched because of Star Wars: The…

Netflix Queue: "A World Without Thieves"

Truth is, I'll watch anything with Andy Lau in it—the stuff that makes it to America (like, most notably, "Infernal Affairs") is generally entertaining—and so is this. Here, Lau plays one half of a grifting couple that decides to protect an innocent young man traveling on a train with his life savings. The moments where Lau tangles with another gang of grifters are quietly thrilling; the movie takes me back 30 years, when big movie studios made quiet, entertaining dramas instead of farming them out to the indies and boutique divisions for Oscar bait. A pleasant Saturday night diversion.

The sheer tediousness of Ben Shapiro's anti-Hollywood crusade

Over at National Review, professional grievance-monger Ben Shapiro documents Hollywood's relentless anti-father agenda by highlighting 10 sitcom dads over the decades. It's a list full of proclamations like this:
Ross Gellar (Friends, 1994-2004) What is Ross doing on this list? He’s here because he represents the left’s next step: the absentee father who simply doesn’t matter to his son’s life. Ross impregnates his lesbian wife, has a kid, and then takes care of the kid once every blue moon between his affairs and antics. His son, Ben, never feels any ill effects. Welcome to the liberal paradise, where dads are completely superfluous.This is just ... so ... tedious. And it also reflects why Shapiro and his ilk don't do very well in advancing a conservative agenda through popular entertainment: He's concerned exclusively about the agenda, and almost not at all about the entertainment.

The Friends example is probably the most revealing of this mindset. Was Friends a show …

Ed Rendell and why we can't afford the death penalty in Pennsylvania

I'm pretty stoutly against the death penalty, but I'm often unsure that I should write about it—because, as a practical matter, Pennsylvania doesn't ever really put anybody to death. Still, the legal and theoretical existence of the death penalty skews the justice system here in undesirable ways—and Ed Rendell, to his credit, is trying to do something about it:
Rendell, a former Pennsylvania governor and the city's district attorney from 1978 to 1986, has written to Common Pleas Court President Judge Pamela Pryor Dembe urging her to administratively increase the flat-fee system now being challenged before the state Supreme Court.

The petition on behalf of three Philadelphians facing death if convicted of murder contends that the $2,000 flat rate paid court-appointed capital lawyers is so low that it violates the clients' constitutional right to "effectiveness of counsel."Emphasis added. Now, that $2,000 just covers "trial preparation" time—defens…

Mandatory sick leave: It's not just Philadelphia

City Council approved a mandatory sick leave bill yesterday—Mayor Nutter has promised a veto. But Philadelphia isn't the only place this debate is playing out: Connecticut just passed a law, and several other states and cities are considering it. That's why Ben and I tackle the issue in our Scripps Howard column this week. My take:
Here is what opponents of paid sick leave apparently desire: that you enter a local restaurant for a delicious meal prepared by a flu-ridden cook who can't afford to take the day off -- or else her own kids might have to do without a meal of their own. Enjoy your Virus Burger, folks!

Hyperbolic? A little. But the reason the sick-leave moment exists is that many low-paid workers often have to choose between working sick -- or leaving sick children at home -- or losing desperately needed income.

Business owners are understandably concerned that such a requirement would cut into their revenues, and possibly make it impossible to do business. Their …

A theory about Anthony Weiner, Democrats and strong women

I expect this is the last time I write about Anthony Weiner, but I do wonder if his resignation today doesn't have something to do with the fact that there are actual women in the Democratic leadership, both in the House and in the broader party.

Remember, it was after Weiner confessed to his lewd online communications and vowed not to resign that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said he should resign: He'd lied to her, after all, claiming he wasn't responsible for the first incriminating photo. Pelosi was followed by DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. And there were lots of behind-the-scenes reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—the friend and boss of Weiner's wife—was exceedingly furious with him. When Pelosi started the effort to take a powerful committee assignment from Weiner, the game was up: He quit. But the pattern is clear—the post-confession drive to get Weiner from office didn't seem to come from his constituents or even from Republica…

Libya, Obama, and the War Powers Act

Remember during the Monica Lewinsky scandal when then-President Clinton responded to a question by quibbling with terms? "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is," he told his interlocutors, and the moment became emblematic of Clinton's lawyerly slipperiness--not a great moment, even if you thought he was wrongly pursued.

Well, war is a lot more serious than a consensual affair in the life of a nation, but it appears that President Obama is determined to create a similar moment for himself:
In a broader package of materials the Obama administration is sending to Congress on Wednesday defending its Libya policy, the White House, for the first time, offers lawmakers and the public an argument for why Mr. Obama has not been violating the War Powers Resolution since May 20.

On that day, the Vietnam-era law’s 60-day deadline for terminating unauthorized hostilities appeared to pass. But the White House argued that the activities of United States military for…

Federalist 45: James Madison was wrong about (almost) everything

Returning to Federalist blogging after a too-long hiatus....

By now, I've made the point a few times that today's Tea Partiers have more in common with the original Antifederalists than with the actual framers of the Constitution. The Antifederalists wanted governance to remain primarily with the states, and while the Federalists certainly wanted more centralized federal governance than the Antifederalists, they still paid strong lip service to the idea that states would retain substantial power. The problem, some two centuries later, is that they were pretty much wrong about how that would play out—and nowhere is this more clear than in James Madison's Federalist 45.

Let's set the stage, though, by glancing at Antifederalist 45, written by "Sydney." He writes:
It appears that the general government, when completely organized, will absorb all those powers of the state which the framers of its constitution had declared should be only exercised by the representa…

At National Review, the facts don't matter as long as you connect a sex scandal to feminism

It was only a matter of time before somebody on the right tried to blame the Anthony Weiner scandal to ... feminism. What's remarkable about Sabrina L. Schaeffer's piece at National Review today is that it doesn't even bother to connect the facts of the Weiner scandal to feminism—in fact, the facts actually contradict the thesis.
For decades, modern feminists have undermined the idea of marriage, discouraged romance and courtship, encouraged a laissez-faire sexual culture, and done everything in their power to eliminate gender roles. Add to this the academic and professional opportunities available to women today, and the access to affordable birth control, and it’s clear that it’s much easier for women to participate in our “no strings attached” sexual culture than ever before. But this freedom, which has benefitted women so much, doesn’t come without consequences — namely, that it has allowed so many women to think it’s permissible to have an affair with a married man.Two…

Bill Dunkelberg bait-and-switches Inquirer readers about the sick-leave bill

I'm not really decided about the merits of Philadelphia's proposed law to require employers to provide sick leave. I'm instinctively for it, and there's reason to believe it wouldn't have the deleterious effects its opponents suggest. Still, there's a lot of reason to believe it's not easy to do business in Philadelphia, and a lot of that has to do with local government regulation.

But sometimes opponents make such misleading arguments that it gets easier to choose sides. That's the case with today's Inquirer column from Bill Dunkelberg, a professor of economics at Temple University.

Here's how he starts:
Philadelphia universities clearly produce more graduates than we can use, so we "export" them. The Philadelphia region specializes in the production of drugs and graduates (among other things). It is silly to think we could keep most of them.

Graduates will stay only if there are jobs to be had. Yet Philadelphia is hostile to new busi…

Facebook, Twitter, depression, my surgery, and 'quiet dignity'

My blog post about using social media in the hospital was adapted for an article at Macworld. There were lots of nice comments and Tweets from around the world—which was gratifying—but I'm afraid the one that stood out was the commenter LJMAC's observation that more or less criticized me.
I dunno. I don't want to speak for anyone else, but for me this kind of thing is just too private to tweet about - I feel it's something that should be endured with "quite (sic) dignity", as people always did for decades before the advent of social networking. I think times like this are good for quiet reflection and contemplation - something I feel people do too little of these days, in our constantly connected world.There's something appealing to this vision. I'm not above seeking a little solitude to contemplate and reflect. But even if I were capable of "quiet dignity"—and honestly, I'm probably not—I think LJMAC would be dead wrong.

For me, at least…

Slick Rick at Odunde

Taken at ODUNDE!!!

Odunde!

Taken at ODUNDE!!!

Odunde!

Taken at ODUNDE!!!

Odunde!

Taken at ODUNDE!!!

Odunde!

Taken at ODUNDE!!!

Odunde Festival!

Taken at ODUNDE!!!

Ronald Reagan, missile defense, and the end of nuclear weapons

My friend and occasional nemesis Julie Ponzi on Thursday posted an argument against the Obama Administration sharing missile defense technology with the Russians, suggesting that technology would end up in the wrong hands: "Whatever may be said about the "resetting" of relations with Russia, it remain cozy with nations--like Iran--that pose an unquestionable threat to U.S. security."

Me being snarky, I offered this rebuttal: "I remember when Ronald Reagan wanted to share "Star Wars" technology with the Soviets."

Julie didn't get mad. Instead, she sicced Reagan biographer Steven Hayward upon me. Steve concludes: "The circumstances today are vastly different that under the bipolar world of the US--USSR. I suspect Reagan today would share technology with allies against the rogues and not with Russia; he'd want partnerships with nations more reliable than Russia, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, who are keen to deploy our missil…

Joe McGinniss sexually demeans Sarah Palin

Here's how Joe McGinniss describes Sarah Palin in his forthcoming book:
Sarah Palin practices politics as lap dance, and we’re the suckers who pay the price. Members of our jaded national press corps eagerly stuff hundred dollar bills into her g-string, even as they wink at one another to show that they don’t take her seriously.I'm no Sarah Palin fan, but McGinnis' use of sexual imagery to demean Palin is frankly disgusting. Is Sarah Palin a feminist? Not by my definition. But my definition of feminism precludes sexually demeaning a woman in any circumstance—not because she thinks the right things or even because she's embraces feminism, but because, you know, she's human. But you see this kind of sexism directed at Palin far too often from folks who are ostensibly allies of the feminist left.

Here's the truth: We have far more examples—some of them fairly recent!—of male politicians waving their genitalia at strangers. Yet for some reason, Male Politician Wang…

Should Weiner resign?

That's the question of this week's column for Scripps. I say no:
If Washington were emptied of every politician who violated a marriage oath, paid for sex or otherwise engaged in unseemly conduct -- well, our nation's capital would probably be a ghost town.

Rich, powerful men tend to seek out the company and favors of young, attractive people. That's often part of why they become rich, powerful men in the first place.

So sex isn't really the problem: After all, there's plenty of it going on, and yet our government still manages to function, more or less. The real problem is when a politician gets caught.

A worse problem is when a politician lies about it. But the only real reason a politician should resign over such behavior is if he broke the law or abused his office in committing or concealing hanky-panky. Otherwise, he should stay in office.

After all, would you quit your job if you were caught having an affair? Probably not. Your sexual choices probably don&…

Mr. Mom Chronicles: On not getting to parent anymore

My son, Tobias, has been in Arkansas for the last week, staying with his grandparents. It's not a vacation--or, at least, not merely a vacation. Since the surgery, I've not been strong enough to wrangle him on my own. My wife still has to go to work every day. So he's with people who possess the physical wherewithal to handle a nearly 3-year-old boy.

Truth is, I haven't actively parented Tobias since the surgery. That's five weeks now. And I've discovered something that I'm not quite sure how to understand.

Which is this: Parenthood has apparently changed me. I like having time to read the paper, to sit with coffee, to be alone in my head. These are things I loved before Tobias came along, and missed once he did. But ... I'm no longer really complete with those things.

It's not just the relationship I miss. I miss parenting him. It's hard. It's energy-sapping. It's rage-inducing on occasion. But it's part of my purpose now. He is pa…

I was (possibly) wrong about Ta-Nehisi Coates in the New York Times

Remember when I said Ta-Nehisi Coates writing a column for the New York Times would be a really bad idea? "If the pressures of the format and platform didn't push him into becoming stridently ideological, the danger is that he might end up like David Brooks--following his muse into places better addressed somewhere other than the New York Times op-ed pages."

Well, one column does not a body of work make. But Coates is doing a guest-stint columnizing for the Times, starting today, and his first piece is typical of him: Thought-provoking and humane. The last few paragraphs nearly made me weep this morning.
My son is 10 and a romantic, as all 10-year-olds surely have the right to be. How then do I speak to him of this world’s masterminds who render you a supporting actor in your own story? How do I speak of the Sentinels whose eyes melt history, until the world forgets that in 1962, the quintessential mutants of America were black?

Who do you think has the coolest power, Dad…

Philly, sunset.

Taken at Grace Tavern

How low should taxes go? So low that taxpayers fund corporate profits.

Katrina Trinko reports on Tim Pawlenty's tax proposal:
Among the proposals Pawlenty will push for are cutting the business tax rate to 15 percent from 35 percent and eliminating “special interest handouts, carve-outs, subsidies, and loopholes” in the tax code. This is standard stuff: Republicans call for lowering the tax rate, but for getting rid of exemptions so that the new tax rate still brings in enough money to ensure proper funding of government operations. Only problem is this: the history of tax reform shows us that the exemptions always, always, always come back into play. Kevin Drum noted this yesterday:
It's always satisfying to take a hard line and demand that the tax code be pure, but human nature just doesn't seem to work that way. Everyone has behavior they believe should be encouraged or discouraged, and sometimes the tax code is the most efficient way of doing it. I'm happy with efforts to scrape barnacles away periodically, but there's no point in p…

Paul Ryan, Ayn Rand, and Jesus

Man, oh man, I hate this ad:

From a pure politics perspective, fair play is fair play: Republicans have spent a couple of generations using religion as a cudgel to portray Democrats and liberals as un-Christian and un-American, and it's a strategy they continue to pursue. Goose, gander, etc.

But liberals have mostly resented this line of attack, believing—rightly, I think—that it veers pretty closely to violating the spirit of the Constitution's "no religious test" for candidates for public office. Creating and running this ad means we've decided the principle isn't so important after all—if we can find a way to use religion as a cudgel from a position of strength, we'll do it!

And I can't help but think that weakens the foundation of our ability to defend the rights of religious minorities—Muslims, Jews, atheists, agnostics, and so forth. Maybe it's fair play; I'm not at all sure it's wise.

UPDATE: And politically, it's not that smart …

How low should taxes go? A reply to Bill Voegeli

Last week I posed a question: What level of taxation do conservatives consider appropriate? I'm not sure that I expected much of an answer, but I got one from William Voegeli, whose book "Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State" I referenced in posing the question. It was a thoughtful and civil reply, and though Dr. Voegeli and I have philosphical/instinctive differences, I'm grateful he took the time to craft such a response.

In composing my own reply, I wrestle with a few issues. A) Much of Voegeli's reply occupies itself not so much with the question I posed, but with restating the argument from his book--that overreaching advocates of the welfare state in the United States have created and continually seek to create institutions that have grown unsustainably large. I'm not going to spend much time defending liberals in this post (there are several portions of Voegeli's post that seem to deserve their own replies) because I'm still prin…

On 'Mediscare'

After a surgery-induced vacation, Ben and I return with the Scripps column to debate the "Medicscare" controversy:
Here, in Paul Ryan's own words, is how he plans to reform Medicare: "Give seniors a voucher for private health insurance that grows at a much smaller rate than actual healthcare costs."

What that means is that as health costs grow ever larger over time, elderly Americans will be forced to bear more and more of the price burden. And if they can't afford to do so? They're on their own.

Conservatives love Ryan's proposal, not because it saves Medicare -- it doesn't -- but because it gradually gets the government out of one part of the safety net business. They don't like the safety net! The problem is that most Americans do like having that safety net: A new CNN poll shows 58 percent of the public dislikes Ryan's proposal.

Republicans argue that poll numbers matter less than dollar numbers: Medicare will run out of money over th…