24 May 2005

Education and class

Today’s Times article on class in America revolved around unraveling
the links between educational attainment and class status in this
.  The Times has been running a series on the role of class in American society
for the last couple of weeks, and it’s been generally excellent. 
It’s been quite good in dealing with the myth that there is no class or
that it’s entirely malleable in our society.  We may not have
formal class here, as in the European societies of old and new, and the
movement between classes may be possible, but the series has done a
good job of showing how one chances and changes in life are quite
largely dependent on one’s social status.  Medicine, education,
relationships, military service–our experiences depend largely upon
the combination education, occupation, income, and wealth play, and as
time has gone on, it has become harder in the US to move up that ladder.

I’m still working out what I think about yesterday’s article on
evangelical Protestants’ attempt to move up the class ladder, but more
on that later this week.

Here’s the root of the problem, in some sense:

Put another way, children seem to be following the paths of their
parents more than they once did. Grades and test scores, rather than
privilege, determine success today, but that success is largely being
passed down from one generation to the next. A nation that believes
that everyone should have a fair shake finds itself with a kind of
inherited meritocracy.

In this system, the students at the best
colleges may be diverse – male and female and of various colors,
religions and hometowns – but they tend to share an upper-middle-class
upbringing. An old joke that Harvard’s idea of diversity is putting a
rich kid from California in the same room as a rich kid from New York
is truer today than ever; Harvard has more students from California
than it did in years past and just as big a share of upper-income

This is largely true here at Harvard.  Yes, we have some poorer
kids, but by and large, our students are solidly middle class.  I
know only a couple of kids who qualify as “poor” (which seems to be
pretty much in accord with the standard in the article of twice the
poverty line, or about $38,000).  To a lesser extent, the same was
true at Berkeley; where we had poorer kids, they were less able than
the richer kids, because they had not received the math, writing, and
science training that kids at better schools had.  They were more
likely to get lower grades even as they might have tried harder.

“The same score reflects more ability when you come from a less
fortunate background,” Mr. Summers, the president of Harvard, said.
“You haven’t had a chance to take the test-prep course. You went to a
school that didn’t do as good a job coaching you for the test. You came
from a home without the same opportunities for learning.”

But it
is probably not a coincidence that elite colleges have not yet turned
this sentiment into action. Admitting large numbers of low-income
students could bring clear complications. Too many in a freshman class
would probably lower the college’s average SAT score, thereby damaging
its ranking by U.S. News & World Report, a leading arbiter of academic prestige. Some colleges, like Emory University
in Atlanta, have climbed fast in the rankings over precisely the same
period in which their percentage of low-income students has tumbled.
The math is simple: when a college goes looking for applicants with
high SAT scores, it is far more likely to find them among well-off

One thing we in the elite universities could do would be to ignore
US News for a few years.  Seriously, how will even some decrease
in rankings affect the Ivies and their private-university
equivalents?  Will Stanford and Harvard suffer much for a small
drop?  Few people can turn down the lure of a place like Harvard
or Cornell, even for a fast-rising place like Emory.

The article is striking to me in some sense, because I look at the
experience of my own family.  Both of my parents are the only kids
in either of their families to graduate from college (and there are
only two more if you include spouses of the other four children in
their generation), and none of their parents have four-year
degrees.  They had to pay for college, working up through the
community college system, clerking in grocery stores.  My brother
and I always assumed (and were expected) that we would go to
college.  For my cousins, whose parents did not attend college,
graduating high school was an accomplishment.

By and large, my parents’ success was a function of being
Californians.  California’s system of higher education, though
staggering a bit now, was the great educational equalizer of the late
twentieth century.  It set up a system where at least the top
third of students could go immediately to university and where everyone
could go eventually.

My own class status has risen immensely via my education.  I am
in pursuit of a PhD and being a college professor, and even though I
make much less money than many of my family members or my friends about
my age, I maintain the same class status as them primarily via the
promise of prestige that the education I have brings.

And I wonder what my role in participating in the system of higher
education should be.  On some level, my advisors would say that I
shouldn’t worry too much–just finish and find a job.  And with a
degree from Harvard, one aims toward the elite universities, whether
public or private, not the sort of universities that the individuals
profiled in the article attend or will attend.  But even so, there
are trade-offs: at the public universities, I had more experiences
where the students seemed to benefit and appreciate the work I was
trying to do with them while at Harvard, there are a greater number of
those really talented students who excite and stimulate one’s own
research and thinking.

In the weeks afterward, his daydreaming about college and his
conversations about it with his sister Leanna turned into serious
research. He requested his transcripts from Radford and from Virginia Highlands Community College
and figured out that he had about a year’s worth of credits. He also
talked to Leanna about how he could become an elementary school
teacher. He always felt that he could relate to children, he said. The
job would take up 180 days, not 280. Teachers do not usually get laid
off or lose their pensions or have to take a big pay cut to find new

So the decision was made. On May 31, Andy Blevins says,
he will return to Virginia Highlands, taking classes at night; the
Gospel Gentlemen are no longer booking performances. After a year, he
plans to take classes by video and on the Web that are offered at the
community college but run by Old Dominion, a Norfolk, Va., university with a big group of working-class students.

don’t like classes, but I’ve gotten so motivated to go back to school,”
Mr. Blevins said. “I don’t want to, but, then again, I do.”

He thinks he can get his bachelor’s degree in three years. If he gets it at all, he will have defied the odds.

I would love to have a motivated student like Andy Blevins.  He
and I would drive each other crazy, because I’d push him as hard as I
can to do more and better, and he’d push back, to make me become a
better teacher, I think.  But in a place with many students like
him, there’d be much less opportunity to have colleagues like I am used
to here, and I wonder if the research and writing would atrophy.

Posted in Politicks on 24 May 2005 at 11:04 am by Nate
18 May 2005

Widespread evangelical dissent from the Bush agenda

President Bush will speak at the commencement of Calvin College this weekend.  Apparently, about one third of the faculty are unhappy (requires a subscription unfortunately, but this “temporary URL” will get you there until Monday):

More than 100 professors at Calvin College, in Michigan, have signed a
letter criticizing the policies of President Bush, who is scheduled to
speak at the evangelical Christian institution’s spring commencement on

The letter, which will be published as an advertisement in The Grand Rapids Press
on Saturday, says that the professors “see conflicts between our
understanding of what Christians are called to do and many of the
policies of your administration.” It calls the war in Iraq “unjust and
unjustified” and argues that President Bush’s policies “favor the
wealthy of our society and burden the poor.”

Among those who conceived and circulated the letter was David Crump, a
professor of religion at Calvin. “We wanted to object to some specific
policies but also to object to the way that the language of orthodox
evangelical Christianity has been hijacked by the religious right and
its close association with this administration,” he said.

An Open Letter to the President of the United States of America, George W. Bush

On May 21, 2005, you will give the commencement address at Calvin
College. We, the undersigned, respect your office, and we join the
college in welcoming you to our campus. Like you, we recognize the
importance of religious commitment in American political life. We seek
open and honest dialogue about the Christian faith and how it is best
expressed in the political sphere. While recognizing God as sovereign
over individuals and institutions alike, we understand that no single
political position should be identified with God’s will, and we are
conscious that this applies to our own views as well as those of
others. At the same time we see conflicts between our understanding of
what Christians are called to do and many of the policies of your

As Christians we are called to be peacemakers and to initiate
war only as a last resort. We believe your administration has launched
an unjust and unjustified war in Iraq.

As Christians we are called to lift up the hungry and
impoverished. We believe your administration has taken actions that
favor the wealthy of our society and burden the poor.

As Christians we are called to actions characterized by love,
gentleness, and concern for the most vulnerable among us. We believe
your administration has fostered intolerance and divisiveness and has
often failed to listen to those with whom it disagrees.

As Christians we are called to be caretakers of God’s good
creation. We believe your environmental policies have harmed creation
and have not promoted long-term stewardship of our natural environment.

Our passion for these matters arises out of the Christian faith
that we share with you. We ask you, Mr. President, to re-examine your
policies in light of our God-given duty to pursue justice with mercy,
and we pray for wisdom for you and all world leaders.

Concerned faculty, staff, and emeriti of Calvin College

Calvin is no hot-bed of liberalism.  (I’d guess that 90 percent
of these people voted for the president.)  I went to secondary
with a number of kids who went on to Calvin in some form or another,
and about half of my teachers were graduates; it’s a college associated
with the conservative Christian Reformed Church in America
and from what I know, you must sign a profession of faith to teach
there.  The CRC members are Dutch Calvinists and their
descendants, and in my experience, it can be a fairly strict
denomination that prefers its change slow or not at all.  So the
fact that a bunch of CRC intellectuals (Calvin doesn’t slide too much
on that factor either) dissent so openly is perhaps a canary in the

Posted in Politicks on 18 May 2005 at 2:01 pm by Nate
10 May 2005

Battle of Origins in Kansas

Via Ryan, Red State Rabble
notes the following about the “intelligent design” battle going on in
Kansas (BTW, “intelligent design” is the most intelligence-insulting
cover for creationism on the market):

Red State Rabble finds it highly ironic that the battle line between
science and reason on the one hand, and zealotry and ignorance on the
other, have been drawn in a state that is so extraordinarily rich in
the fossil evidence of our evolutionary past.

RSR has seen the
excitement and curiosity in our daughter’s eyes at the sight of marine
fossils so far from the sea. The worst thing about intelligent design,
and its country cousin, creationism, is that it seeks, quite openly, to
deny our children a chance to experience for themselves that sense of
wonder and to replace it with some stern, all-knowing, Old Testament

We don’t hear much about the “Sermon on the Mount” here in Kansas anymore.

Yeah.  Because these Christians don’t really believe in Jesus.  They believe in power and authority.

Posted in Politicks on 10 May 2005 at 11:15 am by Nate
8 May 2005

Who’s afraid of the religious right?

Not Microsoft: After the publicity that suggested that Microsoft had
refused to support a gay-rights bill in the Washington legislature
because it was afraid of the Christianist right, it reversed position
on Friday

In yesterday’s message Mr. Ballmer suggested that employees’
responses had helped persuade Microsoft officials to renew their
backing of the measure. More than 1,500 employees signed an internal
petition demanding that the company support the bill, and scores wrote
in protest to Mr. Ballmer and Mr. Gates.

A Microsoft executive,
speaking on condition of anonymity, said that senior company officials
met after Microsoft’s widely publicized turnaround on the bill prompted
an uproar, and that they had decided to change the company’s stance
because of pressure from employees.

You may recall that I didn’t think that MS was afraid of the
Right.  I still don’t.  If it was, it wouldn’t have changed
positions here.  MS wasn’t afraid of the religious ideological
pressure to begin with.  External threats of boycotts against the
World’s Operating System (TM) can’t be taken seriously.  But
internal displeasure from 1500 employees is something you have to
listen to, as even a small number of these create taking action against
the company’s interests poses a much more direct threat to
profitability, productivity, and the future bottom line.

Here’s the section of hypocrisy in the article:

But the company’s decision disappointed others, including Microsoft
employees who belong to the Antioch Bible Church in Redmond. The church
is led by the Rev. Ken Hutcherson, who met with Microsoft officials
twice about the bill and claimed to have persuaded them to change their
position on it.

“I feel that it’s been kind of a stressful day,”
said a Microsoft employee who is a member of the church and who spoke
on condition of anonymity. “I feel that it was wrong for the company to
say that they will be supporting issues such as this. Businesses should
not actually be publicly taking a stance on that, regardless of their
internal policies.”

The employee, who has worked at Microsoft
for four years, said the company should “stay out of it” when it comes
to the debate over gay rights.

Hmm.  So companies should not take positions on matters of the
day?  Why should churches then take positions?  Are you
willing to be bound in action in the same way that you’d bind
others?  My guess is not.  More importantly, we have no idea
why this person thinks as s/he does, but there’s no philosophically
defensible position (at least, as long as you believe in republican
democracy) for excluding coporate citizens from expressing their view
on the social policies of the day that affect them while allowing moral
affinity groups “special rights.”  Under a democratic system like
ours, that’s what churches and other religious congregations are — no
more and no less than any other affinity group.  To treat them any
differently than other civic groups is to privilege religion, and to
privilege religion without civic cause endangers egalitarianism,
freedom, and equality in our democracy.

Allowing religion to have place of privilege in the marketplace of
ideas, values, and policy leads directly to the question of which
religions should receive privilege, why, and how to protect those that
don’t.  Majoritarianism is not a suitable argument in repose (read
your Locke or your Mill if you don’t know why), because it tends toward
abuse of minorities and the treatment of individuals as means and not
ends.  It’s more fair and procedurally easier to privilege no
religion under a system like ours.  You may not like it that we
can’t have a prayer here, or a “God” there.  But think of it this
way: how would you like it if you had to revere a God other than your
own?  The particular genius of our government lies in the hope
that the awesome power of the state can’t be marshalled for sectarian
domination of one group by another.

ABC, on the other hand, is frightened of the bullies:

Monday’s season finale of “Supernanny” included a commercial for a Web
site offering child-rearing advice from Focus on the Family, a group
that says its “primary reason for existence is to spread the Gospel of
Jesus Christ through a practical outreach to homes.”

The United Church of Christ, a Cleveland-based church that says it
has 1.3 million members, has asked why the Focus on the Family ad was
accepted when ABC rejected its requests to buy time as part of its
national advertising campaign. The United Church of Christ ads, which
depicted a variety of people – gay, disabled, racially diverse – said:
“Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.”

Cohen-Cutler, senior vice president for broadcast standards and policy
at ABC, said in a statement, “The ABC Television Network does not
accept ads from organizations which present religious doctrine.” The
network said it accepts ads from religious organizations, including the
Salvation Army, as long as the commercials do not proselytize.

The Focus on the Family ad said, “We’ll be there with parenting advice,
and a faith-based perspective that can make all the difference.”

Rev. Robert Chase, director of communication for the United Church of
Christ, said in an interview, “It seems that somebody is deciding that
one religious expression is O.K. for viewers to see and others are

UCC asked people to go to church directly.  FotF removed the
appeal by one step (instead directing people to its website, where they
will receive invitation/admonition to go to particular churches). 
ABC’s logic here is casuistic (one might even say Jesuitical, but I’d
doubt that ABC would take an ad from Jesuits, not least because it
would be above their heads), to say the least.

Posted in Politicks on 8 May 2005 at 12:09 pm by Nate
22 April 2005

Somehow I doubt it

That Microsoft is afraid, I mean.

The Microsoft Corporation, at the forefront of corporate gay rights for
decades, is coming under fire from gay rights groups, politicians and
its own employees for withdrawing its support for a state bill that
would have barred discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation….

State Representative Ed Murray, an openly gay Democrat and a sponsor of
the bill, said that in a conversation last month with Bradford L.
Smith, Microsoft’s senior vice president and general counsel, Mr. Smith
made it clear to him that the company was under pressure from the
church and the pastor and that he was also concerned about the reaction
to company support of the bill among its Christian employees, the
lawmaker said.

Mr. Smith would not comment for this article.

Murray said that in a recent conversation with Mr. Smith, Mr. Smith
said that the minister had demanded the company fire Microsoft
employees who testified this year on behalf of the bill, but that Mr.
Smith had refused. According to Representative Murray, Mr. Smith said
“that while he did not do the many things that the minister had
requested, including firing employees who had testified for the bill,
he believed that Microsoft could not just respond to one group of
employees, when there were other groups of employees who felt much

Dr. Hutcherson, who has become a leading national critic of same-sex
marriage, said he believed he could have organized a widespread boycott
of Microsoft. He said he told the Microsoft executives, “If you don’t
think the moral issue is not a big issue, just count the amount of
votes that were cast on moral issues in the last election.”

“A lot of Christians would have joined me,” he said, “But it would have been a lot more people, too.”

Um, no.

First off, this Christianist is a bully.  Like all bullies, he
has an overinflated sense of his own power, and he’s going around
making demands and issuing threats.  Let us repeat: only one in
five voters said that “moral issues” were important in the last
election.  Eighty percent said they were not.  And the poll that everyone’s making claims upon was significantly flawed, and so its results should not be trusted
So he also asked for those who testified in favor of the bill to be
fired.  Granted, that would capture a lot of the LGBT employees,
but it’s a request to fire someone from their job because of the opinions that they hold and the thoughts that they think.  Such seems the essence of theocracy and of totalitarianism.

Second, who does he think he’s threatening?  This is MICROSOFT,
the most powerful company in the world.  He probably wrote
everything pertaining to this case on Word in a Windows
environment.  They have 95 percent of the home market.  And
Apple tends to be similarly liberal, too, so defection is not an
option.  And few people want to deal with Linux, especially with
its anti-hierarchical structure (which probably concerns the
Christianist bully).  Even if people threaten Microsoft with
action, when it comes time to buy a computer, or a palm device, or a
home media center, and so forth, will the resolve really hold up? 
If the choice is consume or not to consume, people in our society
generally consume.  Sure, some won’t, but most will.

Something else is going on here.  Microsoft may have backed away a
bit because of this guy and his supporters, but even a bunch of
churches spread throughout the country won’t break Microsoft’s hold on
your (and my) desktop.

Posted in Politicks on 22 April 2005 at 10:52 am by Nate
15 April 2005

The President’s iPod

Maybe you saw the story this week about what the President listens to on his iPod. And the accompanying sidebar on what’s on his playlist.

You can also read some speculation about what might be on the playlist of other politicians
(this is on the L.A. Times website, which requires registration, but
just go to bugmenot.com and they’ve got a reg already set up for
you–even better, download the extension for Firefox and automate the
bugmenot process
).  Some examples:

Karl Rove: “Under My Thumb”; “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”

Alberto Gonzales: “Whip It”

Colin Powell: “Free Bird”

John Bolton: “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine)”

Bill Clinton: “Sexual Healing”

Al Gore: “March of the Wooden Soldiers”

Tom DeLay: “Burnin’ Down the House”

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes”

In that spirit, fire up your iPod in shuffle mode and put down the first 10 songs that come up.  Here’s mine:
Ultraviolet – U2
River Rat Jimmy – Kelly Joe Phelps
You’re Gonna Change – Emmylou Harris
The Ballad of Carol Lynn – Whiskeytown
Even Better than the Real Thing – U2
The Lighthouse’s Tale – Nickel Creek
Ain’t Misbehavin’ – Fats Waller
Big Rock Candy Mountain – Harry McClintock
Poses – Rufus Wainwright
Personal Jesus – Johnny Cash

Posted in Politicks on 15 April 2005 at 10:36 am by Nate

War against Christian(ist)s!

Yes, that’s apparently what’s going on in the fight over federal court nominees.  Religious groups have mobilized to head off “the filibuster against people of faith.”

As the Senate heads toward a showdown over the rules governing
judicial confirmations, Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, has
agreed to join a handful of prominent Christian conservatives in a
telecast portraying Democrats as “against people of faith” for blocking
President Bush’s nominees.

Fliers for the telecast, organized by the Family Research Council
and scheduled to originate at a Kentucky megachurch the evening of
April 24, call the day “Justice Sunday” and depict a young man holding
a Bible in one hand and a gavel in the other. The flier does not name
participants, but under the heading “the filibuster against people of
faith,” it reads: “The filibuster was once abused to protect racial
bias, and it is now being used against people of faith.”…

The telecast also signals an escalation of the campaign for the rule
change by Christian conservatives who see the current court battle as
the climax of a 30-year culture war, a chance to reverse decades of
legal decisions about abortion, religion in public life, gay rights and

“As the liberal, anti-Christian dogma of the left has been
repudiated in almost every recent election, the courts have become the
last great bastion for liberalism,” Tony Perkins, president of the
Family Research Council and organizer of the telecast, wrote in a
message on the group’s Web site. “For years activist courts, aided by
liberal interest groups like the A.C.L.U., have been quietly working
under the veil of the judiciary, like thieves in the night, to rob us
of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms.”

This is ridiculous.  Where do these people get off
speaking for “Christians”?  I certainly didn’t elect them to speak
for me, but I did elect my senators, all of whom happen to be Democrats
opposing the nominees, I might add.  I’m not going to get into the
details here, but these particular nominees not only hold views so far
out of the mainstream as to be out of touch probably with the majority
of the American people but also with the constituents of the churches
we’re talking about here.  Especially once you get outside of
issues like abortion or gay marriage.

First, let’s just call these people what they are: Christianists. 
They have an extraordinarily narrow view of the world that they seek to
impose on the rest of us in the style of a theocracy.  They want
us to teach only ideas approved by their (strict, antihistorical, and
historically unknown) view of a particular religious scripture (the NIV
version of the Christian Bible).  For example, evolution shouldn’t
be taught, because it goes against the Bible (so they say).  They
want to sanction no art except what they deem as acceptable by their
religious precepts.  They argue that only one socio-economic
system accord with the revealed truth of their scripture (and that
happens to be the system that would benefit them the most,
incidentally).  They move to institute their own version of a sharia
They are intent on setting up Ayatollah Dobson and Mullah Omar-Perkins
as the supreme leaders, to pass judgement on all that is good and right
and all that is evil and deviant.  Because all things are just so.

These Christianists even twist their own sacred scritpures to the
advantage of their pursuit of power.  Above, Perkins says,
“…activist courts…have been quietly working
under the veil of the judiciary, like thieves in the night,
to rob us
of our Christian heritage and our religious freedoms.”  The phrase
“thief in the night comes from I Thessalonians 5.2, which reads, “For
you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a
thief in the night.”  Evil is not coming like a thief in the
night; God is coming like a thief in the night.  If the phrase,
for example, were used in accord with the meaning of the original text
(and I know that a Christianist would never want to add, subtract,
interpet, or change the meaning of an original text), it would imply
that all acts of judicial “activism” were part of the coming of the day
of the Lord.  Christianist Perkins changes the meaning of his scripture.

These people are liars and hypocrites, and I’d like to note what the
Christianist Scripture (the NIV Bible) says about both sets of
people.  (Don’t piss off an ex-evangelical–I quote as many
Bible verses as you can, and just as righteously, too.)

“You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your
father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to
the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his
native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8.44).” 

From Matthew 23 (a good chapter in this case, and one I recommend in full):

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut
the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor
will you let those enter who are trying to.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You
travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes
one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are….

to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give
a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected
the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness.
You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.
You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel….

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are
like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the
inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same
way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside
you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

Posted in Politicks on 15 April 2005 at 9:49 am by Nate
7 April 2005

What my people do when a pope dies…

We model the election as such:

The model can be summarized as

Vit = γVit−1 + exp

Posted in Politicks on 7 April 2005 at 10:31 am by Nate
30 March 2005

Politics of God?

John Danforth, former Republican senator and an Episcopal priest, writes in the Times today:

The problem is not with people or churches that are politically
active. It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian
agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious

When government becomes the means of carrying out a
religious program, it raises obvious questions under the First
Amendment. But even in the absence of constitutional issues, a
political party should resist identification with a religious movement.
While religions are free to advocate for their own sectarian causes,
the work of government and those who engage in it is to hold together
as one people a very diverse country. At its best, religion can be a
uniting influence, but in practice, nothing is more divisive. For
politicians to advance the cause of one religious group is often to
oppose the cause of another….

During the 18 years I served in the Senate, Republicans often
disagreed with each other. But there was much that held us together. We
believed in limited government, in keeping light the burden of taxation
and regulation. We encouraged the private sector, so that a free
economy might thrive. We believed that judges should interpret the law,
not legislate. We were internationalists who supported an engaged
foreign policy, a strong national defense and free trade. These were
principles shared by virtually all Republicans.

But in recent
times, we Republicans have allowed this shared agenda to become
secondary to the agenda of Christian conservatives. As a senator, I
worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not
spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the
institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around.

Amen.  My marriage to a man isn’t going to hurt your
kids.  But signs from home and abroad indicate that the crushing
national debt, the national security state, and the dissolved social
safety net will.

Posted in Politicks on 30 March 2005 at 6:05 pm by Nate
18 March 2005

Rule of law turned on its ear

I’ve never admitted this on this site before, but I’ve followed the
Terry Schiavo case in Florida sort of closely for the last year or
so.  I’m not an expert on its wranglings, but the last couple of
days have brought all sorts of new wrinkles to the case

Today, all protestations of the Congress, the president, the governor
of Florida, the state legislature, Mrs. Schiavo’s parents, and the
“pro-life” lobby, Judge Greer ordered her feeding tube removed, so that
she may die.

This has been tossed back and forth for years, mostly between Mr.
Schiavo and Mrs. Schiavo’s parents, the Schindlers.  I’m less
interested in who’s right here (although my bias will be obvious) than
in asking some questions about the issues.  First, what seems to
be most in accord with the rule of law?  Second, what does our
best, reasonable evidence tell us?

The rule of law has been entirely overturned in this case.  First,
even though as a husband Mr. Schiavo is his wife’s next-of-kin, his
right to make decisions regarding her health care and her life in the
case that she cannot has been violated time after time.  Various
entities, from his in-laws to legislative bodies, have interfered with
his legal right and obligation as a husband.  And it seems to have
been overturned based upon passions rather than upon a strict reading
of the law (which is something many of those who do not support Mr.
Schiavo in this case generally claim to support).  Second, the
various executive and legislative branches involved in this case
continue to make bills and laws specifically for this case, deciding
the public policy of Florida and the United States based upon the
specific contours and emotional appeals of one case rather than trying
to do their job and figure out general principles to guide all of
us.  What will they do, decide each case of similar and
non-similar features individually?

Furthermore, in making this decision case-by-case, the various
politicians extend the coercive power of the state deeply into our
lives, in a way incongruent with individual freedom and the best
aspirations of our history.  By jumping into this case,
extralegally as they try to bypass the duly established authorities
(courts and judges) established to make such decisions, the politicians
of the legislatures and executives show that they are willing and think
themselves justified in forcing their way into any person’s life,
should they deem it in their interest.  What this means is that
whenever a politician deems it expedient, even if for purely selfish,
electoral-professional reasons, s/he will be able to micro-manage the
details of any situation chosen.  If it scores points with
constituents, political bodies may decide that it’s fine to order any
of us to do anything the popular will demands.

The Schiavo case is rare, in that the statistics that I have run across
before indicate that situations such as this don’t happen often. 
And still we have laws to address such rare situations — we place
decisions about what to do in the hands of the next-of-kin, which
status is determined and elaborated in the law.  Where the law is
ambiguous or unclear, we have courts and judges (and appeals systems)
to help determine what to do in those situations.  But Congress
has usurped the constitutional authority of the courts.

“The Senate and House remain dedicated to saving Terry Schiavo’s
life,” Senator Frist said, adding that March 28 was the date
Congressional leaders would seek to hold a hearing with the Schiavos.
“The purpose of the hearing is to review health care policies and
practices relevant to the care of nonambulatory persons such as Mrs.

Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the House
Republican leader, said House leaders would work all day and through
the weekend, if necessary, to reconcile differences between House and
Senate legislation.

Mr. DeLay said it would be “barbaric” to
remove the tube and let Ms. Schiavo starve and dehydrate for two weeks.
“I don’t care what her husband says,” he told reporters.

Well, we know that the law doesn’t care what Tom DeLay says, since
it designates Mr. Schiavo her legal guardian, not Tom DeLay.  Of
course, we know that Tom DeLay doesn’t really care what the law says
anyway.  And why hasn’t Sen. *DR.* Frist been interested in
holding hearings before the final hours of Mrs. Schiavo’s case?  There’s more of calculation than of caring here.

Second, we have overturned the standard of reason, which can be the
only arbiter in such a case as this, because the passions are so
inflamed on either side that they can’t serve as a useful guide to what
we might do.  Just becasue each side *believes* that it is right
does not offer us a guideline about what is moral to do.  The
doctors tell us that Mrs. Schiavo is dead, in that she bears no real
resemblance to a human being, except in physicality.  Her body
functions, but only in a cellular sense, and her brain performs only
those most primitive of functions required to make her heart beat and
lungs move.  Nothing else of the person that she was remains, they
tell us.  Her parents are convinced that they receive
communication from her, through hand squeezes and such, but the doctors
tell us that those could simply be firings of electricity through her
nervous system, similar to those that fire her heart and lungs every
few seconds.

(I’ve felt sorry for her parents for some time.  They seem stuck
in that first stage of grief, of shock and disbelief, and most of their
public pronouncements have sounded like a person in initial denial of a
horrible happening.  Except that this initial denial has continued
for them for 15 years.)

So in discounting our best available advice about this poor woman’s
“life”, we overturn a legal system of centuries’ work and torture her
loved ones.  We’ve viciously turned on the man our society appointed as the
arbiter in this case, whom we asked to make our own tough decisions,
and whom we now try to punish when we decide that we didn’t like the
standards we gave him to make these choices for us.  (Judge George
Greer was described in yesterday’s paper
as “a ‘compassionate
conservative,’ a man whose religious faith is as dear to him as his
reputation as a legal scholar.”  And yet, his Southern Baptist
church has run him away, and he has to travel with two armed sheriff’s
deputies and home protection to prevent those who purport to believe in
Mrs. Schiavo’s life from injuring or killing him.)  And in
reality, we treat Mrs. Schiavo less like the full human being she once
was and much more like a human-shaped hunk of meat.

(And by the way, I am on record with BF as wanting no part of such a
thing in the future.  If I end up in a vegetative state, I do not
wish to be kept alive.  And we’ve set it up legally so that he
will make that decision, rather than my parents or anyone else. 
If you are not married and want to make a specific designation of
someone to handle such decisions for you, it’s pretty simple. 
Just ask your medical practice’s social worker, therapist, or patient
care coordinator, and they’ll tell you what to do in your state. 
Here in Massachusetts, it’s a simple form.  Many other states are

Posted in Politicks on 18 March 2005 at 3:57 pm by Nate