Saturday, January 25, 2014

Oklahoma, NOT OK

Republicans in Oklahoma are showing that, like the rest of the Republican Party, they are taking their cues from the racists who brought us the strategy of massive resistance during the civil rights movement.
 Of course, the new civil rights movement is for marriage equality and equal treatment and dignity in general, and the dead-enders don't like it one bit. They especially don't like that the federal courts are ordering them to stop discriminating, so in Oklahoma they're resurrecting a favored tactic from the Jim Crow days.
You know that a couple of weeks ago a federal court found Oklahoma's marriage equality ban to be unconstitutional, but you might not have heard that the legislature has been trying to decide what to do about it.
For their solution they are looking to the ideas of the old South, when cities under pressure to integrate their public schools closed the public schools entirely, creating what were colloquially known as seg academies, private schools with the ability to keep discriminating. Or, if the city was told it had to integrate its swimming pools it would just close down the public schools.
Bingo, problem solved, no race mixing allowed.
What's the marriage equivalent? Pure simplicity, really. Just abolish marriage.
No, really, I'm not kidding. Watch this:

I'm thinking they may not have thought this whole thing through, though. For instance, lots of people like being married. In addition, lots of people, even straight couples, like the tax and other benefits that being married brings.
I don't think this is going anywhere, but if you want to have a clue to their mindset this is a good place to start. 

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The banality of evil

In her book Eichmann in Jerusalem Hannah Arendt coined the phrase "the banality of evil" to capture the sheer horror of someone like Adolf Eichmann, who carried out his executions of the Jews in the same way that another government functionary would file tax forms, distribute zoning permits, or even hand out railroad tickets, accepting the validity and normality of every dictate of the state.

This is precisely the phrase that came to my mind while listening to last week's two-part NPRinterview of John Rizzo, who is flogging a book based on his experience as the interim general counsel for the CIA during the torture years. (No, not linking to the book here. If you want to pay him for approving of torture you can find it yourself.)

Rizzo is clearly not a fanatic, but the interview makes clear that he had no difficulty accepting the premise that the government was essentially permitted to do whatever it wanted to extract information from those it held captive.
Rizzo even clings to the tired line that waterboarding isn't torture.

 He's right, it is defined in U.S. law. Here's one definition I found: 

As used in this chapter—
. . . 

 Guess what: this is exactly what waterboarding is. It isn't simulated drowning, or giving the victim the impression that he is drowning. No, it is subjecting him to drowning, only to rescue him before he succumbs. It absolutely carries with it the threat of imminent death, the suggestion that if he does not cooperate the torturer will eventually decide not to stop pouring the water over him but continue until he can no longer breathe.

I don't expect Rizzo to ever face ethical or disciplinary charges for presiding over torture by the CIA, but if he does I am pretty sure I know what his defense will be.

"I was only following orders." 

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Wednesday, January 01, 2014

My top books of 2013

Note that I'm not saying "top ten", because I don't necessarily know how many I'll want to list. Still, I have a feeling that I won't have trouble with the dividing line between the books I would strongly recommend, those that are just okay, and those that I would steer you clear of.

This year we saw Republicans in state legislatures continue to try to keep black voters away from the polls and Republicans on the Supreme Court gut the Voting Rights Act, so this is a timely reminder of the difficulty and heroism of the fight to establish voting rights.

 Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup
At a time when conservatives think slaves should have been grateful for the life they had, and Southern conservatives express nostalgia for the Lost Cause and anger at what they like to call the War of Northern Aggression, it is still important to have a clear vision of the reality of slavery in our past.

 A new poll just demonstrated that the percentage of Republicans who "believe in" evolution (do you "believe in" gravity? the germ theory? the heliocentric model?) has dropped to a minority. Maybe it's because some of the smart ones are leaving, but it's important to know the facts.

We are constantly seeing new research demonstrating the limited effectiveness and affirmative harms of psychiatric medications. In this book Carlat exposes the moral bankruptcy of the industry in which so many policy makers continue to repose their blind faith.

 Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann.
New York City is falling apart, Richard Nixon is about to resign, and a French tightrope walker prepares to walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center.  This novel, which I had some reluctance to read, captures these events and a world we can hardly imagine or remember forty years later.

 My interest in fantasy pretty much begins and ends with Tolkien, but I know that fantasy readers are always on the lookout for a new voice. Here's one that presents a believable world and believable, relatable characters. It's worth reading, even if I, the author's father, say so myself.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
 You really haven't read it yet? Come on, what are you waiting for? Too big a fan of capitalism? 

 Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon.
 I never thought I'd have any interest in a book about the world of horse racing, but this is definitely worthwhile.

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