Portrait of an artist as a young prig

Would disapprove of you masturbating to this picture.Oh dear, Ross Douthat (for whom a lit red candle and an Enya CD is a sure sign of whoredom) is talking about sex again:

None of this renders the abstinence-versus-contraception debate pointless. But we should understand it more as a battle over community values than as an argument about public policy. Luker describes it, aptly, as a conflict between the “naturalist” and “sacralist” approaches to sex — between parents in Berkeley, say, who don’t want their kids being taught that premarital intercourse is something to feel ashamed about and parents in Alabama who don’t want their kids being lectured about the health benefits of masturbation. The debate might be less rancorous if the naturalists and sacralists didn’t have to fight it out in Washington.

This is the real problem with federal financing for abstinence-based education: It drags the national government into a debate that should remain intensely local. We federalize the culture wars all the time, of course — from Roe v. Wade to the Defense of Marriage Act. But it’s a polarizing habit, and well worth kicking.

I will let slide his description of Roe v. Wade as mere part of the “culture war” (because others will no doubt pick it up and beat him about his bearded face and neck with it) as opposed to, say, a health and privacy right of Vagina-Americans and go directly to pointing out that Ross really seems to know less about sex than Megan McArdle knows about…well, anything actually.

As a recent Mother Jones profile put it:

In choosing Douthat, the editors got a peculiar specimen of both. He first gained attention for Privilege, a bittersweet 2005 memoir of his years at Harvard, where the drinking, partying, and hooking up left him feeling alienated. Of one alcohol-fueled fling, he wrote: “Whatever residual enthusiasm I felt for the venture dissipated, with shocking speed, as she nibbled at my ear and whispered—’You know, I’m on the pill.’…On that night, in that dank basement bedroom, she spoke for all of us, the whole young American elite. Not I love you, not This is incredible, not Let’s go all the way, but I’m on the pill.”


Douthat does have a Catholic’s profound sense that sin is real, and he is always on high alert for the perversion of virtue. In a 2006 blog post, for instance, he expressed dismay that Jennifer Aniston’s character in The Break-Up gets a Brazilian bikini wax: “As with breast implants, it’s another instance of modern women taking their sexual cues from pornography.” Indeed, his writing often exhibits a tension between the contemporary, culturally engaged, tolerant intellectual and the moral rectitudinarian. Even his moralizing has two sides: that of the peace-loving Catholic, nourished by the mysterium tremendum of the Mass, and that of the crusader, certain that abortion is murder and masturbation is a vice.

You don’t have to be Einstein, or Chunky Reese Witherspoon for that matter, to figure out that Ross has serious issues with teh sexxytime. Anyone, at the age of thirty, who addresses something that Woody Allen called “the most fun you can have without laughing” by pointing out  that he maintains “theological premises about the nature of sex” is on the fast track to Double Wetsuits, Dildo, and Stout Overhead Beamville.

As I have said before, you could take a person like Ross and stick a lump of coal in his butt, and by Friday you’d have a diamond.

Late Late Night FDL: The Known Universe

The Known Universe.  From the American Museum of Natural History‘s YouTube page:

The Known Universe takes viewers from the Himalayas through our atmosphere and the inky black of space to the afterglow of the Big Bang. Every star, planet, and quasar seen in the film is possible because of the world’s most complete four-dimensional map of the universe, the Digital Universe Atlas that is maintained and updated by astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History. The new film, created by the Museum, is part of an exhibition, Visions of the Cosmos: From the Milky Ocean to an Evolving Universe, at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan through May 2010.

Data: Digital Universe, American Museum of Natural History

Visualization Software: Uniview by SCISS

Director: Carter Emmart
Curator: Ben R. Oppenheimer
Producer: Michael Hoffman
Executive Producer: Ro Kinzler
Co-Executive Producer: Martin Brauen
Manager, Digital Universe Atlas: Brian Abbott

Music: Suke Cerulo

For more information visit http://www.amnh.org

This is a video that really should be viewed full screen.  Press play, sit back, and enjoy the ride.

What’s on your mind?

Good QDR Lines, Pt. 8 (Treehugger Edition)

“While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden on civilian institutions and militaries around the world. In addition, extreme weather events may lead to increased demands for defense support to civil authorities for humanitarian assistance or disaster response both within the United States or overseas. … managing the national security effects of climate change will require DoD to work collaboratively, through a whole-of-government approach, with both traditional allies and new partners.”

Take a bow, Natural Security.

“The Department will also investigate alternate concepts for improving energy use, including the creation of an innovation fund administered by the new Director of Operational Energy to enable components to compete for funding on projects that advance integrated energy solutions.”

That’s not such a great line. But Director of Operational Energy is an awesome job title. In the director’s desk drawer will be such position papers as “Blood For Oil: A Comparative Analysis” ready for interagency discussion.

Sunday Late Night: You Can’t Turn the Lights Off

Now the testimony phase of the Prop 8 Trial has ended, the covers have been pulled back on the motives and operations of the proponents of Prop 8. While we had an entire Prop 8 political campaign in 2008, and since then a court case to the California Supreme Court, it is only in the federal trial that a spotlight has shined on the animus and motivations of the people who want to restrict the civil marriage rights of gays and lesbians.

Whenever someone asks me “how was it?” to sit through almost every minute of opening arguments and testimony, and cross examination, I flash on poor Mary Todd: “Other than that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you like the play?” Because while there were some spectacular moments from David Boies as he exposed the pitiful non-expertise of both the remaining witnesses the Defendant-Intervenors called, and some real humor from Judge Vaughn Walker — my most vivid memory from those twelve days will always be the realization that, for the proponents of Prop 8, gays and lesbians have quite enough power right now. We should be happy with what we have. And stop demanding more.

Because gays and lesbians have political allies (only a few of those named at trial actually support full marriage rights) and because we are featured in television shows (even though the Ellen and Will & Grace sitcoms are long gone) and because we have disposable income (we do?!) and because we are, at long last, federally protected from violent hate crimes, we should be content.

We should be content that politicians march in our festive Pride parades, and that some gays & lesbians get elected to office here and there, and that the President speaks to national meetings of our moneyed leadership. We should be content that the Congress might actually take up the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Defense of Marriage Act and the Don’t-Ask/Don’t-Tell discrimination against those actively serving in the military. Because, somehow, having our issues discussed and debated in public (whether legislation is actually passed or not) denotes just about enough power — power that gays & lesbians should be very happy to have.

We should be content that some states let us marry; we should be happy that some states let us adopt; we should be pleased that some states let us foster kids. And we should be ecstatic that some states even let us contract in some odd, cobbled together, frequently rewritten, specially designed but not at all clearly understood unit called Civil Unions or Domestic Partnerships. The fact that we are second-class citizens in the constitutions of more than twenty states should not matter, because, well, Barney Frank chairs the House Banking Committee!

Good QDR Lines, Pt. 7 (We-Go-Where-We’re-Wanted Edition)

This is from a section about principles undergirding the positioning of U.S. forces abroad. “America’s defense posture should provide a stabilizing influence abroad and be welcomed by the host nation. Forward stationing and rotational deployment of U.S. forces are designed to contribute to regional security and will be enhanced, lessened and reshaped as necessary to reassure allies and partners and strengthen deterrence. The United States will work closely with allies and partners to maintain an appropriately tailored military presence that serves a constructive role in maintaining regional security.”

As I was writing this post, Farley tweeted that the QDR has “lots and lots of basic boilerplate about importance of allies and interagency partnerships.” OK, fair enough. But consider that this document has an international audience. If I’m from a foreign partner military — or a foreign intelligence service — I take away a distinct message from the prevalence of this message, boilerplate or not. I also would not have read this line in previous QDRs: “[A]ugmenting our overseas presence is not always the most effective method to achieve our strategic objectives.” Also, this, about the future of U.S. forces in the Middle East: “the United States will reshape its defense posture to assure partners of a credible, long-term commitment to mutual security relationships and to deter regional actors from aggression while balancing that requirement against the regional sensitivity to a large, long-term U.S. force presence.”

Can you call that boilerplate? Well, yeah. “The U.S. will do good stuff, but will remain mindful of the risks of turning good stuff into bad stuff.” But the place to instantiate what it means — deterring Iran; getting out of Iraq and pretty much Saudi Arabia; returning to a pre-Desert Shield offshore balance? — isn’t the QDR. And the more emphasis placed on multilateralism and collective security in our basic defense planning documents the better, as far as I’m concerned. This is a foundational premise of liberal internationalism. And it’s a “central elemen[t] of U.S. security strategy,” according to page 57.

What Glenn Greenwald Said On American Terrorism Cowardice

Just go read it. Because every word Glenn Greenwald wrote in his post today, entitled Nostalgia for Bush/Cheney Radicalism, is the gospel truth. It is rare that you will see a post here just pointing you somewhere else because the other source says it all. This is one of those times. Here is a taste:

How much clearer evidence can there be of how warped and extremist we’ve become on these matters? The express policies of the right-wing Ronald Reagan — “applying the rule of law to terrorists”; delegitimizing Terrorists by treating them as “criminals”; and compelling the criminal prosecution of those who authorize torture — are now considered on the Leftist fringe. Merely advocating what Reagan explicitly adopted as his policy — “to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law against” Terrorists — is now the exclusive province of civil liberties extremists. In those rare cases when Obama does what Reagan’s policy demanded in all instances and what even Bush did at times — namely, trials and due process for accused Terrorists — he is attacked as being “Soft on Terror” by Democrats and Republicans alike. And the mere notion that we should prosecute torturers (as Reagan bound the U.S. to do) — or even hold them accountable in ways short of criminal proceedings — is now the hallmark of a Far Leftist Purist. That’s how far we’ve fallen, how extremist our political consensus has become.

Now go read the rest and weep for your country.

Good QDR Lines, Pt. 6 (Contractor Edition)

“In keeping with the Administration’s goal of reducing the taxpayer’s dependence on contractors, the Department introduced its in-sourcing initiative  in the [fiscal year] 2010 budget. Over the next five years, the Department will reduce the number of support service contractors to their pre-2001 level of 26 percent of the workforce (from the current level of 39 percent) and replace them, if needed, with full-time government employees. These efforts will help us establish a balanced total workforce of military, government civilians and contractor personnel that more appropriately aligns public- and private-sector functions, and results in better value for the taxpayer.”

The defense secretary is a moderate Republican and this is quite a sensible statement of contemporary progressive attitudes about governance. If you want to translate it into more vernacular language: “The post-9/11 contractor boom, and its attendant war profiteering? We’re rolling that back.”

Weekend Roundup

Sorry for the inattention to ye olde blog today. Whenever Goodfellas is on I pretty much have to watch it. Let’s see what was of interest for your weekend:

• Robert Gibbs put a preliminary price tag on
the new jobs bill as around $100 billion dollars. I don’t know how that’ll do even a little bit, although adding $25 billion in state fiscal aid in the budget gets the stimulative impact a lot closer to the $154 billion from the House bill. You almost undermine your case politically by passing something this small and calling it a jobs bill, with the implication that it will fix the jobs crisis. That’s what happened on the stimulus.

• Meanwhile, Gibbs’ other comment, that Khalid Skeikh Mohammed was certain to be executed after his criminal trial, was just stupid. It makes it virtually impossible to defend the Administration on holding a civilian trial if they persist in pre-judging the trial and assuming a guilty verdict. This undermines the very virtues that a trial is meant to project about the criminal justice system.

• The White House’s late-Friday deal to sell $6 billion in weapons to Taiwan drew a nasty response from the Chinese government. They suspended military exchanges with the US, and threatened defense contractors with major sanctions if they followed through on the sale. The Pentagon and the State Department have not backed off the deal, however. I don’t know what the endgame is here.

• The anger over drone strikes in Pakistan is mounting. The relative effectiveness of these air strikes has to be weighed against the alienation and fury it engenders amongst local populations.

• Here’s your Quadrennial Defense Review, the list of priorities in the Pentagon budget. Spencer demystifies it for you. There are actually less program cuts in this military budget than last year, and there’s no spending freeze here. It matters to pay attention to this.

• If you needed video of that Obama tete-a-tete with House Republicans, here you go.

• Lamar Alexander: Eric Holder should step down. Not for allowing the whitewash of the OPR report on John Yoo and Jay Bybee. No, not that coverup. His reason? Holder may have made the call to read Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights. I wish we had a non-crazy opposition party.

• On a more legitimate opposition party note, Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi are trying to take the heat off of their own failures in serving their lawmaking function by investigating Jonathan Gruber’s Administration ties. This is worth probing, considering that he delivered Congressional testimony before his contract was disclosed.

• Wow, Evan Bayh is an idiot. “Far-left blogs” aren’t the only ones seeing through a spending freeze; virtually every sensible economist has joined the Order of the Shrill on this one.

Rumors of reconciliation in Afghanistan. Of course, the Taliban would have to agree with it.

• Hey, AIG is cutting its retention bonuses! Glory be! What are retention bonuses? That would be the bonuses to KEEP employees at a company. As in, “hey, don’t leave, here’s ten million dollars.” So that’s being cut. But they’re ASKING the employees to accept less. And it’s voluntary.

I picked the wrong profession.

• Norm Ornstein, who does watch Congress for a living, says that this one has been enormously productive. Basically, he says that the stimulus, if it were cut up into 20 separate bills, would represent a major series of accomplishments. Maybe this says more about the relative productivity of past Congresses, not this one.

• Strangest thing about this ad in a New Orleans coroner race, where the candidate calls his opponent “Frankenstein”? That there’s an election for city coroner.

• Finally, I’ve had the pleasure of working on a show that featured Rip Torn, and he was drunk the entire taping, and within about three takes he threatened to fight one of his fellow actors. So no, this doesn’t surprise me.

The Obama Budget – Operationalizing the Freeze

budgeting gargoyle by brad montgomery (flickr)
budgeting gargoyle by brad montgomery (flickr)

The official rollout is tomorrow, but a couple stories have come out today about President Obama’s budget, where we’ll see the newfound emphasis on fiscal discipline turned into actual policy. It didn’t get much pub, but Obama’s first budget from last year was actually pretty progressive, and got through Congress without much trouble. What’s in store for this year?

The first thing that leaps out is that the fiscal aid to states is getting baked into the budget rather than in a separate jobs bill or appropriation.

President Obama will send a $3.8 trillion budget to Congress on Monday for the coming fiscal year that would increase financing for education and for civilian research programs by more than 6 percent and provide $25 billion for cash-starved states, even as he seeks to freeze much domestic spending for the rest of his term.

The budget for the 2011 fiscal year, which begins in October, will identify the winners and losers behind Mr. Obama’s proposal for a three-year freeze of a portion of the budget. Many programs at the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Energy Department are in line for increases, along with the Census Bureau.

Among the losers would be some public works projects of the Army Corps of Engineers, two historic preservation programs and NASA’s mission to return to the Moon, which would be ended as the administration seeks to reorient the space program to use private companies for launchings. Mr. Obama is recycling some proposals from last year, including one to end redundant payments for land restoration at abandoned coal mines; Western lawmakers blocked it in 2009. Mr. Obama will propose a total of $20 billion in such savings for the coming fiscal year.

The freeze is a bad idea rhetorically, giving ground to the conservative worldview of a federal budget as akin to a family budget, and during this employment crisis, it’s bad policy, because it constrains aggregate demand when the private market isn’t creating it. (more…)

Watercooler – In Washington, Is Too Much Power A Bad Thing?

New York Times columnist Matt Bai reflects a fascinating trend in modern politics as he writes about the prospects of the upcoming mid-term elections:

CB028331Recent presidents have had more success when forced to work with slim majorities in Congress, or even none at all. Ronald Reagan teamed with influential Democratic senators and a Democrat-controlled House to overhaul the tax code. Richard Nixon and a Democratic Congress enacted historic protections for the environment. Lyndon Johnson may have enjoyed sizable majorities in the sense of party affiliation but not in terms of ideology: a large contingent in his own party opposed civil rights and new social programs. He succeeded only by building a coalition that enlisted a lot of Northern moderate Republicans.

By contrast, Jimmy Carter, during his lone term, and George W. Bush, after his re-election in 2004 but before the Democratic takeover of 2006, saw signature proposals crushed by their own parties’ formidable majorities. We tend to get behind an executive who acts as a bulwark against ideological extremism or who has to persuade some opponents to help enact an agenda rather than one who seems, fairly or not, to be trying to ram it through…

obama… The breadth of the majorities Obama inherited has in some ways made it harder, rather than easier, for him to impose his vision on the capital. For one thing, the expectations for his presidency have been unreasonably high from the moment he took office, meaning that the mundane realities of governance could only disappoint an anxious country…

… Running against the small-minded obstructionist forces in Congress has proved to be the most effective re-election pitch for a long line of beleaguered presidents, from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton. Losing his advantage in Congress might yet reveal to the president new paths toward the kind of less ideological, more enlightened governance he was supposed to represent. And if not, at least he’ll have someone to blame.

So let me get this straight: Having one political party elect a president by a margin of 7.2 percentage points; and then having that same party hold 60% of the Senate and 58.9% of the House of Representatives – is not the best way to get something accomplished in our nation’s political system? This is nothing more than a recipe for stalemate and frustration?

Instead, the way to get things done is to have the executive and legislative branches controlled by opposing forces? Is it actually a hindrance to have too much power on one side of the aisle?

What’s on your mind tonight?