Current Affairs Archives

Thoughts on California proposition 8 2008

This is about the law. An adult individual in California currently has a legal right to marry another adult individual to whom he or she is not closely related.

In the past, this right was limited by race: California Civil Code Section 60, provided that “All marriages of white persons with Negroes, Mongolians, members of the Malay race, or mulattoes are illegal and void,” and also Section 69, which stated that "... no license may be issued authorizing the marriage of a white person with a Negro, mulatto, Mongolian or member of the Malay race". This was overturned by the California Supreme Court in October 1948 in Perez v. Sharp on the grounds that it violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

As Time Magazine described the decision in their October 11th, 1948, issue:

"Laws prohibiting the intermarriage of whites and Negroes are on the books of 30 states, have survived every legal test. Last week one of those states changed its mind. California's ban on mixed marriages was declared unconstitutional by a 4-to-3 decision of the state's Supreme Court. Marriage, said the majority opinion, is a fundamental right of free men; and the right to marry includes the right to marry the person of one's choice. The decision also declared the law contrary 'to the fundamental principles of Christianity'."

No doubt there were many who would have preferred that the decision had not gone that way; it would be another 19 years before Loving v. Virginia in the U.S. Supreme Court forced laws against inter-racial marriage off the books.

That ruling stated: "Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival.... To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State's citizens of liberty without due process of law."

So, we have a strong precedent for protection of the individual's right to marry the person of their choice.

I firmly believe that women should have the same legal rights as men, and vice versa. In other words, I believe gender should be as strong as race with regard to equal rights under the law.

The law should be blind to gender as it is to color.

Marriage by the state bestows a legal status of a recognized relationship, just as health laws for farms bestow a legal status for a recognized food producer. Religious persons may ban the consumption of a particular food, but their beliefs do not deny others the right to consume that food. Similarly members of a particular religion may ban participation in the religion to those who marry a member of the same sex (or of a different race), but their beliefs should not deny others the right to marry.

With regard to the "what about allowing marrying children? or animals?" scenarios brought up by supporters of a ban on same-sex marriage, these add a new class of person able to marry: a non-adult or a non-human, and are therefore not parallel to the matter at hand in Proposition 8. The "slippery slope" argument ignores this basic matter of legal precedent and Constitutional backing. We are talking about a legal relationship which is defined as being between two individuals who are not closely related. The question here is whether additional qualifications can be added on that; if unrelated individuals A, B, C, and D can be married off as A&B and C&D or as A&D and C&B, then what legal justification can there be for preventing the marriages of A&C or B&D?

I remain baffled by the argument that encouraging serious public commitments to each other somehow "weakens marriage". I was at San Francisco City Hall in February 2004 and walked down the entire line talking with the couples; these were not fun-seekers, but rather couples seeking to publicly state their devotion to each other. In an age of celebrity weddings and "find a bride" reality shows, this restored my faith and that of many of my friends in the institution of marriage.

These are some of the reasons I will be voting NO on 8.

Posted on October 21, 2008 at 09:55 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Let adults marry. Blocking by gender makes no more sense than did blocking by race. 2008


Posted on October 15, 2008 at 08:23 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Gonna take some changes. Ten Ways to Prepare for Post-Oil Society by James Kunstler is an intense but necessary set of ideas to contemplate.

Posted on September 27, 2008 at 08:08 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Required viewing: Michael Wesch 2008

A big thank you today to my friend Peter Merholz for reminding me to go see more of what Michael Wesch is doing. His social commentary (and damn fine anthropology work) is some of the most incisive writing/talking/broadcasting about digital culture you can find.

“(Web 2.0:) The Machine Is Us/Ing Us"
This blew my doors off when I first saw it. If you just are baffled by it, we probably won't be able to communicate very deeply; the Web is where I'm from.

“A Vision of Students Today”

A quick wake-up call on the impact of these changes on education.

"An anthropological introduction to YouTube"
Wow. Just wow. One hour of amazing insight on what YouTube actually means to culture.

I'm glad everybody else is catching up. Over 3 years before Gary Brolsma's "Numa Numa", in October of 2001 I was making a connection with some random guy up in Alaska when "Polyester Lester" put up a video of himself soulfully lip-syncing "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going". Lester is still my friend and may have been in my instant messenger contacts continuously over all these years, yet as far as I can recall we've never met offline. Maybe I can't remember because I just now had to choose the word "offline" since "in person" didn't seem to exclude the conversations & shared creative efforts we have had.   

The world is fundamentally not the same as it was. User-created content + internet connectivity = as big a shift in human culture as the invention of the printing press. Maybe even close to as big as the change from nomadic hunting & gathering to settled communities & cultivation. I'm not kidding. How is my perspective different when I have people I'm connected to on every continent? When I can find pretty much any piece of information I need? And when my words can reach anywhere? What happens when an enormous percentage of the population of the planet has that perspective?

Things are getting very interesting around here...

Posted on August 9, 2008 at 03:55 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Very cool story in the Chronicle about a woman who found a simple way to radically transform the quality of life for girls in Nepal.

In the southern Dang district, rural Tharu farming families trapped in extreme poverty - earning less than a dollar a day - were making horrible sacrifices: selling their daughters as domestic slaves to wealthy Kathmandu families for $35 to $75.

"These girls are 7, 8, 9 and 10, and no one was checking up on them," said Murray, 83. "I was shocked."

That was in 1989. Her solution to break the practice has since made her a philanthropic legend in the area...

...Murray and Paneru have since steered 3,000 girls away from slavery and all but eradicated the long-held tradition of indentured servitude in the Tharu village.

Posted on July 22, 2008 at 08:57 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2)

Science, public domain, conservation 2008

My lovely long weekend is about to end so here's a quick set of things I've been meaning to tell you about:

Increase science knowledge among students in Florida with this Donors Choose project.

Easily calculate public domain works in the U.S. with the American Library Association's "Is it in Copyright?" digital slider tool.

What if America as a nation had risen to the challenge President Carter laid out for us on July 15, 1979? Solid steps to energy independence, funding from windfall profits taxes, $10 billion invested in public transportation,

"We often think of conservation only in terms of sacrifice. In fact, it is the most painless and immediate way of rebuilding our nation's strength. Every gallon of oil each one of us saves is a new form of production. It gives us more freedom, more confidence, that much more control over our own lives."

He said "there are no short-term solutions to our long-range problems" and he was right. Those problems didn't go away between now and then; they just got worse and more time-critical.

Lest you think that's all just hypothetical, compare the U.S. approach to foreign oil use to Japan's:

In Japan, on the other hand, the government and private companies have stayed on course since the First Oil Shock. Despite the doubling of Japan's gross domestic product during the 1970s and 1980s, its annual overall levels of energy consumption have remained unchanged. Today, Japan uses only half as much energy for every dollar's worth of economic activity as the European Union or the United States. In addition, national and local authorities have continually enforced strict energy-conservation standards for new buildings.

It is, again, Japan that has made significant progress when it comes to renewable sources of energy. By 2006, for instance, it was responsible for producing almost half of total global solar power, well ahead of the U.S., even though it was an American, Russell Ohl, who invented the silicon solar cell, the building block of solar photovoltaic panels, which convert sunshine into electricity.

Does it take behavior change? Yes. However,

Whoever said anybody has a right to give up?
                                       --Marian Wright Edelman

Posted on July 21, 2008 at 07:11 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

The climate is changing, we need to change too. 2008

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has (finally) reported that climate change is impacting our weather and that this warming world is directly related to human activities which increase  the atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. U.S. government scientists conclude that droughts, heavy downpours, excessive heat, and intense hurricanes are likely to become more commonplace in the United States as we continue to increase global warming pollution in the atmosphere. [full report]

If you ever needed a reason to join the movement to solve the climate crisis, this is it. Please join me by signing up for the We Campaign, a powerful nonpartisan movement of concerned citizens, founded by someone for whom I have tremendous respect, Nobel Prize Laureate and former Vice President Al Gore. We're already almost a million and a half strong -- and growing each day:

This crisis can be solved and we have the ability to do so if we all rise to the challenge.

Learn more at

Posted on July 21, 2008 at 03:39 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

And the big fool says to push on... 2008

Listening to Dick Gaughan's version of Pete Seeger's Waist Deep in the Big Muddy and thinking about Iraq, tax cuts, global warming...

Posted on July 15, 2008 at 09:12 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Any way to back up that argument, guys? 2008

The opponents of same-sex marriage say it will "damage" marriage, but Massachusetts has the second lowest divorce rate in the country. They seem to be doing just fine.

What are the measurable signs of the institution of marriage being damaged? Are they actually different from states and countries with same-sex marriages permitted than those where they aren't? Yes, society has changed and there are impacts on family formation, but does that change actually correlate or is it found across states and countries on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue? In Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage is legal, contrary to the usual fears, there seems to be a strong correlation between divorce rates going down and heterosexual marriage going up. How about elsewhere in the world? What, for example, has been the impact, if any, in Canada and Spain?

Let's see something other than fears brought to the discussion on this.

Posted on May 26, 2008 at 09:39 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Chalmers on how to make America implode economically 2008

This is a clip from a new film, "Chalmers Johnson on American Hegemony," in Cinema Libre Studios' Speaking Freely series [no info on this film available on the site yet, though] in which Johnson discusses "military Keynesianism" and imperial bankruptcy. You can also read Johnson's latest piece on the subject, "Going Bankrupt: The Debt Crisis Is Now the Greatest Threat to the American Republic" at

I'm looking forward to seeing the full film.

Posted on February 24, 2008 at 06:26 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Spending money you don't have, on things that you destroy when you use them, which often both cause expensive ongoing damage and which reduce the desire for others to subsequently do business with you sure sounds like a recipe for economic disaster.

"Hey, honey, let's buy ostrich eggs, watches and art glass on credit and lob them around the neighborhood with a trebuchet!"

Astonishingly, this is how the USA spends much of its money.

There are three broad aspects to our debt crisis. First, in the current fiscal year (2008) we are spending insane amounts of money on "defense" projects that bear no relationship to the national security of the United States. Simultaneously, we are keeping the income tax burdens on the richest segments of the American population at strikingly low levels.

Second, we continue to believe that we can compensate for the accelerating erosion of our manufacturing base and our loss of jobs to foreign countries through massive military expenditures -- so-called "military Keynesianism," which I discuss in detail in my book Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. By military Keynesianism, I mean the mistaken belief that public policies focused on frequent wars, huge expenditures on weapons and munitions, and large standing armies can indefinitely sustain a wealthy capitalist economy. The opposite is actually true.

Third, in our devotion to militarism (despite our limited resources), we are failing to invest in our social infrastructure and other requirements for the long-term health of our country. These are what economists call "opportunity costs," things not done because we spent our money on something else. Our public education system has deteriorated alarmingly. We have failed to provide health care to all our citizens and neglected our responsibilities as the world's number one polluter. Most important, we have lost our competitiveness as a manufacturer for civilian needs -- an infinitely more efficient use of scarce resources than arms manufacturing.

Read How To Sink America by Chalmers Johnson for more. Here are a few things that jumped out at me:

- "This brings U.S. spending for its military establishment during the current fiscal year (2008), conservatively calculated, to at least $1.1 trillion."

- "On November 7, 2007, the U.S. Treasury announced that the national debt had breached $9 trillion for the first time ever. ... When George [W.] Bush became president in January 2001, it stood at approximately $5.7 trillion."

- "'According to the U.S. Department of Defense, during the four decades from 1947 through 1987 it used (in 1982 dollars) $7.62 trillion in capital resources. In 1985, the Department of Commerce estimated the value of the nation's plant and equipment, and infrastructure, at just over $7.29 trillion. In other words, the amount spent over that period could have doubled the American capital stock or modernized and replaced its existing stock.' The fact that we did not modernize or replace our capital assets is one of the main reasons why, by the turn of the twenty-first century, our manufacturing base had all but evaporated."

- "'Today we are no longer the world's leading lending country.  In fact we are now the world's biggest debtor country'"

Posted on February 21, 2008 at 08:22 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Essential reading: Waving Goodbye To Hegemony 2008

I recall being interested in this article, Waving Goodbye To Hegemony, when it appeared in The New York Times Magazine on January 27, 2008, but it being quite long, didn't read the whole thing at the time. I've done so now and have to recommend it as some of the most insightful thinking on world power shifts I've encountered in the past decade.

Author Parag Khanna provides - in a surprisingly small package for the density of detail and intelligence - a grand overview of the three current superpowers, the European Union, China, and the United States, and of the swing (nation) states of the "second world" whose ties to these three are going to shape the next century and beyond.

I hope this has been assigned as reading in colleges and high schools around the world as it provides an excellent new view which illustrates how very much the world has changed since the cold war and will continue to change, particularly in the next decade.

Posted on February 17, 2008 at 06:06 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

How do you feel about torture? 2007

And what do you think constitutes torture?

Kaj Larsen's decision to subject himself to waterboarding so that we could understand what it is certainly helps lay some clear information on the table to contemplate along with these questions.

I strongly encourage you to watch it and then to think about what it would take for you to watch it with no interruptions of other conversations, with no indicator of the progress of the video to tell you when it will be over, with the realization that the actual time he was waterboarded was much longer than this video. Then ask yourself what if it was you and you didn't know if these guys were planning to kill you or not.

Is it torture?

Posted on November 2, 2007 at 09:36 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Happy International Women's Day! 2007

I just made a microloan through to a community pharmacist in Kenya looking to expand her business.

What can you do to help women around the world? Support their independent businesses!

Posted on March 8, 2007 at 12:28 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Cool dudes repairing sidewalk, playing dominos and advising Madam Speaker 2007


Posted on January 11, 2007 at 12:01 PM in Current Affairs, politics & philosophy, San Francisco | Permalink | Comments (0)

Interesting essay on the truly dangerous fallout of major world events - the arrogance of power combined with extreme nationalism: The Day That Changed Everything Wasn't 9/11 by Ira Chernus

Posted on September 17, 2006 at 08:45 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

More linky goodness from Uncle Larry & unearthed doing research for an upcoming first trip to Japan (!):

Nasrallah and the three Lebanons

Many in the Arab world are blaming the Lebanese for being so disunited and for not rallying en masse behind Hezbollah and its secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. These divisions are strange for those who do not know Lebanon: there are in essence three Lebanons, each with its own history, objectives, alliances and leaders.

Moresukine, a weekly web comic blog from Tokyo from the first half of 2006.

Posted on August 5, 2006 at 01:52 PM in Current Affairs, travel | Permalink | Comments (0)

Addington's Presidency 2006

I encourage you to read this New Yorker article by Jane Mayer, "The Hidden Power: The legal mind behind the White House’s war on terror".

She very clearly lays out a portrait of the fundamentally different approach to legality, as it applies to the executive branch, taken by the current administration. For George W. Bush, checks and balances, indeed legal precedent itself, can be bypassed at will under the blanket excuse of "fighting the war on terror".

Most Americans, even those who follow politics closely, have probably never heard of Addington. But current and former Administration officials say that he has played a central role in shaping the Administration’s legal strategy for the war on terror. Known as the New Paradigm, this strategy rests on a reading of the Constitution that few legal scholars share—namely, that the President, as Commander-in-Chief, has the authority to disregard virtually all previously known legal boundaries, if national security demands it. Under this framework, statutes prohibiting torture, secret detention, and warrantless surveillance have been set aside.

"Few legal scholars share"? How about few Americans who have any knowledge of 20th century history?

And how's this approach working out for us? Well, there isn't much evidence it's done any good at all:

Not a single terror suspect has been tried before a military commission. Only ten of the more than seven hundred men who have been imprisoned at Guantánamo have been formally charged with any wrongdoing.

Indeed, it appears to have done us a great deal of harm:

As for the Administration’s legal defense of torture, which Addington played a central role in formulating, [historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.] said, “No position taken has done more damage to the American reputation in the world—ever.”

How can we tolerate torture as an acceptable practice by a civilized nation? Why hasn't every church and veterans organization been speaking out against this monstrosity along with the ACLU? And how can anyone with a shred of patriotism stand by and let our nation's values be trampled in the mud like this?

Bruce Fein, a Republican legal activist, who voted for Bush in both Presidential elections, and who served as associate deputy attorney general in the Reagan Justice Department, said that Addington and other Presidential legal advisers had “staked out powers that are a universe beyond any other Administration. This President has made claims that are really quite alarming. He’s said that there are no restraints on his ability, as he sees it, to collect intelligence, to open mail, to commit torture, and to use electronic surveillance. If you used the President’s reasoning, you could shut down Congress for leaking too much. His war powers allow him to declare anyone an illegal combatant. All the world’s a battlefield — according to this view, he could kill someone in Lafayette Park if he wants! It’s got the sense of Louis XIV: ‘I am the State.’ ”

Didn't we fight a war a couple hundred years ago to get rid of that attitude? And I certainly don't think the architects of that war and the resulting legal structures would have approved of the "signing statement", as a weaselly alternative to vetoing a bill with which the President does not agree.

Do read the whole article. It gives a good precis of events of the last 40 years as they relate to the rise and strategies of the current power holders. The small details of the character portraits also underscore that classic distinction between the patriarchal strong father model of the conservatives and the egalitarian statesman model of the middle of the road or liberal approach to governance.

Posted on July 9, 2006 at 06:45 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (3)

Okay, didn't think I'd be saying these words, but Pat Buchanan is making a lot of sense here.
[Thanks to Uncle Larry for the link]

Posted on June 6, 2006 at 12:34 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (1)

Now these are the kinds of news headlines I like to see:

The crowds cheer the Sultan's time-travelling elephant

Posted on May 8, 2006 at 10:05 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Nuclear Weapons Are Unacceptable 2006

According to Seymour Hersh's article in the April 17th issue of New Yorker magazine, the executive office of the United States is considering the use of atomic weaponry against a sovereign nation with whom we are not at war.

This is madness. Didn't this country learn anything from the Cold War? We barely survived that (Cuban Missile Crisis, anyone?); can you imagine the dangers of a Hot War? There is no scenario in which this threatened use of nukes makes our world safer. It strengthens anti-American movements worldwide and increases the risk of us being targeting by terrorism.

Beyond the strictly practical point that it doesn't gain us anything, nuclear weapons are an abomination and no civilized nation should use or threaten to use them.

There is a plaque at the Memorial Cenotaph in Hiroshima which says "Let All The Souls Here Rest In Peace; For We Shall Not Repeat The Evil." All citizens of the world need to make clear to their governments that we do not accept their use or threat of use of these weapons.

United States citizens can send a message to their representatives here.

Posted on April 12, 2006 at 01:55 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Juan Cole: "Iran Can Now Make Glowing Mickey Mouse Watches"

Despite all the sloppy and inaccurate headlines about Iran "going nuclear," the fact is that all President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday was that it had enriched uranium to a measely 3.5 percent, using a bank of 180 centrifuges hooked up so that they "cascade."

The ability to slightly enrich uranium is not the same as the ability to build a bomb. For the latter, you need at least 80% enrichment, which in turn would require about 16,000 small centrifuges hooked up to cascade. Iran does not have 16,000 centrifuges. It seems to have 180. Iran is a good ten years away from having a bomb, and since its leaders, including Supreme Jurisprudent Ali Khamenei, say they do not want an atomic bomb because it is Islamically immoral, you have to wonder if they will ever have a bomb.

Gosh, I wish the religious leaders listened to by many in this country declared the atomic bomb immoral.

Posted on April 12, 2006 at 10:18 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Denial of reality does not, in fact, change reality 2006

If we're going to have a militaristic government, could we at least have one which is competent at military endeavors? The word from the ground is not good at all and it is being vigorously ignored.

One Vietnam War fiasco was really sufficient, I think. No need to do a remake.

Posted on April 11, 2006 at 03:13 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Brother, you can believe in stones, as long as you don't throw them at me."

The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century. It is a clash between civilization and backwardness, between the civilized and the primitive, between barbarity and rationality. It is a clash between freedom and oppression, between democracy and dictatorship. It is a clash between human rights, on the one hand, and the violation of these rights, on other hand. It is a clash between those who treat women like beasts, and those who treat them like human beings. What we see today is not a clash of civilizations. Civilizations do not clash, but compete.


The Jews have come from the tragedy (of the Holocaust), and forced the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their terror, with their work, not their crying and yelling. Humanity owes most of the discoveries and science of the 19th and 20th centuries to Jewish scientists. 15 million people, scattered throughout the world, united and won their rights through work and knowledge. We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people. The Muslims have turned three Buddha statues into rubble. We have not seen a single Buddhist burn down a Mosque, kill a Muslim, or burn down an embassy. Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people, and destroying embassies. This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them.

- Dr. Wafa Sultan on Al-Jazeera TV

Video with subtitles

(found on MetaFilter)

Posted on March 5, 2006 at 05:58 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Please read this news story aloud and raise a glass - while not dressed as a tree - to Steve Rubenstein for writing the funniest article I've seen in ages.

(Thanks to Joel for the link!)

Posted on February 16, 2006 at 08:55 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

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