Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Net Neutrality

Imagine the following scenario: You turn on your computer to do a little online research. You point your browser to Google and … nothing. Or, perhaps you get a message telling you that your Internet service provider and Microsoft have entered into an exclusive arrangement whereby only Microsoft’s Bing search service is available to users connected via that ISP. Or maybe you try to go online to pay your Sprint bill via your AT&T DSL line only to find that AT&T has blocked access to the websites of its competitors through its Internet services. Or what if your ISP is also your cable company and they decided to block access to TiVo’s servers in order to get you to subscribe to the cable company’s DVR services? Maybe it isn’t quite that blatant. Maybe your Hulu videos are just really, really slow (because your ISP has an exclusive deal with CBS) or some websites for some businesses seem to open much faster than others. Or what if an article in your local newspaper that was critical of your DSL provider just wouldn’t load in your browser?

Would any of that seem fair?

If not, then you believe in what is usually called “net neutrality”. The concept is simple: Internet service providers cannot limit access to or favor certain content online. Users pay Internet service providers for a certain amount of bandwidth to connect to the Internet, but how that bandwidth is used is entirely up to the user.

But there is a move, sponsored by many large telecom companies (and their right-wing friends) to change this. They want to allow telecom companies to have some degree of control over what goes through their system. At its most benign, the idea touted by the telecom industry would allow for telecom companies to offer a faster connection to the websites of companies that paid Comcast a premium to be on their faster tier. If the company paid, its websites would load quickly; if it didn’t pay full price, its websites would load more slowly; and if it didn’t pay at all? Well, who knows?

Of course the Internet service provider could also slow down its primary access system to the point that website owners and Comcast’s customers would essentially be forced to pay for the faster tier. And what if Comcast entered into an exclusive agreement with Microsoft that Bing would be the only search engine permitted on the fast tier or that TiVo programs couldn’t download because the ISP had its own DVR available for rent?

Others in the telecom industry have advocated even greater control over the Internet, to the point that the examples that I describe above would be possible.

The telecom industry argues that they should have this right as a component of free enterprise and because the telecom industry is responsible for the wires that transmit information into our homes and businesses. “We own it, so we should control what’s in it…” or something like that. While that point may have some degree of appeal to it, there are three things worth remembering: First, while the telecom companies may be the proverbial on-ramps to the Internet (the old “information superhighway” metaphor), they don’t actually have anything do with the Internet itself. Third, it was our government tax dollars that actually developed the backbone of the Internet, not the telecom companies. Finally, at least for most Americans, the number of potential Internet service providers (especially in homes) is extremely limited. How many phone companies can offer DSL service to your home? How many cable companies can offer cable service to your home? Can you think of any other ISP that you could subscribe to other than your phone company or cable provider? Usually, we have two choices, one cable and one phone, both of which operate in virtual monopoly environments, often on the basis of government granted monopolies. And yet they want to be able to use their monopolies to make more money at our expense. Um, isn’t that one of the reasons that we’ve always believed that monopolies were bad?

Thinking back to the information superhighway metaphor, imagine how you would react if you drove to the mall only to be told that you couldn’t enter the parking lot unless you were driving a Toyota or if you were driving a Hyundai you had to park in the remote lot. Or perhaps, imagine your outrage if you showed up to an NFL game and the ticket taker told you that you couldn’t enter the stadium wearing your team’s jersey because it was made by Nike instead of Reebok or that those people wearing Adidas shoes could only sit in the upper deck, notwithstanding your ticket for a club seat in the 10th row.

Without net neutrality, the Internet could begin to look an awful lot like that. Or maybe it would just look like it does in places like China where Internet users routinely cannot access certain websites or even whole types of content. Just imagine if the ISPs decided to slow down or restrict access to websites that supported a particular political party, candidate, or issue.

Oh, one more thing worth noting: People like Glenn Beck have been spouting off about the idea of net neutrality being a threat to free speech and being some kind of “Marxist plot”. Either he (and those like him) simply don’t understand net neutrality or they’re lying to you to serve the best interests of the telecom industry. I know which of those two theories I suspect to be true.

So, next time you hear someone talking about net neutrality, listen to what they’re really saying. There is a lot of misinformation floating around, quite a bit of it intentional. And then ask yourself if you want the Internet to remain open and free or if you’d like your choices restricted and your costs increased. Then call you Senators and Congressional Representative and tell them that you support net neutrality.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

MEMRI Video: New Trends in Arabic Anti-Semitism

Please watch this video prepared by MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) and presented to the UN Human Rights Commission, Geneva, September 28th 2010. Note that the last 3 minutes or so of the video contains some very disturbing images.

This is the face of media in the Islamic world.

Oh, one more point (and I know that some people will yell and kick and scream and say that I’m being unfair): Think how ridiculous the female host seemed when she was insisting that her completely made up facts were accurate. Does she remind anybody else of Fox News?

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Israel Is a Rogue Nation!

I know that the subject of this post has been making the rounds on the Internet over the last week or so, but I decided that it was worth repeating here, as I know that many of my readers don’t necessarily read or follow everything else that happens online. And the speech that I’ll repost below is so good that it’s worth repeating anyway. But first a bit of background.

Cambridge Union Society is a very prestigious student debating society at Cambridge University. The Society hosts formal debates on various subjects and is often able to get well known experts or famous speakers (or celebrities) to participate in the debates. The debates themselves are, apparently, somewhat formal; not back-and-forth shouting matches, but rather a series of speeches arguing for or against the proposition at issue, with three speakers debating for each side of the proposition.

In October, Cambridge Union Society held a debate. The proposition before the Society was “Israel Is a Rogue Nation”. (I’m curious to know if they’ve ever debated propositions such as “Hamas Is a Terrorist Organization”, “Iran Should Not Be Allowed to Develop Nuclear Weapons”, or “The Palestinians Desire Peace With Israel”, but that’s another point altogether…) Among the people arguing in favor of the proposition was Lauren Booth. For those unfamiliar with Ms. Booth, she is the estranged sister-in-law of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. Ms. Booth is a convert to Islam and works for the Iranian Press TV cable network. She has called Gaza “the largest concentration camp in the world today" and argued that the situation in Gaza is "a humanitarian crisis on the scale of Darfur." Here’s a photo of Ms. Booth at a supermarket in Gaza in 2008:

My reason for focusing on Ms. Booth should become clear later.

Another of the debaters arguing in favor of the proposition that “Israel Is a Rogue State” was Gabriel, Latner, a 19-year-old Canadian law student. Mr. Latner submitted the following written version of his speech to another website (actually a very anti-Israel website that I’ve elected not to link to) with the request that it not be edited; from there it has been reproduced numerous times with a few minor edits to add paragraph breaks and correct typos (the text of Mr. Latner’s speech presented below is taken from the Elder of Ziyon blog). The text in brackets was written by Mr. Latner subsequent to his delivery of the speech at the debate.

This is a war of ideals, and the other speakers here tonight are rightfully, idealists. I'm not. I'm a realist. I'm here to win. I have a single goal this evening — to have at least a plurality of you walk out of the 'Aye' door. I face a singular challenge — most, if not all, of you have already made up your minds.

This issue is too polarizing for the vast majority of you not to already have a set opinion. I'd be willing to bet that half of you strongly support the motion, and half of you strongly oppose it. I want to win, and we're destined for a tie. I'm tempted to do what my fellow speakers are going to do — simply rehash every bad thing the Israeli government has ever done in an attempt to satisfy those of you who agree with them. And perhaps they'll even guilt one of you rare undecided into voting for the proposition, or more accurately, against Israel. It would be so easy to twist the meaning and significance of international 'laws' to make Israel look like a criminal state. But that's been done to death. It would be easier still to play to your sympathy, with personalised stories of Palestinian suffering. And they can give very eloquent speeches on those issues. But the truth is, that treating people badly, whether they're your citizens or an occupied nation, does not make a state 'rogue'. If it did, Canada, the US, and Australia would all be rogue states based on how they treat their indigenous populations. Britain's treatment of the Irish would easily qualify them to wear this sobriquet. These arguments, while emotionally satisfying, lack intellectual rigour.

More importantly, I just don't think we can win with those arguments. It won't change the numbers. Half of you will agree with them, half of you won't. So I'm going to try something different, something a little unorthodox. I'm going to try and convince the die-hard Zionists and Israel supporters here tonight, to vote for the proposition. By the end of my speech – I will have presented 5 pro-Israel arguments that show Israel is, if not a 'rogue state' than at least 'rogueish'.

Let me be clear. I will not be arguing that Israel is 'bad'. I will not be arguing that it doesn't deserve to exist. I won't be arguing that it behaves worse than every other country. I will only be arguing that Israel is 'rogue'.

The word 'rogue' has come to have exceptionally damning connotations. But the word itself is value-neutral. The OED defines rogue as 'Aberrant, anomalous; misplaced, occurring (esp. in isolation) at an unexpected place or time ', while a dictionary from a far greater institution gives this definition 'behaving in ways that are not expected or not normal, often in a destructive way '. These definitions, and others, centre on the idea of anomaly — the unexpected or uncommon. Using this definition, a rogue state is one that acts in an unexpected, uncommon or aberrant manner. A state that behaves exactly like Israel.

The first argument is statistical. The fact that Israel is a Jewish state alone makes it anomalous enough to be dubbed a rogue state: There are 195 countries in the world. Some are Christian, some Muslim, some are secular. Israel is the only country in the world that is Jewish. Or, to speak mathmo for a moment, the chance of any randomly chosen state being Jewish is 0.0051% . In comparison the chance of a UK lotto ticket winning at least £10 is 0.017% — more than twice as likely. Israel's Jewishness is a statistical abberation.

The second argument concerns Israel's humanitarianism, in particular,Israel's response to a refugee crisis. Not the Palestinian refugee crisis — for I am sure that the other speakers will cover that — but the issue of Darfurian refugees. Everyone knows that what happened, and is still happening in Darfur, is genocide, whether or not the UN and the Arab League will call it such. [I actually hoped that Mr Massih would be able speak about this — he's actually somewhat of an expert on the Crisis in Darfur, in fact it's his expertise that has called him away to represent the former Dictator of Sudan while he is being investigated by the ICC.] There has been a mass exodus from Darfur as the oppressed seek safety. They have not had much luck. Many have gone north to Egypt — where they are treated despicably. The brave make a run through the desert in a bid to make it to Israel. Not only do they face the natural threats of the Sinai, they are also used for target practice by the Egyptian soldiers patrolling the border. Why would they take the risk? Because in Israel they are treated with compassion — they are treated as the refugees that they are — and perhaps Israel's cultural memory of genocide is to blame. The Israeli government has even gone so far as to grant several hundred Darfurian refugees Citizenship. This alone sets Israel apart from the rest of the world.

But the real point of distinction is this: The IDF sends out soldiers and medics to patrol the Egyptian border. They are sent looking for refugees attempting to cross into Israel. Not to send them back into Egypt, but to save them from dehydration, heat exhaustion, and Egyptian bullets. Compare that to the US's reaction to illegal immigration across their border with Mexico. The American government has arrested private individuals for giving water to border crossers who were dying of thirst — and here the Israeli government is sending out its soldiers to save illegal immigrants. To call that sort of behavior anomalous is an understatement.

My Third argument is that the Israeli government engages in an activity which the rest of the world shuns — it negotiates with terrorists. Forget the late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, a man who died with blood all over his hands — they're in the process of negotiating with terrorists as we speak. Yasser Abed Rabbo is one of the lead PLO negotiators that has been sent to the peace talks with Israel. Abed Rabbo also used to be a leader of the PFLP- an organisation of 'freedom fighters' that, under Abed Rabbo's leadership, engaged in such freedom promoting activities as killing 22 Israeli high school students. And the Israeli government is sending delegates to sit at a table with this man, and talk about peace. And the world applauds. You would never see the Spanish government in peace talks with the leaders of the ETA — the British government would never negotiate with Thomas Murphy. And if President Obama were to sit down and talk about peace with Osama Bin Laden, the world would view this as insanity. But Israel can do the exact same thing — and earn international praise in the process. That is the dictionary definition of rogue — behaving in a way that is unexpected, or not normal.

Another part of dictionary definition is behaviour or activity 'occuring at an unexpected place or time'. When you compare Israel to its regional neighbours, it becomes clear just how roguish Israel is. And here is the fourth argument: Israel has a better human rights record than any of its neighbours. At no point in history, has there ever been a liberal democratic state in the Middle East — except for Israel. Of all the countries in the Middle East, Israel is the only one where the LGBT community enjoys even a small measure of equality. In Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, and Syria, homosexual conduct is punishable by flogging, imprisonment, or both. But homosexuals there get off pretty lightly compared to their counterparts in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, who are put to death. Israeli homosexuals can adopt, openly serve in the army, enter civil unions, and are protected by exceptionally strongly worded ant-discrimination legislation. Beats a death sentence. In fact, it beats America.

Israel's protection of its citizens' civil liberties has earned international recognition. Freedom House is an NGO that releases an annual report on democracy and civil liberties in each of the 195 countries in the world. It ranks each country as 'Free' 'Partly Free' or 'Not Free'. In the Middle East, Israel is the only country that has earned designation as a 'free' country. Not surprising given the level of freedom afforded to citizens in say, Lebanon — a country designated 'partly free', where there are laws against reporters criticizing not only the Lebanese government, but the Syrian regime as well. [I'm hoping Ms Booth will speak about this, given her experience working as a 'journalist' for Iran,] Iran is a country given the rating of 'not free', putting it alongside China, Zimbabwe, North Korea, and Myanmar. In Iran, [as Ms Booth I hoped would have said in her speech], there is a special 'Press Court' which prosecutes journalists for such heinous offences as criticizing the ayatollah, reporting on stories damaging the 'foundations of the Islamic republic' , using 'suspicious (i.e. western) sources', or insulting Islam. Iran is the world leader in terms of jailed journalists, with 39 reporters (that we know of) in prison as of 2009. They also kicked out almost every Western journalist during the 2009 election. [I don't know if Ms Booth was affected by that] I guess we can't really expect more from a theocracy. Which is what most countries in the Middle East are. Theocracies and Autocracies. But Israel is the sole, the only, the rogue, democracy. Out of every country in the Middle East, only in Israel do anti-government protests and reporting go unquashed and uncensored.

I have one final argument — the last nail in the opposition's coffin — and its sitting right across the aisle. Mr Ran Gidor's presence here is the all evidence any of us should need to confidently call Israel a rogue state. For those of you who have never heard of him, Mr Gidor is a political counsellor attached to Israel's embassy in London. He's the guy the Israeli government sent to represent them to the UN. He knows what he's doing. And he's here tonight. And it's incredible. Consider, for a moment, what his presence here means. The Israeli government has signed off,to allow one of their senior diplomatic representatives to participate in a debate on their very legitimacy. That's remarkable. Do you think for a minute, that any other country would do the same? If the Yale University Debating Society were to have a debate where the motion was 'This house believes Britain is a racist, totalitarian state that has done irrevocable harm to the peoples of the world', that Britain would allow any of its officials to participate? No. Would China participate in a debate about the status of Taiwan? Never. And there is no chance in hell that an American government official would ever be permitted to argue in a debate concerning its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. But Israel has sent Mr Ran Gidor to argue tonight against [a 'journalist' come reality TV star, and myself,] a 19 year old law student who is entirely unqualified to speak on the issue at hand.

Every government in the world should be laughing at Israel right now — because it forgot rule number one. You never add credence to crackpots by engaging with them. It's the same reason you won't see Stephen Hawking or Richard Dawkins debate David Icke. But Israel is doing precisely that. Once again, behaving in a way that is unexpected, or not normal. Behaving like a rogue state.

That's five arguments that have been directed at the supporters of Israel. But I have a minute or two left. And here's an argument for all of you — Israel willfully and forcefully disregards international law. In 1981 Israel destroyed OSIRAK — Sadam Hussein's nuclear bomb lab. Every government in the world knew that Hussein was building a bomb. And they did nothing. Except for Israel. Yes, in doing so they broke international law and custom. But they also saved us all from a nuclear Iraq. That rogue action should earn Israel a place of respect in the eyes of all freedom loving peoples. But it hasn't. But tonight, while you listen to us prattle on, I want you to remember something; while you're here, Khomeini's Iran is working towards the Bomb. And if you're honest with yourself, you know that Israel is the only country that can, and will, do something about it. Israel will, out of necessity act in a way that is the not the norm, and you'd better hope that they do it in a destructive manner. Any sane person would rather a rogue Israel than a Nuclear Iran. [Except Ms Booth]

The unfortunate postscript to this is that Mr. Latner has been banned for life from the Cambridge Union Society. Ms. Booth objected to Mr. Latner being included on the “pro-” side of the debate after he told her that he was Jewish and had volunteered to assist the Israeli Defense Forces (note that one of the debaters presenting an argument on the “anti-” side was Shiraz Maher who “was on the front line of British Islamism serving as a regional officer in northeast England for Hizb ut-Tahrir, an extremist group committed to the creation of a puritanical caliphate”). However, before he stepped to the podium to deliver his speech, Mr. Latner whispered to Ms. Booth “I’m going to nail you to the fucking wall.” Ms. Booth took offense, complained, and Mr. Latner was banned.

I suspect that this “punishment” will be easily outweighed by the positive attention that his speech has garnered.


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Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Business Burns Down and Incivility Erupts

Very early this morning, the Carmel Fire Department (CFD) was called to a local Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant because the employees smelled smoke. The CFD investigated, including getting on the roof of the building, loosening air handlers, and inspecting the building, but did not find anything. There was apparently no thermal signature that suggested a fire. According to at least one report, the CFD instructed the employees to shut down the store’s HVAC system and to call a mechanic in the morning to do a more thorough equipment check. Two hours later, the CFD was called again, this time because the building was now in flames. The blaze grew to a three-alarm fire for which firefighters from Noblesville and Indianapolis were called to assist. Eventually, at least two businesses (the Dunkin’ Donuts and neighboring Grape Inspirations Winery) were completely destroyed. The extent of damage to other businesses in the strip mall (including a Donatos Pizza, a small family-owned hot dog shop, a sushi restaurant, and a small market) is not yet known.

Obviously, the investigation done by the CFD following the first call is worth examining. Was that investigation sufficient? Did the employees follow the recommendations of the CFD? These and other questions will be asked as the investigation of the cause of the fire gets underway.

What I want to focus on is the reaction of Hoosiers to the story. OK, we can expect a joke or two about police officers and doughnuts. Ha ha. But after more than than one or two jokes, the punch line gets old. Before diving into the reactions that prompted this post, I thought it worth remembering that real people — maybe they’re my neighbors, maybe yours — have been affected by this fire:

Ron Shoff, owner of Grape Inspirations, said the business was his life.

"It's our life savings, and seven years of hard work trying to build it into a viable business," Shoff said. "Even though it's insured, it's all gone."

But here’s how some other Hoosiers have reacted [typos in original]:

  • Carmel is burning while the Mayor tunes his horn in the Paladium.*
  • [I]t's in the mayor's best interest for the strip mall to burn so they can require it to be rebuilt in the new carmel image... it was an old strip mall that didn't quite conform to carmel's pretentious standards.
  • Who gives a crap about Dunkin' Donuts or Donato's. They are chains and will rebuild just fine. I just hope Zacky's is ok. The family that owns that place is so friendly and the hot dogs are great.
  • Been to Grape Inspirations one time... fake would be a good description of the place and the staff.
  • fake is a good description of Carmel and the people, so it sounds like this place fit in quite well. Of course, anything to do with booze will make money in Carmel. Did you know the 21st Amendment store at 156th and Meridian is the top-selling 21st Amendment IN THE STATE? Drive by there any Friday afternoon and see all the Hamilton County housewives stepping out of their Escalades to load up on a gallon or two of Momma's Little Helper ... Not to mention the fact the store is positioned between two of the largest Catholic churches in the state! 21st Amendment probably thinks they're printing money these days!
  • REALITY - the people who take the tests for police and firemen out of highschool are usually kids who can't get into college. No too smart. See indy police and carmel fire.
  • And we see our first case of an inside job. Carmel City Planners hated that strip mall. Arson is my first guess.
  • Nero fiddled while Rome burned and Mayor Braindead blew Feinsteins horn while Carmel burned.*
  • What do ROBERT BLAKE, OJ and CARMEL have in common? You can get away with anything anywhere. Carmel HS a joke. Those kids should be in jail. Laz makes it out like his kid is ahero. The Mayor is dumb. Too many roundabouts. And the Paladium is a waste. Fire Dept. cant tell if there is a fire. What's wrong with THAT picture. No fields or facilities for kids. Getting fatter each day but at least they can all hear Glen Campbell while sitting on their fat butts.**
  • I think it's all part of Carmel's big plan to rid themselves of any building that is more than 10 years old so they can spend a crapload of money building a big, fancy, ugly structure to replace it, and turn the area into some sort of campy sounding "district".

Note that all but the final comment were to the article “Fire spreads from Carmel Dunkin’ Donuts” on the website of The Indianapolis Star; the final comment was posted to the article “Fire Tears Through Carmel Shopping Center” on the website of WRTV (Channel 6). And all of those comments were posted before 1:00pm today. And note that several comments were blocked by site moderators.

Just for the record, here are the responses that I posted to three of the more obnoxious comments on the website of The Indianapolis Star. After the first few comments, I wrote this [typos in original; the Star’s commenting feature doesn’t provide spellchecking]:

How many oxes can some people gore with this one story? Let's see: We can bash the Carmel Fire Department because they weren't able to find anything during the first call (ignoring that their was apparently no smoke smell when the FD arrived and that the FD told the employees to shut down the environemntal system). We can bash police in general on basis of the stereotype of the police officer who enjoys doughnuts. We can bash Mayor Brainard for the Palladium and his enthusiasm last night and we can bash Mayor Brainard again for his efforts to modern urban living in downtown Carmel. And we can bash chain restaurants. Did I miss anyone?

It really sickens me that so many in our community would rather point fingers and make snide comments rather than offer sympathy for those affected by the fire. Unfortunately, the comments to this story are merely symptomatic of the problems facing our society.

Then, after I read the comment suggesting that the fire was “an inside job”, I wrote:

Let me be sure that I understand: You are accusing the City of Carmel of committing an arson because they didn't like the strip center. That is one heck of an allegation. Do you have proof or are you just making stuff up as a way of expressing your dislike for Carmel or its planners.

Perhaps you're unaware, but in civil society, we generally don't make unfounded accusations, especially of crimes.

Finally, in response to the comment equating Carmel to Robert Blake and OJ:

Why the animosity toward Carmel and what does that animosty have to do with a fire at a commercial establishment? Why, precisely is Carmel High School a joke? Is it because it provides an excellent educational experience to students? By the "kids" I presume you mean the basketball players. I agree that it sounds like what they did was wrong, but isn't that for prosecutors, judges, and juries to decide, rather than you? Mayor Brainard is "dumb". Very impressive analysis of his capabilities and qualifications. And just what is it that he's done that leads to your pronouncement? Too many roundabouts? Have you checked out the decrease in accidents and the severity of accidents as a result of the roundabouts? Have you checked out the increase in fuel efficiency? Plus, it appears that Carmel residents like the roundabouts. The Palladium is a waste. You are obviously entitled to your opinion. Apparently, many in Carmel would disagree with you and, after all, it is their money, not yours. No fields or facilities for kids? Apparently, you are unfamiliar with all of the parks throughout Carmel or of the Dad's Club and other facilities. I'd say that Carmel's kids have enormous opportunities. It sounds like you are simply misinformed or envious.

But the question that remains, at least to me, is what has gone so wrong in our society to the point that people want to take time out of their day — Veterans Day, no less — not to offer their sympathies, but to attack, belittle, and tear down? I understand that some people dislike Carmel, either because they’re envious (and won’t admit it) or maybe because Carmel’s sports teams have beaten their teams. But the degree of animosity is sometimes stunning.

Whether we like each other or not, whether we agree with each other or not, we all still live together in what is supposed to be a civil society. However, if those bonds of civility don’t even extend to commenting on a fire, then what hope do we really have that we can maintain civility and avoid the pitfalls that the further erosion of civility will eventually lead to?

When we read comments like these, we need to say “NO!”. When we hear people speak like this, we need to say “NO!”. For if we don’t take it upon ourselves to try to maintain civility in our society, who will? And if we lose civility? There be dragons…


For those not from the Indianapolis area:

*The evening before the fire, Carmel’s Mayor, James Brainard helped to inaugurate the Palladium, Carmel’s new world class concert hall. The show began with the Mayor briefly playing the French horn that he played in high school before turning the stage over to Michael Feinstein, the artistic director for the performing arts center.

**Earlier this year, four members of the Carmel High School basketball team were arrested and charged with various crimes (originally including aggravated sexual assault) stemming from a hazing incident against another player. The resulting investigation (by the Hamilton County prosecutor) and trial process has been the subject of a lot of attention and scorn in the Indianapolis metropolitan community.


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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How Many Jobs…?

As Indiana’s newly-elected, Republican-dominated General Assembly gets ready to go back to work, I think that it is important to consider a few quick issues. As the new Republican House majority and the Republican Senate super-majority begin to introduce bills, I think that there are two questions that should be asked before the bill is even introduced, let alone scheduled for committee hearings and eventually a vote:

  1. How many jobs will the bill create in Indiana?
  2. How will the bill impact Indiana’s fiscal condition?

So, for example, how many jobs will be created by a an amendment to Indiana’s Constitution to ban same-sex marriage? How many jobs will be created by laws that make it harder for a woman to get an abortion? Will a constitutional ban on gay marriage reduce Indiana’s budget shortfall? Will greater restrictions on abortion solve the problem with funding Indiana’s unemployment compensation?

And what will it cost the state to enact controversial legislation sure to be challenged in court? Our current Treasurer has spent millions trying to stop the Chrysler bankruptcy (which would have resulted in little, if any, monetary gain for the State and likely resulted in the loss of even more jobs) and our Attorney General has spent an unknown sum to join in a challenge to healthcare reform.

Yes, Republicans won big last week. But was that victory a sign that Hoosiers want Republicans to pass legislation that advances their social agenda or was that victory all about jobs and the economy? Were Republicans elected because they were pro-life or against same-sex marriage, or were they elected because voters thought that they could fix the economy, or maybe even, because voters were angry at Democrats (for doing terrible things like trying to save the country from another Great Depression, keeping jobs in the auto industry, regulating banks to stop another financial meltdown, and trying to solve the health insurance crisis)?

As the General Assembly begins work it will quickly become apparent that the real issues facing Indiana are not going to be resolved simply and quickly or with platitudes or budget trickery. And when the hard questions — especially hard political questions — become too hard, then we need to worry about the easy fallback to controversial social issues that give the impression that legislators are doing something when, in reality, all that they’re really doing is avoiding the tough stuff, the stuff that they were actually elected to attend to.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Request

OK. So Republicans won big last night. Well, I have one request of those who are pleased with last night’s results: Over the next two years, please treat the Republican majorities the same way that Democrats were treated over the last two years. In other words, require the Republicans to be “bipartisan” in the same way that you wanted Democrats to be bipartisan (which I think meant, “roll over, play dead, and do what the minority wants”); require them to “listen to you” in the same way that you wanted Democrats to do so (I think that means screaming at them at town halls when the don’t do exactly what you want); demand that they represent you and not special interests as you demanded of Democrats; print posters calling for John Boehner or Rand Paul to be lynched or comparing them to Hitler (or should that be Marx or Che? I get confused…); be sure that you “properly” refer to pro-business Republicans as fascists (or some other overly hyperbolic term) as you referred to Democrats as socialists or Marxists; and most importantly, be sure to disbelieve any “facts” that you may hear from Republicans as you disbelieved the facts that you heard from Democrats.

In places like Indiana, where Republicans now control both the executive and legislative branch (with a super-majority in the Senate), please be sure to refer to any legislation that is passed as being “crammed down your throat”.

And most importantly, please start screaming that you want your country back as it is handed over, piece by piece, to corporations and other special interests.

Thank you.*

In all seriousness, all of our elected leaders must be held to high standards and the name-calling, screaming, and fear-mongering must stop. But, in equal seriousness, we need to be sure that we don’t apply a double standard of what we expect from our politicians and leaders. If you held Democrats accountable, but sure to hold Republicans accountable, too.

I don’t actually advocate any of this kind of nonsense. For those who are sarcasm-challenged, this post was intended to be read in a sarcastic tone and was not meant as an endorsement of any of the tactics employed by the right over the last two years. I continue to support civility in politics, even if civility appears to have been dealt a near fatal blow by the rise of the tea party and the near-deification of Limbaugh, Beck, and Hannity.

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Some Signs from the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

While we were in Washington, we were able to go to the Stewart and Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Unfortunately, because we had our kids with us, we weren’t able to spend much time at the rally (we hung around and watched the crowd between visits to museums and monuments). However, as we walked around the rally and the Mall, I was able to take some photos of signs. I know that there are lots of other collections of sign photos available online; this is my contribution. Oh, and as you look at these signs (and there were lots more that I wasn’t able to photograph), just think how you’d explain each of them to a very inquisitive 11-year-old girl…

Rally for Sanity 001 Rally for Sanity 002

He even had the German accent to prove it!

Rally for Sanity 003

Rally for Sanity 004

I really wanted to buy one of these HATE hats (as everyone was calling them). Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get close enough to the vendor stands to buy a hat or any of the cool t-shirts that were for sale.

Rally for Sanity 005

Rally for Sanity 006

Rally for Sanity 007

My son loved this sign.

Rally for Sanity 008

Rally for Sanity 009

Rally for Sanity 010

Rally for Sanity 012 Rally for Sanity 013My son would have loved the Admiral Akbar sign, but he was too busy playing with the balloon animal a magician had just given him.

Rally for Sanity 014

Rally for Sanity 015

Rally for Sanity 016

Rally for Sanity 017

The best part of the rally was the completely upbeat atmosphere. Most people were walking around with big smiles on their faces and striking up friendly conversations. Even my kids could feel the positive energy of the crowd.

And, for the record, I did not see a single sign that I would classify as aggressive or hateful (other than, perhaps, some which were clearly tongue-in-cheek).

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When Politicians Are Forced to Answer Yes/No Questions: A Candidate Responds

On October 8, 2010, in a post entitled “When Politicians Are Forced to Answer Yes/No Questions”, I posted a series of videos from the yes/no “lightning round” of a forum for candidates for the Indiana General Assembly. The second video showed candidates responding to the question: “Would you require a woman who is raped to carry the fetus to term?”


(For the other videos and information about the candidates, please see the original post.)

Anyway, last night, one of those candidates, Clint Fultz (fifth from the left), the Republican challenger for Indiana House District 94, left a comment in which he endeavored to explain his answer:

I am Clint Fultz candidate for Indiana House 94. The lightning round left no time for full thought. As to the abortion question, I said yes. Let me differentiate. If there IS proof of rape I would allow the termination of the pregnancy within the first 8 weeks. If all that we have is a claim of rape and no proof, then I would require carriage to term. [link to Mr. Fultz’s campaign website omitted]

Rather than simply respond to Mr. Fultz in another comment to the original post, I thought that it was worth highlighting his comment and explanation and posting my response.

First, I’m sorry that Mr. Fultz thought that the lightning did not leave time for “full thought”. However, it appears to me that the purpose of the lightning round was to elicit yes or no responses, without opportunity for political doublespeak or talking points, and with questions that seemed framed to get to the heart of where candidates stand on certain fundamental, core principles. In that, I think that the lightning round was a complete success.

With regard to the “abortion question”, I suspect that I’m safe to conclude that Mr. Fultz has never been raped, let alone impregnated by his assailant and thus, like me, he cannot possibly comprehend what it must be like for a woman to be raped. Yet he has no problem essentially ignoring the incredible trauma of the rape, not to mention the life-altering consequences of carrying a fetus to term, in order to impose his particular viewpoint upon the victim of the crime.

I note that the “differentiation” that Mr. Fultz seeks to draw depends upon “PROOF” (his emphasis) of the rape; he goes on to say, quite specifically, that a claim, without proof, would be insufficient for the victim to choose to have an abortion. How, precisely, is the woman, within those first eight weeks, supposed to come up with the proof and to whom does she have to prove it? Does Mr. Fultz suggest creating “abortion panels” before whom a raped woman must appear? What “proof” would there be of a woman who submitted to the rape of an attacker because he held a gun to her head? I wonder if Mr. Fultz has any idea that only about 16% of rapes are even reported to police, often because of the identity of the attacker or because of the trauma of the crime. And note further his word choice: Mr. Fultz “would allow” the termination of the pregnancy. How kind of him to “allow” the woman to make that choice.

One other thing worth noting: As I’ve discussed here before (see, e.g., “Keep Your Religious Doctrine Out of My State's Laws”), different faiths have different understandings of when life beings. Mr. Fultz may oppose abortion in part upon his belief that life begins at conception and on that basis he and his spouse could choose not to have an abortion. However, the Jewish viewpoint (and it is worth remembering that the candidate forum was sponsored by the Indiana Jewish Community Relations Council) is that a fetus is not a person. According to the Talmud, the fetus is deemed to be a component of the pregnant woman's body, no different from her thigh. According to Indianapolis Rabbi Dennis Sasso (from his 2006 testimony to the Indiana House of Representatives):

Writing into state law what is essentially the doctrinal view of a particular segment of the faith community would impair the freedom of religion of Hoosier citizens whose religious traditions and ethical stances call them to a different understanding of when does human personhood begin. It is regrettable use of political and religious ideology to trump science, threaten pluralism, assault tolerance and encroach on the privacy of citizens.

The issue is not "When does life begin?" Life exists even before conception. The sperm is life. The ovum is life. Every cell and organism is a living entity. Adherents of the Eastern faith, Jainism, gently sweep the path in front of them as they walk in order to avoid stepping on living creatures.

The issue is not "when does life begin", but when is human personhood, that intangible moral and legal category upon which hinge so many privileges and responsibilities of identity and citizenship, established. And on this issue, science offers no answers and theologians and ethicists have and will continue to differ.

While some people of faith may choose to affirm that human personhood begins at conception, at the moment when the ovum and sperm meet, Judaism affirms that personhood begins at birth. In a contest between the fetus and the mother, the Jewish moral tradition will not only permit, but require, that preference be given to the mother.

Until birth, while the fetus is certainly to be cherished and protected, it is not considered an independent legal entity. Judaism honors and protects the fetus. Ours is a tradition that celebrates parenthood and family, but in a contest between the embryo or the fetus and the mother, Judaism preeminently protects the rights of the mother as a viable human person. Both her physiological and psychological needs are to be given preferential status over the rights of the developing fetus.

So perhaps Mr. Fultz can explain to me how, if elected, he would be qualified to tell a woman, especially a woman with a different understanding of core concepts of life and conception, whether her “proof” of a rape is sufficient to allow her to seek an abortion. And perhaps Mr. Fultz can explain, with specificity, all of the tools that he thinks that the State of Indiana should offer that woman to ease the trauma of the rape, care for her during her pregnancy (would he support the use of state funds to pay for prenatal care?), compensate the woman for the enormous changes in her life that being a mother (even if the child is placed for adoption) will entail, and, most importantly, perhaps, the extent to which the State should be responsible for the care of the child that is the product of the violent crime.

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