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July 10th, 2010

02:04 pm
This Ethicist column...gah.

I am a straight woman, and I was set up on a date with a man. We got along well initially, but I grew concerned about how evasive he was about his past. I did some sophisticated checking online — I do research professionally — and discovered that he is a female-to-male transgendered individual. I then ended our relationship. He and I live in Orthodox Jewish communities. (I believe he converted shortly after he became a man.) I think he continues to date women within our group. Should I urge our rabbi to out this person? NAME WITHHELD, N.Y.

...As things stand, you have every right to talk this over with friends. We are entitled to discuss the most intimate aspects of our own lives — or what are friends for? But you may not distribute handbills around the neighborhood or ask your rabbi to announce this from the pulpit...

I think what troubles me most is the utter lack of empathy that the letterwriter displays. When she completed her high tech sleuthing, did she confront her date? Did she consider that maybe he hadn't disclosed this information for fear of rejection? There are all kinds of things that people struggle to tell a new or potential partner--the When do I tell? How do I tell? questions are not easy. It's not clear from the letter how long the couple had been dating, but maybe the man in question didn't feel like things had progressed far enough to bring it up? Maybe dating women post-transition is totally new for him and he hasn't figured how to handle disclosing this information yet. I agree that this is information that the letterwriter would eventually be entitled to, but the solution to this lack of disclosure is not shunning the person and then encouraging your entire community to shun him too.

As far as Randy Cohen's response, I am not convinced that having a conversation with your friends along the lines of "Yeah, he was being evasive about some things, so I did some intensive internet research and found out that he's trans! Can you believe that!" is really a good idea. First, there's no indication that she confirmed this information with the man, and second outing someone as trans is a big deal, particularly given the risks of ostracism and personal violence that trans people face.

Empathy, people, empathy.

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November 20th, 2009

08:37 am - Citation, please
A coalition of conservative, evangelical religious leaders is apparently concerned that young evangelicals care about things like (gasp!) global poverty and climate change. The group, which includes 145 religious leaders would like you to know that "abortion, homosexuality and religious freedom* are still paramount issues." They have published a document, the "Manhattan Declaration: A Call of Christian Conscience."

"...there is a hierarchy of issues,” said Charles Colson, a prominent evangelical who founded Prison Fellowship after serving time in prison for his role in the Watergate scandal. “...We’re hoping to educate them that these are the three most important issues.”

Why, pray tell, are these the three most important issues? Is there some sort of scriptural basis for this? (I can't find a citation for Jesus saying anything like that, but if anyone else knows of one, feel free to note it in comments.)

I have always been very puzzled by the hierarchy of sin or what have you that people pretend exists. As near as I can tell, the key Christian messages are "Do unto others" and "Love thy neighbor." There's no list that says same sex marriage>murder>not keeping the sabbath>not honoring your parents>coveting or whatever. And yet, as Colson notes, there are people who believe that a hierarchy of sin (or social issues) is real and that Christians should be pouring their energy into making sure that two adults who love and care about each other should be denied rights, rather than worrying about people who don't have enough to eat or access to clean water. I guess maybe they do teach logic in schools these days...

*In this context, religious freedom generally means the ability to continue to treat non-heterosexual individuals as second class citizens.

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November 19th, 2009

01:35 pm - On Trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the United States
AG Eric Holder has decided that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will be tried in the United States. Holder has all but guaranteed KSM's conviction. (I have no idea what evidence the government has that was obtained prior to KSM's arrest and imprisonment in Guantanamo, but if it's so great, why did we hold him for 8 years and repeatedly torture him to get "evidence"? Just asking.)

Anyway, David Feige has outlined what he thinks will happen at KSM's trial.

...KSM's lawyers will make all the arguments there are to make: They'll allege a violation of KSM's right to a speedy trial, claiming that the years he spent in CIA detention and Gitmo violated this constitutional right. They'll seek suppression of KSM's statements, arguing (persuasively) that the torture he endured—sleep deprivation, noise, cold, physical abuse, and, of course, 183 water-boarding sessions—make his statements involuntary. They will insist that everything stemming from those statements must be suppressed, under the Fourth Amendment, as the fruit of the wildly poisonous tree. They will demand the names of operatives and interrogators, using KSM's right to confront the witnesses against him to box the government into revealing things it would prefer to keep secret—the identities of confidential informants, the locations of secret safe houses, the names of other inmates and detainees who provided information about him, and a thousand other clever things that should make the government squirm. The defense will attack the CIA, FBI, and NSA, demanding information about wiretapping and signal intelligence and sources and methods. They'll move to dismiss the case because there is simply no venue in the United States in which KSM can get a fair trial.

I'm totally with him so far. However, Feige then goes on to argue that politics will intervene, the motions to suppress and dismiss will all be denied, information will be suppressed due to the state secrets argument, and the whole legal system for prosecuting terrorists in federal courts will be rendered a sham court and provide the government with a license to torture.

So, which, I suppose is possible. But runs counter to how the courts have treated the other associated arguments about the imprisonment and treatment of the Guantanamo detainees thus far. The lawyers for the Guantanamo detainees have been very successful at winning habeas petitions and it's not like the courts have been particularly receptive to the state secrets argument. And these rulings aren't confined to liberal judges--plenty of conservative judges have ruled against the DoJ. So, why would the rest of the judiciary just roll over when it comes to KSM's trial? Does Feige believe that the "Look, 9/11! Evil terrorists!" line is somehow going to be an effective argument now?

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October 27th, 2009

09:46 pm - Super Easy, Delicious Potatoes in about 5 minutes. Really.
Scrub up a couple of potatoes (yukon gold are good)
Poke with a knife or fork a few times
Microwave until tender (about 3 minutes on high for two small potatoes, about 3.5 ounces each, in my microwave)
Slice potatoes into quarter-inch pieces (take care not to burn fingers)

Heat a skillet over medium heat with a goodly amount of butter
Place the potatoes in the skillet and brown on both sides, about 1-2 minutes per side
Sprinkle with salt (preferably kosher) and eat!

Also very tasty with over easy eggs on top.

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August 8th, 2009

09:44 pm - movies
I went to see Julie and Julia tonight. (By myself. That's what happens when you don't plan ahead and your friends are all out of town or have plans and your husband has to work a 14 hour day on a Saturday. But anyway. I also baked peach pie. A productive Saturday.)

I was quite surprised by the movie.* The relationship between Paul and Julia Child (Stanley Tucci and Meryl Streep) is so unlike many that you see in movies. Paul and Julia are clearly middle-aged and totally in love with each other. They have that friendly banter and sexual rapport (gasp!) that couples who have been together forever have. It was so intriguing to see a romantic relationship in a movie that wasn't based around drama.

Romantic comedies often have the "boy-meets-girl, boy-and-girl-fall-in-love, some-random-misunderstanding-ruins-things ("I thought I knew you. Clearly I didn't."), boy-and-girl-are-brought-back-together-by-fate/annoying-plot-twists, boy-and-girl-live-happily-ever-after" plot. Alternatively, there's the miserable married couple--they have kids, are overworked, they fight, he complains about lack of sex, she complains to friends that he never helps around the house, etc., etc.

The initial scenes where the Childs have first moved to Paris are incredible, both for the acting and for the departure from the stereotypes noted above. I've never really been on the Meryl Streep bandwagon, but her rapport with Stanley Tucci is pretty awesome. Actually, Julie's relationship with her husband Eric also plays more or less against type, though he does go storming out at some point when Julie is more concerned with recipes than him. To see two married couples in a movie who are (generally) just happy together shouldn't be so strange, and yet it's so uncommon. I suppose that's understandable--conflict is good for the storyline--but there's this sense that the everyday is worth exploring too. There's a wonderful scene where Julia finds out that her sister is pregnant. (I suppose that in some ways that it's like Chekhov. Chekhov's stories don't have much "plot," per se.)

In any event, it's a fun film and Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci are fantastic. (I like Amy Adams a lot, but she doesn't have anywhere near the material to work with).

*Plus, there were two sort of inside jokes for me--quoting Douglas Adams on deadlines and the "I love you a bushel and a peck" song from Guys and Dolls.

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July 14th, 2009

09:38 am - Good news (for science nerds, at least)
The Obama administration is moving towards banning the use of antibiotics in healthy farm animals. The measure is unlikely to pass given the farm industry's opposition (even though Danish pig farmers have shown that you can significantly reduce the use of antibiotics at low cost.) Despite that, it's a welcome sign that Congressional hearings are being held and that the issue is being elevated. Improving farming practices is a win-win-win for humans, animals, and the environment.

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June 29th, 2009

09:14 pm - Supreme Court, give me a fucking break
Given today's ruling in Ricci I'm already a bit peeved with the (help, help, I'm being reverse discriminated against!) Supreme Court.

And then I read this. Apparently, there's one case left from the current term that the Supreme Court hasn't decided which involves campaign spending. Instead of ruling, the Supreme Court has asked for more briefs and a re-hearing in September (a month before the start of their next term. Seriously? They get 3 months off?) Anyway, they're basically inviting briefs that will tell them to invalidate current campaign finance restrictions that regulate corporate spending.

“The notion that the government has a legitimate interest in restricting the quantity of speech to equalize the relative influence of speakers on elections,” Justice Kennedy wrote in the passage cited by Justice Alito, is “antithetical to the First Amendment.”*

Seriously, what kind of a rock do Alito and Kennedy live under? It's like, "SURE! Let's unleash the lobbyists that currently manipulate Congress onto the general public!" Really, though, how can I, as a private citizen, have ANY hope of competing with the vast sums of money available to corporations? I mean, I guess my First Amendment rights don't really matter, either? If I don't have corporate donors to back me or slam my opponents, I'm just SOL. Clearly it would be my own fault too, especially since there's really no question about which party's candidates corporations are more likely to support.

Once again, the Roberts court seems poised to rule in favor of the powerful. Wouldn't want to mar the Chief Justice's record:
In every major case since he became the nation’s seventeenth Chief Justice, Roberts has sided with the prosecution over the defendant, the state over the condemned, the executive branch over the legislative, and the corporate defendant over the individual plaintiff.**

I guess Alito's "empathy" only extends to corporations (and white people!) who are being oppressed.

*That's Alito quoting Kennedy's dissenting opinion from Austin v Michigan Chamber of Commerce in Alito's majority opinion from Federal Elections Commission v. Davis . Austin is one of the controlling precedents in campaign finance restrictions, at least for now.
**I don't know Alito's record on these cases, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if they were nearly identical.

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June 28th, 2009

08:42 am - I am an aunt!!!
Welcome, Alison Claire!

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Also, love it that her dad's hand is bigger than her head. :)

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June 26th, 2009

11:10 am - Excuse me, Pastor Pagano?
The 23rd Psalm does not ACTUALLY read "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for I am the meanest motherf***er in the valley!"

Just in case you were confused.

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June 25th, 2009

09:55 am - more on Mark Sanford
So, John Dickinson at Slate has a weird article up entitled "Heartless: The disturbing glee at Mark Sanford's downfall." Despite his assertions that people are being heartless in their response to the Sanford debacle, Dickinson only quotes one unattributed email backing up this assertion. In addition, he links to 2 writers who are more sympathetic to Sanford. In any case, this is the letter I sent to Dickinson:

Dear Mr. Dickinson,

I was rather puzzled by your article titled "Heartless: The disturbing glee at Mark Sanford's downfall." In discussing what you describe as "the constant flow of abuse, joke-making, and grand conclusions about his failings," you fail to link to any instances of news articles, blog posts, or even Tweets, that substantiate this assertion. In fact, the only links you provide are to pieces by William Saletan and Andrew Sullivan who don't engage in the behavior you find so troubling. If this "disturbing glee" were so prevalent, why not more than one, presumably rhetorical, unattributed quote ("[I]s there any Republican not sleeping around?") ? Failing to cite examples significantly undermines your assertion.

In addition, you seem to imply that we should think of Mark Sanford as a victim. While I certainly acknowledge that we all fail to live up to our standards at certain time, what sort of executive leaves the country for a week without alerting anyone to his whereabouts (and
indeed, lying to his staff about them) or delegating official authority? In addition, a certain level of schadenfreude is likely inevitable when a politician who has campaigned on family values is so bizarrely tripped up by them.

In his public life, Mark Sanford is the governor of South Carolina, and, as such, is accountable to the people of South Carolina. While I am sympathetic to his missteps, the facts remain that he breached his duty to the people of South Carolina (by leaving the country, not by virtue of having an affair), and that his actions reveal him to be a hypocrite. That's not a statement of glee. It's a statement of fact.


Update: I just went to Salon. Their lead articles about Sanford?

The governor's strange nakedness
Mark Sanford was an emotional wreck at his press conference, but also something philandering politicians rarely are: Human
By Gary Kamiya

Don't say, "Keep it in your pants"
That response to Gov. Sanford's story is trite not because it's impossible, but because morality and marriage aren't that simple
By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Also, the NYT has two articles up (one and two), and I don't really see any "glee" in either of them either.

If Dickinson is basing is assertions on unnamed internet commenters, well, I have to say, he hasn't been around the internet long enough.

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