RantList Archive

Wednesday, August 29, 2001

It's little things like this

Here's a minor news story from www.cnsnews.com:

Arizona students are supposed to recite the preamble to the Declaration of Independence when they return to school this fall - that is, unless their parents object. Under a rule approved by the state Board of Education in Many, public school students in the fourth, fifth and sixth grades are supposed to begin the day with this excerpt: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." Objections, if there are any, are expected to stem from the phrase, "by their creator."

Don't get me wrong - offering parents a chance to opt out of any mandatory recitation of a religious phrase seems fair. My objection is with their interpretation of this phrase, one of my favorite phrases in American history, as being religious at all.

Jefferson was a complex and brilliant man, and as any student of poetry can tell you, there is no such thing as a synonym. Jefferson chose each of these words with great care.

Every person, atheist or not, has certain rights that they get just for being there, for being human. You can no more take these rights from a person than you can take their very humanness from them. Furthermore, each of us has a creator - nature, god, fate, what have you. Whatever created us, whatever made us human, gave us these rights as it gave us our humanness. (The take-home point here, once which I have had to point out more often than I care to admit, is that rights are NOT granted by governments. Rights are limits on government power, not favors that governments grant us).

Jefferson might have easily invoked God directly here, as he did elsewhere, but I believe he explicitly went out of his way to lay this foundation of modern liberty on secular ground. Our rights are not granted by god, but by our creator - that is a beautiful, thoughtful, brilliant use of words to nail a key point exactly as it should be described. People of all religions, and people of no religion, are equally welcome here. Almost all of the founders were careful not to let America slip into the sort of vague theocracy they had left behind in Europe.

In short, I object here because the educators, as usual, are missing the goddamn point. They should not offer an exemption because none is warranted. The founding text of American democracy is not a religious passage, and if they teach it that way they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Monday, August 27, 2001

OK, somebody explain this to me...

Here's a sampling of headlines from various news outlets this evening:
Congress predicts $9 billion taken from Social Security
Government may need to tap Social Security funds for other operations, analysts report
CBO Report: Budget Will Tap Into Social Security
Report Says Lower Surplus Will Affect Social Security

OK, we're all grownups here... somebody explain this to me: How come when a Democratic president gets into some deficit spending the money just comes out of the national debt, but when a Republican does it the money is suddenly drawn directly from our Social Security accounts? Eight years ago deficit spending was an 'investment', but now it steals food straight from the mouths of widows and orphans.

It's incredible to me that people can just make this shit up out of thin air and 200 million people seem to accept it without a second thought.

Friday, August 10, 2001

Why I like Andrew Sullivan

Check out the quote below, from his excellent piece on the futility of the Irish peace process. These words ring just as true in the Middle East:

This [unending cycle of failure] is not some paradox or irony. It is a demonstration of the obvious: You cannot negotiate peace with people whose power is entirely dependent on the will to wage war. This is anathema to many Americans steeped in the banality that peace talks are always better than no talks, that ancient conflicts can always be solved by the right facilitator. [...] Why should a group that has gained everything it has through violence and murder, and whose raison d'Ítre is implacable hostility to any British presence, ever decide that politics is a useful alternative? It's like asking turkeys to vote for Thanksgiving. They can't. They won't. And real peace won't break out until they do.

W Does Good

Call him an idiot if you want - lord knows that even I wince every time I hear him speak - but Bush made a good call last night. After lots of kindly words to research opponents, he opened up federal funding for embryonic stem cell research with almost no limitations.

Even the heart of his compromise - that only exisiting cell lines may be used - is not such a big deal. Unless you are willing to believe that scientists will be using these same cell lines until the end of time, there will obviously be some provision for intoducing new lines in the future.

The most remarkable outcome is that, despite some minor grumbling, everybody seems to be OK with this. Keeping in mind that Bubba's last call on this issue was to put the Federal ban in place to begin with, I think he did all right.

Thursday, August 09, 2001

W - Hero Or Goat?

In about 7 hours we will hear President Bush's decision on Federal funding for embrionic stem cell research. Will he say the right thing and earn credit for a good call, or will he fuck it up and validate our worst fears? I think it's only fair to lay out the goalposts in advance, so that we judge him objectively, either way.

In my ever-humble opinion, he wins big if he hits each of the points below:

1) Bottom line, after all the rhetoric and symbolic crap has died down, is that we have our funding for embrionic stem cell research.

2) If he wants congress to actually fund this thing he has to compromise with research opponents, because if he is too heavy-handed the backlash can set us back twenty years. Compromises that are OK include promises to review the policy later, promises to oversee details of how the tissues are derived and how they are disposed of, promises to only allow research in fields with direct medical application. Any other related pro-life stuff that dosen't actually make it harder for Americans to get abortions - like limiting overseas funding for family planning programs - is also OK, because this was probably going to happen anyway. Plus, he can offer lots of talk about values and humanity and god and whatever else might help.

3) The sorts of compromises he loses points for include anything that imposes real, practical limits on the advance of medical research, or anything that pisses congress off to the point where they scuttle the whole thing, or anything that has a practial impact on abortion access in the US. He also loses points for setting up some sort of new Federal review board, if this board actually has the power to do things that the feds aren't already doing anyway.

These seems to be reasonable things to hope for. Let's see how he does...


Wednesday, August 08, 2001

Hillary - Gotta Love Her

From http://www.nypost.com/news/nationalnews/36997.htm

Hillary Rodham Clinton wanted a convicted cocaine dealer sprung from prison, and it was "very important" to her, the former first lady's brother told the White House, according to a bombshell memo obtained by The Post. The handwritten note, on White House stationery, appears to contradict Clinton's repeated claims that she knew nothing about brother Hugh Rodham's pardon-for-pay work to get her husband to free drug trafficker Carlos Vignali.

"Hugh says this is very important to him and the first lady as well as others," says the note, which investigators said is from a file on the Vignali matter kept by Bruce Lindsey, who was former President Bill Clinton's closest White House aide.

Bill Clinton freed Vignali on Jan. 20, over angry objections from the U.S. attorney's office, after Vignali had served only six years of a 15-year prison term for conspiring to sell more than 800 pounds of coke.

The note, from last December or January, is in the National Archives files for the Clinton White House and bears the stamp "Clinton library photocopy."


Rodham was living with the Clintons on the third floor of the White House when Bill Clinton issued his controversial slew of 11th-hour pardons and sentence commutations, including Vignali's.

Sen. Clinton insisted at a news conference last February: "I did not know my brother was involved in any way in any of this."

Her spokeswoman, Karen Dunn, last night, said only: "We have nothing to add to what's already been said."

OK, a show of hands? Anybody believe her?

Monday, August 06, 2001

Interesting Little Point

In an otherwise rather tedious artical, Ronald Bailey offers an interesting point; if you are the sort of person who believes that an embrio in a petri dish should be reguarded as a human being, what about an ordinary skin cell? Roughly speaking, the same technology can now make a baby out of either of them.

This leads to a number of interesting questions, most of them pointless, but it does nicely illustrate the Alice-In-Wonderland quality of tring to negotiate 21st century technology with 18th century ethics.



Original Content Copyright 2001 Mike Spenis