Groupthink 101

Ken AshfordBush & Co., Science & TechnologyLeave a Comment

Okay. You’re President. You have some big decisions to make, and you want the best information possible. So you gather up all the information, hear all sides of the arguments, get all the viewpoints and perspectives, and then . . . you make your decision. Right?

Not if you’re GWB . . .

President Bush yesterday dismissed two members of his handpicked Council on Bioethics — a scientist and a moral philosopher who had been among the more outspoken advocates for research on human embryo cells.

In their places he appointed three new members, including a doctor who has called for more religion in public life, a political scientist who has spoken out precisely against the research that the dismissed members supported, and another who has written about the immorality of abortion and the "threats of biotechnology."

* * *

Bush created the council by executive order in 2001 to "advise the President on bioethical issues that may emerge as a consequence of advances in biomedical science and technology." He recently renewed its commission for another two years.

I mean, what’s the point of forming an advisory panel if you are only going to fill it with people who will just conform to your pre-determined outcome? (And yes, I do see the similarities between this and the run-up to the Iraqi War). Read more about this story here. Read a previous post regarding GWB misuse of science here.

Gary Bauer Prefers Unbridled (get it?) Gay Promiscuity

Ken AshfordConstitution, Sex/Morality/Family ValuesLeave a Comment

Gary Bauer, in explaining his opposition to gay marriages, gives this as one of the reasons why states should ban it:

More importantly, however, the government has an obligation to promote public policy that is best for the general welfare and to discriminate against behaviors that adversely impact society and public health. Tobacco use is heavily regulated by the state and smoking is strongly discouraged. A major study conducted by Oxford University demonstrated that homosexual conduct is three times more deadly than smoking. Homosexual behavior is fraught with adverse health affects. Again, this is not opinion, but documented medical fact.

Now, I don’t know what study he is referring to, but presumably, Gary is talking about sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDs — which (I guess) is far worse in the gay community than in the straight one.

Gee, if what you say is true, Gary, one would think that states should be encouraging marriage and monogamy among gays.

Maybe They Should Drop 3,000 Balloons, Too?

Ken AshfordElection 2004Leave a Comment

The Hill reports on the GOP plans for their national convention in NYC. Among the many gaudy ideas (e.g., rotating stages that come up from underground) is this sickening one —

"Or, and this is a real possibility, we could see President Bush giving his acceptance speech at Ground Zero," he added. "It’s clearly a venue they’re considering."

Via Calpundit

NOTE: The "he" is a "GOP insider", so take that for what you will.

Now, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the GOP convention is going to try to tug at America’s heartstrings (and fear-strings) by referencing the events of 9/11 and playing them to the hilt. But this exploitation of 9/11 for political purposes is beyond the pale. It is disgusting and should be universally condemned.

Would You Care to Elaborate, Mr. President?

Ken AshfordBush & Co., CrimeLeave a Comment

Last month, President Bush spoke with Argentine President Nestor Kirchner at a summit meeting in Monterrey, Mexico. Kirchner told Bush that all but one of the Argentine delegates to the summit meeting were imprisoned during the military dictatorship.

Bush responded, "I was a prisoner too, but for bad reasons."

Aside from being a dumb thing to say (was Bush implying that his Argentine visitors had been imprisoned for good reasons?), I just wanted to know what Bush was referring to. My Spanish is rusty-to-nonexistent — was Bush referring to his drunk driving ("en estado de ebriedad"?).

In any event, I can’t believe we let this guy talk to foreign leaders.

Thought Experiment

Ken AshfordConstitution, Sex/Morality/Family ValuesLeave a Comment

On a particular listserv I follow, the following wonderful questions were posed:

(1) Is it fair to say that all single adults have a fundamental right to marry?
(2) If so, do biologically transgendered folks (those that have mixed genders — not those that opt to surgically or hormonally change their gender) have a right to marry?
(3) If so, which gender can they marry under a legal regime allowing marriage only between persons of opposite genders?
(4) Would they be legally required to choose a gender and undergo (if medically possible) surgery or hormonal therapy to change their gender in order to marry?

Because the listserv is "private", I will not identify the author — I will say only that he is president of an international human rights organization. His concern — obviously — is not about the right of "transgendered folks" to marry, nor is he attempting to make an analogy. But I think the answers to his questions help frame the debate on the FMA, and might cause some to reconsider what "marriage" supposedly is, and how we as a society define it.

The New Culture War

Ken AshfordGodstuff, Random MusingsLeave a Comment

Let’s take stock, shall we?

Uproar about breasts on TV, films which are (arguably) anti-Semitic, Howard Stern being fired because his boss has a new "decency" policy, and debate about whether or not straight people should have to sit still while gays sanctify their lifelong devotion to one another.

Not too long ago, I made a comment to the effect that the religious right is marginalized. I’m beginning to wonder if I was being too optimistic. We ARE suddenly in some sort of weird culture war, and I’m still confused as to how we got here. Is this a blip on the screen, or will this continue to mushroom?

Supremes Get It Right

Ken AshfordConstitution, Godstuff, Supreme CourtLeave a Comment

Court rejects tax-funded religious scholarships

The Supreme Court, in a new rendering on separation of church and state, voted Wednesday to let states withhold scholarships from students studying theology. The court’s 7-2 ruling held that the state of Washington was within its rights to deny a taxpayer-funded scholarship to a college student who was studying to be a minister. That holding applies even when money is available to students studying anything else.

Even Rehnquist saw the folly in this little merge of church and state.

Privileges and Benefits of Marriage

Ken AshfordConstitution, Sex/Morality/Family ValuesLeave a Comment

It has been suggested by some that what gays want is the "psychic benefit of being able to say they are married." How wrong.

Here is a short list of benefits and privileges that come with marriage, from the government and from businesses. [Note that if gay marriages are legally recognized, businesses will not be able to discriminate against them as well]:

  • Receiving Social Security, Medicare, and disability benefits for spouses.
  • Receiving veterans’ and military benefits for spouses, such as those for education, medical care, or special loans.
  • Receiving public assistance benefits.
  • Obtaining insurance benefits through a spouse’s employer.
  • Taking family leave to care for your spouse during an illness.
  • Receiving wages, workers’ compensation, and retirement plan benefits for a deceased spouse.
  • Taking bereavement leave if your spouse or one of your spouse’s close relatives dies.
  • Visiting your spouse in a hospital intensive care unit or during restricted visiting hours in other parts of a medical facility.
  • Making medical decisions for your spouse if he or she becomes incapacitated and unable to express wishes for treatment.
  • Suing a third person for wrongful death of your spouse and loss of consortium (loss of intimacy).
  • Receiving crime victims’ recovery benefits if your spouse is the victim of a crime.
  • Obtaining domestic violence protection orders.
  • Obtaining immigration and residency benefits for noncitizen spouse.
  • Visiting rights in jails and other places where visitors are restricted to immediate family.
  • Suing a third person for offenses that interfere with the success of your marriage, such as alienation of affection and criminal conversation (these laws are available in only a few states).
  • Claiming the marital communications privilege, which means a court can’t force you to disclose the contents of confidential communications between you and your spouse during your marriage.
  • Inheriting a share of your spouse’s estate.
  • Receiving an exemption from both estate taxes and gift taxes for all property you give or leave to your spouse.
  • Creating life estate trusts that are restricted to married couples, including QTIP trusts, QDOT trusts, and marital deduction trusts.
  • Obtaining priority if a conservator needs to be appointed for your spouse — that is, someone to make financial and/or medical decisions on your spouse’s behalf.
  • Receiving equitable division of property if you divorce.
  • Receiving spousal or child support, child custody, and visitation if you divorce.
  • Living in neighborhoods zoned for "families only."
  • Automatically renewing leases signed by your spouse.
  • Receiving family rates for health, homeowners’, auto, and other types of insurance.
  • Receiving tuition discounts and permission to use school facilities.
  • Other consumer discounts and incentives offered only to married couples or families.
  • Consenting to after-death examinations and procedures.
  • Making burial or other final arrangements.
  • Filing for stepparent or joint adoption.
  • Applying for joint foster care rights.

Hat tip to Atrios — who also provides a link to 1999 GAO report listing 1,049 benefits and privileges of marriage.

President Confused

Ken AshfordConstitution, Sex/Morality/Family ValuesLeave a Comment

As reported here and elsewhere, Bush is finally going to announce his support for the Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

McClellan, briefing reporters at the White House, said the president wants to end "growing confusion" that has arisen from court decisions in Massachusetts, and San Francisco’s permitting more than 3,000 same sex unions. "The president believes it is important to have clarity," McClellan said.

What’s the "confusion"? Who has it? It seems quite simple to me — some states are (apparently) allowing gay marriage; others are not. Just like some states allow 16 year olds to get married and others do not. This is nothing to get brain-addled about.

So let’s not pretend it’s about "clarity". It’s about Bush’s conservative social agenda — another plank in the politics of divisiveness.

Update: Now I’M confused. Having read the President’s remarks on this issue, I am struck by his repeated use of the word "protect". As in "Our government should respect every person, and protect the institution of marriage". [NOTE: he obviously means "respect every straight person . . ."]

By my count, he used the word "protect" seven times. Which leads me to ask . . . protect the institution of marriage from what? Is this another conjured-up "gathering threat"? Are we (again) chasing non-existent ghouls — only, this time, on the domestic social front?

Oscar 2004 Public Service

Ken AshfordPopular CultureLeave a Comment

Some people care — others don’t care at all — and still others care only to the extent that they might win the office pool. It is to this third group that I offer these predictions. I’ve won my office pool 3 out of the last 5 years, tied for second once, and a disturbing 6th in 2000 (roughly 25-30 participate each year).

These are not MY personal picks — these are the picks that I think "the Academy" will favor. My confidence level (on a scale of 1 [least] to 10 [most]) is also included:

Best Picture: LOTR – The Return of the King — 8
Best Actor: Sean Penn, Mystic River — 6 (watch out for Bill Murray, especially if Robbins wins Best Supporting Actor!)
Best Actress: Charlize Theron, Monster — 8
Best Supporting Actor: Tim Robbins, Mystic River — 6
Best Supporting Actress: Renee Zellweger, Cold Mountain — 7
Best Director: Peter Jackson, LOTR – The Return of the King — 9
Best Animated Feature: Finding Nemo — 9
Best Original Song: "Into the West", LOTR – The Return of the King (Fran Walsh, Howard Shore, Annie Lennox) — 6
Best Foreign Film: The Twilight Samurai (Japan) — 6 (this is not the Tom Cruise film!)
Best Documentary Feature: The Fog of War — 5 (could be Capturing the Friedmans)
Best Documentary (Short Subject): Asylum — 6
Best Animated Short: Boundin’ — 2 (this is a 95% pure guess)
Best Live Action Short: Two Soldiers — 8
Best Screenplay (Original): Sofia Cappola, Lost in Translation — 8
Best Screenplay (Adaptation): Robert Pulcini, Shari Springer Berman, American Splendor — 6
Best Cinematography: Master & Commander: Far Side of the World — 6
Best Film Editing: Seabiscuit — 5
Best Art Direction: Master & Commander: Far Side of the World — 5
Best Visual Effects: LOTR – The Return of the King — 8
Best Costume: The Last Sumurai — 4 (this is the Tom Cruise film)
Best Makeup: LOTR – The Return of the King — 8
Best Original Score: Danny Elfman, Big Fish — 5
Best Sound Mixing: LOTR – The Return of the King — 7
Best Sound Editing: Master & Commander: Far Side of the World — 4

R.I.P. Moral Majority?

Ken AshfordRepublicansLeave a Comment

Daily Kos blogger DHinMI has interesting thoughts on social conservatism in America.

Just look at the record. Since the early 1990’s the Supreme Court has upheld both Roe v Wade and the use of affirmative action in college admissions, and it struck down state sodomy laws. More children attend day care than ever. More women work out of the home than ever, and most of them prefer to work out of the home even if it’s not necessary for maintaining their standard of living. "Will and Grace" is mainstream, and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" is on network television. The social conservatives’ crusade against the teaching of evolution has had little success [NOTE: Georgia decided to keep using the word "evolution" in its curriculum – CKB]. And, like Kos, knowing that gay and lesbian couples are running down to the San Francisco City Hall to get married hasn’t filled me or presumably anyone else with an unquenchable desire to run down to the local courthouse and file for divorce.

He’s right. In fact, I wonder how alive the social conservative movement ever really was. I live in rural North Carolina — a place lousy with conservative Republicans — and even here, the number of Gary Bauer-like social conservatives I meet are few in number. I see more of them on television panel shows than I do in everyday life. They get a lot of media attention — witness the brou-ha-ha over Judge Moore’s Ten Commandments — but they’re nothing more than a very loud minority. The GOP is right to largely ignore this faction.

Nader to Reveal Decision Sunday on NBC

Ken AshfordElection 2004Leave a Comment

Oh, Lord. Just what Bush (and maybe more than a few Deaniacs?) is praying for.

Ralph Nader will announce Sunday whether he will make another run for the White House, but all signs indicate the consumer advocate plans to jump into the race as an independent.

Read about it here.

Greg Crist Embarrassment Watch

Ken AshfordRepublicansLeave a Comment

Yeah, I didn’t know who he is either. It turns out he’s the spokesmen for the House Republican Conference. Here’s what he’s quoted as saying recently:

"Democrats are practicing a questionable form of politics in attacking something that is law."

Boneheaded or what? Gee, I guess that means Republicans can’t attack abortion, or re-define the legal definition of marriage for everybody, or speak out against a number of other things.

The Eggheads Speak . . .

Ken AshfordBush & Co., Science & TechnologyLeave a Comment

In my view, this is pretty bad.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has released a report entitled: "Scientific Integrity in Policymaking: An Investigation Into The Bush Administration’s Misuse of Science".

The report concludes:

1. There is a well-established pattern of suppression and distortion of scientific findings by high-ranking Bush administration political appointees across numerous federal agencies. These actions have consequences for human health, public safety, and community well-being.

2. There is strong documentation of a wide-ranging effort to manipulate the government’s scientific advisory system to prevent the appearance of advice that might run counter to the administration’s political agenda.

3. There is evidence that the administration often imposes restrictions on what governments scientists can say or write about "sensitive" topics.

4. There is significant evidence that the scope and scale of the manipulation, suppression and manipulation of science by the Bush administration is unprecedented.

Pretty serious charges. It’s backed up with examples, and signed on to by 19 National Medal of Science signatories, 20 Nobel Laureates, and 3 Crafoord Prize winners. Read the full report here.