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She’s 50.

She’s never been married.

She has a boyish haircut.

And she plays softball.

Totally a lesbian!

At least, that’s the chatter about President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan. Usually when these nominations are announced, the pundits and reporters go directly to the candidate’s judicial record, lengthy opinion papers, and definitive statements on the law. But Elena Kagan has never served as a judge and seems to fit a stereotype for something controversial, so the murmuring began.

Gay blogger Andrew Sullivan got things going with his declaration that America deserves to know her sexuality:

It is no more of an empirical question than whether she is Jewish. We know she is Jewish, and it is a fact simply and rightly put in the public square. If she were to hide her Jewishness, it would seem rightly odd, bizarre, anachronistic, even arguably self-critical or self-loathing. … Since the issue of this tiny minority—and the right of the huge majority to determine its rights and equality—is a live issue for the court in the next generation, and since it would be bizarre to argue that a Justice’s sexual orientation will not in some way affect his or her judgment of the issue, it is only logical that this question should be clarified. (Full post here)

But it has been clarified, sort of. Kagan’s law school roommate Sarah Walzer went on record with Politico to say, “She dated men when we were in law school, we talked about men—who in our class was cute, who she would like to date, all of those things.” If that is not enough proof (and how could it ever not be?!), disgraced former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer (also a law school classmate) declared, “I did not go out with her, but other guys did.” When Spitzer is vouching for your sexuality, you know things have taken a weird turn.

Back in April, a CBS News online opinion column insisted that Obama could please his liberal base by picking the first openly gay justice (referring to Kagan). A White House spokesman then complained to CBS because the column “made false charges.” As you can imagine, the gay and lesbian community did not take too kindly to the rumors being referred to as “charges.” The columnist, Ben Domenech, later added an update to the post: “I have to correct my text here to say that Kagan is apparently still closeted—odd, because her female partner is rather well known in Harvard circles.”

So, who to believe? And what should major news outlets do with their dilemma—report on speculation and thereby give it credibility, or ignore the rumors and fail to acknowledge a big part of what people are discussing?

For the record, I have known plenty of heterosexual women who were on the softball team in high school and who play intramural softball today. Also, I would venture to say that most middle-aged women I know cut their hair short a long time ago for convenience and style.

Of course, the most appropriate question to ask in this discussion is whether it matters if she is gay. Supreme Court justices are supposed to just apply the law and interpret the Constitution, right? But everyone knows that no person is an island and that court cases, especially at the highest level, occasionally come down to what the justices believe is fair and right. And identity politics continue to play a large role in the confirmation debates, even if mostly in the public sphere. Some grumblings, for example: there are too many Catholics on the Court; why are there not more women?; Sotomayor was chosen because she’s Latina; and so on.

But what bothers me the most about this whole saga is that people assume that just because she is older and single, there is something wrong or very different about her. It’s the age-old discrepancy that a 50-year-old single man is a bachelor, while a 50-year-old single woman is a spinster. If Kagan is straight, then it’s very easy to imagine a scenario in which this highly intelligent and successful woman put her efforts into a career that has led her to become the Dean of Harvard Law School, Obama’s Solicitor General, and now the nominee for the Supreme Court rather than putting the efforts into being a wife and mother. Is it possible she could have done all of those things and still been married with kids? It’s possible, I guess. But we must also be honest with ourselves and admit that there are all too many men out there who don’t want to date, let alone marry, a woman smarter than them. Just as smart as? Sure. But smarter than? Maybe not.

So, if we question her sexuality and get an insistence that she is straight, then the conversation is obligated to then shift the discussion to sad, lonely women with failed romantic dreams. And is that really a relevant conversation? How does a dialogue that is supposed to center on the political leanings of a brilliant legal mind manage to find its way to Liz Lemon and Bridget Jones? It’s embarrassing, and I can only imagine the degree to which Kagan is embarrassed. I am 27 and unmarried, but that does not make me gay or pitiful. In fact, there are plenty of days where I would take Kagan’s decorated career over the life of a married mother, considering some of the men and children I have met!

How do you feel about all of this? After seeing her picture up to bat in a softball game, with short hair, and knowing she is unmarried, did you wonder if she is gay? Do you think a judge’s sexuality could affect his or her decisions? Do Americans have a right to know about what happens in a justice’s bedroom? If the nominee were a middle-aged single man, would we be having this discussion?

At this point, I’d like to share just a few of the user comments from a Washington Post article that discussed the topic (all sic’d). I find these … entertaining. (Comments page here)

brickerd wrote: People don’t think she’s a lesbian because she’s unmarried at 40 or 50 — they think she’s a lesbian because her clothes and hairstyle practically SHOUT it.

Jerusalimight wrote: A Supreme Court justice who never committed themselves to someone else, never made a marital relationship, never raised children… has no business judging anyone else who did! Being married is not safe, like Kagan’s hiding in the ivory tower of PC was safe. It is not easy, like her getting political appointments because she parlayed the right jargon, was easy.
Being married is hard. Committing to others is hard. A judge who has never dared to join life cannot judge others who have. Thumbs down!!

uh_huhh wrote: That’s what I say about the Pope and every Catholic cardinal, archbishop, bishop, and priest.

cr8oncsu wrote: Since when is sexuality not an issue in this country?

rgs_tnr wrote: Please. You may be willing to accept that lie (or maybe just that niave) but I’m not. That she’s willing to be closeted by the President for the nomination says a lot about her and a lot about him as well. If he nominated an open lesbian then I’d consider it a non-issue; that he nominated a person who is willing to lie to the entire country about who she is, and that he is equally as willing to lie to the entire country about who she is, and that most certainly is an issue. Never in my life – not once – have I lied when someone asked me if I’m gay. I wonder…if she stands before congress and someone asks this question, and she says she is straight…when it comes out (as it eventually will) that she is indeed a lesbian, could she be charged with perjury? Could he?

randysbailin wrote: Let’s cut right to the chase at the risk of offending some. Maybe she’s not married because (1) she’s obviously been focused on her career and/or (2) she’s simply not very attractive.

mikey999 wrote: I would have asked Elena Kagan out when I was at Harvard Law, but I thought she was gay. Oh well.

Okay readers, tell me what you think. All opinions and thoughts are welcome and encouraged. It makes me very happy when people comment, so feel free!

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I do not purport to watch Comedy Central’s “South Park,” a cartoon show that constantly pushes the envelope and which, frankly, I thought had gone off the air long ago. I remember immature young boys going crazy over it when I was in high school and me thinking it was a childish show even then. One of the recurring characters is a piece of fecal matter, for goodness sake.

But last week, Comedy Central and the show’s creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, found themselves embroiled in controversy—a position they are not unfamiliar with. The dividing point? Whether or not to depict the Prophet Muhammad.

There is no consensus in Islam about how forbidden visual depictions of Muhammad are, but it is clear that such action is very upsetting to at least some subset of Muslims. The Koran does not explicitly forbid images of Muhammad, but some supplements (called hadith) have overtly prohibited Muslims from creating visual representations of any figure. The point arose centuries ago when people worshipped idols, and prohibiting pictorial representations of the prophets helped discourage this practice. Even Christianity went through periods of iconoclasm (during the 8th and 9th centuries) where only the cross could be portrayed in churches.

The writers at “South Park” found some humor, or at least satire, in this whole idea that they would not be able to depict Muhammad. So in the April 14 episode, the show’s characters agonize about how to bring the prophet to their fictional cartoon Colorado town. At first, he is confined to a U-Haul trailer and is heard speaking but is not shown. Then, he is let out of the trailer but is dressed in a bear costume.

It’s hard to judge how offended the average Muslim was by this, but a member of Revolution Muslim wrote on the group’s website that the episode was very insulting. He added, “We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid, and they will probably wind up like Theo van Gogh for airing this show. This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.”

Theo van Gogh was killed by an Islamic militant in Amsterdam in 2004 after he made a film that discussed the abuse of Muslim women in some Islamic societies.

Of course, the more extreme event associated with visual representations of Muhammad occurred when a Danish newspaper printed editorial cartoons depicting the prophet on September 30, 2005. As protests erupted and the controversy flared, newspapers in more than 50 countries reprinted the cartoons as a nod to free speech, further stoking the fire. Police firing into crowds at protests resulted in more than 100 deaths, and protesters set fire to the Danish embassies in Syria, Lebanon, and Iran.

Keeping these events in mind, Comedy Central decided to play it safe with last week’s episode of “South Park.” Rather than allow the show to continue to portray Muhammad in disguise, the network blacked out all of his non-depicted depictions and bleeped over every single reference to him. They even removed a 35-second speech on fear and intimidation that did not even mention Muhammad.

Many people are calling the decision by Doug Herzog (president of MTV Networks Entertainment Group, which oversees Comedy Central) a gross overreaction and pandering to terrorists. Others, including John Stewart, are defending his action and insisting he did it to protect the network’s employees. What do you think? Herzog had censored the show back in 2006 from visually portraying Muhammad, but this time around, he went further by bleeping out auditory references and extracting a soapbox lesson. Did he go too far?

Seattle-based cartoonist Molly Norris thought so. In response to the Muslim Revolution’s threat to Parker and Stone, she created a drawing in solidarity with what “South Park” was trying to accomplish. Her cartoon shows everyday objects, such as a box of pasta and a domino, who all claim to be Muhammad, and she calls for May 20 to be “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.” Of course, when the backlash started, she reneged as quickly as she had acted. She wrote on her website, “I am NOT involved in “Everybody Draw Mohammd [sic] Day! … I made a cartoon that went viral and I am not going with it. Many other folks have used my cartoon to start sites, etc. Please go to them as I am a private person who draws stuff.”

She took the original cartoon down, but The Atlantic has no problem posting it. You can view it here.

So I guess what I’m interested to know is whether non-Muslims should have the responsibility to respect a Muslim rule (especially one whose very legitimacy is questioned by believers). Many nations, including this one, pride themselves on free speech. And when the forbidden depictions of Muhammad are not even negative, is this just silly? In early centuries, there were no cameras, televisions, or newspapers, and the prohibition might have made more sense. But today, visual media is probably the most widespread and express method of disseminating ideas. Perhaps Muslims could benefit from putting positive portrayals of Muhammad out there.

For example, one of my favorite movies is 2006’s Superman Returns. Of course, there are many analyses of the film and what it means, including that it is nothing more than a superhero tale. But one of the readings is that it is a Christ allegory, and when I watch it, I can see countless examples of how this fits. Superman is from another world but was raised by humans. His father sends him, his only son, to save them. And when Superman does save them by lifting the gigantic land mass into space, he falls back to Earth in the same position as Jesus on the crucifix.

Does this interpretation in any way discredit or insult Christ? I don’t think so. If anything, I would think of it as a positive portrayal that Christians would encourage. Do Muslims not wish for any visual image to be used even as a metaphor for Muhammad? Or if metaphors are okay, how is that so different from drawing the prophet disguised in a bear suit?

I will be honest, though. I can understand where the protesters of these depictions are coming from. If it is their firm belief that visually illustrating their prophet in any way is a direct insult and is prohibited by Islam, then why shouldn’t they be offended? People who believe no one should take the lord’s name in vain are often quick to share their displeasure. Granted, they do not threaten to behead anyone, but this subset of people is certainly firm in believing that others (even nonbelievers) should respect their religious ideas.

How do you feel about this whole thing? Should newspapers, bloggers, television shows, and other media cater to the Muslim prohibition on visual depictions of Muhammad? Who do you sympathize with—Parker and Stone or strict believers in their faith? Is this a battle between free speech and respect for religion, or is it something else?

I greatly appreciate anyone who wants to share an opinion!

Brave Nuke World

On Monday and Tuesday, Washington, DC, hosted 47 countries for a nuclear summit with the goal of eliminating, or at least greatly reducing, the chance that terrorist organizations could obtain a nuclear weapon. At the end of the summit, President Obama can claim two major accomplishments: the meeting forced countries that had failed to clean up their nuclear surpluses to formulate detailed plans to deal with them, and it kicked into action nations that had failed to move on previous commitments. Not exactly a red banner day, but progress nonetheless.

But the real news on the topic this month is the release last Tuesday, April 6, of the Obama administration’s nuclear doctrine. For the first time, U.S. policy is rejecting nuclear force against non-nuclear nations. That is, if we are attacked by a country (by conventional means, biological weapons, or what have you) that does not have atomic weapons, we will not use them in response. This is a break from the Bush-era policy that did threaten nuclear retaliation in the event of a biological or chemical attack.

Obama’s policy, however, does come with a key condition. The promise will be upheld only for those countries that have signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran and North Korea, of course, have refused to sign it.

Congress requires each presidential administration to submit a Nuclear Posture Review, as the policy document is known, and Obama’s had been highly anticipated after he ran a campaign on reducing the role of nuclear weapons in the world and then won a Nobel Peace Prize in part for his idealist dream of a nuclear-free world.

The new policy has met with its detractors, of course. Sarah Palin likened it to a kid on the playground who says “punch me in the face and I’m not going to retaliate.” Except that it’s more like saying, “punch me in the face and I’m not going to fire bullets at your face, throat, heart, and stomach with a sawed-off shotgun from close range.” But thank you for your input, Mrs. Palin.

The Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer, though, is also in total disagreement with the strategy:

The administration’s Nuclear Posture Review declares U.S. determination to “continue to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks.” The ultimate aim is to get to a blanket doctrine of no first use.

This is deeply worrying to many small nations that for half a century relied on the extended U.S. nuclear umbrella to keep them from being attacked or overrun by far more powerful neighbors. When smaller allies see the United States determined to move inexorably away from that posture—and for them it’s not posture, but existential protection—what are they to think?

Fend for yourself. Get yourself your own WMDs. Go nuclear if you have to. Do you imagine they are not thinking that in the Persian Gulf?

This administration seems to believe that by restricting retaliatory threats and by downgrading our reliance on nuclear weapons, it is discouraging proliferation. (Full article here)

What do you think of Krauthammer’s position? Personally, I think it’s pretty bogus. It’s not as if the United States is ever going to completely eliminate its stock of atomic weapons, whatever pipe dreams Obama has. This country invented nukes, and we can’t take it back. And for all those smaller countries that depend on “the extended U.S. nuclear umbrella to keep them from being attacked,” I think they would prefer a world with fewer nuclear powers and less possibility that weapons-grade plutonium will fall into the wrong hands.

In September of last year, Newsweek’s Jonathan Tepperman made the argument that the world would be a safer place if all countries have nuclear weapons. In the article “Why Obama Should Learn to Love the Bomb,” Tepperman explains:

The argument that nuclear weapons can be agents of peace as well as destruction rests on two deceptively simple observations. First, nuclear weapons have not been used since 1945. Second, there’s never been a nuclear, or even a nonnuclear, war between two states that possess them. … Nuclear weapons [make] the costs of war obvious, inevitable, and unacceptable. Suddenly, when both sides have the ability to turn the other to ashes with the push of a button—and everybody knows it—the basic math shifts. Even the craziest tin-pot dictator is forced to accept that war with a nuclear state is unwinnable and thus not worth the effort. (Full article here)

I agree with Tepperman that the heads of governments are not likely to wage a nuclear war with another nuclear state or state that is closely allied with a nuclear power. But that’s not really the problem anymore. As this week’s nuclear summit stressed, the greater danger is weapons-grade plutonium and enriched uranium falling into the hands of terrorist organizations who aren’t afraid of retaliation (because, after all, you can’t strike back against an anonymous attacker). And besides, the culture of many of today’s most-feared terrorist groups is to strike at all costs, and as we’ve learned, you can’t hold suicide bombers responsible for their crime. Hyper-proliferation, especially in nations that are not as strict in protecting their nuclear materials, only increases the chances of a nuclear terrorist attack.

So with all this chatter about nuclear weapons, the sanctions against Iran for trying to build one, continued efforts to convince North Korea to give theirs up, the way South Africa was pressured into eliminating theirs… I constantly ask myself: who is the United States (or Russia, or France, or China) to tell another sovereign nation what level of defense they are allowed to pursue? Sure, there are a lot of countries out there that are unstable or that have vastly differing views than the United States (and that, don’t get me wrong, I don’t necessarily want to have nuclear capabilities), but under what philosophical argument is it fair to deny them the right to defend themselves against the biggest threat of all?

We use sanctions and embargos and international agreements to try to deter Iran and North Korea, but we seem perfectly fine with the fact that Israel has obtained nuclear weapons. (Hell, we most likely gave them to Israel, but that is another blog.) We didn’t exactly risk going to war when India obtained them, either. Developing nuclear capabilities is a way for smaller, less wealthy nations to get a seat at the table with the superpowers. It’s leverage, and if I were a citizen of one of those countries, I would probably want my country to be a nuclear power too. And my guess is that if you put yourself in their shoes, you would agree. It’s incredibly hypocritical of nuclear nations to use their power so broadly and then expect other nations not to want that same power. Give me a break.

I could go on, but I think enough issues have been raised for one blog. What are your thoughts? Do you agree with Krauthammer’s stance that the new U.S. policy of not attacking non-nuclear countries will only encourage proliferation? What do you think about Tepperman’s position that proliferation is good for peace? If you lived in a country like Brazil or Finland or Sudan, would you want your nation to have nuclear capabilities? Please, share any and all opinions!

Raleigh, North Carolina, is a city I am very familiar with. It’s where I lived before I moved up to Washington, DC. It’s where my sister went to college and where she hopes to return soon to buy a house and settle in. It’s where many of my friends live and where I still visit.

About two weeks ago, the area made national news when Wake County’s school board decided to reverse its income-based school assignment plan. As protesters shouted in the background, the board voted 5 to 4 to develop attendance zones closer to where students live. Proponents insist the new policy will spare children long bus rides and will encourage more active communities, and opponents argue that the policy will effectively resegregate the schools.

For over a decade, Wake County (140,000 students) was the largest school district in America to consider family income in school assignment. After a 2007 Supreme Court decision struck down voluntary desegregation plans that rely too heavily on race as a factor for placing children in schools, many districts looked to Wake County as a guide for legally achieving diversity. The plan, adopted in 2000, set a goal for all schools to have no more than 40 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (a proxy for poverty). By 2005-06, that goal was achieved in 85 of 116 elementary and middle schools.

But displeasure with the system had grown. To achieve that goal of diversifying schools by income level, some children from wealthy families were bused across town to schools in poorer areas, and vice versa. In the most extreme cases, students were taking an hour-long bus ride each way. Parents grew frustrated with the long commutes and taxpayers became upset by increased costs from busing (especially when gas was $4.00 a gallon). So last fall, the voters expressed their feelings at the polls by electing all Republican-backed candidates to the four open positions, changing the board’s makeup from 8 to 1 in favor of income-based assignment to 5 to 4 in favor of neighborhood-based schools. The superintendent, Adelphos John Burns, announced his resignation, saying he could not “in good conscience” continue to serve the school system.

As with almost anything, people can make a case for both sides. There are certainly positives to placing children in schools based on proximity to their homes. Advocates of neighborhood schools argue that they create a stronger sense of community because the teachers, parents, students, and neighbors live close together; that parents participate and volunteer more if they do not have to travel so far; that there is more neighborhood support for sports teams, academics, and other extracurricular activities such as theater groups; and of course that time that could be spent learning is not wasted sitting on a bus.

Advocates of income-based assignment argue that integrated schools create wider social experiences that can teach children to be more accepting and get along with more people, that it helps create balance and fairness among schools, and that it prepares young people for an integrated society.

All of those are great reasons for their particular argument, but what about the primary goal of schools—education? How do these policies stack up against that goal? Well, it probably depends on who you ask.

In a September 2005 New York Times article, Alan Finder describes the substantial strides black and Hispanic children were making in the school district:

In Wake County, only 40 percent of black students in grades three through eight scored at grade level on state tests a decade ago. Last spring [in 2005], 80 percent did. Hispanic students have made similar strides. Overall, 91 percent of students in those grades scored at grade level in the spring, up from 79 percent 10 years ago. (Full article here)

Finder says that officials and parents in Raleigh credit the improvements to the effort to integrate the schools economically, but in the very next paragraph, he explains:

School officials here have tried many tactics to improve student performance. Teachers get bonuses when their schools make significant progress in standardized tests, and the district uses sophisticated data gathering to identify, and respond to, students’ weaknesses.

So with several new tactics to improve the system, it’s tough to credit one method for the success. But as Mark Dorasin, an attorney at the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina, says:

Research has shown that it’s more difficult to attract high-quality teachers to schools with concentrated poverty, and that students tend to do better academically if a significant number of their classmates plan to attend college and have other supports common among middle- and upper-income families.

I can certainly see where an elementary school-aged kid could benefit from being in a more balanced school than in a school where nearly all the kids are from low-income families, where there is high teacher and administrator turnover, and where there is a culture of apathy towards education. Putting students in that environment is setting them up for failure. As the head of North Carolina’s NAACP, William Barber, said:

when children are packed into the most underfunded, most segregated, most high poverty schools, it is nothing but a form of institutionalized child abuse. (Full article here)

But is it fair to send a middle-income kid to a school that traditionally performs worse than their neighborhood school? Of course not. Raleigh tried to attract suburban students with magnet schools in more urban areas, but this still did not satisfy parents who would be more pleased if their children went to schools that were less diverse—composed primarily of middle-income students.

The thing is, in general, experts say schools have a bigger impact on low-income children than on middle-class kids, for whom family is a stronger educational influence. So putting poor students into a largely middle-class school will, more often than not, benefit them without hurting the rest. And in the end, maybe that is the best argument.

Of course, if our neighborhoods were already diverse, we would not be having this discussion. And that may be the most relevant point in this whole blog. We want our schools to reflect our communities, but if our neighborhoods remain segregated, what chance does the education system have?

What do you think? Is it fair to bus kids across town to achieve more equal and diverse schools? Is it fair to make students attend their neighborhood school? What are the alternatives? Do you have any direct experience with school busing? Do you agree with creating schools that are more equal?

As always, I love all of you who comment.

Have you been paying attention to what is going on in Texas’s Board of Education the past couple of weeks? If not, you might want to perk your ears up and take notice. Texas has managed to do it again—provide more evidence of why they should secede, that is.

In a 10-to-5 vote split by party lines, the Texas State Board of Education approved some right-leaning alterations for social studies textbooks. After a public comment period, the board will vote on final recommendations in May.

These changes have the potential to affect about 80 percent of the country’s students because Texas purchases so many textbooks that other states end up buying the same ones. But enough with the small talk. Let me share with you some of the changes they have endorsed:

– A greater emphasis on “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s.” This means not only increased favorable mentions of [Phyllis] Schlafly, the founder of the antifeminist Eagle Forum, but also more discussion of the Moral Majority, the Heritage Foundation, the National Rifle Association, and Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America.

– A reduced scope for Latino history and culture. A proposal to expand such material in recognition of Texas’s rapidly growing Hispanic population was defeated in last week’s meetings—provoking one board member, Mary Helen Berlanga, to storm out in protest. “They can just pretend this is a white America and Hispanics don’t exist,” she said of her conservative colleagues on the board. “They are rewriting history, not only of Texas but of the United States and the world.”

– Changes in specific terminology. Terms that the board’s conservative majority felt were ideologically loaded are being retired. Hence, “imperialism” as a characterization of America’s modern rise to world power is giving way to “expansionism,” and “capitalism” is being dropped in economic material in favor of the more positive expression “free market.” (The new recommendations stress the need for favorable depictions of America’s economic superiority across the board.)

– A more positive portrayal of Cold War anticommunism. Disgraced anticommunist crusader Joseph McCarthy, the Wisconsin senator censured by the Senate for his aggressive targeting of individual citizens and their civil liberties on the basis of their purported ties to the Communist Party, comes in for partial rehabilitation. The board recommends that textbooks refer to documents published since McCarthy’s death and the fall of the Soviet bloc that appear to show expansive Soviet designs to undermine the U.S. government.

– Language that qualifies the legacy of 1960s liberalism. Great Society programs such as Title IX—which provides for equal gender access to educational resources—and affirmative action, intended to remedy historic workplace discrimination against African-Americans, are said to have created adverse “unintended consequences” in the curriculum’s preferred language.

– Thomas Jefferson no longer included among writers influencing the nation’s intellectual origins. Jefferson, a deist who helped pioneer the legal theory of the separation of church and state, is not a model founder in the board’s judgment. Among the intellectual forerunners to be highlighted in Jefferson’s place: medieval Catholic philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas, Puritan theologian John Calvin, and conservative British law scholar William Blackstone. Heavy emphasis is also to be placed on the founding fathers having been guided by strict Christian beliefs.

– Excision of recent third-party presidential candidates Ralph Nader (from the left) and Ross Perot (from the centrist Reform Party). Meanwhile, the recommendations include an entry listing Confederate General Stonewall Jackson as a role model for effective leadership, and a statement from Confederate President Jefferson Davis accompanying a speech by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.

– A recommendation to include country and western music among the nation’s important cultural movements. The popular black genre of hip-hop is being dropped from the same list. (Full article here)

Uhh… wow? What are these “unintended consequences” of Title IX? Why would hip-hop (one of the best-selling genres today) be excluded from the list? And what the hell did Thomas Jefferson ever NOT do to deserve being downplayed or excluded? The man wrote the Declaration of Independence for crying out loud.

It has been a widespread belief among conservatives that news outlets (and, evidently, education) are far too liberal. They complain about the “MSM” (mainstream media) and then flock to Fox News, with their joke of a “Fair and Balanced” slogan. I agree with Farhad Manjoo that the country has become so split down ideological lines that it is not even that we disagree on the opinions—we now don’t even get the same facts. He writes:

In the last few years, pollsters and political researchers have begun to document a fundamental shift in the way Americans are thinking about the news. No longer are we merely holding opinions different from one another; we’re also holding different facts. Increasingly, our arguments aren’t over what we should be doing—in the Iraq War, in the war on terrorism, on global warming, or about any number of controversial subjects—but, instead, over what is happening. Political scientists have characterized our epoch as one of heightened polarization; now, as I’ll document, the creeping partisanship has began to distort our very perceptions about what is “real” and what isn’t. Indeed, you can go so far as to say we’re now fighting over competing versions of reality. And it is more convenient than ever before for some of us to live in a world built of our own facts. (Full article here)

And though Manjoo was discussing the news, the stakes are raised even higher when the medium giving differing facts is a student’s trusted textbook. The Texas Board of Education does not deny that it is attempting to “balance” history to give greater favor to conservatism. What is your reaction to this? Do you think textbooks are too liberal? Do you think it’s fair to insert Phyllis Schlafly in favor of Ted Kennedy, one of the most prominent and influential lawmakers of his era?  Do you think the government should be dictating requirements to private textbook companies—and if not, then who should dictate the requirements? What should a history book’s approach to slavery be? Please feel free to share whatever opinion you may hold!

I will leave you with some words on the matter from conservative Texan Chuck Norris himself:

[O]ur nation’s public schools, and especially our nation’s colleges and universities, are the seedbeds of politically correct and liberal indoctrination, out of sync with our founders’ vision and views. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is. … It’s a travesty that we have even come to this point that we have to protect our children from the public-school systems, by policing their policies, testing their textbooks, and combating their biases to education. But such is the sign of our times. My personal warning to educational tyranny and tyrants is this: best not to test or mess with Texas. If you thought we fought hard for the Alamo, wait until you see what we can do for the right to educate our children. You can hide behind your No. 2 pencils, but our branding irons will find your tail sides. (Full article here)

Thanks again, Texas.

Noxious Remedy

As friends and family of the late actor Corey Haim gather at his funeral today, questions are swirling about his not-so-secret addiction to prescription drugs. Haim is the latest in a line of well-known (Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, Anna Nicole Smith) and not so well-known people to have their lives cut short from abusing controlled substances. (The toxicology reports aren’t back yet on Haim, but anyone who ever watched A&E’s “The Two Coreys” knows that he admitted he was a chronic prescription drug abuser.)

Some of the drugs Haim is believed to have been taking include hydrocodone (Vicodin), diazepam (Valium), haloperidol (an antipsychotic medication), and Soma (a muscle relaxant). His ex-girlfriend has gone on record as saying that in any given day, he would ingest some 40-odd pills. I cannot even imagine what that does to a person’s body and mind.

Corey Haim’s death, while certainly tragic for him and his loved ones, could help highlight a growing epidemic. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency says prescription drug deaths now outnumber deaths from heroin and cocaine combined, and the United Nations Narcotics Board recently announced that the same trend exists worldwide.

Reports say that law enforcement officers found an unauthorized prescription under Haim’s name during an ongoing investigation of bogus prescription drug forms ordered from a San Diego supplier. This massive drug ring works by using stolen doctor indentities to order prescription drug pads from vendors. The pads are then sold directly to prescription drug addicts or to people paid to fill the prescription and sell the drugs. The investigation has so far uncovered more than 4,500 unauthorized prescriptions linked to the fraud ring.

So if high-profile people continue to die from abuse of controlled substances, spotlighting the dangers and extent of the issue, why does the problem seem to be getting worse? And who should we focus on to try to reduce the problem—doctors or patients? Because doctors are the first line of defense, and because it’s hard to depend on the person taking the pills to make the right decision, I would go with doctors.

Consider this anecdote:

In [medical officer] Michael Seppala’s rural home state of Oregon, you are now three times more likely to die from prescription opioids as you are to be murdered. Some of the cases he has dealt with would be laughable were the issue not so serious. “It used to be the case that teenagers suffering pain from a sprained ankle or sore shoulder would be prescribed ibuprofen or paracetemol. But these days physicians are increasingly prescribing opioids,” says Mr. Seppala. “We had one case where a 12-year-old boy was caught dealing Vicodin at school. When his local physician asked where he was getting the drugs the boy replied, ‘Here, in your practice.’ The young guy was able to go in repeatedly and gain opioids to sell to his friends in the schoolyard, no questions asked.” (Full story here)

The only time I remember taking any strong pain medication was when I got my wisdom teeth removed, but from what I hear from people I know, getting your doctor to prescribe you pain pills is simply all too easy. And antidepressants like Prozac, Lexapro, and Zoloft, and anxiety medications like Valium, are as easy to get as telling someone you feel down. These medications have serious effects on the body and mind, and some doctors are passing them out like candy.

So the question becomes: how do we regulate these controlled substances even more than we already do? Or… do we even bother using precious law enforcement and judicial resources to track down and prosecute violators? Much like the argument against prosecuting for marijuana offenders, is illegal use of controlled substances something that Americans might be willing to simply shrug their shoulders at and allow to happen? After all, if used correctly, these medications are legal. (Kind of like McDonalds—if eaten in moderation, it shouldn’t kill you?) The drugs are also extremely helpful and necessary in many cases.

I’m interested to know what people’s experiences are with how easy it is to get these medications and how easy it is to get hooked on them. Do you think law enforcement should crack down on illegal prescription drug rings and on doctors who hand out needless prescriptions too easily? As always, I love anyone who comments. Hope you are having a good week!

With same-sex couples lining up in the District of Columbia this morning for their first chance to obtain marriage licenses, I thought this was an opportune time for this blog…. (“DC Couples line up as DC marriage law takes effect”)

The United States in the 21st century is struggling to define marriage legally. We all have a definition in our heads of what marriage is, but it’s probably as unique to each person as each union is. Marriage as an institution has been around for centuries, possibly a millennia, but its role in society has changed over time. So, with a legal mindset and without even getting into an argument about same-sex marriage, I have to ask:

What exactly is the legal purpose of marriage in today’s society?

I know that a common response is that, back in the day, the purpose of marriage was to have a relationship in which people could procreate. The purpose of life in general was to populate the earth, to extend the human race. But that is most certainly not the point of marriage today, is it? You do not have to bear children to be granted a marriage license. You do not have to promise to do so. People who are infertile or sterile can still stand at the altar. People who are 75 years old and essentially incapable of producing offspring are still allowed to take their vows. So, that answer is out.

So then perhaps the purpose of marriage is for the good of the children that are borne. But this argument doesn’t hold water either because people are allowed to have children without being married. They are allowed to produce offspring, be civil to one another (and even friendly and maybe even romantic!), split the responsibilities, and churn out perfectly healthy and normal kids even if they are divorced or were never married. (Perfectly healthy and normal is all relative, of course. Married people can produce children just as messed up as children whose parents aren’t married.) And people are allowed to marry and still completely destroy their families. It is not a requirement that you have a good family to be recognized as married.

So then is getting married about love and committment? Not necessarily. People can get married for any reason that they want to. They do not have to provide proof of their devotion to anyone, at least not legally. Some churches require counseling or mentoring before a minister will perform a marriage, but nobody has to get married through a church to be recognized by the government. You can walk into city hall, or you can have your uncle or your barber or your third grade teacher get ordained online and perform the service. I think love and committment ought to be the purpose of marriage, but it obviously is not a requirement. People marry for money, fame, security, citizen status, and other reasons every day.

So then is the purpose of marriage to get legal benefits? That seems to be the only thing all marriages have in common, from what I can tell. All the legal perks that come with being recognized as married to someone are certainly a positive reason to marry.

Legal marriage comes with about 400 state benefits and around 1,000 federal benefits. To give you some idea, a legally recognized marriage comes with rights to: joint parenting; joint insurance policies for home, auto, and health; such benefits as annuities, pension plans, and Social Security; domestic violence protection orders; judicial protections and immunities; bereavement or sick leave to care for a partner or child; status of next-of-kin for hospital visits and medical decisions if partner is not able to decide; and decisionmaking power with respect to a deceased partner’s wishes about burial or cremation.

These and the hundreds of other benefits are nothing to sneeze at. This country has made a huge financial and emotional investment in marriage and clearly encourages its citizens to take that legal step. But why?

I know I have not yet asked the question, but I suppose I can’t write this without bringing it up. If we can’t decide on what the legal purpose of marriage is in today’s society (or if the only thing all marriages have in common is that they receive legal benefits), then why in the hell are we forbidding same-sex couples to marry? Name one reason given that same-sex couples should not get married that can’t also apply to many opposite-sex couples. I can’t think of any. Maybe you can.

What I ultimately don’t understand is that, with all the hate and horror and tragedy in the world, what is so wrong with a legally-recognized declaration of love? (Again, that it is for love is an optimistic view, but probably the most common reason.) Who cares that it isn’t the traditional bride and groom on top of the wedding cake? Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee aren’t exactly what I think of as the perfect parents in the perfect relationship, but nobody denied them their right to sign that marriage license (and later divorce papers). And if it’s about the sanctity of marriage… well, straight people tainted that long ago, and I don’t see anyone up in arms about that.

I think a lot of people I’ve talked to are not opposed to giving same-sex couples the same rights as other couples; they just are not comfortable with calling it marriage. To many, marriage is a holy sacrament and a strictly religious word meant for unions blessed by the church. Well, if that’s the case, then the government has a problem because it has not defined marriage that way at all. And if this is truly a primary complaint, then perhaps what we think of as legal marriage should be called civil union—for everybody, not just same-sex couples—and “marriage” can be reserved for ceremonies blessed by the church. Other countries do this. Their governments could not care less if you get “married” in a church; but if you want to be recognized by them, you have to go do something different either instead of or in addition to. Then again, I guess that is basically what a marriage license is in this country.

So when it comes down to it, is the big fuss really all about vocabulary? Are we just hung up on the semantics?

Also, I know a lot of people say the reason they got or want to get married is for love. But you can be in love without getting married. So I guess one thing I’m asking is: if we didn’t have this thing called marriage, what would be different? The more I think about it, the more I can come up with a counter to every argument for the purpose of marriage. I do hope to get married someday, but I don’t fully understand why. I guess on some level, I feel like marriage is an outdated custom that has lost its shine.

One last thing. It may be helpful to consider this, from Wikipedia: For most of Western history, marriage was a private contract between two families. For 16 centuries, Christianity also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows—even without witnesses—the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married. State supreme courts routinely ruled that public cohabitation was sufficient evidence of a valid marriage. The concept of a Marriage License was introduced in the 1920s, when 38 states prohibited whites from marrying blacks, mulattos, Japanese, Chinese, Indians, Mongolians, Malays, or Filipinos without a state approved license. Thus the institution of marriage was fundamentally changed. The private contract was exchanged for a public contract and the State entered as a new third party in the marriage contract.

Please let me know your thoughts on the original question (what is the legal purpose of marriage in today’s society?), and anything else you think is relevant!