GOODBYE TO ALL THAT

How do you really say goodbye to a year? One way is simply to thank those servicemembers who risked and lost their lives to defend us around the world, especially in Iraq. The troops are not responsible for the incompetence of the Bush administration and they deserve our immeasurable gratitude. More to the point, I want to take this moment to remember the thousands of innocent civilians murdered by Islamic terrorists in 2005. From London to Baghdad, these theocratic maniacs murdered with cool unconcern for the lives of innocents. We were reminded all too often of the brutality and evil of the enemy we face. This beautiful and distressing photo-montage by the New York Times helps bring home the toll of terror on ordinary Iraqis, innocent civilians, for whom a mere walk down the street is often an act of courage. By refusing to send enough troops to fill the power vacuum after the fall of Saddam, the Bush administration also bears some indirect responsibility for these deaths, and they are one more, heart-breaking measure of how a just war has become less just because of the recklessness and ineptitude of its execution. History will judge, but we can still remember. Before we toast the new year, let’s have a moment to recall those who never lived to see it, and those they left behind. Let’s also pledge our efforts to see their sacrifices bear fruit – eventually, with God’s help, and our support.

– posted by Andrew.

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THE BIGGEST QUOTE-WHORE EVER

Another year-end honor is revealed.

THAT WAS THE YEAR: My take on 2005 – the year of accountability – can be read here.

– posted by Andrew.

TEXAS IS BURNING

Christopher Durang wonders why.

– posted by Andrew.

BUSH ON WIRE-TAPPING

I haven’t weighed in on this but I have to say I find the following Bush quotes pretty remarkable. Quote One, from the ACLU ad in the NYT yesterday, dated April 20, 2004:

Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires – a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.

In a press conference, in July 2004, the president reassured us:

A couple of things that are very important for you to understand about the Patriot Act. First of all, any action that takes place by law enforcement requires a court order. In other words, the government can’t move on wiretaps or roving wiretaps without getting a court order.

The president is referring to the Patriot Act in both instances, and if that were his sole frame of reference he’d be technically correct. But his reassurances are also rhetorically unequivocal and broad. Look, I have no substantive beef with wiretapping some domestic calls in the war on terror, but I think the administration was typically heavy-handed in not seeking bipartisan consensus and not relying on existing law, when both could have brought the same result. Again: the question here is about war-leadership. Is it better to be hyper-secretive and partisan in wartime or as transparent and as bipartisan as possible? One reason the war has lost domestic support is not simply because of the recalcitrance of the anti-war left, but because the Bush administration has done all it can to alienate its supporters in the center. This latest, arbitrary and unnecessary assertion of executive privilege is typical. So, sadly, are the untruths coming out of the president’s mouth.

– posted by Andrew.

MORE AWARDS! We’re not done yet. This year’s blue-ribbon panel of judges worked very hard. The Begala Award for left-liberal idiocy is still much prized, even though 2005 was a pretty sweet year for the anti-Bush hordes. The Begala Award is given particularly to lefties who deploy personal abuse and bitter hyperbole. BEGALA AWARD HONORABLE MENTION 2005

“There is much to be said and done about the man-made annihilation of New Orleans, caused NOT by a hurricane but by the very specific decisions made by the Bush administration in the past four and a half years.” – Michael Moore.

BEGALA AWARD RUNNER UP 2005: “Fuck Tom Friedman. Speaking of degenerate sacks of shit, this is what he thinks of liberals: ‘Liberals don’t want to talk about Iraq because, with a few exceptions, they thought the war was wrong and deep down don’t want the Bush team to succeed.’ Here we get to gaze deep inside the heart of Tom Friedman, Pundit extraordinaire, for whom being right is more important than the lives of thousands or millions of people. Deal with your own sick and twisted sociopathic existence. Don’t project it onto me.” – Atrios.

BEGALA AWARD WINNER 2005: “The religious right’s position on embryonic stem cell research is clear: consign Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s sufferers to death on the off chance that a blastocyst will crawl out of the garbage pail to work the breakfast shift at Burger King.” – Jerry And Joe Long, at Huffblog.

WAIT, THERE’S MORE: Last but not least, the Yglesias Awards. These are doled out to people who actually risk something in alienating their own readers, and challenging their own side in political combat. Drum roll, please:

YGLESIAS AWARD HONORABLE MENTION 2005: “Forget that the nation and the party would both have been better served by the temperamentally suited and professionally qualified John Roberts’ winning Senate confirmation with 90-plus votes. The nation would have been better served because such a margin would have represented an un-petty act in a city descended into hateful pettiness. And the Democrats, because by acknowledging Roberts’ obvious assets – intellectual firepower, genuine respect from, and friendship with, colleagues who are active Democrats, a reputation for open-mindedness and not being a captive of ideology – they could have then believably used the “Roberts standard” to measure President Bush’s future court nominees.” – Mark Shields.

YGLESIAS AWARD RUNNER UP 2005: “Bill Bennett is a hypocrite, a loathsome fungus on the tree of American politics, a man who has worked unceasingly to make America a worse place–when he’s not publishing the work of others under his own name, or rolling the dice at Las Vegas while claiming that America’s poor would be rich if only they had the righteousness and moral fiber that he does. But Bill Bennett is not afflicted with genocidal fantasies about ethnically cleansing African-Americans. The claim that he is is completely, totally wrong.” – Brad DeLong.

YGLESIAS AWARD WINNER 2005: “Most conservative books are pseudo-books: ghostwritten pastiches whose primary purpose seems to be the photo of the “author” on the cover. What a tumble! From ‘The Conservative Mind’ to ‘Savage Nation’; from Clifton White to Dick Morris; from Willmoore Kendall and Harry Jaffa to Sean Hannity and Mark Fuhrman – all in little more than a generation’s time. Whatever this is, it isn’t progress.” – Andy Ferguson, Weekly Standard.

DERBYSHIRE AWARD WINNER 2005: Finally, an old favorite. I’ve basically retired this award for neanderthal bigotry from the right, because the Malkin-Hannity types are far more influential than an old codger venting about blacks and gays. But the Derb still has it. And so this award is reserved for him alone. He competed with himself fitfully this year, but we finally have a winner for 2005:

“DEALING WITH COMMIE JOURNALISTS: Jonah – Seems to me the best advice one can offer our troops manning checkpoints in Iraq is the same as that given informally by friends & neighbors to me when I became an armed homeowner: If you have to shoot, shoot to kill. You’ll face much less trouble afterwards.” – John Derbyshire.

– posted by Andrew.

MAN AND MAN AND MAN AND WIFE AND WIFE

Stan Kurtz is on the marital warpath again, this time eschewing a frontal assault on gay marriage advocates and taking aim at groups of polyamorists who, he darkly warns in a recent Weekly Standard cover story, will soon be clamoring for their own figurine-crowded cakes if we break the hermetic hetero-seal around marriage. The Standard story, which breathlessly touts a private cohabitation contract signed by a Dutch trio as a harbinger of the polyamopocalypse, provoked a short backhand from Rob Anderson at The New Republic Online, which in turn occasioned a riposte from Kurtz, who complains that Anderson just plain ignores his many substantive, knock-down arguments. Kurtz, unfortunately, will not share the magic glasses that allow him, like Roddy Piper in They Live, to see these splendid arguments—to the rest of us they remain cleverly disguised as either bald assertions or inchoate panic.

Let me get something out of the way at the outset—and for those of you who aren’t going to scroll all the way down to the byline, note that this isn’t Andrew writing: As far as I’m concerned, therex92s nothing particularly wrong with polyamory, and if the statex92s going to be in the business of sanctioning romantic relationships, I do think therex92s a good case to be made for providing some kind of legal arrangement for polyamorists. So, bereft of magic Kurtz-glasses, I donx92t see broad acceptance of group relationships as the self-evident evil he does (a point to which I’ll recur in a bit): I don’t think this slippery slope is going anywhere particularly bad. But neither do I see quite as much Crisco on the ramp as does Kurtz: Even if he were right that legally sanctioning the tiny number of Americans who prefer their domestic bliss à trois (or more) would have dire consequences, the idea that this move flows straightforwardly from the acceptance of the argument for gay marriage just won’t hold up.

HOW SLIPPERY DO YOU LIKE IT?: Some of the arguments for gay marriage, of course, do cross-apply to polyamorous groups: There’s something intuitively unfair about government’s formally recognizing some relationships as valid and socially blessed while excluding other classes, whether homosexual or multi-partner. But what Kurtz harps on specifically is a civil rights argument, and the link here isn’t remotely as tight.

Gay marriage is plug-and-play. You’ve got a pre-existing two-person institution with rules that can be immediately applied to gay couples with little more than a cosmetic transposition of a “husband” for a “wife” (or vice versa) in the relevant statutes. The civil rights argument for gay marriage leans pretty heavily on the fact that marriage as it’s currently constituted could be easily extended to gay couples, but excludes them without compelling reason.

That’s pretty evidently not the case in the same way with group marriage: From child custody to taxes to immigration, the extension from the 2-person case to the N-person case would involve far more than merely removing a poorly motivated gender restriction. And consider for a moment that last area of law—immigration. One of the crueler upshots of hetero-only marriage is that straight Americans, but not their gay fellow citizens, can obtain residency for their foreign-born partners through marriage. Gay marriage in this instance would provide formal parity—the demand is, in essence, “let me, also, extend my residence rights to one romantic partner.” For the same rules to apply to polyamorous groups would entail not simply extending the same rights straights currently enjoy to a class currently excluded, but expanding those rights.

This is, in short, the difference between an African American objecting to being made to sit at the back of the bus and a portly guy objecting that the seats on the bus are too narrow to accommodate his frame. Both objections might have merit, but they’re of fundamentally different orders.

BI-CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER: Kurtz tries to shore up his civil rights analogy by arguing that one-on-one marriage will end up being cast as discriminatory toward bisexuals. “I never say that bisexuals are polygamists,” he writes. “But I do claim that there is an important link between bisexuality and polyamory, and Anderson does not address the connections that I do draw.” What connections? As far as I can tell, Kurtz must mean the assertion that “what gay marriage is to homosexuality, group marriage is to bisexuality.”

I have no idea how to interpret that, unless as the claim that if equal treatment of homosexuals entails recognition of gay marriage, then equality for bisexuals entails recognition of polyamorous marriage. And there’s no way to make any sense of that without the presumption that bisexuals intrinsically require multiple (simultaneous) partners for romantic fulfillment. Consider, for a moment, some other dimensions of sexual preference. Along many of those dimensions, I have no terribly rigidly defined “type”. I’ve found myself attracted to blondes and redheads; to Anglo and Latina and black and Asian women; to lit majors and econ geeks. Kurtz, presumably, would infer from this diversity of romantic tastes that I need some kind of elaborately orgiastic living arrangement to be satisfied. And, come to think of it, that does sound like it might be fun. But it’s scarcely necessary—and the assumption that it would be is about as well supported as Kurtz’s parallel assumption in the case of bisexuals. Which is to say, not at all.

CATS AND DOGS, LIVING TOGETHER! IN GROUPS!: All that notwithstanding, what if we did decide to legally recognize polyamorous groups? There would, of course, be “public policy objections,” some of them worth taking seriously. As alluded to above, it’s not a terribly good idea to make group marriages or civil partnerships (or whatever they ended up being called) a way to hand out unlimited numbers of green cards, or of dividing child custody rights a dozen ways—group marriage couldn’t just be two-person marriage with a new paint job. Still, assume some kind of legal recognition existed. What would the problem be?

It’s a little hard to suss out, because for all the reams of paper and gallons of ink folks like Kurtz and Maggie Gallagher have expended warning us that gay marriage will have the same effect on hetero couplings that water does on the Wicked Witch of the West, they’ve never been wholly clear about the actual mechanism by which this is supposed to happen. Kurtz hints that it has something to do with decoupling marriage from the idea of parenting. That makes very little sense in the context of gay marriage: There are thousands of gay couples raising children now, and polls suggest that as many as half who don’t currently have kids would like to (either by adoption or artificial insemination). It makes still less sense in the context of polyamorous groupings involving both sexes. Recall, after all, that statistically speaking, the most “traditional” form of marriage is polygamy—and they seemed to have the “reproduction” thing down OK.

Of course, as Dahlia Lithwick has argued, cultures that endorsed polygamy have often manifested coercive or otherwise exploitative forms of it. But if that alone is a basis for condemning polyamory, you can make the equivalent case against marriage per se. I went to see Lucia di Lammermoor before Christmas—a tragedy about a woman whose brother forces her to marry a powerful noble instead of the man she loves, a family enemy. (The Met production’s mediocre, by the way; save your money and stay home with the Berlin Callas recording.) What’s abberant for the period, though, is not the brother’s insistence but Lucia’s resistance. What once was a mechanism for establishing trade between tribes, or cementing political alliances, or setting up household division of labor has become an institution deserving of the reverence it’s now afforded: It turned out that marriage didn’t inherently require treating women like chattel after all.

There’s no more reason to think that this is an intrinsic feature of polyamory, which is why Kurtz’s argument that polyamory will undermine norms of fidelity won’t fly: He’s using as a point of comparison polygamous societies whose high rates of infidelity, even on his own account, seem clearly bound up more tightly with background assumptions about the dominance of men than about anything inherent in the marital form. As it stands now, of course, polyamorists in committed relationships must either eschew marriage altogether, or if they are married, play havoc with those norms of fidelity. If you want to reinforce those norms, it seems to make more sense to let the married couple who’re de facto living as part of a trio formally add their third partner.

—posted by Julian

THE LION AND THE APE

This will be of interest mainly to those folks who obsessively follow box-office returns (you know who you are), but a few weeks ago, Hugh Hewitt boldly predicted that The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe would outgross King Kong not only overall, but on Kong‘s opening weekend. This was pure folly, as any BoxOfficeMojo-devotee could have informed Hewitt, and Jonathan Last took great pleasure in explaining just why the prediction was so unlikely to come true.

Well, Jonathan was right – but since the opening weekend, Aslan has been clawing his way back to the top. Kong barely outgrossed Narnia over Christmas weekend, and since then the C.S. Lewis adaptation has pulled back into the lead, making money hand over paw (sorry, sorry).

I’m a little surprised by this turn, in part because in spite of being smack in the middle of the target demographic for Philip Anschutz’s big project, I actually preferred Kong to Narnia (my complaints about the latter are here), though both were miles from perfect. (Steve Sailer has it right – there were two hours of a great movie in Kong, but unfortunately the film was three hours long.) But it’s still gratifying that Narnia‘s doing well, if only because it means they’ll film the later books – and hopefully, as with the Harry Potter movies, the adaptations will get better as they go along.

Unfortunately, the one they’ve started on, Prince Caspian, is one of the weakest of the seven – and the one after that, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is pretty dull as well. (If there’s any Narnia book where the religious allegory gets in the way of the story, it’s Dawn Treader.) And it would be a shame if audience interest dries up before they get around to The Horse and His Boy, or The Magician’s Nephew, or my personal favorite, The Silver Chair. (I’m hoping for Jeremy Irons as Puddleglum . . .)

– posted by Ross