Archive for August 4th, 2010
Here’s what you need to know about Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision invalidating California’s Proposition 8, a referendum passed by voters that banned same-sex marriage. The decision itself will be appealed, and Walker’s reasoning could serve as the basis for argument at the appellate level — or, the appeals court could decide to argue the case a completely different way.
What matters are the facts that Walker finds. Why? As Chris Geidner notes, "[the] judge or jury who makes the findings of fact, however, is given deference because factual determinations are aided by the direct benefit of the judge or jury at trial. On appeal, Judge Walker’s findings of fact will only be disturbed if the appellate court finds any to be clearly erroneous."
Walker, in his decision, writes that "Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gays and lesbians for denial of a marriage license." He evaluates as credible witnesses the panel of experts who testified against Proposition 8, and finds fault with the credentials of several witnesses who testified against same-sex marriage, including David Blankenhorn, President of the Institute for American Values:
Blankenhorn’s testimony constitutes inadmissible opinion testimony that should be given essentially no weight," Walker writes. "Blankenhorn gave absolutely no explanation why manifestations of the deinstitutionalization of marriage would be exacerbated (and not, for example, ameliorated) by the presence of marriage for same-sex couples. His opinion lacks reliability, as there is simply too great an analytical gap between the data and the opinion Blankenhorn proffered.
Here are the relevant facts Walker finds: . . .
Daniel Okrent wrote the recent book on Prohibition (alcohol). The questions begin:
Last week, we solicited your questions for Daniel Okrent, the author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. He has answered your questions with gusto. Big thanks to Okrent and all of you for turning in another great Q&A.
Q. As an ardent believer in the legalization of marijuana, as well as most other currently illegal drugs, I’d be curious to know if you find any corollaries between the current ‘War on Drugs’ (which we’re losing and will continue to waste time and money on) and prohibition? – Mark Clark
A. The obvious parallel between Prohibition and the war on drugs is their shared futility, establishing that you just can’t legislate against human appetites. There’s also the consequent enrichment of those who would try to satisfy those appetites outside the law: the bootleggers of the 1920’s and the drug syndicates of today.
But the common aspect that suggests, to me, that our drug laws will be changing radically over the next few years is the government’s inability to derive revenue from the sale of liquor then, drugs today. No factor played a larger role in the repeal of Prohibition than the government’s desperate need for revenue as the country fell into the grip of the Depression. Before Prohibition’s advent, a substantial amount of federal revenue came from the excise tax on alcohol. As the collection of income taxes and capital gains taxes plummeted between 1930 and 1933, politicians realized that the return of liquor and beer could help shore up federal finances. In fact, in the first post-repeal year, 1934, fully nine percent of federal revenue came from the revived alcohol tax.
In today’s political climate, where no one seems to be willing to raise income-tax rates, both state and federal governments are turning increasingly to excise taxes, use taxes and other levies that could easily be applied to marijuana. Californians will be voting on such a measure — it’s actually called the “Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act” – this November.
Q. Why did it require a constitutional amendment to prohibit the sale of alcohol but prohibitions against other drugs — marijuana, e.g. — require no special amendments? — Jim S . . .
In the demagogue’s parade highlighted in today’s Times’ coverage of Mayor Bloomberg’s heroic defense of the plan to build an Islamic Center in lower Manhattan, one particularly vicious thug stood out:
But even as the mayor called for the mosque to be embraced, those opposed to the project pledged to aggressively fight it, using both litigation and public pressure. A prominent Republican and foreign policy analyst said he was working with business, civic and political leaders to organize a campaign to persuade architects, contractors and donors to steer clear of the project. He said they would also aggressively scrutinize any donors who supported it.
The Republican, Daniel Senor, a former high-ranking official with the coalition government in Iraq, said that anybody who works with the center “needs to know there is going to be a real stigma associated with this project.”
“Do they really want to be involved with something so detrimental, that might set New York back?” he asked.
Aggressively scrutinize any donors? What’s he going to do, put them on a terrorist watch list? Is this kind of intimidation legal? And where do I sign up to donate? [UPDATE: here. Andrew, your donation is now complete]
What’s next, a Muslim kristallnacht?
Bloomberg was right yesterday — “this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right.” We are entering the danger zone.
In case you missed it, you can donate to the Islamic Center (The Cordoba Project) here. I made a fairly substantial donation, feeling guilty about the extreme bigotry displayed by so many—like Dan Senor, but of course one expects little from that source.
Whole Foods today had red Fresno peppers, so I got about a quart and have made pepper sauce:
- Cut stems off the peppers. (No need to core or seed.)
- Put peppers into blender.
- Add 4 dried ancho peppers.
- Add white vinegar to cover. (I actually used a mix of Sherry vinegar and Marsala vinegar, with a little balsamic added.)
- Add 1/4 c. kosher salt.
- Put in pot, bring to boil, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Pour into blender, and blend again.
- Funnel into bottles.
I have 4 1-cup bottles, filled to the top (so the total amount is well over a quart).
I also got a veal shank and I’m making some variation of osso buco.
Yes, former Bush administration speechwriter and current Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen’s demand that "WikiLeaks Must Be Stopped" is, as his colleague Eva Rodriguez notes, "more than a little whacky." But it’s useful, too, because an infatuation with the notion of using the military in non-military operations, particularly domestic ones, is a key aspect of the modern American right and of the rightwing authoritarian personality. Examining Thiessen is a good way to understand both.
Thiessen lays out his premise in his first sentence: "WikiLeaks is not a news organization; it is a criminal enterprise." The premise is silly — unless the Washington Post for whom Thiessen writes and every other news organization that seeks and publishes leaks is a criminal enterprise, too (apparently Thiessen didn’t bother to read 18 USC 793, which he cites as the basis for his opinion about criminality, citing it instead just to sound authoritative). But as whacky as the premise is, it’s nothing compared to Thiessen’s conclusion.
Which is: that the government "employ not only law enforcement but also intelligence and military assets to bring [Wikileaks founder Julian] Assange to justice and put his criminal syndicate out of business." This notion — that crime should be fought with the military — is part of the creeping militarization of American society. You can see it, too, in rightist support for military tribunals to replace civilian courts in trying terror suspects; in the increasing militarization of our border with Mexico; in the numbers of soldiers deployed in American airports and train stations; and in then Vice President Cheney’s attempt to have the military supplant the FBI in arresting terror suspects on American soil.
Thiessen tried to back away from his authoritarian argument when Rodriguez called him on it, but his disavowal rings false…
I don’t think there’s a chance in hell that the US will respond to climate change until it’s way too late. But some still try: Bill McKibben writes in the LA Times:
Try to fit these facts together:
•According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the planet has just come through the warmest decade, the warmest 12 months, the warmest six months and the warmest April, May and June on record.
•A "staggering" new study from Canadian researchers has shown that warmer seawater has reduced phytoplankton, the base of the marine food chain, by 40% since 1950.
•Nine nations so far have set their all-time temperature records this year, including Russia (111 degrees), Niger (118), Sudan (121), Saudi Arabia and Iraq (126 apiece), and Pakistan, which also set the new all-time Asia record in May — a hair under 130 degrees.
•And then, in late July, the U.S. Senate decided to do exactly nothing about climate change. It didn’t do less than it could have; it did nothing, preserving a perfect two-decade bipartisan record of no action. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided not to even schedule a vote on legislation that would have capped carbon emissions.
I’m a mild-mannered guy, a Methodist Sunday school teacher. I’m not quick to anger. But the time has come to get mad, and then to get busy.
For many years, the lobbying fight for climate legislation on Capitol Hill has been led by moderate environmental groups, outfits such as the Environmental Defense Fund. We owe them a great debt, and not just for their hard work. We owe them a debt because they did everything the way you’re supposed to: They wore nice clothes, lobbied tirelessly and compromised at every turn.
By the time they were done, they had a bill that would have capped carbon emissions only from electric utilities (not factories or cars) and was so laden with gifts for industry that if you listened closely, you could actually hear the oinking. Sen. John Kerry, the legislator they worked most closely with, issued this rallying cry as the final negotiations began: "We believe we have compromised significantly, and we’re prepared to compromise further."
And even that was not enough. They were left out to dry by everyone — not just Reid, not just the Republicans. President Obama wouldn’t lend a hand either. [President Obama seems to hate confrontations and avoids fights. – LG]
The result: total defeat, no moral victories.
So now we know what we didn’t before: Making nice doesn’t work. It was worth a try, but it didn’t work. So we’d better try something else.
Step 1 involves actually talking about global warming. For years now, the accepted wisdom was: talk about anything else — energy independence, oil security, beating the Chinese to renewable technology.
But the task at hand is to keep the planet from melting. We need everyone, beginning with the president, to start explaining that basic fact at every turn.
It is the heat, and also the humidity. Because warm air holds more water than cold, the atmosphere is about 5% moister than it was 40 years ago, which explains the freak downpours that seem to happen someplace on this continent every few days.
It is the carbon. That’s why the seas are turning acid, a point Obama could have made with ease while standing on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Energy independence is nice, but you need a planet to be energy independent on.
Step 2, we have to ask for what we actually need, not what we calculate we might be able to get. If we’re going to slow global warming in the very short time available to us, we don’t actually need an incredibly complicated legislative scheme that gives door prizes to every interested industry. We need a stiff price on carbon, set by the scientific understanding that we can’t still be burning black rocks a couple of decades hence.
Asking for what you need doesn’t mean you’ll get all of it. Compromise still happens. But as David Brower, the greatest environmentalist of the late 20th century, explained amid the fight to save the Grand Canyon: "We are to hold fast to what we believe is right, fight for it, and find allies and adduce all possible arguments for our cause. If we cannot find enough vigor in us or them to win, then let someone else propose the compromise."
Which leads to the third step in this process: …
In IQ tests, I’ve read the orangutans drive researchers crazy. They’ll give a puzzle to a chimp, and the chimp goes to town: turning it, shaking it, wiggling pieces, biting it, throwing it, and in generally staying very busy until the puzzle is broken or solved.
Give the same puzzle to an orangutan, and it will just sit there, looking at it and holding it, for several minutes. Then it will solve the puzzle in one move. The researchers hate that it doesn’t show its work.
And now this report from Jonah Lehrer at Wired:
Lie down on the couch, television blaring, a bowl of chips on your stomach and a Big Gulp of cola on your chest. If you need anything, yell for it. Wait a few hours. Guess what? You’re still burning more energy than a fully active orangutan.
According to a new study of orangutan energy expenditure, our close evolutionary cousins use less energy, pound for pound, than almost any other mammal. The findings could help illuminate how humans became so energy-intensive.
“Such an extremely low rate of energy use has not been observed previously in primates,” wrote researchers led by Washington University anthropologist Herman Pontzer Aug. 3 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers studied four orangutans — Azy, Knoby, Katy and a four-year-old named Rocky — at the Great Ape Trust, an Iowa-based center for non-invasive studies of great ape behavior, communication and culture.
To measure energy use, the researchers dosed the orangutans’ water with traceable molecules of hydrogen and oxygen, then measured how the concentration changed in the orangutans’ urine. Lost oxygen could be attributed to carbon dioxide produced as a body burns fat, carbohydrates and protein. This provided a true-to-life snapshot of energy use, far more detailed than at-rest metabolic rates produced by most primate metabolism studies.
Over the course of two weeks, the orangutans used even less energy than predicted. They used far less energy per unit of body weight than humans, or macaque monkeys on calorie-restricted diets, or hibernating lemurs. Excepting egg-laying mammals like duck-billed platypuses, or marsupials like kangaroos — whose odd reproductive habits and evolutionary histories make them metabolic outliers — the orangutans appeared to use less energy than every mammal except three-toed sloths.
A sloth can spend its adult life in a single tree, moving so slowly that moss grows on it. But orangutans are quite active, and the Great Ape Trust orangutans are no different. Inside their multi-acre, open-air woodland habitat, their activity patterns resembled those seen in the wild.
The findings suggest “a physiological adaptation for minimizing energy throughput previously unknown in apes,” wrote the researchers. And whatever the mechanism may be, the findings also raise the question of why the orangutans require so little energy.
The researchers think it’s an evolutionary adaptation to boom-and-bust cycles in the availability of the endangered orangutans’ South Asian rain forest fruit fare. This fits with their extremely slow growth and reproduction rates. By contrast, humans — which last shared a common ancestor with orangutans between 12 million and 16 million years ago — are fast-growing and fast-breeding.
Improvements in hunting and gathering “may ultimately explain why human reproductive rates diverged,” the researchers wrote.