Thursday, June 26, 2003

Satori?
this is an edited post

There are times when I realize that I am prim as as Victorian schoolmarm. Today, with all the commentary about Lawrence v.Texas, is one of those times. More and more, I realize that I don't want to watch people's sexual lives paraded in public, whether on reality tv or the United States legal system. It's especially embarrassing when people are forced into public disclosure by law enforcement officers with the common sense of a flea.

Sex is private and what consenting adults do in private, whether singly, in couples, or in groups is their own damn business. The proper outlook on such matters is "as long as they don't do it in the streets and startle the horses". This is unlikely to bring civilization down around our ears, Justice Scalia's frantic wails notwithstanding.

There's something about sex that drives conservatives into spasms (I know, I know...). The people of "government should mind its own business" are always trying to bring the full majesty of the law into the private sphere. I had a revelation while reading Scalia's dissent, and it's one I'm ashamed I didn't pick up on before, because I was told about it more than twenty years ago.

I was taking a class on the history of religion. The professor was discussing some of the more offbeat medieval church laws on male-female interaction. To paraphrase: Christianity identified sex with paganism, and it terrified them. They saw sex as a terrible thing that led to humanity's fall from Eden. But they had those urges, so they made sex acceptable within the bounds of marriage, hoping to keep the pagan genie in the Christian bottle.

People like Scalia live in a medieval world. This one must scare them to death.





Corporations and the Public Discontent
Dave Pollard of How to Save the World writes to tell me that he has blogged on possible solutions to the question I raise here.

So I meandered on over and read up.

While I would not define a corporation as an entity created to serve the people (I would say a corporation is an entity created to serve its investors), I agree with Dave that the concept of corporate personhood is one that should be abandoned. My reason is simple: as it stands today, "corporate persons" have achieved a kind of protection under the law than "natural persons" can only dream of.

Don't believe me? Say you commit a murder and get caught. In all likelihood you will be executed or at least spend a sizable portion of your life in prison. If a corporation commits mass murder it pays a fine and goes in its merry way. Sometimes the fine is only a fraction of that corporation's profits for the year levied. More troubling is the fact that very often the "corporate person" protects the corporation's officers from having to take responsibility for their decisions. If the president and the board of directors of a company knew they would be held personally responsible for criminal acts, would they make the same decisions they do now? I doubt it.

Then, there is the question of taxes. Corporate tax is a sweetheart deal human citizens can only dream of. If you or I tried to get out of paying our taxes by renting a post office box in the Cayman Islands and giving that as our legal address, Uncle Sam would be all over us before we could say "refund". But that deal is still part of the corporate person's tax code.

On top of protection from effective criminal prosecution and a better tax deal, corporations have better access to the political decision-making sphere. This is not a Democrat/Republican issue: both sides are money whores. But corporations can buy more, faster. As an example, according to this article large media corporations spent $108 million dollars on contributions and lobbying in the years between 1999-2002; the same years when the FCC was dismantling all the consumer protections built into its rules. By contrast, that bugaboo of conservatives, AFSCME, has raised $33.6 million dollars mostly for democratic candidates since 1990.

So I agree with Dave that removing the corporations' "person" trappings would probably be the best solution to this problem.

The screams you hear from the corner are coming from those conservatives that want to protect "capitalism" and "free markets". All I can say, by this definition and even this one I'm a bigger capitalist than you are. I don't believe in interference with business -- it's your problem, sink or swim. Don't look to the state for handouts when you are about to crash (Chrysler) or for assistance when the rest of the world refuses to buy your product (bioengineered foods). Your profits will be taxed, as you make use of the polity's infrastructure to facilitate your enterprise; an exception will be made for monies reinvested keep the corporation competitive and viable. There will be no loophole for "foreign" location--you are doing business in the United States, you are taxed in the United States. Any corporate officers that knowingly make decisions that harm or place citizens at risk of harm on behalf of the corporation will be tried under the country's or state's criminal code (thus satisfying conservatives that are always screaming about personal responsibility).

And for those folk who fear that corporations will flee the United States if we mess around with their privileges...Please. Where can they go that they can get a better long-term deal? Sure, they can probably make a lot of money somewhere in the Third World...until the government changes and their assets are confiscated for "supporting" the previous administration. Europe's taxes and regulations are worse than ours. And Luxemburg and Monaco are too damn small.

(BTW, check out Dave's blog. Government is not his only interest...)




Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Affirmative Action versus Entitlement...and a Modest Proposal
I think I benefitted from affirmative action.

I'm not sure. I attended a two-steps-up-from-inner-city high school. I had a 4.75 gpa and a perfect ACT verbal score, but a middle-of-the-road math score. Following the advice of my high school counselor ("apply to several places you like, that way you'll have a good chance of getting one") I applied to several schools, and three accepted me. Of those, I chose the one that had the best financial package (let's face it, recent immigrants who are just getting their heads above water take the best they can get).

A similar thing happened when I applied to graduate school. Did I get in because of my grades or was I one of those people where "other factors" made a difference? I don't know.

I do know one thing: I never thought to sue the schools that did not accept me. You see, it never occurred to me that I was entitled to have everything I wanted in life. Quite unlike Jennifer Gratz. In this CNN interview (you have to scroll way down) Ms. Gratz expresses her disappointment in a very interesting way:

COOPER: When you did not get into the University of Michigan, when you initially applied, was your thought immediately something's wrong here? GRATZ: Yes. Immediately, I actually looked at my father and I said, "Can we sue them?" Not necessarily because I thought that I would actually be involved in a lawsuit or that people went around suing universities, but because I knew something was wrong.

The disappointment of not getting into the school of your first choice, something faced by hundreds of thousands of kids in the United States --millions around the world-- was immediately transmuted into "can we sue them?" In spite of Ms. Gratz's disclaimer that she didn't think she would be involved in a lawsuit, her first thought was to sue the school to force them to admit her. Not "what's my second choice?" Not "I can go to another school for a year and then try to transfer in". Her first impulse was to sue.

There's a sense of entitlement in these law suits that really puts me off. Often it seems to boil down to "I wanted this and I didn't get it". The funny part is that, until the 1960s, minorities, especially blacks, had to meekly accept the same answer.

And that brings me to another observation. One of the interesting things about the University of Michigan admission policy is that it hands out points like a Chinese menu. Under its criteria, as I read them, a poor white kid from the UP with a good academic record and an excellent high school football career as a running back would get in before either Ms. Gratz or the minority student who supposedly replaced her (cynics would say, especially in a year when the University's big moneymaker needs running backs). Yet none of those suits mention that Universities should be considered places for academic study, not for million dollar football programs. Not are there questions asked about the fact that the Provost can awards points at his discretion (read "dumbass legacy admission" or "dumbass kid being scouted by the pros"). The focus of the animus is always on race.

I wonder why.

The solution to the problems of affirmative action is simple: make sure that every kid at the elementary and high school level get the same good education. Poor, rich, white, black, green-with-polka dots, whatever: until we can say with confidence that a graduating senior is a graduating senior is a graduating senior we're going to have to struggle with this issue.

Here's my proposal: draw up standards for a good elementary school and a good high school. I'm not talking perfect. Just a good basic education that will allow kids to get into college. Then, the government supplements the funding of those schools that do not meet the standards. That way, kids in an inner-city school struggling with lousy funding due to a miserable tax base can compete with kids from a suburban school with an average parental income of $75,000. Then tackle college admissions. If a college or an University want government funds, they have to use those kids' academic scores as the ONLY criteria.

There will always be differences: kids from families that believe in and promote education will do better; parents who are financially better off will be able to provide extras that other parents will not. But until the opportunity for an truly equal education is available...

I'll see you in court.

Monday, June 23, 2003

My Father and Harry Potter
Last week, late afternoon. Me, head-first into a new flower bed. Had to get in the morning glories before the rains, you see. Morning glories love rain when they are small, and will grow insanely fast, but they have to be in their permanent location because otherwise they start twinning around each other or the other seedlings and create havoc. So--there I was, with my tray of morning glory seedlings, planting them to either side of the old rose bush and training them up the chain link fence.

Suddenly, a voice from the other side of the garden. It was my father.

"You have a phone call."

Me (irritated): "Who from?"

"I don't know. Some woman, says you've got to pick up some guy called Harry Potter at midnight Friday." Looong significant pause. "Who's this guy, anyway?"

Me (falling flat on my butt laughing): "Dad. Harry Potter, you know, the book? The one that's been in the news? I pre-ordered it at Borders."

"Oh."

I think I'll lend him my copy of the Sorcerer's Stone. Payback for his giving me The Martian Chronicles on my sixth birthday.



Repeat After Me: We Are Much Safer Now...
From Reuters:

Greece Links Seized Ship's Explosive Cargo to Sudan
Mon June 23, 2003 08:53 AM ET

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece said on Monday a seized ship carrying an "atomic bomb"-sized quantity of explosives was destined for a company with a post office box in Khartoum, Sudan, that did not exist.

Casting doubts on the legality of the ship's activities, Greek Shipping Minister George Anomeritis said the vessel did not report its 680-toncargo of dynamite when the coast guard stopped it.

"It was sailing in Greek waters and when the coast guard authorities stopped it, it did not report its cargo," he told a news conference.

Police said earlier the ship was carrying ammonia dynamite, an explosive widely used in mining, as well as 8,000 detonators and fuses.

[snip]

Anomeritis said the ship's cargo with a Khartoum destination was listed on its manifest, but the vessel's movements over the past six weeks added to suspicions about its activities.

"No one would call legal a cargo that is going around the Mediterranean for a month," Anomeritis said.

He said the Baltic Sky left Albania on April 27, stopped at Gabes in Tunisia on May 12 where the explosives were loaded, showed up in Istanbul on May 22 and was sighted in waters off northern Turkey on June 2.

[snip]

Sudan, the apparent destination of the cargo, is on a U.S. list of states accused of sponsoring terrorism despite improving relations. It has been at pains to show it has been cracking down on alleged extremists.

Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the September 11 attacks on the United States, was based in Sudan from 1991 to 1996 and his al-Qaeda network has had a presence in the country.


Jeesus Christ on a Harley. Words fail me.