Friday, September 29, 2006

This morning, in several different places, I have been faced with people who have scorned the grief I and others have felt over yesterday's Military Commissions vote. America has never lived up to "ideals," they say -- usually followed a litany of all the horrors committed over the past 230 years of the nation's history. America is not something special.

Attempts to explain that belief in those ideals doesn't mean ignoring a) that in this country they have often not been observed, and b) other countries often do a much better job of following "American" ideals than we do, fall on deaf ears. Attempts to explain that there is a difference (in my eyes, at least) between disregarding the Constitution and dismantling it by law, are disregarded.

And the fact that someone like Martin Luther King saw enough in the ideals of this country to say

One day the South will know that when these disnherited children of God sat down at lunch counters they were in reality standing up for the besy in the American dream and the most sacred values inour Judeo-Christian heritage, and thusly, carrying the nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence."

"Letter From Birmingham Jail," April 16, 1963, reprinted in Letters of the Century, Lisa Grunewald and Stephen J. Adler, eds.

....probably means nothing.

So maybe an emotional analogy will work.

If you lose something precious to you -- a cat, say -- you mourn. It does not matter how many other pets you have lost. It does not matter even if you recognize that the cat was ill, and quite possibly going to die anyway. You mourn.

An ideal can be something precious.

The anology is not complete -- people have a personal attachment to their pets which most of them do not have to the Constitution -- but you get the idea. It is not complete for another reason: many of us are experiencing anxiety about the future, as well as mourning.

So call me naive. Feel smug and superior, and holier-than-thou. Tell me how I'm just experiencing the shock of losing my privilege in society and welcome to the real world.

It doesn't matter.

I mourn.
My husband left this morning for Spain. First stop, Madrid. I wish I were going with him.

Things are good, for the most part, in my world. I have a roof over my head. I have food to eat, clothes to wear.

In all likelihood, I am never going to be directly affected by the detainee bill. It's a pretty safe bet -- I'm a stay at home mom, why would anyone go after me? -- that I'll never be getting a knock on the door. I will probably never be tossed into dark cell with no hope of challenging my imprisonment. Which makes it all the more important to fight it: justice is the responsibility of all of us.

I do have resources, emotional and otherwise. I need to draw on them, and see how I can help others.

I need to see Guernica. Yes, it's a vision of just how evil mankind can be, but I need to see it for another reason. I need to remember that, for all the horrible atrocities humans can inflict upon each other, all is not lost; no regime lasts forever; the fascists, who were responsible for calling in the Nazis to bomb the town, eventually lost power. It is far too easy for me, given my rather melodramatic nature, to get stuck in the present and not step back and look at the big picture.

There is always hope.

Watch this space

Coming soon, hot on the heels of my voter registration post, information on early and absentee voting. I hope to have that up sometime next week.

After that, information on Voter Bills of Rights and identification requirements.

No retreat, baby...

I post other people's words, sometimes, but I don't post song lyrics. Today, though, these words resonate with me:

Well, we bursted out of class
Had to get away from those fools
We learned more from a 3-minute record, baby
Than we ever learned in school
Tonight I hear the neighborhood drummer sound
I can feel my heart begin to pound
You say you're tired and you just want to close your eyes
And follow your dreams down

Well, we made a promise we swore we'd always remember
No retreat, baby, no surrender
Like soldiers in the winter's night
With a vow to defend
No retreat, baby, no surrender

Well, now young faces grow sad and old
And hearts of fire grow cold
We swore blood brothers against the wind
Now I'm ready to grow young again
And hear your sister's voice calling us home
Across the open yards
Well maybe we'll cut someplace of own
With these drums and these guitars

Cause we made a promise we swore we'd always remember
No retreat, baby, no surrender
Blood brothers in the stormy night
With a vow to defend
No retreat, baby, no surrender

Now on the street tonight the lights grow dim
The walls of my room are closing in
There's a war outside still raging
You say it ain't ours anymore to win
I want to sleep beneath
Peaceful skies in my lover's bed
With a wide open country in my eyes
And these romantic dreams in my head

Once we made a promise we swore we'd always remember
No retreat, baby, no surrender
Blood brothers in a stormy night
With a vow to defend
No retreat, baby, no surrender

"No Surrender," Bruce Springsteen.

Keep the faith, people. I know fighting is hard, but going down without a fight is worse.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


You have seen pictures of this painting, or maybe the real thing, the formal name of which is The Company of Captain Frans Cocq. It was a group portrait by Rembrandt of one of the militia companies responsible for Amsterdam's defense.

Except you don't know it by that name, do you? You know it as The Night Watch.

It's called The Night Watch because it had at some point been covered with a very dark varnish, so everyone assumed that Rembrandt had painted an evening scene. In the 1940s, a restoration removed the varnish and surprise! the painting was not set at night at all, but in the afternoon. Everybody still calls it The Night Watch, though, even though it clearly hasn't been that for sixty years at this point.

There are other cases where what the artist painted and what the public knows are at odds. A few years ago, the Sistine Chapel was restored. The restoration was controversial: once several centuries worth of accumulated smoke, dirt and varnish were removed, the colors were far brighter -- a few critics called them "ice cream colors" -- than people realized.

So what is the real painting? Clearly the painting as artist intended, as the artist painted. But does changing how we see the painting change our evaluation of the worth of the painting? Not the professionals, they have their proper evaluation, but the public?

I have often wondered about this in the context of forgery and misattribution. If forgeries can fool people (and very good forgeries can fool even some experts), why are they lesser art? Once people find out a painting is not done by the painter they think it is, the painting automatically becomes worth less.

Why? The painting has not changed. The sweep of the sheperd's tunic, which is so excitingly detailed, is exactly the same. The unusual treatment of the landscape is no different. Not one atom of the painting is any more or less than it was before.

The explanation I have heard in regards to forgeries makes a bit of sense, which is that forgeries are of a time and place, and tend to resonate with viewers of that time and place, and therefore do not age as well as real masterpieces do. Elmyr de Hory's Modiglianis supposedly will not be as attractive in one hundred years as the real Modiglianis (although de Hory was renowned enough that there is a market for his forgeries).

But that does not hold for misattributions, especially of Old Masters. What this means is that we are not assigning value based on the intrinsic worth of the painting but on the value of the artist.

Or maybe there are two different things going on here. In the case of The Night Watch and the Sistine Chapel, we rebel against changes in the familiar, in what we know as greatness. (Imagine if a cleaning of the Mona Lisa made it brighter -- there would be an outcry that would make the Sistine Chapel a mere bagatelle.)

In the case of forgeries and misattributions, maybe it is because we do not trust ourselves. We need to be told what is great. The old cliche "I don't know art but I know what I like" is generally perceived at best to be defensive and at worst to be boorish and unsophisticated. Maybe we need to get past the idea that art is what we are told it is.

The problem, of course, is the hesitancy of people to try new things, but that's not bad, necessarily. It just means the new things have to resonate with people. Isn't that what art is about?

I mean, maybe it's me, but I just don't get color field art. The work of Mark Rothko and Helen Frankenthaler goes right over my head. On the other hand, I find Jackson Pollack engaging, even if he is not my favorite artist. I know a lot of people who don't. Similarly, I love Jasper Johns. I don't love Andy Warhol, even though again I know a lot of people who feel differently.

So maybe I like a painting that was originally attributed to Titian but later attributed to his "school." That's okay. The change in attribution would not change the value of the painting to me.

Would it for you?

I realize this entire discussion marks me as the rankest of amateurs, but I'm okay with that. I just wish someone would explain to me how a painting can be so changed, not in monetary value, but in perception, when the painting does not change at all.
I am torn. I don't know which way to turn, what to blog about.

I am resolving the dilemma by giving myself permission to not blog about the thing foremost on my mind -- the Military Commissions Bill, more colloquially known as the Detainee and Torture Bill. I have done what I can in regard to that bastard piece of legislation -- I have written my senators begging them to do whatever they could to stop it. I have even written Barack Obama, urging him to exert some of that moral leadership he is so renowned for.

And really, what can I say? I have previously said what I believe about torture. My feelings about the destruction of habeas corpus that this bill promises run just as deep. Others out there in the blogosphere -- Digby is a good place to start -- provide more than enough words to make up for any lack of mine.

Because I have no words. I face what my nation has become, what we are doing, and I have only tears.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Have you registered?

I think this fall's election is going to be crucial to the future of our Republic. I think we're in a constitutional crisis, and I think we need to take action. And the first, most important action is to vote, and to urge our friends and neighbors to do so.

But before you can vote you have to be registered. Are you? Are your friends? What about the best man at your wedding, who just moved to Chicago? Or your younger sister, who just turned eighteen and who is afraid about her boyfriend who is shipping out to Iraq? Or your mom, who's stuck in the Medicare donut hole but hasn't voted since the Nixon administration?

It's late in the day, but there is still time. Today (September 22) is two weeks before the earliest registration deadline (October 6, Tennessee). That's enough time for people to register, especially given that most states have registration materials online. And there is always the National Voter Registration Application, which can be accessed using and which is accepted by every state except New Hampshire and Wyoming. (GoVote also says "North Dakota," but that is since North Dakota has no registration at all.)

Here is a list of voter registration deadlines for all fifty states and the District of Columbia. There are also links to downloadable online registration forms, locations where you can get registration forms, and residency requirements for individual states. The dates link back to the official state election calendars (except in Massachusetts and Utah, neither of which I could find). Quite a number of states have deadlines of "30 days before the election," which this year falls on the Sunday before Columbus Day. In Mississippi, this means that the deadline is October 7, the previous Saturday, whereas in Texas the deadline is October 10.

We have to get the word out. Even if this were just any other election, it would still be important.

Because democracy is not a spectator sport.

[forms] = links where the state voter registration applications can be found
[residency] = links where information about length of residency for voting eligibility can be found. If there is no notation, then, as far as I can find out there is not requirement other than "be a resident of.... x"
[locations] = links to lists of locations where registration forms can be obtained, or where people can register, depending upon the state.

The information will be at the links, although sometimes you may need to scroll a bit to find it. It will be there. There are quite a number of state webmasters who should be taken out and shot. Just sayin'.

When I have noticed unusual requirements -- a couple of states require you to register if you've gone more than four years without voting -- I've noted them. There may be other states that require reregistration if you haven't voted in a long time, but I didn't see them. If you see any errors, please let me know so I can correct them right away. I did my best with this, but errors can occasionally happen.

ETA: One last note: after you have mailed in your registration, you should be receiving a registration card in the mail. If you don't get one in two weeks, you would want to call your county election official about the status of your registration.

Alabama: October 27 [pdf] [forms]

Alaska: October 8 [locations, residency] [forms]

Arkansas: October 8 [pdf] [forms][residency]

Arizona: October 9 [forms [pdf]] [online registration]

California: October 23 [pdf] [forms]

Colorado: October 10 [pdf] [forms] [residency]

Connecticut: October 24, for hand-delivered and mailed registrations; October 31 for registrations in the registrar's office. [forms]

D.C. : October 10 [pdf] [forms, locations] [online registration]

Delaware: October 14 [forms] [locations]

Florida : October 10 [forms, locations]

Georgia: October 10 [forms, locations]

Hawaii: October 9 [forms, locations]

Idaho: October 13, for pre-registration. Election day registration is also available. [locations at prior link] [forms [pdf]][residency] Note: Idaho requires you to re-register if you have not voted in a primary or general election in the past four years.

Illinois: October 10, except for "grace period registration" [pdf] which closes October 24. During the grace period, people must register at their local election office, but they must vote absentee. [residency at prior pdf link, no online state form]

Indiana: October 10 [pdf] [residency at prior link] [forms]

Iowa: October 28 [pdf] [forms] [locations]

Kansas: October 23 [forms [pdf]]

Kentucky: October 10 [forms, locations, residency]

Louisiana: October 9 [forms, locations]

Maine: October 17, if registering by mail. You can register up to and on election day in person at your city hall or town office. [locations at prior link]

Maryland: October 17 [pdf] [forms]

Massachusetts: October 18 (from Boston Globe, the state's website simly says "ten days") [no forms online, although you can request one to be mailed to you]

Michigan: October 10 [pdf] [forms[pdf]]

Minnesota: October 17 for regular registration [forms] or you can register on election day. [residency]

Mississippi: October 7 [pdf][form [pdf]] [residency, locations]

Missouri: October 11 [locations]

Montana: October 10 for regular registration. [forms [pdf]] Late registration -- up to and including on election day -- is available at local election offices. [residency, locations]

Nebraska: October 20 [pdf], last day for mail-in registrations or for registrations to be dropped of by third persons; October 27, last day to register in person at the county clerk's/election commisioner's office. [forms [pdf]] [locations]

Nevada: October 7, if registering by mail, October 17, if in person. Contact the County Clerk/ Registrar of voters. [No online state forms, can use Federal Voter Registration Application pdf][residency at prior link]

New Hampshire: October 28 [pdf] for regular registration with town clerks, or on election day. You can only register by mail if you are prevented from registering in person by military service, disability, religious beliefs, or temporary absence.

New Jersey: October 17 [pdf]. [residency, locations][forms]

New Mexico: October 10. [pdf]

New York: October 13 [pdf]. If newly discharged from the military, or newly naturalized, after October 13, then can register in person up until October 27. [forms, locations, residency]

North Carolina: October 13 [pdf]. [residency] [locations]

North Dakota: no registration requirements. [residency]

Ohio: October 10. [residency] [locations]

Oklahoma: October 13. [forms] [locations] Note: county election boards may cancel registrations if the voter has not voted in more than four years.

Oregon: October 17. [forms] [locations]

Pennsylvania: October 10 [pdf]. [residency] [forms][ locations]

Rhode Island: October 7 [residency] [forms][locations]

South Carolina: October 7 [pdf] [forms [pdf] -- must be sent to County Registrars of Voters]

South Dakota: October 23 [forms, locations]

Tennessee: October 6 0r 7, depending upon the county election commission's office hours, or October 8 postmark. [forms, county election commission offices] [locations]

Texas: October 10 [forms] [Note: If you moved without updating your registration, you will be placed on a "suspense list" in the county you are registered in. If you then go two federal elections without voting, you will need to reregister before voting again.]

Utah: The 30th day before the election for mail-in registrations. I cannot find an election calendar anywhere on the website. In addition, you can register at a "satellite registration site" (no, they don't define those, either) or the County Clerk's office on the 15th and 18th day before the election. [previous link includes residency requirements] [forms [pdf]]

Vermont: October 30, by noon. Mail-in registrations and registrations at locations other than town or city clerk's offices have to be received or postmarked before this date. [forms] Note: First time Vermont voters have to take the "Voter's Oath," which means that at the very least your application must be notarized. Or you can register at a town clerk's office [locations of town clerks] or have it signed by a justice of the peace.

Virginia: October 10. [forms] [locations]

Washington: October 7 [pdf], except for in-person registration at the County Auditor's office, October 23 [forms][residency][locations]

West Virginia: October 17. [forms] [locations]

Wisconsin: October 18 by mail, November 6, in person at municipal clerk's office, or on election day at the polling place. [Forms, plus requirements, at prior link]

Wyoming: October 9. Registration at polls allowed. [forms, also requirements: form must be signed by a notary or a registered agent; locations: Wyoming does not have a "motor-voter" law; the places you can register are office of the town clerk or county clerk where you reside, by mail, or at the polls on election day] If you did not vote in the 2004 general election, you must reregister.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ahoy there, matey!

This here be September 19, also known round these parts as "Talk Like A Pirate Day."

We be lucky enough to know the Pirate Guys WebWench, Pat Kight, online, and to have actually met her; and a beauty she be, too. 'Tis a wonderful thing, Talk Like a Pirate Day. We lubbers of the world be needin' more silly holidays.

Helps keeps my mind off the real pirates that be out there.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

Sometimes, if you procrastinate, things get done without you. Or you decide that since other people have already done them better than you why reinvent the wheel?

I have been trying to find a way to write about torture, and the latest attempt by the Administration to define it out of existence. I always am stopped by the fact that this is America we're talking about, an American president is doing this, weren't we supposed to be one of the good guys? Didn't we used to point to torture as evidence of despotism? How the hell did we get here? So I haven't actually gotten around to posting on torture.

Over at Making Light Teresa Nielsen-Hayden and Jim MacDonald have this one covered. Like all Making Light posts, there is much substance in the comments as well as in the posts themselves. (Making Light has the best signal to noise ratio of just about any blog around.) And Terry Karney, both in the comments to the Making Light posts and over at Better than Salt Money, brings his perspective as a professional in the field to bear (and performing the valuable public service of watching the Bush press conference so we didn't have to).

I also wanted to write about how the goal of terrorism is not to kill people but to terrify them, and how the Administration is helping the terrorists win. Fred over at Slacktivist took care of that one. Cool. And Dave Neiwert at Orcinus has a fascinating post about the symbiotic relationship between George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden.

Okay, then. I could write about these things, but as I said, why reinvent the wheel when these people have engineered a car?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I have not written here about 9/11. My experiences were pretty much the same as many others across the country who did not have loved ones in harm's way. Unlike Katrina, where I had definite emotional ties to the places involved, there is not a sense of personal loss, although I certainly know people who lost loved ones and I feel for them.

It's not my story to tell. It is, however, Keith Olbermann's.

You really need to read Olbermann's words to the President on 9/11.

Olbermann has become a voice crying out in the wilderness, an Old Testament prophet calling king to account. I wish we had more like him.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Twenty Statements. Plus One.

Over at Of Course, I Could Be Wrong, MadPriest has been letting slip a little more information about himself. I thought I would do likewise.*

Things you should know about me:

I like okra. Even boiled.

I think the Rolling Stones are vastly overrated.

Andrew Lloyd Weber, likewise.

I memorized "The Walrus and The Carpenter" when I was twelve. I can still remember most of it.

I read mostly nonfiction. Of the fiction I do read, I read mysteries, with a preference for those with historical settings. I do not read science fiction, except for Connie Willis.

I have a thing for men with Southern accents.

I was once on Jeopardy! opposite Ken Jennings. I lost. I don't watch Jeopardy! anymore.

I bake the best damn brownies you've ever tasted. No, they don't have hashish in them.

I sing. Incessantly. Whenever I am not in public. My car is not considered "public," nor is my house. My kids have to put up with a great deal.

I like show tunes. I like to sing show tunes. I mostly like to sing showtunes sung by male characters, even though I am a soprano.

I can't stop watching crime procedurals such as Law & Order and CSI, even though I think they warp the public's perceptions of the criminal justice system in often dangerous ways.

I think Hugh Laurie is the sexiest man on television, and Eric Clapton the sexiest man in rock 'n' roll. Even if he is sixty.

When I was very young, I wanted to grow up to be a linebacker for da' Bears. I was heartbroken when I discovered that this was not in fact a viable career path for me.

I can keep a baseball scorecard, more or less.

I love almost all sports that do not involve motorized vehicles. Notable exceptions are soccer and ice hockey. And even then I can be induced to watch them under the right circumstances.

I used to live in Atlanta. Since that time, I refuse to live any place that is more than ninety minutes from the ocean.

I was born in New Orleans. This explains my tendency towards melodrama. It's in the water.

I have been to a dozen countries on four continents. Fourteen if you count Gibraltar** and Austria, both of which we drove through mainly to say we drove through them.

I have driven in Paris. And Madrid. And Amsterdam. And on the backroads of Normandy, the German autobahn, and the roads from the Costa de la Luz to the hill country north of Seville.

When I first registered to vote as an eighteen-year-old, I registered Republican so I could vote against all the incumbent Republican school board members. Politics is local. I changed to Democratic in 1980 and have never looked back.

I make no pretensions to sophistication, although I do tend towards cynicism.

Anything else you want to know? You can now email me through my profile.

*He was being serious. I of course am being silly.

: Sarah H. has refreshed my memory about Gilbraltar, since she was one of the intrepid party wandering around Southern Spain that evening. Yes, we did get out of the car in Gilbraltar, twice. Once was to stand around in the dark at a place with signs indicating that it was the end of Europe, but since it was completely dark, it was pretty darn hard to tell. It was cold, it was windy, it was unremarkable. The second time, which I had completely forgotten, was to eat dinner at McDonald's. In any case, we were there primarily to say we had been there, since it was after dark and since we didn't have enough time to spend to actually look at much of Gilbraltar. (I do remember some lovely houses, though.) Still doesn't count in my book.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Strike up the band!

To every thing there is a season,

and a time to every purpose under the heaven.
Eccl. 3:1

Spring, fighting off winter's rain and chills, brings baseball season.

Fall, basking in the loveliest weather of the year, brings marching band season.

Baseball season I view as a detached bystander; the sight of the diamond brings back no cherished memories of days in the sun. All I see when I look at the lovely red of the infield is how much of a pain it's going to be to get those white uniform pants clean. (They wear the pants for two hours and you have to wash the damn things in hot water with bleach to have any chance of getting the red out. Not to mention the grass stains.)

Band season, though, is something else. I love watching marching bands. I love the color and the spectacle. I love the glint of lights off the brasses, the shimmer of brilliant cloth in the flags, the sharp artillery of snare-drum fire.

I appreciate how hard it is to put on a really top-quality show; my high school band did so itself. My eldest son is part of an award-winning marching band. It is a joy to watch them, not just as they perform, but as they develop, to see the progress they make over a season.

And it's amazing how much ancient memories insert themselves back into your brain. I played saxophone in my high school marching band and my pulse quickens every time I hear a drum cadence. Not out of excitement, but out of some vaguely remembered sense of mild panic.

It doesn't help that I am somewhat intimidated by the band director. It took me a while to figure out why I found her intimidating, since other people didn't. I finally realized that she is the very image of the trumpet section leader and co-captain when I was a sophomore whose job (performed with terrorizing gusto) it was to whip everyone into line. I was so unnerved by the realization that I went and checked her bio to make sure that she had, in fact, grown up half a continent away from me. She still makes me a bit nervous, but I'm getting better.

Then there is the other band director. He is quiet, reserved, mellow. All of which masks the fact that the man is a freaking genius. He wrote the music that they are performing for their field show this year, and it is sublime: full of power and delicacy and richness, the last two being attributes not often found on the marching field.

My son is a drummer. In my day, the drummers were always cooler than anyone else. I'm not sure if that's still the case -- he won't say; I think it would be considered uncool to talk about how cool you are. Last year he was in the pit, or the alternative percussion section. It seems to me that the pit people march -- or don't march, really -- to the beat of their own drummer. At one competition last year, one of the bands dressed their pit in clown outfits, and my son was outraged: "That's just cruel. Pit never gets any respect anyway, but to dress them up as clowns is just mean."

I actually volunteer with the band. I am helping to iron uniforms. I signed up to chaperone a bus to a competition. And I signed up to do hair.

I did it last year. And I have no idea why I am doing it again, except... I want to help. I want to be at the competition. I want to be useful. Otherwise, trying to put the kids' hair up so it is off their collar and under their hat is a royal pain.

And it is not the girls who are the headache. It's the boys, including my own, who is steadfastly refusing to cut his not-quite-shoulder length 'do for marching band season even though it is going to be really annoying to deal with. I even tried to convince him that it would be better for the health of his hair in the long run -- fewer split ends. No luck.

One of the joys of having been in band is you can tell band horror stories to your kid, the band equivalent of "when I was your age I walked fifteen miles through the snow to go to school..." In my case it was "when I was your age, we wore black wool uniforms under the hot Florida sun, and they told us it was better to pass out than move in formation because you didn't get docked points if you actually collapsed." That, and his father (who had been a clarinet player in Georgia) and I were harrumphing that they just didn't mark time like they used to in the old days. These youngsters today, they just shuffle their feet, not really mark time with their instep hitting their knee! Ah, the hours -- probably just minutes but God didn't it seem like hours -- marching in place for disciplinary reasons. Hey, maybe running laps is a better sytem after all.

The band is just starting to pull things together, flags are being sewn, routines being learned. We have a good ways to go before the end of the season.

This promises to be fun.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The only thing we have to fear.

There is no escaping the fact.

We have become a nation of fearful men and women.

A year ago, armed deputies stood on the bridge to Gretna, Louisiana, and fired shots over scared, shivering refugees seeking food and shelter from the desolation of post-Katrina New Orleans. Then, when the refugees retreated to the overpasses on the freeways, they were driven off again.

A great outcry has arisen about the almost unimaginably overt racism of this act: New Orleans, and the crowd of refugees, was predominately black; Gretna is predominately white. Yes, racism was behind the deputies' actions. But the driving force was fear: fear of chaos, fear of disorder. Fear of illusory mobs rampaging through the streets as they were erroneously reported to be rampaging through the streets of New Orleans.

It was a fearful act. It was a heinous act. It was a criminal act.

It was not an isolated act.

Fear has driven us as a nation to accept a president who openly flouts the law, and declares himself to be acting in the name of security. Fear has led us to countenance torture, in theory and in deed, both directly (Abu Ghraib -- and that there are people who are willing to excuse that war crime is truly shocking) and indirectly (extraordinary rendition, by which we subcontract our torture). Fear has led us to look the other way as individuals, no, citizens are kept locked up for years with minimal due process.

Fear has led to more and more mandatory sentencing laws, including the three-strikes laws -- which substitute bright line rules for judgment and justice, with sometimes arbitrary results. Fear has led us to look over our shoulder, even as year after year the violent crime rate in America has dropped. And in Ohio, fear has led to the passage of a law which flies in the face of not just the Constitution but centuries of Anglo-American jurisprudence.

The Ohio legislature passed a bill which would create a civil sex offender registry for offenders who have never been charged with a crime. The bill also created a twelve-year statute of limitations for childhood sexual abuse victims to bring civil actions against their abusers, but when the statute runs out, the victims can bring a declaratory judgment against an alleged abuser. If found by "clear and convincing evidence" to have committed the acts, the individual would be placed on a sex-offender registry and subject to all the recording and residence requirements of a criminally convicted sex-offender.

No criminal charges. No jury trial. A trial by a judge, with a lesser standard of proof than "beyond a reasonable doubt." And occurring more than twelve years after the alleged abuse, when it becomes harder to defend yourself. And in the end, a life disrupted, possibly ruined: sex offenders cannot work in certain jobs (and often lose other jobs), and cannot live in certain areas. After six years, the registeree can petition to be removed from the register if they can prove by "clear and convincing evidence" that they have not abused any other children. How is one to prove a negative, however?

This is fear speaking. People are willing to throw away rights for a segment of the population that they are sure they will never be in to achieve a small illusory margin of safety for themselves and their children. Ignoring the fact, of course, that most abuse of children comes from family members. And that sex offenders as a whole have a low incidence of recidivism.

All of these have the same root: I must protect my own. I must make sure that myself, my family, my tribe are all okay, and to hell with everyone else. Fear makes us dissolve the bonds that hold us, one to another.

It makes some of us stand on the bridge to Gretna, guns in our hands; it makes some of us defend the president simply because he promises he can make us safer, regardless the cost of that safety; it makes us willing to sell our Constitutional birthright for a mess of pottage wrapped up in pretty words.

It makes some of us unwilling to listen to the concerns of our fellow citizens because we are fearful and resentful towards them. It makes some of us hesitant to speak out, for fear our words will be used against us.

It destroys our country as it eats at our souls. Fear drives us apart, one from another, with disastrous consequences; it makes us less safe. The more money spent chasing phantoms, on programs to cure problems that don't exist or which don't create the threat they are made out to, the less money is available to spend on things that really can make us safer, our lives longer and healthier, such as clean air and water, or better and more food inspection.

In the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: "let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

Amen. But unless we realize that, we may just frighten ourselves to death.

A tip of the hat to Better Than Salt Money for the heads-up on the Ohio legislation.

Friday, September 01, 2006

New looks for fall! A more serious color scheme for a more serious time.

I am going back to using a dark background, but blue instead of black, and with light grey font, and with all the font changed to Georgia from Trebuchet. The new Beta-Blogger template editor makes things like updating the look of your blog easy, but it still wasn't enough: I still ended up mucking around in the HTML code to get rid of annoying bits of the template I didn't like. (Which is one significant advantage Blogger has over Live Journal: in Blogger you only have to know a little HTML -- or be able to figure out what you want to do -- whereas in LJ you have to either work in their style system which is a pain or you have to know quite a bit of HTML to make real changes.)

It looks rather nautical to me. It remains to be seen how long before it induces eye strain (the reason I changed it in the first place) and change it again.