Friday, August 12, 2005

Mistaken identity

It looks like I was right to doubt the reports a while back that said the new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was one of the students involved in the 1979 hostage taking of U.S. embassy workers.

Here is the latest:
CIA finds Iranian president likely not hostage-taker

A CIA report has determined with "relative certainty" that new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not involved in the taking of U.S. hostages in 1979, two government officials told CNN.

I don’t know that this will make any real difference in U.S. - Iranian relations, however.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Lubbock, Texas is 2nd Most “Conservative” City

According to this study, my former home and birthplace of Lubbock, Texas is the second most conservative city in the U.S.
At first, I was intrigued by the study that purports to list the most conservative and most liberal cities in the country wondering what criteria they used to make these ideological determinations. Unfortunately, all they did was look at the 2004 voting records and assigned the “conservative” label to cities that voted heavily for Bush and the “liberal” label to those that voted for Kerry. (Yawn) So it really doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know.
But just for fun, here is the list they came up with:

Top 10 Liberal Cities:
1) Detroit, Michigan
2) Gary, Indiana
3) Berkeley, California
4) Washington, D.C.
5) Oakland, California
6) Inglewood, California
7) Newark, New Jersey
8) Cambridge, Massachusetts
9) San Francisco, California
10) Flint, Michigan

Top 10 Conservative Cities:
1) Provo, Utah
2) Lubbock, Texas
3) Abilene, Texas
4) Hialeah, Florida
5) Plano, Texas
6) Colorado Springs, Colorado
7) Gilbert, Arizona
8) Bakersfield, California
9) Lafayette, Louisiana
10) Orange, California

Out of 237 cities in the survey, San Antonio ranks as the 64th most conservative and 175th most liberal. Austin, by contrast, ranks as the 145th most conservative and 93rd most liberal.
Of course, these rankings would have been very different had the Republicans been running a non-Texan at the top of their ticket, which just shows the weakness of the methodology used in this so-called study.

Still, I find it amusing that I have lived and worked in some of the most conservative places in the country and despite the fact that my demographic makeup would place me squarely in the middle of the conservative fold (white, middle-aged, male, married), I have maintained a decidely liberal outlook on life.

The authors of the study make a big point about the racial makeup distinguishing the cities in each group - with the liberal cities having large black populations and the conservative ones being mostly white. They go on to make a lot of observations about why this is - mostly things we have heard before. But the thing that has intrigued me lately is why this continues to matter and how long it can last.
It is a historical fact that the Civil Rights movement drove most conservative southerners out of the Democratic Party and into the welcoming arms of the Republicans. But surely this should start to settle out over time as the initial shock of desegregation wanes from one generation to the next. I would hope that my children are less inclined to have hangups over race than I do just as I have had less than my parents.
Indeed, I would think that most people would not consider race as a primary factor in their choice of a political party today. Still, we have this obvious political divide that simple surveys like this highlight.

Having lived in very conservative communities such as Lubbock and Kerrville (even more conservative than Lubbock had it been included in the list) I truly believe it is not outside the realm of possibility for there to be a major political shift in the near future. If you look around Lubbock at some of the nearby communities you find places with names like Roosevelt and New Deal and you begin to realize that this area used to be a Democratic stronghold just a few generations back. And then you realize that things haven’t changed that much - the area is highly dependent on government programs like agricultural subsidies for cotton and federal emergency relief funds that helped rebuild much of the downtown area after a massive tornado tore through the city in the early 1970s.
As Republicans continue to demonstrate at both the federal and state level that they are incapable of governing in an efficient manner (ballooning federal deficits and a stagnant economy - two special sessions and still no clue as to how to adequately fund public education) their support among the highly practical people who live in these areas is going to erode and no amount of terror alerts is going to scare them back into the fold.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Roberts making social conservatives nervous

Other than a complementary copy of USA Today that I could pick up at the front desk of our hotel each morning, I was pretty much cut off from my normal avalanche of news consumption during my vacation. For the plane ride home I happened to pick up a copy of the Financial Times which I never read and was pleasantly surprised to find it chock full of interesting and well-written articles.
I found this piece on John Roberts’ Supreme Court nomination to be especially well done. It’s not really about John Roberts so much as it is about the gay rights controversy now before the Supreme Court.
The author of the piece, Patti Waldmeir, talks to two people representing either side of the debate - “Alan Chambers is a former gay evangelist who spends his life trying to persuade homosexuals to turn straight. Phyllis Hunt is a lesbian preacher who ministers to those who are gay and proud of it.” - to set up the article before delving into the political aftermath resulting from the Lawrence vs. Texas decision authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy that struck down Texas’ anti-sodomy laws in 2003.

I have previously outlined my theory on sexual orientation here. I believe that if more people could accept that sexual orientation is largely a matter of biology and not “choice” they would be more accepting of it. In the case of Chambers, it seems clear to me that he would fall into that sub-group of people on the edge between gay and straight, while Hunt likely falls into the middle of the gay/lesbian pool. The sad part of the story is that while Chambers is now married to a woman and has adopted two children, his efforts have helped to deny that same privilege to Mrs. Hunt whose efforts to adopt a child with her partner were stymied by laws preventing gays from adopting children.

To the dismay of many social conservatives, Anthony Kennedy has become a driving force in the move to grant equal rights and protections to gays. His majority opinion in the Lawrence vs. Texas case was sweeping and may have inadvertently fueled the push for gay marriages that followed shortly thereafter.
The Lawrence case to me would seem like a no-brainer. Regardless of your views on homosexuality, who would support giving the police and the government the power to barge into your bedroom and enforce someone else’s code as to how you and any other consenting adult should behave? Kennedy wasn’t being a liberal in his decision, he was being a libertarian.
But the irony of the case was that in striking such a resounding blow for gay rights, the Lawrence case unleashed a series of actions and reactions that very likely helped to put George W. Bush back in the White House in 2004. By rushing out to push for gay marriage in states like California, Massachusetts and Hawaii, the gay community prompted a backlash from social conservatives who placed anti-gay marriage referendums on the ballots designed to draw out their supporters and build up support for Bush and his radical Republican cohorts.

Now we have those same social conservatives suddenly concerned to find that their new knight in shining armor has done pro-bono work on behalf of gay rights groups in the past. Does this mean that Roberts will turn out to be more like Anthony Kennedy than Antonin Scalia? No one can be sure, but it has some on the far-right suddenly nervous. Kennedy is, after all, the one who wrote this infamous phrase in the Lawrence decision:

"At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life."

Scalia has ridiculed this idea calling it the “sweet-mystery-of-life passage” while Robert Bork complains that it is less an argument than a 1960s oration and an ode to radical personal autonomy.
I find it most disturbing that we have people on the Supreme Court who find personal autonomy to be a radical notion. Those on the right don’t want you to define your own concept of existence because they already have their own neatly constrained definition that they want to shoehorn everyone into. Is Roberts on their side, or not? We may not find out for some time, especially if the Bush administration succeeds in suppressing any more information about Roberts that might prove problematic for his swift approval.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Disney adventures

We made it back from a week-long trip to Disney World on Saturday, a day later than we expected. Our flight had been scheduled to leave at 9 p.m. but was delayed more than two hours due to bad weather. So I was more than happy to volunteer to be bumped from the flight when they announced that they were overbooked. We got a free night at an AmeriSuites, some food vouchers for breakfast and lunch, a 10:30 a.m. flight the next morning and travel vouchers for another flight we can use anytime during the next year.
When we flew into Orlando on Aug. 1 we were immediately met by a thunderstorm that had blown in off of the coast. We asked our shuttle driver if it was supposed to rain a lot and he said it rains everyday there around 4 p.m. Sure enough, almost like clockwork, we got rain storms every afternoon. Fortunately, they would not last too long and did not spoil our vacation.

There is far more to do in Orlando than can be covered in a week. We spent a day and a half at Magic Kingdom, a day and a half at Epcot and one day at Animal Kingdom. We will have to visit Disney’s fourth theme park - MGM-Disney - on our next trip.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much there was to do even when you are avoiding all of the bumpy, roller-coaster rides. With my son not yet 2 and my wife 5-months pregnant, we were limited on what rides we could go on. No Space Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad rides for us. Instead, we did the traditional rides like Flying Dumbo, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cup ride and a lot of the laid back, slow-moving coaster or boat rides that take you on a tour of Winnie the Pooh’s 100 Acre Woods or Peter Pan’s NeverLand.

Disney World is enormous. They say there are enough Disney employees to populate a moderate-sized city and surely enough animatronic characters to populate a small town. I’ve always loved history so I made a special point of going to see the American Presidents show at Magic Kingdom where they have animatronic characters on stage representing every president from George W. to George W. While I enjoyed the performance, it managed to put my son to sleep which was actually a good thing. It was the only time we managed to get him down for an afternoon nap during the entire vacation.
Even better was a history show at Epcot featuring an animatronic Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain. They did a big overview of American history that managed to showcase or mention every historical figure with the odd exception of Abe Lincoln. (Abe was featured prominently in the President’s show at Magic Kingdom.)
Even more impressive to me than the animatronics, however, were the 3-D movies. The Mickey’s Philharmagic show (featuring Donald Duck) was terrific with the best 3-D effects I have ever seen (supplemented with spritzing water and smellovision built into the stadium seating). However, it was a little too intense for my son who quickly shed his 3-D glasses and buried his head in mommy’s shoulder the first time a character popped out of the screen. We realized only later that it was the first time he had ever been in a movie theater and seen anything bigger than a widescreen TV.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Bonilla wants a new address for the White House

I was both embarrassed and flustered to read last week that my Congressman - Henry Bonilla - has introduced legislation in the House to change the name of 16th Street NW in Washington, D.C. to Ronald Reagan Boulevard.
There really is no excuse for something like this. Bonilla is not stupid so I don’t know whether he is doing this just to try and further ingratiate himself with his party’s core of right-wingers who worship Reagan like some kind of demi-God or whether he is just demonstrating that he can be a first-class jerk.

First, there is no dearth of honors that have already been heaped on our 40th president who has the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in D.C. dedicated to him. But that is not enough for the cultish Reagan worshipers out there who won’t stop until they get Reagan’s mug chiseled onto Mount Rushmore next to Washington and Lincoln. There is already an organized effort by radical conservatives to have something named after Reagan in every county in the United States. So far they have succeeded in naming more than 63 streets, buildings, schools, etc. after him.
But 16th Street in D.C. is going too far. The significance of 16th Street is that it has given the White House its historic address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Second, the District of Columbia is one of the most heavily Democratic areas in the nation and having some Republican congressman from Texas waltz in and rename one of their major thoroughfares after a Republican icon is little more than a slap in the face.

Fortunately, Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee which has jurisdiction over Bonilla's legislation, recognizes this and has called Bonilla’s bill "ridiculous" and said he would put it in the "appropriate file."
"If Congressman Bonilla wants to name anything else, he has to look at his own district in San Antonio," Davis said.
I certainly hope not. If Bonilla really wants to honor the memory of Ronald Reagan then perhaps he should join with his widow Nancy Reagan in supporting federal funding of embryonic stem cell research to help patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and other debilitating diseases. But since he refuses to do that then maybe he should just shut up and quit embarrassing his constituents back home.

I see via The Jeffersonian that some angry D.C. residents want to retaliate by renaming The Riverwalk for former D.C. mayor Marion Berry. Cinncinnatus has an even better idea of renaming some streets in the city’s heaviest Republican areas after former President Bill Clinton. But the one name I would like to see changed is the one that hangs on the offices for the 23rd Congressional District from Texas.