February 2005
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Month February 2005

A good debate

Should Deval Patrick run for Governor?  Is Tom Reilly the best candidate for the job?  These are excellent questions, and it looks as though a real debate is starting to shape up around them. Good.  It’s exactly the conversation we need to be having.  Keep it up, everyone.

People who are much, much smarter than you or me

This interesting article in the New Yorker about ultra-geniuses Albert Einstein and Kurt Gödel is well worth reading (it’s in part a review of Rebecca Goldstein’s new book called "Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel," also discussed here in the NYT).  Einstein, as everyone knows, revolutionized physics by, among other things, showing that space and time do not actually behave in the way that ordinary experience suggests that they do.  And although Gödel is a much less well-known figure, what Gödel did for mathematics is possibly even more profound than what Einstein did for physics.  (According to the article, Einstein often went to his office at Princeton "just to have the privilege of walking home with Kurt Gödel.")  In grotesquely oversimplified terms which I hope are roughly accurate, Gödel showed that no mathematical system can be both consistent and complete – that is, all mathematical systems contain propositions which, while true, can be proven true only from outside the system itself.  Talk about thinking outside the box.  The article notes that, in the view of some, "Gödel’s incompleteness theorems have profound implications for the nature of the human mind.  Our mental powers, it is argued, must outstrip those […]

Thinking strategically on gay marriage

Lots of interesting news on the gay marriage front this week.  Item the first: the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has agreed to hear a constitutional challenge to the infamous 1913 law that is being used to bar out-of-state gay couples from marrying here.  (The law’s original purpose was almost certainly to erect similar barriers to out-of-state interracial couples.)  Item the second: the Connecticut legislature appears to be on the fast track to adopting a civil unions law that will give gay couples all the rights and privileges of marriage under Connecticut law, except that it won’t be called "marriage." The important thing about the Connecticut story is that, if the proposed law passes, Connecticut will be the first state to adopt a gay marriage or marriage-equivalent law without having had a court tell it do so.  In other words, it will be the first time that the people’s elected representatives have decided that granting full marriage (or marriage-like) rights to gay people is what they should do, rather than what they must do.  That’s a really, really big deal. The news from Connecticut also, I think, carries a lesson for those pushing the 1913 lawsuit here in MA.  While securing […]

The WSJ and PlameGate

The notorious editorial page of the Wall Street Journal has weighed in on Novak-Plame-gate.  And it’s a pretty funny piece – a tour de force, really, although they’d probably hate the use of a French phrase to describe their work.  In the span of a single editorial, they manage to (1) trash the NY Times; (2) trash every other "liberal newspaper" in the country; (3) claim that President Bush’s "16 words" in the 2003 State of the Union speech were accurate; (4) trash Joseph Wilson, who claimed that they weren’t; (5) claim that the outing of Valerie Plame’s identity as a CIA operative was legal; (6) claim that once Joseph Wilson got involved in the debate over the "16 words," his wife’s identity as a CIA operative was going to come out one way or another, so what’s the big deal; (7) trash John Ashcroft for buckling under the "relentless lobbying by the Times and other media" and recusing himself from the investigation into the leak; (8) trash Patrick Fitzgerald, the Plamegate special prosecutor; (9) trash James Comey, the second-in-command at the Justice Department, for not reining in Fitzgerald enough; (10) trash the D.C. Circuit opinion finding no First Amendment […]

Phoenix on 18th Suffolk race

Must-read about the Allston-Brighton-Brookline State Rep race in this week’s Phoenix. Lots of helpful information about the candidates, including a bit of personal texture, e.g.: "With his unsettlingly intense demeanor ? he looks like someone who?staken way too much ephedrine ? Glennon won?t be charming his way intothe hearts of undecided voters." Hrm… Well, that’s "Fair and Balanced" for you … but at least it’s vivid. And this sounds kind of like our endorsement: Of all the Democrats in the race, Schofield seems most capable ofpresenting an articulate explanation of why, exactly, he is a liberal.(In the Brookline debate, he invoked the example of FDR and citedgovernment?s obligation to check mounting corporate power.) Cool. I’ll take that seven days a week and twice on Sundays, please.

Our unprincipled Governor

I’ve been trying to write a post on Romney’s pandering to the right for days now, and I keep getting so angry that the post becomes incoherent.  So I’m trying a new approach, just letting his own words do the work. Read this, from 2002, in which Romney played the "moderate" card about as strongly as you can imagine.  In particular, he called himself "a social moderate," he pledged to protect people’s "freedom to make their own life choices, even if their choice is different from yours," and he said that decisions on the "life" issue were "deeply personal" and should be made "based on [women's] beliefs, not mine and not the government’s." Now, of course, Romney has described himself publicly as a "conservative Republican," he has proclaimed his opposition to gay people making a "life choice" that includes either marriage or civil union, and he has declared that his own beliefs on the "life" issue should determine the future of medical research in this Commonwealth. Moderate?  Conservative?  Who knows.  And really, who cares.  The good thing about this whole business is that everyone has now figured out that Romney cares about only one thing: himself. UPDATE: Our fellow travelers at […]

Summers plays the Fool

I may get pilloried for saying this, but I kind of like having Larry Summers around. He’s useful, kind of like the Fool in King Lear, who gets to say the most outrageous and provocative things to the King without fear of reprisal. Now, as we can read for ourselves , Summers wasn’t just being provocative. His remarks were jaw-droppingly foolish and hurtful. Was Harvard expecting a King when they hired him? You know, wise, sage, decorous, a cash rainmaker. Hard to imagine: Summers has a long history of abrasiveness and bull-in-china-shop behavior. His idea of a pleasant discussion is most people’s idea of an intellectual knife-fight. The pushback we’ve been seeing is a proper and correct reaction. But even better would be some institutional and personal soul-searching, to uncover conscious and unconscious prejudices in the micro-cultures of science and academia, right down to the lab level. Sexist attitudes and behaviors still exist, and they’re often not subtle at all. Prejudice is a very tough problem to combat: it’s as if it’s in the air we breathe, and seems to get into our bloodstreams without us consciously knowing. My point is this: Larry Summers himself is not that important. Theshort-term PR […]

Pretty much sums it up, II: Electric Boogaloo

… the local version. Hoo Lordy, this is good.

Pretty much sums it up

Good old Tom Tomorrow.  Click the image for the full-size, ez-2-read version.  (Hat tip: Kos.)

Government study: homophobia is making America less safe

The facts (from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office) are in, and they’re unambiguous (update: you can read the full report here).  The military’s policy of discharging gay service members is harming America’s national security by depriving us of the services of highly qualified personnel in critical areas.  In particular, the GAO’s report found that of 322 language specialists forced out under the absurdly-named "don’t ask don’t tell" policy, 54 spoke Arabic (more than twice the number previously estimated), and others spoke Farsi, Korean, and Chinese, all considered critical in the war on terror and national security.  The report also found that over 400 service members in "critical occupations" such as code-breakers, interrogators, air traffic controllers, and counterintelligence specialists had been discharged.  The report estimated that replacing the discharged personnel had cost at least $200 million, and probably much more. The report cites the Defense Department as trying to downplay the significance of the discharges by noting that more people were discharged for drug abuse, pregnancy, and weight problems than for being gay.  Let’s think about that for a sec.  If you have a drug problem, you can’t do your job because you’re on drugs.  If you’re pregnant, you will not […]