Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Slings And Arrows Of Outrageous Fortune (Temp Town Dispatches, Vol. 2)

I love getting emails like these in my inbox about prospective jobs that include sentences like these.

MUST have been employed directly through a law firm with good tenure. This is NOT a job for someone who has been temping a lot. If you feel that your background matches the above description, please send resume to me.

I wasn't planning on applying for this job anyway, mind you, since they asked for other things I didn't have and it's outside of any area I have much knowledge in, but nonetheless seeing your likely continued fate spelled out in explicit terms like that makes for a lousy way to start one's working day. And it's not as if it makes any difference; those of us stuck in Temp Town know full well that people who have been stuck down here (for whatever reason) that this listing wasn't meant for us.

The danger comes when you get it in your head that you're not qualified for any job listing. When combined with long, draining work hours, you just stop bothering to apply for jobs after a while; you just kind of assume that the sentences in boldface apply to every job listing out there.

You just want to say "Look. I know I'm screwed. Could you at least try not to rub it in my face like that?! Is that really too much to ask?"

You learn, at one level, to let it roll off you like water off a duck's back. This wasn't even meant as a slight at me personally, and really, most of the slights one encounters in Temp Town are inadvertent. Every once in a while, you run across an imperious associate or partner, or a power-tripping support staff person, who likely gets treated like dirt by their bosses and subconsciously decide they're going to take it out on other people; if those people have some advanced degree but you get to boss them around nonetheless, even better.

And there's very little you can do to these people, but that sort of goes without saying. Without going into unnecessary detail, There are ways of making life more difficult for them, but you're never going to get the satisfaction of them knowing that you're getting back at them; you just can't afford that sort of luxury. You just have to think of yourself as an Agent of Fortune, so to speak, a vehicle through which karmic debts are repaid. Blessed with a higher breaking point than many, I have yet to succumb to the urge to pull off anything in this vein, but I've seen it done.

Anyhow, the little slights aggregate over time - the hall monitors, the petty rules changes - and when you throw in a few rejection letters from job applications, and the awkwardness that comes when someone asks you what firm you work for - it can leave someone feeling pretty low.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

California Dreamin'

The California Supreme Court has overturned that state's ban on gay marriage. The text of the decision can be found here.

The actual holding is buried on Page 79 of a lengthy 121-page opinion.

Accordingly, we conclude that the right to marry, as embodied in article I, sections 1 and 7 of the California Constitution, guarantees same-sex couples the same substantive constitutional rights as opposite-sex couples to choose one’s life partner and enter with that person into a committed, officially recognized, and protected family relationship that enjoys all of the constitutionally based incidents of marriage.

Naturally being who I am, I pretty much had to write about this, and I spent a couple of days thinking about what I thought of this court decision, being an attorney, a gay man, and someone very interested in the intersection between law and politics. I have a lot of conflicting thoughts.

The interesting wrinkle regarding California compared with other states is that, unlike in many states, the Legislature has taking a series of steps, outlined in the decision, to grant something that closely resembles marriage equality without using the word marriage, out of a combination of a desire to avoid contradicting directly the language of Proposition 22. For these unions California used the term "domestic partnership," a popular term for private companies who grant benefits to same-sex couples rather than the term "civil union," which is used by Vermont and seemed to be the more popular term to refer to the theoretical grant of this right by most other jurisdictions.

This has been a big argument in the gay community - whether advocates ought to be willing to trade whatever gap exists between full civil marriage rights and what might exist in a bundle of rights established by these statutes for fighting the semantic battle on somewhat more favorable turf.

I have generally thought of myself as a pragmatist, more interested in concrete benefits and incidents than I did in the often symbolic value of labels, and had thus been more on the side that said that the fight for the term "marriage" was by and large not worth the trouble. In my own discussions with people not overly invested with either the pro-marriage quality side or the opposition, I found a lot more resistance to redefining the notion of "marriage" than I did when talking about the various practical legal affects of marital status on a series of legal relationships.
While it in some ways fun to lighten the mood of discussions of this sort with "Gays want to get married - why shouldn't they be as miserable as straights?" and other glib jokes... points about hospital visitation and inheritance rights were fairly good at (metaphorically) melting some cold hearts on this matter.

The court majority made what sounded to me like a fairly good argument by way of the following observation that the alternative nomenclature of "domestic partnership" is in some ways inadequate:

Whether or not the name “marriage,” in the abstract, is considered a core element of the state constitutional right to marry, one of the core elements of this fundamental right is the right of same-sex couples to have their official family relationship accorded the same dignity, respect, and stature as that accorded to all other officially recognized family relationships. The current statutes — by drawing a distinction between the name assigned to the family relationship available to opposite-sex couples and the name assigned to the family relationship available to same-sex couples, and by reserving the historic and highly respected designation of marriage exclusively to opposite-sex couples while offering samesex couples only the new and unfamiliar designation of domestic partnership — pose a serious risk of denying the official family relationship of same-sex couples the equal dignity and respect that is a core element of the constitutional right to marry. As observed by the City at oral argument, this court’s conclusion in Perez, that the statutory provision barring interracial marriage was unconstitutional, undoubtedly would have been the same even if alternative nomenclature, such as “transracial union,” had been made available to interracial couples.

The phrase "transracial union" did send a shiver down my spine. Especially when anyone looking to challenge the term might have had by definition an issue of standing, if it proved legally equivalent to marriage, or, if it did not, a continuing equality denial issue.

There were two dissenting (technically, partially dissenting) opinions, neither of them especially hyperbolic in their critiques of the opinion. That seems like a small credit to afford them, but not after reading, inter alia, Justice Scalia's rant of a dissent in Lawrence v. Texas.

From one California dissenter:

The majority refers to the race cases, from which our equal protection jurisprudence has evolved. The analogy does not hold. The civil rights cases banning racial discrimination were based on duly enacted amendments to the United States Constitution, proposed by Congress and ratified by the people through the states. To our nation’s great shame, many individuals and governmental entities obdurately refused to follow these constitutional imperatives for nearly a century. By overturning Jim Crow and other segregation laws, the courts properly and courageously held the people accountable to their own constitutional mandates. Here the situation is quite different. In less than a decade, through the democratic process, same-sex couples have been given the equal legal rights to which they are entitled.

I used to be of the opinion that the potential costs of seeking judicial remedies to marriage inequality would prove to do far more harm than good to the cause.

It's consistent with the opinion I've held for a long time that Roe v. Wade was the best thing that ever happened to the Republican Party, but that's another post for another day.

A few things changed.

1. I became persuaded that same-sex marriage is not nearly the electoral winner that conservatives and many analysts think or thought it is or was. Its effect on the 2004 election was somewhat exaggerated, and the issue didn't help the Republicans in the 2006 wipeout. The indicators appear to be pointing in the right direction.

2. After Massachusetts recognized gay marriage, and other states recognized civil unions, civilization did not come crumbling down, fire and brimstone did not rain down upon my home state, and things continued as they had been. Things went on there as more or less as before; maybe some places got a slight uptick in tourism. I'm not entirely sure what the antis thought was going to happen but those looking for a catastrophe didn't find one.

3. I saw photos of and read accounts by some of the individuals involved in the controversy. It's not difficult for a [presumably] heterosexual California judge, and even for (especially for?) a relatively young and single gay man, to urge caution, prudence, and patience. It's a little more difficult, I would think, to do so if judges and politicians (and voters for that matter) make sure that you and the partner you have chosen to settle with for life remain forever strangers in the eyes of the law. I decided I didn't really have standing to demand that of the litigants in question.

The part of the dissent I find problematic is embodied by the last sentence I excerpted. Maybe there have only been gays and lesbians denied their rights for fewer than 10 years as far as that judge is concerned, but otherwise I can't figure out where the clock started. It's not as if the plaintiffs in this case could have their relationships given legal recognition before Proposition 22 passed; many of their relationships predate Proposition 22.

From a personal standpoint, I've been dating people that I couldn't marry for reasons wholly related to our gender for more than a decade.

I'm very happy for the Plaintiffs. They will now have the day denied many of us for so long.
Hopefully others like them will have their days before long.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Red Lenses

After yet another extended period of silence, I am back to remark on something fairly frivolous.

I'm going to Camden Yards tomorrow night to see the Red Sox in their first trip to Baltimore to play the Orioles this season. The Orioles are still hovering around the .500 mark, as they have often done in May, so their fans' enthusiasm for this young season remains for now. At the same time, I expect to see a lot of fans wearing red and to get abuse heaped on my fellow travellers, though we're more than able to give back as good as we get, so to speak.

It's sort of part of the range of sports fandom and there's certainly a range of how other people see you and your team (excluding the permanent haters - Yankee fans for the Red Sox; Michigan fans for Ohio State etc.) that depends on how they do. And with success comes bandwagon fans, and also more people who want to see your boys taken down a notch or two. And the more fans your team has, the more times you're going to just cringe when you hear (or hear about) what other people in your fan base say or do.

I know that I'm lucky to a be a lifelong Red Sox fan, since I've experienced every part of that cycle, and fans of many teams have not. It might come at the price of seeing more of your brethren make asses of themselves in public, and at other people sneering at your T-shirt, but you have to take the bitter with the sweet sometimes.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

You've Got A Friend In Pennsylvania

The Keystone State votes today.

It's kind of funny; a Pennsylvania native friend of mine despaired back in December that his state was going to have no say in the nomination process. I didn't really disagree with him at the time, but he probably regrets having said that after sitting through weeks of continuous media attention and an infinite loop of candidates' television commercials.

Supposedly Hillary Clinton is going to get the validation she needs to keep her campaign going today. The Obama campaign has had some difficulties in recent weeks and while it could easily have been worse, there are some uneasy feeling in the pit of some of our stomachs.

At this date it's hard to say much of anything about Rev. Jeremiah Wright, or Bill Ayers, or that hasn't already been said by someone else dozens of times; I bring it up so no one chimes in and says I'm ignoring the elephants in the room or am part of the "Obama cult" that excuses all his shortcomings and amplifies those of Clinton and/or McCain. I'm not happy about everyone with whom Obama has associated himself, but I never expect to be happy with everyone who supports the same candidate for President that I do. I would have liked to have seen some more discretion on his part...but going to be that's part of the package when your preferred candidate isn't someone who has spent his entire life grooming himself for the White House. People with lifelong Presidential ambitions try to keep their distances from the Wrights of the world, and, for better and for worse, that's not quite Obama. What's more important to me is that I see no indication that Obama harbors black nationalist or anarcho-syndicalist views and that anyone who honestly believes that there's a chance he does probably wasn't a persuadable voter to begin with. I see no indication that the individuals who have caused the controversies in question would have any role in the formulation of any policy in a hypothetical Obama administration, and no indication that Obama has promised anything in terms of programs or policies toward them in exchange for their support.

And then there's the "elitism" question, which has given us the curious spectacle of a bunch of millionaire talking heads claiming blue-collar bonafides while attacking, in particular, Obama and his supporters as elitists.

It's definitely a sign of style-over-substance politics when people can, with a straight face, label "populist" can be applied to an administration which has presided over levels of wealth concentration in fewer and fewer hands without recent precedent, all led by a man who describes his "base" as the "haves and the have mores." All based on this notion of whom the average person would rather have a beer with - and the man doesn't even drink!

For whatever it's worth, here are the remarks that caused the controversy:

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

It's somewhat clumsily expressed, but it sounds a lot like the narrative, popularized by, among others, Thomas Frank, that's been much discussed in Democratic circles since 2004. When blue-collar white voters in the Rust Belt perceived that there was little or no difference between the two major parties regarding pocketbook and lunchpail issues, all that was left to vote on were cultural issues - abortion, school prayer, same-sex marriage, gun control, immigration. (Frank's book of course is about Kansas rather than the Rust Bust specifically, but his chapters dealing with Wichita and the Kansas City suburbs apply very well to places like Pennsylvania and Ohio.)
The conservative movement has been very skilled at tapping into these sorts of issues to create the well worn "red states" narrative that has served paid big political dividends for them.

You've heard it before. It usually mentions French wine and/or cheese, sometimes incorporating Italianate coffee-based beverages and Swedish auto manufacturers. It's further proof that people in this country define themselves and their peers far too much based on consumer products.

Going after Hollywood, Manhattan, and Berkeley has provided the movement with a handy replacement for the race-based appeals the GOP used to help turn the South solidly Republican but have now become something of a liability for them in more recent times. In the case of Obama, it's a convenient line of attack against him that scarcely discuss his race.

There is nothing even remotely proletarian about any of the three remaining serious candidates. Besides, I thought the American national founding myth was that there was no such thing as class.

Democrats have picked up on the Frank thesis and definitely altered their message in 2006 - they've essentially given up on federal gun control, have treaded more lightly on the abortion issue, and found a slate of candidates in many places (Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia is the exemplar) who were often for one reason or another - military record, neo-populist appeal, authentic regionalist appeal - tougher targets for standard-issue Republican attacks. Combine that with an unpopular administration pushing unpopular policies, and with a series of embarrassing and mostly Republican scandals on Capitol Hill, and it proved a winning combination.

It would have been far better if Obama had more clearly emphasized that it was the politicians turning their backs on the working-class voters all the while making empty promises and insincere platitudes were the ones who were at fault, rather than the voters, who were simply working with what was given to them. It would also have been a nice tactical shot aimed more squarely at the Clinton administration, many of whose signature accomplishments were actually Republican ideas. To say that voters to "cling" to something reminds too many of Linus van Pelt and his security blanket.

The ubiquity of Frank's narrative explains why there's been so much battling over NAFTA in the Democratic race this year despite trade with Canada and Mexico being a very small part of the reason for widespread American de-industrialization, and despite the widespread consensus that an attempt to turn back the clock at this time would not bring the lost jobs back. NAFTA has enormous symbolic value to those who saw it as the quinessential betrayal of American laborers, as the moment at which the Democrats became indistinguishable from the Republicans in their eyes regarding their interests. It's no accident that the Republicans took over both houses of Congress in the election following the NAFTA vote. One continuing problem with regards to NAFTA - originally sold to some doubters as a way to help reduce the incentives for Mexicans to become illegal immigrants, it in fact exacerbated the issue as the small-scale Mexican agricultural sector was stomped upon, leading many more farmers and farm workers to try to cross the border in such of economic opportunity.

Obama's tough talk on trade is an attempt for Obama to broaden his appeal within the party beyond his current twin bases of the black vote on one hand and the reformist wing of the Democratic Party - many of the same people who backed Howard Dean four years ago, or Bill Bradley four years before that - on the other. Hillary's following suit is, well, is a Clinton trademark, an attempt to co-opt a portion of the opposition. To the extent either is making promises he or she has no intention of keeping , they're part of the same problem they've been decrying.

All this, is of course, a typical politician's gambit, which is at odds with the Obama "new politics" brand label, one many of us find appealing. At the same time, I recognize that you've got to play some hardball to win; the good-government types weren't able to get Gary Hart, Bill Bradley, or Howard Dean to the White House.

And I'm fine with attacks on Obama based on issues like that. I'd rather talk about that than how well he bowls or how often he wears a flag lapel pin. Hillary doing a shot of Crown Royal is almost as funny as Barack Obama trying to bowl. And John McCain, whose been spared this thusfar because the media loves him and because the focus right now is on the Democrats, but given time I'm sure we could concoct a similar stupid human trick for him to perform.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Spring Is Sprung

Despite the cold in the air this morning, it's unmistakably Spring now. I have one of those thermometers that gives both the indoor and the outdoor temperature, and obviously all winter, it was always warmer indoors than out. Well, until well after sundown on Friday and Saturday, it was warmer outside the house than inside.

After a couple of days of taking care of things in and around the house, I had a bit of a case of cabin fever. Luckily, I found some suitable outdoor activity in the form of a bunch of guys who play touch football on the National Mall on Sunday afternoons. The downside of this activity was that, well, my left ankle in particular is not liking me today.

Next weekend, most of the plaid flannel shirts and winter coasts go into the storage bins.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Over And Under

I may technically be a little late for this, since four teams (including the one I root for) have already played official games that count in the standings, but today is Opening Day.

Here are my wild guess over/under win totals for all 30 MLB teams this year.

AL East: Boston 95-67, NY Yankees 92-70, Toronto 88-74, Tampa Bay 73-89, Baltimore 65-97
AL Central: Detroit 93-69, Cleveland 88-74, Chi Sox 76-86, Minnesota 73-89, Kansas City 70-92
AL West: Anaheim 91-71, Seattle 87-75, Oakland 75-87, Texas 72-90

NL East: NY Mets 95-67, Philadelphia 91-71, Atlanta 85-77, Washington 76-86, Florida 68-94
NL Central: Chi Cubs 88-74, Milwaukee 86-76, Cincinnati 78-84, St. Louis 75-87, Houston 73-89, Pittsburgh 67-95
NL West: Arizona 91-71, Colorado 88-74, Los Angeles 83-79, San Diego 82-80, San Francisco 63-99

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


These words I read in a blog comment set my mind spinning out of control.

Now here's somebody that Senator McCain should be listening to. Dr. Kanazawa has a number of good ideas.


One of the limits of the post-modern sea of culture in which people like myself swim is trying to figure out the meta-levels of facetiousness, if any, in this post. To wit: 1. Whether Dr. Kanazawa actually means any of that batshit crazy stuff about wishing Anne [sic] Coulter was President and nuked essentially the entire Mideast after 9/11 in that blog (A), or whether that was a Swiftian satire of sorts (B). 2. Whether the commenter - known on this board to be very pro-Israel and anti-Arab - endorses the sentiments of the linked blog (A) or is merely himself being facetious (B). 3. Whether that is actually the purported person posting (A), as opposed to someone using reductio ad absurdum on the extreme neo-con mindset (B).
That's eight (2x2x2) different possible interpretations of that. post. Only two of those interpretations, (A-A-A) and (A-B-A), deserve to be flamed.

In short, my head asplode.