Martyrology 101—an elective course

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Aug. 14 2006 3:15 AM

Martyrology 101

It's an elective course.

In her latest column, "Teen Terror," Dahlia Lithwick ponders the similarities between a teenager and a terrorist. While noting many commonalities—or, perhaps, overlaps—between the two categories, Lithwick believes that, "because teenage boys with grudges are fundamentally different from adult men with liquid explosives, we should resist the lure of using terror laws to prosecute them."

Several readers disagree that American high-schoolers with dreams of mass homicide are different in nature from Islamic terrorists bent on mayhem and destruction. HLS2003 doesn't think Lithwick's case adds up:

The only analysis she does offer contradicts her assertion. After all, what is the difference between Timothy McVeigh and Mohammed Atta, other than one's motivation by Nazi fascism and one's motivation by a form of religious fascism? They were both terrorists and they both wanted to kill a lot of people. And how old do you think many of these terrorists are, Dahlia? Are they all thirty-somethings who have gotten past the pimply stage? Or are many young and impressionable teens just like your alleged victims here?

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Another practicing attorney, carolfb, explains the legal doctrine of "terroristic threat":

While modern "terrorism as a political weapon" has changed our use of words, people have been terrorizing other people for millenia. "Terroristic threat" is not a new idea springing from the world-wide-war-on-terror, but an old concept in criminal law. While I would agree the teens you discuss are not "terrorists" as the word is used today, their actions (if proven) do indeed constitute "terroristic threats".

A terroristic threat is any credible threat that terrorizes another. [...] Depending on where you live, there are historical artifacts in these statutes. In Georgia, a terroristic act includes burning a cross or other symbol with the intent to terrorize another or another's household. Depending on the seriousness of the threat, the charge can be a misdemeanor or felony. [...]

My experience with terroristic threats comes primarily from representing women in domestic violence cases. [...] The goal in these crimes is the same goal as international terrorism, writ small. The abuser wants to control "his" woman. She won't challenge him so long as she is afraid of him. Usually VERY afraid of him. [...]

The teens you describe are also seeking to control those around them -- perhaps for different reasons but with the same tool -- terror. I agree that these kids are not international terrorists a la Osama Bin Laden. They are, however, mixed up adolescents who are INTENDING to scare the pants off other folks. That is the whole point of these activities: hurt or kill some folks, TERRORIZE lots more. The criminal code does and should address not only the physical assault, but the "terroristic threat".

Clown_Nose agrees there's a difference between American teenagers and Islamic terrorists but wants to close the gap as quickly as possible:

Why doesn't the United States take advantage of the teen angst like the Islamists do?

It seems to me that we know that suicide is a leading cause of death for teens. Islamists take advantage of this by telling these teens that it is God calling them to kill infidels.
Instead of using psychologists to try (and fail) to fix this defect, why don't we seize the opportunity and send these people over seas to blow up terrorist cells? They are going to die anyway, we might as well get some value out of it. [...] Lets jump on the bandwagon and use some losers too.

Dayenu not only believes we should treat murderous students as terrorists, she's prepared to take out the stateside sponsors who harbor them:

It does seem that one element is missing from this equation. It would probably be a good idea to prosecute and lock up parents who exist in such a moral vacuum that they could watch their kids assemble arsenals and do nothing.

As long as we're talking categorically, FoxyGoth notes that homicidal kids draped in black aren't really Goth.

Several posters write in to help explain the difference between the Columbine shooters and international terrorists. Eigenvector argues for an intuitive approach: "Yeah the line is grey, faintly grey, but don't we have enough definitions of killer so that we don't have to pile on to the latest fad in bloodshed?" Angharad fingers ideology as the relevant factor.

There are also some interesting variants on the theme of blaming society for homegrown child terrorists. Luchese puts the prosecutors of seriously wayward youth into the docket:

Children and adolescents are not adults. They should never even be considered such in a court. But this society has become punitive, vengeful and rigid in its own obsession to achieve "justice" through the courts. Trying American children or adolescents as terrorist is barbaric, abominable and counter productive to what the real issues are; human understanding, compassion and prevention. But when the adults who promulgate this form of retribution it indicates they are still attempting to resolve their own childhood and adolescent anger, fear and depression and have given up. It is therefore projected onto the victim and then it is simple human sacrifice to bring, in the long run, a short term solution.

BenK has a strangely compelling argument for pinning teen terrorism on FDR's New Deal:

My mind turns to ways to solve their basic problem. For instance: get them out of school, into jobs they can be proud of, where they can prove themselves, perhaps attract girls, and relieve themselves of the depression and anxiety that may largely be the fault of FDR's misguided attempts to reduce unemployment by forcing employable young men back into school and out of the work force.

Discussion is off to an excellent start in the Jurisprudence Fray. Come on in and join us. GA 12:00am PDT

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Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Dear Prudence Fray has been atwitter this weekend over the curious case of the duplicate letter. In Thursday's column, Prudie responded to a letter from a teacher that had appeared, verbatim, in an earlier column for Salon, by Cary Tennis. Salon's author apparently jumped into the Fray to share some thoughts on the overlap.

As long as you're comparing advisers, Fraywatch is pleased to note the return of the Fray's own shadow Prudence—star poster doodahman. Several years ago, the weekly feature "My Two Cents" was a must-read for followers of Dear Prudence. These newly reminted pennies haven't lost their luster while out of circulation:

Dear Post Graduate Curse:

First year teaching, eh? Hell, lady, you didn't waste much time, huh? MTC needs to put out a disclaimer here. His first foray into actual adult style sex occurred after graduation at the national debate tournament, in the front seat of the car of the coach from another high school. He made it to quarter finals and crossed the plate in the same event.

As a result, MTC considers post-graduation dalliances between teachers and students to be not only acceptable, but A-OK, wink wink, nod nod. In fact, high school forensic teams may have been the very hotbed of sexual activity between students and teachers. doodahman's own coach put the moves on him and other team members more than once, and ultimately ran off with another student a year or two later-- leaving behind a husband and two babies.

So, you're hardly alone. Stop beating yourself up.

A lot of folks will respond with absurd and hyperbolic charges that you're some kind of predator, a pervert, a corrupter of youth. Don't believe a word of it. You are a teacher. What was your little tryst other than teaching? Hell, in this day and age, the kid probably taught you a thing or two. If nothing else, you helped take the steam out of an 18 year old sexual locomotive before it ran over some innocent girl unprepared for the responsibilities of sex. As far as MTC is concerned, you madam, are, if not a saint, surely someone's godsend.

Of course, this is a minority view, and should this affair come to light, it may cause you some professional problems. Fortunately, not legal ones, but problems nonetheless. That'll be the case depending on the maturity of your punky paramour. If he's immature, he'll shoot his mouth off sooner or later and then it's Katie-bar-the-door time. But if he has a degree of maturity that befits somebody qualified to diddle your syllabus, he ought to remain discrete. But, it's a risk you run every time you pick a lover from the junior varsity. Considering that you pulled this the first year on the job, your lust for the boys is something you need to control (as opposed to "stay on top of").

That's for the future, though. For now, don't worry about the past-- you did good girl.

Fans may wish to check out doodahman's other recent entries here , here, and here.

Have you ever thought about trying your own hand as an advice columnist? Well, there's no need to compete with Prudence! Dolph would like to know "how do you conduct a funeral for a man who said that he didn't believe in God?" mtntraveler is trying to decide "should text messages be considered cheating?" If you're of sound mind and bawdy, we could use your advice in the Dear Prudence Fray.   GA 12:00am PDT

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Based on Ned Lamont's narrow victory over incumbent Joe Lieberman in Connecticut's senatorial primary, Jacob Weisberg's prediction of the Democratic Party's retreat into 1970s McGovernite leftism on matters of foreign policy (and with it, electoral doom) provoked an unusually strong reaction, both in tone and quantity of posts.

A spate of fraysters reject the analogy with Vietnam-era liberalism. Samphire calls this an oversimplification, while for doodahman, Weisberg's comparison marks an abrupt about-face for a journalist who has spent the last three "years of this war telling us how it ain't nothing like Vietnam."

Rabin dismisses fears of neo-isolationism  among Democrats as a straw-man argument, unless Weisberg can identify by name the Democratic politicians who actually fit this label, as "people who want to withdraw from Iraq (Feingold, Lamont, Kerry, etc) are not isolationists. None of these people want a radical change in foreign policy outside of Iraq. They're all pro-Israel, they're all pro-US intervention in some areas, they all take the threat of islamic terrorism seriously. One of the largest reasons used for supporting withdrawal is that American presence in Iraq hurts the WoT and resources could be much better spent elsewhere."

ShanCan similarly demands evidence of this radical left-wing contingent: "By evidence I mean something besides our lack of support for Bush's failed policies in the middle east, and our utter disgust at his exploitation of the fears of ordinary citizens in order to gain support for his policies that do nothing to make us safer (policies which arguably make us less safe) while simultaneously ignoring or blocking activities and policies that might actually improve the security of our nation?"

For his part, ElFool picks apart the false dichotomy in Weisberg's characterization of the Lamont camp: "seeing Iraq as a politicized right-wing response is not mutually exclusive with taking terrorism seriously."

In Byron_Raum's formulation, the "anti-war" label applies in earnest only to a very small pacifist minority that does not include the Lamont faction. Instead, there are really "two war camps":

One is, by far, the most belligerent. It's a war against anyone who happens to look like an Arab or a Muslim. It's run by people who are unable to distinguish between bin Laden, a terrorist religious fanatic, and Saddam Hussein, a secular, anti-religion fascist dictator. Hey, they are all Arabs, right?

These are not exactly neocons themselves, but these are the neocons' "useful idiots." In this camp also fall the pro-Israelis, who as a people suffer from the paranoid delusion that anyone who criticizes them has the ultimate goal of exterminating every Jew. In other words, only an anti-Semite would criticize a Jew.

To some extent, given their history, I can sympathize, but indulging them fully is far too expensive and destructive of other human lives. Eventually, if they are left unfettered, this means the extermination of everyone who is not a Jew, because every Jew is a human being, and therefore imperfect.

Quite obviously, a lot of people do not take this war seriously because it is assinine in the extreme.

We are the "other" war lobby, believing that we need to have a war of extermination with terrorists and fanatics. The difference is that we are extremely specific about who we paint with this brush, realizing that people are all pretty much the same; give someone a chance to live a dignified life in peace, and they will live a dignified life in peace. This means a pansy-like worrying about the sensitivites of Muslims, because we want them to feel that we care about them, and that it's a good idea for them to be moderate. It means respecting their dignities and freedoms, treating them and everyone else with decency, in order to get at the terrorists that hide in their midst. We are not willing to sacrifice our freedoms, the freedoms that our fathers paid for in blood. We believe that a competent Administration would be capable of finding terrorists without needing to pry into everything and having the ability to detain anyone at random.

The bottom line is, our war is much less expensive than theirs, and more importantly, it does not leave the world in ruin and the Constitution in tatters. We support the war on terror. We are just not willing to accept your broad definitions of what a terrorist is.

Metacom criticizes the Beltway establishment's reading of the tea leaves: 

What we have in Connecticut is that the more liberal party in a liberal state has decided that it doesn't like the way Lieberman has behaved. This doesn't translate to a national movement. Look at what happened to Cynthia McKinney in Georgia.
She has two things in common with Joe Lieberman, a sense of entitlement, and a primary loss. Other than that, they are quite different. McKinney has been far to the left and an outspoken critic of President Bush's foreign policy.
Lieberman is closer to the center on many issues and he has been a defender and facilitator of Bush's foreign policy.
Yet they both lost. Why? Because politics and political views are local.
If Tuesday says anything about the national mood, it's that incumbents are in trouble.

DeanC offers the opposite diagnosis (from Weisberg) of the election's significance for the country:

similar to what was supposed to happen when we invaded Iraq, Americans across the country have seen an outbreak of democracy in Connecticut and are going to be energized by this act of anti-incumbent, anti-Bush success and be inspired to do the same-- in short, causing a domino effect across the United States.

By contrast, Classicsman diminishes the importance of Connecticut as "after all a very small place, and perhaps the bluest of the blue states. To accept as an axiom that what happened there in a primary hijacked (and maybe hacked as well) by extreme anti-war elements is somehow a harbinger of things to come nationwide is laughably sophomoric."

USARST, rejecting the prediction of doom for the Democrats, blames Lieberman's loss on his "inching his way away from the core democratic party values for some time now":

His membership and high profile stance in the DLC, for example, tell us much about his democratic credentials. To explain and then forecast his defeat as some larger march towards political obscurity for Democrats ignores the fact that Joe was out of touch with his constituents and their views. An increasingly anti-war constituency is understanding that our ability to do much of anything, be it domestic or international, has been sidetracked by the disaster that is Iraq. The reasons for going in were disingenuous and the "plan" for victory is non-existant. It is time for some payback for those that continue to support this nonsense and Joe is most deserving of this for his support for the President on this and other issues.

Chauncy agrees that this election was about more than one issue, including Lieberman's "view toward privatizing social security, supporting corporate interests, and allowing Supreme Court nominees to remain filibuster free." That said, "I also feel that too much credit is being given to the bloggers. In my neighborhood, I don't know of too many people that keep up with the blogs. Rightwing talk radio, yes, blogs no. The blogs still seem to be wonky and insulated to me. Yes they affect discourse, but so do the MSM and radio."

Lamont's candidacy reaks of opportunism more than idealism, from mallardsballad's standpoint:

It doesn't take million dollar consultants to figure out that a very blue state with an established but aloof senator makes an opportune target for those that have the money, a sense of adventure and greedy ambition…

Could it possibly be that the tasty yet empty issue of war be a line used to feed Lamont's own rich boy ambition of being a senator?

…the Senate seat is just a stepping stone for personal ambitions and the issue of war is a big hallow plank used as a convenient shortcut to get through the muddy political bog and to that Senate stepping stone.

The Big Idea Fray is an embarrassment of riches at the moment, generating more intelligent debate than can be summarized in this column. For all of Weisberg's detractors here, it's worth noting that his interpretation of Lieberman's defeat is echoed by Jonah Goldberg's Los Angeles Times op-ed and Thomas B. Edsall's article in The New Republic. AC 4:50pm PDT

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Friday, August 4, 2006

Jacob Weisberg's analysis of why sanctions don't work prompted this response from Derek Tonkin, former British ambassador to Thailand (1983-86), essentially affirming Weisberg's view of the situation in Burma:

Sanctions have only made the situation worse, entrenched the military regime in power, and delayed the deliverance of the Burmese people from their misfortunes. Yet you have Senator Mitch McConnell assuring the Senate on 26 July 2006 when supporting the renewal for another three years of the sanctions contained in the "Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act 2003" that: "The Burmese people want these sanctions because they want democracy, justice and freedom, and we stand with them." Although it is true that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whom I met in December 1999, has for her own reasons supported sanctions, I have met no-one during my visits to Burma who thought that sanctions were helping them achieve freedom, and I can only marvel at the Senator's assertion which is not supported by any empirical or anecdotal evidence, naturally in the absence of any opinion polls.

Artlessdodger assesses the effectiveness of the Cuban model:

The first problem with using Cuba as a model for the failure of sanctions is that for most of the period we've had sanctions against Castro's regime, they've had an outside benefactors to take our place, first the Soviet Union for almost 30 years, then Chavez whose support in recent years has allowed Castro to move away from market reforms tentatively put in place in the 90s. North Korea is also dependent on outside help from China. Zimbabwe lacks substantial outside aid, and Mugabe's regime is clearly the more vulnerable than Cuba, or North Korea. Though aside from his delusions, Mugabe actually doesn't have foreign enemies deadset on seeing him overthrown either.

I suspect the real reason for Castro's success, aside from his genuinely impressive healthcare system, is geography, that so many would be dissidents simply leave the island. IT really is difficult to foment a coup when access to the island is so limited. Besides, since the 60s Cuba has been seen as more of an annoyance than a threat, so the goal of overthrowing Cuba hasn't been a high priority since then. The sanctions have been fairly effective in discouraging the Cuban model. They've contributed to the impoverishment of the island. The sanctions show other governments, and other people in Latin America, the heavy cost of choosing an adverserial with the United States. That's part of why communism never really caught on in the Western hemisphere.

the_slasher14 notes that, in terms of its social makeup, Iran lacks the "racial divide" that made South Africa so internally resistant to reform. Furthermore, "once it becomes obvious that the mullahs are presiding over a system where the standard of living is going to drop sharply as long as they're around, it is unlikely Iranians will spend a generation dithering over what to do." legas is more skeptical, given Iran's possession of "a highly fungable resource" in the midst of a world energy crisis.

For certainly, there is stability in hypocrisy, with ineffective boycotts benefiting both sides politically in favor of the status quo:

The result of our imposition of sanctions is usually a very stable state: our government has pleased the general population by expressing its disapproval of the dictator, and the dictator has earned an external enemy that he can rally his own people against.

The people of both countries respond with nationalistic support of our side in this peaceful conflict, and with no actual military activity, and no economic interaction to destabilize either side, this can go on forever, at least in political terms. Thus we propped up the Ayatollah, andSaddam and Castro, and now we can add Chavez to the list.

Of course, all of this posturing is very hypocritical. Our multinationals create foreign subsidiaries that do business with those disfavored regimes (Halliburton, while Cheney was CEO, had a subsidiary that did oilfield development work in Iran). And smart people in our government are well aware that our imposition of sanctions strengthens the internal political position of the dictator. But it does tend to freeze any expansion and limit any major offenses by the dictators (notable exceptions: Cubans in Angola and Saddam in Kuwait). And the US politicians look like they are doing "something", and that something is very low risk.

So we have supported Castro in Cuba for 45-odd years, and we so overplayed our hand in Iraq that Saddam actually thought we'd let him take Kuwait. And North Korea, and Iran seem like they will go on forever.

But the Cubans in Miami are happy. That's what really matters.

Contribute your insights in The Big Idea. Don't forget to check out the latest posts on Gibsongate in Fighting Words and Hollywood. AC 8:06pm PDT

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Tuesday, August 1st, 2006

In her latest column, Dahlia Lithwick evaluates the validity of privacy claims made by Robert Steinbuch, counsel to Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, after Steinbuch's affair with a D.C. office intern was widely publicized on the Internet, causing him "humiliation and anguish." 

The piece was inflammatory enough to prompt Steinbuch's lawyer Jonathan Rosen, writing under JSRosen, to contest alleged inaccuracies in Slate's reporting.

yggy systematically tears down the plaintiff's case on the following grounds:

First, what Cutler wrote and said is substantively true. Second, Steinbuch is himself a borderline public figure. His actions do reflect on Sen. Mike DeWine and are therefore privy to the public. Third, Cutler did not identify Steinbuch by name. She could have perhaps been slyer than "RS," and if she had been there would be no case today, but any number of people inside the Beltway could share those initials.

Rejecting "Lithwick's half-hearted effort to prop up a straw woman of 'political interest,' " rundeep disagrees with yggy's viewpoint: "the fact that salacious information has a high readership is hardly indicative of its value to political or public discourse."

While showing little sympathy for Steinbuch, MomboMan-3 outlines a possible recourse for the plaintiff: "go after the money she is making from books, HBO and Playboy. After all, her story is a story because she had a relationship with him, therefore his is entitled to a portion of the gains from that relationship. Without her sex partners, she has no story, and no monetary value."

On the question of privacy and personal experience, Merritt30 makes a liberal free speech argument:

To my non-legal mind, at least, it seems like there is a crucial difference between Cutler describing something she may have heard about Steinbuch and something that she personally experienced with Steinbuch. She was not merely repeating gossip that she heard from a third party or describing something she had seen through a hidden camera; she was talking about her own experience.

It seems to me that one should be free to talk about one's own personal experiences pretty much without legal restriction (except perhaps if the event were specifically intended as a set-up to embarrass someone, e.g. a candid-camera type situation). Otherwise, say, it would be possible for an abuser to sue his victim if she were to publish an account of his "private" behavior. One's right to publish a memoir or autobiography of any sort would be in question.

HLS2003, in a free-wheeling reflection on sex, blogs, and self-control, invokes the Fourth Amendment to reason that "if a person can have his deepest secrets recorded, turned over to the government, and used to convict him of a crime because he chose his confidants unwisely, then it only seems reasonable that some dumbass who decided to arrange booty calls with a girl he barely knew should have to take the risk that she's the type to screw-and-tell."

CaLawyer worries more broadly about creating a tort of gossip:

Everyone believes in 'the right of privacy', but everyone has a different concept of it. Everyone has secrets, and we view it as a violation of our own personal autonomy when these secrets are revealed to people we'd rather not have know about them, or revealed indiscriminately…

Yes, there is such thing as a tort of "Public Disclosure of Private Facts". It is ill-defined, largely because we're not sure what constitutes "Private facts", and we're not sure at what point a prohibition against the disclosure of private facts intrudes on my right to speak…if you read Supreme Court cases, they talk about political speech receiving the highest level of protection, but I think that idea has not been thought through fully. Most people's lives are not consumed with talk of politics. Most people's everyday conversations revolve around themselves, their friends, their family, and what's going on in their lives. In other words, gossip. If I had to worry about being sued every time I let something slip that a friend of mine told me but which they considered "private", I would be reluctant to talk at all, except about politics. And I don't want to live in a country where the only way I can avoid being sued is to sound like a C-SPAN groupie.

Contribute your thoughts in Jurisprudence. AC6:30pm PDT

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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Using one school's attempt to ban chocolate as a case study in the futility of "market suppression," Tim Harford's article opened up a classic conservative/liberal divide, with questions of personal choice vs. government intervention dominating The Undercover Economist Fray.

FBH echoes many readers in calling for more parental involvement. Father of two daughters, Ripley bemoans the bad nutritional choices induced by government-subsized lunch programs. Also a frustrated parent, Dayenu laments how "schools peddle this junk and then demand that we control our children if we don't want them to eat it… Meanwhile, they're suggesting that young kids, whose impulse-control skills when it comes to eating should hardly be expected to rival those of adults, should walk past junk food… How about paying a bit more, charging a bit more, and serving good, healthful hot lunches?"

Wary of yet more regulation headed her way, katbsd promises "during the next school year to take even more time away from teaching math to check lunches, snacks, and lockers for contraband candy!"

Of banning chocolate, AshleyMiller says "if the school systems are smart, they will focus more on nutritional education rather than ban sweets…just because candy is available does not mean that a person has to eat it."

As a matter of precision, RPC points out that there is a difference "between 'banning' something and not selling something. Should schools ban chocolate? I don't think so. If parents choose to send their kids in with chocolate, so be it. Should schools sell chocolate? No. But that is not a 'ban.' "

For his part, run75441 questions the implicit equivalence between the commodities Snickers = Chuckles = Heroin??? discussed in Harford's article.

texasman1 takes a more libertarian approach and moreover admires the entrepreneurial spirit of the young boy selling banned candies to his classmates. What could be more American than that? AC ... 5:38pm PDT

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Ross Douthat's appraisal of M. Night Shyamalan's directing career to date stirred up passions both for and against in Culturebox.

Sledgeh101 thinks Douthat, "in trying to defend M. Night's post-6th Sense movies, is trying a little too hard to see the silver lining in the blackening clouds." Read additional commentary here.

For amble, Shymalan's self-directed American Express commercial is demonstrative enough of his overly inflated ego:

Shymalan's self-mythologizing, and achingly pretentious American Express commercial was, quite literally, queeze-inducing, and is reason alone to dislike him.
As a counterpoint, it was such a relief--and a hilarious one--to see that Wes Anderson chose the exact opposite route and made a commercial making fun of pretentious directors. Just to re-iterate for those who didn't see it: in Shymalan's commercial he can't even eat at a super-fancy restaurant without being recognized and bothered--ha ha ha--by the staff, who all looooove his movies. And meanwhile, he is fanatasing about ideas essentailly ripped off from Rod Sterling because, as we mortals should know, his mind works differently than ours does.

Whatever we might think of his movies, Jaque notes how successfully the director has cultivated his own name as a brand:

Whether we like M. Night Shyamalan or not, he his already a phenom. Just look at all the posts on Slate. Just about everyone is able to not only recall all the movies made my him, but is also able to critique them in great depth! How many modern Directors have this effect?

Look at the this Summer's biggest block buster - Pirates. How do most people indentify this movie? Johny Depp. Or may be Disney.

Now contrast this with North By North West. Most people will identify this as a Hitcock movie inspite of the big name presence of Cary Grant!

The same is true for Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Both with big name presence of Bruce Willis. But by and large we don't lable it as "Bruce Willis movie." That is what M. Night has achieved. A mark on the movie industry.

Cinematic history will be kind to Shyamalan, predictsS_MargaretPrima:

I believe that as much as Shyamalan is getting a critical flogging now, he's due to be re-evaluated in a decade or two. Don't get me wrong, I don't uniformly admire all of his movies and I can see why critical opinion has turned on him. He may have stretched the collective credulity by flogging the 'twist ending' too much, all the while allowing the marketing of his movies to turn him into a one-gimmick director. But at least for Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and yes, even Signs (I have not seen the Village nor Lady in the Water) I have never seen better character development or a more masterful setting of tone. His films are somber, suspenseful and yet profoundly sad, eliciting performances from his actors that you wouldn't expect.

Memo from hcd to Shyamalan, cc: studio executives:

The criticism M. Night is garnering is because he wants to be feted as a real live Homer, but there obviously isn't a conspiracy to deprive him of the money necessary to make his mostly enjoyable, always overreaching, possibly overly well regarded films. He's gotten a phenomenal amount of support already. If anything, his apparent inability to take the gentlest of hints is what will prevent him from closing that gap between his ambition and execution. But it seems foolish to fault the film industry in all this, as though they're preventing his dream movie that can only be done with just a little more fawning and a few more millions.

Off to see Lady in the Water myself. AC 7:40pm PDT

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Monday, July 17, 2006

Richard Ford's piece on gay marriage got an intense drubbing in the Jurisprudence Fray, with much scrutiny directed at his central claim that "a hunger for distinctive sex roles is just not the same thing as anti-gay bigotry."

In a lengthy diatribe, Rrhain explains how anxiety over gender roles is at the root—or at the very least, a displaced symptom—of homophobia:

Despite protestations to the contrary, "a hunger for distinctive sex roles" is precisely anti-gay bigotry and the reason why is that gays inherently cross those roles ...

And this connects directly to marriage due to the fundamental purpose of marriage: Legitimization of a sexual relationship. Marriage has changed quite a bit over the years, but the one thing that remains constant throughout its history is the sexual relationship that is created between the participants. To this day, one of the reasons you can get a marriage annuled is that the two have never had sex…

And this is why we see the homophobes drawing the line at marriage even though they don't have nearly as much of a problem with employment, housing, education, military service, etc.: Marriage forces them to consider sexual activity between people of the same sex. Working at a job, paying the rent, going to school, serving in the military, none of those things are sexual in nature. But marriage? That's got sex written all over it. What is the symbol by which we show the world that the marriage has been solemnized and made legitimate? That's right, by an act of physical intimacy: The couple kisses. And then we send the couple off on a honeymoon so that they can have lots and lots of sex.

A self-identified straight woman who eschews conventional gender roles in her own marriage, Janessa lectures Ford on "Womens Studies 101":

Underlying homophobic attitudes is fear of divergent gender identities. It is impossible to consider sexual orientation without considering gender presentation and identity. This is like, Womens Studies 101 (but maybe Ford skipped that class in college since it was only for ladies).

Gay men and women have been discriminated against and subject to medical, behavior, and disciplinary intervention so that their gender presentation more explicitly matched their biological gender…Compulsory heterosexuality, exemplified by "one man one woman" marriage, is one of the stalwart elements of gender discipline…

It is completely befuddling why Ford thinks that some straight people's clinging to violently, legally policed gender roles is somehow more okay than hating gay people for some mysterious "other" way of hating gays. In fact, his description of straight anti-gay marriage activists' attitudes sounds like my definition of homophobia straight up -- the belief that women should get f----- by men, and men should f--- women, and anything else is icky and scary.

More to the point, badtequila asks why sexism is somehow more palatable or excusable than homophobia tout court.

Religious marriage is caught up in all manner of dogma and tradition detailing very specific gender roles for a husband and wife. When you accept religious marriage, you are supposedly also accepting the religion's version of the roles that come along with it. But Government marriage is only a distribution of the same exact benefits to two people. Your own sex is irrelevant. Your partner's sex is irrelevant. No government benefit of marriage is gender related. And you accept no gender "role" when you have the government sanction your marriage."

In a sentiment perhaps typical of fair-minded social moderates, OldGrouch expresses his slight revulsion at the idea of gay marriage but in practice argues for social tolerance.

kd1084 points to marriage as a historically malleable concept and institution. mallardsballard carefully outlines the historical origins of marriage and concludes that "if one rests purely on conservative tradition, the answer [for opposing gay marriage] is, because it has never been done that way before."

For those despondent over recent developments on the gay-marriage front, Peter Beinart of The New Republic offers a more uplifting take here. AC… 6:59pm PDT

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Ezra Klein's diagnosis on "the medical malpractice myth" and positive evaluation of a reform proposal by Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama brought medical professionals, public policy analysts, and consumer advocates all out of the woodwork. 

courtgrunt, a civil-court clerk, scrolls through his county's database of pending cases and finds four medical malpractice suits (out of a random sample of 500), leading him to conclude "there aren't even close to as many medical malpractice lawsuits filed as the media (or extreme right wingers) would like us to believe."

By contrast, claiming that Slate "slants the whole issue as if malpractice were as mythological as unicorns," MomboMan-3 lists a series of points underscoring the very real problem facing doctors today.

Luchese laments that patients are now numbers:

In over two decades of Obstetrics I found that communication with the patient not only humane and professional but allayed questions and concerns about treatment and outcome. Most physicians do not communicate with their patients and hence suffer lawsuits because of feelings of abandonment or subterfuge on the part of the patient. The profession is now driven by technology, money and productivity. Patients are no longer people but numbers. Furthermore the burden to healthcare now and will be those illnesses and diseases caused by lifestyle; obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, and those resulting from society; stress, depression, anxiety, insomnia. All the technology, training and malpractice insurance cannot change this.

But antsi, an obstetrician "for almost ten years," attests to having "seen the pernicious effects of malpractice litigation first hand. Reading this article, I feel like a swimmer being told by someone standing on dry land that the water isn't wet." Read his objections here.

An indignant ShanCan blasts the lack of transparency in the medical profession:

Why is it that any Taco Bell has to be regularly inspected, get a letter grade, and have it posted for all the world to see but it is virtually impossible for me to find out the safety record of the cardiac surgeon who is going to slice me open and literally hold my heart in his hands? Why is it that I can lose my driver's license after a series of violations in which no one is harmed, but a physician can keep his medical license regardless of how many deaths s/he contributes to simply by paying a higher insurance premium, so long as the errors are deemed to be accidental and not negligent? Why is it legal for a doctor or hospital to cover up their lethal mistakes with a pile of money and a confidentiality clause? It is not a secret to anyone who actually reads the literature that the problem is not a rash of frivolous lawsuits but a rash of dangerous doctors and hospitals with no real accountability beyond their own consciences. Kudos to Clinton and anyone else who proposes an idea that may solve a legitimate problem in a way that benefits the public rather than a small interest group like - but good luck getting something so practical and potentially effective through the legislative process.

rcf broadens the debate on medical malpractice costs to include all the players: "Realize doctors are not the only medical providers who make errors. Nurses do, clerks do, aides do, lab techs do, PA's do. Such an error no matter who makes it can lead to a cascade of subsequent errors." Read his reform proposal here.

For Dayenu, the point of medical malpractice cases is "to make patients (or their survivors) whole again. They are not designed to improve health care. In fact, in some ways they fail to do just that, by convincing policymakers that a lawsuit solves the problem for the next patient, when it doesn't. In the first place, the problem isn't just paying claims, it's the cost of medical malpractice insurance. In the second place, is there any proof that malpractice cases do anything to improve health care to individual patients or even stop individual bad doctors from practicing medicine?"

michaeltwatson, author of America's Tunnel Vision—How Insurance Companies' Propaganda Is Corrupting Medicine and Law, writes in to make a plug for his book and deplore the prevalence of medical error.

You can add your two cents in Medical Examiner. AC7:30pm PDT

Adam Christian is co-editor of the Fray.