George Saunders ponders the effects of computer technology on his life and work:
I have noticed, over the last few years, the very real (what feels like) neurological effect of the computer and the iPhone and texting and so on – it feels like I’ve re-programmed myself to become discontent with whatever I’m doing faster. So I’m trying to work against this by checking emails less often, etc etc. It’s a little scary, actually, to observe oneself getting more and more skittish, attention-wise. I really don’t know if people are “deep reading” less these days in favour of a quick fix on the internet – I think this is a thing one hears a lot, but when I travel to colleges here in the US there are always people reading Joyce and DFW and debating about literary difficulty and praising William Gaddis and so on.
I do know that I started noticing a change in my own reading habits – I’d get online and look up and 40 minutes would have gone by, and my reading time for the night would have been pissed away, and all I would have learned was that, you know, a certain celebrity had lived in her car awhile, or that a cat had dialed 911. So I had to start watching that more carefully. But it’s interesting because (1) this tendency does seem to alter brain function and (2) through some demonic cause-and-effect, our technology is exactly situated to exploit the crappier angles of our nature: gossip, self-promotion, snarky curiosity. It’s almost as if totalitarianism thought better of the jackboots and decided to go another way: smoother, more flattering – and impossible to resist.
Reading this and watching this riveting Tedx talk on the impact of online porn on young male brains – essentially numbing them to actual sex with real human beings and creating an epidemic of young men with floppy dicks (I refuse to use the term “erectile dysfunction” when simpler English can do) – has woken me up a bit. Writing and editing and producing 50 posts a day – and doing something very similar almost every day since Bill Clinton was president – must be affecting my brain. It’s not as powerful as the effect on the younger, developing brain, but, yes, skittishness, dissatisfaction, and constant stress have doubtless changed my entire mindset. And I can see the point about online porn making physical sex more difficult – especially if you spent your most formative sexual adolescence under the spell of constant, dizzying varieties of sexual imagery and video. How can one woman or one man even begin to replace that cornucopia of dopamine?
Our brains were designed to be turned on. But not this often, this instantly, this pleasurably and without any consequences at all. Once again, our frontal cortex is getting way ahead of our primate DNA. And the Tower of Babel grows ever taller.
The former executive editor of the New York Times recently wrote the following sentence on his blog:
The editors (I was one at the time) argued that what constituted torture was still a matter of debate, that this issue was not just linguistic but legal and had not yet been resolved by a court, and that the word was commonly applied to such a range of practices as to be imprecise.
This is untrue. As I subsequently pointed out, there is a plethora of court cases that deal with the techniques Bush and Cheney authorized, and all of them found them to be torture. None had even the slightest equivocation about it. In fact, the one torture tactic that both former president Bush and former veep Dick Cheney have openly bragged about – waterboarding – has been ruled torture by domestic and international courts for decades. You could argue that there was a debate about some of the techniques, but not waterboarding in any way shape or form. If you were squeamish, you could have used the term “torture and other brutal interrogation techniques” in the NYT to describe the policies of the US government under Bush and Cheney. But Keller didn’t. Even that was too daring for him.
A factual untruth is still sitting on the blog of the former executive editor of the NYT. He has now written a subsequent post without any correction of the previous one, and not responded to the mountain of comments taking him to task. He appears to be compounding his cowardly refusal to use the English language when editing the paper with uncorrected factual untruth on his blog. And people wonder why journalists are held in such low regard.
If the former editor of the NYT doesn’t bother correcting the record, why should anyone else?
One major piece of disappointment came with Pope Francis’ endorsement of the on-going inquisition of American nuns. I’m not sure entirely what to make of it – is it an early indicator of Francis’ theological conservatism or simply acquiescing to a process already long underway? We will see by the disciplinary actions eventually taken (or not). The nuns would seem to have more in common with the Jesuit Francis, if only because he is aware of the need for outreach among religious orders – even to places and people that discomfort others. That was Jesus’ call, and Saint Francis’ and St Ignatius’. We’ll see what transpires in the end, but, obviously, I hope the Sisters can soon renew their vital work without constantly looking behind their backs.
But three other developments strike me as encouraging. The first – and least sexy – is the establishment of a global council of advisers in the governing of the church. This may seem a trivial reform. It isn’t. It restores the Second Vatican Council’s desire to place the Pope in a less dictatorial position, and to open up areas of authority within the global church as a counter-balance. And so this new governing commission – made up of highly effective cardinals in every continent – is a big shift:
More profound thinkers have read the Pope’s creation of a group of advisers as a bold new step towards fully implementing a model of ecclesial government evoked by the Second Vatican Council – one that is less centralised, more collegial and based on the principles of subsidiarity.
“What Pope Francis has announced is the most important step in the history of the Church of the last 10 centuries and in the 50-year period of reception of Vatican II,” said the noted church historian Alberto Melloni. Writing in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera, he said the Pope had “created a synodal organ of bishops that must experiment with the exercise of the consilium”. In other words, shared governance of the Church between the Bishop of Rome and all the world’s bishops.
Detailed proposals for this were put forth in Archbishop Quinn’s book, ["The Reform of the Papacy"] which in 2005 appeared in Spanish. Pope Francis read that work when he was still just a cardinal in Argentina and, at around that time, he reportedly expressed his conviction that at least some of its ideas should be adopted.
More surprising is the support for civil unions for gay couples that seems to be percolating on the margins. The Pope argued for them in Argentina within the Jesuit branch he ran (it was the sole argument he lost in his years in president of the Conference), and earlier this year, some wiggle room for gay couples in civil law was mentioned by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family. This was only a defensive action against civil marriage rights for gay couples, but it was a concession to reality one cannot imagine Benedict XVI ever making. Now this:
There are many nuances to the story of Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev – and there is no doubt that, like all human beings their acts were, as my shrink often unhelpfully puts it, “multi-determined.” And there is a huge amount to learn from the stoner kid who got caught up in his brother’s religious fanaticism. But Glenn Greenwald veers into left-liberal self-parody this morning:
The overarching principle here should be that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is entitled to a presumption of innocence until he is actually proven guilty. As so many cases have proven – from accused (but exonerated) anthrax attacker Stephen Hatfill to accused (but exonerated) Atlanta Olympic bomber Richard Jewell to dozens if not hundreds of Guantanamo detainees accused of being the “worst of the worst” but who were guilty of nothing – people who appear to be guilty based on government accusations and trials-by-media are often completely innocent. Media-presented evidence is no substitute for due process and an adversarial trial.
But beyond that issue, even those assuming the guilt of the Tsarnaev brothers seem to have no basis at all for claiming that this was an act of “terrorism” in a way that would meaningfully distinguish it from Aurora, Sandy Hook, Tuscon and Columbine. All we really know about them in this regard is that they identified as Muslim, and that the older brother allegedly watched extremist YouTube videos and was suspected by the Russian government of religious extremism (by contrast, virtually every person who knew the younger brother has emphatically said that he never evinced political or religious extremism).
Legally, the case for the presumption of innocence is absolutely right. But come on.
Quitting masturbation is a trend on Reddit now, in the “NoFap” forum:
The goals for all these men, regardless of their personal lives or relationship statuses, seemed to be similar: to return to a more charged, natural self. It’s a throwback notion—virility as integral to manhood—but many of these anti-masturbators regard it as truth. “I feel like a man again” is a common refrain. One NoFapper referred to his 90 days without masturbation as “a passage into manhood.” They see masturbation as a failure of masculinity—not because it’s shameful or forever associated with adolescence, but because, on a fundamental, even chemical level, it’s draining their true potential.
The medical profession isn’t convinced. Every doctor and psychologist I spoke with informed me that “there’s no evidence” to link masturbation to sexual performance, and that it’s an oversimplification to think that frequent masturbation is the cause of delayed ejaculation.
The thing about jacking off is, it’s so personal it’s mystical: There is only you, and the feeling that arises in you. No one can judge that relationship better than you—as opposed to abstainers, who like ardent ex-smokers can judge and browbeat you, Mr. (or Ms.) Self-Abuser, as only the zealous convert can. For my part, jerking it makes me a calmer, happier, more compassionate person. I am confident in my body. I am exultant in sex and sensitive to anyone I’m lucky enough to share my sex with. And in compartmentalizing masturbation as separate from the finer pursuits of life, I feel more mindful of my surroundings, not less.
It’s worth recalling that the formal, theological case against masturbation is identical to that against contraception and gay marriage. It is sodomy, as defined in the early modern period, i.e. ejaculation outside the vagina of a married female. So, as I argued at length a decade ago, we are all sodomites now. Men, anyway. Has any priest now living not masturbated?
For the record, I could never grasp why this was so wrong. My instinctual reaction to my first teenage orgasm was total wonderment. Of course, I had been taught nothing about this strange liquid coming out of my dick. It happened while I was reading – of all things – one of the Don Camillo short stories by Giovannino Guareschi. Not the most predictable erotic trigger – but when you’re fourteen, it could be the ceiling and you’d hit yourself in the eye if you weren’t careful.
There was something almost poignant about a post yesterday by former NYT executive editor Bill Keller. It’s his way of explaining why he decided the Times could not use the plain word ‘torture’ to describe torture – when it was conducted by the Bush administration. He conflates the issue with the other t-word, terrorism, as if there were some kind of analogy. There isn’t. What happened in Benghazi was an act of terror, as Obama said the following day. What happened in Boston was an act of terror. The only circumspection about the word should be in the immediate aftermath of explosions when it seems to me prudent not to jump to conclusions. So the fire at the JFK Library Monday was not an act of terror.
The most it can take to reach the conclusion about terror is a few days. Yet the New York Times has refused to use the word ‘torture’ for years in its news pages and is still avoiding it. Keller was behind that decision. Future historians of the press will note how the most powerful single journalistic institution in the country simply caved to government and partisan pressure – even on the use of the English language.
Keller denies this. He says the avoidance of the word was because there was an ongoing debate about the legal meaning of torture, and therefore the NYT should have stayed neutral.
The editors (I was one at the time) argued that what constituted torture was still a matter of debate, that this issue was not just linguistic but legal and had not yet been resolved by a court, and that the word was commonly applied to such a range of practices as to be imprecise. We contended that the best approach was to describe the techniques as fully as possible and let readers draw their own conclusions.
Keller writes that the issue of what torture is “had not yet been resolved by a court”. Really?
Let us take, for example, a torture technique both Bush and Cheney have openly bragged about authorizing: waterboarding. Has no court adjudicated the matter? I refer Keller to page 371 of the Constitution Project report, which details countless examples of US courts finding waterboarding unequivocally to be torture:
In the early 20th century, U.S. Army Captain Elwin Glenn was court-martialed for administering the “water cure” to civilians during the combat operations in the Philippines. Japanese military personnel were convicted of war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East for using the “water treatment” method on POWs. And several lower-ranking soldiers were convicted of waterboarding, a war crime, in the years following the war.
Several state courts have decided cases involving waterboarding as well. In White v. State, the Mississippi Supreme Court threw out a 1922 murder conviction because the defendant’s confession had been obtained using the “water cure.” In that case, men held the appellant down while one stood on him and the other poured water into his nose in order to gain a confession. The court described this treatment as “barbarous” and “brutal treatment,” “causing pain and horror.”
In Cavazos v. State, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals similarly reversed a murder conviction where officers had extracted a confession by coercive means, including the water cure. The Cavazos court found in 1942 that the trial judge had improperly admitted a confession that was “obtained by force and physical and mental torture.”
Four decades after Cavazos, four Texas law-enforcement officers who had waterboarded suspects were convicted of “violating and conspiring to violate the civil rights of prisoners in their custody.” The defendants, a sheriff and three deputies, had “draped a towel over each man’s face and pour[ed] water over it until the men gagged.” While not considering the nature of the treatment itself on appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in 1984 repeatedly described the actions of the sheriff and deputies as “torture.”
While all of the above cases were decided prior to Convention Against Torture’s ratification, U.S. courts have held that waterboarding is a form of torture after the U.S.’s ratification as well. For example, in In re Estate of Ferdinand E. Marcos Human Rights Litigation, the U.S. District Court for the District Court of Hawaii specifically listed waterboarding (or “water cure”) as one form of torture practiced by the Marcos regime, which used such techniques against political dissidents who then brought their claims in U.S. courts when seeking asylum. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit subsequently supported this finding.
The Marcos regime used waterboarding against political dissidents while it was in control of the Philippines, and it was the basis of many claims by victims in the ensuing litigation in American courts.
To repeat: Keller writes in his post that the issue of whether waterboarding was torture “had not yet been resolved by a court.” It had – and in no single case had there been any equivocation at all. Waterboarding was explicitly defined as torture by the Bush State Department and the Convention Against Torture. It is a war crime – or the law and the English language mean nothing. The same is true for a litany of other authorized abuses – which have clear, legal and regulatory status as torture. Will the former editor of the Times correct a factual error?
At any time during his position as NYT executive editor, Mr Keller could also have looked up the legal definition, which is not in dispute:
[A]n act committed by a person acting under the color of law specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control.
using dogs to terrorize prisoners; stripping detainees naked and hooding them; isolating people in windowless cells for weeks and even months on end; freezing prisoners to near-death and reviving them and repeating the hypothermia; contorting prisoners into stress positions that create unbearable pain in the muscles and joints; cramming prisoners into upright coffins in painful positions with minimal air; near-drowning, on a waterboard, of human beings—in one case 183 times—even after they have cooperated with interrogators.
And in many cases – it was many of the above combined – and several confirmed cases of being tortured to death. How can anyone not see that these techniques clearly “inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering” on people completely under the government’s control? There is not now and never has been a debate about this.
So why Keller’s bizarre refusal to call it by its proper name? The reason is simple. Keller knew that publishing the word torture with respect to president Bush and his administration was a factual allegation of war crimes. Such an accusation would have caused all the usual suspects to deride the NYT as a left-liberal rag, with a partisan agenda. There would have been huge partisan political blowback. It might also have prevented NYT reporters from getting access to anyone in the Bush administration. Keller basically admits as much:
Until the CIA hands back its critique of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the war crimes authorized by president Bush, we lack a report that carries institutional bipartisan weight on the interrogation practices in the era of Dick Cheney’s “dark side.” Until now, that is.
The Constitution Project’s non-partisan report on the facts – an exhaustive, yet gripping and lucid 575 pages – puts any lingering doubts to rest.
Some of the participants give it particular credibility: Asa Hutchinson was a key figure in impeaching president Clinton, an Arkansas congressman whose DEA nomination was backed by an overwhelming 98 – 1 in the Senate and who subsequently ran the largest division within Bush’s Department of Homeland Security. Richard Epstein is one of the most doctrinaire libertarian conservatives you could hope to find. Thomas R Pickering was president George H W Bush’s ambassador to the UN, and American ambassador to both Russia and India. Judge William S. Sessions is the former Director of the FBI, under Reagan and Bush. They all signed off on the Constitution Project’s findings, which are inarguable, given the evidence provided in the report.
Those findings, to put it bluntly, are that for several years, the United States government systematically committed war crimes against prisoners in its custody, violating the Geneva Conventions, US domestic law, and international law. Many of these war crimes were acts of torture; many more were acts of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. All are federal crimes. None of those who authorized the war crimes has been prosecuted.
The report – which I urge you to read in full when you get the chance – dispassionately lays out all the possible legal definitions of torture (domestic and international) and then describes what the Bush administration authorized. The case is not a close one. Bush and Cheney are war criminals, as are all those involved in the implementation of these torture techniques. Perhaps the most powerful part of the case is an examination of what the US itself has condemned as torture when committed by other countries. Take one often lightly-dismissed torture technique – stress positions. The Bush administration’s own State Department has called these techniques torture:
The State Department criticized Jordan in its 2006 Human Rights report for subjecting detainees to “forced standing in painful positions for prolonged periods.” In its 2000, 2001 and 2002 reports on Iran, “suspension for long periods in contorted positions” is described as torture. In its 2001 and 2002 Human Rights report on Sri Lanka, “suspension by the wrists or feet in contorted positions” and remaining in “unnatural positions for extended periods” are described as “methods of torture.”
Flash forward to what the Bush administration authorized in one case:
While being held in this position [a prolonged standing stress position involving being shackled to a bar or hook in the ceiling by the detainee’s wrists, typically while naked, for a continual period of time, ranging from two to three days continuously, up to two or three months intermittently] some of the detainees were allowed to defecate in a bucket. A guard would come to release their hands from the bar or hook in the ceiling so that they could sit on the bucket. None of them, however, were allowed to clean themselves afterwards. Others were made to wear a garment that resembled a diaper. This was the case for Mr. Bin Attash in his fourth place of detention. However, he commented that on several occasions the diaper was not replaced so he had to urinate and defecate on himself while shackled in the prolonged stress standing position. When [prisoners fell] asleep held in this position, the whole weight of their bodies was effectively suspended from the shackled wrists, transmitting the strain through the arms to the shoulders.
The Bush administration is on record that this is torture. Now take one of the more famous techniques – waterboarding. Again, the Bush administration itself condemned the use of this barbarism when deployed by others and described it quite simply as torture:
We all know that the Congress is fundamentally responsible for keeping the former torture camp open, by preventing the executive branch from financing the transfer of any prisoners to elsewhere in the US. We also know that some terrorists were captured but with no real proof; and that some have been transferred to other countries. Of those some have taken up arms; some have simply melted back into society.
But we also know that 86 human beings there have not been found guilty of anything and are eligible for transfer – but must remain in prison limbo for the rest of their lives. We also know that there have been prisoner deaths at Gitmo that are extremely hard to explain without a working assumption that they were accidentally tortured to death by suffocation. Now we discover that lawyers for Gitmo prisoners going before the military commissions are subject to surveillance by the government, through secret microphones in cells and extremely sensitive video recording equipment. The farce of the commissions extends to outright violation of the most basic attorney-client privilege.
Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Policy and Research has a new report: “Spying on Lawyers at GTMO? Guantanamo Bay Military Commissions and the Destruction of the Attorney-Client Relationship.” It’s a comprehensive exploration of the legal crapshoot. Take a look. Money quote:
We now know that the government has installed surveillance devices with the capacity to listen even to whispers between attorneys and clients, and to read the attorneys’ own notes.
• Of all the facilities in Guantanamo Bay for attorneys to meet with their clients, the military chose Camp Echo, the former CIA interrogation facility
• Listening devices in the attorney- client meeting rooms are disguised as smoke detectors.
• The listening devices are so hypersensitive that they can detect even whispers between attorneys and their clients.
• Cameras in the attorney-client meeting rooms are so powerful that they can read attorneys’ handwritten notes and other confidential documents.
• The camera models can be operated secretly from a location outside of the room.
None of the capacities of the eavesdropping equipment would be necessary for CIA interrogations. Instead, the equipment has been implemented in a practice of multi-layered deception of defense attorneys.
Under those conditions, how can there be even a semblance of a fair trial? And if you were subjected to such a farce, and knew that you were being prevented from ever leaving a prison where you were wrongfully detained in the first place. wouldn’t you go on hunger strike? You’ve been captured by military forces with no charges, taken to a torture camp, hooded and shackled, beaten and tortured, and now – even when found innocent – kept in the same black hole of indefinite detention. Yes, I’d go on hunger strike.
Sure, Obama appended a signing statement, but the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act bars any transfer of prisoners out of Gitmo and president Obama signed it. His administration has defended the US government’s previous positions with respect to the rights of the detainees; and the military commissions are a legal farce of a kind you only find in totalitarian systems of government. And Obama is emphatically not a bystander in this.
I am intrigued by Mortality for one main reason, which is this: Hitchens’s beliefs about his advanced cancer and its treatment were, for a man whose fame rested on his scepticism, uncharacteristically optimistic. I hesitate to use the word delusional, as he admitted that he would be very lucky to survive, but he clearly steadfastly hoped, right to the end, that his particular case of advanced cancer might lie on the sparsely populated right side of the bell-shaped curve of outcome statistics.
He famously mocked religious folk for their faith in supernatural entities and survival of the soul after bodily death, yet the views expressed in Mortality are just as wishful and magical. “The oncology bargain (oncology is that branch of medicine which deals with the treatment of cancer),” writes Hitchens, “is that in return for at least the chance of a few more useful years, you agree to submit to chemotherapy and then, if you are lucky with that, to radiation or even surgery.” Years? I must now confess to a professional interest. I am a gastroenterologist in a large acute hospital, and I have diagnosed many patients with oesophageal cancer. “Years” is a word not generally used when discussing prognosis in Stage Four oesophageal cancer, “months”, in my experience, being a more useful one.
I’ve no watched two friends – an atheist and a Christian – go to extraordinary lengths to extend their lives against great odds. They were both relatively young – especially David at 34 when he found out. No one wanted them to go. But I wonder if all that medicine – which was, in fact, a form of poison – was worth it. David got ten more years, and two young children. But he also endured a disfiguring, disabling, brutal physical battering from the surgeries and chemo-sessions that tackling a tough brain tumor allow for. I say “allow for” because “required” is not the right word. What the chemo did to Christopher was beyond description – and what’s left of your body, even if the chemo works, can be extremely vulnerable to infections and diseases that can be worse than the cancer.
It seems odder to me for Christians to be as exercized by life-extension as the atheist. Put that down to the strange extremism of Ratzinger’s innovations on the question of “life”. But our culture’s gradual alienation from the fact of our deaths – our distancing ourselves even from the old and infirm in ways previous cultures didn’t and couldn’t – is not, in my view a healthy thing.
That was Hans Kung’s hope before the recent Conclave. It seemed somewhat naive to me at the time – but naivete in the face of the workings of the Holy Spirit is a good thing for Catholics to have. And we will certainly have to wait some time before we can assess whether the signs of reform become reality in any tangible fashion.
But we can say this much: almost every single action and statement from the new pontiff signals a radical departure from the past 44 years of the Wojtila-Ratzinger church. My favorite unofficial story about the new Pope was relayed to me by hearsay. But at the moment before he was to appear as the new Pope, he was allegedly presented with the papal mozzetta – the big red cape his predecessor loved to wear and an increasing must for any aspiring priest of bishop for the last decade (it had seasonal variations). He turned to the Vatican official who tried to put it on him, waved him away with one hand and said, simply, “Carnevale e finito.” The carnival is over.
Is it? That is the question. Is the Wojtila-Ratzinger era of reaction coming to an end?
Paul Wolfowitz isn’t ready to declare the Iraq War a failure:
It may be a long time before we really know the outcome of the Iraq war. To put that in perspective, consider that the Korean armistice was signed 60 years ago, but South Korea struggled for decades after that. Even after 30 years, only an extreme optimist would have predicted that South Korea today would not only have one of the world’s most successful economies but also a democratic political system that has successfully conducted six free and fair presidential elections over the last 25 years.
So too, it may be many years before we have a clear picture of the future of Iraq, but we already do know two important things. An evil dictator is gone, along with his two equally brutal sons, giving the Iraqi people a chance to build a representative government that treats its people as citizens and not as subjects. And we also know that Americans did not come to Iraq to take away its oil or to subjugate the country. To the contrary, having come to remove a threat to the United States, Americans stayed on at great sacrifice and fought alongside Iraqis in a bloody struggle against the dark forces that sought to return the country to a brutal tyranny. Iraqis rarely get enough credit for their own heroism in that struggle, but roughly 10,000 members of the Iraqi security forces are estimated to have died in that fight (twice the American total) in addition to tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
It’s a testament to the power of ideology and pride that Wolfowitz is actually still using the South Korea example. South Korea. How many sectarian divisions are there? Was not the war there in order to prevent Communist take-over of the entire peninsula? What possibly equivalent threat existed in sanctioned, impoverished Iraq? There is not a single sentence of personal accountability in the entire piece, not even a flicker of conscience about what his utopianism wrought. His only mention of Abu Ghraib, where torture policies authorized by his own president were exposed, destroying the entire moral case for the war, is about Abu Ghraib under Saddam. No apology for the death of a hundred thousand Iraqis because of a bungled operation. No apology for torture. No apology for sending thousands of Americans to die so that the new Shiite prime minister could actually cancel the coming elections in two critical Sunni areas: Anbar and Nineveh, as the sectarianism Wolfowitz insisted was over by 2003 still somehow consumes a country he never understood. No:
Mikey Piro, a two-time veteran of Iraq diagnosed with PTSD in 2006, has an excellent little blog called PTSD Survivor Daily through which he processes his post-war struggles. I met him at West Point and chatted late into the night. We hope to be launching a podcast soon, and Mikey will be one of my first guests. A soldier is supposed to be as courageous as this West Point grad from Long Island. But not as gob-smackingly candid about the reality of what we as a nation did to the tiny percentage of us who fought unwinnable wars, while we merely fought about them. Never in the history of human warfare has a nation demanded so much for so long from so few. From a recent post:
In combat we were always provided something to release our emotions or frustrations. Missions and free time let us discharge not only our weapons, but our pent up frustrations. Yelling, shooting, driving, crying, walking and many other releases were all at our disposal. They were standard issue. In the staccato of combat, a rhythm existed where we could gauge and guess when we needed to pull the release valve.
However, as a civilian, life is so unpredictable by comparison that we as Veterans have a hard time adapting to a continual set of challenges at irregular and less predictable intervals. We miss the neat bookends our tours provided us to bracket the ups and downs combat threw at us. At home the issues build up and we don’t have the markers set to know when to release.
He points to an earlier post about “the pressure that builds from within our core”:
Last week, I met a woman standing in line at a Starbucks. As I stood waiting for my coffee, I showed her one of my tweets about “#caffeination.” We got to talking about twitter (@mikeypiro in case you didn’t know) and the conversation led to sitting and talking about our respective professions. We pulled up a set of chairs in a quiet corner of an outdoor café. The conversation led down many paths but we talked about the Iraq deployment, job hunting as a new civilian, and my PTSD recovery path.
As I explored the loss of my Soldiers I broke down in the court yard in front of this total stranger. She was extremely polite and shared a story of her own as I gained my composure. The conversation for me was very exciting in that this total stranger out of the kindness of her heart was willing to listen. I felt I could open up to her on a number of topics, so I did not let the previous anxiety of crying get in the way. Talk about an In Vivo exposure! Normally, medicine helps me keep those tears in check. Alas, I was on the tail end of my cycle and I have found that holding tears back is more exhausting than just letting them go.
A simple question given divided government and the scale of the future fiscal imbalance: which party is prepared to compromise more? The GOP is arguing that their acquiescence to a relatively minor part of the fiscally ruinous Bush tax cuts – four years after they were supposed to be sunsetted – gives them the prize. But Obama’s new budget is in a different universe. He has already kept in place a large swathe of the Bush tax regime, but now has offered some serious, tangible cuts to entitlements, including the chained CPI. On top of his previous squeeze of Medicare and the cost-control provisions in the ACA, he’s open to means-testing more for wealthier Medicare recipients.
The rough balance of his new budget is 2 – 1 spending cuts to revenue increases. The howls from the left – has the Democratic party reverted to pre-Clinton brain-deadness so swiftly – confirm the constructive moderation. One reaction from the right, it seems to me, was so cynical, toxic and foul in its hypocrisy and bad faith … well it had to have happened in Washington. Even the Club for Growth was taken aback:
“Greg Walden doesn’t seriously oppose even the most modest of reforms to social security, right?” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola in a statement. “With nearly $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities, the last thing Republicans should attack the Democrats for is for making the most minor reforms to our entitlement programs. If anything, President Obama nibbles around the edges of entitlement reform and doesn’t do anything to put entitlements on a permanently sustainable path.”
I have been arguing for Obama to bring forward this kind of budget for a while. Maybe his caution was justified – especially given how he has been lacerated for negotiating with himself in the past and because the GOP is so riddled with purism and partisanship (even after its electoral shellacking), the compromise always seems to be in one direction.
But I think the president has realized his sagging poll numbers on the economy (see above) are directly related to his seeming inability to get even the slightest fiscal compromise in the face of unsustainable long-term debt. He’s the president, after all. In the end, he was elected to get some kind of bargain done, before the debt compounds even further. He’s now taken a clear enough step that even Bill O’Reilly may have to concede that he is serious about entitlement reform – if only to make discretionary spending in any way feasible in the near future.
What Obama needs to do soon is go everywhere and explain his compromise and demand some give in return. Perhaps if gun regulation and immigration reform really do gain traction, some kind of momentum for a deal could emerge. It is entirely to Obama’s advantage if that happens. The Democrats? They’re too smug right now. Obama’s concessionary move is in actuality a shrewd one. Inertia isn’t – if the Dems want to appeal to the center of the country on the economy and its future.
So there we were this morning, on a summery day, surrounding a coffin, offering prayers. David’s evangelical Christianity was omnipresent – and a cultural novelty for me, as a Catholic. First off, the coffin was never laid into the earth. It stayed there and remained there as we left. Were his very young kids the reason? I didn’t ask. But in this letting go, dirt was not shoveled or thrown over the casket, which was closed. We left it hanging. Rather, at the very end of the day’s festivities – and they were festive, not funereal – we all let go of balloons into the sky. They drifted upward, looking like little sperms, with wiggling trails of ribbon beneath them, looking for a heavenly egg.
I saw John DiIulio and his wife, Joe and Victoria Klein, along with Ralph Reed, who visited David in his final agonies, along with many of David’s uniquely eclectic posse. The service was in David’s evangelical mega-church, and infused with the surety of physical resurrection. The idea of our getting new bodies in Heaven – perfect bodies without tumors or HIV or wrinkles – has always seemed a little strange to me. If it’s true, then it must be a very different kind of existence. I remember after my friend Pat died of AIDS that I had one searing dream about him, in which he seemed extremely real, completely recognizable, yet utterly different in appearance: transfigured, but still Patrick. Perhaps that also accounts for the bewildering variety of the accounts of the risen Jesus in the New Testament. But it may also be our refusal to see the person in his or her final form: sometimes, as with AIDS, awfully deformed, or with a brutal brain tumor like David’s, wracked with pain, his face aged not just by time but by disease. We want these things not to continue. We want our dead friends and family to be remembered in the best of their prime, as if they were photo-shopped by Vogue.
I have never been to a mega-church service – which is something to be ashamed of, since I have written so often about evangelicalism’s political wing. And it was revealing. The theater was called a sanctuary – but it felt like a conference stage. There were no pews, no altar (of course), just movie-theater seats, a big complicated stage with a set, and four huge screens. It looked like a toned-down version of American Idol. I was most impressed by the lighting, its subtlety and professionalism (I’ve often wondered why the Catholic church cannot add lighting effects to choreograph the Mass). The lyrics of the religious pop songs – “hymns” doesn’t capture their Disney channel infectiousness – were displayed on the screens as well, allowing you to sing without looking down at a hymnal. Great idea. And the choir was a Christian pop band, young, hip-looking, bearded, unpretentious and excellent. Before long, I was singing and swaying and smiling with the best of them. The only thing I couldn’t do was raise my hands up in the air.
This was not, in other words, a Catholic experience. But it was clearly, unambiguously, a Christian one.
Support for marijuana legalization increases as crime goes down:
Eighty percent of the differences in support for marijuana legalization nationwide since 1975 is explained by the change in the overall crime rate through 2010 (the last year in which we have the crime rate and GSS data). Crime rates are currently at very low levels nationwide, which could explain why we saw the demonstrated upswing of marijuana legalization in all polling during the first decade of this century. If we were to see an increase in the crime rate in the future, there’s a pretty decent chance we’d see a decrease in support for marijuana.
Maybe so. But I’m still impressed by that sharp sudden uptick in the last few years. It looks a lot like the marriage equality graphs:
More and more, as the Obama re-election moves into the rear-view mirror, I think we are wrong to see the current fiscal stalemate or economic situation as the most dispositive aspects of Obama’s presidency.
I think what he may well be remembered for will not be his careful stewardship of a very sick economy back from intensive care. Given the nature of the economic collapse, he was never going to get a Reagan recovery anyway. All he needed was a recovery strong enough to get re-elected, and a winning coalition that remade America as a cultural entity. And that’s what we are now seeing. The 2012 election was a watershed for cultural change – and I suspect the sudden jump in support for marriage equality and marijuana legalization reflects a bandwagon effect in the wake of Obama’s overwhelming cultural victory.
Obama has presided over the moment when white America came to accept that it no longer has the demographic clout to ignore non-white America – a huge symbolic step in national self-understanding, literally epitomized by a multi-racial, multi-cultural president. It looks likely that his presidency will be the most significant one for gay rights in American history. He has established the principle of universal healthcare in America – another huge shift in the cultural identity of the country. He has harnessed the political power of American women to decimate the GOP’s coalition. If he presides over immigration reform, we will be a different country culturally than we were only a decade ago. And he will have ended – perhaps permanently – the entire idea of militarily occupying foreign countries to advance our geo-political goals, and, if the sequester continues, will have cut defense in ways even Clinton couldn’t dare to.
This is a cultural revolution. He did not create it. He organized it. And epitomized it. We are now looking very closely at various political, tactical moments – the budget, entitlement reform, taxes – exacerbated by the new instant and universal media. What we are missing is the strategic cultural revolution that has been occurring all the time, and that he has very carefully guided.
And he is quite happy for us to miss it. Because that stirs up less resistance. But the change goes on …
I remember reading an article in the Washington Monthly back in the late 1980s by one of the smugger liberal British columnists, Polly Toynbee. It captured part of the true derangement that Margaret Thatcher brought out in her political foes. It was called simply: “Is Margaret Thatcher A Woman?” It’s still online. It was a vicious attack on her having any feminist credentials. It included this magnificent lie:
She has experienced nothing but advantage from her gender.
Toynbee’s case is worth hearing out, but it’s an instant classic of the worst British trait: resentment of others’ success. No culture I know of is more brutally unkind to its public figures, hateful toward anyone with a degree of success or money, or more willing to ascribe an individual’s achievements to something other than their own ability. The Britain I grew up with was, in this specific sense, profoundly leftist in the worst sense. It was cheap and greedy and yet hostile to anyone with initiative, self-esteem, and the ability to make money.
The clip below captures the left-liberal sentiment of the time perfectly. Yes: the British left would prefer to keep everyone poorer if it meant preventing a few getting richer. And the massively powerful trade union movement worked every day to ensure that mediocrity was protected, individual achievement erased, and that all decisions were made collectively, i.e. with their veto. And so – to take the archetypal example – Britain’s coal-workers fought to make sure they could work unprofitable mines for years of literally lung-destroying existence and to pass it on to their sons for yet another generation of black lung. This “right to work” was actually paid for by anyone able to make a living in a country where socialism had effectively choked off all viable avenues for prosperity. And if you suggested that the coal industry needed to be shut down in large part or reshaped into something commercial, you were called, of course, a class warrior, a snob, a Tory fascist, etc. So hard-working Brits trying to make a middle class living were taxed dry to keep the life-spans of powerful mine-workers short.
To put it bluntly: The Britain I grew up in was insane. The government owned almost all major manufacturing, from coal to steel to automobiles. Owned. It employed almost every doctor and owned almost every hospital. Almost every university and elementary and high school was government-run. And in the 1970s, you could not help but realize as a young Brit, that you were living in a decaying museum – some horrifying mixture of Eastern European grimness surrounded by the sculptured bric-a-brac of statues and buildings and edifices that spoke of an empire on which the sun had once never set. Now, in contrast, we lived on the dark side of the moon and it was made up of damp, slowly degrading concrete.
I owe my entire political obsession to the one person in British politics who refused to accept this state of affairs. You can read elsewhere the weighing of her legacy – but she definitively ended a truly poisonous, envious, inert period in Britain’s history. She divided the country deeply – and still does. She divided her opponents even more deeply, which was how she kept winning elections. She made some serious mistakes – the poll tax, opposition to German unification, insisting that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist – but few doubt she altered her country permanently, re-establishing the core basics of a free society and a free economy that Britain had intellectually bequeathed to the world and yet somehow lost in its own class-ridden, envy-choked socialist detour to immiseration.
I was a teenage Thatcherite, an uber-politics nerd who loved her for her utter lack of apology for who she was. I sensed in her, as others did, a final rebuke to the collectivist, egalitarian oppression of the individual produced by socialism and the stultifying privileges and caste identities of the class system. And part of that identity – the part no one ever truly gave her credit for – was her gender. She came from a small grocer’s shop in a northern town and went on to educate herself in chemistry at Oxford, and then law. To put it mildly, those were not traditional decisions for a young woman with few means in the 1950s. She married a smart businessman, reared two children and forged a political career from scratch in the most male-dominated institution imaginable: the Tory party.
She relished this individualist feminism and wielded it – coining a new and very transitive verb, handbagging, to describe her evisceration of ill-prepared ministers or clueless interviewers. Perhaps in Toynbee’s defense, Thatcher was not a feminist in the left-liberal sense: she never truly reflected on her pioneering role as a female leader; she never appointed a single other woman to her cabinet over eleven years; she was contemptuous toward identity politics; and the only tears she ever deployed (unlike Hillary Clinton) were as she departed from office, ousted by an internal coup, undefeated in any election she had ever run in as party leader.
Indira Gandhi and Golda Meir preceded her; but Thatcher’s three election victories, the longest prime ministership since the 1820s, her alliance with the US in defeating the Soviet Union, and her liberation of the British economy place her above their achievements. What inspires me still is the thought of a young woman in a chemistry lab at Oxford daring to believe that she could one day be prime minister – and not just any prime minister, but the defining public figure in British post-war political history.
That took vision and self-confidence of a quite extraordinary degree. It was infectious. And it made Thatcher and Thatcherism a much more complicated thing than many analyses contain.
A week ago last Saturday, I was invited to West Point by a group called “Knights Out”. That’s the name for the gay-straight alliance among cadets at the oldest continuous military installation in America. This was their second annual dinner – which, like all things done twice at West Point, is now therefore a tradition. (Yes, that’s TV foodie, Ted Allen, on the far left. He was also a guest.) I thought I was just attending a dinner and making a few remarks, but they insisted on giving me an award for my work on ending the military ban on openly gay service-members. This happened the week before those critical court cases on marriage equality.
It’s taken me this long to write up the event because my bewilderment has been so disorienting – and because it was difficult to absorb the power of this moment while putting on my analyst’s hat for the court cases. But here’s part of what I managed in my paywalled Sunday column in the Times of London:
There were around 30 gay cadets present, and then plenty of old boys (and girls), and military faculty. An older general was there – with his husband. It was a formal event held in a central building. And as I tried to absorb the moment, it occurred to me that a little over two years ago, all of those cadets would have been expelled for merely being there. Since the beginning of the institution, gay cadets were either subject to immediate discharge or, after 1993, under the policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, ordered to keep their sexual orientation secret or face dismissal. They were, in other words, forced to break the core ethic of the place – “a cadet will not lie …” – in order to remain in good standing with it. And it was that ancient alleged contradiction – between military honor and homosexuality – that was being dissolved that night.
A tough Brigadier General, Tammy Smith, gave an address: “You’re military first, gay second,” she insisted, her wife sitting nearby. And these young gay men and lesbians gave her a standing ovation. They were in the military not because they were gay, but because they wanted to serve their country. One young cadet I met was following family tradition that had sent the next generation to West Point and the Army for decades. The only difference this time is that she was a woman and a lesbian. Another young cadet from the South argued with me at dinner, protesting Obamacare. He was a Republican and gay and in uniform – and saw nothing contradictory or odd about any of it.
The organization as a whole has taken as its own motto a section of the Academy’s prayer: “Never to be content with the half-truth when the whole can be won.” They did not want to rebel against this institution, or to occupy some special niche. They merely wanted to be wholly, honorably part of it. And finally, they were.
In a column today, Ross Douthat urges those who have championed and almost won the argument for homosexual civil equality to adopt Churchill’s advice: “In Victory: Magnanimity,” while he opts for Churchill’s other dictum, “In Defeat: Defiance.” There was certainly no hubris or triumphalism at West Point. There was merely relief – relief that forcing gay cadets to break West Point’s honor code against lying is now mercifully left in the trashcan of history.
From the next generation, I heard nothing but the desire to serve their country without lying. This was not about the relevance of their sexual orientation but rather its irrelevance compared with this honorable vocation. There was a time when conservatives rejoiced when a balkanized minority wanted to integrate itself into the whole of society by affirming traditional goals, like serving one’s country in uniform or marrying the one you love. There was a time when identity politics was the foe of conservatism. Now, the integrators and opponents of identity politics are suddenly those at fault. And the right has resorted to the identity politics of victimology to describe its current predicament.
And what struck me about these gay soldiers – as with the many gay service-members I have been proud to know and meet in my life – was their commitment to honor. They truly found the lies they were commanded to tell about their lives to be dishonorable. And what struck me about West Point was its constant, persistent American military insistence on choosing the “harder right instead of the easier wrong.” Honor is everything there. It is a standing rebuke to the following sentence:
“You don’t want your honor to be questioned? Why would those things matter when compared to protecting America?”
Yes, the antidote to Cheney is West Point. And the cadets who found the courage to put honor first. And changed the world because of it.
What has struck me the most about the new Pope is his reticence. Benedict XVI was as bewilderingly bejeweled in his prose as he was in his elaborate, fastidious outfits. Francis seems to be following his name-sake, who rarely preached as such, but whose actions spoke far louder than any Latin. “Spread the Gospel everywhere – if necessary with words” was the saint’s alleged remark. It was certainly his way of life, although I doubt Pope Francis will suddenly break out into a spiritual dance or song, as Saint Francis was wont to do.
And so Francis was of few and plain words, as he emerged at first: “Bueno Sera” before urging people to go to bed soon. He has simply let the ornate and elaborate vestments of his predecessor fall from his body, as Saint Francis did in renouncing his worldly inheritance from his father. He has spoken of the need to protect Creation from the forces of pure exploitation and greed; he has reiterated Jesus’ message to visit the sick in hospital and the incarcerated in prison. He has washed the feet of a Muslim female juvie. He has refused the Papal throne and its palatial residence. And he has done all this almost instantly. No words could have said as much.
The reaction from the arch-traditionalists, especially in Liturgical matters, has been just a notch short of outright hysteria. One of the new, young priests, who came of age under the counter-revolution of Wojtila and Ratzinger, registers his bafflement at the washing of women’s feet:
I am a young, recently ordained priest. Tonight, I planned on preaching about the Eucharist and the institution of the priesthood. How can I speak about such things – the self-offering of Christ, the 12 viri selecti – when our Holy Father is witnessing to something different?
I feel like going up to the congregation and saying, “I don’t have any idea what the symbolism of the washing of the feet is. Why don’t we just all do what we want.” How hard this is for young priests.
How hard for a young priest to have to grapple with the idea that in Christ, there is “neither male nor female.” Or that some Pharisaical rules, designed to protect the powerful, are what Jesus came to disarm with the power of love, outreach, and embrace of the other. No: what matters to this priest is that those who are selecti are viri, i.e. men, that the washing of the feet is about the supremacy of the male priesthood, not the humility of a God who places the last first and the first last. There is some awkward resistance from the Ratzinger faction as a whole:
The arguments today (pdf) were, for the first fifty minutes, way above my pay-grade, but helpfully elucidatedbelow. But the question of the relationship between the federal government and state governments in the definition of civil marriage is a vital one. Can these two be separated? Which one defers to the other? And why?
The core argument in defense of DOMA is that the federal government needs uniformity. Where over a thousand federal laws affect civil marriage, an American citizen needs some consistency across the states. And in 1996, as Hawaii was considering marriage equality for the first time, Mr Clement argues that this was uppermost in the minds of DOMA supporters:
MR CLEMENT: Congress in 1996 at that point says, the States are about to experiment with changing this, but the one thing we know is all these Federal statutes were passed with the traditional definition in mind. And if rational basis is the test, it has to be rational for Congress then to say, well, we are going to reaffirm what this word has always meant for purposes of Federal law … when the Federal Government gets involved in the issue of marriage, it has a particularly acute interest in uniform treatment of people across State lines.
I’m sure that was exactly what Dick Morris was concerned about, aren’t you? But Justice Breyer, it seems to me, has a pretty good response:
JUSTICE BREYER: You would say it would be the same thing if the State passed a law — Congress passes a law which says, well, there’s some States - they all used to require 18 as the age of consent. Now, a lot of them have gone to 17. So if you’re 17 when you get married, then no tax deduction, no medical, no nothing.
And yet the Feds have no problem just accepting this lack of uniformity – and accepted it in inter-racial marriage for decades, merely deferring to the states. To put it more bluntly:
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: But what gives the Federal Government the right to be concerned at all at what the definition of marriage is? Sort of going in a circle. You’re saying — you’re saying, we can create this special category — men and women — because the States have an interest in traditional marriage that they’re trying to protect. How do you get the Federal Government to have the right to create categories of that type based on an interest that’s not there, but based on an interest that belongs to the States?
MR. CLEMENT: Well, at least two — two responses to that, Justice Sotomayor. First is that one interest that supports the Federal Government’s definition of this term is whatever Federal interest justifies the underlying statute in which it appears. So, in every one of these statutes that affected, by assumption, there’s some Article I Section 8 authority -
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: So they can create a class they don’t like — here, homosexuals — or a class that they consider is suspect in the marriage category, and they can create that class and decide benefits on that basis when they themselves have no interest in the actual institution of marriage as married. The states control that.
Indeed they do. But it’s Kagan who scores the winning goal on this question, it seems to me:
As we know, it’s foolish to predict a decision based on oral arguments (pdf). So I won’t. But since I’ve been arguing this question most of my adult life, I figured it would make sense to see who I think got the better of the case. Some of the issues are beyond my skill-set: I’m not qualified to answer on the somewhat esoteric issue of standing – except that it is clearly at issue here and may give a deadlocked court a way out.
This exchange was the most clarifying on that matter:
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: — Justice Scalia proffered the question of the Attorney General. The Attorney General has no personal interest.
MR. COOPER: True.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: He has a fiduciary obligation.
But no such obligation exists for the five (now four) individuals claiming to be harmed by the striking down of Proposition 8. Here is how Olson responded to that argument:
TED OLSON: What is missing here, because you’re not an officer of the State of California, you don’t have a fiduciary duty to the State of California, you’re not bound by the ethical standards of an officer of the State of California to represent the State of California, you could have conflicts of interest. And as I said, you’d be — could be incurring enormous legal fees on behalf of the State when the State hasn’t decided to go that route.
But if a state’s elected leadership refuses to intervene to defend a popular initiative, doesn’t that make a mockery of the entire system? Solicitor General Verrilli gave this response:
VERILLI: We do think that with respect to standing, that at this point with the initiative process over, that Petitioners really have what is more in the nature of a generalized grievance and because they’re not an agent of the State of California or don’t have any other official tie to the State that would — would result in any official control of their litigation, that the better conclusion is that there’s not Article III standing here.
I found myself oddly persuaded that there is standing here, simply because if there isn’t, I don’t see how any initiative would matter if the executive branch simply refused to defend it if it were subsequently struck down. It seems an affront to democracy not to defend a popularly successful initiative. But that is obviously not a legal argument – just an intuitive inference from the to-and-fro.
Next up, the core argument of those defending Proposition 8 remains … yes, procreation. Here’s the part of the argument I thought came closest to the nub of it:
JUSTICE BREYER: What precisely is the way in which allowing gay couples to marry would interfere with the vision of marriage as procreation of children that allowing sterile couples of different sexes to marry would not? I mean, there are lots of people who get married who can’t have children …
JUSTICE KAGAN: Well, suppose a State said, Mr. Cooper, suppose a State said that, because we think that the focus of marriage really should be on procreation, we are not going to give marriage licenses anymore to any couple where both people are over the age of 55. Would that be constitutional?
MR. COOPER: No, Your Honor, it would not be constitutional.
JUSTICE KAGAN: Because that’s the same State interest, I would think, you know. If you are over the age of 55, you don’t help us serve the Government’s interest in regulating procreation through marriage. So why is that different?
MR. COOPER: Your Honor, even with respect to couples over the age of 55, it is very rare that both couples — both parties to the couple are infertile, and the traditional - (Laughter.)
JUSTICE KAGAN: No, really, because if the couple — I can just assure you, if both the woman and the man are over the age of 55, there are not a lot of children coming out of that marriage…
I’d say that Cooper was destroyed in that exchange. So he tries a different tack:
MR. COOPER: It’s designed, Your Honor, to make it less likely that either party to that — to that marriage will engage in irresponsible procreative conduct outside of that marriage. Outside of that marriage. That’s the marital — that’s the marital norm.
The procreation argument then becomes an argument that civil marriage should be restricted to heterosexuals because only heterosexuals can commit adultery and thereby create children. So monogamy is more important to them than to homosexuals, and sexual monogamy is the core definition of civil marriage. This argument might have made sense before contraception, but it’s a pretty thin reed thereafter. You can see how the pill changed everything. It made adultery much safer. It made marriage non-procreative, if that’s what the couple wanted. Again, the case collapses.
We then arrive at the question of how including gay couples in civil marriage would harm the institution as a whole:
JUSTICE KAGAN: What harm you see happening and when and how and — what — what harm to the institution of marriage or to opposite-sex couples, how does this cause and effect work?
MR. COOPER: Once again, I — I would reiterate that we don’t believe that’s the correct legal
question before the Court, and that the correct question is whether or not redefining marriage to include same-sex couples would advance the interests of marriage as a -
JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, then are — are you conceding the point that there is no harm or denigration to traditional opposite-sex marriage couples? So you’re conceding that….
MR COOPER: No, your Honor, no. I’m not conceding that … Consider the California voter, in 2008, in the ballot booth, with the question before her whether or not this age-old bedrock social institution should be fundamentally redefined, and knowing that there’s no way that she or anyone else could possibly know what the long-term implications of — of profound redefinition of a bedrock social institution would be.
That is reason enough, Your Honor, that would hardly be irrational for that voter to say, I believe that this experiment, which is now only fairly four years old, even in Massachusetts, the oldest State that is conducting it, to say, I think it better for California to hit the pause button and await additional information from the jurisdictions where this experiment is still maturing…
The point I am trying to make, and it is the Respondents’ responsibility to prove, under rational
basis review, not only that — that there clearly will be no harm, but that it’s beyond debate that there will be no harm.
I would simply notice the slipperiness of Cooper’s point. He goes from arguing that allowing gay couples to marry would harm the institution – but because he cannot really find an argument for that, he ups the ante. He doesn’t have to prove a positive; his opponents have to prove a negative “beyond debate.” That’s simply impossible. What is reasonable, it seems to me, is to argue that given the relatively new nature of this institution, some patience may be prudent – but may also be directly harmful. Here the common sense of one Justice sticks out like a new crocus budding in the earth: