Saturday, April 30, 2011

Obama and Affirmative Action

Real Clear Politics linked to a five-minute clip from the latest episode of Real Time With Bill Maher. The debate concerned President Obama's academic record, his admission to Harvard, and the implications of affirmative action. Grit TV's Laura Flanders argued the following (2 minute mark):
We as a society have to deal with the legacy of racism - right? And I think that you stop by saying - look, we've lived for centuries with white supremacy. We're barely out of it. We've had centuries of affirmative action for white guys. And then we freak out and start talking about faux-pression when we find there's some actions being taken to reverse things.
Two wrongs make a right? If white affirmative action was wrong, how is using the same practice for nonwhites OK? Is discrimination OK based on the context and the cause being advanced? There has to be a better argument for affirmative action than this?

Furthermore, Obama is not the victim of centuries of American slavery or descended from such victims. Obama's mother was white and his father came here from Kenya to study. Starting at the age of 10, Obama was raised by his upper middle class grandparents who sent him to prep school. He needed no help getting into college. If there is a case for affirmative action in order to redress historical wrongs, his is not it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Pro-Choicers, Please Kill This Meme

Last week, Donald Trump was asked about abortion and the right to privacy. Talking Points Memo tries to explain: 
In an interview with MSNBC's Savannah Guthrie, Trump was asked if he believes there's a right to privacy in the Constitution.
The question is an important one in the abortion debate. Pro-lifers say there absolutely is not a Constitutional right to privacy, which means Roe is a travesty and abortion should once again be permitted to be outlawed in the states that choose to do so. Pro-choicers strenuously disagree, stating that the right to privacy is guaranteed and is extended to a woman's choice to have an abortion or not, the central basis of Roe.
This is a classic example of a pro-choice blogger obfuscating the pro-life position in order to help his cause. Pro-lifers don't argue that there isn't a right to privacy (for example, there clearly is a right to privacy in the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures). They argue that the right to privacy doesn't include the right to an abortion.

Individual rights do not include the right to harm others. The right to religious freedom does not include the right to perform human sacrifices. The right to raise one's children as one sees fit does not include the right to sexually abuse them. Abortion is not just about the rights of the mother. It's about the rights of the mother and the fetus. The issue with abortion is: Does the mother's rights trump the fetus's right to live?

Pro-choicers don't want to discuss fetal rights. They wish to limit the argument to the mother's rights. Hence, they constantly misframe the issue, ignore that they are limiting the rights of fetuses, and pretend the argument is about something else.

Anyhow, one can believe in a right to privacy and be opposed to abortion rights. There isn't a contradiction if you believe that the fetus has rights too. If you don't think the fetus has rights, it's much easier to view abortion as permissible. Guthrie's question is a complete obfuscation of the issue (my belief in a right to privacy doesn't include a parental right to rape their children). I don't understand why pro-choicers think this is a great "gotcha" question. This isn't the first time I've seen it asked, and it's so easy to refute, I don't understand why this meme hasn't died yet.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Survivor: Redemption Island, Ep. 10 - Rice Wars

I will start with the Steve/Phillip argument even though I don't think it will have much of an effect on the outcome of the game. When there is a heated dispute, I look at three things:

1. Based on the substance, who made the weaker argument?
2. Who was the first to stray from the substance of the argument and get personal?
3. Overall, who was less civil?

In this situation, my answers are: Steve, Steve, Phillip.

1. We can peel away all the side stuff about the tribes eating alone, sleeping alone, and Phillip "stealing Zapatera's" rice. Phillip said it was everyone's rice, and he is correct. When push comes to shove - the rice had to go into "Zapatera's" pot. You can not let "Ometepe's" food sit there and rot. Andrea was the first one to ask for help, and Steve said no. When Phillip asked, Steve's answers became less definitive and more evasive. He said 'we have to wait and ask Ralph'. Why? Time is of the essence. Steve then changed the subject and said they should have all discussed dumping the rice on the blanket in the first place. Maybe so, but it's spilt milk. Who spilt it is an issue for another time. Right now, the rice is on the blanket, and the one and only issue is what should be done with it. Substantively, Steve didn't have much of an argument. The pot isn't his personal property. It isn't Zapatera's property. It's tribal property. The episode never even answered what happened to the rice. It must have gone into the "Zapatera" pot once the dust had cleared. Steve's argument was so weak, they never even showed the resolution!

2. Steve got personal first. Steve called Phillip a "lunatic." Phillip is crazy, but that isn't the issue. The issue is what should be done with the rice. Steve was wrong, so resorted to name calling.

3. Overall, Phillip became less civil than Steve.

So, Phillip wins two out of three points. Steve started it. He was jeopardizing the food supply of a half-starved tribe in order to antagonize them. He got personal first. I've known a lot of crazy people. They hate it when you call them crazy - especially when they are making a rational argument - and, at the start of that argument, Phillip was more rational. Even though Phillip ultimately became less civil, I'm more sympathetic to Phillip than Steve. This doesn't mean, because Steve started it, that Phillip now had the right to say whatever he wants. If Phillip had gone too far, I would side with Steve. But, I don't think Phillip went too far. Calling someone "a lunatic" to their face is incredibly disrespectful. I'm not saying Phillip's response was correct, but Steve started it.

I think the producers laid the ground work to help Steve in that encounter. I've complained about the goofy music and overall criticisms of Phillip this season. It seems that all of that was a foundation for this incident. So, when Steve called Phillip a lunatic, it didn't seem that rude. The viewers have seen Phillip called crazy a number of times, and are desensitized to the name-calling, but I understand why it ticked Phillip off. It's one thing to call Phillip "crazy" in confessional, but it's another to say it to his face.  Furthermore, when Jeff summarized what had happened at tribal council, he did so in a pro-Steve manner. Jeff made it sound like Steve was willing to negotiate about the rice, when Steve was more dismissive than that. This whole season has been anti-Phillip.

Julie then stole and buried Phillips' trunks (personal, not communal property). That is one of the lowest things I've ever seen on this show. She then mocked Phillip at tribal about it. I am not a fan of thieves. Julie has bothered me all season. and is now one of my least favorite players ever.

As for the game - the duel was very entertaining with a lot of drama. The immunity had less tension, mostly because Boston Rob simply owns puzzles. I would like to know why they voted out Julie instead of Ralph or Steve, but the decision-making wasn't shown. Nevertheless, I'm glad it was her. As for the argument's impact on the rest of the game - Phillip might have a harder time organizing a coalition in the later stages. However, it looks like Phillip is less likely to go against Rob now than he ever was.

They still need to get rid of a whole bunch of people in very little time. I don't know how they are going to do it. I get the feeling that this season's structure was designed to keep Rob or Russell in the game as long as possible. Hence, there are still 11 people alive with only four episodes left. Normally, I would handicap the field at this point, but there are simply too many people still kicking about. It will have to wait for next week.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Survivor: Redemption Island, Ep. 9 - Robtown

Thankfully, the producers squeezed two tribal councils into one episode. However, with Redemption Island still in play, they don't seem to be getting rid of many people. The season ends May 15th. That leaves time for four regular Wednesday episodes before the two-hour Sunday finale. Even if next week opens with a three-person duel which eliminates two of them, there will still be 10 Survivors remaining. How are they going to get down to five for the Sunday finale in 3 1/2 episodes? They must have another double-tribal council lined up somewhere.

Anyway, nothing too surprising to report regarding Mike and Dave's ouster. As for camp life, Rob has turned into Jim Jones minus the cyanide - but, can you blame him? He doesn't want his tribe to flip, but he also doesn't want Zapatera to like any of the Ometepe left. Rob wants Zapatera's votes at the final tribal, and it's hard to vote for sheep. Rob is giving them no choice. Who looks sillier, the controller, or the one being controlled?

There's no evidence that anyone is thinking about the endgame except Rob (who has the hidden immunity and knows who he wants with him at the end - Philip & Natalie). Natalie's plan is to report everything to Rob and hope he takes him. What's Ashley's plan? Grant's? Grant must know they're going to target him when they get to six. Is he ready for it? Does Andrea have a plan to split up Natalie and Ashley?

Survivor hooked me from the very first episode when the 16 castaways hit the beach in Borneo, and all went in their own direction not wanting to take instructions from anyone. One of the main themes of the series has been - how do you get people to work together when they are competing against each other, and no one has any formal authority? Natural leaders have always been targeted, and rarely successful. Democracy has never worked (tribes who vote on a leader crumble). This season is the first time where a single leader has thoroughly imposed his will on the others. It's fascinating, and creepy. I can't wait to see how it ends. I'm starting to think that Rob might actually win - though my gut tells me Ometepe will revolt against Rob at some point.

I find it hard to believe that Julie was truly offended by Ometepe's lack of compassion in voting Matt off. Julie is looking for reasons to dislike Ometepe, and Ometepe isn't giving her many - so she has to manufacture some. This is a woman who has mocked her own tribemates (Stephanie, Russell and Krista). Who is she to assume the role of island ethicist? Yes, what was done to Matt was cold - but people who throw challenges have no right to comment on it. The misfortune being heaped on Zapatera is much deserved. Let it be a lesson to anyone who plays this game - don't throw immunity challenges on Day 8.

Where is Tyson when you need him? In Heroes v. Villains he was there to tell Coach not to wear feathers to tribal and to do his Tai in private. Philip could use a guy like that right now. Having said that, can the producers report on Philip's words and deeds without the campy music? I believe they even switched on the hokey soundtrack when Philip was talking about his grandfather. It was a tad disrespectful.

I guess Dave isn't such a puzzle wiz after all? Grant beat him handily building the pyramid - and Mike looked to be ahead of him also. Was Sarita right? Does Dave freak out under pressure? That's good news for Matt.

Finally, after the first tribal, Jeff said to Zapatera as they were leaving that if you want to stay in the game you have to dig deep. Jeff uses that phrase a lot, but he really emphasized the words "dig deep" this time around. Is there a buried idol back at camp after all? 

The Facts of Life

We now know which class New York Times columnist, Gail Collins, had the most trouble with in High School: sex education.
For eons now, people have been wondering why the two sides can’t just join hands and agree to work together to reduce the number of abortions by expanding the availability of family-planning services and contraception.
The answer is that a large part of the anti-abortion community is also anti-contraception.
Beyond the science, there’s the fact that many social conservatives are simply opposed to giving women the ability to have sex without the possibility of procreation.

“Contraception helps reduce one’s sexual partner to just a sexual object since it renders sexual intercourse to be without any real commitments,” says Janet Smith, the author of “Contraception: Why Not.”

The reason this never comes up in the debates about reproductive rights in Washington is that it has no popular appeal. Abortion is controversial. Contraception isn’t. [Emphasis Added].
Wouldn’t birth control also give men the ability to have sex without the possibility of procreation? Sexual reproduction requires two parents – not one. Contraception doesn't just prevent women from procreating. Someone needs to explain to Ms. Collins the birds and the bees. Either that, or the same-sex marriage debate has her all confused.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Survivor: Redemption Island, Ep. 8 - Turn the Other Cheek

I guess Matt's presence of mind can only go so far. He exhibits nerves of steel in the duels (winning six in a row), and then he has a complete lapse when he re-enters the game. Telling every thought in his head to Andrea was imprudent. Confessing it all to Boston Rob was sheer lunacy. Matt, if your relationship with God dictates a certain course of action - follow that path. But, Mariano doesn't need to know every last detail. Your impolitic gameplay rivals (if not exceeds) Phillip's worst moments this season. You are not Job, your misfortune is your own creation. As Shii-Ann noted in All-Stars, you never want to incur "the wrath of Boston Rob." You messed with the primal forces of Survivor - you threatened the Robfather. Hopefully, you can make good use of your second stint in the penalty box and the third time's the charm. Then again, despite her promises, did Lucy ever let Charlie Brown kick the football?

Dave's admiration for the move Ometepe made at tribal council was interesting, but I'm not so sure he wasn't putting on a show. I think Dave was ingratiating himself with Rob, hoping he'd earn a little extra time in the game. Dave was saying: 'I get it. That was a great move. If you need help in blindsiding your own people later on, come to me. I can work with you.' What Dave might not realize is that Rob has been chucking out people like that since Day One... of All-Stars! He blind-sided Cesternino under the same exact circumstances! Mariano has to be the cleverest one on the beach. He will never work with Dave. Any collaboration would last about 18 hours.

Still, Dave seems to be in less immediate danger than Steve or Mike. The issue is: can they get Grant to flip? The preview shows that Grant might waver, but that smells like manufactured drama. If Survivor history is any guide, two or three Zapatera members will get the boot before the Ometepe alliance shows serious strain.

Natalie's win in the immunity challenge was very impressive. She's a dancer, so the task played to her strengths, but it was an excellent performance. The issue is whether she can take the pressure when Ometepe starts to dissolve. If one of her key allies (Boston Rob or Ashley) gets blind-sided, will she crumble without their support? Last season, Kelly S went to pieces under such circumstances, but I get the feeling Natalie might be stronger than that. In some ways, she reminds me of Jenna when she won Amazon - a young woman who lost her alliance, but persevered. Natalie is not the favorite, but she is climbing the list.

The show has focused on the men, but one gets the feeling that the Natalie-Ashley-Andrea triangle might determine this game. They all are athletic, and have already been involved in enough backstabbing that they might not hesitate in making an aggressive move once the males cannibalize each other. Andrea is still the outsider, but seems to have the wits to jump at the right moment. If she does not jump, she might be the one to convince the others that it is time to get rid of Mariano. I would have more confidence in them if they would display some interest in where their hidden immunity idol is. They must know by now that one of their own has it? Right?

So, expect some manufactured drama as Zapatera gets routinely picked off. Then, the fireworks will happen.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Survivor: Redemption Island, Ep. 7 - Rice Krispies

Last week, we discovered the one job Natalie and Ashley will do around camp: protect Rob's portion of the crispy rice. I don't blame them for embracing the assignment. After all, Rob doesn''t ask them to get fire wood. Rob doesn't complain when they spend the afternoon in the beach chairs. Rob doesn't make them babysit Phillip on Redemption Island. Rob asks nothing from them, and they're already standing around the pot - the least they can do is save him his share of the crispy rice.

This doesn't mean Philip wasn't wronged. That camp is in a low-starvation survival mode. That means everyone knows exactly how many grains of rice everyone else is eating (and whether they were crispy or not). But, if Philip wants to spend his afternoons yelling at Natalie to tend the fire, he shouldn't expect Natalie to make sure he gets his fair share of crispy rice. This is reciprocity at its most pure. Of course, Natalie and Ashley might be pushing Philip into a position where he could flip. So, the argument wasn''t smart for any of them. They still need each other for a few more days past the merge.

Matt's nickname should be Cool Hand Luke, This guy does not panic in challenges. Someone asked me who I think he'll align with if he makes the merge. I don't know. I don't think he does either, which could make it interesting.

I would have kept Sarita and sacked Dave. I know Dave is better in the challenges, but the risk of him flipping are great enough that I'd rather have the weaker, but more loyal, player. Many of these challenges come down to the actions of one person any way - and for the second week in a row, Grant dominated it. As I said before, Grant's an athlete. We'll see how much of a target he'll now have.

Sarita's decision not to pack her stuff might reflect her own loyalty to her alliance. I think she believed them when they said they would vote out Dave. Also, her animosity towards Dave was so strong that she couldn't fathom that not everyone shared her level of loathing.

So, tonight should be interesting. There are lots of people who could swing after the merge (Matt, Phillip, Andrea, Dave). More importantly, Rob knows where both hidden immunities are, giving him a huge strategic advantage. He should be able to survive tonight. But, the issue which might cause him problems is how his tribemates handle the fact that he hid the idol from them. I'm curious as to how that might play out. If he plays it, he might have to pretend he just found it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Journalist Cheered For Attacking Journalism

According to the AP's David Bauder, Katie Couric is leaving the CBS Evening News. His report included this observation (emphasis added):
Despite the ratings problems, the "CBS Evening News" won the Edward R. Murrow Award as best newscast in 2008 and 2009. Couric's interview with then-Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in 2008 was a memorable moment in the campaign after Palin couldn't or wouldn't answer Couric's question about books or magazines she regularly read.
Even with those high points, broadcast news economics had changed markedly since she signed on with CBS and her reported $15 million a year salary became increasingly hard to justify for a third-place telecast.
Bauder's summary of the Palin exchange isn't 100% accurate. Palin wasn't asked about books and magazines. Couric's question, according to the CBS transcript, was as follows:
Couric: And when it comes to establishing your worldview, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this to stay informed and to understand the world?
I don't know if Bauder's oversight was deliberate, but it's certainly substantive.

What newspapers does President Obama read? Vice-President Biden? Senator McCain? How did they answer Couric's question? If you don't recall, it's probably because they were never asked it.

I've seen politicians asked to name their favorite books, movies and philosophers. I've seen them asked about the contents of their iPod. However, I cannot recall any politician, other than Palin, being asked to endorse a newspaper. There is a good reason for this.

Newspapers are different than books and movies. It is a news organization's job to follow power, and report to the public what power is doing. Persons seeking positions of power should not be asked to endorse specific news organizations because it would compromise the paper's integrity. If I were the editor of a major daily which had been endorsed by a candidate, I would be livid. My organization would now be open to the accusation of being shills for the campaign. I'd also fear that we could lose access as the campaign tried to eliminate the appearance of favoritism.

Couric's question is disastrous for a free press, which is why it's so rarely asked, and might explain why Couric phrased it in the past tense ("what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this"). Despite such hedging, Couric was still asking for an endorsement. It is shocking that an AP reporter would cite it as a high point, and that the media in general heaped so much praise on Couric's performance, for the question was undermining the news gathering process.

One is left to ask: why does the media have this blind spot regarding Couric's question? The only explanation can be Palin-hatred. The Couric question was catnip for Palin-bashers, which is why it was re-asked two more times. It fed into their preconceived notions that Palin was uneducated and little read. No matter what her answer, the question served as a dog whistle. The AP report even went so far as to suggest that Palin couldn't answer the question (i.e., couldn't name a newspaper). A poll of a lunatic asylum's inmates would reveal that half of them could name a newspaper, but the preferred interpretation of Palin's response to Couric's insult is that the journalism major and Governor of Alaska couldn't name one. This preposterous explanation of the exchange has become so entrenched that AP reporters are speculating that it's a possibility.

The Couric question was a blind side. No politician should answer it, and it's designed to make them look foolish as they evade it. That's why it was asked three times. But, the question wasn't just an attack on Palin, it was an attack on a free press. It should not be applauded.