Thoughts on Prop 8

I’ve mixed feelings on California’s State Supreme Court upholding our constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. On the one hand it means same-sex couples have to wait still longer before being granted the basic human rights every m/f couple enjoys today in our state. On the one hand it gives us, the voters, one more chance to do the right thing by overturning this knee-jerk throwback to a previous era.

It’s a sobering thought that, if my wife and I had been born into our grandparents’ generation, it would have been illegal for us to be married in California, because she’s Asian and I’m Caucasian. That ban was also overturned by the California Supreme Court, who in 1948 declared that our anti-miscegenation law violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Only that time there was no way that 52% of the voters could overturn that right simply by passing a ballot measure.

Fear and ignorance always bring out the worst in us, and the rights enshrined in a democracy’s constitution are there, in part, to prevent a majority from acting on those base emotions in a way that tramples a minority. In this case, the State Supreme Court has declared that we voters need to grow up and do the right thing ourselves. I hope we do it soon.

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Frankie Manning swings out

Frankie Manning, one of the founding fathers of Lindy Hop and originator of the air step (aerial), died peacefully in his sleep this morning just a month before his 95th birthday. Since he came out of retirement in 1987 Frankie toured the world teaching Lindy, the original swing dance, to a whole new generation of dancers.

I had the pleasure of meeting Frankie at several of the dance workshops, camps and talks that he taught over the years. He had an incredibly infectious energy and sense of humor about life and the dancing and music he loved, which I think did much to make the swing dance community such a welcoming place to be. He will be missed.

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Nice to know where I stand

Mark Oppenheimer in Slate gives odds about what the next minority group will be to win the White House. Looks like even without those Burning Man photos floating around the Net my chances are slim:

The atheists: When the lion lies down with the lamb, when the president is a Republican Muslim and the Democratic speaker of the House is a vegan Mormon lesbian, when the secretary of defense is a Jain pacifist from the Green Party, they will all agree on one thing: atheists need not apply. A 2007 Gallup poll found that 53 percent of Americans would not vote for an atheist for president. (By contrast, only 43 percent wouldn’t vote for a homosexual, and only 24 percent wouldn’t vote for a Mormon.) As Ronald Lindsay, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, told me in an e-mail: “Atheism spells political death in this country.”

Indeed. Only one current congressman has confessed to being an atheist: Rep. Pete Stark, a Democrat from the lefty East Bay region of Northern California. If he ever ran for president, he would need God’s help just as surely as he wouldn’t ask for it.

I suppose I can take solace that Stark happens to be my congressman. So at least I’m represented. 🙂

(Via Political Animal)

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The only thing we have to fear…

The Cato institute has a short paper pointing out that most of the harm done by terrorism comes from our over-reaction to it (in terms of money diverted to security from more meaningful programs, additional hassle and fearful customers staying away) than the miniscule amount of damage that a terrorist attack itself delivers in terms of damage or loss of life. (For example, the paper points out that “in almost all years, the total number of people worldwide who die at the hands of international terrorists anywhere in the world is not much more than the number who drown in bathtubs in the United States.”

It seems to me I’ve heard this idea somewhere before:

I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.

We need words like these today as much as we did then, from the highest of offices to the local community.

(via Boing Boing via Schneier)

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In favor of augmentation…

With all the doping scandals in sports news lately, I keep wondering why, exactly, doping is against the rules in the first place:

  • Is it because doping is unsafe and encourages children to be unsafe as well? Then we shouldn’t allow people with osteonecrosis to compete either — that’s just asking for trouble. Alternatively, we should only outlaw those kinds of doping that are clearly more dangerous than the extreme stress athletes put their bodies through as a normal part of training.

  • Is it because doping rewards the athletes who have the best pharmacists money can buy? Then we should outlaw expensive trainers and coaches too.

  • Is it because we want to test the human rather than what they put in their bodies? Then don’t allow pitchers to pop ibuprofen like vitamins, and while you’re at it outlaw the traditional carbo-loading spaghetti dinner the night before a marathon.

I don’t mean to dismiss these reasons entirely, but there seems to be an underlying prejudice against any form of “unnatural augmentation” that bothers me. Training for professional athletics by definition pushes one’s body to and sometimes beyond its natural limits, and as long as those dangers aren’t too extreme our society accepts that. We should accept the risks of doping to the same degree. As for the “naturalness” of doping, the line between training in high altitudes and eating right, on the one hand, and blood doping or even anabolic steroids on the other seem pretty arbitrary.

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