Friday, July 1, 2011

More paraprosdokians #3

1. Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman. (Listen up, John Edwards, etc.).

2. I asked God for a bike, but I know God doesn't work that way. So I stole a bike and asked for forgiveness.

3. The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.


She said, "He raped me." He said it was consensual

Dominique Strauss-Kahn was the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, as well as the leader of the French Socialist Party and its presumed candidate for president of France in the next election.

All this came tumbling down in a New York hotel a few weeks ago, when he was credibly accused of raping a housekeeper who had come in to clean his room, not realizing that he was in the shower. I won't rehearse the details, except that the District Attorney's office had made the indictment with great confidence, based both on the woman's consistent and believable story and on forensic evidence collected at the scene.

But the physical evidence can only prove there was sex, not whether it was rape. He says it was consensual; she says it was rape.

Meanwhile, his political career has been ruined, or so it seems. And her life has been exposed to a kind of scrutiny that is uncovering some inconsistencies about what she did after the alleged rape. Far more damaging is that she has confessed to falsifying her application for asylum in the U.S., saying that she had been gang raped in her native Guinea and her life would be in danger if she returned. She now admits that was not true about the gang rape but was added to enhance her case for asylum. In addition, she seems to have been involved with a drug dealer who is now in prison, at least in her being a front for his money laundering (five bank accounts in her name with hundreds of thousands of dollars in deposits, which she says she knows nothing about).

Now, none of this means that she was not raped by Strauss-Kahn. But it means that the prosecutors would have a very hard time convincing a jury to take her word instead of his, when she has admitted to lying to our government -- about being raped -- and has been involved with drug-dealing, at least passively and perhaps naively.

Stauss-Kahn obviously has enormous financial resources and powerful friends and backers. He will have very skilled lawyers whose whole case would be focused on destroying the woman's credibility on the witness stand. All his lawyers have to do is convince one juror that there is a reasonable doubt that she is telling the truth. "Is it not true that you once lied to the United States government, falsely claiming that you had been raped?" Falsely claiming that you had been raped. That's all it would take.

The prosecutors took the initiative in notifying the judge of this new difficulty in the prosecution of their case. The judge has not dismissed the charges but has rescinded the million dollar bail and freed Strauss-Kahn from house arrest and electronic monitoring -- signalling the enormous change in how the case is now viewed. He still can't leave the country, but it sounds to me like a prelude to settling the case without a trial.

The French have been very critical of the U.S. Justice system of allowing someone who has been accused, but not convicted, to be publicly photographed in handcuffs, being led off to jail -- of course prompting the media circus that this became. In France, they are much more discreet in protecting the privacy of the innocent-until-proved-guilty, especially with the high and mighty.

But stories have also emerged in France about Strauss-Kahn: a woman journalist says he tried to rape her years ago and she let herself be talked out of reporting it; possibly a second attempted rape of another woman; and he seems to have the reputation even among his friends of being a lecher who repeatedly forces himself on women. My guess is that he very likely did what she claims, that she is not lying about it.

In the end, though, it's probably the U. S. judicial system that played in Strauss-Kahn's favor. I'm not sure of this, but I think that in France such a case would be tried before a judge without a jury. These new developments, that seem to have destroyed the likelihood of a conviction, hinge on the difficulty of convincing a jury to consider only the accuser's credibility in this particular case, not other reasons to question her truthfulness. That would be far easier to accomplish in a trial by a judge than with a jury. It only takes one with "a reasonable doubt."

So, in the end, it comes down to: she said, he said; and which one do you believe?


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Can children "catch" violence from video games?

A few days ago (6/27: "Uh oh, here we go . . .") I wrote about the Supreme Court decision that removed a California ban on children's access to violent video games. The decision was based on the First Amendment right to free speech, and it struck down a California law that restricted children's access to video games that contain violence.

I did not mean to pass judgment on whether children are harmed by playing video games that contain violence. My point had to do with our society's hypocrisy in allowing access to violence but restricting access to sexual materials -- which extends to banning books on homosexuality in school libraries, etc. That is, we have a double standard in "protecting" children from sex but not from violence.

This question of whether such games are harmful was taken up in a New York Times op-ed piece by Cheryl Olson, a public health researcher. She says that this is a complex subject that is not easily answered. Too much anecdotal "evidence" has been cited (kids who become violent after playing video games or watching violent movies). But what is cause and what is effect, and is there actually any effect? That is the question.

Olson wrote:
We know virtually nothing . . . about how youths who are already prone to violent behavior . . . use these games. Do they play them differently from the way other children do? Do they react differently?
Kids who become violent have often experienced or witnessed actual violence first hand. Some would argue that games like this, or war games with guns, help a child (or an adult) sublimate his own aggression rather than acting on it.

Olson also points out that,
"despite parents' fears, violence in video games may be less harmful than violence in movies or on the evening news."
Video games are usually animated; the characters obviously not live humans. As one 13 year old in Olson's study told her:
"Everybody knows it's not real."
And children seem to make that distinction at a young age.

The other important piece of data is the FBI's report that
youth violence continues to decline and is at its lowest rate in years.
This has happened during the burgeoning years of easy access to video games.

So: no condemnation of video games from me. They could even be a good thing, as far as violence is concerned. We just don't know enough yet.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Inner curmudgeon #9

My rant for the day is about being called "Sweetie" by young women two generations younger than I am.

The waitress at the local deli today kept referring to me as "Sweetie."

"What can I get for you, Sweetie?" "How's the sandwich, Sweetie?" "Do you need change, Sweetie?"

Grrrr. Yes, I'm sure she meant it as affectionate solicitousness, so I held my tongue. But it felt demeaning, infantalizing.

It's true, I am old and use a cane. But I still have my mental faculties, am reasonably intelligent and competent, and I get around under my own steam.

I don't want stuffy formality either. No need for "Doctor" or "Sir." It's OK for nurses in my doctor's office to call me "Ralph." But not "Sweetie," please. Save that for when I am truly old, drooling unintelligibly, and need to wear a diaper.

Until then, talk to me like a competent adult -- at least as long as I'm acting like one.

Bah, humbug !!!


Y E S ! ! ! ! !

Finally, the liberal religious community is speaking up.

While the political right wing has been co-opting religion as if they were ordained by God to impose ultra-conservative political priorities, I have repeatedly wondered where the liberal religious community was hiding. They were such a powerful force for change during the civil rights movement.

Rep. Todd Akins (R-MO), a member of the House Budget Committee and Chair of the Armed Services Committee, made news a few days ago, by saying on Christian radio that: “[A]t the heart of liberalism really is a hatred for God and a belief that government should replace God.”

Religious leaders are calling him out for this. “. . . Jesus did tell his followers that the best way to tell if someone loves or hates God is to find out how they treat the poor," wrote a spokesman for the progressive religious organization Sojourners.

An ecumenical group of religious leaders in Akins' home state of Missouri wrote him:
As Missourians of faith, we found your statement . . . to be ignorant and offensive. Scripture clearly warns us to “judge not, lest ye be judged,” yet you condemn in disrespectful, stereotypical terms those with whom you disagree. Such insulting pronouncements degrade our nation’s political dialogue and are unworthy of a public servant who claims to represent the interests of all of his constituents.

And in light of your support for a federal budget that mainstream faith leaders have overwhelmingly condemned as punitive toward the poorest among us, we call on you to reconsider not only your words, but also your moral priorities as a political leader. Accusing others of being inspired by hatred of God while you vote to deprive the weakest and most vulnerable of medicine and basic sustenance is the antithesis of moral leadership. We call on you to apologize, and we pray that you are moved to act in a spirit of civility, compassion and justice in the future.

Thanks for speaking up, folks. We've been needing you to reclaim the social gospel of Jesus from the perversion the right-wing "Christianists" have made of it.


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

NO !!!! This is going too far . . .

The Pope is Tweeting ! ! !

What a farce. They said he "used his own finger to send the tweet on a touchpad." Someone wrote the message, and he pressed the "send" button with his own finger !!! You can watch the video and see that he had no clue what he was doing. They had to point to the place for him to put his finger.

This is supposed to fool us into thinking the Vatican has entered the modern world?? So we will maybe overlook their 16th century thinking about birth control/overpopulation, condoms and AIDS, abdicated responsibility for the protection of children under their control but fanatical "protection" of fetuses not yet viable as children, etc. etc.???

I'm not buying it. Sounds like somebody's idea of a PR initiative. All he did was "use his finger" to press a button that he was directed to.

Are we supposed to think of God on the Sistine Chapel ceiling -- reaching out his finger to instill life in Adam?

Bah, humbug !!!


Paraprosdokians #2

Try these:

1. I didn't say it was your fault; I said I was blaming you.

2. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.

I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not so sure.


"I was wrong about same-sex marriage." D. Frum

Former Special Assistant to President George W. Bush, David Frum, wrote those words on his CNN blog.
I was a strong opponent of same-sex marriage. Fourteen years ago, Andrew Sullivan and I forcefully debated the issue at length online . . . Yet I find myself strangely untroubled by New York state's vote to authorize same-sex marriage -- a vote that probably signals that most of "blue" states will follow within the next 10 years.

I don't think I'm alone in my reaction either. Most conservatives have reacted with calm -- if not outright approval -- to New York's dramatic decision.


The short answer is that the case against same-sex marriage has been tested against reality. The case has not passed its test.

Since 1997, same-sex marriage has evolved from talk to fact.

If people like me had been right, we should have seen the American family become radically more unstable over the subsequent decade and a half.

Instead -- while American family stability has continued to deteriorate -- it has deteriorated much more slowly than it did in the 1970s and 1980s before same-sex marriage was ever seriously thought of.

This is the truly astounding thing about this New York vote: the growing shift of some Republicans to support for same-sex marriage, including some of the heaviest funding of the campaign to pass the new law. Ken Mehlman, former Bush campaign manager and head of the RNC, was one of the primary Republican fund raisers and activists behind the scenes.

In 2003, moderate/conservative David Brooks wrote a New York Times column on why conservatives ought to insist on gay marriage, not oppose it. His idea was about fostering stability of relationships, which he deemed a conservative value. Brooks must have gotten a lot of negative feedback from fellow conservatives. To my knowledge (and I've been watching for it), he has never referred to it again -- nor have I seen any other reference to that column since I read it at the time. I still have my copy of it.

The tide seems to be turning in conservative support. Either, like David Frum, because they see the collapse of any rationale for opposing it or, as seems to have been the case with some conservatives in New York, because they see the political advantage to supporting rights.

Now isn't THAT a refreshing thing ? ! ! !


Monday, June 27, 2011

Much better fun -- paraprosdokians

Friend Alan K. has forwarded some choice paraprosdokians, defined as a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected. I'm going to parcel them out a few at the time to add a chuckle to the daily grim and absurd news.

Here goes:

1. Where there's a will, I want to be in it.

2. A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station.


Uh oh: here's we go . . . down the 1st Amendment rabbit hole

The U. S. Supreme Court has released a ruling today that should set off fireworks, if I understand the implications and consequences.

The ruling upholds the U. S. Appeals Court's decision to throw out California's ban on the sale or rental of violent video games to minors, on the grounds that it violates the minor's free speech rights under the First Amendment. The decision was 7-2 with Justices Clarence Thomas and Stephen Breyer dissenting.

Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion:
"No doubt a state possesses legitimate power to protect children from harm, but that does not include a free-floating power to restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed."
And he added that, unlike depictions of "sexual conduct," there is no tradition in the United States of restricting children's access to depictions of violence, pointing out the violence in the original depiction of many popular children's fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and Snow White.

For once I agree with Clarence Thomas, who wrote in his dissenting opinion:
"The practices and beliefs of the founding generation establish that "the freedom of speech," as originally understood, does not include a right to speak to minors (or a right of minors to access speech) without going through the minors' parents or guardians."
Now, does this decision mean that there can no longer be any restrictions imposed on books, magazines, videos, or games that children can access?
Do conservatives realize that this means no more banning books in school libraries? No more restrictions on sex education in schools, including acceptance of homosexuality? No more protection of minors from exposure to pornography? No more age limits to visit adult book stores?
I suppose he would say that parents still have the right to put restrictions on their children; but they would have no grounds to go after those who try to make sexual stuff available to minors.

Scalia's distinction between sex and violence, in what children are permitted to see, is based solely on "tradition." Will that hold up? I don't see how it can. Otherwise, we would still have slavery. [I acknolwedge that I have not read the entire opinion, just the quotes that are on the internet so far. There could be more justification.]

It's a strange decision -- and strange bedfellows. Scalia and Ginsburg on one side; Thomas and Breyer on the other.