My irregular musings on city life, politics, baseball, roller derby, and whatever happens to be getting my goat today.

Friday, March 31, 2006

The Pink Line?

So today the Chicago Transit Authority in its infinite wisdom announced it has come up with a new name for the southern (Douglas) branch of the Blue Line, which will start running as a separate line on xxxdatexxx: the Pink Line! This new "Fluffy Bunny" line will start from 54th Avenue and Cermak Road in Cicero, Illinois, run through the tough Latino neighborhoods of Little Village and Pilsen, head north along Paulina Avenue, join the Green Line tracks at Ashland and circle the Loop.

The announcement has caused a little bit of consternation, as you saw if you were a good little reader and followed the link to the Tribune article.
While the board chose pink over silver and gold, it wasn't necessarily the favorite of people who ride the line.

"I don't think so," said Joseph Santoyo, 18, as he stood at the entrance of the Cermak branch's California stop on the border of Little Village and Lawndale. "Let's take the Pink Line? No."

"They shouyld rename it somewhere else," he added, sayhing the neighborhood is too tough to have a Pink Line running through it. "I don't think the neighborhood will like it."

But, noted one 8th grader who nominated pink, the color isn't just for girls any more. "Pink is a really pretty bright color and when people hear the color pink they probably think it is a girly color," wrote Jeaninie Zarate, a student at Graham Elementary School in Chicago. "Today, a lot of people including boys like pink."

Several other pink supporters said the color could help raise awareness of breasst cancer, which has long been symbolized by pink.

The fundamental divide boils down to a left on left pile-up between culturally sensitive defenders of Latino machismo, who feel that the Pink Line might in some way be belittling or mocking their neighborhoods, and liberals and feminists who decry the stigmatization of the color pink - note the impassioned debate over the pink-painted visitors locker room at the University of Iowa:
Critics say the use of pink demeans women, perpetuates offensive stereotypes about women and homosexuality, and puts the university in the uncomfortable position of tacitly supporting those messages.

Relativists might suggest a simple name swap: West Side Hispanics could take pride in their very own Brown Line, while North Side PC white liberals could take the Pink Line to the Loop if they're gonna be so amped about it.

But in the end, these debates don't matter, because if the CTA wouldn't listen to Demon Dogs, the Bottom Lounge, or DePaul University, what makes you think they'd listen to mere riders? Anyone out there who thinks the CTA cares about you clearly hasn't tried to catch a bus at two in the morning. [Note to East Coast readers: in New York, trasit customers have their own colloquial nickname: straphangers. the name doesn't apply in Chicago, because there are no straps: apparently the CTA finds it amusing that people fall on their asses when the train stops suddenly for no apparent reason; in fact, that's what the cameras are for.]

So we might as well get used to it people! The CTA wants the new line, because it uses the expensively rehabbed "Paulina Connector" track between the 18th Street and Ashland stops. The Connector was rehabbed in order to be put back in service as part of the mythical Circle Line that will form an "Outer Loop" for "Greater Downtown" as soon as the Feds come up with the cash. Since the new line would cost roughly the same amount as the Iraq War, I'm not holding my breath. So their gonna damn well use it, even if no one wants it, and the re-route needlessly cuts off West Side students from access to the UIC campus.

Anyway, there's definitely an upside to this. And I'm not talking about breast cancer awareness, because those people are not going to pony up the cash for a sponsorship. As I've mentioned before, the CTA is desperate for advertising cash. So I figure, if Sox Park could get a sponsor, why not the Pink Line?

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Anything to save us from another rate hike.

Thursday, March 30, 2006


These are strange days indeed. Chicago City Council is claiming the right not to enforce Federal laws, and I find myself hoping they can get away with it.

For most of the Twentieth Century, right wingers and racists trotted out old arguments about "states rights" and "nullification" that most people thought had been defeated, militarily, in the Civil War. Unable to control national centers of power, racists claimed that states had the power to disregard Federal laws in order to continue Jim Crow policies of segregation and discrimination at the state and local level. So throughout that time, enhanced Federal power was looked at as the liberal principle while state and local independence was considered to be a conservative principle.

Such "principles" of course being generally camoflage for self interest, it's interesting to see how quickly they seem to have flipped now that conservatives are firmly in control of Washington.

The House has passed, and the Senate is considering, severe legislation which would "turn illegal immigrants into felons and compel private individuals and employers to report them." In response, City Council has passed a law forbidding city employess, including police, to inquire about anyone's immigration status under most circumstances. This policy, sort of a "don't ask, don't tell" for illegal immigrants, has been in place via executive order since shortly after Mayor Daley took office in 1989, but by formally passing it as law City Council is throwing up a challenge in the face of the Feds.
Daley's executive order states, "No agent or agency shall request information about or otherwise investigate or assist in the investigation of citizenship or residency status of any person unless such an inquiry or investigation is required by statute, ordinance, federal regulation or court decision."
. . .
It further orders that city services, benefits and opportunities should not be "conditioned" on "matters related to citizenship or residency status" unless otherwise required by law.

In other words, the city plans on continuing to provide services to illegal aliens as much as it can, Federal policy be damned.

Basically, Federal demagoguery on the issue of immigration has run smack into economic reality on the ground. Ironically, many people in states without substantial immigrant populations are apparently quite terrified about waves of Latinos changing the face of the country and threatening their jobs. By contrast, cities like Chicago, struggling to maintain the momentum from the economic growth of the late 1990s, depend on immigrants to survive. Latinos were responsible for all of the population rebound the city saw in the 90s, and illegal immigrants from Mexico, Poland and elsewhere are essential to the health of industries such as food service and construction.

If we were to enforce immigration laws and expel residents who here illegally, the city would see a substantial population drop, widespread business closures, and something resembling a regional recession would occur. It appears to me that foreign workers are going to get a lot of jobs in a number of industries, and the real question is whether they will be working here, or in their home contries. I vote here, because we still get to tax the businesses that way.

[A friend who knows more about this than I do once told me that a real global economy would require free movement of capital, goods, and labor, and that a big problem with the system in practice is that capital and goods can move freely but labor is restricted. I'm not really sold on the free market neoliberal world, but his description of what's going on does seem to track with the news.]

The result of all this is that, as with environmental policy and gay and lesbian civil rights, liberals are using terms such as states' rights and home rule to justify breaking with federal policy on immigration.

It's not the first time. Before the Civil War, progressives could be found making these same arguments. In fact, in 1850, Chicago City Council and Mayor James Curtis took similar action, ordering Chicago Police not to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. scary to think how far the wheel has come around.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


I don't want to rant on about this, because I've been doing it all day, but I wanted to put something up because this was such a big deal . . . and fun! I love a good (polite) debate.

Today at Third Unitarian we had a guest speaker, The Reverend Myriam Renaud, who preached on the figure of Deborah in the Book of Judges, and the implications of holding her up as a role model for feminists.

First of all it was rather strange to hear someone reading the Bible from the Thomas Paine Memorial Pulpit - I don't think that's happened before in the two years I've been attending, and it certainly came as a surprise to many of the old leftist humanists in the pews. [I believe she used the Judaica Press Translation, which was possibly to soften the blow.--Trope.] More on that in a minute.

Rev. Renaud started by saying that the victors generally write history, which is why we don't learn enough about women in history - there have not been enough women victors. Then she used Deborah as an example of a "victor-woman," and explored what that was like.

Deborah was one of these prophet figures who led the Israelites to a military victory in which they slaughered their enemies to the last man. This is one of the reasons I stopped believing in the Bible all those years ago - I read it. In the book, these Israelites commit massacre after genocide after ethnic cleansing, all with the blessing of their God. It's horrible, self-justifying bullshit to my ears, and I don't admire these people or take much spiritual guidance from their travails. That may have been what the world was like then, but it's not much of an example for progressives.

[Renaud's argument was based on the idea that women are underrepresented in authority, and that because women tend to be self-effacing, meek, or more likely to share credit, this will continue. I would argue that there are currently several examples of strong female leaders worldwide, and that the way to get us into power is not to teach women to overcome their conditioning for collaboration and cooperation, but to call men on the fallacy that everything in this world can be accomplished with a big ego and a big sword. Women in power who act like men are not, of themselves, any different or better than men in power. It's not the women per se who are being devalued, it's the traits often thought of as "feminine": negotiation, compromise, power-sharing. Not every woman is good at that, and many women are shocked when a woman in power doesn't espouse those values. --Trope.]

Rev. Renaud's argument was that women should stand up for themselves, not be ashamed of success, and seek power unapologetically much like men do. [Though she suggested we display these tangible measures of our success in the living room of our homes, presumably to be admired by our husbands' friends. I think next time she should suggest writing letters to the editor, or possibly renting a billboard. --Trope.] She pointed out that even progressives tend to hold archaic ideas about gender roles, seeing women as the gentler, more peaceful, more conciliatory sex. [Yep. We bring the flowers. Y'all run the board.] Women shouldn't be expected to behave according to these roles, especially women in positions of power - a point that I agree with. She pointed out the silliness of the oft-repeated statement that "if women ran the world there wouldn't be wars," which I agree is ridiculous. Worldwide, we've had plenty of women as heads of state, who have been no less violent or authoritarian than an equal-sized sample of male leaders would be.

But she went on, and held up Margaret Thatcher as an example of a woman defying these expectations by going to war over the Falkland Islands. Then she said if Hillary Clinton became President and decided to go to war, she hoped we'd all support her - this to a room full of peace activists!

So after the service we had an interesting conversation. I said that when we say history is written by the victors, it's not a compliment. We're calling them liars and implying that the losers had a story that deserved to be told as well. She pointed out that the people Deborah killed were "oppressors" and I said that of course the victors, who wrote history, would say that, but I wasn't going to take their word for it.

Basically, I don't care much whether more of the "victors" who dominate and control the rest of us are women and minorities. This is the worst kind of tokenism. I feel that most of the people who exercise power do so illegitimately, that they haven't earned and don't deserve their power over others. Rev. Renaud told me she disagrees, that she feels that people in power more or less come by it legitimately. [Again: I don't think that being male or female lends any more or less legitimacy to an authority figure, or the wars they start. I'd love to see a woman President, but I would move to Canada before I voted for Condi. --Trope.] I guess this is the wrong period of history to appeal to my faith in authority figures!

At this point, what I want most from the next President is a weaker Presidency. Having one person making so many decisions in our name without hardly consulting us is just unacceptable. I would hope President Hillary Clinton or John McCain or Barack Obama or whoever would leave the business of declaring war to Congress, like the Constitution says. [For the business of avoiding war, I might be tempted to vote for a male candidate over a female one. Ask me why sometime.--T] And I don't much care about the gender or skin color of the people who are dominating and coercing others to conform to their beliefs or ideologies. I just want it to stop, and to the greatest extent practicable, to return power and control to the people themselves. [This is a goal that most folks at TUC can get on board with. It was a great sermon, and a great debate following. More Sunday feminism!--Trope.]

Saturday, March 25, 2006


This afternoon I found the blog of a friend from my college and Columbus days. (Actually he tried to tell me about it months ago but I didn't see it due to my ongoing email nighmare.) Brett is of the better writers I've known, so I added him to my Links section. The blog does what I'd like to do with this space - record and communicate the vicissitudes of life in a specific geographic, social, political and cultural context.

Brett's context is obviously quite a bit different from mine, perhaps that's why I find this post so unexpectedly moving. Don't get me wrong, I love being a city boy - I'm just an urban person, most at home watching millions of stories play out at one in one creative, interwoven mess. But I haven't heard silence, or seen the stars, in a long, long time, and sometimes I miss those things a great deal.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

On Monsters

There's a great article in this month's Atlantic magazine about the frightening lengths British intelligence went to infiltrate and destroy the IRA. Their agents participated in shootings and bombings and killed other spies in the process of gathering the intelligence the British needed to break the back of the organization. Agents participated in activities including bombing attacks and the murder of police officers. Many reasonable people would agree that these efforts went too far in pursuit of a goal which may (or may not) be worthy. I am tempted to call the people who ended up doing such things somewhat monstrous.

At what point does order or peace or justice justify immoral or evil behavior? When do the ends justify the means? I confess up front that I really don't know, but that won't stop me from taking a stab at it.

In popular culture, this has become sort of a meme, because art is where we work out the issues that we're ordinarily too polite to talk about as a society. I've noticed three prominent fictional examples of individuals who become monsters in the service of some higher goal. Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Operative in Serenity, Hugo Weaving as the terrorist V in V for Vendetta, and Mary McDonnell's President Roslin in Battlestar Galactica. The Operative is presented as villain, V is presented as (anti-) hero, and as for Roslin, as well as for everyone else in the gloriously ambiguous space opera, the jury remains out. But all three of them do evil in the name of good, to create a better world they won't live to see, so in some ways they're all archetype, looked at from three different perspectives. They claim to know better than the foolish masses, so they use undemocratic, coercive and violent means to enforce their vision on the world. In their own eyes they are making a sacrifice for the greater good by engaging in evil. Jack Bauer on 24 would probably be another great example of this archetype, but since I don't know how his story ends I really can't draw any conclusions about him.

The Operative does monstrous things, including slaughtering an entire town, including children, on the off chance that our heroes may seek refuge there. He does these things in the name of preserving order, stability, and social peace. He thinks the triumph of his side will bring about a better world ("all of them, better worlds"). He has no proof of this, but he believes. He believes (incorrectly) that even though he murders people, the maintenance of order means fewer lives will be lost overall. He recognizes that he's a monster, and says of the coming utopia "I'm not going to live there." There will be no place for men such as himself in a perfected society.

Often in fiction we see such people used to cover up the corruption and cynicism of political leaders, but here it's not so simple. What he's covering up is a holocaust, albeit an accidental one - a drug that was supposed to calm and pacify the public actually killed 30 million people. The Operative does not know this because he never asks what it is he's fighting for.

Verdict: This one's obvious. That the Operative is wrong is the whole point of the movie. TWOPper Jacob wrote in his recap:
I think I just became a fucking Libertarian. And possibly a Christian.
Which sums up the moral universe of the movie pretty well. The Operative's sin is that he thinks he has the right to make decisions for everyone else, and enforce those decisions with violence, because the decisions are "right." But who decides what is right? Politicians? Scientists? Moralists? The Operative doesn't deserve the moral standing he gives himself. In the end, he rejects his old life and appears to be on the way to redemption. The other characters don't seem to care very much, and they have a point - he's a monster.

Laura Roslin is the formerly liberal Secretary of Education who is thrust into the role of President after the 42 people ahead of her in the line of succession are killed in a nuclear attack which decimates civilization. As President she embraces religious prophecy in order to consolidate her political base, and bans abortion when her fundie supporters demand it. Roslin almost routinely orders the execution of prisoners and does not consider the enemy to be persons with any rights or moral value. In the season finale, she tries to steal a democratic election, relenting only when she is caught by her chief military leader.

Many fans would justify her actions based on how her enemies behave - the wholesale murder of civilians, suicide attacks, sleeper agents etc. Except we see unapologetic terrorist Samuel Anders employing similar tactics to blow up a civilian cafe in order to drive out the occupying forces - holy HAMAS, Batman! We think that's okay, because he's on our side, right? Except that the specific Cylons he's targeting include the even sympathetic Boomer, programmed to think she's human, as well as Six - who played a key role in destroying the world and thus has it coming - except she feels really bad about it and is trying to find some way to end the war, which makes her what? Hero? Villain? Another monster? But this is not the issue. I'm not asking if Roslin's behavior is emotionally satisfying, I'm asking whether it's justified.

Verdict: Laura is meant to be controversial and difficult to pin down. Her backing down and conceding the election is supposed to mean that she stands at the precipice but is not a monster (yet). I disagree. Her horrible treatment of POW Sharon (who wanted to defect, for chrissakes), her execution of other unarmed prisoners including peace emissaries, her general moral obtuseness about the dignity and rights of her enemies, her embracing of fandementalism for political gain - all of these things place her beyond the pale in my eyes. True, she pursues power because she wants "what's best for her people." But who the hell is she to decide that? The show is more sympathetic to her than I am, and conspires to make her right more often than wrong. Settling on the new planet - which she opposed in the election campaign - does lead to disaster and occupation. But she couldn't have known that in advance, and didn't have the right to make everyone's decisions for them, or to decide who is worthy of life and who should die. I say she's a monster. A sympathetic, compelling monster perhaps, but a monster.

Which is not to say I don't like the character. Mary McDonnell deserves an Emmy. In fact the wonderful juxtoposition of the soulful, repentent killing machine Six with the bloody-minded, unapologetically murderous and deceitful human President was one of the high points of my entertainment year, making the episode "Downloaded" (TV guide subscribers can get it for free from iTunes, by the way) probably the best hour of TV I have ever seen.

V is the most obviously "monstrous" of the lot. Clearly a vengeance-obsessed madman, V blows up London landmarks as a call to revolution, and assassinates political, religious and media figures associated with the government. It's a clearly opressive government, however, which has banned both homosexuality and the Koran, as well as most foreigners apparently, and "disappears," tortures, and executes dissidents, as well as using them for medical experiments. Yet V himself is a terrorist, not above kidnapping, torturing and executing people, so where does he get off?

Verdict: He doesn't get off. Like the other two, he won't live to see the world he wants to create. But, crucially, he isn't trying to force his beliefs and views on people or make decisions for them. Quite the opposite - he wants people to be able to make choices for themselves, rather than have decisions made for them by the Government or Party. He may be a monster, but he's our monster.

So what do we conclude from these monsters? For me, the defining issue remains for what do they fight. In cases where the monster's goal is to make other people's choices for them, because they think they know better, becoming a monster is monstrous. There's only one cause worth giving up your soul for. It's not survival, not justice, not God, not patriotism, certainly not "security."

The only reason someone would be justified in monstrous deeds is the preservation and advancement of human freedom. In other words, what's wrong on behalf of the "saints" can be justified on the behalf of sinners. Using violence to exercise power over someone else in the name of one's beliefs or ideology or values, trying to make the world over in one's own image, is monstrous. But fighting in the name of human freedom and self determination is basically just self defense writ large - you can't grow and function normally as a human being without freedom, any more than you can do it without enough food or oxygen.

Live free or die - it's not just a license plate anymore.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

whose machine is this anyway?

So far this year I'm down to about two posts a month! I'm disappointed, even if nobody else out there cares very much one way or the other. My problem is not that nothing interesting is happening, it's that a lot of interesting things are happening, but it's work stuff, and I can't really blog about it. In fact, I don't really feel comfortable doing this at all during work hours. It's not so much that there's more pressure to use time at work productively (there's really not), it's politics. The nature of my employment looks like it's likely to change soon, and if it does I will offically be a public employee.

Which is great for me, but as you might have heard, there's been a lot of scandal surrounding political activity and public employment in Chicago and Cook County lately. So if I were to be working on something even vaguely political on time which is being compensated by the taxpayers would not be just shiftlessness, but illegal and in violation of the city's consent decree as well.

This is why I use a pseudonym and never discuss the department or field in which I work, which has become annoying recently because there's so much to say about it. But even so, I just don't think I can spend any of my convenient office computer time on the Web anymore, which has put a damper on my blogging.

This being Saturday, however, and me feeling sickly and having decided not to attend today's historic Michigan Avenue peace demonstration largely because it's cold and I'm being a wuss about it, I suppose I can spare some time to talk a little politics. Usually I'm fairly partisan, and not only do I know who I'm going to vote for in any given election far in advance, but I'm often actively campaigning for somebody. But this time around I'm stumped.

Tuesday morning is the Illinois Democratic primary, and the big race here is for President of the Cook County board (Board President sounds like a small time job not worthy of much thought until you realize that Cook County contains five and a half million people, roughly 42% of the state population, billions of dollars of tax revenue, and an army of patronage workers as large as any in North America). The Republican doesn't have a prayer, so whoever wins the primary wins the seat - or that's what I would have told you last week, anyway. But events have conspired to make things a bit more interesting.

The race pits longtime encumbent board president John Stroger against up and coming political operative Forrest Claypool. Stroger is one of the most powerful men in the state, and although the political hiring scandals that are spreading like wildfire across the prarie state have so far not reached his doorstep, all these guys who are getting indicted basically work for him, as he's on of the leaders of what they used to call the Machine - the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization. So reformers and Goo-Goos ("good government" advocates) are basically after his hide. In addition to my suspicion that machine politics leads to a bit of waste and inefficiency (although perhaps not as much as you'd assume) I have a bit of a personal grudge against Stroger - his determination to tear down the old Cook County Hospital building, mostly to improve the view of its replacement, which Stroger built and named Stroger Hospital. Since the old building is a classic which developers would like to turn into really nice condos, and the new one looks like a toddler built it out of glass blocks and random pieces of metal junk, I oppose this plan. Fortunately, most of the rest of the board agrees with me and the demolition is on hold while they examine offers to buy the building.

On the other hand. things have gotten quite a bit better in Chicago and Cook County while Stroger's been in charge. Crime and poverty are down, and at least some schools have improved a little. This weeks Economist magazine contains a special section touting Chicago as a success story and a possible model for reversing urban decline in the Rust Belt. So if taking out the trash is the standard by which officeholders are measured, Stroger's had a pretty good tenure.

Claypool, on the other hand, is running as a reformer, and has said everything the Goo-Goos want to hear. Transparency, accountability, etc. In theory I am in favor of these things. On the other hand, Claypool was Mayor Richard Daley's chief of staff at one point, so how independent and reformist can he really be? In addition, while he's widely respected for fixing things at the Park District when he was in charge, I've heard people complain that he was virulently anti-union in that position, and basically balanced the budget on the backs of longtime employees. And I also have a personal grudge against Claypool - he's backing the plan for a third airport at Peotone (along with Rep. Jesse Jackson Junior) over an expansion of O'Hare. The problem with this plan is that Peotone isn't even in Cook County! Basically, he wants to export yet more jobs that could become available for city residents to a distant exurb, just to mollify a few suburbanite mayors who are angry that an O'Hare expansion would demolish some of their oppressively tacky tract homes.

So where does that leave me? Two candidates I could never love, and I vote I have to base on guesswork - which will do less harm to Chicago's future over the next few years?

And then it got complicated. On Tuesday, John Stroger, who is 76 years old and fairly obese, suffered a serious stroke and had to be hospitalized. He's been in the ICU ever since and may or may not recover enough to return to work. So Chicago is faced with its own Ariel Sharon moment. What happens if Stroger wins but is unable to govern, which looks like the likeliest outcome as of this writing? The 80 Democratic committeemen - 50 representing Chicago's 50 wards and 30 from the burbs - will decide among themselves who the next candidate will be. I have no clue who this might be, and whether the official Machine candidate would be better or worse than Claypool. Do I trust those guys to pick a leader, or vote for Claypool, whom I don't like, but could probably live with?

My hunch is that the Board President job will be used as a political tool by the Machine. A longhot idea - perhaps the job will be offered to Jesse Jr. as a payoff to get him to not run for Mayor against Daley. More likely, it will go to some insider or loyalist - like Dan Hynes, the insider who had the oganizational support but failed to gain traction against Barak Obama in the '04 Senate primary. So any way the primary goes, we're in for some upheaval at the top. It's exciting stuff, but it leaves me playing an unfamiliar role - as an undecided voter.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

your philosophical primer for the day

People are evil. Not in the sense of "there are evil people out htere," but in the sense of "all of us are and do evil." We've all done things we regret, or should regret. We hurt or abuse or exploit others in our pursuit of self interest. We put our own convenience over the common good. This is just a part of human nature.

Liberals used to be the guys who said people were basically good and you should cut them some slack. Brian Covell has remaked that part of the decline of the American Liberal worldview had to do with our understanding of hte Holocaust as proof that human beings are fallen and sinful. The good pastor finds this somewhat lamentable, but after the events of the 20th Century, I would look upon with alarm any movement that claimed humand beings were perfect or perfectable.

Due to our sometimes miserable nature, life for much of human history was "nasty, brutish, and short." To deal with our insistant squabbling and murder of each other, the modern state evolved. Rules were developed for people to follow in order to bring relative peace to human relations. This was a vast improvement over the "warring tribes" system, which is what it replaced. In easter Europe, Somalia and Iraq we have witnessed what happens when the State collapses and we return to this brutish existance.

However, hte State has problems of its own. Basic human nature has not changed, so the people who run the government are also evil. They tend to use the power they have been granted to enrich themselves by exploiting everyone else, and work mostly to expand their own power.

To address this problem, Enlightenment thinkers such as the Founders of this nation developed a system under which the leaders of the government would be chosen by and held accountable to the people. Furthermore, they divided up the essential powers of the government among the 3 separate branches of government. They figured that the leaders of each branch woudl work hard to enhance thier own power. This would lead to conflict among the branches, often leaving them at loggerheads. While inefficient, this system would ensure that no one in government would be able to assert complete authority and misuse their offices too badly. The other branches would always be there to hold them accountable.

For example, the executive branch has the power to investigate criminal activity - this is an essential function of the state. Under the "warring tribes" system, when people wronged us, we would take our revenge upon them. In civilized society, we have given up our right of revenge to the State in exchange for its promise to protect us. So the State has a legal monopoly on the use of violence. They can grab people off the street, lock them up, and sometimes kill them. You, however, are not even allowed to throw a punch. "Assault," as it's now called, is a crime.

But what's to stop the leaders of the executive branch from using their monopoly on force to intimidate, threaten, blackmail and silence people in their own self interest? The answer lies in the separation of powers between the branches of government. The laws to be enforced are written by the legislative branch (Congress). Determining whether or not a law has been broken or properly carried out is the job of the courts. The executive just carries out and enforces the will of the other branches, it cannot make the law.

In order to protect people from tyranny, the system is set up to ensure that the government does not normally intrude on the privacy of ordinary citizens. Sometimes it must, but only to protect the public and enforce the law. But in order to do so, the executive must have permission from the other branches of government - they must present evidence to a judge that individual X has broken or is conspiring to break on of Congress' laws. This is part of the system by which each branch is supposed to be restrained by the other two.

So there's you philosophical primer for today. The real world relevance, of course, is that the Bush Administration now claims it has the right to invade peoples' privacy without presenting any evidence to the courts.

This amounts to saying "trust us. We're not going to use these powers against innocent people for our own gain becasue we're good people." But there arent' any good guys in real life, onlu uss self-interested pricks. It is necessary fro the government to investigate and detain people to protect the rest of us from the world of evil pricks outside the governmetn. But who protects us from the evil pricks inside the government? It's supposed to be the other branches of government. Public accountability through separation of powers and the rule of law. But by instituting large scale surveillance in secret, without informing Congress or the courts, the executive branch has proclaimed itself to be above the law.

"Trust us" they say. But trusting the people at the top to be nice is not a good plan for maintaining our liberty and ensuring that Americans will not be persicuted and jailed for political reasons. A much better plan is to keep the separation of powers and the rule of law in place.

We have maintained and expanded our freedom for over 200 years by not trusting anyone. We shouldn't let our fear of evil people out there make us forget that peopel are just as bad on this side of the border.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Upside of Anger

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Okay, what the hell. Another contest! Just to see if anybody's still checking this page. This one is inspired by our media overlords at Fox News, and I'm sending it out to all you sarcastic cynics out there, especially my snarky blood relatives. Look at the zany topic of discussion they had the other day on Fox! Those crazy kids! ALL-OUT CIVIL WAR IN IRAQ: COULD IT BE A GOOD THING? You bet it could! Let us count the ways! Post your reasons why genocidal sectarian civil war is good for humanity as comments to this web page. The person with the best reason, as judged by me, gets the greatest prize in the whole world (a case of beer, natch).