Tuesday, April 26, 2005

What's Next to Go, Article 114? 

Eugene Volokh waxes longingly on a NYT report of an end to sodomy prohibitions in the UCMJ (Article 125). The DoD responded that it was only recommending the "laws prohibiting consensual sodomy be moved from one section ... to another." What I actually suspect (and Volokh reader Paul Johnson, a former JAG, does as well) is that the recommendation ammounts to the removal of consensual sodomy from the punitive articles under 125 and including it as an element under the General Article (Article 134), similar to how matters such as adultery, wrongful cohabitation, indecent exposure, indecent language and indecent acts with another are currently addressed. This has the effect of relegating prosecution of the act only to those circumstances where it is contrary to good order and discipline or brings discredit upon the service. In most cases, I would imagine it would be an "add-on" to other charges (prostitution, indecent exposure, adultery, fraternization, etc.)

I have an interesting perspective from which to speak on consensual sodomy and the UCMJ as I once sat a Courts Martial where Article 125 was the only offense of which the accused was found guilty, and then by his own written testimony. The situation involved luring another's girlfriend into a barracks room, plying her with Bacardi 151 and then possibly raping her after she passed out. The prosecution didn't push too hard on the other counts, so we always suspected he cut a deal to testify against his room mate. Even if he didn't do the rape, though, he got himself into a stupid situation where things were out of his control, so I didn't feel too bad using the hammer available to let this guy know he needed to rethink his priorities.

Despite my personal experience, I have no doubt that Eugene Volokh is correct in his assessment that consensual sodomy has long been used to implement the services' prohibition on homosexuals, but its just one tool among many. Besides the fact that the vast majority of people leaving the service because they're gay do so under an Admin discharge, if it came to invoking punitive articles of the UCMJ it is much easier to prove fraudulent enlistment than sodomy. Also, giving someone a Dishonorable Discharge as a result of Courts Martial requires the agreement of the members that the punishment fits the crime. While we had one hard-line member who wanted the kid to do hard time for his knobber, that certainly wasn't the majority opinion. Likewise, in a case of pure consensual sodomy without the background and circumstances in the case I sat can anyone reasonably conceive of an entire court wanting to ruin the accused future simply because he likes his bread buttered on the other side? The military may be authoritarian, but it is generally fair and proportional and slapping a young man with a felony conviction and a BCD for getting caught in the head with his pants around his ankles is neither.

In summary, just remember this is only a recommendation, so don't go gettin' your freak on just yet. Or at least, don't tell!

Oh, and Article 114 has always been one of my favorites.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

In the Land of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is King ... 

but in the land of the color blind does the racially conscious have an advantage?

A while back Cobb, a blogger I've always enjoyed, put together a group he named the Conservative Brotherhood, a blog-roll of black conservative voices in the blogosphere. The other day he noted a commenter on Wizbang that apparently took deference to a group of "black" conservatives, believing their racially-based identification and membership criteria constituted a sort of racism that should be beyond conservatives. A similar, though less stridently expressed, sentiment was raised by fellow steeley-eyed killer of the deep and all around good guy Chap (of Chapomatic fame), who while uncomfortable with the idea of racially based exclusivity recognized that similar types of self-imposed selective grouping (MilBlogs, regional blog groups, even SubBlogs) is evident every day with little comment.

While I think the commenter on Wizbang may be speaking from a genuine belief that we should move toward a color blind society and that this is only made more difficult by continually highlighting race and ascribing a racial angle to every aspect of life, I believe his focus is off here. In the first place, there can be little argument that the experiences of Cobb, Juliette, La Shawn or any other of the CB in developing and expressing their conservative ideas as well as handling the reaction to their ideas is markedly different than those shared by many other conservatives and this difference is probably greatly related to cultural or societal expectations based upon race. As such, one would probably be just as accurate to describe the CB as a group based upon a shared experience resulting from skin color and political persuasion more than a group based just upon skin color and political persuasion. Secondly, no more than closing your eyes kept you hidden as a child, ignoring the real-world effects of racial identification (either self-identification or assumed identification on behalf of an observer) on experience does nothing to change that experience or make it less real. And third, that recognizing the impact that racial identification has in a situation where it implicitly and explicitly effects expectations and perceptions is not the same as creating arbitraty racial aspects to everything. If we were discussing the Brotherhood of Left-Handed Blacks, however, the commenter might have a stronger point.

Like many things, though, I believe much of this is yet another potato-poTAHto issue and a result of conflicting assumptions, beacuse the word "black" carries the potential for conveying much more than just color, especially when used to refer to cultural identification and experience. As such, I feel that the depth of its meaning in cultural terms is, to a degree, lost on my brother Chap, just as it is largely lost on me. This is a result of the cultural homoginization of much of America, an effect I think is especially evidenced in "white" America. This watering down of culture was brought home to me very strongly while living in Japan (an experience Chap shares). The strength and clarity of the Japanese cultural identity was so evident that I couldn't help but find it to be in great contrast with my own identity, one formed more strongly from a sense of individualism rather than one of group or culture. I see a parallel between my experience in Japan and this discussion that really amounts to understanding the effects of "black culture" on identity. I'm certainly not claiming to have any special insight on the world of "black culture," but I do recognize it exists as a distinct entity that is as significant or more so to the identity of most black Americans as the culture of one's origin country is to our imigrant population. Perhaps one day the black cultural identity will be diffused throughout America's melting pot like Irish or German culture is, but that is not the case today.

As such, I welcome the diversity of ideas and perspectives the CB brings, allowing me a peek into thoughts and experiences I'd never even be aware of otherwise. And, in building a fuller view of the issues and engaging them with my thoughts, we work toward what I think is a better goal than a color blind society. That is a society in which it's OK to use skin color to identify a person just as you'd use hair color or the shape of their face without feeling self conscious or wondering if someone else might read more into your observation than you'd like. A society where you can recognize the different effects of culture upon identity without having that recognition presumed to be biased. A society that understands and embraces diversity as the celebration of what makes each person unique and individual and yet still a part of the whole. This, I think, is a better realization of Dr. King's dream than that of blindly assuming color blindness in all matters.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Sin City - Beautiful if a Bit Jumbled 

Going to the movies is simply not something I get to do as often as I once did. This past weekend, though, I called up my friend and caught the Robert Rodriguez take on Frank Miller's Sin City, a film where the accent is heavilly on the first word in the title. Google any review of this film and you will come up with more adjectives like "stunning," "visual" and "dynamic" in reference to the presentation than I believe any other film recently has garnered, and rightly so. To say "this is unlike anything you have ever seen" is an appelation that, for a change, is both completely accurate and well deserved. Frank Miller was a key contributor to this film and it shows through the beautiful graphic framing of every shot. In many cases it seems the original works were used for the storyboards. But while the strength of the presentation gains from exploiting the comic medium, so to may it contribute to some of the criticisms.

While I fully believe the black and white motif was chosen for stylistic reasons, I can't help but conjecture that the film would have been pushing an NC-17 rating if all that blood had been in living color. This is not only a violent movie, but a movie of comic-book level violence. Think about those House of Horror black and white magazines you used to have to hide from your Mom. While I accepted it as part of the package and medium I'm sure there are some who find the violence overload or seemingly supernatural levels of punishment taken by lead characters a bit distracting.

My greatest disappointment in the film, though, was also inherited from the source material, and that was a lack of cohesion. While some have likened the non-chronological presentation to other films weaving multiple story lines together (most notable Pulp Fiction), the stories presented in the film, strong as they are, really represent more independent events that just happen to transpire in close proximity and fairly contemporaneously with each other. In other words, I left the theater feeling that they could have just as easilly included any three random stories and produced an equally strong film. While a more reflective work using this motif (such as Grand Canyon or Magnolia) can work with more independent stories that compliement or explore common themes, I didn't get this from Sin City. Don't get me wrong, the stories were good, but they really didn't rely on each other except tangentially. Originally issued as individual stories set in a common locale, he film ultimately plays more as three episodes in a series than as a single grand work.

As amazing as the film looks, though, it is ultimately the performances of the actors that makes the backgrounds worth the effort. Truly an all-star cast, everyone in the ensemble shines. Coming from the theater, though, I was struck with another thought I'm sure others have had before. Namely, that Bruce Willis could do a commendable job playing another Bruce in yet another Frank Miller vehicle. For years rumors of an impending filming of Frank Miller's greatest work, The Dark Knight Returns, have bounced around. The tale of an aging Bruce Wayne fighting time and a world gone mad and devoid of heroes is seen by many as a high water mark in the blurring of comics and literature, and I, for one, hope the look, feel and success of Sin City helps to refuel these rumors.

It's All About the Oil (Really) 

In the New York Post today, Amir Taheri provides a good overview of Al Queda's war against Saudi Arabia. To some, the idea of terrorists fighting against their Muslim brothers in a country held by many (for good reason) to be the largest financial supporter of terrorism sounds too much like the ouroboros. While in at least one manifestation of the ancient story of a snake eating its own tail it ultimately, in its last bite, simply disappears, I hold little hope a similar discorporation would befall our adversaries should they succeed. Neither, though, am I surprised at their efforts to take Saudi Arabia.

It must be remembered that Al Queda and UBL in particular have always railed against the presence of infidels in the holy lands of Islam. Between Mecca, Medina and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia represents most of what these people believe they are fighting for and have always held the house of Saud as a bunch of somewhat poor Muslims for inviting all the foreigners into the land of Mohammad. What we have seen the last few years hasn't so much been a change of goal as much as a shifting of priorities and tactics. The increased emphasis that Al Queda is placing on securing the Holy Land, though, reinforces the wisdom in understanding this threat and taking proactive measures within our capbilities to mitigate any potential dangers.

In this regard, I have always assumed the potential for Saudi Arabia to fall under Al Queda control has been a key component of our military strategy in the region. Key because, right or wrong, there is no denying the potential for a severe economic impact of what might essentially amount to a total loss of Saudi oil on the world market. At the very least, if Saudi Arabia fell to Al Queda our contingency planning would have to assume a loss of that petroleum to the US. Furthermore, given the cultural and religious significance of Saudi Arabia, the option to simply charge in to take the country back is probably not too realistic either.

Now, let us imagine the potential picture planners were looking at in 2002: a complete loss of petroleum resources from Saudi Arabia coupled with the presence of a hostile nation north of the potential target (i.e. Saddam's Iraq) and a need to completely stage all operations from the sea or remote airbases. Compare that, however, with the picture planners are looking at today: a complete loss of petroleum resources from Saudi Arabia, offset by purchase of resources from Iraq coupled with the presence of an allied, though admittedly not completely stable, nation north of the potential target (i.e. Iraq today) and an ability to stage and launch operations from sea and land within close proximity. Besides the WMD concerns and humanitarian issues (both important and viable in their own right) this article simple reinforces the strategic reasons that made launching the Iraq campaign the right decission in the right place at the right time.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

More Unrecognized Assumptions 

I've railed before that assumptions are only bad if you fail to recognize they exist. While I am sure it occurs in other quarters, it seems that those on the left tend to get smacked by their unrecognized assumptions with greater regularity than their political opposition. For example, in discussions on the passing of the Pope I ran across this little "smack-down":
Listening to the endless radio "coverage" of the Pope's death, it's remarkable how unbalanced it is. They have priests, saying we all know deep inside the Pope was right about everything. Hello. Earth to Catholics. The Pope was a good PR guy, but come on, he was against birth control. The Catholics actually burned condoms in AIDS-plagued Africa.
- Scripting News (emphasis added)
Leaving aside the obvious assumption that birth control is good and therefore anyone opposed is wrong or bad, I think the bolded sentence reveals an even more deeply hidden assumption.

Without arguing the merits of birth control in general (I've often been very appreciative of its existence) or even the propriety of condoms in Africa, I'd be willing to bet a paycheck that the AIDS rate among truly monogamous non-condom wearing Catholics is much lower than for promiscuous condom wearing anybodies. Assuming the Catholics in Africa that were burning condoms weren't randomly breaking into people's homes and stores and burning all the condoms in town, it seems clear that the action was done in conjunction with the Catholic church's other key teaching on sex, namely that it is restricted to marriage and then only practiced in monogamy. It is only in the unstated, unrecognized assumptions of the author (assumptions, incidentally, not uncommon) that the event described seems to represent a disregard for AIDS or those suffering.

UPDATE: Jim Geraghty, via Hugh Hewitt, tracks several CNN "yes, but..." moments in the coverage of the Pope's death, including these gems:
many people have been hurt terribly by ... the notion that the pope will not allow the use of condoms, ... even to stop the spread of deadly diseases, such as AIDS

A pope who embraced AIDS victims and who went to Africa and talked to them, and there are pictures of him being embraced by young AIDS victims, and yet who refused to sanction the use of condoms to stop the spread of AIDS.
This, presimable said with a straight face, never recognizing that condom use to "stop the spread of AIDS" is completely unnecessary in the context of monogomous, married sexual relations, the context from which the Pope was most certainly speaking.

After all, if you're going to commit the sin of adultery already I seriously doubt the Pope's position on birth control will effect your decission to use a condom or not.

Leads Herself to the Water, Still Refuses to Drink 

Megan McArdle has recently written what I think is one of the best rational, non-religious based arguments against the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions. She is very careful, though, to bookend her points with disclaimers that her argument really doesn't mean anything.
Unlike most libertarians, I don't have an opinion on gay marriage, and I'm not going to have an opinion no matter how much you bait me.

(insert really good argument against gay marriage here)

I realise that this probably falls on the side of supporting the anti-gay-marriage forces, and I'm sorry, but I can't help that.
OK, maybe my characterization of her opening and closing is a little strong, but if you think about a subject matter and see a stronger argument against than for, why not say so? She often characterizes herself as an independent thinker or politically moderate, but I would think that means agreeing with positions from both major parties based upon the merits of the position and not the party endorsing the position. In this case, she seems to be defining these terms as merely adding the two positions together and computing the average. However, in some matters, like this one, it is impossible to compute the average because the solution set is binary: same-sex unions are either legally recognized as marriage or they are not. Contrary to the impression some want to create, I don't believe there is any serious challenge being mounted to the rights for individuals of the same sex to enter into any personal or legal arrangement that is available to any other citizen, regardless of sexual orientation. Why then the reluctance to embrace the conclusions one has reached?

I can't say this applies to Megan in this case, but similar equivocations I have witnessed seem to find their root in self-identity and group dynamics. Often we humans, as social animals, are reluctant to act outside of established norms within our groups, be they natural or self selected. As a corollary, we too are sometimes loathe to be perceived as belonging to an undesirable group. For example, if the KKK were holding a bake sale to raise money for the local school I would not attend, not so much out of a disagreement with the specific goals of the sale but rather because of the common (and in this case accurate) perceptions of the sponsoring organization and my opposition to their general goals. In another example, though, at one point in history there were many white musicians who would not perform "race music" or work with black musicians. I can easily imagine this may have been, at least in part, out of a fear of going against the norms of their own group as well as a fear based upon the common (and in this case inaccurate) perceptions of black musicians and audiences.

As I've pointed out before, simply because Conservatives or religious people (and no, they are not synonymous) support a specific position it does not magically make it a "rich," "white" or "religious" position. Policies and positions should be rationally judged on their own merit, just as Megan has done. To not follow the conclusions reached, though, presumably out of a sense of unity or principle, betrays the very rational train of though that got you to the water in the first place.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?