THINGS I’VE BEEN WONDERING (NON-SNARKY, EARNEST EDITION)

Points for answers. Extra credit if you can identify the podcasts I’ve been driving with recently.

Do GOPers make their global warming messaging about attacking Al Gore because they think he’s unpopular and they want to discredit science? Because they think he’s popular and they want to discredit him? Or just because they want to change the topic?

If Barack Obama combined a blue ribbon panel with a moratorium on firings of service members for being gay, how many Democrats in Congress would back him up?

Does having Democrats running the federal government make people who don’t like abortion but want it to stay legal feel more (not 8%, but maybe 1%) comfy identifying themselves “pro-life” without worrying about an abortion ban?

How do thousands of already-and-now-permanently married same-sex couples affect the fight for equal marriage rights for everyone else in California?

When will America have its first Supreme Court nominee who’s open about having had an abortion?

Is Obama serious about using our leverage to push Bibi?

Is Bruce Springsteen the only liberal immune from being tarred with the “elitist celebrity” brush? If so why?

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INSERT SARCASTIC COMMENT ABOUT COMPASSIONATE CONSERVATISM HERE

John McCain says he’s against our government spending money on making condoms available in Africa – he thinks:

Q: “So no contraception, no counseling on contraception. Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “You’ve stumped me.”

Keep this one in mind next time someone tells you that Democrats lose elections because they’re simply outside of the mainstream on “social issues.”

PLUTO

When I was in elementary school, they told us that what are called the nine planets were really eight planets and a rogue moon. Then I went to high school, and they told us that there were most certainly nine planets. Then I got to college, and took an intro course where they told us there were somewhere between eight and hundreds of planets in this particular solar system.

This morning on the TV news the anchors were agonizing over what the revelation that Pluto may not be a planet will do to the school children who’ve worked so hard at rote memorization of the planets. This should suggest something about the limits of rote memorization as an educational strategy. And it offers a useful reminder to students and teachers that teachable moments are sometimes the ones that cast doubt on what you’ve been taught.

From Matt

Among the immediately tangible benefits of the failure of Bush’s domestic plan for his second term is the growing influence of a centrist bloc in Congress. Most of these people are guys I’d love to knock out of office in 2006, but I’d rather have rational opposition like McCain than our rabid friend Mr. Frist, even if it hurts our chances. It’s a purely visceral reaction: Frist, Delay, they just terrify me. I don’t want them managing my town’s McDonald’s, let alone our government – they’d spit in the fries.

The clearest recent example of the centrist bloc is the much-reported deal on judicial nominees. I have to say that this feels like a loss to me – not as disastrous as the elimination of filibuster rules, certainly, but the precedent of allowing groups to use political leverage to force up-or-down votes has been set.

That said, the <a href=”news’>http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7964239/”>news regarding stem cell research is nothing short of astonishing:

Ignoring President Bush’s veto threat, the House voted Tuesday to lift limits on embryonic stem cell research, a measure supporters said could accelerate cures for diseases but opponents viewed as akin to abortion.

I’m trying to be hopeful. It’s a mixed victory, but in a political climate like this people like Santorum are dead in the water.

Buried in otherwise unsurprising Reuters piece on a new study on oral sex amongst teens is this line, which suggests exactly the opposite of most anecdotal or empirical evidence I’ve heard:

It was more common for boys to have performed oral sex on girls than vice versa, the report said.

I don’t know the methodology of the study, and this may only reflect teenage boys’ greater willingness to say they’ve “performed” oral sex on girls than vice versa – but even if this study only represents norms about what teenagers think they should say, if more teenage boys who are on the receiving end of oral sex are reporting reciprocating as well, then that’s some degree of progress past the all-too prevalent idea that girls should perform oral sex on boys while boys should refuse to do the same in return. Not to say that oral sex is the right call for most teenagers – just to say that any evidence of an increasing sense among our generation that heterosexual physical intimacy should be aimed at the pleasure of both people would be a good sign for many things.

That liberal media, at it again:

Schiavo’s feeding tube has been out since Friday, and doctors say she could die within two weeks, leaving her supporters increasingly desperate for an eleventh-hour intervention to save her.

Her supporters? Making those who believe in her right to refuse medical treatment what, her detractors? Making her parents “supporters” but not her husband?

FAIR questions the factuality of John Stossel’s hatchet job against John Edwards on 20/20 last week, and the justice of giving him the space to fulminate from the right each week without any counter-balance from the right:

How much of the increase in C-sections is due to medical judgment, rather than fear of lawsuits? Stossel doesn’t address the question. Dr. Luis Sanchez-Ramos, an obstetrics professor at the University of Florida, noted in the British Medical Journal (2/12/94) that “in Brazil and Mexico, where malpractice is not a problem, the caesarean section rate is still high.” Sanchez-Ramos suggested that profit may be another motive driving C-sections, pointing out that rates are higher in for-profit hospitals and with patients who have good health insurance.

But Stossel focused on lawsuits as the core problem: “So are women today suffering more pain, even risking their lives on unnecessary surgery, partly because lawyers like John Edwards scared doctors?” It’s a complex question, depending among other issues on how much of the surgery is actually “unnecessary.” But Stossel’s answer just assumes that trial lawyers are the villains: “Well, maybe all Edwards’ cases were good ones, but the fearful atmosphere that lawsuits create has far-reaching consequences.” That we should see malpractice suits as making doctors “fearful” rather than “careful” is something that the ABC journalist asserts rather than explains.

Of course, political candidates are fair game for criticism. But given Stossel’s politics, it’s unlikely that he will be doing a similar attack on George W. Bush or Dick Cheney this campaign season– certainly not one that fits in with their opponents’ talking points so well. (When Edwards was picked by Kerry, the Republican National Committee’s website headlined its response, “Who Is John Edwards? A Disingenuous, Unaccomplished Liberal And Friend To Personal Injury Trial Lawyers.”) When ABC’s parent company Disney refused to allow its Miramax subsidiary to distribute Michael Moore’s film “Fahrenheit 9/11,” company CEO Michael Eisner offered this rationale (5/5/04): “We just didn’t want to be in the middle of a politically oriented film during an election year.” So why does ABC air one-sided political commentary during an election year?

When I watched part of Stossel’s commentary on TV, I thought to myself “Maybe we should let both sides bring medical experts to argue their case to the jury. Except – we already do.” Conservatives are always claiming that their opposition to judicial decisions which limit the power of their constituencies is based in an abiding faith in democracy and a distrust of unelected judges. But in the same breath they argue for tort reform in order to protect those same constituencies from regulation by juries. And they gleefully marshall technocratic arguments to suggest that a sampling of “the people” shouldn’t be trusted to decide such cases. They’re stuck making that argument because for all the talk about Americans hating lawyers and malpractice suits, it isn’t trial lawyers who decide cases and determine damages. It’s a (not fully representative) sampling of the American people. So conservatives’ concern isn’t about democracy. It’s about power.