The CraigsList Killer More than “Boy Next Door”

CraigsList killer Philip Markoff was clean cut, handsome, and a College Republican. Still, not all College Republicans become serial killers. It is far more likely some deep-seated hatred of women and people of other races that set off his CraigsList spree. To be clear, College Republicans do not hate women and minorities. Not at all.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

It is true that the CraigsList killer is described as being the boy next door. Perhaps Philip Markoff was just an average guy on the surface. Heck, they describe all serial killers that way, don’t they? Here’s part of the description, from the New York Daily News:

English teacher Sonja Hluska remembered him as a smart kid with a good sense of humor.

“He was one of my most polite students. He was kind.

“Just a nice, clean-cut boy wanting to succeed. That type that you’d like to mother,” she said. “I just still can’t believe it.”

At college, he was a member of the College Republicans and was fairly unremarkable except for the occasional offensive comment, said ex-classmate Joe Coe.

“He was someone that had issues with people of color, had issues with women,” Coe told CBS.

“He gave off a creepy vibe,” said another SUNY classmate.

Let me say immediately that it is not true that becoming a College Republican will make you into a serial killer. It might warp you in other ways, but it could be argued that you are already warped to even consider becoming a College Republican.

What is important to note here is the misogyny and bogotry underlying Mr. Markoff’s character. I know, I know, it is everyone’s right to be bigoted and misogynist, but shouldn’t we someday see this as a clue to underlying deep resentments? Shouldn’t basic hatred be something that sets our alarm bells ringing?

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

The Nanny State Gone Haywire, in the Reddest of Red States

When people can’t solve their own problems, they turn to The Nanny State. Conservatives claim a desire for small government, but they advocate strict law and order provisions pack US jails fuller than in any other country, soon to include a couple 11 year old boys who snuck a look at internet porn. They loves some of that Nanny State!

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

The Nanny State? I’ll bet that term was invented by conservatives who were trying to get the best of liberals. They think government is too large when it works to protect people from their own actions. Sort of a libertarian critique on liberal government, I suppose, that demands personal responsibility rather than an all-protective government.

As a general rule, I think I’m there with a critique of government that indemnifies people fromt heir own mistakes. I’d rather see a government not protect people from being responsible for their actions. So a critique of the Nanny State sits well with me, to some degree. Still, conservatives use the term innapropriately, and frankly they depend on the government to bail them out time and again. The bottom line here for most conservatives is they want enforcement of the laws they like, and funding of the programs they like, and all other laws and programs are provided by “The Nanny State.” Yes, hypocrisy is the rule of the day for Republican conservatives, as usual.

Here’s an example. It is surely ludicrous, but it is from the reddest of red states. Two eleven year old boys sit down at their computer in class and go hunting for porn. By typing “lesbian” into the search engine they get around the school filters and hit the mother lode, which they show off to friends, of course. The story is from the Salt Lake Tribune:

Two American Fork fifth-graders could face criminal charges for looking at pornography on a school computer, but some people are wondering how they were able to access the images in the first place.

Police were called last week after two 11-year-old boys at Forbes Elementary School pulled up images of sexual acts on a school computer and then showed the pictures to nine other students, said American Fork Police Sgt. Gregg Ludlow. The incident came to light when one child told a parent and another told the principal.

Ludlow called the images “pretty explicit” but declined to elaborate. He said the boys made multiple attempts on different days to access inappropriate material. Ultimately, they typed the word “lesbian” into a search engine and were able to pull up pictures not blocked by the school’s Internet filter.

The school suspended the boys for two days. They could face charges in juvenile court of dealing in material harmful to a minor or lesser charges for viewing pornography at school, or be referred to the probation department instead of going to court, among other possibilities, said Chris Yannelli, deputy Utah County Attorney. If they are adjudicated in juvenile court, consequences range from community service to serving time in a juvenile detention facility, he said.

Rhonda Bromley, Alpine School District spokeswoman, said district officials decided to involve police based on the seriousness of the case.

“The bottom line is, because of the age it’s obviously a sensitive thing, but what they did was inappropriate, and it was wrong, so as educators and a society hopefully we need to help them learn that,” Bromley said. “It’s a little disappointing to hear people say, “Boys will be boys.’ … I don’t know what the magic age is when people can stop saying –Well, boys will be boys.’”

Ludlow said the boys subjected the other children to something they might not otherwise have seen.

“Our main emphasis is not to hammer these kids,” Ludlow said. “If we can get them into the juvenile justice system and make sure they’re getting some counseling or other services, that’s our end goal.”

First of all, I’m not so startled by this crime. I remember being exposed to porn the summer before the first grade, and being more excited about doing something we were hiding from adults than by the images. OK, that was a long time ago and the images were what we would now call “quaint,” pictures of topless women dressed up in cowboy gear – vests and chaps and the like. The illicit images set my then 10 year old heart aflutter, but it was the illicit part, not the nudity per se. But I digress.

They’re consigning these two boys to the juvenile justice system, spending their taxpayer dollars when they could just dish out punishment at the school and at home. I don’t know these boys, and I’m not claiming that 11 year olds can’t know the consequences of their actions and all, but this seems like a denial of both parental and school responsibility. No, I’m not making the argument that the school should have a better internet filter, as will likely be made, but that there is no need to so frivolously hand over 11 year old miscreants to the Nanny State when the school and the parents could handle the job. I’ve got no argument that there is a legitimate concern about children being exposed to pornography in school, but ratcheting up the punishment over natural curiosity is excessive. That’s not the mere “boys will be boys” argument, but one that says that natural curiosity must be nurtured, not punished excessively. By the time these folks are finished the boys will likely be registered as sex offenders.

It seems my opinion here matches that of the readers of the Salt Lake Tribune. (Should I be worried?) Here in the reddest of red states they were all gung ho over the teabagging thingie yesterday, but when it comes to policing the sexual development of their sons, they’d rather iron hand of the state do that. Meanwhile, a couple boys doing naughty things are shuffled off into the juvenile justice system, which likely will do far more damage than the appropriate punishments handed out by parents and schools. I suppose the right wingers in Utah are so traumatized by the very word “lesbian” that they want the state to handle the case so they don’t have to. Yeah, all these laws about sex registries and regulating the sexuality of these precious snowflakes are a great way to spend the tax dollars Utah residents don’t want to pay anyway.

Thursday, April 16th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Iowa Gay Marriage Opponent Says “Suck” a Lot

US Representative Steve King (R-IA) discussed whether he will run for Governor in the next couple years, using the word “suck” a bit more than politicians normally do. What’s that all about? Anyway, he’s evidently planning to lead a revolution in Iowa to change things back to the way they were. Fat chance.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

US Representative Steve King of Iowa is thinking of running for Governor in Iowa now that the courts there have paved the way for gay marriage in the state. Gee, this guy has a way with words. From the Des Moines Register:

U.S. Rep. Steve King said Monday that he is more likely to run for governor next year in light of the Iowa Supreme Court’s ruling last week overturning the state’s ban on gay marriage.

“When these kinds of things happen, it sucks me into the Iowa policy in a way that I haven’t been sucked into it in a while,” King told The Des Moines Register. “It’s not a predominant component. But when these kinds of things happen, does it make me more or less likely? The answer is more likely.”

Given that the gay marriage issue can’t come to any kind of vote for a long, long time, I’m thinking Mr. King is going to find himself on the wrong side of this one. But, you know, the extremists on the religious right just might give him some campaign bucks. The thing is, there are probably a few other Republicans who are thinking just like him, that fighting gay marriage is their ticket to bigger and better things. The infighting in that primary might just be horribly fierce, paving the way for a moderate Democrat.

Meanwhile, Iowans have a few years to get used to the idea of their fellow citizens marrying gayly, raising families, and being good neighbors. Someone ought to start a campaign of gay and lesbian Iowans sharing recipes with their neighbors, or something like that. Being visibly “normal” is probably important over the next few years.

As far as Steve King is concerned, why did he choose the word “suck?” Man, is he trying to be subliminal or what?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

Virginity Pledge Causes Amnesia

If you read FoxNews, you will conclude that teens who take the virginity pledge lose their memory. As usual, stellar journalism from FoxNews, but the real story is that the virginity pledge has no effect on premarital sexual behavior, except that Virgin Pledgers are less likely to use birth control. I call it the Bristol Palin effect.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Well, that seems to be one of the conclusions of the research by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, as reported by FoxNews:

Of those sampled, almost 60 percent had sex and more than 50 percent had oral sex five years later, and more than 80 percent of those who had taken virginity pledges had forgotten they ever did so.

OK, that’s FoxNews, which leads the article with the encouraging, if misleading, headline “Study: Religious Teens More Likely to Abstain from Sex.” The real news can be found in several other articles on the web, but I’ll quote from Psych Central News:

The study found more than half of youths surveyed engaged in sexual activity, regardless of whether they had made a pledge to remain sexually abstinent.

Researchers also discovered something not entirely unexpected – virginity pledgers were 10 percent less likely to use a form of birth control.

. . .

The findings suggest that “virginity pledges” do little to deter teenage sexuality. It also suggests that people who take such pledges are at a slightly increased risk for pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases when they do have sex, due to their decreased use of condoms or other birth control.

I suppose that explains Bristol Palin, eh?

To be serious, the abstinence-only education the Bush Administration has squandered $200MM on is bound to fail, according to scientifically-based criteria, and the reason it will fail is that it depends on a pledge to take over for any notion of rational thought. The girl or boy who takes the pledge is as likely as any other teen to end up in a “romantic” situation, whether on Prom night or while playing pool in the local bar. When the situation gets out of control, the next morning that teen can just blame the moment, and need not blame the lack of responsible planning. That’s the effect of abstinence-only education – it is a program that results in the abnegation of responsibility.

Aw, teens today! They’re not responsible about sex, and thus don’t use condoms, at least if taught the Republican way. No, none of us are surprised that Republicans do not advocate responsibility.

Monday, January 5th, 2009 by Steven Reynolds |

GOP Intellectual Center: Goldwater, McCarthy, Reagan, Elmer Gantry?

Neal Gabler points out that today’s Republicans are more like Joe McCarthy than Ronald Reagan or Barry Goldwater. Alas, such comparisons are becoming as trite as that comparison Godwin’s Law describes. Let’s forumulate another analogy. Is Elmer Gantry too trite to use? Paradise Lost? How about D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation?

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

Neal Gabler has a nice column in yesterday’s LA Times where he ponders the notion of the Republican intellectual center. He’s following avidly, as we all are, the infighting among the GOPers as they fight to remake themselves. Will the GOP follow the extremist social conservatives, or will they hearken back to a philosophy from an earlier time, to Reagan, or Goldwater? Gabler’s thesis is that there is not intellectual center for the Republican Party, that all they’ve got left are angry and ugly talking heads like Hannity and Limbaugh, and that, as such, what plays for an “intellectual enter” for the Republicans is more like the McCarthy of the HUAC era. Here’s a bit from that LA Times article:

McCarthyism, on the other hand, which could be deployed by anyone, thrived. McCarthyism was how Republicans won. George H.W. Bush used it to get himself elected, terrifying voters with Willie Horton. And his son, under the tutelage of strategist Karl Rove, not only got himself reelected by convincing voters that John Kerry was a coward and a liar and would hand the nation over to terrorists, which was pure McCarthyism, he governed by rousing McCarthyite resentments among his base.

Republicans continue to push the idea that this is a center-right country and that Americans have swooned for GOP anti-government posturing all these years, but the real electoral bait has been anger, recrimination and scapegoating. That’s why John McCain kept describing Barack Obama as some sort of alien and why Palin, taking a page right out of the McCarthy playbook, kept pushing Obama’s relationship with onetime radical William Ayers.

And that is also why the Republican Party, despite the recent failure of McCarthyism, is likely to keep moving rightward, appeasing its more extreme elements and stoking their grievances for some time to come. There may be assorted intellectuals and ideologues in the party, maybe even a few centrists, but there is no longer an intellectual or even ideological wing. The party belongs to McCarthy and his heirs – Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Palin. It’s in the genes.

I’m not here to say Neal Gabler is wrong, as there seem to be many McCarthyite tendencies among the Republicans nowadays, but it seems to me that he doesn’t fully describe this intellectual vacuum of the Republicans. Changing a vision of Republican lineage from Goldwater to Joe McCarthy seems too obvious to me. Surely such a move might have rigor, but it seems almost a Godwin-like move. Or maybe I should say that he adequately doesn’t cover the contradictory elements of Republican strategies. Isn’t Elmer Gantry a more apt metaphor, bringing together as it does the notions of deceit, religion, and collective anger? Of course, Elmer Gantry is a bit of an allegory about Mr. McCarthy, is it not?

It’s a nice little intellectual exercise. What best represents the Republican intellectual center? It’s just too easy to imagine that center to be My Pet Goat, or The Very Hungry Caterpillar, or even the Bible. I suppose Paradise Lost, with the Devil as the tragic hero, might be a nice work by which to describe the Republican intellectual center. Even then, though, such a highly moral text doesn’t seem to me to have the kind of irony necessary to describing Republicans in their present state of sin. But one look at a guy who supposedly represents the intellectual wing of the GOP, William Kristol, nails this question, I think. Here’s Kristol giving Bush advice, from next week’s Weekly Standard:

In addition, Bush can explain to Americans just how his administration’s detention, interrogation, surveillance, and other counterterrorism policies have helped keep us safe. If he lays out the case for them publicly–as his appointees are surely doing to their transition counterparts privately–he’ll make it easier for the incoming Obama administration to back off rash promises and continue most of the policies. This would be a real service to the country. It would also force a rethinking, by those capable of rethinking, of the cheap and easy demagoguing on issues like Guant–namo and eavesdropping. Over time, Bush might even get deserved credit for effective conduct of the war on terror.

As it happens, a Rasmussen Reports survey last week found about half of U.S. voters say the United States should not close the terrorist detention facility at Guant–namo, while less than a third think it should. So, on this and other war-on-terror-related issues, Bush’s positions are reasonably popular–even though the Bush administration has done very little to make its case. Attorney General Michael Mukasey did a good job of laying out the argument for the administration’s conduct of the war on terror in remarks to the Federalist Society a little over a week ago. Bush should take up this cause.

One last thing: Bush should consider pardoning–and should at least be vociferously praising–everyone who served in good faith in the war on terror, but whose deeds may now be susceptible to demagogic or politically inspired prosecution by some seeking to score political points. The lawyers can work out if such general or specific preemptive pardons are possible; it may be that the best Bush can or should do is to warn publicly against any such harassment or prosecution. But the idea is this: The CIA agents who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and the NSA officials who listened in on phone calls from Pakistan, should not have to worry about legal bills or public defamation. In fact, Bush might want to give some of these public servants the Medal of Freedom at the same time he bestows the honor on Generals Petraeus and Odierno. They deserve it.

OK, maybe this extended quote represents just what Gabler meant with the McCarthy metaphor. Kristol is talking the straight Bush line on terror, cherry picking polls when they support him, and calling for a hard line backed by the kind of jingoistic rhetoric that might make McCarthy proud. Kristol goes so much further, though. The man wants to give the Medal of Freedom to people who tortured prisoners, who kept some innocent prisoners at Gitmo for years? No, this is far more Orwell than McCarthy. This is just bizarre, and more bizarre still is that someone like William Kristol has a job writing this drivel.

Monday, December 1st, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

Flat Stanley Visits Barack Obama, Courtesy of Aron Mondschein, 7

This is heart warming. A class of kids in Connecticut wrote letters to famous people, and Aron wrote his to Barack Obama. Obama wrote back, and it’s all over the Hartford Courant. Aron is a celebrity and the letter is personal and sweet. Hey, folks, that’s Presidential, too. Nobody can imagine McCain doing the same thing, can they?

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

This is heart warming. A kid in a Jewish school in West Hartford Connecticut sends a letter, just like the rest of his class, to a famous person. In his case it is Barack Obama. He includes the Flat Stanley character from the book the class is reading. And he gets an answer from Obama. Here it is from the Hartford Courant:

An envelope addressed to her son, Aron, 7, had been delivered to the school that morning. It was from Barack Obama, senator from Illinois and Democratic presidential candidate.

“They were all excited,” Mondschein said. “The whole school was abuzz. They took a picture of [Aron]. He was like a little celebrity.”

. . .

Obama’s three-page letter to Aron described Flat Stanley’s visit with him and his staff in Washington, D.C. It chronicled their busy day together, which included coffee with constituents, a Senate committee meeting and a trip to the gym. It also had historical facts about the U.S. Capitol, details of Obama’s job and a confession from Obama.

“Sometimes I get a little nervous before talking in front of a crowd, but Flat Stanley helped me practice the speech,” Obama wrote. “He made me recite it in front of him and then even gave me some advice so the speech would go smoothly. Flat Stanley is really a great coach.”

To make this truly inspirational, Barack Obama would have written the letter himself. I sure hope that’s the case. The beautiful thing is that he’s made a little boy he has never met a celebrity in his own right.

Hey, if Obama wins this thing I think Aron and his mother ought to be invited to the Inaugural Ball. Yamulka and all. After all, it is that affable and personable Obama who has charged to the finish line, as cool as can be, but with warmth enough even for a little boy.

Friday, October 31st, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

$10,000 Premarital Abstinence Prize Going Unclaimed

The Radical Religious Right sponsors these abstinence programs, and they’ve been funded by the Bush Administration. You can expect failure with that background. There’s enough stupidity to go around here, including the notion that the abstinence advocates ignore the facts about American sexual behavior.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

This is big example of the failure of the abstinence only sex education movement. There are no takers. It’s failing, and that’s no surprise, because it is supported by Bush Administration money. Feministing has some good comments on this story, but I’ll take my quotes from the Atlanta Journal Constitution:

There seems to be one small problem with a contest that would pay $10,000 to an engaged couple –- they can’t be engaged in premarital sex.

How else to explain that in this sinking economy, no one has stepped forward to enter the Marriage for a Lifetime contest?

Did we mention the cash prize? Or the free flowers, the invitations and other bridal goodies?

The Oct. 31 deadline is fast approaching –- but so far, no entries.

“Someone asked me, –Is anyone going to respond?’ ” said contest organizer Phillippia Faust, director of an abstinence education program for Rockdale, DeKalb and Newton counties. “In our society, it is going to be hard to find [a couple who has not had premarital sex]. … But the standard is the standard.”

There’s lots of people who could have predicted this result. Heck, the statistics about premarital sexuality in this country are what they are. Used to be that marriage was actually a license to engage in sex. Now there is no such license, but among those who used to feel marriage was a prerequisite, I’d guess the engagement is the license now. Yes, even among the constituency who might take up this offer they see the engagement as the permission slip to engage in sex.

But the whole contest is stupid. What are they going to do to assure the couple who comes forward to take the abstinence pledge and claim the prize actually carries through with the pledge. Are they going to test them every day?

Finally, who the F cares? If it is true that premarital sex is the overwhelming norm, and has been for decades, then let’s work with the facts, not the fantasies. The Bush Administration has been trying to work with fantasies instead of facts on this issue for a very long time. Yet another reason to kick all Republicans out of office.

January 20 can’t come too soon.

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

The Unraveling of the McCain Campaign

The McCain campaign can’t buy a break, and the failure of the Bailout McCain took credit for is part of that. The actions of McCain staffers, Palin, McCain himself, they make the campaign look like it is staffed by fools. They have not resorted to playing the blame game after claiming to be above politics on the issue of the bailout.

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

As noted in today’s New York Times story, John McCain had just as much as the American people from a bailout passing yesterday. He desperately needs to get the subject of the economy off the minds of Americans. He’s falling further in the polls, both the FoxNews/Rasmussen and the LA Times/Bloomberg. Heck, there’s even a second poll joining the outlier putting Obama slightly ahead in North Carolina. No, it is not looking good for Mr. McCain, and everywhere you look the wheels are coming off.

McCain’s campaign, against the evidence, think McCain acted heroically this last week in the face of the finaicial crisis. As I note here, McCain’s words from Sunday through Monday, when the bailout McCain staked his campaign on failed, were all over the map. No central message whatsoever. It gets worse when one looks at the video of McCain economic adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin defending McCain’s actions this past week. The guy sounds like Sarah Palin being interviewed by Katie Couric. (Hey, is that metaphor about Palin and Couric going to replace the example of the South Carolina Beaty Pageant contestant as an example of incoherence?) I’m betting Holtz-Eakin would love to quit his job and go back in time to think up new excuses for the failed reasons the Bush Administration chose for invading Iraq. That would surely be an easier job than defending the erratic behavior of John McCain.

At the same time the McCain campaign can’t seem to coordinate between John and Sarah. Sarah Palin goes off message, so McCain says it’s OK because she was only talking to a voter. McCain, meanwhile, wants to solve the healthcare crisis using clinics in WalMarts – a nice idea, but you just don’t SAY that people will get their healthcare at WalMart. He’s opening himself up to ridicule left and right. Ridicule? Ridicule? Time to note that Sarah Palin knows of no other case ever to come before the Supreme Court other than Roe v. Wade. That part of the Couric interview hit the cutting room floor. So there’s the reason the McCain campaign wasn’t slamming Couric, there was more out there showing Palin as unprepared.

So, what’s the main thrust of the last several days of action? It is the same as it was in the first debate between Obama and McCain. Obama is steady and Presidential, McCain is an unpredictable and angry old man. I sincerely hope this bailout gets settled later this week. While McCain surely deserves to lose this election, both for his performance and for the future of our country, it is a bit sad seeing him make such an utter fool of himself.

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |

I Will Remember Albert Hoffman Lying on his Lawn

Albert Hoffman died at 102 years old. He’s the one who discovered LSD. I’m not here to say it is a wonderful thing, but it certainly changed our world. Tune in, turn on, drop out. He had Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary as disciples. Man, what a life!

Commentary By: Steven Reynolds

The New York Times has Albert Hoffman’s obituary in today’s paper. He has an odd place in history, the inventor of LSD. Hmm. That’s controversial, isn’t it?

I remember first reading about Albert Hoffman in Adam Smith’s Powers of Mind. It’s out of print nowadays, but you can still find used copies on Amazon. Smith, the economist for a long time on PBS, took a break in the early 70′s to explore alternative medicines, realities. . . whatever. What I remember of the book is that the part about Hoffman began with his discovery of LSD. He wasn’t wearing gloves when he discovered it, and it soaks into one’s skin, with the same effects. So he left his lab in Switzerland, Albert did, on his bicycle. And on his way home he took a trip. The next morning he discovered himself and the bike on his own lawn.

What’s odd about the story is that Albert Hoffman, who made his discovery in the 40′sw, supposedly took LSD as a recreational/experimental drug, about once a year throughout his life. At least that’s what I remember from the Adam Smith book I read about 20 years ago.

“Through my LSD experience and my new picture of reality, I became aware of the wonder of creation, the magnificence of nature and of the animal and plant kingdom,” Dr. Hofmann told the psychiatrist Stanislav Grof during an interview in 1984. “I became very sensitive to what will happen to all this and all of us.”

Dr. Hofmann became an impassioned advocate for the environment and argued that LSD, besides being a valuable tool for psychiatry, could be used to awaken a deeper awareness of mankind’s place in nature and help curb society’s ultimately self-destructive degradation of the natural world.

No, I’m not an advocate of this stuff, but I’ll attest to Albert Hoffman as a pioneer who changed lives. I wonder sometimes how many people who were reared in the 60′s and 70′s tried his drug, once, twice, several times. I certainly tried it a few times, and it was a whole lot of fun, though I can’t attest to any long-term intense discoveries as a result. I was a child of my times, and I partook.

There’s no deep meanings in this post, just a remembrance. Albert Hoffman surely meant a lot to the “baby boomer” generation, and perhaps more. Someone ought to put his bicycle in a museum or something.

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008 by Steven Reynolds |