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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Belle and Bob the Cat

"Belle" from the "Street Cat" books gets a face.

Sandy Dennis

I picked up Sandy Dennis' short autobiography when finding it while looking to see if Up the Down Staircase (author died recently; she played the lead in the film) was available. Somewhat interesting book with nice pictures. She was an animal lover.

17 Girls

Wikipedia cites one account that says there was no "pact" to get pregnant though some teen girls did work together after the fact. Regardless, it is prime for fiction and this French film was well made. A key plus is getting into the interior life of teenage girls. The opening scene (teenage girls in their underwear waiting to be examined at the clinic and then acting goofy) is likely of the sort not that of an American film. Need more serious tween and teen girl fare.

The Scorpion's Sting

A somewhat apt book for the holiday -- free labor being a basic principle of anti-slavery thought -- plus the author is from my way. The idea is that slavery would be surrounded (free territories etc.) by a "cordon of freedom" and eventually kill itself. So, each major conflict here ultimately turned on first principles of the right and wrong of slavery. Interesting chapter on military emancipation from Revolution War to Civil War. Short book.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

What It’s Like Inside One of Texas’ Last Abortion Clinics

RH Reality Check takes us inside an abortion clinic and compares it with the new "ambulatory surgical center."  A district court blocked part of the new law, which might have limited standing power, but is appreciated.  The video is appreciated especially to give you an inside look for the tens of thousands in Texas who will get an abortion in the next year and others.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

You Matter

Rev. Joe: Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe

I found this a galley version of this book on the library free chart. Appreciate the aim of the book -- not as much to criticize religion and/or belief in God specifically, but to positively provide a sort of "how to book" (though at one point it resists the term) on being good as a humanist. Found the book too much of a trudge and doubt whatever final touches a "clean copy" of the book might have applied changed much there.

Torasco v. Watkins, protecting the right to be a notary public without needing to declare a belief in God, involved a humanist.  He later was involved in a cause that has been cited on this blog:
He became a humanist counselor, with the authority to officiate at weddings in some states. In 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his challenge to Virginia laws that favored ordained ministers and prevented him from officiating at weddings there.
Torasco was the case that fifty years old had this footnote:
Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others. See Washington Ethical Society v. District of Columbia, 101 U.S.App.D.C. 371, 249 F.2d 127; Fellowship of Humanity v. County of Alameda, 153 Cal.App.2d 673, 315 P.2d 394; II Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences 293; 4 Encyclopaedia Britannica (1957 ed.) 325-327; 21 id. at 797; Archer, Faiths Men Live By (2d ed. revised by Purinton), 120-138, 254-313; 1961 World Almanac 695, 712; Year Book of American Churches for 1961, at 29, 47.
I have see the Ethical Culture Society of NY, e.g., label itself as a "religion" though some secular humanists etc. rather not use the label. The book is a bit wishy-washy -- it basically notes that "religion" has a common meaning that suggests a belief in the supernatural and such (even Buddhists often believe in things like reincarnation) that humanism would not include. All the same, some have such broad and ultimately symbolic meanings of "God" (it's "nature" or an "ultimate concern"* etc.) while still being part of "religions." Unitarian-Universalists, e.g., also are accepted as a "religion" even if humanists are involved.  I covered this before.

Still, there are things that come up over and over again and being good without God as well as (especially some of the places I read online) the problems with "religion" is one of those things.  My immediate reaction often is that it often doesn't matter.  A broad meaning of "religion" includes many people, even if it doesn't include every atheist or humanist.  Torasco itself speaks of a "freedom of belief and religion," which would include (like freedom of speech includes the right to be silent) the choice not to have one. Finally, we can consider certain aspects of religion (like conscience or the ability to set up congregations of like believers, be it Catholics or humanists) as a sort of "penumbra" that cannot merely be (see Establishment Clause) left to theists or if you like "coreligionists."**

One thing the book does is show that a person can do "religious" like things while being a humanist -- as seen above, humanists preside over weddings. A good episode of Army Wives involved an officer choosing a sort of humanist alternative to a christening/bris type ceremony. One chapter provides a humanist translation of the Ten Commandments though noting a bit more is necessary for a good life. The overall purpose of life is said to be to uphold and promote human dignity.  These sorts of things where "spirituality" might come up -- that's a word for those who think "religion" is a bit too rule based or something.

A book on the views of different religions on abortion (Sacred Choices)  noted "sacred" is not necessarily deistic -- an example of a newborn child being sacred is cited. A comprehensive view like this with emotional connections, rituals and ultimate purposes to me looks like a "religion."  But, like the book, even if it is not, the term need not be a bad word. Many with a religion are overall good people.  That is the most important thing and though its technique was a bit "eh," the book's heart was in the right place.

So, good luck being a humanist chaplain at Harvard, and it's nice that since the book's writing, you have been married. Not sure about the involvement in yet another reality show though.  No one's perfect, right?


* [ETA] I saw a few people criticize Justice Kagan's dissent in the Town of Greece v. Galloway prayer case for ignoring non-theists (it did honor theist separatists) while some noted even their advocate at oral argument admitted atheists couldn't really be covered (later on, a secular humanist provided an invocation).  The concern was notable though she did provide this broad view of "religion":
These are statements of profound belief and deep meaning, subscribed to by many, denied by some. They “speak of the depths of [one’s] life, of the source of [one’s] being, of [one’s] ultimate concern, of what [one] take[s] seriously without any reservation.” P. Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations 57 (1948).
As Epstein noted, more effort needs to be provided to include humanists and the like in the conversation here in regard to interfaith efforts and the like. If some better formulated legislative prayer practice could be allowed in a constitutional matter (a dubious supposition), it must include non-theists. And, as suggested above, it has been done.

** As Justice Douglas once noted:
It is true that the First Amendment speaks of the free exercise of religion, not of the free exercise of conscience or belief. Yet conscience and belief are the main ingredients of First Amendment rights. They are the bedrock of free speech, as well as religion.
See here -- guess I'm a few weeks early for my yearly thing here.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Please Place Seat In the Upright Position ...

I don't have an occasion to travel on airplanes but the recent news item on reclining seats does seem to address my "don't be a dick" principle. It is a somewhat trivial case but these things (1) add up and (2) assholes tend to be so in bigger ways too.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rizzoli & Isles

I read over at IMDB that a new hire on the production team influenced the end of the Rizzoli pregnancy subplot. Notice, for whatever reason, some better episodes of late. Yesterday's episode as a whole was very good, including a lot of character stuff. Fans probably excited to learn Maura's sleeping habits. Angela subplot a bit thin, but nice ending.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Skinner Again

I provided some links, including to other writings by the author of the book just cited.  One, to highlight it, included a bill out of California to add more protections against non-consensual sterilization of prisoners.  A 1970s case involving protecting safeguards for all women in that area was covered in Women and the Law: Stories. Also, the fiction book Necessary Lies covers the era well, using poor whites in North Carolina.  Prof. Nourse warns the limits of science continues to trouble us but this area in particular still is important.

One interesting aspect of her argument is that the often criticized "Lochner Era" was on the whole rather supportive of state power ("police power") upholding most legislation. There was a special concern -- especially at times (see, e.g, under CJ Taft) -- for certain types of labor legislation (and price regulation -- railroad rates, e.g., was a major concern) because it threatened the "free labor" philosophy of the era that was an honest reflection of one thread of 1850s Republican Party thought ("free labor, free land, free men").  But, the Lochner trope is overused.

Justice Souter once noted that Lochner (like Nourse, I like to focus on not Holmes' famous dissent, but Harlan's, who accepted substantive due process while still arguing the hour law was reasonable) was correct enough on the basic point that a law can be "arbitrary," but wrong on the reasonableness of the specific economic legislation often in question.  As Nourse notes in her book, Justice Douglas et. al. thought "substantive due process" applied to old fashioned property right talk.  Others ares willing to use that term, but think the problem is the merits. As Nourse notes in her "Two Lochners" article:
rights are vessels of history in two senses of the word. They are vessels in the sense that they are lessons of the past that help guide our future. They are also vessels in the sense that they are containers of memory, and in particular, memories of grave political danger, adopted by majorities to prevent themselves from repeating the lessons they have learned.
Prof. Nourse argues that the Skinner case is important in part as the one bringing the concept of "strict scrutiny" to laws of a particular type. The ruling was decided on equal protection grounds -- the infamous sterilization case of Buck v. Bell ridiculed that but by 1942 some history lessons had developed. This by the way is a problem with ridicule of "living" constitutionalism.  It is simply absurd really to deny that over time the basic principles of the Constitution will develop in certain ways that past generations will not readily expect. The document sets the basics; the particularly is ongoing.  Self-government in the long run is furthered.

Skinner is usually cited these days as a privacy case -- procreation and marriage is cited as "one of the basic civil rights of man." The dissent below also flagged that sentiment. This counseled the "strict scrutiny" particularly since the sterilization was assumed to be permanent. The combination of due process and equal protection continues to this day as shown in the same sex marriage litigation. Two justices also cited procedural due process concerns (Jackson supported both arguments)  directly -- the assumption a criminal convicted three times of certain crimes should not be enough; there should be a hearing putting the state to its proof. But, the seriousness of the burden still matters -- cf. a case involving a $20 hobby kit being broken in prison, to cite an actual USSC matter.

Concern for substantive liberties has a long history; substantive due process is not just an invention of this era.  Justice Harlan in an unanimous decision on the point cited the fundamental nature of property in a 1890s case that incorporated the Takings Clause, discussing "substantive" due process:
But a state may not, by any of its agencies, disregard the prohibitions of the fourteenth amendment. Its judicial authorities may keep within the letter of the statute prescribing forms of procedure in the courts, and give the parties interested the fullest opportunity to be heard, and yet it might be that its final action would be inconsistent with that amendment. In determining what is due process of law, regard must be had to substance, not to form. This court, referring to the fourteenth amendment, has said: 'Can a state make anything due process of law which, by its own legislation, it chooses to declare such? To affirm this is to hold that the prohibition to the states is of no avail, or has no application, where the invasion of private rights is effected under the forms of state legislation.'
The state supreme court below in Skinner:
"Due process" has a dual significance, as it pertains to procedure and substantive law. As to procedure it means "notice and an opportunity to be heard and to defend in an orderly proceeding adapted to the nature of the case before a competent and impartial tribunal having jurisdiction of the cause." 12 Am. Jur. 267, § 573; 16 C. J. S. 1156. In substantive law, due process may be characterized as a standard of reasonableness, and as such it is a limitation upon the exercise of the police power. 6 R. C. L.  [**127]  433-446; 11 Am. Jur. 998, 1073-1081; 16 C. J. S. 1156.
Legal citations included to show the principle was standard at the time, not "an oxymoron" as some might put it.  The majority, if only by one vote, however put a high test to holding a law as "unreasonable" -- "clearly and beyond a reasonable doubt in error," which sounds almost higher than what is required to put someone to death in a criminal trial.  But, there was and is a respect for the democratic process here, certain safeguards still present. The court here was less concerned with a sterilization law that picked and chose among its victims.  The dissent, including someone who had voted to uphold an earlier sterilization law with arguably somewhat better individualized review, did not buy this:
True, the laws providing for the sterilization of insane persons and habitual criminals usually provide that there be a finding that the accused is a probable potential parent of offspring that will be insane or criminal, but the fact that other statutes make such provision does not mean that they must do so. For some reason, not known to us and with which we should not concern ourselves, our Legislature thought such provision not necessary or proper. It may be because it thought such a finding could not be based upon satisfactory proof. The Legislature should be allowed some latitude on this question.
Happily, the USSC did "concern" themselves on the point, particularly because it ran against more than one particular constitutional safeguard against such "class legislation." From the bans against nobility and  "corruption of blood" to the direct concern about equal protection in the 14A (seen in some fashion to also be applied against the federal government), there is a particular concern against invidious class legislation.  Eugenics is an attempt for a sort of nobility, which is a basic violation of our founding principles.

As seen by the citation to procreation, there is also a particular concern for certain liberties. Civil and criminal law treat classes of wrongdoers differently and the result can be severe loss of liberty, often wrong-minded in nature.  But, eugenics touched a particularly troublesome area. As seen in cases like Meyer and Pierce (education of children), particular liberties are of special concern, including those not expressly enumerated. These too, if by lines that might be complicated in various ways, also are a concern for the courts.  Ultimately, we are best on guard to not merely rely on them, especially since there is an "Overton Window" affected by public opinion and current practice, however imperfect as reflected by an elite here well tenured judiciary.  All the same, substantive liberty counts.

A final word on the book is that it is particularly noted that the case arose out of prison litigation with support of the warden.  This adds to the colorful nature of the story -- these legal case studies (as Justice Brennan once told Nat Hentoff -- tell them stories!) are often particularly interesting for the background, which should not be missed for the specific legal details.  Both are important and it is left for those to tell them well.

In Reckless Hands: Skinner v Oklahoma and the Near-Triumph of American Eugenics

Not sure about the subtitle, but this is a good book on an issue that still has bite.  The author (blocked when nominated to the 7CA, in effect filibustered in a way still possible even now) has written more on the legal issues related to the case, including equality and Lochner Era rights talk.  Good use of a case as a snapshot of large issues. ETA: A 1942 commentary.

Monday, August 25, 2014

"The Reclamation of Torture"

A good discussion, by a lawyer of a victim, including how the past tense makes it easier. He does welcome being open but not half-measures:
To acknowledge that we tortured people in our custody is all to the good. Indeed, we should do more than acknowledge it; we should make a careful and complete accounting, and if the Senate report is ever released, we may go far toward precisely that. But to imagine that all this was the product of a past that bears no connection to the present is foolish. Worse, if we reclaim torture but ignore the public institutions and political assumptions that led to this behavior, we are willfully ignorant. And if we fail to see that they are with us still, in surveillance that accepts no limit, drones that observe no boundaries, and a war that cannot end, we are truly blind.
I agree it is easy to say "it's all in the past" but do welcome use of the "t" word, which wasn't used in part because of its moral and legal imagery. Some was like "just can't figure out where the line is!" and like those who make "marriage" small (just to make children the old fashioned way!), wanted to cheapen and downplay something that horrified for centuries. Only something akin to the rack would be clear enough for them, though there were cases of people hung up and suffering something not too far from that. Basically, "torture" is something "illegal" that wasn't done (or now "done" but "what is past is past").  The present matters too. 

It is all to the good to call Obama, e.g., out for making excuses and ignoring treaty obligations, especially if blame is shared for society in general who share the sentiment. The buck stops with him but along with past wrongs like slavery or racial segregation, singling out him at some point misleads.  There is no realistic chance he is going to put things on the line and in effect say that Bush and Cheney should be in the dock. The President is not some savior who is going to jump far outside of the public on this subject though it would be nice if he did. And, I think it somewhat unfair (only somewhat -- really, the comments of a few strongly denouncing him doesn't cancel out the normal line which except for now and then ignores it) to single out only one part of President Obama's remarks.  POTUS said we "tortured" and “we did some things that were wrong." The past tense is noted, but even that is too much for some people.  He didn't say it was justified because of 9/11.  It was "wrong" and it was "torture."  This is notable though you know ... FERGUSON.

That is the bare minimum necessary to reduce mistreatment, including torture, in the future.  You need to say it is wrong -- not too long ago, the official line was that it was right and saying waterboarding was illegal was just so hard.  Also, the Senate report is notable in itself -- it might not seem like much, but these investigations are official accounts that put on record what happened. It's sort of like bashing the MSM and using them as source material.  Again, it isn't enough, but it is part of the bare minimum. It also provides an oversight role for the legislature, members of whom will continue to feel an obligation or at least right to see what is going on at least to some degree. This too will on some level serve as a check.

It is all very depressing and on some level what is done seems so trivial, even when it takes a lot of work and a bit of courage to do them. Thanks for those who fight the good fight, present tense.