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

Friday, August 31, 2007

Learning (Or Not) From Gonzo

And Also: Interesting case involving the right to petition, though it was decided on the ground that the persons involved were targeted for their official governmental conduct, so were not acting as "citizens" with First Amendment rights, per a recent Supreme Court case. [Thus, overruling a jury verdict.] The idea, see Declaration of Independence, that the right suggests (at least it did originally) an obligation to actually seriously consider petitions by citizens is particularly interesting.

[Near the end of last entry, I added a Digby post (h/t Glenn Greenwald) on the chance -- see voices like Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein -- that Dems will see Gonzo leaving as enough, being sure to get promises that the next guy/gal will really be good, and probably, look less like a flunky. You know, someone like Colin Powell, or something. Will they ever learn?]

Michael Dorf supplies a balanced attack/commentary on Alberto Gonzales* in a recent column. It is a worthwhile effort to try to calmly look back and determine what general lessons we might learn, to live and learn. The process will also address common misstatements, the sort of misstatement that are so blatantly misguided that it tends to be some combination of intentional and self-delusion.** These are equally troublesome, especially when we have the responsibility not to take the "ignorance is bliss" path that seems more pleasing to many people (who wants to think about homelessness or even the well being of family members who we generally keep out of our minds?):
On Monday, Attorney General Gonzales announced that he will leave office next month. President Bush greeted the news with sadness, describing Gonzales as a faithful public servant whose "good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons."

The claim that Gonzales came under sustained critical scrutiny because of ordinary politics is absurd on its face. For one thing, even many Republicans in Congress repeatedly expressed skepticism about Gonzales's performance. For another, if simple politics were at work in the way the President claimed, Democrats would have been willy-nilly calling for the resignation of all Bush Administration officials. Democrats had no reason to single out Gonzales for criticism--no reason, that is, other than his performance.

But, it still is credible in some corners to speak of the "political" nature of the whole thing, and not in the general way in which all matters of public government is in some fashion "political." IOW, not political, but "partisan." This hits to the core of the problem, including the various allegations in general of violation of the Hatch Act that bars use of ordinary politics when dealing with ordinary civil servants ... the sort of thing that bars making campaign calls from the House Floor:
More importantly, if the allegation is true, that would represent a gross misuse of office. It is perfectly acceptable for Republicans and Democrats to have different law enforcement priorities. As I explained in an earlier column, however, it is completely unacceptable for a Democratic administration to distort those priorities by disproportionately targeting Republicans--or vice-versa--for partisan advantage. Beyond the partial evidence already made public, the allegation that Gonzales used the Justice Department in this illicit manner is credible precisely because, at every turn, he has made loyalty to President Bush and the Republican Party his top priority.

There also is the "contempt of Congress" problem, which comes in two -- if related -- forms. One, refusal to properly and truthfully answer proper questions and supply documents necessary for Congress to do its job. This leads to civil contempt of Congress, though its desire to actually demand redress in any real fashion other than "wah wah" is unclear. Two, a general contempt for the institution as a whole, a gaming of the system that in return puts them (the executive, but also members of Congress that help them) in disrepute.

The executive, and their head flunky Gonzo, furthers this via treating Congress as if they were prosecutors and had some sort of "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard to meet along with no right to demand something that might be incriminating. The net result is to add to the cloud over the Justice Department, even if (though one doubts it) there was no wrongdoing (other than this) going on:
These arguments are irrelevant because the heart of the firing scandal involves the allegation that U.S. Attorneys were fired because they refused to use the nation's law enforcement resources to target Democrats disproportionately to Republicans. It is not entirely clear whether this allegation is true, but that uncertainty itself results in part from the White House's failure to cooperate fully with the Congressional investigation.

And, we should not "misunderestimate" Gonzo either by just calling him a doofus:
More broadly, just as President Bush sometimes benefits from people, in his own memorable phrase, "misunderestimating" him--that is, assuming he's merely a genial fool rather than a shrewd ideologue--so too Gonzales may have benefited from his image as an incompetent flunky. In fact, Gonzales has been a hard-core ideologue.

Ultimately, the Justice Department, like the executive branch as a whole goes on (I still get my mail, crimes are prosecuted, etc.) even with such shoddy leadership, but:
Nonetheless, leadership matters. Already documents have surfaced showing that plum jobs in the Bush Justice Department have gone to Republican loyalists, rather than to the most highly qualified attorneys (many of whom will happen to be Republicans). That approach has undermined the noble tradition of professionalism in the Justice Department. The next Attorney General--whoever he or she is--should, on day one, reaffirm the Department's commitment to norms of professionalism.

Or, the best we can get in the current climate. The overall lesson learnt should be a negative one: what not to do if one wants a credible Justice Department. A warning for 2009, but one that should be remembered until then as well. Utopia means "nowhere," but there are different levels of imperfection.


* A comment to a post over at Talking Points Memo might be the best one other than the statement that he thinks "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" are three different things. The comment agreed with the statement by Bush that Congress wrongly impugned on the good name of Alberto Gonzales. It is a perfectly good name, and not it is ridiculed by people like myself ("Gonzo"). I'd add it is perfectly logical to have such a name when you are the attorney general. Likewise, Bush in various ways is obscene. So, his name is likewise proper, though Molly Ivins favored "Shrub."

** When I'm in a certain frame of mind, this thing annoys me. For instance, when the "Macaca" business arose (remember that?), one person claimed Republicans are unjustly targeted for that sort of thing. After all, Jesse Jackson did not get any beef for his anti-Jew comments from Dems (oh?), and Sen. Dodd complimented Sen. Byrd (who belonged to the Klan once and opposed the Civil Rights Act) on some historical vote.

Is this not like Sen. Lott wishing Strom Thurmond won the presidency in 1948? The amount of baggage Lott vis-a-vis Dodd alone makes the comparison absurd. And,this from someone who appears to be generally rational. But, without perspective, apparently. Perspective and context is for French loving losers anyway.


Craig: The "get rid of Craig" movement in on in the Senate Republican Caucus, as Talking Points Memo et. al. note. Do we have a "zero tolerance" rule now? We are talking about a petty crime here, even if some find it disgusting. For instance, will admitting guilt to soliciting a prostitute count too? Expect more lying and hypocrisy. We also have the audio of the post-Miranda interrogation of the arresting officer and Craig, which I personally don't see telling us too much more than we already knew.

Overall, the matter is depressing -- a joke on Conan suggesting rumors of another attempt to solicit in a public transportation hub underlines the depths* this can take us. The coverage of the intimate details, including the glee some have in them (though many probably honestly express sadness and such), seems to me on some level outrageous. I simply don't want to known about his "stance" or whatnot. Yeah, some sense of detail is needed sometimes to judge the situation, such as his claims he did nothing wrong. But, this spreading around intimate details should make us feel dirty on some level. Thanks senator.

Dedication: The father figure, so to speak, of the oh so slightly f-ed children book author in Dedication said at one point that women do not really mean it when they say they like troubled souls. They just like them sorta troubled, troubled in a way that can be discussed over wine at the restaurant. I think that is a good summary of the film itself: it has some charm as a look into the lives of a couple of troubled souls, but is not really willing to resist tiresome cliches.

The moviegoer apparently would not be willing to accept it otherwise. Billy Crudup and Mandy Moore [she has something ... I saw her in a few movies and think she has a future that overly wholesome flavor might not suggest] et. al. along with some creative camera work offer enough to make this worth seeing, but it is ultimately somewhat disappointing. BTW, why is the remake of Halloween coming out on Labor Day weekend? This doesn't suggest, even with a good genre guy at the helm, they think too much of it.

Katrina: We are now 'celebrating' the two year anniversary of Katrina, and some progressive leaning sorts (see, e.g., Democracy Now! and Air America, particularly Rachel Maddow, who was on the forefront as it happened in 2005) are taking the time to add some much needed perspectives to the anniversary. The fact is that many basically see this as just another event, sort of like the tsunami in Indonesia, that really does not affect their everyday lives much at all.

A major U.S. city is devastated and we as a whole just say "oh, how sad" and perhaps rout a bit more for the New Orleans Saints. This reflects a major lack in this country, one that in some general sense can be seen in my complaints over political matters like wimpy Democrats and not doing enough in response to particular things such as Gonzo (more on that later). In some real sense, sure, Katrina does not affect our every day lives. Nor does war/occupation, Social Security or any number of things ... unless we make it so.

The true responsibility of the next few years should be to reexamine our priorities, to perhaps make sure things of this nature DOES matter. To make both republican and human values and well being front and center. What we could do to prevent and help those harmed in public disasters as well as the perils of politics is somewhat limited. But, more can and should be done.


* After an interference call led to the end of the game instead of a tie game ... the fourth loss in a row, third in Philly ... Ron Darling wondered what else could go wrong for the Mets. The next day the sweep was accomplished via El Duque finally having a bad day and the closer really blowing it at the end. Never ask "what else can go wrong," unless you want to hear it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


As with the SC beauty contestant, one feels a bit bad about making fun of Sen. Craig, in part because the "crime" is dubious. [As comments in various places note, however, what he did is far from totally innocent either.] Likewise, it is sad that he can be said to be from the state of delusion. Still, he did plead guilty. If he now wants to say he did nothing wrong, did he commit perjury? Likewise, there is always the hypocrisy, including his own -- if his closet nature encourages anti-homosexual public policy positions, sympathy surely is hard to come by.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Seize the Day!

And Also: Good season finale to Army Wives, though the dramatic cliffhanger was really not necessary, there were enough hanging plot points plus we had an armed madman hostage situation already. Also, isn't the rule that you wait three months before announcing a spouse's pregnancy? We do need a new heavy, though.

The 11th Hour is a type of follow-up to Al Gore's documentary, adding more talking heads and a celebrity narrator. It is a warning that the ecological threats to our planet is approaching a tipping point, focusing on the solutions must be done now and the solutions are there ... if we have the will (my comment). This can be applied, as suggested there, to many situations. It also underlines the breadth of the problem, even if some tend to focus too much on the worse offenders:
Prime Minister Maliki said today: "There are American officials who consider Iraq as if it were one of their villages, for example Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin. They should come to their senses."

Glenn Greenwald speaks of "Beltway operatives" in this who will deal with this turbulent Prime Minister (with apologies to Henry II) situation. The fact that, oy vey, a match-up would surely include a worse option does not make people of this ilk credible presidential candidates. HC is part of the problem. She should not be the candidate. Other likely replacements might not be fully ideal, we do live in the real world, but have saner takes on the matter. And, overall, appear to me to be possible parts of the solution, not tweaks that just supply a somewhat smaller problem.

I want more. We have the chance to grab a possibility to take advantage of a crystal clear need for change, a constant reminder of the problems with the alternative of doing more of the same. It is not just Bush, but opening up the possibility of Bush ... Bush as a symbol is so bad that even a bit of Bush, like a bit of cream cheese on a bagel, is too much. This can be brought out if the right people and means are provided. The announcement of the upcoming resignation of Gonzo underlines the point. And, the dangers of not taking the opportunity. Again, GG hits it:
This is a real moment of truth for the Democratic Congress. Democrats, who have offered up little other than one failure after the next since taking power in January, can take a big step toward redeeming themselves here. No matter what, they must ensure that Gonzales' replacement is a genuinely trustworthy and independent figure.

Besides underlining the pathetic repeated whining from Dems that they were "betrayed," "disappointed" or so forth by Bush's actions, like there was a reason (or right) to trust him so deeply, GG notes:
The standard excuse invoked by Democrats to justify their capitulations -- namely, that they cannot attract a filibuster-proof or veto-proof majority to defy the President -- will be unavailing here. They themselves can filibuster the confirmation of any proposed nominee to replace Gonzales. They do not need Blue Dogs or Bush Dogs or any of the other hideous cowards in their caucus who remain loyal to the most unpopular President in modern American history. The allegedly "Good Democrats" can accomplish this vital step all on their own. They only need 40 Senate votes to achieve it.

Taunting the Democrats, Bush is blaming them for the resignation. If the Senate allows some insider to come in, annoucing a "win" since Gonzo is gone without any real admittance of wrongdoing or real change of policy, it will be pathetic. It is akin to the victory claimed by the Union general after the enemy's plans was found beforehand, after what amounted to a draw. One really expected and expects more. But, given the incompetence and low expectations, do not be so sure.

Bet on it though that if the Dems choke, they will try to weasel out of actually admitting to it. They will claim victory and/or that there was no other possible option. I cry b.s. preemptively.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Real Pepsi Challenge

The Real Pepsi Challenge [by Stephanie Capparell], a nifty play on words, concerns the company's revolutionary use of black salesmen to target the "special market" that was an important part of their customer base, surely back when they were a distant second in the cola wars. Pepsi was recently taken over by a maverick progressive leaning Jew (Jews had an important role in the civil rights movement generally, see also Going South, which focuses on Jewish women), who favored flashy moves. One was to support a college intern program, winners picked via a contest, that was open to all ... the first batch had a black man and woman among the opening class.

Walter Mack was also a big believer in giving money to charities, including black ones, so it was not surprising when he started a black sales team in the late 1940s. There were a few blacks in sales in white companies -- of course there were many black businesses at the time of segregation -- but Pepsi was a seen as more mainstream than say liquor sales. The time was right as well since the community was ready for change, the book noting, for instance, the push for more respect of the black market ... especially in black publications, who needed the advertising. Truman also was an important, if partially forgotten (he did more than desegregate the armed forces -- he sponsored a major civil rights commission that was an important look to the future), supporter of the overall cause.

I am a big believer with looking at things from special angles as well as using interesting windows into broader themes and issues. This is one reason I like court opinions -- surely, they are limiting in a fashion since they are ultimately about one legal case, but they provide a digestible way to examine wide issues. On that end, take as well the Bible. Surely, we need to remember there are many religious paths out there, but we all have limits. We have our own paths toward general ends, and there is some flexibility respecting how we can lead a moral life. The Bible, the Constitution, a few core beliefs, or a particular event can all serve as a good launching pad. Something to hang on to, something manageable. And, something that is quite flexible in various ways, depending on the situation.

The book covers a lot of ground, so it can be enjoyed by those with various interests. As shown by some of the blurbs, and the fact the author writes for the Wall St. Journal, it is a business book. It discusses the various strategies, that changed over time given the personnel in charge and the times, used to appeal to the black market (and the wider success of the company as well, including the use of vending machines). It also is a very personal story, especially since six of the original staff members were still alive (one was on the dais when the book was discussed on C-SPAN) as it was written. There are a lot of fascinating and uplifting stories here ... though perhaps more on the negative side that surely existed should have been focused upon.

And, again, it was about the situation of race relations, particularly in the 1940s and early 1950s. It lost a bit on its fastball late, but overall, it was a pretty interesting book ... well written as well. It does amaze me how many books are out there -- even the bargain shelves had some good options when I went to a bookstore recently -- but in writing, that is the real challenge all the same.

Enough is Enough and other Rants

Some things seem simple to me. Simply put, it is so very wrong that the President perverted history to promote his war and occupation. It is wrong that we, including top Dems, are getting involved in Iraqi politics to the degree of virtual coup d'etat. It is wrong, so very wrong, to blame the victim -- Iraq is a mess because we made it that way. Democrats who join this business about them having to "step up" deserve our scorn. Finally, TPM and MY are right -- this defeatism has to stop. Reminds me of Grant telling his generals to stop worrying about how Lee is going to beat them, and focus on beating Lee. All seriously wrong in different degrees, scream out loud wrong.

We still take the President seriously. Or, rather, enough to be too much. There is a sort of belief in some that the President is sorta like one of those less than savory popes or kings, who we cannot oppose too much since it will defame the office and threaten the system as a whole. In actuality, such support perverts the system more than the alternative. Ah the irony. I felt this way in 2004, but it's ever more true now ... support of this threat to republican values is anti-American as that term should be defined. The President and his ilk spread ignorance, hate, selfish bluster, and all the other dark sides of our being, and the fact some in his party feel unable to really call him on it because the office needs to be salvaged or something is ultimately pathetic. As is those who continually deem such criticism some childish notion of "liking" the President or something. Grow the f. up.

While I'm ranting, some more things that annoy me. First, this typical business about anti-abortion legislators and such only worrying about "children" (fertilized eggs are human "life" to some degree ... if not in the complete sense of the word ... but they are not "children" in my eyes) until they are born. This is bogus. The fact that a majority might be very dubious about many social welfare programs is true enough and worthy of our opposition. But, this does not mean they don't care about them at all. In fact, hard as it is for some to understand, many actually think the government hurts their overall welfare. Again, in various ways, they are wrong to trust the private sector alone to such a large degree. Doesn't mean they do not "care" though. This hyperbole causes problems and generally is wrong.

Second, Thom Hartmann has this "corporations aren't persons" fetish. I use the word advisedly. I actually remember him saying once that corporations are in some senses of the word "persons," such as for tax purposes. When you tax or regulate something, "personhood" might be involved in some contexts. And, this is exactly how corporations became persons in limited sense. For sake of jurisdiction, courts started to treat them as persons of the state where they were incorporated or did business (etc.). They NEVER had the same bunch of rights as you and me. Likewise, they can be regulated, especially when being incorporated, in ways you and I cannot be. You and I cannot be told that we can only do one sort of business. Finally, "property" is protected by the Due Process Clause. Various protections that annoy people would fall under that provision too.

So, there will be limits to how we can attack corporations, but quite a few ways that than can be attacked. And, the "personhood" business is in no way as ridiculous as some think. BTW, I am still not sure if Thom thinks cases like NYT v. Sullivan were illegitimate. A press corporation as a person!!! Likewise, sorry Thom, the press is not the only "business" covered by the Constitution. It might not be nice to view it that way, but religion is a big business in this country too (they get paid, right?). Likewise, associations are secured by the First Amendment too, including lobbyists btw, and they too very often are businesses.

Finally, he wants us to show some tough love to our members of Congress. Do right by us, and we will stick by you. Sorry, I do not think that will work. Some of these people have to go. When a Sen. Levin joins in complimenting the surge and saying leaders of other sovereign nations have to go, some line is being crossed. Changing Congress is a multi-step process. 2006 started the ball rolling. Many Republicans are calling it quits this year. Some Dems need to go too ... the 1995-2007 period left something to be desired.

It seems to be time for a real cleaning out of the stables. Surely, more muck cleaning than we had thus far.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

We Can Expect More

And Also: A core reason why the Rangers won 30-3 was because two pitchers who had nothing were left in to save the bullpen for the nightcap, which they won too (only scoring nine). Good move Baltimore. In the process, it must have did wonders on the arms, the pitch count for a reliever (especially given the short span of time involved) truly absurd. The Phillies lost, giving up 15 runs, mediocre staffs giving up lots of runs this season(sadly, the Mets have their moments). But, this required some help.

[This ground has been covered with one reader already, but it seemed appropriate to address in its own entry. To the degree it's "been covered," you can move along. Mike McConnell is given an extended footnote. A telling example of the anti-freedom mentality of this administration and its enablers.]

There is a debate ongoing about the state of the Democrats in Congress. The overall sentiment of one side appears to be that "Blue Dog" Democrats have the balance of power, limiting what they can do. So, when someone is pissed off when "x" happens (e.g., the FISA change), the response is basically "well, yeah, it stinks, but c'est la vie." This is sometimes said in a realistic sounding voice by people quite honest in their overall disdain of the situation, supportive of a new path such as voting for more progressive politicians.

In 2006, I noted here that a progressive activist was running again -- this time after he announced retirement -- for Hyde's seat. You know, the conservative behind the Hyde Amendment against governmental funding of abortions and the Clinton Impeachment. And, I was a bit tiffed that the party was not supporting her, instead backing an Iraqi War vet that seemed more likely to win the conservative leaning district. A newbie without the progressive chops and new to the district, so open to carpetbagger accusations. She lost. Kerry lost too. I have this idea that people kinda didn't think he would win, but the loss would be close, so easier to spin.

I'm a bit suspicious therefore when people say we should support progressives in the next election as the best way to address the power of the Blue Dogs. Oh? Watch many support the more conservative leaning candidates, taking the careful approach [even some at The Nation seems to think the Lamont campaign was a risky undertaking], since that is the best way to win. How after all did these conservative leaning sorts get in the first place? Apparently, they come from conservative leaning areas. Take Dianne Feinstein. Gov. Arnold suggests the sizable Republican leaning sorts in the state that want their conservative tendencies tempered in some fashion. Thus, it is unlikely the state will have two liberal senators of the Boxer mold.

So, how will we replace them? For one thing, we can find better candidates that are popular for various reasons, so still appeal to more conservative leaning areas. The fact Democrats actually are elected in "red" states underlines that progressives can win in those areas. On various issues, voters in those states are sympathetic to the party. Certain distasteful "blue dogs" get support from these same voters, but they are not the only ones the voters would choose. This has been shown to be true in New York. We used to have a disreputable sort known as Sen. Pothole (R), logical since New York has both a conservative and Johnny on the make side. But, eventually Chuck Schumer came in. Not a prize in some respects, but a better alternative.

There is an idea, however, that the voters as a whole support such candidates and what they now promote. This is the DLC sentiment. The fact that Clinton -- who was popular as much for his skills and personality as his policies (or more so) -- was the last two term Democratic President since Wilson [Truman/LB had 1+, FDR had 3+] helps a lot. But, even Clinton sounded pretty liberal in many ways. Given the power of the President is often symbolic, this matters a lot. Hillary Clinton also suggests the opportunities here -- as with El Jefe, she had name recognition on her side. This is a pretty typical strength and can be used to get in popular people whose views might not necessarily be supported in other cases.

[When one points to Clinton, some also note that he is sui generis. I find this hard to take. The guy is far from god. The inability of the party to find a credible presidential candidate too many times arised from various reasons, the fact Clinton is the only good choice around not really one of them. He also underlines the crybaby "they were mean to us" stance of Gore and Kerry voters only takes us so far. Yeah, a lot of crooked stuff went there, but kids are treated badly in many cases as well. This is unfair and makes school a living hell for some of them. But, in the real world, you have to deal with such things. You can whine about your pitching staff or fight with what you have. Note how the Yanks did not win the Series since 2000.]

Anyway, I do not think the "Blue Dogs left us no choice" argument covers various things for which people like I am pissed at Democrats. Take the "impeachment is off the table" business. What does "table" mean anyway? It means the matter was reasonable in some fashion, something we can discuss. It symbolically -- quite important in politics -- means that the President et. al. doesn't have a sinecure only open to "bad boy" noises from Dems. It means RESPECT for many who give life blood to the party. Thus, we can have various investigations and so forth with a hint of more to come. It might not come, but the base and others would not be pushed to cry "fake" or the like because of artificial restraints.

[As to having a vote now, well, that would not happen anyway since you need a process. Some might argue the net result is really the same, but politics does not really work that way. Government is often about process, especially for the sides that ultimately lose in the end. The same shows up in courts of law. Do those likely to be convicted not deserve a full set of rights, since hey, what's the point? When they do not get them, do they not deserve to be very annoyed? Anyway, and this applies to Gonzo in particular, the process takes time. Taking things off the table, especially as the administration looks more and more bad, helps to run off the clock. Enabling the wrong side yet again.]

But, that is too much to ask, since it might open the party up to some criticism. From whom? People who deserve our scorn mostly. Blue Dogs did not force this move. Thus, Sen. Boxer noted that sure impeachment can be on the table. It's like the Republican Party platform measure that says abortion should be criminalized. Not going to happen, but it gives the party a lot of passionate supporters. The fact the end itself is not going to happen -- even Dubya admits as much -- any time soon does not lead them to say it is "off the table" even as a matter of discussion. They aren't that absurd.

The path on the occupation is similiarly not somehow compelled by the lack of power by the sane caucus on the issue. When a pretty sane sort like Sen. Carl Levin (voted against AUMF in 10/02) joins with Sen. Warner and says that in some ways the surge is doing good, is it compelled by Blue Dogs? The net result is to enable Bush and supply aid and comfort (I use the allusion with some care) to that side. Since Blue Dogs + Republicans control Congress on this issue, this cover will not result in some sort of reasonable compromise position.

[The cover to such enabling is that what they really mean is that the forces do some good, even if as an overall strategy it is questionable. Of course, the other side ignores the qualifiers and context. Heroin is somewhat helpful to an addict, but it is probably better if they quit totally. Our imperialistic path is comparable. As always, Glenn Greenwald -- the source of the Levin remark -- covers this ground well in various posts this week.]

After all, we are told that it won't happen ... we need "67 votes" for that. Well, fine, so why act like we need not, as if some "compromise" measure -- that gives away too much -- will be beneficial? Put aside that the message being sent -- the Bush policy is sorta working -- is dubious at best. Hillary Clinton is often taking this half/half stance btw. The overall sentiment seems to be that we are going to lose, so the best we can do is spin things sorta our way.

This in turn requires basically accepting things many simply do not agree are acceptable principles. Michael Vick might not think he's guilty, but pleas that way since he has no choice. But, Dems do not really have such an either/or choice in many cases. They appear not to want to trust the people. To tell them the truth: the bad guys are winning in certain areas, we don't have the votes yet, but we can try to do the best we can. We will do our best in this regard.

Instead, they try to b.s. us that things are better than they are. And/or that they cannot do any more than they are doing. As suggested above, this simply is not true. This puts aside those who argue that some more pressure can be put on Blue Dogs in various cases, at least to the degree their position is shown to be wrong (disagreement among friends, let's say), sometimes even pushing enough to win a few more things. The problem in particular are acts that help them. Adds insult to injury. You know like Sen. Boxer saying Lieberman is a great guy during his campaign vs. Lamont.

The fact what she matters suggests the connected whole nature of the process, including when dealing with voting in better Democrats. Atrios, for instance, lists various Dems to support. Hint: not only those in the individual districts and states provide said support. All politics might be local, but there is still some "party" in the Democratic Party, even today. When the party as a whole send a message to those who care ... many of whom do the yeoman work in supporting candidates and the like ... that they are fine with promoting a meme that neo-Republicanism is reasonable, they might just ask "what's the point?" The party has true libs in Congress now. To what end if the leadership leans Blue Dog push comes to shove?

And, surely given modern districting and the like, it is not likely that Congress will have some supermajority of true blue progressives any time soon. So, how the conservative Democrats are handled now matters, since they always will be among us. In some fashion, such swing voters should be there. The tail should not, however, wag the dog. This is the ultimate problem, or a core one. It is not that the caucus is unable to do things for which the votes are not there ... again, like strong Bush critics that actually did win in 2006, a better attempt will lead to some victories. Try more.

But, please do not send the message that you actually support the Blue Dog position. Their actions, including the putative future head of the party (Hillary Clinton), however, do just that. By enabling the Bushies and their enablers, in different ways, including when it simply is not "forced" to do so.*


* Thom Hartmann (Air America) noted that some voted for the eavesdropping [insert word here] law out of fear of possible attacks. A b.s. reason, even if -- which is silly -- you trusted the administration on the evidence. As I referenced last time, the Justice Department refuse to admit now that legislative authorization of the new powers are actually necessary. Likewise, oversight protections would not interfere with that either. A strong slamdown for even suggesting this is credible is required to warrant any respect for the party as a whole.

Meanwhile, Mike McConnell's discussion of the recent FISA amendments is rather telling (see various blog links), including how it helped bring to light his conflicts of interest, the idea FISA was some gentlemen's agreement with Congress (a sort of optional law), the many lawyers he used to compose what law professors still wonder about (see Balkanization for how it is needlessly confusing) and how merely discussing it will lead to loss of American lives.

He hates freedom. We have rights in this country, including self-government not because they are always cost-free. Sometimes, it might be easier to break into a home or not have to deal with beyond a reasonable doubt. Surely, this sometimes leads to serious harms, including enabling violence. But, the net end is deemed to be beneficial. Why is this so hard to understand? Like one person was not annoyed at torture, but the fact it was leaked.

What sort of society would we be in if it never did? The sort some claim to like, except when their hobbyhorse is involved.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Apparently, feeding the beast was unnecessary, since he apparently didn't even need it ... what suckers. As our representatives, we are the ultimate ones being played. On the not wanting to scream front, I saw Elizabeth Edwards at a book event promoting the paperback version (new chapter) of her autobiography. Be well.

Celebrity Justice

And Also: Death At A Funeral had some Four Weddings and a Funeral-like English charm, but didn't quite do it for me. Not funny enough, either.

The reality, though, is that what we learn about the law through celebrities is not necessarily representative of the law. Sometimes, this is because the celebrity encounters with the legal system are simply not representative. For example, unlike Paris Hilton, the average defendant would receive neither a 45-day jail sentence for a minor driving probation violation (too harsh), nor an early release for ill-defined medical reasons (too lenient). Nor, of course, can the average defendant afford to pay for the A-Game of the talented defense counsel to which viewers of celebrity trials have become accustomed.

This from a column by a couple law professors on celebrity justice. It is unclear to me what they mean by "minor driving probation violation." I was on this hobbyhorse before, but what does "minor" mean? Let us put aside the aggravating court behavior (showing up late to court, showing no remorse or sense of real responsibility -- blaming others for the wrongdoing, etc.) which tends to add to punishment in various cases. The "minor" violation, to probation arising from driving in a reckless under the influence was basically doing the exact same thing ... after being given a warning once before. A repeat "minor" violation, this time without an authorized license. Given the crime how "minor" is this? It is like calling a second marijuana possession "minor" when the crime was possession with the intent to sell. Less dangerous than driving, I say.

[BTW, she would not serve 45 days. The likely result would be about half that. The reader might be assumed to factor that in, but if the stay was twenty-three days, would it be too harsh? For a double violation, driving without a license, the assumption being it is not really safe to trust you to drive?]

To segue, how about Michael Vick?! It is unbelievable that he left himself open to not only losing a job of an overly paid QB on a playoff caliber team ... a ten year contract at that ... but to jail time. In fact, his position was so lousy, commentators were amazed at the low bargaining position Vick found himself in. Many think he might get more -- even after pleading guilty -- than is recommended by the prosecutor. And, this does not even go into the quite likely possibility of state prosecution(s) [more than one state is potentially at stake here].

We are not talking something people can basically sorta forgive ... some sort of drug possession or prostitution deal that even conservative congressmen from Louisiana apparently can handle with ease. No, we are dealing with something an average fan would likely speak with only disgust. What is more precious than a man's connection to a dog, after all? We have hunters, who tend to (somewhat selectively) respect certain animals, call into radio talk shows with such disgust. Betting on football where man abuses man. Fine. Dog fight dog? No.

Get Fuzzy had an amusing story arc last week in which the main guy is upset that so many things have animal products in them, often hidden. I can relate -- canned vegetable soup is of particular annoyance.* Bucky noted he was against ethics on principle. Too tedious. But, there are different degrees of wrong. We are not angels. Being mean to your brother does not mean the same thing as hitting him with a board. Thus, we have cruelty to animal laws, and in particular making cruelty not only a personal wrong (beating one's own dog), but a sport.

In the process, the individual wrongs can send a broader message. Look out for a few more prosecutions against this sort of thing ... as one commentator noted on the radio (being sure to note he wasn't for it particularly) some might limited resources to go to something like this rather than targeting illegal use of marijuana. Likewise, some even note that we should be more evenhanded in our concern about animal abuse. Don't worry. There are enough examples out there that we needn't go into vegetarianism again.

And, a shout out to a new cat ... times two ... owner. Enjoy your new cats sis, and good thing that you got them from a shelter. It is absurd that one gets cats and dogs, except in special cases (support dogs etc.), any other way. Shelters are full with abandoned and abused animals.

This sort of thing makes one almost wistful for steroid abuse stories.


* The items are in no way necessary for the products. In fact, sometimes meat alternatives are used in processed foods as extenders. A meat or chicken subsistute might be a mixed success in some cases, such as a chik patty, but as an item added for taste, substitution is fine. Likewise, milk and eggs are quite often more there for binding purposes than anything else. Quiche might be eggy, but your average cake need not be.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

David v. God and Stick It

And Also: It should be noted that the Second Amendment was ratified in a different era. One in which police departments did not exist ... in fact, they probably would be deem a sort of paramilitary force, a standing army of sorts, that would be rather dangerous. Quite literally the people had a "posse" role to play here ... you had a nightwatchman sort and then (traditionally) the "hue and cry" concept of the people having a responsibility to assist when needed. Now, only a select group have weapons, or expectations to be called. "The people" as a whole don't, surely. This must be kept in mind. "Original understanding," however, too often is applied in an ahistorical fashion.

After reading A Room On Lorelei Street by Mary Pearson, see below, I checked out the author's first book ... David v. God. It was a shorter book ... almost a novella ... and less mature. The characters appear to be around high school age, but at some points they could be in like eighth grade or something. OTOH, it has a serious side ... after all, a supporting character uses her brains to compensate for her mom's poverty (husband left her), and the goofball lead uses humor to cover up a lack of confidence of his own. And, after all, the title is literal ... David and a few classmates died in a bus crash, and he (with help from the class brain) challenged God to a debate to get out of it, so to speak.

A rather wicked, amusingly so, idea for a first novel. It is well written, though drags a bit near the end, and as suggested above has some heartfelt moments. Likewise, it has a nice sense of fun. God keeps on sending notes to David to help him out ... much to his annoyance. For instance, after realizing ostriches weren't a "mistake," David and his debate assistant (who let him know she knew what people called her ... things like "Byte Bitch" ... suggesting the book does have an edge) consider people like Lazarus. He went back, right? Smarty pants like me think, hey wait, that was meant to be a sign of sorts. And, God did let him know that ... see, he had a campaign going, and L. helped him out ... it was just to make a point.

I thought that was well done. Heaven sounds like a pretty cool place too ... like one person died as a kid, and really wanted to be a waitress and ballerina when she grew up, so she got to be both in heaven. It has one helluva a library, apparently. The train riding bit reminds me of the movie Heavenly Kid. Overall, recommended for young adults, and adults might very well get a kick out of it too. Has a lesson and all, but done in a fun way. Bet it would be good material for some religious broadcast or something. After all, a show about a minister and his family (lots of kids ... hint hint) was quite popular, and had some playful edges too. Even Gilmore Girls (shudder!) was supported by a family organization. That word need not be as painful as it sometimes is. Like "faith" and "values," it is after all a good thing when well applied.

[The book is seen through David's eyes, so it seems appropriate that God here is a bit like him ... a sort of playful authority figure. I think many would view heaven and other such experiences as coming through the vantage point of the person's understanding. How else would such an indescribable "thing" be able to be experienced by lowly humans? This can be seen generally ... religious truths are seen through the vantage point of individual societal norms and understandings. Thus, the resident of Iran, Japan, Niger, Chile, and Canada all would have somewhat different religious experiences, even if they might share a specific broad based faith such as Christianity. Again, the book does a nice job handling the situation.]

To toss it in, I picked up a couple DVDs while at the library. I have yet to see Combination Platter, but have enough Chinese food that it was a must. Also, got Stick It for the commentary (two actually, though the one with two of the leads was a lot more fun) tracks. Good movie. Yes, at times, it felt like some sort of MTV video with its quick shots and montages, but it had real heart, good performances, and an overall sense of fun. Many funny lines ... the "bitch" in this one helps out with one of the commentaries, noting she loved playing the character. Nice surprise really. Like Ice Princess, it is about a teen girl and a sport, this time the wickedly hard (in fact, it was on last night) sport of gymnastics (as one character notes, it's not gym-nice-stics.). Jeff Bridges plays the coach.

The commentary let me know that the judge played Flo on the t.v. show Alice (good to see '70s stars still get work) ... and the lead's mom played a much more appealing character in Paperback Romance, a movie that didn't quite work, but has charm all the same. Oh, "stick it" both is slang for a good move as well as an overall sense of cool and stuff. You know, roughly speaking.

BTW, tossing in the NFL network, there is a heckuva lot of preseason football on t.v, huh?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Someone Has To Win The Division

''It seems like we're in a pennant race,'' Piniella said. ''I'm not too damn sure.''

Given the Mets struggles to win two of three, even with it 10-4 in the ninth, against the lowly Pirates, Mets fans can relate. Add one of three vs the Marlins, they are 3 of 6 so far in an "easy" stretch. Meanwhile, the Cards ... are back!!!!

Can We Risk Principle?

And Also: Jose Padilla, after a quick deliberation, was found guilty of all three counts. Not what he was originally accused of, not in a "speedy trial," and probably not with due process even to the criminal trial itself. His guilt via a jury trial does not suddenly make his treatment fine. How many will say it does? Oh, if he was so obviously guilty, why the delay? Because punishment or even civil detention as a safety measure was not the point of it all. Interrogation (and executive power generally), by any means "necessary" was. Again, how many will ignore the point?*

Edward Lazarus takes the above the fray "Rawlsian" (see, e.g., Morality in Our Age: Human Rights & Civil Rights [CD]) approach to modern government in his column today. I appreciate this, and to be honest, divided government would be my preference. We had a one party government in '94, which actually was a centrist one in various ways (even then, we had the O'Connor Court, which meant Democrats did not really control all three branches; cf. 2006). And, it didn't work too well, actually.

But, this would require two credible parties. The Rovian approach, aggravated by one party rule, has made this somewhat impossible. It should be a seminal negative example to show the value of Madison's Federalist No. 10 ... the tyranny of the majority, where there is no competing factions, but one mega-faction. [The value of divided government is also shown in No. 51, in particular the problem with the 2003-7 regime, and one that remains too true even to this day.]

This leviathan underlines why a basic agreement of ideal political norms, as assumed by Lazarus essay, only takes us so far. And, makes this sounds naive:
Take the current scandal over the Bush Administration's firing of various U.S. Attorneys. I can understand the Democrats' desire to investigate this issue to death. We ought to know whether some of these U.S. Attorneys were fired because they refused to play ball with a White House that wanted them to use the enormous power of investigation and prosecution for partisan ends. And we ought to know whether high-ranking officials have lied about this under oath.

But investigating the past is unlikely to get us very far in answering important questions about what, in the future, should be the proper relationship between the White House and the Department of Justice, between the Attorney General and local U.S. Attorneys, and between high- ranking DOJ political appointees and the civil servants who make up the professional backbone of the agency.

What is this business about "investigate this issue to death?" If only we had such investigations. Fact is, we have had investigations, at least among certain committees, particularly a few led by career legislators like Rep. Waxman who did yeoman work in this regard. But, they were never truly complete, and not really somehow neverending either. This allows a useful running out the clock strategy by the administration.

[Here's a prime example. How long did it take to get this? And, still, there are a lot of unanswered questions ... meanwhile, the person who helped hinder the investigation, who a bipartisan group wants gone, got more power. How "far" will this take us?]

Likewise, we heard this "forward looking" business in the screw America's ideals process of the FISA amendment law. We cannot look to the past, we must look to the future. This is insane, not only to those of us with a healthy respect of history. We decide our future acts by judging what worked and did not work in the past. An incomplete understanding will result in problems in the future. This surely is the case when the future would require limits on the powers of certain parties.

[Consider this reply to an addition to the debate cum disgust over "liberal" foreign policy sorts who called the war "defensible," but insist they are against it, really they are, but lets be reasonable about it ... and let's not look to the past, but the future. The reply is to a discussion of how the "accepted wisdom" is misleading at best, "wisdom" that influences our current policy. Next stop, Iran! So, the "tea and crumpets" (h/t a comment there) approach is hard to take. But, the "why look back" line is equally annoying. Not only active ignorance, but feigned shock at those who call him on it. This sort of thing makes "expert" a bad word.]

Or, particularly, the need for them. Let it be noted that I firmly agree with such need. The ongoing process of restraining the executive is not to be taken for mere partisan ends, assumptions and snide comments by some aside. A cynical and/or harmful approach on either side hinders this end. Surely, historically, the process is messy. But, the end should be some positive result. An investigation tempered by the opposition, but one with useful results.

Would not the shared sentiments expressed in the essay suggest such an end? Or, must we not only look at the assumed beliefs of both sides, but both sides willingness to actually live out such beliefs? If one feels bad while hurting others, it is of only limited value to the harmed. This apparently is what we are supposed to hang on here ... consider the "WINOs" attacking by Talking Points Memo aka "waverers in name only" on the occupation. All talk. All hat, no cattle. IOW, the essay is wrong ... on some core level, the failure to carry out principles held makes one side rather different from the other. And, practice has shown that even when Dems are in control (including in 1980s and early '90s), they still uphold neutral principles more than the other side did when control shifted.

Republicans will at some point, I think, realize the need to move on in this respect. This probably will leave a lot to be desired, of course, partially examining why I will not be joining the party any time soon. Still, as with Ike's acceptance of the New Deal, future success will require some move toward hedging of Bushian philosophy. Some common ground, as expressed in the essay. A Democratic President will help this process. It must be said that it is not present now. Not when even assumed statespersons in the party are in lockstep in promotion of administration ends.

Until each side is willing to play somewhat fair, this common ground will be hard to imagine. Politics will always be messy; it need not be this bad. Like a struggling farmer during the Depression, we have seen the reality of degrees of bad. So, even if divided government is ideal, will we really be able to trust it in '09? I guess the Roberts Court will underline the limits of united government, as will the Blue Dogs in Congress. Thus, in practice, at least the Senate will probably remain only quasi-Democrat. I simply have my doubts if enough net seats will change hands to make the difference. In fact, who knows about the House. But, it really is a bit too early to tell.

Anyway, a government we can actually believe in and trust will be a primary issue, or should be, in the next election. Or, rather, in 2008. November 2007 will be a breather, I guess.


* Also in the news, other than Jenna's engagement to a Rovian, we have a class action by NYC beggars. When I first read of this, I wondered if this meant people would have an option to hand out governmental vouchers to beggars on the subway (would the fake candy sellers count?), or if they would pay some in kind?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Couple Books

And Also: There's a piece questioning an argument that one needs to have "religion" to truly be a good person ... to really have an edge. Takes awhile to make a point some comments can much quicker: it's b.s. Of course, my point was that "atheists" can have "religion" too. But, this "atheists can't be moral" stuff is still widely believed. Facts notwithstanding.

Certainly the safeguarding of the home does not follow merely from the sanctity of property rights. The home derives its preeminence as the seat of family life. And the integrity of that life is something so fundamental that it has been found to draw to its protection the principles of more than one explicitly granted Constitutional right.

Poe v. Ullman (Harlan, J., dissenting).

The two books for today both touch upon family, the home, women surviving on their own and working class struggles. A Room On Lorelei Street*, a book about seventeen year old Zoe, dealing with a crappy home life and trying to survive on her own. It is a book about teens, not only a book written by someone who covers teens. Teens are told to read many books with adult characters; adults should probably read more with teens. You root for her to survive, even though it seems everything is against her, again as I said before not quite fairly.

Mary Pearson has written two other books about teens, but from the plot summaries, they do not seem as serious as this one. One thing powerful about the book, other than the striking internal monologues that provide a window into her thinking (third person, but her vantage point), is the complexity of the character. She is a troubled soul with a basic goodness, made to grow up to soon and a part of her does not seem much older than her younger brother (11). We sometimes forget about that when judging people, including perhaps the teacher who comes off as a bitch.

But, even the not so nice characters are not simply cardboard, though the teacher does come off as rather unfair (though some might say her actions are justified, given Zoe's actions). The mother is a sad character, but has "earned" her status, and the grandmother is also looked at with some care. Zoe ultimately wants to find place of her own, even if it is just a room. I not really kiddingly told my mom that she should let my younger brother keep his room messy. Let him express himself. A room can be so important to a teenager, to anyone really.

I took the audio book route for The Good Wife, a book by a guy, but mostly about a (white / husband a Buffalo Bills fan) wife ... it starts off in the 1970s, she's in her twenties and pregnant. She gets a call ... her husband is in trouble, in jail. And, so it begins ... we see her dealing with the trial, his conviction for murder (again, third person, her vantage point ... we therefore never find out if he was just there, the other guy got out before long by turning state's evidence) and throughout his twenty-five year prison sentence. She had to survive on her own, raising a son, and still stuck by her man.

Thus, the title. The book provides a good window into the life of someone who had a spouse in prison. We see things through her eyes, insisting he is innocent, sticking by her, long trips to out of the way upstate prisons, working their life around contact visits (when they came ... at the end, the prison did not have them) and eventually handling the time afterwards (briefly examined). As with the first book, we are dealing with working class life, first for the parks department, then a stream of retail jobs, and finally in a nursing home. It reminds us of all those family members in our prison nation.

I think the first part of the book was the best, the middle years going a bit quickly, but overall it also is well written and provides a power character with others fleshing out the story. For instance, her mom sticks by her throughout, early on seen as cynical and not trusting the husband ... but, the wife has to grow up fast, seeing how much she needs her. A few themes stand out ... how nothing is thought of as permanent, except the important stuff (lousy jobs no, surviving and sticking by her husband and son, yes), how certain things are out of her control, and her inner strength.

Again, family, home and strong women are at the core of the book. And, a good read.


* The title reminds me of the Gilmore Girls, the show that I whined about a few times here, given it used to be worth watching, but then went downhill circa three years ago.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Bye Turd Blossom

And Also: Mike DeFelice ... the current healthy Mets catcher looks and sounds a lot like Tim Robbins.

As Rachel Maddow (Air America) discussed tonight, the coverage of Karl Rove's resignation did not really deal with why he was so controversial ... well, at least not the MSM coverage. This is not surprising. When it came out that he was involved with the Valerie Plame outing, it would have been helpful if we were told more about his dirty tactics in the past. In fact, he was fired by President Bush (Sr) because of press leaks! Though one article did note his stepdad eventually announced his homosexuality, adding to the gay Republican connection, the coverage was mostly rather neutral, at best noting his controversial reputation.

This is b.s. ... but fairly typical. Over and over again, we are not given the proper context in news coverage. This is a useful ignorance promotion device. Sadly, Molly Ivins is no longer around to remind us about Rove's tactics over the years, though even conservatives (including Andrew Sullivan) have been out there stating their disgust at the path he has taken. The divisive wedge issue path that in the long run was hurtful to the party's interests. In fact, one gets the idea that if his dirty tactics were more successful of late, there would be less dissent. Likewise, given all this talk of the "de facto Republican majority" in Congress, cries of "failure!" is a bit over the top as well.

[Basically, Republicans are annoyed that they took the risk and were bitten ... well, you are stuck with being connected with dirty business, tainted by it all. You deserve to be tainted a whole lot more. It should be deemed bloody obvious that the party does not deserve to be trusted with power ... for years to come, if I had my druthers. Will take a long time to clean out that taint. But, as I suggest, sadly this is not quite the common wisdom. This spin job is in large part Rovian as well.]

There is some bite left in that dog yet. Articles stating how the Dems caved on the FISA bill, such as one in the Washington Post on Sunday, which failed to note how American citizens are affected. Mentions of terrorist risks, but no mention of how repeatedly conveniently timed claims (or conveniently announced ... the actual intel repeatedly rather stale) were used for political ends in the past. That is, use of the "war on terra" (tm) as a scare tactic to promote partisan ends. Let it be noted that Rove fit Bush like a glove ... the reason they were such powers was that both were at heart assholes. It's not like Rove had to sell the dirty take no prisoners approach ... he had a willing audience.

So, it is sadly typical that Rove end's his time in the administration just as he spent it there ... getting off easy. This is aggravating, but oh so predictable. Over and over again, this administration this despicable things that at best were deemed unfortunate or distasteful, but not really worth more than our disdain. Politicians are disdained all the time ... you need more than that. There appeared to be some assumption that you know these people have shame, so they would be so embarrassed or something, that they would act like non-assholes. They just laughed at the stupidity of the idea, rightly disdainful in fact that it was offered as a credible possibility.

Meanwhile, Gonzo has more power. Rove is gone though. Let's be all glad and stuff, though in the process he gets to go off, make some money, and probably remain powerful behind the scenes. Cheers.

Monday, August 13, 2007


I recent read a column in a parent magazine discussing the importance of the firm "no" when raising a child. In fact, the parent noted that he had an easier time of it than the wishy-washy approach of the mother. A PSA also promotes the importance of the firm no when dealing with teens and drug/alcohol use. And, a discussion of the recent school race cases discussed that we cannot always get what we want or have it easy. You do not always go to the school you might want ... sometimes, often for good reason, you are told "no."

I think this reminder of how life works is useful now and again. Life does not always have due process of law ... it is not some totally equitable deal where each parent has equally healthy children and so on. This too has to be dealt with, though society has every obligation to supply a safety net, but the equitable no is even more justified. Surely, especially in our society, we do not like to accept this. We surely do not like to accept that no one promised us a rose garden as a birthright. It does amuse me how people blame God when death happens to them. It's natural, sure, but blatantly myopic.

One problem I had with the recent FISA bill and related issues is the lack of the "no." More enabling. Articles over the weekend underline that the enabling was in large part a result of yet again giving into administration b.s. But, like a parent who gives in to stop a child from whining or the like, there was no "firm no." This included the Democratic leadership. Members of the Republican caucus do not all accept the conservative mind-set of the backward leadership. But, they realize party loyalty a tad bit more than their opposite numbers.

They take the idea too far, yes, but the opposite extreme is not the answer. Moderation, as the philosophers say. Anyway, though it is sometimes hard to take, you have to respect the limits. In the long run, this often provides the best path to success. Who likes to look that far, right?

Sunday, August 12, 2007


I once saw an exploitation flick usually known as I Spit On Your Grave (aka Day of the Woman). Starring Buster Keaton's granddaughter, though that might be generous, it basically is a revenge flick ... both the rape and revenge brutally shown. But, I was not among those (including Roger Ebert, who hypocritically likes some revenge movies) who thought it trash. The movie actually provided some lead-up and follow through ... the final shot was particularly powerful. A glance of someone who gained revenge, but lost her soul.

[The selective support of 'trash' is interesting. For instance, this movie was supposedly uniquely horrible as a revenge flick, unlike a Death Wish sort of movie where the victims are treated as just story devices, the revenge supplied by a Bronson type, at times without much in way of cost to them personally. It looks rather mechanic. Thus, underlining the horror, using the victim herself as the avenger and showing real consequences all around mattered. We even saw the family of the lead rapist.]

Surely, the movie was exploitation ... the violence on both ends was provided graphically, along with the nudity. But, taking that into consideration, the film did strike me. One scene had the woman force the ringleader to strip, to expose him as he exposed her. There is a scene like that in Descent with Rosario Dawson (Rent etc.), and along with the revenge again, it reminded me of the old film. Be wrong to equalize the two, however. This one is well made, so much that the NYT said it was a "must see."

The NY Daily News did not care for it ... the capsule review even gets a plot point wrong ("weeks later" when the caption* noted a change of seasons) ... but it was unfair. The movie is well acted and the revenge part only comes in that last third, if that. It is ultimately a character drama about a consistently troubled smart young college student, in the beginning dealing with a failed relationship and feeling alone, later dealing with a rape. [The relationship set up the rape in that she let her guard down, wanting to have some male companionship.]

Rosario Dawson is very good throughout and the writing/atmosphere as a whole is well done. The lonely student room, feeling ill at ease at a party, the rape scene, the look of shock (seen only through her p.o.v.) that a student in the class she is a T.A. for raped her, etc. The changes in her personality also is complex, and not just a matter of the rape. It can very well be the result of any number of young women who fall under the influence of drugs or have crises of some sort. The final bit is pure revenge, but on that level, done fairly well as well.

The NYT (who is coy about the exact nature of the revenge ... it's logical, but has a nifty surprise that makes sense, but still shocks) notes it is a polemic. It surely has feminist inclinations. On that level, let me toss something out there. We often hear how rape is not a crime of sex, but one of violence. I disagree in part. It is a crime of violence via sex. In fact, the control of sexuality is part of the violence. This does not belittle the crime, or suggest it is just sexual. But, maiming and other crimes also can be more than the specific crime itself. This is the whole point of the "hate crime" concept.

We also sometimes hear "you can't understand" ... only experience can provide that. This sometimes is tempered by the possibility of the experience ... thus, women in general might understand since there is always a potential of being raped (one might add men too ... in prison). But, I think even here, some rape victims might not totally agree. A victim of a crime has a special experience, one different from those who might be victimized in the future. Obviously, they have a point, though only so far.

It is the road to perdition ... I'm pretty passionate about this ... to think that we must only experience something to truly understand, even a decent amount, something. For instance, how can we set policy or judge someone (judge/jury/punishment) if only the class themselves "understand" what is happening? We are ultimately on some level alone in this life, viewing things through our own eyes and experiences. But, the human family is not totally alone. There must be and is some perspective, some ability to step in someone else's shoes, especially given on some level we do experience things alike.

Thus, a religious minority respects another ... or some other minority respects the religious minority ... or one respects them because a loved one is a member. etc. Yes, as a man, I cannot truly understand rape in the most direct sense, the feeling of violation and fear of it happening. [Like you only truly experience parenthood when being one, but we were kids, and had parents. We can go half way, right?] But, am I not able to connect with loved ones who are women, or the overall idea of being violated, and attacked? This so on both a mental and visceral level. I think I can. We need to guard against assuming too much in this regard, being too full of ourselves.

But, yes, roughly ... as they say ... I do think I can relate. If we truly cannot, it is a sad world.


* Errors that appear to suggest the reviewer did not see the film is a pet peeve of mind. Anyway, I had this idea where the caption on the screen says something obviously not true ... think of those shots of Toronto or whatever that is supposed to be some major U.S. city. Once, we saw mountains in the background for a movie that supposedly took place in the Bronx. Good sight gag?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

And More

And Also: There was a good subplot on the Lifetime show Army Wives last week about an army wife who finds out her husband might have been killed by friendly fire. One character noted that it was a part of the horrors of war, and people understand that, but only if they are dealt with honestly. This is the problem with the Tillman case, and other things these days. Too much b.s. ... an apparent belief (realization?) the people won't accept the truth. But, people know b.s. too. So, the CYA value only goes so far.

A lot more can be said about yesterday's entry, but a few tidbits came to mind. First, my broader reading of "religion" is supported by various people. For instance, a lower court opinion that I read a long time back summarized it as a matter of "ultimate truths," creed and ritual.

I like that first term, and it reflects the Seeger/Welsh definition -- we have some central set of beliefs or precepts (if the former has a bad connotation for some) that provide meaning to our life, which for many is supplied by God and God's laws. The Random House definition of "religion" also supplies one in which a supernatural being is the "usual" foundation. The legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin in Freedom's Law and Life's Dominion also interprets the term in this fashion, particularly to define choices in matters of life and death as religious ones. And, Sen. Obama ... in a well known speech on religion in public life ... at times defined the term broadly, in part as a "way of life," what gives us meaning.

Second, let me re-emphasize my broad understanding of words like "faith" and "belief." I got into a debate with someone over this general issue, who simply was appalled at my reasoning. But, come now. We have "faith" in a spouse or love one. We "believe" in the American Constitution. Why cannot we "believe" or have "faith" in more ultimate things? And, without getting "God" into the equation either. Again, it must be noted that there is a basic feeling involved here that makes it more than a mental/scientific enterprise.

Still, such faith tends to come from falsifiable facts too. We do not have "faith" in some loser child of ours ... sure, we can love him or her, but we know at some point they are weak or will fail us in some fashion. OTOH, when loved ones show we can trust them, faith comes. The faith might arise from a "feeling" in various cases, but many decisions amount to a process that is hard to boil down to concrete objective facts. This includes something as scientific as a medical diagnosis. It is true we can use words rather broadly, so sports can be said to be a "religion," but it is simply not a very broad use of "faith" and "belief" to use it to mean something other than belief in miracles or life after death.

This is not to say that such belief can be done for very practical reasons -- many gain much solace and completion by believing in various things. Take vegetarianism. I support it for various reasons, in part because I don't want to be part of a factory farming system that is both (IMHO) cruel and bad for our country as a whole. This is practical, but like a single vote, it is unclear how much my actions change things. But, I think there is some practical value all the same, partially because what we do does affects other people, and it adds up to some tipping point eventually.

But, there is a personal value as well. A personal happiness in taking the path, a sense of contentment. One here thinks it is a bit misguided -- surely in the way it is defended -- but its practical effects over the last decade is there. It's not just a matter of "belief," but practicality. Belief in the long run is objectively useful, even in support of things where proof is not present, and might even likely not exist. This is not to say that is the ONLY reason for it, but it factors in. So, yes, there are different shades of "belief" ... but this only underlines my broader point.

Anyway, I guess the safest bet is to use a broad term ... "freedom of expression" (Charles Fried uses "freedom of the mind" ... religion and speech combo!) allows us to underline how things like hairstyles and even lifestyles in general warrant First Amendment protection, even if they are not strictly "speech" in a common sense view of things. So, and again this reflects history, "freedom of conscience" provides an open-ended understanding of that freedom.* Still, "religion" has a certain flavor (especially in an institutional and ritual sense ... a commitment ceremony is more than a matter of conscience) that warrants its use as well.


* Susan Jacoby's interesting book Freethinkers takes a similar approach ... she is not just concerned with atheists here ... Unitarians and others are discussed as well. We have such a wide range of people in this world, one of its charms. Why must we narrowly define things of this nature?

Friday, August 10, 2007


And Also: Dave Barry -- the humorist -- put out a charming Christmas story that appears to be inspired by his childhood (takes place c. 1960), involving a junior high student much like himself. Nice pictures.

The First Amendment, putting aside that it originally was not the first,* starts not with speech, but religion. The federal government, the state as well per the 14th and state constitutions, is limited from interfering with religion from both ends -- establishment and free exercise. Uneasy as it might seem to some to accept, the amendment in fact discriminates for and against religion, to quote Justice White's dissenting opinion in Welsh v. U.S.:
It cannot be ignored that the First Amendment itself contains a religious classification. The Amendment protects belief and speech, but, as a general proposition, the free speech provisions stop short of immunizing conduct from official regulation. The Free Exercise Clause, however, has a deeper cut: it protects conduct, as well as religious belief and speech.

True enough that Oregon v. Smith later limited the breadth of the conduct security, though it still holds, surely as to various state constitutions (NY, e.g., has a weaker security as to conduct, but a recent ruling involving supplying contraceptives in health plans noted things like sacramental wine and such are secured ... conduct), in various respects. The spirit of the sentiment is also expressed in federal legislation that singles out religious activity for security. Such laws have been upheld, including when they clash with civil rights legislation (e.g., clergy can be limited to men).

Thus, "religion" is a fundamental matter, putting aside its role in human civilization generally. Of course, its fundamental role there -- both practically and spiritually -- is a core reason why the matter is fundamental in the first place. For instance, Thomas Jefferson is known for his support of religious freedom. This threatened various people, since religion seemed necessary for public safety. Given this fact, some governmental security of the practice, at some level religious favoritism, was necessary. Many still think that way. But, Jefferson wouldn't disagree that religious belief per se lacked importance ... he just thought it had to come privately. Similarly, as we examine the nature of "religion," consider how a broader definition will still further the ends of the institution generally. The ends as much as anything else helps to define the contours.

"Religion" originally was generally deemed in this country to be mostly synonymous to "Christianity," though push come to shove, some would include other monotheistic religions as well as perhaps Hinduism and the like (cites to Jefferson will pop up "Hindoo" or the like). Some might also note that the acts of atheists have a religious freedom component, since s/he actively rejected a "religious" path. That is, even if the atheist (Deists like TJ often deemed that) is not "religious," the fact that religion ultimately is an active choice, means the "religious freedom" includes the choice itself. One lower court opinion in the modern era when dealing with holiday displays, as I recall, even spoke of non-religious sorts as a whole belonging to a sect of unbelievers. This seems to be putting together some strange bedfellows.

Back to the functional, the breadth of "religious" was shown in the area of conscientious objectors. The Supremes in the 1960s defined the term broadly -- in part to save the statutory provision at issue from Establishment Clause problems [see particularly the concurring opinions by Justice Harlan] -- when various people not traditionally deemed religious wanted to be so classified. For instance, U.S. v. Seeger and Welsh v. U.S., both which provide fascinating discussions of terms like "Supreme Being" and "religious" generally. See also, Gillette v. U.S., which discussed religious freedom as a whole when the ultimate question (answered in the negative) was if the law at issue supplied exemptions to those who oppose only some wars. Justice Douglas, particularly his broader view in Gillette, along with the other opinions also provided very good commentary.

Consider this from Welsh:
Most of the great religions of today and of the past have embodied the idea of a Supreme Being or a Supreme Reality -- a God -- who communicates to man in some way a consciousness of what is right and should be done, of what is wrong and therefore should be shunned. ...If an individual deeply and sincerely holds beliefs that are purely ethical or moral in source and content, but that nevertheless impose upon him a duty of conscience to refrain from participating in any war at any time, those beliefs certainly occupy in the life of that individual "a place parallel to that filled by . . . God" in traditionally religious persons. Because his beliefs function as a religion in his life, such an individual is as much entitled to a "religious" conscientious objector exemption under § 6(j) as is someone who derives his conscientious opposition to war from traditional religious convictions.

A rough definition of the traditional understanding of "religion" would amount to our relationship with God, including the creeds and rituals involved. Seeger/Welsh defined "God" rather broadly, ultimately accepting "religious" includes those who have some ultimate reality on the level of "God." In other words, something else that "communicates to man in some way a consciousness of what is right and should be done" ... which is at the core often understood to be our conscience. In fact, Justice Douglas in Gillette argued that overall we have a freedom of conscience [comparable to the broad "freedom of expression" that secures more than "speech" etc. alone], even if we deem it separate from "religion," of which he notes it is probably a part.** And, in fact, early discussions of religious freedom did tend to connect it to freedom of conscience. As do we today.

Thus, Planned Parenthood v. Casey spoke of a protected "zone of conscience and belief," and in a often (and at times ridiculed) cited passage:
At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.

Men and women of good conscience can disagree, and we suppose some always shall disagree, about the profound moral and spiritual implications of terminating a pregnancy, even in its earliest stage.

Not only that, as suggested, they have the right to on their own make such choices. In fact, the first contraceptives case -- Griswold -- connected "privacy" with religion in a fashion ... the main opinion noted that the matter touched upon matters "intimate to the degree of being sacred." One discussion of religious freedom considered "religious" to in some core way mean "intimate." And, a school bible reading case cited with apparent approval an opinion that held religious matters "altogether private." Surely, not everything that is private is religious, but the intimate, the core conscientious belief that hits to the core of our own being, is eminently personal and often religious.

"Sacred" seems like a good enough word as any to get a feeling of what "religion" means. What we feel to be "sacred" is not centered on the deistic alone, but it seems to me to be religious at the core. It is not a scientific fact, but a moral judgment call. It often connects to rituals and sectarian creeds/belief structures. A basic inner feeling of what is eminently special and taboo. So "life is sacred," and questions of life and death are basically religious/sectarian in nature. Do atheists not think life is "sacred?" When we say that do we just think of God or broader basic ultimate truths?

[To the degree it matters, the Supreme Court has repeatedly spoken of non-deistic religions, surely those beyond the "God" of Scalia in the Ten Commandments cases. Showing the path of the "liberal" (in the old fashioned sense, he of the privacy friendly Poe dissent) conservative, see also Harlan's concurrence in Welsh.]

The word overall suggests more than belief in God. Thus, ritual can be deemed religious on its own. A birth, a marriage ceremony, a death ... they bring to mind religion. Some cultures honor ancestors or certain locations, in part because they believe some spirit is present there or some force, but not only that. Likewise, some who favor nature religions, including Wiccan, commune with nature for "religious" reasons but probably do not all believe in some independent spiritual universe. I'd add that religion cannot just be mainstream churches, especially since many in the 18th Century did not join or actively take part. Rulings that honor individual spiritual paths -- not tied to any set religions -- are surely loyal to the Declaration, that honors laws that grow out of nature and nature's God.

[For instance, if religion is deemed necessary to promote good citizens, it need not only come via organized churches. Some disagree. They think individualistic belief structures as to wishy-washy or something. Such is not the law, nor a healthy view of the matter. Anyway, organizations can be wishy-washy too ... as recent discussions here suggest.]

God surely plays a core role, surely, but in some important sense religion with God alone is a pretty sad thing. Some fleeting idea God exists can lead to thin gruel religion. God also is thought by many as a part of nature. Remarks about it is necessary to explain where things come from and so forth. God in some real sense is not "supernatural" (nature's God, remember?). But, "religion" is how we honor this entity. Since "God" ultimately for some became a concept, not an actual independent entity, we can understand religion as tied to God even among atheists. But, we need not even do that, if we look at the various components of the institution and concept as whole.

[Governmental support of "In God We Trust" on coinage is still troubling given the generally understood meaning of the message and the problems with mixing religion and state in such a matter, but by itself it can be seen as relatively minor. "Under God" in the Pledge is more troubling since it is an active recitation involving young children, one that suggests a more active deity ... a matter more apparent if we look at the history of the addition and modern day rhetoric on it.]

A true respect for the First Amendment -- and religion -- warrants a rich understanding of such terms. Let me add that religion is often deemed a matter of "faith" and those who take part members of religious faiths or just "faiths." We "believe." God's laws were and still are deemed by many to be part of the natural order,*** in a fully scientific sense of the word. Such things are not just separate from religion, and many would tell you they think it all connected. Religion in effect gives meaning to their role in the universe. Such meaning in some real sense cannot be justified by scientific logic, though maybe utilitarians will disagree. Likewise, who does not have some sort of "faith" in something?

Again, I disagree that "religion" just means faith in God or future rewards/punishments, to take an original understanding view of things, no matter how broadly such terms are defined ... unless it becomes a metaphorical enterprise that meets the terms of the general discussion. To sum up, think of the components of "religion" ... think "faith," "sacred," "ritual," "conscience," and "ultimate truths." Add what all those things are meant to promote.

And, you might just get an idea of what "religious freedom" should truly mean.


* The original [proposed] first involved apportionment of the House of Representatives, a core issue in a republican government, surely one involving a national one with the breadth the seemed remarkable and a bit scary at the time. The original second is the current 27th, involving congressional pay. All the same, just like originally there were twelve proposed amendments and now a Ten Commandments-like ten, the "first" amendment received charm of place over time.

** Justice Douglas thought conscientious objector status was a constitutional demand, which is probably not reflective of original understanding, which specifically removed such an exemption from the Second Amendment. But, surely, his path fits in a living constitution approach. Taking that path, I think he is right.

*** And, consider the term "crime against nature" as applied to various things like sodomy. If the term is given a moral meaning, that is an objective natural fact is subjectively deemed "bad," we are getting into matters of conscience and religious belief. But, many do not think so -- they have what amounts to a "scientific" understanding, or think they do. The term implies such acts are "unnatural," right? You mean, like flying or extending life?

Oh well

Thus, "acquisitions" authorized by Attorney General Gonzales will be permissible for one year, even if that period extends beyond the ostensible February 1, 2008 sunset date

Hmmm. No "six months" sunset there? Strange, this isn't what was generally understood by some people, including Sen. Sanders (progressive) on Air America today. But, too much to ask for a complete process, so you can at least know what your fellow Dems help enact. Bush scared us, you see. Seriously, this sort of thing troubled the authors of The Broken Branch, and it remains a real problem. Think of it as a sort of "procedural due process" for legislating.